I was not really expecting to see much wildlife at the mine site! However, this Desert Cottontail, a member of the rabbit family, seemed to have settled in for good amongst some old sections of metal electrical switchgear cabinets that had been hauled out for junk and were just sitting there rusting away topside. These cute little creatures inhabit the American west from Montana all the way down into Texas and over into Mexico and California. It did not seem very skittish compared to the Snowshoe Hares common in eastern Canada where I grew up. I came across it on several occassions as I walked from our office to the Cage Hoist for another trip to the depths!
The 2nd photo shows a creature I was really interested to see - a Roadrunner! Seeing it brought back pleasant memories of all the laughs I had decades ago watching one of these outwit 'Wile E. Coyote' on the Warner Brothers cartoon shows! Sure enough, there was this largest member of the Cuckoo family trotting around the mine site (they can reach almost 20 mph) - always wary to maintain a safe distance from humans. On a couple of occasions I noticed that the Roadrunner seemed to have a morsal of some sort in its beak - and was saddened to learn from one of the site secretaries that it would occassionally fly up when necessary to grab young Swallows from their nests beneath the building eaves (3rd photo).
The 4th photo shows a rear view of a squirrel in the backyard of the house I was using for my residence. On more than one late afternoon, as the sun was setting, I noticed it laying flat on its belly atop our surrounding rock wall with its legs splayed out as it soaked up a few rays. It lay there motionless for hours - something I had never seen a squirrel do before.
This photo shows me 1600-ft down, in front of the 'cage' that carries men and equipment up and down. My typical kit was worn by all our employees who ended up spending time underground at the mine. The coveralls are designed to resist a certain amount of energy in the event an electrical arc flash occurs while working on equipment - preventing you from catching fire. The yellow flash stripes glow brightly when light is shone on them, enabling you to be seen by equipment drivers in the dim recesses of tunnels. The sturdy blue belt has to support a large battery attached on one side (with its cable running up your back to the light on the hard hat). On the other side of the belt is an SCSR (Self-Contained Self-Rescuer) - a device you will deploy in case of smoke or other breathing dangers. Once opened, it will provide oxygen for up to an hour. Rules also require that a larger rescue-breather also be kept nearby (on your vehicle for instance) to provide a few more hours for you to reach the surface or a rescue chamber. The small round metal tag hanging from the belt is your personal number, with an identical one hanging on a board located above ground indicating whether you are either on the Surface or Underground - a method used to determine exactly who and how many miners are down at any time. Safety glasses and steel-toed/electrically insulated boots make up the rest of the kit, along with your water jug and lunch box to get you through an 8-hour shift in the heat below.
The 2nd photo shows the long brown 'cage' on the surface as it hangs on the right side of the tower, with its lower compartment used for transporting equipment and the upper compartment for miners. The 3rd photo shows one of the rescue chambers where miners can retreat and seal themselves off with extra air breathers, food and cots if things get bad. There is also a telephone and air pipe direct to the surface in case they are trapped for an extended period.
The 4th photo shows one of the many Miners - a large battery-driven machine that can raise its rotating 'chewing bits' on the front end to gouge away at the walls and ceilings to spit the ore out its rear-end onto a Haul machine. You can see the marks on the roof where the teeth have done their work and also how reflective those stripes can be.
In the 5th photo, I'm at the controls of one of the several vehicles required to move men around the many miles of underground tunnels that branch out from the shaft. They are 4WD and quite easy to use but many tunnels are so low that you have to always be prepared to duck your head (sometimes as low as the steering wheel!) to avoid serious injuries!
Just to the southeast of town, in the opposite direction of Carlsbad Caverns and on a little-used state highway, lie several stunning alkali flats.
Alkali flats are essentially dry lake beds where salt has accumulated. After a light rain, they become a gorgeous, shimmering white.
From Carlsbad take US 285 south to NM 31. Turn left (east) and turn right (south) approximately 10 miles later at NM 128, Jal Highway. This will take you to Texas.
If you really want to explore a region, get a good map!
Benchmark makes an excellent, detailed atlas of New Mexico, which lead me to CR 206 northeast of town into the oil and gas fields on Carlsbad's extreme outskirts. The road runs north from town as Canal Street and ends up at US 82 several miles east of Artesia. It takes a little longer than 285, but it's a much more interesting drive.
Sitting Bull Falls. It's right there on your map, but you may ignore it because it's so far down a dirt road. You want to check it out! In the middle of the desert you'll find a big waterfall complete with cottonwoods and columbine. Well worth the drive.
Though most visitors who travel to the park concentrate on the caverns, a nearby nature trail will give you a good sampling of desert flora and fauna. It is about 1/2 mile long. Keep an eye out for lizards. This is prime habitat for them. I spotted 2 Collared Lizards. The trail makes for an interesting diversion and is recommended if you have the time.
It's kind of cheesy, but there is payphone in the cafeteria down in the caves. I couldn't resist calling my mom from so far underground.