Kartchner Caverns State Park is one of the best-kept secret destinations. One day on an exploration trip of the area, Randy Tufts and Gary Tenen discovered the caverns in 1974. After realizing what they had found, the two decided to keep their discovery a secret. The cave was kept a secret for 14 years to protect it from vandals and those who might destroy its natural state. During the time of secrecy, the two located the owner of the property in which the cavern lay. Eventually, Tufts and Tenen spoke to the owner, James and Lois Kartchner of the town of Saint David. The group proceeded to ask to the state of Arizona if it would like to develop the cavern. Thus, it wasn’t until 1988, when the Arizona State Parks purchased the caverns that its existence was announced to the public.
The cavern has been surveyed to be a little over two miles long, including 13,000 feet of passageways. Kartchner Caverns is a wet, live cave. This means the cave is still forming and growing. The large limestone cave has two rooms as long as football fields.
The tour of Kartchner Caverns begins with a ride on an electric tram to the cave’s entrance. A state park ranger hosts the tour. The tour travels along a 40-inch wide hand railed sidewalk for about a mile. The tour lasts approximately one hour.
Once inside, you will have the unique opportunity to see a pristine underground wilderness. Although the caverns are in the desert, the temperature inside is a constant 68 degrees, with humidity at 100 percent. Visitors will see wonderful formations of stalactites dripping from the ceiling and large stalagmites stretching up from the ground. The caverns boast rare quartz needles, nitrocalcite forming like cotton and columns reaching to the ceiling. There are ribbons of color gracing the cavern walls
The State Park has other facilities to offer to its visitors. The Discovery Center is a 23,000 square foot building filled with exhibits, a gift shop, displays and educational information. There are campgrounds, hiking trails, picnic areas, a play area and an amphitheatre.
Since Kartchner Caverns is the premier cavern in Arizona. Arizona State Parks has established the goal to keep the caverns in its natural state. There are some rules when visiting the park. Littering, damaging or removing natural pieces is prohibited. Pets are also required to be on leash at all times. Photography is allowed, but cameras with flash attachments and video cameras are not permitted inside the cavern. Visitors may use 1,000-speed film to shoot pictures.
Admission is $10.00 per four-person carload, which includes the park and the Discovery Center. Tours of the cave are $14.00 for adults, $6.00 for children 7-14 and children 6 and younger are free. You may decide to get an annual pass for $65.00, which covers admission to the park, Discovery Center and unlimited hiking and picnicking.
It is highly recommended that you make reservations before heading down to the park. You may call 520-586-2283 for reservations. Reservations may be cancelled up to 15 minutes prior to the tour’s start. It is suggested that reserved tickets be claimed at least one hour prior to the tour’s start time.
For more information on the opening of the park and its facilities, call 520-586-4110 or 602-542-4174.
Kartchner Caverns State Park is located in the Whetstone Mountains in southern Arizona. You can get to Kartchner Caverns State Park from Benson by taking State Highway 90 south out of town for approximately 8 miles. You will see signs directing you to the cavern. If you are coming from Phoenix or Tucson take Interstate 10 south out of town, then just before you reach the town of Benson turn south onto State Highway 80. Travel south on State Highway 80, about 8 miles until you see the signs for the caverns.
This State Park is definitely the jewel of Arizona.