Kartchner Caverns
7/5/05

The history of Kartchner Caverns dates back to November of 1974 when two young cavers, Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts, were exploring the limestone hills at the base of the Whetstone Mountains. In the bottom of a sinkhole they found a narrow crack leading into the hillside. Warm, moist air flowed out, signaling the existence of a cave. After several hours of crawling, they entered a pristine cavern. It wasn't until February 1978 that Tenen and Tufts, told the property owners, James and Lois Kartchner, about their amazing discovery. 

During the four years of secret exploration, the discoverers realized that the cave's extraordinary variety of colors and formations must be preserved. After many clandestine meetings, the cave's existence became public knowledge in 1988 when its purchase was approved as an Arizona State Park. At this point, work started to make the caves available for public viewing. But to do this they had to protect the delicate ecosystem that kept the cave alive by preserving the moist microclimate that feeds the limestone formations. The caves rely on almost 100% humidity to survive, so any exposure to the dry outside air of the desert would deplete the annual supply of moisture almost immediately.
 
Over the next 11 years work was done that would enable the public to gain entry into the caves by putting in multiple doors that would trap the outside air,
not allowing it to reach the caverns, installing 13,000 square feet of passages around 2 rooms as long as football fields, and installing 22 environmental monitoring stations that measure air temperature, relative humidity, evaporation rates, air trace gases and airflow into the cave 24 hours a day. A Discovery center was added to the property and the Caverns were finally opened to the public on November 12, 1999 and is now known as Kartchner Caverns State Park enjoying a top ten rating of all of the parks available for view in the United States.
 
Mrs. C. had been wanting to go to Kartchner Caverns for several years. But for me, it just wasn't something that I was real interested in doing, even though I had heard very good things about.
My thoughts were, what is the big deal about a few stalagmites growing in a cave? Why walk down into a cave when I have perfectly good roads I could be riding on? I have to admit, I couldn't have been more wrong. It is the combination of the awesome colors and natural beauty that nature has been preparing for us over the last millions of years combined with the diligence of the State Parks to bring to us this phenomenon in such a way that it is a real "life experience". I'm not going to give it away, but the end of the 1.5 hour tour is phenomenal. The last 5 minute production is worth the whole trip, you will be moved by this experience. The visit to Kartchner is still something that I think about often.
 
There are 3 rooms in Kartchner to visit. We toured what is called the Rotunda Room and the Throne Room.
The Big Room is closed from April - October due to bats inhabiting the cave for reproduction. The Throne Room is the home of the tallest and most massive column in Arizona known as "Kubla Khan", standing 58 feet from floor to ceiling where you will learn new words such as "spelothems", "helictites" and "soda straws". Who would have thought that drops of water seeping through limestone to deposit minerals one on top of the other that form stalactites and stalagmites could be so interesting? Not me, but after visiting Kartchner Caverns I have a new appreciation for what lies beneath this earth that we cannot see. This is what you see on the outside. This is what is underneath. It is amazing and well worth the visit!  
 
It is best to call the park for reservations for tours that leave every 20 minutes,
especially on the weekends, and most certainly in the high tourist season. We got lucky and there were 2 spots left on the next tour leaving in 5 minutes. Call 520-586-CAVE to reserve your spot. There is so much more to know about Kartchner Caverns that I cannot include here, but I do have some good links for you to find some information for yourself. Click Here for basic information from the State Parks site about the park with times and costs. Here is a good site called Friends of Kartchner Caverns. Here is an excellent PDF of the complete history of the Caverns as written by the discoverers. Here is a good article from the AZ Republic a few years ago. Some the info is dated but very informative.


Click Here for Map to Kartchner Caverns.
 
The surprise of the trip on the way back home was our ride through the
Saguaro National Park just West of Tucson. This is a beautiful 28 mile loop that takes you through the mountains and hundreds of acres of Saguaro cactus. You can also stop at the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum along the way and the Visitors Center. Take Speedway exit #257 off of I-10 West and follow the signs to Saguaro Natl. Park. Go North on Sandario Rd. to Picture Rock Rd. and back to I-10. We did not take the inner road in the park as it is not paved. We just made the loop around the outside after stopping at the visitors center. This is a jewel of the desert that is well worth the trip. Click Here for the map.
 
Click Here for Photos of Day 1 of the Tombstone - Bisbee Overnight Ride.
Click Here for Photos of Day 2 and Kartchner Caverns.
Click Here for the Tombstone/Bisbee Overnight Ride.

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