As I sit here and stare at this picture knowing how they formed, I am reminded that our lives are very similar to these columns. We don't grow into who we are overnight. Instead experiences, people, events, relationships, and feelings continually shape us slowly into the person that we become. For most of us, it's hard to identify a moment that made us what we are today. Instead, like these cave deposits, every little moment builds to create the totality of us - masterpieces that could never be duplicated.
Learning to ride an old beat up yellow bicycle when I was 6, making my first best friend, roller skate dancing to "Hey Mickey" in the basement with my sister, feeling hurt when I caught a friend lie to me at the bus stop in 4th grade, getting pooped on by a bird at the same bus stop, a skinned knee in 5th grade, sitting in someone's loogie at the swimming pool in college, locking my keys in my car over and over again - these millions of tiny moments made me, me. The same is true for my kids. They probably won't even remember this 3 month trip we took the winter of 2014 or the fact that we went 75 stories down into the earth to explore Carlsbad Caverns. But the culmination of how they felt on the trip and the images burned into their little minds will still affect their future. Maybe going into Carlsbad Caverns taught them to manage fear or embrace exploration. The conversation with the park ranger giving out badges might have made an impression that smiling people are nice to be around. Mommy's fearful reaction to the drop off on the side of the road could have showed them how to offer support. It's hard to say what is "sticking" on my children, and for that matter myself and my husband, during this trip. But I think that it has created some beautiful colors, ripples, and patterns in all of our lives, not dissimilar to the giant columns above.
In an effort to bring my focus back to our day at Carlsbad Caverns, let me start by saying that this cave is known for many things, but two that were particularly interesting to us - the bat colony that flies out every night at sunset and the natural entrance into the cave. Unfortunately, we didn't get to experience either. We arrived too late to go in through the natural entrance. They close that entrance at 2pm each day. But, we were thrilled to make it with about 30 seconds to spare for the last elevator ride down to the bottom at 3:30pm. Normally the lines for the elevators are an hour or more long, but we got right on and had the cave to ourselves.
The reason we didn't get to see the bat colony at sunset is because they migrate south in the winter and don't come back until late April or May, so we were too early in the season to see them. It's hard to imagine that 400,000 bats fly out together. The person who discovered the cave noticed the "black smoke" coming out of the ground. Turns out that the "smoke" was actually bats. The ranger said that they will typically have 1000 or more people watching the bats exit the cave each evening. I bet it is a madhouse at Carlsbad in the summertime.
Despite missing those two items, we still had a great time exploring the cave and were glad we made the effort to get there. Our National Park Pass saved us the $20 entrance fee, which made the visit free which was even better.
As I reflect on how visiting Carlsbad Caverns grew me personally, I can probably identify a few things like now I know that bats migrate. I had never considered that before. But the experience more than likely contained a thousand drips of impact on me that I will never be conscious of until later, if even then, but they will still contribute to shaping me and my family into our own unique columns.