A funny thing happened on the way out of Texas?

November 23, 2009

Paisano Pete, Ft. Stockton's Roadrunner

As I said previously, Friday night was our last night in Texas, which we spent in a Quality Inn there in Ft. Stockton. Aside from the cheerful promise of Paisano Pete the Roadrunner shown above, on first running through Ft. Stockton early (me), then driving around town later (we), for a Saturday, the town seemed quite dead, almost bereft of any activity that we could discern. We did find the Annie Riggs Museum, with a lot of musty exhibits

Old bottles on display at Annie Riggs Museum from Comanche Springs

of artifacts from the Old West; some of these are shown in our gallery; take a look! Check also in the gallery for events of the semi-rainy Friday leading up to our stay in Ft. Stockton, from Austin on west.

But here’s the funny thing: As we were having breakfast at the Quality Inn, I struck up a chat with a fellow breakfaster, a retired anesthesiologist who was traveling to Florida for Thanksgiving. He was from New Mexico, which was where we were heading, specifically that day for Carlsbad Caverns. But he got to talking about other cool things we could do up there. I mentioned we would probably spend the night in Roswell, and he said, “Hey, if you’re heading west out of Roswell, you should stop at San Patricio and visit the Hurd Gallery there, if you like Wyeth and Hurd paintings?” This piqued our interest, but who knew if we’d ever get remotely near that place? Nice suggestion, but we get myriads of those. Now for you the reader, I’ll suspend discussion of this topic until the next blog, but remember, you’ll be tested! 😉

Everything in Texas is big, including its rivers. The Pecos River is about 900 miles long. Though its origin is in eastern New Mexico, most of its length is contained within Texas. And by the way, did you know that Texas has its own Colorado River? Not the Grand Canyon one, this one is 800 miles long and entirely contained within the Lone Star State, even runs through Austin. (Just thought you’d like to know.) But anyway, on our way up to Carlsbad, we happened to spot the “Museum of the West Pecos” in Pecos. It’s a great museum, very well done and interesting in many ways. Four floors of goodies, all well-presented, and interesting. We spent altogether too much time there, but hey, what can a pair of museum junkies do? I got a kick out of the way old-time barbers must’ve also had to work as dentists?

There really were some quite interesting things there though, if you looked close enough. In our gallery, you’ll see a poem entitled “The Death of Long Hair,” which seems to be an original poetic rendition by one of the Indians or their descendants who participated in the Battle of Little Big Horn, AKA “Custer’s Last Stand.” George Custer, you see, was known to Indians as “Long Hair.” Look closely at that image in the gallery, it’s touching. To me, it speaks of a lot of respect that the writer held for the bravery of Custer and his men, all of whom died in that battle in 1876.I took a photo of this other contraption, that at first I thought was a primitive Electric Chair, you know, the Hot Seat? Jane put my mind straight in a hurry. This is what women used to have to endure to have permanent waves applied to their hair! Jane herself remembered undergoing this particular kind of torture machine as a young girl. Whew, glad to be a boy!

Pecos claims to be the site of the world’s first Rodeo. And, they have excellent “documentation” there at the Museum on the legend of Pecos Bill. You remember him? Among other accomplishments, Pecos once got so thirsty that he got a stick and dug the Rio Grande!

But the high point of the day? We found that 750 feet down from the surface at Carlsbad Caverns. I’d heard of this place all my life, seen photos of it before, but to experience it yourself, is just an awesome, other-worldly experience. Incredible scenes unfold before your eyes:

A scene from the "Big Room" at Carlsbad Caverns

The temperature “down there” is a constant 56 degrees F, all year round. When you reach the “Big Room” via the 750-foot elevator, you immediately start seeing scene after scene:

Another "Big Room" scene

And more:

And one more?

There are a few more images in today’s gallery. I don’t purport to be an expert on photographing scenes at these Caverns, but I would point out a few helpful things you might try if you’re thinking of visiting this magnificent place?

1.  Take a full-size tripod along. Lighting is artificial down there, and dim, by and large. Shutterspeeds can range from 1/2 second up to a few seconds, too long for hand-holding. My tripod was a small unit that could only be propped on the low retaining walls alongside the path, not as good as being able to set it up where you’re standing.

2.  Don’t rely on camera flash. The Caverns, unlit, would be pitch-black. Lighting artists over the years have established a lighting and back-lighting series of effects to bring out the depth and the beauty of the various stalactites and stalagmites. Flash kills that illusion, resulting in flat, uninteresting photos, IMO.

3.  A technical point: I think it would be best to shoot your photos, if possible, in RAW format, to get the best dynamic range from your images. I shot in JPG only, and later wished I’d shot in RAW.

4.  The Caverns are roughly 45 minutes from Carlsbad. Plan to arrive there early enough so that you can leave the place by about 3:30 PM. We actually stayed down for 1.5 hours, until 4:30, but the Ranger down there told us at 3:30 that they would be starting then to shut down the lighting systems. We begged, and she relented.

Carlsbad Caverns were discovered in 1902 by a ranch hand named Jim White. When he related what he’d found down there, his fellow ranch hands thought he was crazy! Jim persisted, hung on tenaciously to try to get someone to believe his story. Unbelievably, it was 20 years before he gained acceptance of his magical findings! If you get a chance, be sure to visit this astounding place. And stay with this blog to solve the mystery…


One Response to “A funny thing happened on the way out of Texas?”

  1. Jan said

    Brings back LOVELY memories! I was in the Caverns with my family in 1958!! I remember a big ta-do over the bats – either in the evening or the morning? Are they still there?

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