A Totally (non) Trivial First Field Trip

Author: Vivian Y.

This Tuesday, we had our first ever field trip, to Carlsbad Caverns National Park! My group (the Topo-Centaurs), along with group 6, was on field trip duty this week, meaning we had to wake up at around 5:30 am to help prepare for the trip… the sky was still dark. But on the bright side (see what I did there?), we got to see a beautiful sunrise over the famous New Mexico mountain ranges.

The sky looked quite… delectable

After we loaded the lunches onto our bus and distributed McDonalds to everyone, we were on our way. The three hour drive provided ample time for napping, talking, and for some (myself included, unfortunately), pset grinding. I barely managed to write legibly as we sped down New Mexico highways, and had to try several times to box my answers (squiggles aren’t too great of a look). The most exciting part of the drive, however, was the release of QOD #8: a quest involving a photo scavenger hunt. As my roommate Bailey knows all too well, I anticipate the daily QOD releases… a little too much.

Soon enough, we arrived! As we walked down the steep, stony path, the temperature gradually decreased from a scorching New Mexico 105° to a San Diego-esque 56°, much to my relief. The caverns were pretty dark (as caves tend to be) and were mainly lit up by the frequent spotlighted features. 

Some of the stalactites and stalagmites we saw during the ~3 hour hike! Some resembling food, and others more questionable in appearance.

Our scavenger hunt group (Prisha, Julia, Dean, and I) spent our time with everyone else, walking through the enormous cave (and hiking the big room route twice), taking selfies, or trying to get the TAs to hold hands… or raise their hands…. it’s complicated. 

One of our many selfies: from L to R, me, Kavish, Dean, Julia, Gautam, Velvet, Prisha

Eventually, we reached the long anticipated “lunch room,” which, doesn’t let you bring your own food in, by the way… at least buying a bag of chips only cost 95 cents (no tax!). Here, we rested our tired feet, which were unaccustomed to so much walking after spending our first week mainly sitting down. Although, I will say, despite how long we spend in the classroom, we still walk quite a lot— I’m averaging around 11k steps daily, which is about 11k more than I take at home…

We then made our way up the elevator, which, thankfully, prevented us from having to hike 750 feet up out of the caverns, and reached the gift shops (plural since, yes, there were two!!). Here, I purchased some postcards and pressed a penny, and our scavenger hunt group continued the search for a green alien, a smiling Dr. R, and Benji drinking anything but water. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful, but we did spell out “SSP” in a unique manner:

In retrospect, we probably could’ve used the names of SSP participants…

After a 30 minute drive, we were greeted with the pleasant view of a Walmart, with a Subway inside. There, we had our first ever dinner outside the Taos dining hall, which was a nice change to our usual routine. For some participants, this significant milestone also coincided with their first ever subway sandwich… quite the occasion, if you ask me. We then proceeded to scour the isles of Walmart, stocking up on snacks for the week, buying orbeez, or starting an early preparation for the 4th of July:

Vicky, Bailey, and Isabella in Subway with their Dr. R approved patriotic sunglasses 😮

We then drove back to the caverns, to watch the bats fly out for the night. According to the ranger giving the program, these bats live super deep in the cave, and up to 400,000 of them could fly out in one night. Now, I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen a LOT of bats at once, but it was quite a sight. The sky was littered with rapidly flapping, tiny little mammals, slowly turning into smaller and smaller dots as they spread out for the night. It was actually quite beautiful. Over the course 45 minutes, we saw at least 10 different waves of bats flying out, totaling at least a couple thousand bats. And I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s enough bats for a while. 

After we piled back into the bus and headed home, we returned to Psets, sleep, or talking. Dean and I ended up having some super deep conversations about Interstellar (forgetting Murphy’s dad and calling him Joe), the best hot pot in Boston (should I ever end up there), and whether that red dot is a plane or a cell tower (it was a cell tower). 

Overall, today was an amazing first field trip, and I’m excited for more. But we’re a few minutes away from campus now, so I’m gonna end the blog post here. Sorry for the long post. As expected, my fingers are tired, but perhaps as Dr. Andersen says (and I’m learning), “You just have to work harder.”

– Vivian

About me:

Hi! I’m Vivian, a rising senior from San Diego, California. I’m interested in cybersecurity and engineering, and in my free time, I like to play tennis and listen to music. Here at SSP, you can find me running away from the multitude of bugs, taking pictures of the sunset, or getting absolutely destroyed by astro psets.