Last Thursday we took a trip to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico, about two and a half hours from El Paso. (We hit up two national parks that day--bathroom break at Guadalupe Mountains, because there is seriously nothing else between El Paso and Carlsbad).
I looked like this:
My parents took me to Carlsbad as a young child, but since I don't remember much of that trip, this was like experiencing it for the first time.
The self-guided tour enters the cave through the natural entrance (the gaping hole behind me), via an asphalt path which has been blasted into the wall in places. The initial descent is steep at times, and very dark once you leave the light of the entrance behind, but I never felt unsafe. Only slightly creeped out about being so far below ground.
But the creepiness is worth it, for views like this:
It's amazing to think all this was formed by dripping water, and that some of the speleothems (my new favorite word) are still growing! The park website has better pictures; cavern photography is apparently a specialized art form for which the iPhone is not equipped.
The park ranger at the entrance (they give you an orientation before you can go in, to make sure you know not to touch anything) said the 1.25 mile descent to 750 feet underground takes about an hour and the tour of the Big Room at the bottom takes an hour and a half; we did both slightly faster. And while you can leave the same way you came in, we took advantage of the elevator ride direct to the gift shop.
I had intended to wear my support belt since I knew we would be doing so much walking, but my scattered brain forgot to bring it. I was fine though--no round ligament pain. I didn't run that day, so our two-ish hours of hiking counted as my workout.
It was a fun trip, definitely something worth seeing while in El Paso. If you have the time to make a weekend of it, stay until evening to watch the bats fly out of the cave en masse. I wish we had been able to see this, though I'm sure hordes of bats would creep me out as much as going so far underground!