Nestled in the middle of a transition zone between the Sonoran Desert and the Chihuahuan Desert, Kartchner Caverns State Park offers a great weekend get-away for any family. At 4,600 ft, the park is surrounded by hiking and walking trails, and 62 camping sites. However, the must-see attraction is the caverns hidden beneath the Arizona desert that average 68F and 98 percent humidity year round. They are home to some of the greatest formations in the world and the origin of a story that must be heard.
It has been six years since I first stepped foot in the Big Room. It started out as a family surprise, a day trip my parents wanted to take us on, it ended as an unforgettable experience. I will never overlook that moment in the Big Room when I realized just how small I really was in such a big world. I felt like I was on another planet as I glanced at all the rainbow colors reflecting off the water. The thousands of extraordinary formations surrounding me were water coated and the lights reverberated everywhere. The air was moist and thick. I had to take off my sweatshirt. I remember asking myself, “How many people would ever think such an amazing place like this exists?” My eyes could not stop wandering. This felt like a secret place, there were no outside sounds except for the dripping of water in a far off corner. The best part: it wasn’t a secret.
According to the cave’s history, the story goes that in the bottom of sinkhole, Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts, found a narrow crack leading into the hillside at the base of the Whetstone Mountains in 1974. Warm, moist air flowed out, signaling the existence of a cave and they needed to find it. After several hours of crawling, they entered a pristine cavern. Their tracks are still present and clearly visible in the mud to this very day.
After four years of secret exploration, the two young cavers told the property owners, James and Lois Kartchner, about their amazing discovery. They wanted to preserve the original and extraordinary formations the caverns were home to. The cave’s existence later became public knowledge in 1988 when Kartchner Caverns was approved as an Arizona State Park.
Kartchner Caverns offers unforgettable guided tours that provide an observation of the natural wonders discovered years ago. Today, anybody can become a caver, an explorer, a discoverer of any sort and travel through the very same vast, air-filled rooms Tenen and Tufts did. The whole family will witness the colors, the sounds and the sights that they will always remember and share together. It is truly a site of the south that should not be ignored.
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