Kartchner Caverns


Click on any picture to see it full-size.

Kartchner Caverns is southeast of Tucson, about an hour's drive. The caverns were discovered by two spelunkers in the late 70s, and they kept their discovery to themselves and spent two years carefully exploring the caverns, then contacted the Arizona State Parks...and after FOURTEEN YEARS it became a state park. Luckily, nobody else found it in the meantime...

Seriously, that is what happened...but because the caves didn't have a horde of people traipsing in and ruining them, they are BEAUTIFUL. They are still alive and growing, and everything is in perfect condition. All the infrastructure (lights and walkways and such) were built by hand, in the places where the explorers had already walked (and they made sure they always used the same paths so as to impact the caves as little as possible.)

When you visit, there are huge signs telling you that you can't bring food or drinks into the visitor's center (not even bottled water)...and here is the list of what is not allowed on the cave tour:

  • Pets (Except certified service animals meeting ADA standards). Please do not leave pets in vehicles.
  • Purses, handbags, backpacks, fanny packs, baby backpacks or other bags/items.
  • Binoculars or flashlights.
  • Photography or video equipment (to include phones, other electronic recording devices and tripods).
  • Food, gum, tobacco products and drinks (including bottled water).
  • Strollers, walkers, crutches.
  • Touching or damaging formations (punishable by law).
  • Littering or tossing coins.
They even have lockers outside the center that you can rent to put stuff in...hopefully, not your pets, but...

And the result of this is that the caves are BEAUTIFUL. It was worth not being able to take pictures to see such lovely caverns and formations without algae, trash, coins, graffiti, broken pieces and all of the other damage that has been inflicted on so many other previously beautiful caves.

The other thing is, the grounds of the visitor's center had all kinds of blooming flowers! so we had plenty to take pictures of before our tour (we had to show up an hour early and check in.)

Driving up to the main parking lot. The caves are under those hills.

STILL didn't see a single one.

Jo Nell said this is a Mexican Bird of Paradise. I love this flower!!

A map of all the caves in the US!

On the left, you can see the tramway that goes up the hill, and the blue line is the tour walkway in the caves.

This is the tram we took to the caves.

Yay! Fossils!
A whole bunch of blooming cacti, including prickly pear, beavertail, ocotillo and a metal one that I really liked (although it was between two trash cans, not a good place for photographing it...)
Jo Nell took these. I don't know what the plant is, but she got some lovely pics of the cactus wren.
And just so nobody goes away disappointed...here are four pictures of Kartchner Caverns I found on Google Images. Really, these were lovely caves, we were very glad we went to see them.