Thursday – April 16, 2015
Kartchner Caverns State Park
We departed the Gilbert Ray Campground in Tucson, Arizona at 10:55 a.m. We arrived at the Kartchner Caverns State Park at 12:30 p.m. Kartchner Caverns State Park features a cavern with 2.5 miles of passages. The park is located 9 miles south of the town of Benson and west of the north-flowing San Pedro River.
Long hidden from view, the caverns were discovered in 1974 by two local cavers. Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts found a narrow crack in the bottom of a sinkhole, and followed the source of warm, moist air toward what ended up being more than 2.5 miles of pristine cave passages. Hoping to protect the cave from vandalism, they kept the location a secret for fourteen years, deciding that the best way to preserve the cavern, which was near Interstate 10, was to develop it as a tour cave. After gaining the cooperation of the Kartchner family, who owned the land, and working with them for ten years, together they decided that the best way to achieve the goal of protection, through development as a tour cave, was to approach Arizona State Parks. In 1985, Governor Bruce Babbitt secretly left the state capitol with two bodyguards and spent three hours crawling through the cave's tight passages to reach the cave's showcase chambers. The discovery of the cave was finally made public in 1988 when the landowners sold the area to the state for development as a park and show cavern. Prior to its grand opening in 1999, the state spent $28 million on a high-tech system of air-lock doors, misting machines and other equipment designed to preserve the natural environment of the cave. The caverns are carved out of limestone and filled with spectacular speleothems which have been growing for 50,000 years or longer, and are still growing.
There are three Cave Tours currently available to the public: Rotunda/Throne Room Tour; Big Room Tour; Saturday Helmet & Headlamp Tour. The Rotunda/Throne Room contains one of the world's longest (21-foot) soda straw stalactites and a 58-foot high column called Kubla Khan. The Big Room contains the world's most extensive formation of brushite moonmilk; it is closed for several months (mid-April to mid-October) each year because it becomes a nursery roost for Myotis velifer cave bats.
There is a beautiful walk-around garden outside the Visitor Center
This is a beautiful state park that also includes hiking trails above the caverns for public use. The Guindani Trail is the longest trail at is 4.2 miles, while the shorter trail, the Foothills Loop Trail, is 2.5 miles in length.
The park has a nicely appointed campground containing 62 campsites. Each campsite has 30-amp electric and water hookups. There are two restroom facilities with flush toilets and free showers. There is one dump station.
Camping Fee: $25.00 per night
Total miles traveled today: 66
North on McCain Road
North on Kinney Road
East on Arizona Highway 86
North on Interstate 19
East on Interstate 10
South on Arizona Highway 90 to Kartchner Caverns State Park
Tomorrow another adventure begins.