Friday morning, we came back to the National Park for the cave tour. Because we needed to be across the state by mid-afternoon, we got there just as it opened and were the first people down the 75-story elevator to the caverns.
The place is amazing. A paved path with handrails takes you meandering through the caverns for about an hour and a half. The whole spectacle is gently lit by artfully concealed bulbs, leaving some areas dark and others warmly glowing in their natural colors. We stopped at one point and tried to be completely still--only the sound of our light breathing accompanying the view of the massive mineral columns and otherworldly shapes emerging from the darkness.
From Carlsbad, we headed down the highway to El Paso. It was the most desolate stretch of road any of us could remember--about a hundred miles without more than a half dozen buildings (none of which were gas stations or restrooms) and even fewer intersecting roads, and a parched expanse of scrub brush that only a gila monster could love. We then skirted the Mexican border and headed north along the Rio Grande to Truth or Consequences--a town that deliberately renamed itself after a radio show as a publicity stunt.
Nowadays, T or C (as the locals call it) is a tired-looking place with the vitality of its main street largely drained by a massive Walmart that looks imperiously down on the boarded up grocery and dry-goods stores from its mesa-top perch at the edge of town. On the other edge of town and at the bank of the Rio Grande, we came upon our destination, Riverbend Hot Springs resort, where we were to play an outdoor evening concert for tips and a free room. The place used to be a youth hostel, and each room consists of half of a mobile home. There were no cars in the lot, and no discernible activity within. Our first reaction approached despair--we couldn't imagine the place would attract a crowd. But as we looked around, we quickly got the sense that somebody was pouring energy and love into the facility--the common structures were meticulously maintained, the grounds were well-tended, the trailers were dressed up with rustic porches and seating, cheerfully decorated, well insulated and air conditioned, and the owners were friendly and helpful. Topping it off were a series of hot spring baths fed by a single natural spring, with crystal clear (and odorless!) water becoming progressively cooler as it spilled over from one tub to the next and then down to the forceful current of the Rio Grande ten feet below.
We were to perform under an open lath structure next to the tubs. As showtime approached, however, so did an ominously spreading patch of thunderheads, rumbling in the distance. Just as we pulled our instruments out of their cases, the clouds let loose, and we scrambled to cover everything up. But within ten minutes, the maintenance guy showed up with a huge tarp to put over the band, and the owners jumped up to help tie it down. Naturally, as soon as it was secure th rain stopped, and nature didn't bother us again except to provide a few flashes of light and bursts of percussion as we started our first set.
And as the rain let up, low and behold, the 30 or so seats filled with warm and appreciative locals and guests who seemed to genuinely enjoy the show--we filled up a hat with tips, sold more CDs than at any other show on the trip and were asked to autograph about half of them. We even attracted some local wild life--a cockroach about four inches long came running first at Dave's feet and then at mine while we played. I stomped near it to chase it away, but the locals quickly protested that I should not harm or even frighten one of their local "waterbugs." (It's true that we only saw one, right next to the water.)
Afterwards, we hopped in the hot tubs for a soak and a visit with some of the guests who heard the show. We finally retired around 11, and slept like babies.