KARTCHNER CAVERNS TOUR
Kartchner Caverns Day Tour $225.00 pp
Children 10 and under $205.00
Advanced Reservation Required
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.
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!
Bats and Other Cave Creatures
During the summer months, the cave's Big Room serves as a nursery roost for over 1,000 female cave myotis bats. The pregnant females return to Kartchner Caverns around the end of April, where they give birth to a single pup in late June. The babies remain in the roost each evening while their mothers forage for insects in the surrounding countryside. During the summer the colony consumes about half a ton of insects, consisting of moths, flying ants, beetles, mosquitoes and termites. Mothers and their offspring will leave mid-September, to begin their migration for their winter hibernation roost. These bats provide the only link between the ecosystem of the cave and the surface. After returning to the bat roost from their nightly forays, the bats excrete waste, forming large guano piles. Most of the other life forms found in the cave depend on these guano piles for their food. Fungi and bacteria consume the guano first. These are in turn eaten by nematodes, mites, isopods, amphipods, and book lice. These are then eaten by spiders, scorpions, mites, millipedes, and centipedes. Scavengers, like crickets and beetle larvae, clean up the leftovers. The bats' guano provides the energy needed to run this complex food chain.
Paleontology of the Cave
While exploring the cave, paleontologists, those who study prehistoric life, uncovered an 86,000 year record of the local fauna community. The finds included the following: skeletons of an 86,000 year old Shasta ground sloth, a 34,000 year old horse, and an 11,000 year old bear, as well as terrestrial snails, a clam, a toad, lizards, rabbits, snakes, a coyote, a ringtail, and many species of rodents. These discoveries have led paleontologists to declare Kartchner Caverns a treasure house of information on the local fossil history of the uplands around the San Pedro River Valley.
The formations that decorate caves are called "speleothems." Usually formations are composed of layers of calcite called travertine deposited by water. The form a speleothem takes is determined by whether the water drips, flows, seeps, condenses, or pools.
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.
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