Within 5 minutes of arriving at the Carlsbad Cavern main cave, I smashed my brand new 14-24mm Nikon lens. Twice.

The start of my trip to New Mexico was rough. The first 45 minutes of driving out of Albuquerque to Carlsbad I got smacked with a speeding ticket.

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 It was an 80 in a 70, but when I asked the cop if it also came with a “Welcome to New Mexico” postcard he turned it into an 88 in a 70. 

Sweet.

Upon arriving to the Carlsbad Caverns, my excitement far outweighed the ticket. I was so excited to see this exotic place I’d only seen on Planet Earth TV shows, and was probably acting like a complete pain in the ass. (Editor’s Note: While proof-reading this outloud to Michele, she chimed in after I read that last line and said, “By ‘pain-in-the-ass’ do you mean like when we pulled into Roswell to get a sandwich because I was hungry and you refused to get out of the car?”)

Once you get to the caves, you take an elevator down about 1000 feet. It’s cold when you get out, and dark, and quiet. I had brought my headphones because traveling has taught me one thing: man I hate people. In pristine wilderness they’re loud. In enclosed places with magnificent echo, they’re loud. Everywhere, they’re loud. I popped in my headphones and entered the big cave that’s open to the public. (I didn’t shoot other caves on this trip for a few reasons – time, healing plantar fasciitus, and the fact that you aren’t allowed tripods in the other caves. I knew there would be little to no chance of getting a clean shot without a tripod.

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I stopped about 30 feet in to unpack my lens and body, and in the dark with my headphones on I felt a little disoriented. I got out my 14-24, walked a few feet, decided I wanted my 28-300 instead. I took the pack off, again, a little flustered and impatient with all the crap I was carrying. I put the camera body down and moved some items in the pack around to make room for the 14-24’s weird fat shape. Without being able to hear because my headphones were on, and without really being able to see because I was in a cave, it was too late when I saw the head of the tripod come down on my brand new 14-24mm lens tube.

FAIL.

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After I started breathing again, I twisted the focus ring to the gut-wrenching sounds of kkrrrgggllllkkrrraackkkle. The glass on both ends was okay, it seemed like the tube was okay, but there was something in the focus ring making an awful noise. Then I saw I smashed the window to the focus ring, and all that plastic/glass had gone inside the lens.

Worst. Feeling. Ever.

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I shot that afternoon before calling it a day and going back the next morning, at which time within five minutes of entering the cave, my headphone earbuds wrapped around the leg of the tripod which wasn’t out all of the way due to space limitations, sending my – wait for it – entire D3s body AND my 14-24mm lens crashing to the ground from 5 feet in the air.

That’s the first time I’ve ever dropped my camera and the feeling can only be described as wanting to throw up, die, poop and pass out all at the same time. Luckily, it’s all insured and the angle of the fall was such that the body landed on the strap ring, which is metal on Nikon bodies and juts out a little bit – it’s a little dented but everything seems in working order.

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I’ve had my camera for more than a year and a half, and have never had anything happen to it. Twice in two days I sent gear crashing to its near-death. I can only think that the 14-24mm lens is cursed.

Along my path of destruction I managed to take some photographs of one of the most striking, awe-inspiring places I’ve ever been. The full gallery is below.

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