Sunday, February 20, 2011

Kartchner Caverns State Park, Benson, Arizona

backroads destination--Kartchner Caverns State Park, Benson, Arizona

There in the right center of the photograph is the cave entrance.  Now this park has trails, a campground, visitor center and of course the Cave.  The cave was first discovered in 1974 and kept secret until its purchase by the state of Arizona in the late 1980's.  The cave tours opened in the late 1990's.

Now I have been in caves in the west on National Forest land.  Those have tended to be rather mundane caves.  I have not visited any of the major caves managed by the National Park Service.  This cave is worth the visit.  Camera's are no longer allowed on the tours so you will have to cruise the net for photo's of cave features.  Here is the official state park photo page:  Kartchner Caverns Photo's.

The construction of the trail inside the caves is a story in itself.  The trail meets the 1990 wheelchair accessible standards.  There are a series of airlocks and misting areas to maintain the air quality inside the cave and prevent degradation of cave resources.   The cost of the trail system in the cave was 28 MILLION dollars with an additional 4 million for the remainder of the park.  It is an expensive park to maintain and run and so with the realities of government funding in the 21st century pretty stiff admission fees are charged to enter the cave.  You need reservations and the cost for adult is $22.95.   Cave tour information can be found here:  Cave Tours.

If you know somebody in a wheelchair or that has difficulty walking take them on this tour.  Most of the times places like this are not accessible.  The state of Arizona invested lots of money to be sure that everyone could take this tour.  The tour guide makes a big deal about feeling closed in on the tour.  It actually is quite spacious.  I do get claustrophobic, but this tour was just fine.  

You can save some money by buying the Tucson Attractions Savings Passport.  It cost you $15 and gets 2 for 1 admission to many places including the cavern.  So you save $8 dollars, plus get to use the passport in other locations.  In Benson, the only place that sold the Passport was Butterfield RV Resort & Observatory.

The tour is worth taking.  I am use to caves being damp and cold places.  This cave since it is in the desert and takes on the ambiant ground temperature is WARM and damp.  So forget the jacket for the tour.  You won't need it.  Ditch you cotton sweatshirt.  The state is trying to preserve the cave environment and lint from sweatshirts just won't do.  So leave yours behind.  Allow some time for the visitor center.

There is a interpretive display of plants just outside the visitor center.

One tip if this is your first visit to the southwest desert and you want to remember the plants.  Take a picture of the sign and plant with your digital camera.

From then on you will have a record that you can refer to when trying to remember the name of that plant!!

In the desert, virtually everything sticks, bites or otherwise causes pain so be careful where you walk.

People are always afraid of the forests, however, to me the desert has always been way more dangerous than the forests of the west.  The first time I tried walking more than a 1/4 mile in summer told me that the desert is much more dangerous than the forest!

The state park has a 60 unit campground complete with electric and water hook-ups.  There are restrooms with showers and flush toilets!  There is a dump station just outside the campground.  The stay limit is 14 days.  Be sure to read the state park camping information here:  Facilities.

There are great views from the park towards the east.  This following view is sunset, but I suspect the sunrise view from the location is probably worth setting the alarm.  Well,  maybe you can position your camp such that you can view sunrise from you bed.

Kartchner Caverns State Park is worth a stop on your backroads tour.  Expensive, but worth the money for the tour.  
Our next stop will be about the birds and stars as we head for the Coronado National Forest. 

1 comment:

Russ Krecklow said...

Thanks for sharing the photos and information about Kartcher Caverns State Park. We enjoyed our visit there a few years ago. Looking forward to getting back to that area. Benson is an interesting place. Thanks for sharing your experiences.