• Sage Webb

Place: Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico, to Alpine, Texas (and a Flash Flood); Book: Dante’s Inferno

The 800-some-foot length and the metaphysical power of the descent into Carlsbad Caverns made pairing a book with the adventure easy: Dante’s Inferno. In the dimness, in the cool quiet, amidst the towering, overwhelmingly beautiful cave formations, I could imagine Virgil at my side (chastising me for 1,001 mistakes, but also whispering that here was Truth).

I can’t say anything more about the few miles of walking we did through the cavern, of our hushed whispers and inability to express anything worthwhile about what we were seeing. The Big Room of the cave is the largest known natural limestone chamber in the Western Hemisphere (more than 600,000 square feet), and nothing I post here can do anything at all to represent it.

What I can express is the consternation-turned-giddy-delight we felt in encountering a section of highway that had just suffered the high water and piling up of debris of a flash flood. Still 30 miles from anywhere to eat (and we were starving) and a couple hours away from anything if we backtracked, we found ourselves flagged down by a West Texas Department of Transportation gentleman, who warned us not to try to cross the flood zone. A few lifted 4x4s passed us and made it through the high water and over a sort of pop-up sandbar, but the RV’s “basement storage” cringed at the sight.

So we raided our already raided pantry for cheese and wheat thins, shrugged at the complete lack of cell service (even though I really needed a hotspot to finish some work!), and sat down with a deck of cards and made up rude stories about a few young men in low-slung sports cars and tight jeans contemplating (and wisely forgoing) the crossing.

Here was an adventure.

It took about an hour and a half. The hefty trucks plowing over the flood area flattened the sandy berm, and the water level dropped, and we plowed very slowly across. After a much-anticipated chile relleno, the RV park in Alpine gave the day a curtain call of stars ... more stars than anywhere I’ve ever been except on boats out of sight of land. Clear, pulsing, breathing stars. Radiant stars. Falling stars. Stars to truly wish by ... except what else was there to wish for?

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