Trip to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of Earth put forth the idea of a second world existing right underneath our feet. This world had glow birds, dinosaurs, hot springs, rocks floating in air – as a child I was spellbound by its mythical magical aura. I sincerely believed in the existence of this place. For a long time visitors to our house in Rourkela would be regaled by tall tales of this subterranean land near Iceland. To anyone who would bother to listen to a ten year old bursting with excitement about an imaginary place, this might have come across as absurd or annoyance but I guess back in those times adults were more forgiving.

As struggles of balancing high school along with preparing for college exams took over, the flighty dream of that ten year old lay forgotten in a dark corner.

Coming to Carlsbad Caverns National Park which is located in the south eastern New Mexico, it is known to be just one of the 300 limestone caves formed on a fossil reef about 265 million years ago. The timeline which led to these magnificent formations is just staggering. Mankind is just a blip!

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Though primarily our exploration would take us underneath the earth’s surface, we could not disregard the weather conditions. As the hotel prices in Carlsbad were a little on the higher side, we decided to set base in Artesia which was only an hour and ten minutes away from the park’s visitor center.

Most reviews on Tripadvisor and Google Reviews had suggested that we get there early to beat the long lines and get tickets for any park ranger led activity as they have a limit and tend to sell out quickly. As an option, you can book their tours online also.

Travelling from the warm temperate climate of Arizona, we were not ready for the blasting bone chilling cold weather of New Mexico. We checked in at the visitor center to collect our tickets for the tour and lined up for the elevator. Now there are two ways of entering the cavern – hike a 1.25 mile route from the Natural Cave Entrance or take the elevator.

People had highly recommended to take the elevators for descent and opt for a hike out for exit. For a seasonal athlete like me it was true test of endurance. But the sight of open sky and sunlight streaming down from the gaping hole is every bit rewarding.

Hole in the Sky, Carlsbad Caverns National Park

King’s Palace is a collection of four chambers which are located in one of the deepest pockets of the cavern, about 830 feet below the earth’s surface. Our tour was led by Park Ranger Charlie who along with the usual fact and figures shared fascinating accounts of the first man who discovered these caverns back in 1898. Back then Jim White a 16 year old had descended with nothing more than a lantern, kerosene and a few matchsticks. We got a taste of the old world feel when Ranger Charlie turned out the modern lights save a candle which he had brought along. He gave a tiny scare when he snuffed out that too. Inky darkness enveloped us. Darkness so thick you can’t see the person next to you. Also with the absence of sunlight one has absolutely no sense of time. The King’s Palace tour was an hour and thirty minutes long and cost us a nominal $8. It is worth every cent as it gives access to a location which is otherwise closed to general admission.

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Later after the tour ended we spent the following hour exploring the Big Room which is said to big enough to house 6.2 football fields. Most of the formations that are seen in these parts are a result of sulphuric acid on limestone. They are primarily classified as spleotherms, stalagmites and stalactites. The formations are crude, gory and as is human nature we try to anthropomorphize them. So there is the Witch’s foot and broomstick, the Devil’s play garden.

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On a first glimpse the caverns appear like a badly lighted subterranean castle of Ursula from the Little Mermaid. But as my eyes grew accustomed to the dark, it saw these detailed patterns and textures on the walls, floor and ceiling. Nature had taken million of years to carve out this piece of work. The magnanimity of this thought left me giddy in the awesomeness that surrounded us.

Finally after spending about five hours exploring the various pockets of the caverns, we decided to hike out. The total distance of 1.2 miles doesn’t account but combined with an 800 feet of elevation it is a lot of leg work. I have to be honest and admit that despite the shortness of breath, burning cheeks, bursting lungs and sore legs, we made it out. 35 minutes. Boy it felt great to be back on top!

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Here a few pointers for that trip to Carlsbad Caverns National Park

• Nearest cities – Carlsbad, Artesia

• Beat the crowd and get there as early as 8.30 am to get tickets and take photos without getting photo-bombed by passing by strangers

• Book a tour in advance with a park ranger online on the National Park Services site

• For your food fix there is a store selling sandwiches and chips in the visitor center, also a gift shop operating out the caverns

Looking back, it wasn’t until this trip to Carlsbad Caverns I got thinking about that long forgotten part of me. It ended up being realization of a childhood promise made to self in all innocence.

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Routines and an Old Favorite Dish

Every week after we pick up the grocery I sit down with my red sticky notepad to plan meals for the following week. Between providing a healthy balanced food for every meal and catering to the house inmate’s (the husband) preferences, it is always a delicate balancing act.

