Southwest Adventures and Peppermint Mocha Marshmallows

In the beginning of December, two of my coworkers, a fellow SLP and a PT doctoral student, dragged me to Carlsbad Caverns in the Southeast portion of New Mexico. Perhaps “dragged” isn’t necessarily the appropriate term, but they definitely needed to cajole me to wake up at 7am on a Sunday to drive 3 ½ hours each way the morning after our open bar work holiday party.

One of the factors in my decision to move to the NM was to be able to explore a quadrant of the country that I haven’t seen much of. After moving, I started off my explorations strong, but then quickly faded as work piled on more tasks and the holiday season set in. In the end, I was really glad they convinced me to go to the caverns.

Carlsbad was amazing: it is the western hemisphere’s largest cave, and its largest room is about 4,000 feet long by 625 feet wide. There are actually two known caverns within the cave: an upper cavern open to the public, and a lower cavern that has been preserved for research and is only available to scientists by permit. They are still discovering offshoots and rooms with the cavern, which was first estimated to discovered in 1898. (Although it is still not known if Native Americans knew about the cave sooner.) My favorite recent discovery story is that of the Halloween Cavern, which was discovered accidentially by a balloon on Halloween, therefore inspiring it’s name.

No worries, we actually did not touch any of the cave in this picture. (Its one of those optical illusion pictures.)

No worries, we actually did not touch any of the cave in this picture. (Its one of those optical illusion pictures.)

I’ve explored several caverns throughout my life before, but Carlsbad was by far the best. It is the most decorated cavern I’ve been to, meaning that there are stalagmites and stalagtites galore; there are dots of water pools, rock windows with views of smaller rooms, pockets illuminated like passageways, and even a whimsical area called Fairyland. Venturing into Carlsbad is like entering a different world. While touring the cavern my friends and I were trying to create descriptions to describe the sights: “the Middle East”, “The Moon”, “a fossiled coral reef”, were all thrown out but quickly abandoned simply because there just are no adequate words.

Since we went in winter, there weren’t any crowds, which turned out to be eerie. To enter the cave, you can either take the elevator down or walk the winding path that slowly descends into the natural mouth of the cave, switching back and winding through and around boulders and growths and moss-covered rocks. The day we went, we chose to walk down, and since we were one of the few groups of people there, our voices echoed as the three of us descended into the quickly engulfing darkness. If not for the lights along the path, it was evident that we would have been in complete and total darkness within 3 minutes of entering the cave.

The natural mouth of the caverns from above.

The natural mouth of the caverns from above.


The natural mouth of the cave, but this time, looking up from total darkness. 

The natural mouth of the cave, but this time, looking up from total darkness. 


The entrance of the cave is a natural mouth, meaning that the ground naturally opened up into an entrance, or in summer, a grand exit. It is estimated that Carslbad Caverns is home to an estimated hald a million bats, and at dusk in summer, they exit in flocks through the natural mouth, creating clouds of flying creatues swirling and dipping through the sky on their way to hunt. I’ve linked a video of this here from a user on YouTube so you can see this magnificnent show; unfortunately the bats had already migrated to warmer Mexican locales by the time of our winter visit, so I did not see the bat show first hand. I’ve already decided, however, that I will be back to see the nightly mass exodus when the bats return to their home in spring.

The caverns, amazingly, keep a stable 57 degrees year round. My fellow SLP, Alexa, told me that in summer, the caves are refreshingly cool: the cave’s placement within the Guadalupe mountain ranges on the border of southeast New Mexico and rural Texas, in the middle of a vast stretch between the middle of nothing, desert, and borderlands, creates soaring and dry temperatures in summer. Alexa explained that visiting the caves in summer is like a little cool oasis, and the constant humidity of 90% underground is refreshing. Even when we visited in winter, the humidity in the air felt cool and comforting: after living in the desert, suddenly stepping into a room of sorts with moisture in the air is novel and refreshing.

Our timing to visit the caves was incredibly appropriate. As much as I love working with kids, trying to gather their attention and cultivate growth during the time period after Thanksgiving and before winter break is incredibly grappling, difficult, and taxing. Those few weeks between each holiday are really exhausting, and I’m sure everyone can relate. In the past, I have plowed through the holidays with constant stream of coffee and a candy induced sugar high, but I’ve since realized that that is not sustainable for long. Instead of creating burnout that takes weeks of solitude and relaxation to recover from, I’ve decided to boycott that entirely. No more gathering willpower to muscle through our self-induced periods of stress and anxiety; its just not a way to live. This holiday season, and hopefully for every one after, I’ve decided to make time to take breaks, to explore to recharge, just like I did in Carlsbad Caverns, and to take time for the activities that I really, truly enjoy engaging in.

I challenge you all, this holiday season, to take the time to do whatever is you need to do for yourself: whether that is reading a book, taking a road trip, or spending all day in the kitchen decorating holiday cookies. Recharging is important, and necessary for a well-cultivated, enjoyable, and productive life.

So what will I be doing in the coming weeks to recharge? Dreaming of Carlsbad Caverns, mapping the rest of my Southwest adventures, and curling up with a good book and a mug of these holiday-inspired Peppermint Marshmallows. (I just can’t get enough!)

Happy Holidays.



Paleo Peppermint-Mocha Marshmallows

  • 3.5 oz. high quality, dark chocolate
  • 1 cup water, divided
  • 3 tbsp. powdered beef gelatin
  • 3 tbsp. instant coffee granules
  • ¾ tsp. peppermint extract
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup coconut sugar
  • Tapioca Starch, for dusting
  • In a large bowl, mix all powdered beef gelatin with ½ cup water. Let set for at least 10 minutes to soften.
  1. In an 8x8 baking pan, line with parchment paper. Dust bottoms and sides with a small amount of tapioca starch. Set aside.
  2. In a saucepan, combine remaining water, vanilla, peppermint extract, coffee granules, and coconut sugar. Stir and then bring to a medium simmer, then immediately reduce heat so mixture has only occasional bubbles. Let heat for approximately 10 minutes longer, until mixture is thoroughly heated and all coconut sugar has dissolved. Mixture will be a dark amber color.
  3. Add ¼ saucepan mixture to bowl with softened gelatin. Turn on mixer and beat on medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Add second ¼ of saucepan mixture and continue to beat on medium-high heat. Repeat process until all saucepan mixture is used.
  4. Once all of saucepan mixture has been added into the mixer bowl, increase mixer to high speed (setting #8 on a Kitchenaid stand mixer) and beat for about 3 minutes, then on highest speed (Setting #10 on a Kitchenaid Stand Mixer) for about 4-5 minutes more. Marshmallows will be done when they have the viscosity of marshmallow fluff. Be careful not to over mix, as they will become too springy and difficult to handle.
  5. Using a spatula, pour the marshmallows into your prepared baking pan and gently shake until they are level. Dust the top once more with tapioca starch, and then place another strip of parchment paper over the top of the marshmallows for evenness and protection.
  6. Store pan of marshmallows in a cool, dry spot for approximately 4-6 hours, or even overnight, to let set.
  7. Once set, remove top strip of parchment paper, and lift marshmallows out of pan by pulling out the parchment paper. Cut marshmallows into evenly sized squares.
  8. In a small bowl, melt chocolate in the microwave in 10 second intervals, stirring in between to avoid scalding or burning. (You could also use a double boiler to melt the chocolate, if that is your preference.)