Driving east from El Paso, Texas, on U.S. Highway 62/180, the scenery framed in our windshield looked brown, barren, and well…desolate. With a ho-hum nod, we passed crusty salt flats, bare creosote bushes, and dusty desert land dotted with cactus. And then, El Capitan in the Guadalupe Mountains appeared in the distance, raising its stark […]
To a 16-year-old cowhand mending fences for a ranch in the Guadalupe Mountains of Texas and Southeastern New Mexico, the plume of black smoke rising from a mountainside looked like a volcano eruption. However, young Jim White admitted he had never seen a volcano. He had seen plenty of prairie whirlwinds, but this black funnel-shaped cloud looked different. After watching for half an hour, the young cowboy crept through rocks and thorny brush and discovered a whirling mass of dark furry bats spinning upward from a large hole in the mountainside. He and other cowhands knew of the mountain’s opening, but he had felt no urge to see what was hiding in the blackness of the gaping crevice—not until the day he saw what he estimated to be millions of bats flying out in the dusk to feed on insects in the nighttime. As he gazed over the edge into the yawning chasm, there appeared no bottom in sight. His curiosity piqued, White returned in a couple of days to the cave’s mouth with a kerosene lantern, rope, wire, string, and a hand ax to begin what would be his life’s work—the exploration and promotion of New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns.