Into the maw…

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First, let me correct a misconception about this recent series of pictures from our Southwest road trip. They were shot a few years back – we are not currently on this trip!  I think I mentioned that when I started this series, but from some of the comments on Facebook, it’s clear folks think we’re on this trip now. Alas, we are not.

After leaving Alamogordo, NM, my friend went with us down to Carlsbad, NM. Just outside of Carlsbad is Carlsbad Caverns National Park. My high school friend knew someone in Carlsbad who knew the retired superintendent of the national park there, and they asked him if he’d be willing to take us on a tour of the caverns. Bless his heart (we say that a lot here in the south!), he said yes! He was a veritable fount of overflowing knowledge about the park – and he told us story after story about things that had happened in certain parts of the cavern, about its discovery and history. And, even though he was the oldest one in our crew, he walked out legs off as we hiked down from the top of the cavern all the way to the bottom. We didn’t hike back up from the bottom (we cheated and rode the elevator), but he often would walk down and back up again the same day both because he loved the caverns and he used it as exercise.

Today’s photo is of the switchback pathway leading down to the yawning maw that is the cavern’s entrance. I don’t know if it was done on purpose or not, but the stones that line the walkway look a bit like molars (teeth), giving the sense of being devoured. One had the impression that they were descending into Hades and that one might never come back out again. I am not fond of confined spaces…but I actually did quite well on this hike down to the bottom of the cavern and didn’t feel claustrophobic (at least not much). I’m sure there are places in there where I would feel very uncomfortable, but we didn’t crawl through any of those places. I did wonder, a few times, if the caverns would collapse. That’s just how my mind works. 

I couldn’t help, though, but wonder about those who first explored the cave without the benefit of electric lighting. To descend into that pit with just a lantern and some extra lantern oil really took courage (or stupidity, one or the other)!

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1862, Confederate spy Marie Isabella “Belle” Boyd is arrested by Union troops and detained at the Old Capitol Prison in Washingto, D.C. It was the first of three arrests for this skilled spy who provided crucial information to the Confederates during the war.

The Virginian-born Boyd was just 17 when the war began. She was from a prominent slaveholding family in Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia), in the Shenandoah Valley. In 1861, she shot and killed a Union solider for insulting her mother and threatening to search their house. Union officers investigated and decided the shooting was justified.

Soon after the shooting incident, Boyd began spying for the Confederacy. She used her charms to engage Union soldiers and officers in conversations and acquire information about Federal military affairs. Suspecting her of spying, Union officers banished Boyd further south in the Shenandoah, to Front Royal, Virginia, in March 1862. Just two months later, Boyd personally delivered crucial information to General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson during his campaign in the valley that allowed the Confederates to defeat General Nathaniel Banks’s forces at the Battle of Winchester. In another incident, Boyd turned two chivalrous Union cavalrymen who had escorted her back home across Union lines over to Confederate pickets as prisoners of war.

Boyd was detained on several occasions, and on July 29 she was placed in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington. But her incarceration was evidently of limited hardship. She was given many special considerations, and she became engaged to a fellow prisoner. Upon her release one month later, she was given a trousseau by the prison’s superintendent and shipped under a flag of truce to Richmond, Virginia. Boyd was arrested again in 1863 and held for three months. After this second imprisonment, she became a courier of secret messages to Great Britain. In 1864, her ship was captured off the coast of North Carolina, and the ship and crew were taken to New York. Captain Samuel Hardinge commanded the Union ship that captured Boyd’s vessel, and the two were seen shopping together in New York. He followed her to London, and they were married soon after.

Boyd was widowed soon after the end of the war, but the union produced one child. Still just 21, Boyd parlayed her spying experiences into a book and an acting career. She died in Wisconsin in 1900.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY: when you look up at the night sky with the naked eye, every star you see is part of our own Milky Way Galaxy.

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