A doting Indian mother who keeps away all hideous looking vegetables with appalling shades and ensures that every meal served has a favorite item of her darling child, not only gains a place in heaven but also in her child’s heart (which sentimentally speaking is equivalent to swarg for her).

Following tradition, the husband refuses to eat beets, rolls his eyes at papaya and recoils with disgust at the sight of an innocuous vegetable like lauki (bottle gourd) which is famously known as eyesore in our household. So it’s not a surprise that the final list takes a good 30-45 minutes to be ready and go up on the refrigerator door.

Yesterday we got a decent haul of fresh vegetables. It was a Monday evening, but the advantage of dropping into the Asian market on a late weekday evening are one too many.

It means less chances of being pushed around by the carts, more browsing time and no maze to negotiate. I am not exaggerating about the crowd that storms the store on a regular weekend. Most often my challenge lies in the pile of green beans. It is common knowledge that there are always more than enough broken or cut beans hiding in the pile. To weed out the bad one and select the sturdy good ones needs time. Something which the person standing next to you clearly is running short of and looks impatient as you guiltily turn over the pile in hope of finding some good ones. Phew!

Quite a few times I had to make trips mid-week when I failed to score a spot at the green beans counter and it was Hakka noodles on the dinner menu.

After preparing a meal of pui saag chochori (a medley of malabar spinach, pumpkin, radish and potato), korola r torkari ( sauteed mix of bitter gourd, brinjal and carrot) – both of which are highly rated and approved by the husband – I had a challenge at hand. Last night I was unable to come up with a dish to incorporate the innocuous jhinga or ridge gourd. An alu jhinge posto (potato and ridge in a spiced poppy seed based sauce)  is always an option but the Bangali in me refuses to share anything that has posto. So I decided to go back to an old favorite of mine. Not prepared by my mother or grandmother, but introduced by good old hostel canteen. A creamy, mildly spiced kootu. As an outsider to the south Indian cuisine, I would describe kootu  as vegetables in a coconut lentil based sauce. Its healthy, vegan, vegetarian and delicious.

After that final tempering of mustard seeds and curry leaves, I was literally transported back to Chennai. My close friends know the immense love I have for kootu. Recreating this in the space of my kitchen left me feeling happy and satisfied. Food has this strange powerful effect on me. Recipe sourced from old reliable Google.

Ridge Gourd Kootu

I plan to serve it with hot rotis for dinner. Will await for the husband’s verdict on this one.

 

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Trip to Death Valley National Park

Birthdays are a completely different deal as one turns thirty. While I am still a few months shy of hitting the golden number, the husband is taking it quite hard as he is already on the other side. He says the luster of birthdays wore off ever since adulting has taken over. To uplift his wilting spirit I suggested a trip to Death Valley national park to celebrate his birthday. He took a shine to it instantly and kept turning the idea of “celebrating birth in Death Valley” in his head.

A drive from Phoenix to Furnace Creek, where the visitor center for Death Valley is located, is a good 7.5 hour away. This meant we had to abandon our initial plan for making a daylong trip. Not even a travel enthusiast like the husband can pull off a 13 hour drive. Hence we decided to drive straight to Death Valley to catch the sunset and stay overnight at Las Vegas.

At an area of about 3.2 million acres, Death Valley National Park is the largest national park outside Alaska. In fact its vast land spreads across the two states of California and Nevada. The landscape comprises of salt-flats, sand dunes, badlands, canyons, valleys and mountains. One of the popular spots in the park, Badwater is famous for being the lowest point in North America.

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Zabriskie Point

Badwater Basin – the lowest point in North America

Zabriskie Point

Convoluted rocks at Zabriskie Point

Our drive left us very little time for exploring the other points of interest. The park ranger at the visitor center was kind enough to suggest a plan based on the time we had left before heading off to Zabriskie Point for viewing the sunset.

Though we didn’t bring along a cake to cut or a candle to blow out, the fantastic views made for their absence. Though it will be a significant drive a second trip is not completely ruled out considering the trails which were left unexplored.

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Perks of Being a Last Bench Student

For three years of college I was a committed backbench student. I will admit there was a certain amount of notoriety associated with it but it was a perfect place to hide. Teachers seldom looked this far to throw chalk sticks or questions based on their mood. Also it gave me ample opportunity to finish reading the books nearing due date at the library.

Now I never said I was not a reader or a good student. Just someone who preferred to stay out of limelight(read teacher’s gaze). Being massively introverted I was happy existing at the fringes. It also kept me safe from the awkwardness resulting from striking a conversation or making eye contact.

