Kartchner Caverns: Still growing after 200,000 years
Arizona is a wondrous state for its diverse, natural and awe-inspiring beauty. Everyone is familiar with the state’s most popular tourist sights, from the Grand Canyon, Sedona’s red rock country to the Saguaro National Park. However, there’s one sight that may not be familiar to you: A state park located about an hour south of Tucson…Kartchner Caverns.
Kartchner Caverns is one of the largest and most well-preserved living caves in the country…if not the world. If you’ve never been inside a cave before, this is the one you must see. Painstaking effort not only went into preserving the cave for generations to come, but also for making it the most comfortable cave for tourists to explore. Paved trails run throughout the cave system, making it easy for folks of all ages and abilities to explore.
Your tour guide will explain the difference between stalactites and stalagmites, while giving you geologic and historic information. While the cave is estimated to be 200,000 years old, it was not discovered until 1974 when two cavers were exploring the limestone hills at the base of the Whetsone Mountains. The Cavers (Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts) spent the next few years making trips back to their discovery to further explore the depths of the cave. It wasn’t until many years later that they shared their findings with the owners of the land. All involved decided the best way to preserve the site was to contact the state of Arizona and pitch the idea of creating a park. It took many more years of planning and meticulous construction efforts before the park would eventually open to the public in 1999.
In order to maintain the integrity of the cave’s ecosystem, only a limited number of visitors are allowed to tour the cave, so advanced reservations are required. I was living in Arizona when Kartchner first opened and remember the intense tour demand…if I recall correctly there was nearly a six month waiting period. I was lucky enough to see the caverns in the early days as I had a friend whose cousin was a ranger at the park. It’s been over a decade since I last visited Kartchner, since then it has expanded, now offering two tours in different parts of the cave. Your first option is the Rotunda/Throne tour, which lasts 90 minutes. The second is a 105 minute tour of the “Big Room.” Both tours are equally interesting, but if you have to choose only one, I’d go with the Rotunda/Throne. Prices and additional info are below.
If you have been in the depths of a cave before, most likely it’s been cool inside, Kartchner is different…it’s warm, muggy and a constant 69.5 degrees (summer or winter). As you tour the cave, you are left awestruck by the wonderment of this natural beauty. The Throne Room contains the world’s longest soda straw stalactite at over 21 feet. The Big Room contains the world’s most extensive formation of brushite moonmilk and is closed from April 15 to October 15 each year because it’s a nursery roost for over 1,000 cave bats.
Kartchner Caverns is one of those unique sights that is certainly worth a visit, especially if you’ve never been to a cave before. If you’ve ever been to Kartchner, please leave a comment below and share your experience with my readers and me.
Kartchner Caverns State Park Information:
Kartchner Caverns map:
Kartchner Caverns SP
Benson, AZ 85602
$22.95 Adults/$12.95 kids 7-13/Kids under 7 are free