There are elk outside my hotel.
When I last made it online long enough to post, we were in San Antonio for the night, preparing to spend the following day at the Natural Bridge Caverns.
That was three days ago, but it feels like well over a week thanks to all I have seen since. My brain is fried from all the incredible sights we have seen, and the ideas it has given me.
Our day at the caverns was brilliant. Not only did we get to meet a friend face-to-face at long last (internet buddies are best buddies), but we did so while surrounded by beauty and fun.
The caverns are natural limestone formations. Once, Texas was under water, but when the world changed and the water receded, channels in the limestone allowed water to flow through and wear sections away into the beautiful caves that remain to this day.
Inside, the caves are filled all over with natural features from the well-known stalagmites and stalactites, to much more unusual formations such as wall drapery and cave bacon.
Pools of clear, cool, drinkable water descend all the way through the system, especially as our visit came after seven days of consistent rain, which had raised the local aquifer. While that meant we could not descend into some of the usual rooms, it did mean the caves were filled with water and the gentle, soothing sound of ‘rain’ filtering in from the ceiling.
The best inspirations came to me from two specific parts of the experience, which I can’t wait to add to my own writing.
The first of these was the moment we spent at the bottom of the first set of caves. On reaching the deepest section open to the public, we sat on some wooden seats to listen to the guide talk about the wildlife that lives inside caves… with all the lights off.
Pitch black. Now, had I been alone and not sure where I was, it would have been terrifying and disorientating, but as it was, I was with people I trust so I actually found it very soothing.
I already knew that if you move a hand in front of your face in complete darkness you still ‘see’ it… and that its a brain illusion. The guide also talked about this, and the fact that you are ‘seeing’ what your brain expects to see because you can feel your hand moving and know you would normally see your hand as a dark outline. Our above ground world always has some degree of light, so we trick ourselves.
The second moment was in the second set of caves, where some bat roosts were pointed out to us. They were not current roosts – no bats generally live in the caverns anymore, having moved up the road to a more conducive cave for the modern day, but instead these roosts were extremely ancient. They stood out as black marks against the paler ceiling, where the natural oils and acids all mammals have on their skin have darkened the calcite-lined rock. And of course, beneath these dark little footmarks, there were huge hardened mounds of… bat poop. Guano piles taller than I was, thankfully without any scent to them due to their extreme age.
This was new to me, as while I knew about this sort of thing, I had never seen it in person and being there was an entirely different experience to mere imagination.
Overall, the caves were just stunning and interesting, and we even got to see some ancient preserved bones and fossils. Definitely the highlight of our Texas tour.
With all the sights of the Natural Bridge Caverns, I could have been quite happily adventured out for some time, but this is the GRAND trip, so of course there was more, and more still to come.
The day after San Antonio, we had some serious driving to do. Twelve hours in a very packed little sports car, on bumpy roads, will certainly give anyone a vague appreciation of how hard travel before our modern technology must have been. And a kink in the spine.
It was a rough trip, but only because of time. The scenery and our route were stunning. Like my husband, I had never really expected video games and the way they handle biomes to be correct. Within a very short space, games would have you believe you can go from arid desert with scrubby bushes, to mountain rises with forests at the top.
Turns out, it’s entirely true. Within as short a distance as 20 – 30 miles, the scenery can radically change, proving our sojourn from Louisiana into Texas was not a fluke.
…to rocky rises…
New Mexico went by in a blur of ever-changing beauty. We deviated off the interstate to climb into the hills and bluffs on our way to Arizona and ended the day making sweeping turns down mountain trails in the dark, dodging deer and foxes and gawping at the sheer drops and shorn rocks around every bend.
While we did not stop in the State for any sight or rest, it nevertheless proved to be a wonderful day just for the constant stimulation to the eye and imagination as well as the wildlife (Which had been sorely lacking in Texas).
We finished the day by crossing into Arizona and finally flopping towards hotels in Springerville for sleep. Originally, we hoped to make use of the Best Western we knew was there, and groaned when it turned out to be full.
Adventure, however, can come from anywhere and something as simple as a full hotel turned our day even better, when we went down the road to a local motel, not part of any chain.
It was lovely! Far cleaner, more charming and relaxing than our first choice, the staff were well above and beyond, the bed very comfortable, and the breakfast beat out even four-star hotels we have had on this trip so far. We also met some other travelers to talk to, including a couple from my home country, with whom we spent a good hour just chatting about everything we love about the United States.
…to local motels, 1.5 miles above sea level!
This leads me to today. Today has been a big tourism circuit, and I’m extremely glad we’re doing it in term time, on a weekday.
This isn’t to say I hate seeing families and children at tourist spots, just that I certainly felt fortunate to have the time and space to marvel at the natural wonders today presented without being in anyone else’s way.
Our first stop was the Petrified Forest. As we drove close to it, we were admittedly somewhat unimpressed as there is nothing to see from the road.
This turned out to be entirely understandable once we got out of the car. The forest is so old, none of it is still standing and vastly predates the current environmental norms of Arizona.
What was once a forest ended up under water at one time, allowing for various crystals and geodes to form, as well as petrifying the wood into a whole host of colors and chunks. Entire trunks are displayed alongside chips, branches and tumbled stone in the various shops selling the pieces, as well as local Native American handicrafts and fossils.
Truthfully, I could have spent days looking at all the trilobites on display, not to mention the dinosaur bones in one room, and the tiny teeth from a coelophysis in another, but we had a lot to do.
We did cave in and buy both a piece of petrified wood and a fossil of several orthocone-like mollusc fossils, but then it was time to leave behind the pre-Cambrian starfish and Jurassic dinos, and head for another big site.
Meteor crater was next.
Literature often uses that wonderful cliche when something impressive happens – ‘it took his/her breath away’.
I had that today. It’s not the first time a natural wonder has made me suck in my breath and just stare for a few seconds at something I find incredible, but today it happened before I saw the full show, as it were.
Pulling up to the crater, one rounds a bend and you realize the building halfway up the rise ahead is the visitor center.
And then you realize the ‘rise’ it’s sat in is the wall of the crater. And it’s huge.
By the time we stopped the car, I had recovered myself enough to simply be blown over by the scale of the crater as we climbed up to view it properly.
I honestly can’t say anything here that will do justice to that hole in the ground. I knew about it, its size and how it happened, how young it is in geologic time, but it’s not until one stands on the rim, looking down to distant floor below while surrounded by the earth and rock the meteor threw up that you can truly appreciate both how powerful the universe can be, and how small we each individually are within it.
It was an awesome feeling, and one I hope I can hang on to for a long time to come.
Oh look! Proof I was actually here ^^
We have ended our night tonight at the Grand Canyon. As yet, we have not gone to see it, that’s for tomorrow.
We are in a very pleasant hotel, marveling at all we have seen on our journey so far, and the twists and turns life has taken for us to be here.
There are elk outside, calmly browsing the roadside bushes, unabashed of the people moving around them.
It seems impossible I can have seen so much in so short a time, or that I am even on this trip. It’s been a truly marvelous adventure, and we’re only halfway through!
Everything I feel now, I hope I can give my adventuring characters in my own works because there really is no feeling like it.
Life is wonderful, adventure is grand. Tomorrow… more to see and do!