New Mexico logo

Date of visit:
January 13, 2002

For location of this site in AZ, click on the map:
 Location of Kartchner Caverns State park ...

We rate this site a:

Site Highlights:
 Near Interstate 10
 $10 to get in park
 Guided tour - $14
 Small and intimate
 1 hour to tour
 "Living cave"
 High temp - humidity
 No cameras allowed
 Very restrictive tour


[ Home ] [ Travel Page ] [ Steins ] [ Tombstone ] [ Bisbee ]

Kartchner Caverns is a newcomer. It is considered a "living cave" ... still forming. As such, access to this attraction is highly restrictive. Not only are the entrance fees high but all tours must be guided. All persons entering the cave are subject to the following rules: NO bottled water, NO chewing gum or candy, NO strollers, NO backpacks, NO purses, NO camcorders, NO cameras, NO literature, NO whatever the rangers decide.

The physical size of the cave is quite small. The entire Kartchner Caverns could fit inside the smallest Carlsbad Caverns' room. Inside temperature and humidity is HIGH; barrier doors keep the environment inside constant. It's handicapped accessible. A tram (acquired from the Atlanta Olympics) whisks visitors from Visitors Center to the cave.

This attraction is worth a visit only because it is such a unique environment. But, be ready for a disappointment if you have previously visited Carlsbad ... for it is not an immense and breathtaking spectacle.

Because cameras are not allowed inside (WHY? - noone knows or can explain), we cannot provide any original images of the interior. The few images shown on this page are replicated from the park brochure as an inducement for the reader to plan a visit to this attraction.

Go to first part of trip - Steins Railroad Ghost Town
Go to second part of trip - Tombstone Territory Ghost Town
Go to third part of trip - Bisbee - "Queen of the Copper Camps"
Kartchner Caverns - History and Creation
Cave History

In November 1974 two young cavers, Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts, were exploring the limestone hills at the base of the Whetstone Mountains. In the bottom of a sinkhole they found a narrow crack leading into the hillside. Warm, moist air flowed out, signaling the existence of a cave. After several hours of crawling, they entered a pristine cavern.

It wasn't until February 1978 that Tenen and Tufts, told the property owners, James and Lois Kartchner, about their amazing discovery.

During the four years of secret exploration, the discoverers realized that the cave's extraordinary variety of colors and formations must be preserved.

The cave's existence became public knowledge in 1988 when its purchase was approved as an Arizona State Park. Extraordinary precautions have been taken during its development to conserve the cave's near-pristine condition.

Nature's Creation

It all began with a drop of water .. A shallow inland sea covered this area 330 million years ago, depositing layers of sediment that eventually hardened into limestone. Millions of years later this Escabrosa limestone along with other rock layers uplifted to form the Whetstone Mountains. The Escabrosa limestone containing the cave down-dropped thousands of feet relative to the mountains above.

Rainwater, made slightly acidic by absorbing carbon dioxide from the air and soil, penetrated cracks in the down-dropped limestone block and slowly dissolved passages in it. Later, lowering groundwater levels left behind vast, air-filled rooms.

Kartchner Caverns' wide variety of decorations, called "speleothems", began forming drop by drop over the next 200,000 years.

Water seeping from the surface dissolves minerals on its trip through the limestone. Once it reaches the cave, the trapped carbon dioxide escapes from the water. No longer able to hold the dissolved calcite, the drop deposits its tiny mineral load. Over time, these minerals have created the beautiful speleothems and variety of colors found in the cave. Kartchner Caverns is a "living" cave; the formations are still growing!

Cave Formations

The formations that decorate caves are called "speleothems." Usually formations are composed of layers of calcite called travertine deposited by water. The form a speleothem takes is determined by whether the water drips, flows, seeps, condenses or pools.

Kartchner Caverns is home to the:

  • Longest soda straw formation in the U.S.
    (second longest in the world) 21 feet 2 inches (Throne Room)
  • Tallest and most massive column in Arizona,
    Kubla Khan: 58 feet tall (Throne Room)
  • World's most extensive formation of brushite moonmilk (Big Room)
  • First reported occurrence of "turnip" shields (Big Room)
  • First cave occurrence of "birdsnest" needle quartz formations
  • Other unusual formations include shields, totems, helictites
    and rimstone dams.

Site Gallery - Kartchner
Touring Kartchner Caverns Touring Kartchner Caverns Touring Kartchner Caverns
Touring Kartchner Caverns Touring Kartchner Caverns Touring Kartchner Caverns
Touring Kartchner Caverns Touring Kartchner Caverns Touring Kartchner Caverns
All images in this gallery are © Arizona State Parks.
All Rights Reserved.

All text source extracted from park brochure ....
Kartchner Caverns State Parktm by Sam Negri
Copyright © 1998, Dept. of Transportation, State of Arizona

For further information: Arizona State Parks

[ Home ] [ Travel Page ] [ Steins ] [ Tombstone ] [ Bisbee ]