This morning we stopped for bagels and then began our drive to Kartchner Caverns. About an hour later we pulled into a parking space at Kartchner Caverns State Park.
The gods were with us. The next tour was to begin in less than five minutes. Nancy and I are just not lucky when it comes to lines and starting times so this was a big surprise to us. It gets better because there were only four of us on the tour rather than the typical 15 people.
Nancy and I between us have seen and taken tours in at least six caves in four countries. This tour was the best for the information provided and the formations to see. (New Zealand’s caving trip with Martha and Tony Combs will most likely never be equaled for adventure!)
I bought tickets for the Big Room and on our next trip to the caverns we plan to tour the Rotunda-Throne room. It is a professional tour from the moment you meet the rangers who will be the guides, to the electric carts that take you and return you to the Discovery Center, through the five airlock type doors, the mist spray system to bring your body’s moisture content up so as not to dry out the cavern as you walk through it, to the lighted and very easy to walk pathways, and the three separate door systems to exit. This is a living cave with no vandalism, graffiti, or other man caused destruction.
The caverns are located in the mountains outside of Benson, AZ in the typical limestone formation — no I didn’t know this about limestone but the ranger told us. I choose the Big Room tour because it was beginning in less than five minutes — no wait time. The ranger selling the tickets had explained the largest and most exciting formations were in the Throne room whereas when touring the Big Room you are much closer to the formations. My reply to her, “So, the Throne Room is for bragging and the Big Room is up close and personal.” She said she was going to use my description in the future when explaining the two tours. Our ranger guide also noted this difference between the two tours: Throne Room you learn a little more about geology of the cavern and the Big Room you learn about bats and a little less geology. Nancy and I like bats so our luck on tours was holding.
I have never seen better examples or more types of speleothem. We saw box works, cave pop corn, soda straws, draperies, a fried egg, helictite and probably another half dozen. I forgot my pen and notebook but then again you can’t take these items in with you so my notes of the tour are less than perfect. My favorite speleothem (this is a new word for me and I am going to use it till it becomes a portion of my vocabulary) is the drapery which is a formation which looks likes the folds in a set of curtains and can be fairly large. However, for fun its hard to beat the helictite which is a tube formation that grows in twisting — up, down, sideways and all of the preceding again and maybe again again — directions. A group of helictites reminds me of a drawing of Medusa’s hair.
One of the advantages of taking the Big Room tours is you will see the world’s largest brushite moonmilk speleothem. All together now, “Tom, what is a brushite moonmilk speleothem?” You will love the answer. Brushite moonmilk is a creamy white formation created when bat guano chemically interacts with limestone! Yes! We got to see — but not touch — a combination of bat shit and limestone. Who says a geologist doesn’t have a sense of humor.
This is also a good time for me to let those who want to take the Big Room tour know this tour is only available from mid-Oct. to mid-April. The remainder of the year it is closed for the female bats (apparently no male bats are allowed) to have and raise their babies. The bat impregnation and pregnancy is another great story but I will leave it to the rangers to tell you this story.
Possibly the most intriguing story of the caverns is their discovery in 1974 and the caverns being kept a secret until it was announce in 1988 the State of Arizona had a new state park: Kartchner Caverns State Park. The Throne Room tour began in 1999 followed by the Big Room in 2003.
To read more about the secret and becoming a state park:
Wish I had photographs to post but cameras are not allowed. Actually the only things allowed are the clothes on your back, eye glasses, wallets in a pocket (no purses), hats and coats. The cave environment is roughly a temperature of 72 degrees and 90+% humidity so hats and coats are not needed. I have to say I found it strange when they gave us directions on how to fold and carry a coat but once you are in the caverns you understand the carrying of a coat is just one of many precautions they take.
Final Note: Trip Advisor rates this the number one attraction in Benson, AZ. I wonder if there is a number two?
And more: As we pulled into our driveway I saw a Roadrunner. By the time I parked and grab my camera from the backseat the Roadrunner had moved to the back desert of our lot.