Monday, January 18, 2010

Carlsbad Caverns National Park Backcountry, Part I:Natural History

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is all about caves for a lot of folks. We love the caves too. We also love the sunshine and the multi-faceted wonder of the rugged back country. Recently we hiked up Yucca Canyon, over Yucca Mesa and arrived at Longview Spring. It's now one of our favorite areas around these parts. Here's why...

The hike takes you quickly into a hidden canyon complete with whimsical rock spires...

...mysterious cave openings...

...and bird-filled, wooded streambeds:

Yucca Canyon leads to Yucca Mesa - a large flat summit that supports exceptional short grass prairie interspersed with shrub oak and pinyon-juniper thickets.

There's even a Ponderosa Pine or two up here:

The route to Longview Spring takes you down the other side of the mesa and into a small pretty canyon filled with a crazy mix of plants from cacti and succulents to luxurient native grasses and an unexpected mix of trees (Ponderosa Pine, Alligator Juniper, Rocky Mountain Juniper, Texas Madrone, Bigtooth Maple, Netleaf Hackberry - you get the idea!):

The little canyon empties into an inaccessible gorge and bisects a handy rock ledge that wraps around the slope contour (which leads to Longview Spring):

We finally reach Longview Spring and sweeping views of West Slaughter Canyon and the comfortingly quiet wilderness back country:

We didn't linger very long as we wanted to leave the spring to the wildlife but we soaked in the views and felt grateful for the these protected lands:

After traversing such a variety of wonderment we struggle with calling it "desert". It's neither deserted nor dry nor is it simply cacti and sand (as Hollywood depicts). Oh well, what's in a name, anyway? We just enjoy each part as it comes.

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