I’ve sat down to write this blog a handful of times, but just haven’t had it in me to post it. We live in strange times, as the world continues to navigate the evolving Covid-19 pandemic. Stay at home orders were strictly in place for a few months, and now the states are beginning to phase reopenings. Just like many others, I’ve had trips cancelled/postponed due to Covid-19. I was afraid writing a new blog post would make me miss traveling even more, however, as I’m writing, I find myself looking forward to recounting this trip we made back in October 2019. Our trip to Texas and New Mexico was a short weekend getaway, but it seems like those trips are always packed with the most memories.
This was our last planned adventure for 2019. Our flight departed on a Wednesday evening, and arrived to El Paso, TX around midnight. We were tired and my friend was on the verge of getting sick, but we were determined to maintain positive attitudes for the weekend. We knew the rental car kiosks at the airport would be closed by the time we landed, so we booked a hotel with a free shuttle, and planned on picking up our rental car in the morning.
Our plan for the next day was to explore both Carlsbad Caverns and Guadeloupe Mountains National Parks, which are only about 45 minutes apart. After that we planned to drive to Alpine, TX where we would stay for two nights and explore Big Bend from there. When we first made our route, it had mapped Carlsbad Caverns National Park about 2 hours from El Paso, TX. However, when we re-checked the route on Thursday morning, it was telling us a road was closed and the new route was now estimated to be 3.5 hours. If this was really true, it would throw a wrench in our plans because that was time we honestly didn’t have to spare. We pushed it aside for the time being and headed back to the airport to pick up our rental car.
Most of the time we book our rental cars through Costco because two drivers are included at no additional cost. When we arrived at the desk, the attendant asked for Destiny’s Costco card. Since you need a membership to book a car in the first place, no one usually asks for our cards at pickup, but unfortunately this was one time when they did, and Destiny didn’t have her card. I tried to offer mine, since we were both going to be drivers, but she wouldn’t accept it since I wasn’t the one who booked it. This put us in a position where we had to cancel and rebook on the spot, making the car more expensive than what we had planned for or wanted. Stuff happens though, and at this point we just wanted to be on our way (route still undetermined).
One way we save extra money on trips is to pack our own food, and pick up odds and ends we couldn’t fly with at a grocery store. So, after getting our rental car, we stopped at a local grocery store to pick up some food. The grocery store we stopped just happened to be going through a remodel, and essentially had empty shelves. By this point we were starting to get annoyed because we’re usually all about efficiency, and this morning had been anything but that. Once we finally got some food for the weekend, we decided just to stick to our original route and hoped it would get us to Carlsbad.
Now, I knew that El Paso, TX was close to Mexico, but I guess I didn’t realize how close. While we were driving towards Carlsbad, we were forced to pull off at a border patrol checkpoint. The only border checkpoints I had been to before were when you crossed into another country, and we didn’t have our passports with us. As we approached the guard, I began explaining our situation and asked if we should turn around… he just looked at me with a straight face and replied back in Spanish. After successfully stressing me out, he began laughing, and said (in English) that this was just a checkpoint and we weren’t actually crossing into Mexico. Soon enough we were back on our way, which he confirmed was open and would successfully take us to Carlsbad (whew!). As we neared the park, the winds were picking up and we could see storm clouds rolling…maybe more foreshadowing?? 😉
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
This park is located in the Chihuahuan Desert of southern New Mexico. There are more than 100 caves within this National Park! We got tickets at the visitor’s center for the Natural Entrance tour + Big Room and were on our way. You have the option to hike down (800+ feet elevation change), or ride the elevators. We chose to hike down and ride the elevators back up. These caves were seriously out of this world. I had toured caves at Great Basin and Wind Cave National Parks before, but these were on a different level. I believe there is an audio tour you can download and listen to on your phone, but neither of us had our headphones with us and didn’t want it to be too loud or disruptive. Another unique opportunity at Carlsbad Caverns is the Bat Flight Program, which occurs every evening from Memorial Day weekend through mid-end of October. No reservations are required. The program takes place at the amphitheater, which is located at the Natural Entrance. During the flight you’ll watch thousands of bats leave the cave and fly right over your head- what I can only imagine as being a once in a lifetime experience!
After finishing up at Carlsbad Caverns we headed back towards Guadeloupe Mountains National Park. Unfortunately, the weather had not improved while we were down in the caves. Destiny’s voice had also rapidly declined, which meant I now had to be the main communicator, which was usually not my job 😉
Guadeloupe Mountains National Park
This park is a vast wilderness park just waiting to be explored! It holds the four highest peaks in Texas. Unfortunately, our time frame (and the 40+ mph winds) didn’t allow us to explore much of this back-country park. We walked the Pinery Nature trail right by the visitor’s center, attempted the Manzanita Springs hike, but then detoured and ended up exploring the Frijole Ranch before retreating back to the car. To explore this park the right way, you really need to be prepared with backpacking gear and have adequate time to hike in, camp/explore, and hike back out. Because they didn’t have many hikes accessible by car, we decided the best thing for us to do would be to head down the road towards Alpine, TX where we were staying for the next two nights.
To be able to travel as much as we like to, there are often sacrifices we make to be able to afford it. One of the common sacrifices we tend to make is staying at more budget-friendly places. We have a rule that the place still has to be safe and clean, but sometimes in West Texas your options are quite limited… As we pulled up to the “Value Lodge,” it was clear we would only be getting what we paid for. The first room didn’t have a working lock or deadbolt, the second room was already home to a large cockroach, and we didn’t really want to find out what was behind door number 3. We got our money back and started calling around to book a room somewhere else, but as our luck would have it, it was the University’s homecoming weekend. Not a single hotel had a room for the next two nights, which is what we needed. We eventually found a hotel that had one room left for just the night, so we booked it, and just decided to figure out where we would stay tomorrow night, tomorrow.
After having things either fall through or go wrong all day, we were happy to have an upgraded place to sleep for the night, and hoped the next day would bring brighter skies. Stay tuned for our adventures in Big Bend National Park on my next post! ❤