New Mexico - 2006 

Updated: 11/30/08


Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

On the road . . .



Carlsbad Caverns National Park


We took the elevator down 750 feet to the Big Room from the Visitor Center. There is also the traditional explorer's route into the entrance to the Big Room requiring a walk on a steep path. We were told it was a beautiful walk but a challenge to many people.



t a cbc walkway 014.JPG (47376 bytes)The walkway around in the Big Room has a non-slip surface and stainless steel railings. The walk was generally easy with no steps - all inclines. Wheelchairs can be used on most of the path if they have an attendant.

t a cbc panel 259.JPG (40082 bytes)Placards along the way explain the formations you are looking at. All along the route are electronic messages you can listen to if you rented a receiver for $3 per unit. We rented two units but we could have shared one.

The temperature in the cavern is a comfortable 56 degrees - a long sleeve shirt or light jacket should be carried so it is available if needed.




There are two routes in the Big Room. One is a little shorter so, of course, it misses a few features. The information sheet says the one mile stroll around the perimeter of the Big Room will take about 1.5 hours. You could probably walk it in that amounts of time. However, if you stop for many photographs or talk to the rangers, it will take longer. It took us almost four hours. Allowing two hours seems like a reasonable length of time. Some visitors brought their own flashlights to examine the features more closely.

It is dark in the Big Room with the features lit with lamps placed by a professional theatrical lighting specialist. Generally, we did not use flash photography so as not to affect the professionally designed lighting. [Note: The next visit to a cavern, Fred will take his uni-pod to steady the camera.]

The features along the way were spectacular. To do them justice, a 3-D camera would be needed. The depth and height of the features and the size of the stalactites and the stalagmites are not evident in photographs - nothing gives you a size comparison. What follows is a few of the photographs we made.



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Because Fred saw more green in the camera image than our naked eye saw, he asked one of the rangers making rounds of the Big Room if colored lamps were used. She said 'no' but, that the wave length of some of the lamps can cause algae to grow.  


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Most of the time the green tinge did not appear.


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t a cbc 339.JPG (21177 bytes)   t a cbc 347.JPG (44738 bytes)   t a cbc 350.JPG (51440 bytes)  Do you see the gorilla?




This formation is growing as are many others in the cavern. Fred used flash to show some of its detail.


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We saw this Roadrunner in the parking lot.

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The state bird of New Mexico



Admission to the park, including the elevator ride, was $7 for adults. There are not many pull-offs on the road to the caverns - none for a large RV. There should be room in the parking lot for your RV. However, if possible, leave your RV in camp and drive your tow/towed vehicle the sixteen miles to the caverns.

If you have an interest in cave exploration this is a good destination. Besides the two self-guided tours, there are six ranger-guided tours of various levels of adventure. For some, you must supply your own gloves, knee-pads and 4 "AA" batteries! Of course, there is an additional charge for these adventure tours.




Waste Isolation Pilot Plant


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u a bldg wipp055.JPG (32088 bytes)u a lobby wipp021.JPG (33128 bytes)The campground we stayed in had a handout of local information including attractions  in the area. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) was almost next door. We had heard reports in the news about this location and thought a visit would be interesting. It was.

You are actually visiting an office building that has displays in the lobby and presents a short video.


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u a container os wipp001.JPG (31880 bytes)A container outside the building gave you a brief introduction to the type of items stored at WIPP.






The actual storage location is about  45 miles from the office and twelve miles off the highway. Visitors are not permitted there. In the following photographs which are made from pictures in the display, a trucks carrying containers and the actual underground storage location can be seen.


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u a salt wipp005.JPG (38473 bytes)The underground waste storage rooms are carved out of a 250 million-year old salt formation 2,150 feet below the surface.  The underground repository will eventually consist of eight panels, each containing seven waste disposal rooms. Each disposal room is 300 feet long, 33 feet wide, and 13 feet high. A sample of the salt was on display in the lobby.







The material processed and isolated at WIPP is contact-handled transuranic (TRU) waste. TRU waste consist primarily of protective clothing, tools, glassware, equipment, soils, and sludges that have been contaminated with trace amounts of manmade radioactive elements, such as plutonium. These elements have a atomic number greater than uranium - thus transuranic (beyond uranium).


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u a tag wipp047.JPG (30072 bytes)Safety is of utmost importance when handling this type of material. They are proud of their safety record. As of the week we visited, they had successfully disposed of 43, 305 cubic yards of waste.






There is no admission fee to visit the WIPP building. Be aware that RV parking is non-existent. We were there in the off-season and parked along the curb in an aisle of their parking lot for our brief half-hour visit.



This WIPP facility is the first deep geologic repository for permanent disposal of defense-related transuranic waste in the United States. At full operation, a dedicated fleet of trucks with custom trailers will transport waste to the WIPP from 20 sites across the nation. This map shows temporary storage locations in addition to the WIPP location. 

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On the road . . .


Albuquerque has decorated their overpasses and sound barrier walls to make them more appealing. The medians are also landscaped with plants and in a couple locations huge colorful ceramic pots are included in the design. They also use a lot of colored concrete/adobe.


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w a nm az road067.JPG (38904 bytes)This is a view of  the San Jose De La Laguna Mission. The pueblo church was built in 1706. It was a very striking setting of an old New Mexico town.

w a vendors at fence.JPG (20216 bytes)Federal regulations prohibit the sale of merchandise by the Native Americans on the highway right of ways. To get around this, the Native Americans set up their tables against the fence on the reservation side and sell to travelers in the right of way pull-off.




Views on the road  . . .


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After driving through miles and miles of desert conditions, we came across an area with standing water on both sides of the road. The person in the visitor center down the road told us it was water from their last rainfall two months earlier. It just did not soak into the dry lake bed.



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