Kartchner Caverns: A trespassers dream!!

Trip Start Jan 14, 2010
Trip End Sep 02, 2010

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Kartchner Caverns State Park

Flag of United States  , Arizona
Sunday, February 21, 2010

In the mid-70's when I was still in high school ditching class, two twenty-something guys roamed the Arizona desert looking for undiscovered caves. Two ordinary guys.  What started as basic trespassing ended up being one of the most important cave findings in the world.

Fortunately for all of us, the folks who owned the land – Mark Kartchner, M.D., and family not only took an interest in this find, but they kept the secret for another 14 years until they could arrange for the Nature Conservancy to purchase the land and commit it to the great State of Arizona as a State Park.  In 1999 this "Jewel of the Desert" enjoyed its ribbon cutting and the first guests, outside of friends, scientists and state government folks, had their first look.

The caverns are pristine.  State of the Art preservation, limited guests and constant monitoring keep this cavern as true as it can possibly be to the original find.  In fact, the co-discoverers and the Kartchner family made it essential to the deal.  All involved seem to feel that this cavern is not a park – rather it is a sacred place.  I can see why.

No cameras are allowed.  I have no pictures.  What I will put at the end of this story are some pictures from my tour of Carlsbad Caverns last year that will give you an idea, but it is only an idea.  The architects and designers of Kartchner Caverns took lessons from all the other caverns, including Carlsbad, and have strictly enforced a notion of limited exposure.  After a small tour group of about 20 are buttoned up (no packs, purses, loose clothing, etc), we were misted to keep the lint to a minimum and then went through 2 channels with vapor locked doors.  Curbs and guard rails keep everyone on the path.  Lights are low and are turned off as guests pass.  As we have learned through other Cavern experiences, lint and the stuff that sloughs off our bodies are a great problem for these delicate environments.  You may not think it’s a big deal, but it is. 

There are two tours at Kartchner; the Throne room/Rotunda and The Big Room.  The Big Room is only open half the year, because the other 6 months of the year the bats still use it as an habitat.  Unlike Carlsbad, where the original entry is massive and bats can migrate in and out by the thousands, the original entry to Kartchner is a diminutive 15 foot sink hole and bats come and go in pairs.  Believe it or not, bat shit is a very important, essential element to the eco-system down there and the good people at Kartchner know not to mess with it.  Personally, I avoided it too.

The land here is stunning.  I highly recommend the Foothills Trail Loop, a moderate hike that is about 2.5 miles.  It basically circumnavigates the hill that holds the caverns and the views are great.  Take a look at the pix on this one.  Like cold water scuba diving, being in the desert requires you to be in touch with the small and subtle things.  Clouds, tiny wildflowers, pockets of green, red, gold and other color where you least expect it.

When I started out on the hike the weather was iffy.  So I took my parka, a rain slicker, a first aid kit, water, food, flashlight, cell phone and sharpie.  As the weather changed going up the hill I kept rearranging things.  I can’t help it.  I’m a Girl Scout and we all know what our motto is: Sell More Cookies.

As the afternoon progressed the winds came back up and tonight we expect more rain and snow.  Please God, don’t let my electric blankey fail me now!

I pack up and leave tomorrow.  I’m gonna skip Tonopah Springs in El Dorado and head straight for Quartzsite, AZ for the night.  Then it is on to The Slabs (finally!!) where hopefully I will meet back up with my new best buddy – Charlie!!
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