(click on the image to see it full-size!)
We decided to add a couple of days to the beginning of our Christmas trip in order to visit Carlsbad Caverns in southern New Mexico. It was very beautiful and a lot of fun, though I think it will be better for us when our kids are older. The formations were so impressive and we loved seeing them, but in case you are planning a trip, let me just make a couple of notes in case it's of help to someone.
If you do the full walk, which is really worth doing after going all that way, it is two and a half miles. It's really very steep. There were these signs warning you that it was steep as we walked it but I guess I didn't take it very seriously! It was fine for James and I (with sensible shoes), but it was enough to make us tired afterward. Zack walked all of it but I was coaxing and bribing by the end to stave off whining: "there are snacks up here, should we walk on and see about a snack?"
We figured Sammy would love riding in the backpack with Daddy, but for some reason he did NOT. It's true he was sick, and also that because of being sick or in a hotel, he didn't sleep well the night before, but he was VERY cranky about being in the backpack. Maybe it was just too similar to being in a carseat. Whatever the cause, he wanted to be down and walking. We tried that, but it was totally impossible. The guardrails were above his eyeline so they weren't much of a deterrent. Instead, many of the precious and sensitive rock formation were at his eye level and well within reach (yikes). The dropoffs were right at the edge of the path and steep in many places. There was just no way a 21-month-old could walk it, even just long enough to tire and want to ride.
Also, we thought we could ply Sammy with snacks, forgetting that no snacks at all were allowed in the caverns (duh). And we forgot his pacifier. That was just a dumb move on our part. He cried a LOT. I spent many a switchback running along side James, holding Sammy's hand in the backpack and trying to sing to him in the lowest possible voice.
Which brings me to another point. You aren't supposed to speak above a whisper level in the cavern because everything echoes and sound carries. I can barely keep Zack from shouting everything he says, much less get him to keep his voice to a whisper (sometimes I notice my own volume and think me must take after his mom in this respect). And explaining to Sammy that he needed to keep his crying to a whisper? Well, you can guess how successful we were with that!
In the end, I gave Sammy my wrap and to hold like a lovey and he fell asleep, Zack was a trooper, and we got to see everything. One thing I loved was that because of the winter season the crowd was extremely light. We didn't get to see the bats, but there wasn't any guano smell and there weren't any crowds. There were many times when we were totally alone, not able to see or hear anyone in either direction.
Also, we rented some self-guided tour audio units that gave interesting details about more than forty stations along the route. There was a kid version and an adult version; we got one of each. They were both fun and Zack liked punching in the numbers and hearing the ongoing "story" of the cave. I recommend taking advantage of that feature when you go!
p.s. Don't forget a sweatshirt!