Kartchner Caverns State Park

Trip Start Feb 09, 2013
Trip End Jun 30, 2013

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Flag of United States  , Arizona
Thursday, April 4, 2013

Thursday, April 4    We left Willcox around 9 and headed about 40 miles southwest to Kartchner Caverns State Park.   The mountain views as we were driving and the landscape was beautiful and breathtaking!  It just goes on and on and on. This state park was opened in 1999 and it is an amazing story which I will tell below but because they had time the state of AZ designed and built everything very well.  The campground is laid out in two loops with two modern bath houses and every site has water and electricity.  The mountains surround it and trails up to the mountains and to the Discovery Center (the Visitor Center) take off from the campground.  Very easy walk to the Discovery Center.  The person at the gate to the park was very nice and informative about where we had to go and other options. 


        After we set up we walked the trail over to the Discovery Center and strolled through the outside garden and then checked on George's tour.  Since I don’t go into caves we had booked a tour for George to the big room and throne room at 3.  All tours were booked for the day so one really needs to book online the tour reservations if you are coming here.  When they were giving him his ticket the woman said I think there is a single slot open for 10:40 so George went at that time.  He was not allowed to take a camera.  Meanwhile I visited all the exhibits, the movie (outstanding- you go in the dark and hear dripping water like you are in the cave), the gift shop and of course the little café called the Bat Café.  The movie was one of the best I have ever seen about this history of these caves and how the state took over. 

  The Bat Café is known for its Prickly Pear Lemonade and its Green Chile Pizza with Chicken.  It was delicious!  After I finished doing all that George’s hour and half tour was returning so he took back his wallet, phone, keys etc and we went to the gift shop together.  I did save him some pizza but he wanted to stay and catch the movie and check out the exhibits.  So I hiked back to the campground and he stayed at the Center for a couple of hours.

   We hiked some more in the afternoon but just enjoyed being here.  It is a beautiful state park and campground!

Kartchner Caverns -  The guided Rotunda/Throne Room contains more than 30 types of colorful formations growing for more than 200,000 years out of the limestone beneath the Whetstone Mts.  There are calcite formations and giant boulders and formations that include stalactites, stalagmites, canopies, coral pipes,helictites and rimstone dams.  Turnip shield and quartz needle formations can also be found.  The world’s second longest soda straw formation and Kubia Khan, a 58 foot high column is here.

  History – These caverns were on private land and belong to JamesKartchner and his wife Lois. He was a former teacher and Superintendent.  In 1974 two cavers Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts were exploring on his land.  Seven years before one of them discovered a sinkhole and noted it but it did not seem to go anywhere.  So he came back with his friend seven years later and squeezed into some channels to explore.  They explored and explored and then they went over a rock underneath and low and behold they discovered two enormous caverns and were just in awe.  For three years they did not say anything but kept on coming back to explore their find and tried to figure out how they could preserve it.  Finally, they told the Kartchner’s and their family but for the next 14 years it was kept a secret as all options were explored to preserve this great discovery

         They knew it was too expensive to exhibit privately so they got in contact with the nature conservancy and then the AZ State Parks Department.  The Kartchner’s worked in secret with the Department for years and even bills were placed in the legislature to make this a state park but still no word of the caverns.  Finally more people had to be told (also one reporter knew everything but not the location) and a few reporters were allowed in to take pictures so that the public would back the bill to make it a state park.  In 1988 the Kartchner’s sold the land to the state of AZ and the public was informed.  At this time many had been working to design a campground, visitor center and walkways inside the caverns.  After the state placed low density lighting in the caves, kept the visitors away from the water source which is needed for caverns that are live, placed thick doors so oxygen didn’t get into the caves and built the walkways so no vandalism could be done the park was opened to the public in 1999.  Can you imagine the State of Rhode Island trying to keep this a secret?  Some big wigs in the legislature would have condemned this land and then purchased it for themselves.  The State of Arizona did a great job and it is a must see if you are in the area!!  The Big Room is closed in the summer because female myotis bats inhabit the cave.

   Heading for  Tombstone tomorrow about 40 miles southeast of here to see the shootout at the OK Corral!

Thursday, April 4 - Kartchner Caverns State Park, Benson, AZ      This campground opened up in 1999 when the Caverns opened.  It is very well laid out in two loops and two modern bath houses.  Mountains surround the campground and there are many hiking trails up the mountains and to the Discovery Center (Visitor Center).  It is an easy walk over to Discovery Center where the tours take off from.  The Cavern Tours were all sold out the day we got there so it is a good idea to make reservations before you come.  There were many sites available in the campground  but this is April and many snowbirds are heading home.  All sites have water and electricity and there are 61 sites.  The Host introduced himself and asked if he could help.  At the Bat Café at the Center they serve Green Chilie Pizza and Prickly Pear Lemonade which was excellent.  If you are in AZ this is a must stop!  In the summer some tours are not offered because of the pregnant bats.
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