January 2, 2003

By Michael Strickland

New Year, Old Cave

Thanks to a Christmas cold that turned into bronchitis, I was in bed before midnight on New Year's Eve for the first time in my adult life. It has been a holiday that I've celebrated every year, no matter where I've been: Japan, the Philippines, Mexico, Honduras or just at home with friends. But not this year—which is just as well, since my hacking coughs put me in no mood to live it up. And besides, since I'm traveling solo, I've got no one to celebrate with. So I got some rest, rose early on New Year's Day, and went underground.

Several million years ago, percolating water and sulfuric acid ate away at the limestone underneath Carlsbad, New Mexico, forming what is now Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Today, an elevator takes you down 750 feet, to a self-guided path through majestic caverns covered by stalactites, stalagmites, "soda straws," "draperies" and other magical formations.

The caverns encompass vast caves, both developed and undeveloped. The main chamber—"Big Room"—is the most accessible (even to wheelchairs). Measuring 1800 feet by 1000 feet, with the ceiling in some spots reaching to nearly 300 feet, "Big Room" is aptly named. The walkway wends around the perimeter of the chamber, revealing exotic sights both minute and grand.

Glittering calcite stalactites dripping from the ceiling, popcorn-like rocks covering the ground, the enormity of it all dwarfing you... words can't capture the awe one feels.

The most surreal aspect of the experience for me was the uncanny feeling that I was underwater. Gazing up at arching ceilings, looking down on formations reminiscent of coral reefs, following the undulating currents of the path, perceiving the not-unpleasant sensation of being enclosed, I could not help but feel I was scuba diving through some fantastic undersea landscape.


©2003 Michael Strickland ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

What is "The Daily Strick"?

I have long called myself a writer, but too often I don't do what a writer must do daily: write. So you, dear reader, are the beneficiary of my resolution to make a positive change in at least one area of my life. Every single day of this new year, I will write something, anything, and post it here (though some days' writings might be posted late, if I am out of town—such as right now). It is my intention to use this daily exercise to jump-start my too-long-dormant creative energies, and perhaps generate some worthwhile material this year. Hopefully you will find at least an occasional amusement or insight in my daily musings.

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