The old west and a cave

Trip Start Jun 01, 2011
Trip End Jul 31, 2011

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Kartchern Caverns State Park

Flag of United States  , Arizona
Sunday, June 12, 2011

Our tour of the caverns was not until 3:40 so we had most of the day to do stuff. So I planned a trip to the old west towns of Bisbee and Tombstone. For some reason Pooh was not in the mood to see towns. All she wanted to do was be in the outdoors. The drive to these towns was kind of like that. It took around an hour to get to Bisbee. This is an old mining town and turned into an artist colony. This seems to be a common theme out west. There are not too many mining towns left so the only way to stay alive was to change to something else – and some turned to the art crowd. Most towns just became ghost towns. Bisbee was like a small San Francisco – all hills no matter where you went. First I bought a ticket to go inside the Queen Copper mine. Cost was $13 for the one hour plus tour. Pooh did not want to go since we had already gone in one back in West Virginia. It had been years since then so I was in the mood to see another one. The tour was not for another hour so we took the 5 min. walk into town. Yu could tell the recession had an affect here as many places were closed or for sale and the crowd was pretty light for a Sunday. I found the old mining city fascinating as the artists had really done a good job of upkeep with the old buildings. Pooh just hung out at the mining center as I went in.

There were only 7 of us on this tour (it sells out at 35) so this was another sign of a tourism slump. We straddled this mine train inside. About the only thing lighting up the cave was the flashlights they gave us. We only went in around 1,500 feet but it was enough to get a taste of the mine. And boy was it ice cold inside - 47 degrees while it was 95 outside. I was only in shorts and a t-shirt, but the bright yellow slicker they loaned us helped a little. An interesting fact about Bisbee is there are around 2,400 miles of mine tunnels around the area, and we are only taking a part of a mile. Our guide was an old crusty miner but we answered all our inquisitive groups' questions. We looked down a 700 ft. shaft, and old blast area with remains of copper in the rock, and my favorite, two portable steel toilets on wheels (imagine sitting on one in this cold environment). The tour lasted just over an hour and soon we rode the mine train out into the hot Arizona sun.

Out of the mine I picked up Pooh and we walked back into today to have lunch. I picked a place called the Bisbee Grill. It was one of those faux old-style wood paneled places with old photos inside. Again, not too many people around for a Sunday. But the food was really good. Pooja, with her small appetite (though she is hungry all the time) had an appetizer of mushrooms with sauce and cheese. She said she did not like it since the shrooms did not taste like shrooms. I had this monster Texas burger with everything on it including a whole green chili (the Southwest is famous for this) which was very good with beer battered fries. To get Pooh to eat her food I read her some trivia from the table.

After our lunch we walked to the truck to drive down the road a little to see this huge open-pit mine. It was opened between 1950 and 1974. These mines are more popular since they are cheaper to get at the ore. However, there is a much bigger environmental cost to pay. While it was neat to see, it is an ugly stain on the landscape.

Our next stop was the old west tourist town of Tombstone which was 30 min. away. Again, Pooja was not all that excited to see any town – all she wanted was natural places. With Tombstone being very touristy I knew she might not like it. The one time I came it did have that kitschy tourist vibe but in a nice Disneyfied way. We parked just off the main strip. It was around 1:00 and very hot. However, the wooden sidewalks of this old west town had plenty of shade. There were plenty of shoot-outs going on for the tourist along with many women in period dress. We just pretty much walked 3 blocks up one side of the street and 3 blocks back on the other side. We did go in a few stores. One store did fascinate Pooh with all their belts (it was primarily a Stetson hat store).  She ended up getting the both of us a nice belt in a western style (but not too showy with the pancake size belt buckle).  I’m sure they were overpriced but Pooh said it would always remind us of our SW trip. After just over an hour in town we headed back another 30 min. to our RV.

Back at the RV we rested for 30 min. before talking a small walk to the Kartchner Caverns visitors center to take our cave tour of the "Throne room." There are two tours to take here but the other, the Big Room, was closed during the summer for bat migrations. Our tour had around 30 people in it but the bad news was that most of them were small children. As we all know, small children can have major explosions of spazzes which is not good in a cave with all the echoes. Unlike Carlsbad Caverns this cave had many more rules since it was in pristine condition. No packs, cameras, water, etc. Pretty much just take in the clothes on your back. We rode a small tram to the entrance. The door looked like it belonged at Fort Knox – heavy steel door. We had to go though two air locks to get into the main part of the cave. This was to keep the dry air out of the cave and the high humidity inside the cave. The inside of the cave was pretty warm – 74 degrees with all that humidity. The entire path of the cave had no steps so it could be wheelchair accessible. The only thing you could touch was the handrails. You could not even put your foot on the curbs on the side of the path. The good news was our group of small children kept their voices low for the most part. The tour was short for a cave – just over an hour – but it did pack a punch. Our guide was very knowledgeable about everything with the cave. The best part of this tour was all the “soda straws.” This is like a stalactite but hollow on the inside and thin as a soda straw. Some had broke off and stuck in the mud below. According to the original cavers, nothing had fallen since their discovery in the 1970s. The best part of the tour was the last stop – a massive column called Kublai Khan. Of all the caves I have been to, this was the most fascinating feature of all. It looked like 10 columns fused into one. It, like most things in the cave, was still growing. This is called a “wet” cave since water is still creating formations. On the way out, again we had to go through two sets of airlocks. And just like that it was over. The tickets to this cave are the most expensive I’ve ever paid - $22.50 for just over an hour. But much of that money keeps the cave pristine. And the grounds of the park are very well kept.

After our tour, our day was still not done. Around 6:00 we decided to tackle the three mile loop trail again – since this is Pooh’s favorite. This time we took Quique with us as she had a bit of energy all day – after a massive sleep since our City of Rocks climb. This time I remembered my regular glasses so it would not be so dark. Again, we made it back just as it was about to get dark. Quique did great. Now, I went back out to McDonald’s to use their Wi-Fi for a few hours. Back around 10:00 it was time to hit they hay after a busy day. Tomorrow it is on to Tucson and the RV doctor.
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