Kartchner Caverns, Arizona

Well, as Sister Maria said to the Von Trapp children, Start at the very beginning; it’s a very good place to start.

In 2009, Carl was still on active duty in the US Navy, stationed as an Assistant Professor at the United States Air War College in Montgomery, AL. He flew out to meet up with Jo in the Phoenix metro area for a brief visit. Little did he know that August was not necessarily the best time to visit the desert! OK…so it is a dry heat…but hey, it is still hot!

Our first excursion was a [rather lengthy] day trip to visit Kartchner Caverns, located in southern Arizona near Sierra Vista in a town called Benson.  Fortunately, the weather was a few degr100_0182-croppedees cooler there than it was up in Phoenix that month. Of course, it would get much cooler as we descended down into the caverns themselves! 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. Careful and technical cave state park development and maintenance are designed to preserve the natural cave system.[2]

Before entering the caverns, the guide provided a brief history of their discovery and designation as a national park. The caverns were discovered in 1974, when 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 (4.0 km) of pristine cave passages with the help of Erick Campbell – a local state biologist.[3][4] 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 a freeway — was to develop it as a tour cave. After gaining the cooperation of the Kartchner family 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.[5] In 1985, The Nature Conservancy acquired an option to purchase the land.[6] 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 cave.[4]

We walked in awe of the majestic formations that had tucson_kartchner_cavernformed in the caverns over thousands of years…and are still forming today. As you descend down into the caverns along well-crafted paths to avoid disturbing any of the natural formations, the splendor of the caverns comes alive with creatively lit monuments and natural features.


Below is a slideshow with some of the other natural wonders throughout the caverns:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Travel Tips:

  1. Make sure you bring bottled water! Remember, you are still in the desert. But…don’t bring other beverages with you because they will not be allowed inside the caverns.
  2. The nearest town with any appreciable dining options is Tucson, located on I-10, about a 45-minute drive from the State Park.
  3. Bring a jacket or very heavy sweater–the caverns get quite cold, especially if you visit during the cooler months (November-March). You may be from North Dakota, but you will still get cold in the caverns!

Location and contact information:

  • Kartchner Caverns State Park is located 9 miles south of Benson, AZ, off AZ Route 90.
  • The address is 2980 AZ-90, Benson, AZ 85602
  • The park’s phone number is (520) 586-2283
  • Park hours are 8am – 5pm, seven days a week.

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