Stalagmites, Aliens and Russell Crowe

Now heading northwest on highway 285, I bypassed Pecos with its West of the Pecos Museum (howdy there, Judge Roy Bean) and crossed into New Mexico. At a crossroads in the middle of nowhere, a forlorn highway sign pointed to Carlsbad Cavern National Monument. I pulled over and pondered. Had I been there as a kid with my family? (Couldn’t remember.) Should I detour and see it, adding extra miles and hours to my schedule? My answer: of course I should.

Carlsbad CavernsAt the Cavern’s visitor center, I somewhat guiltily opted for the elevator rather than hoofing it down 750 feet to the “Big Room.” What a wuss am I. Strolling through the maze of formations, all dramatically lit (just like Mother Nature would’ve done had she enough extension cords), was quite spellbinding. Glistening with water dripping from above, the formations had an organic look about them, like some prehistoric, giant jellyfish with smooth, shiny folds of limestone skin. I wondered if perhaps A.E. Geiger, the artist responsible Carlsbad interiorfor the look of the Alien movie, hadn’t spent some time down here. One could almost see the formations throbbing with some strange life force. (Have I seen too many movies or what?)

One could also make the case that the cavern resembled a church, with the formations as its altars. Indeed, the mood in the caves was reverential; the visitors spoke in hushed tones. But then there was also a decidedly non-reverential group of teenagers madly making out in every nook and cranny along the pathway. Nothing like a warm smooch in a chilly cave.

Then it was ZOOM back up the elevator and WHAM out into the hard afternoon sun. From the claustrophobic cave to the huge expanse of naked New Mexico prairie proved a blinding contrast.

UFO museum
Roswell, New Mexico is, of course, the UFO capital of the United States, if not the whole doggoned world. Remember Area 51? If you don’t, a drive down Roswell’s main drag will refresh your memory. In addition to the brightly neoned UFO museum in the middle of town, one local shop features a life-sized flying saucer embedded in its roof, and the Macdonalds' marquee cheerfully announces “Welcome, aliens!” Yes, Virginia, there are aliens, and they are us: the tourists.
UFO storeUFO WalmartUFO coke machine
I was drawn to the Western Motel because of its look: a circa 1950s motor court with an adobe hacienda motif. You don’t see many of these anymore. And the nice couple who owned it even came down in price when I started to walk away after hearing the rates. It was meant that I should stay there. Must be alien power.

Night fell. Rather than hop aboard a passing spacecraft, I joined Russell Crowe on the good ship Surprise as we chased that pesky French frigate across the seven seas. Not only hadn’t seen a film in a long time, but it just seemed ironically appropriate to see an historical drama in the hometown of the UFO. I’ll take a frigate over a flying saucer any day.

Next: Off the see The Kid...

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