In 1974 Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts, two amateur cavers from Tucson, discovered a cleft in a rock that led to a fantastic underground world they called Xanadu.
They saw a multitude of stalactites and stalagmites, rock formations that hung like draperies and extraordinarily thin stalactites that are called soda straws. The colors, blood red, deep purple, orange and yellow were amazing. Imagine the two men having the fortitude not to immediately share their discovery with others. Except for telling the Kartchner family, who owned the land, they kept the cave a secret for years, fearing it would be vandalized. Eventually, Tenen and Tufts along with the Kartchners agreed the best way to protect the cave was to have it become a state park. In 1988, the State Legislature passed a bill approving the cave’s purchase. The language was deliberately opaque, and only six legislators knew they were buying a cave. In 1999 Kartchner Caverns State Park finally opened and it was the first major cave made accessible to the public in the United States in decades. The cave draws 180,000 visitors a year and visits are limited to fewer than 500 a day to protect the caverns.
Unfortunately Randy Tufts passed away in 2000 at the age of 53 but I was told Gary Tenen returns about once a month to keep a close eye on the caverns health.
There are two tour options, each costing $23.00 per person; The Throne Room and Big Room and both tours allow you to discover the delicate ecosystem of the limestone caves. Each tour is a half-mile in length and takes approximately an hour and a half to complete, of which 50 minutes are underground. No cameras are permitted inside the caves, which was disappointing, as I know I could have got some great pictures L. In fact you are not allowed to take anything inside the caves including purses and water bottles. The caves are 70 degrees and have 97% humidity so you don’t need a jacket but you can wear one up until you enter the caves. The caves have stringent technical controls: you walk through a series of heavy steel doors that work as air locks, there is a misting system which you walk through to keep lint from entering the caves, and low-intensity lights are used to inhibit algae growth.
We toured the Rotunda and Throne Room and thoroughly enjoyed it! Although I do have to admit I was a little panicky once we entered the caves and if you suffer from claustrophobia you may feel the same. There are only a few places were the walkways narrow so there is honestly nothing to fear but I really had to work at keeping my panic in check but I’m glad I went, as it truly was amazing.
Until next time …