The shrill loud bell announced the end of the lecture. While the teacher gave out last minute instructions about the upcoming tests, students couldn’t have looked any more disinterested. Few were tucking in their books, bringing out their mobile phones –  checking for missed calls and replying to messages. While the class representative and her faithful posse did an amazing job at appearing attentive while hurriedly taking notes. They were definitely scoring brownie points for “attentiveness in class” in the teacher’s report card.

Nobody noticed the girl on the last bench smiling down at a copy of Rebecca. Her eyes savored the words of Daphne du Maurier as she painted the eerie Gothic scene of Mandalay. If she were the one giving out points, my report card would certainly have some colorful remarks.

This post was written as part of the Daily Prompts challenge by WordPress. 
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Trip to Arches and Canyonlands National Park

Travel wears out the body, but the soul is always replenished with the new sights and sound. Before the temperatures dropped further down, a quick decision was made for a trip to Utah – Arches National Park and its neighboring Canyonlands National Park.

I was looking forward to the meal as the place is famed for Navajo fry bread and Native Indian cuisine. While planning the route we completely forgot to take into account that time zone difference between Arizona and Utah. As a result the place in Kayenta for closed by the time we arrived for dinner.

Point to remember on future trips is to take into account the time zone differences.

The husband had done a bit of homework and zeroed on an Airbnb in La Sal. The farm served as a animal sanctuary for horses, cats and dogs. Growing up in a city has its perks but nothing prepares you for the sight of open roads, golden hued grass, pale blue skies and a silhouette of mountain in the horizon. The first sight left us absolutely bewildered. I lost count how many times I shook my head and expressed incredulity at how magnificent the whole scene looked.

La Sal

La Sal

La Sal to Moab

Arches National Park is renowned for the arches carved on sandstone structures over million of years by air and water. After a cursory stop at the visitor center we quickly made our way to its most famous spot, the Delicate Arch. Although the trail was marked as a moderate hike, it was fairly easy for amateur hikers like us.

Arches National Park

Delicate Arch

But we did take about 1.5 hours to reach the end of the trail. We got blown away. Literally.

The powerful wind had all of us crouching down on our hands and knees as standing up without a proper footing was just dangerous. I took off my cap as it kept threatening to fly off. Turns out I wasn’t the only one petrified by the force, there were a few toddlers and a couple of babies who were bawling their hearts out terrorized by strong cold air. It was heartwarming to see that the parents smiling and patiently dealing with the meltdown.

The hike down was relatively easy but the sights of this hike would stay with us for a long time.

Arches National Park

As per the plan, we made our way to the Canyonlands National Park for the second half of the day. This national park is divided into four districts and has two entry points – the Needles and the Isle of the Sky. The former entry point is closer the Arches National Park and is located about 20-40 minutes away.

Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park

The following day we set out for home driving on UT-46 via US-191. On the way after crossing the Colorado river, the iconic view of Monument Valley greeted us. The sight of mammoth rocks standing upright making a silhouette against the afternoon sun was something out of an old Hollywood western.

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Farewell Oppa

While watching a popular K-drama over this past week, I sensed a different feeling. The heart beat was normal, butterflies in the stomach conspicuously absent, absolutely not one weak-in-the-knee moment in that one hour long episode – even when the K-drama heart throb Min Ho walked in looking like the oppa of my teenage dreams.

Allow me to reminisce about the intense passion I share for K-drama. When people rave about Friends or Breaking Bad, I could go on hours talking about Boys Over Flowers and Faith. They offered me a glimpse into a universe vastly different from the one I lived in, people I knew, food I ate. On a dark day at work, a one hour episode gave me hope and happiness. Back in college I was introduced to a few K-drama enthusiasts and that only led to discovering and discussing new dramas. There were countless times when we didn’t realize when hands of the clock turned and night became morning. The only regret at this point was the agonizing wait until evening when we could resume our K-drama binge.

It slowly dawned upon me, I was finally over oppas and kimchi.

For an ardent K-drama fan the realization brought on pain and tears. It was bidding farewell to my decade long love as I had outgrown my teenage passion.

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Thursday Tiny Tales – 5

The light of the lamp flickers.

A gust of cold wind blows in, rattling the dusty window panes only to escape into hidden realms of the dust laden curtains. Twice every year, before the Bengali Nabobarsha and Durga Pujo, they would be soaked in a tub full of hot water and Surf, scrubbed until the water turned a dirty brown, rinsed separately in clean water and hung out in the sun to dry.

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