One August morning in 1975 a young woman of 24 stepped into her blue Duster and headed out of the hilly driveway in the off-the-beaten-path town of Bent, New Mexico. She headed east, knowing that she needed to drive from this point in southern New Mexico to the city of Houston, Texas. As she began her journey she re-evaluated her plans and came to an important decision. She decided to make the most of her long trip. She planned to first drive southeast, down to Carlsbad Caverns, NM.
The woman driving the blue Duster was hungry to learn more about New Mexico. She had become enchanted by the history and culture of that State. She had recently completed a four week course at Los Alamos National Laboratory. During that course she had had an opportunity to experience first hand the ecology of the region north of Carlsbad Cavern, NM. She had embraced the sense of detachment that one found while sitting in a former haunt of the New Mexican Indians. She felt ready to explore the Carlsbad Caverns.
By mid morning the woman had stopped at a store in order to obtain a Carlsbad Caverns map. Then armed with the directions that she needed she proceeded on towards the Carlsbad Caverns. Before the hour of eleven had arrived she had pulled into the parking lot at the Caverns and had purchased a ticket. That ticket would allow her to take a self-guided tour. She then joined the large group of tourists who were heading into the 56 degree, underground world of the Carlsbad Caverns.
There she descended down into Lechugilla Cave, the deepest limestone cave in the United States. She noted that it was 800 feet below sea level. She then reflected on the fact that her summer travels had taken her from a Colorado mountain, a point 10,000 feet above sea level to this Cave, a point 800 feet below the level of the ocean's surface. Her reflections served to heighten her enthusiasm for her stop at the Carlsbad Caverns.
On that morning the young woman walking through the Carlsbad Caverns learned that the Lechugilla Cave contains microbes that are not found anywhere else in the world. Yet she paid only fleeting attention to that information. She did not then know that her career in biomedical research would eventually take her into an Infectious Disease Lab. She was concentrating on the Carlsbad Cavern map and not the hypothetical map of her future.
She tried to take-in all of the information about the bats at Carlsbad Caverns. She learned that the Caverns were the bats' summer home. She would have enjoyed watching those Mexican free-tailed bats as they flew out of the Caverns at night, but she knew that she needed to continue her trip east.
So she proceeded quickly through that section of the Carlsbad Caverns that contained portions of the Capitan Reef. She could not afford to stop and look closely at the world's best-preserved Permian age fossil reefs. She had to get back in her Duster and drive on through more of the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert.
But that stop at the Carlsbad Caverns stayed with that young lady. Later she returned to New Mexico as the student in a different graduate program. She then made many drives across the highways of that land of enchantment. One drive allowed her to make a return visit to Los Alamos, but somehow she never got back to Bent, or to the Carlsbad Caverns.