We had many wonderful and memorable stops this winter during our RV travels. None more special that our visit to Kartchner Caverns State Park.
Kartchner Caverns State Park
We had passed the entrance to this park on our way to Fort Huachuca last winter. I made a mental note and planned to research it further for a future visit. Fortunately, I remembered it as we planned for this year’s trek to the west. We made our two-night reservation using their online registration system and purchased our cave tour tickets at the same time.
First let me commend the folks at Kartchner Caverns for having a very easy to navigate, and comprehensive on-line system. Everything you need to know you can find at this site. Their computer expertise is further demonstrated prior to your visit, as you will receive a “looking forward to seeing you” email about one week prior to your visit and another the day before you arrive. The emails provide you everything you need to make your visit special. (I realize i am a bit OCD, but we made these reservations in the fall. Though I had stored the receipt for the campsite and cave tours in my “Winter 2017 RV Trip” Gmail folder, it was reassuring to get something from the park closer to our arrival date.)
Kartchner Caverns Campsites
We set up in site #44, a 45′ paved, back in site offering power (30 amp), water, a picnic table, a pad for chairs or tent camping just a short visit from the central shower and restrooms. Pull through sites offer 50 amps and are generally 50+ feet in length. There is ample room between the sites, and the campsite also offers a few cabins. We needed to use a few leveling blocks for our campsite, but we were set up fairly quickly.
We took a short, paved walk to the Discovery/Welcome Center. There we found a movie about the cave, a number of exhibits, a small daytime restaurant, and a lovely gift shop. Our questions about the next day’s cave tours were answered by a ranger. We learned that you are very restricted in what you may carry into the caves and photographs are not allowed. We learned why during our tours the next day.
Kartchner Caverns Caves
In 1974, two cave explorers (Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts) found the caves by descending into a sink hole. The first room they discovered had been found by others, who left debris and graffiti behind. However, a breeze coming through a small opening in the wall suggested that larger rooms lay beyond. They widened the hole and discovered a vast system of pristine rooms, each more spectacular than the last. They explored the caves for four years, before daring to inform the property owners of their discovery. Fortunately, the Kartchner family, who owned the land, valued the discovery as much as Tenen and Tufts. Over the next 10 years, they worked together to protect this natural resource. In 1988, it was purchased by the Arizona State Park system and budgets were put in place to develop and conserve the cave’s near-pristine conditions.
Over $28 million has been spent to preserve this natural treasure and make it accessible to the public. Learning from others, such as Carlsbad, they have taken extraordinary measures to protect the caves. A series of large, bank-vault-like doors are navigated when entering or exiting the caves. Strict instructions are provided to ensure that cave walls are not touched. If you accidently touch a wll or even place your foot of the paths side walls you inform the ranger so that the spot can be flagged for special cleaning that evening. Photographs are not permitted, except during special (higher priced) photo tours…so the photos of the caves shown within this post are from the web.
We found the rangers very knowledgeable during both our tours. In fact, our morning tour of the Rotunda/Throne rooms was led by a female ranger with an advanced degree in geology. Each tour is approximately 90-120 minutes in duration, and the paved paths are fully accessible. There were 12-15 others visitors during our tours which seemed a very manageable size.
Hike as Well
We finished our second tour at 3 pm and spent the remaining sunlight hours hiking the 2.5 Foothills Loop. You can extend this hike further by ascending 1/2 mile to the Mountain Viewpoint. If you are looking for a more strenuous trek, consider the 4.2-mile Guindani Trail which climbs from 4750′ at the park trailhead to over 7000′ along the crest of the summit. All the paths are well-marked and offer a few exhibits to consider during your journey.
So whether you are visiting Benson, a rodeo at Fort Huachuca or looking for a place to camp for a night or two, we highly recommend Kartchner Caverns State Park. We consider this an absolute must stop when traveling through Arizona.