Unlucky for us, the winter weather did not seem to escape us. However, we were in luck and spent the worst forecasted day to spend underground. And that was extremely wise of us. It was looking a little foggy/cloudy on the way up but that was it.
We discovered that we were not the only intrepid national park goers in winter, so all of the ranger guided tours were already sold out. We decided to hike into the cave via the Natural Entrance (which is quite steep at times - my legs got quite the workout). That in itself is a beautiful one mile, 750 feet drop hike. Then, once in the depth of the cave, we walked around the Big Room - equally long in length and equally stunning. I love how much magic occurs that deep underground. The formations were just breath-taking. Occasionally, they resembled alien landscapes.
The park uses different types of lighting to lend different looks to the formations - they lend an eerie beauty and make them photograph quite well. I had intended to use the tripod but instead decided it was too crowded to do so. It is amazing the formations made by the dripping of water and how many are still forming. From stalactites, to stalagmites, to soda straws, draperies, flowstone, cave pearls, lily pads, popcorn and helictites and columns.
When we finally emerged up top (via the very fast elevator), we discovered that the Natural Entrance had been closed due to icy conditions and the visitors center was enveloped in fog and sleet/snow. We ate a very leisurely lunch before carefully hitting the road again.
We passed Guadalupe Mountains National Park (a mere 30 minutes away) on the way back to our hotel and we stopped in after noticing that all the plants and trees were covered in a fine coat of ice/frost. It was well worth the quick stop to take some up close pictures of the poor tortured cacti encased in ice.
We had a slow but safe drive back to Van Horn and put in early for the night. The storm was a real menace to Midland and Odessa. Wendy's was full of travelers comparing horror stories of the highways. We were definitely glad that we were staying put for the night. It never did quite catch up to Van Horn. We spent our energies planning on next several meals because we were camping for almost the remainder of the trip.