Kartchner Caverns State Park

Written by on September 8, 2016 in AZ Attractions - Comments Off on Kartchner Caverns State Park

In November 1974, two young cavers, Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts, were exploring the limestone hills at the base of the Whetstone Mountains in Arizona. 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 world of wonder. Over the next four years, the two cavers explored the caves in secret and were astonished by what they discovered.

The formations that decorate most caves, including this one, are called “speleothems.” Usually formations are composed of layers of calcite called travertine that is deposited by water over thousands or hundreds of thousands of years. The form a speleothem takes is determined by whether the water drips, flows, seeps, condenses or pools as it runs along the walls or drips from the ceiling. Kartchner Caverns is home to:
• one of the world’s longest soda straw stalactites: 21 feet 3 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.


Tenen and Tufts came to the conclusion that the cave’s extraordinary formations must be preserved. Finally, in February 1978, they told the property owners, James and Lois Kartchner, about their amazing discovery. The Kartchners agreed that the cave would remain a secret and worked hard to achieve the protection the cave needed before they made the knowledge public — Kartchner Caverns achieved Arizona State Park status in 1988 after 10 years of major battles.

Today, you can choose between the Rotunda/Throne Tour and the Big Room Tour, or take both. Each tour is about 1/2 mile long and takes around an hour and half. The cost for each tour is $22.95 for adults and $12.95 for children, age 7-13, while children under 7 are free. Because the caverns ecosystem is so fragile, no food or drink, pets or littering are permitted. Even the lint from clothing can damage the caverns, so please remember not to touch anything!

Take time to explore the Discovery Center and the Gift Shop with its great books, posters, and unique southwestern arts, crafts and gifts. The Bat Cave Cafe is open daily and offers sandwiches, pizza, drinks and other treats. Camping is permitted in the park in designated sites. There are also several hiking trails that allow you to explore the desert terrain.

Located between Tucson and Tombstone, Arizona, both towns offer a wide array of shopping, dining, lodging and other amenities. “The Town too Tough to Die,” Tombstone was perhaps the most renowned of Arizona’s old mining camps. Truly a Historical American Landmark, Tombstone is America’s best example of 1880 western heritage, including many original 1880s buildings and artifacts featured in the numerous museums.

Other attractions in the area include:
• Saguaro National Park
• Fort Bowie National Historic Site
• Chiricahua National Monument
• Coronado National Monument
• Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum
• Mission San Xavier del Bac
• The University of Arizona Biosphere 2
• the Catalina Mountains (and great hiking)

Kartchner Caverns State Park
P.O. Box 1849
Benson, AZ 85602
Phone: 520-586-2283

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