Arizona February 09, 2016
If You Live In Arizona, You Must Visit This Amazing State Park
You don’t have to walk very far to find evidence of Arizona’s natural beauty. For most Arizonans, simply stepping outside exposes them to the mountains, sky and plants that work together to create a landscape that is both incredibly diverse and stunning. However, did you know that Arizona is just as beautiful underground?
While there are several public caves scattered around the state, few quite match the intrigue that you will find at Kartchner Caverns State Park. There are few readily accessible caves that are “live,” secured, and preserved to the same extent as this one. Let's take a look inside.
Located off Highway 90 between Benson and Sierra Vista, on the eastern side of the Whetstone Mountains, sits a state treasure that also happens to be a fairly recent discovery. Cavers Gary Tennen and Randy Tufts stumbled upon a sinkhole in 1974 that eventually led them to a limestone cave unlike any they had seen before. Not only does the cave contain two large “rooms,” but they also have some of the largest cave formations seen and some of the first examples of other formations never seen before.
In a video interview, Tennen mentioned that in some of his previous cave expeditions around the state he was often met with disappointment over the amount of vandalism committed in the caves. Plenty were littered with graffiti, trash, and delicate formations had been removed even from caves still growing. That was what made this particular cave such an incredible find; it was virtually untouched, preserving the fragile environment and could prove to be a potentially valuable educational source.
After working with the family that owned the land the cave sat under and a sale to the state, the cave eventually opened in 1999 as a state park. In preparation for this, the state spent a whopping $28 million to create a system that would both protect and preserve the cave's natural environment while still allowing the public to enjoy a visit.
Kartchner Caverns depends on its naturally occurring humid environment to keep its little ecosystem going. As mentioned previously, the cave is considered “live” since it is still growing and has some rare formations that depend on the environment to continue existing. Among the different formations you will come across during a tour are classic sights such as stalactites hanging from the cave ceilings and stalagmites rising from the floors. You will also come across some strangely named formations that sound more like preparations for lunch: cave bacon, moonmilk, turnip shields, and soda straws.
The Big Room is also a seasonal home to roosting cave bats; the colony spends its summer months here birthing and raising their young in complete darkness with little to no human interaction. Between April 15 and October 15 each year, the Big Room is closed to ensure the bats are undisturbed during this essential period in their lives.
However, the cave itself isn't the only amazing find at the Kartchner Caverns State Park. Like many of the other parks across the state, it is also a place for enjoying the sights above ground through nature walks, hiking, camping, birding, and even the occasional astronomy nights.
If you want to learn more about the cavern before paying a visit, check out this video from Arizona Highways.
Kartchner Caverns State Park is located at 2980 South Highway 90, nine miles south of Benson. Cave tours are held daily and prices start at $23 for adults. More information on booking tour reservations can be found at the
state park website.
Have you visited this state park before? What was your favorite part of the tour?