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The Kartchner Caverns State Park® - aka Kartchner Caverns - story is one of amazing discoveries...both past and present. Stand where the discoverers first entered the cave. Marvel at the strange and colorful formations. Learn about cave inhabitants, both ancient and living. As scientific studies continue, discoveries are yet to be made. The Big Room tour is a longer and more physically challenging tour. Children age 6 and under are not allowed on the tour.

Cave History

In November 1974 two young cavers, Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts, were exploring the limestone hills at the base of the Whetstone Mountains. In the bottom of a sinkhole they found a narrow crack leading into the hillside. Warm, moist air flowed out, signaling the existence of a cave. After several hours of crawling, they entered a pristine cavern.

It wasn't until February 1978 that Tenen and Tufts told the property owners, James and Lois Kartchner, about their amazing discovery.

During the four years of secret exploration, the discoverers realized that the cave's extraordinary variety of colors and formations must be preserved.

The cave's existence became public knowledge in 1988 when its purchase was approved as an Arizona State Park. Extraordinary precautions have been taken during its development to conserve the cave's near-pristine condition.
Nature's Creation
It all began with a drop of water...A shallow inland sea covered this area 330 million years ago, depositing layers of sediment that eventually hardened into limestone. Millions of years later this Escabrosa limestone along with other rock layers uplifted to form the Whetstone Mountains. The Escabrosa limestone , due to a type of tremor or fault, down-dropped thousands of feet relative to the mountains above.

Rainwater, made slightly acidic by absorbing carbon dioxide from the air and soil, penetrated cracks in the down-dropped limestone block and slowly dissolved passages in it. Later, lowering groundwater levels left behind vast, air-filled rooms.

Kartchner Caverns' wide variety of decorations, called "speleothems", began forming drop by drop over the next 200,000 years.

Water seeping from the surface dissolves minerals on its trip through the limestone. Once it reaches the cave, the trapped carbon dioxide escapes from the water. No longer able to hold the dissolved calcite, the drop deposits its tiny mineral load. Over time, these minerals have created the beautiful speleothems and variety of colors found in the cave. Kartchner Caverns is a "living" cave; the formations are still growing!

Kartchner Caverns is home to:

* one of the world's longest soda straw stalactites - 21 feet 2 inches
(Throne Room)
* the tallest and most massive column in Arizona, Kubla Khan: 58 feet tall (Throne Room)
* the world's most extensive formation of brushite moonmilk (Big Room)
* the first reported occurrence of "turnip" shields (Big Room)
* the first cave occurrence of "birdsnest" needle quartz formations
* many other unusual formations such as shields, totems, helictites, and rimstone dams.

Please Remember...
Many of the formations you will see have been continuously growing for tens of thousands of years. The formations grow very slowly and are extremely fragile. When visiting remember that formations damaged even by accident will stop growing. To avoid damage to the cave and injury to yourself please refrain from touching any of the formations.

Hiking and Walking Trails

The Guindani Trail (#398)
The Foothills Loop Trail
The Hummingbird Garden Walk

Special Reminders

* Touching or breaking formations is punishable by law.
* No photography or video cameras allowed on cave tour.
* No walkers allowed on cave tour.
* Small children should be carried in arms or in front pack. No baby backpacks or strollers allowed on cave tour.
* Cave tour trail is barrier-free.
* The park, including the Discovery Center, is accessible for persons with disabilities.
* No food, drink (including bottled water), gum, or tobacco products allowed on cave tours.
* No pets, except assist dogs.
* No littering.

Tours

Rotunda/Throne Room Tour: Length: 1/2 mile Time: 1 1/2 hr. (leaving approximately every 20 minutes), tours available year-round.

Big Room Tour: Length: 1/2 mile Time: 1 1/2 hr. (leaving approximately every 30 minutes), tours available October 15 - April 15.

All tours are guided by a trained tour guide. Reservations are strongly recommended and can be made by calling: (520)586-CAVE. The cave averages 68°F and 98% humidity year round. All cave trails are barrier-free. Due to wet surfaces and changes in grades, strollers and walkers are not allowed on the tours.

Prior to your tour, please be sure to review Accessibility Information and Special Tour Reminders !

Approximate Driving Distances from:

* Flagstaff - 310 miles (498 km)
* Phoenix - 160 miles (257 km)
* Benson - 9 miles (14 km)
* Sierra Vista - 19 miles (30km)
* Tombstone - 28 miles (45 km)
* Tucson Airport - 49 miles (78 km)

 

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