Kartchner Caverns….best kept secret!

reflecting_cavern_lake-300x225Can you imagine stumbling upon an untouched subterranean wonderland of creativity and keeping it secret……for 14 years?  That’s exactly what Randy Tufts and Gary Tenen did after discovering a breeze coming out of a crack at the bottom of a sinkhole, which led to a cave that had never been touched by humans.   The formations that decorate the cave are called speleothems which takes its determined form by whether the water drips, flows, seeps, condenses, or pools.

I imagine them getting together with their college buddies for a beer and one asks, “what’s new?”  They want to proclaim that they have just discovered a pristine, living cave, but they simply say, “Oh, not much!”   It must have killed them!!

Secrecy became an obsession, sneaking into the area carefully, hiding their gear so they could explore the cave for the next 4 years.  But, it was inevitable that somebody else could discover it and potentially be vandalized.  They discussed the paradoxical notion of protecting the cave by opening it up to the public, but with scrupulous safeguards.

It wasn’t until 1978 that they told the property owners, James and Lois Kartchner about their amazing discovery.  Working with the Kartchners for ten years, they decided the best way to achieve a tour cave would be through Arizona State Parks.  The discovery of the cave was finally made public in 1988 when the Karchners sold the area to the state.  Prior to the grand opening in 1999, the state spent $28 million on a high-tech system of air-lock doors, misting machines and other equipment to preserve the cave.

Karthner Caverns is home to:

  • The tallest and most massive column in Arizona, Kubla Khan-58 ft. tall
  • One of the world’s longest soda straw stalactites- 21 ft. 3 in.
  • The world’s most extensive formation of brushite moonmilk.
  • The first cave occurrence of “bird-nest” needle quartz formations.

Disclaimer:  Cameras are not permitted in the Caverns, the pictures below have been borrowed by non-copy righted sites.

kartchner kublakan

Kubla Khan:  the tallest and most massive column, 58 feet tall


Delicate soda straws


There are two tours, Rotunda/Throne and Big Room.  Both are a 1/2 mile in length, take approximately 1 1/2 hour to complete and are wheel chair accessible.

The Big Room tour is closed from mid-April to mid-October, as it serves as a maternity ward for about 1,000 female cave myotis  bats.

We were in awe of the beautiful colorful formations, but equally fascinated by the story of discovery.  These young men in their early twenty’s had the presence of mind, patience, and due diligence in the planning and protection of the Caverns for future generations.

The campground is just as nice with large, nicely spaced sites, some pull through.  As in most state parks, it’s W/E only but the dump station is easily accessible.

If you’re in the area, highly recommend going here.

Until next time…….























8 thoughts on “Kartchner Caverns….best kept secret!”

  1. We were there in November so got to tour both caverns. I can’t imagine keeping a secret like this quiet for such a long time. Glad you enjoyed your visit there.


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