Kartchner Caverns is over 200,000 years old and is considered to be one of the ten most mineralogically interesting caves in the world. It is located nine miles south of Benson. The cave is a living cave which means that the formations are still growing. It was discovered in 1974 by Randy Tufts and Gary Tenen and kept secret until 1988. It opened for tours in 1999. The full history is worth reading.
If you don’t purchase advance tickets online, the Discovery Center is where to go first. The Discovery Center is full of information about the cave and surrounding area. You can watch a theater presentation, check out the museum exhibits, browse the gift shop, eat at the Bat Cave Cafe, use the restroom or just relax. The food at the Bat Cave Cafe is actually quite good!
J really enjoyed this area of the exhibits.
The climb through cave wall was also a hit.
After spending some time exploring the exhibits we went outside to wait for the tram. The view is fantastic and there are plenty of benches if you need to relax while you wait.
The tram takes you up to the cave. No photos are allowed at the cave but it is definitely impressive! You can see photos on the Kartchner Caverns State Park website. We took the Rotunda/Throne Room Tour because children under age seven are not allowed on the Big Room Tour and the Big Room Tour is currently closed for the season because of the bats.
The cave has a diverse amount of speleothems (cave formations) including stalagmites, stalactites, soda straws, columns, shields, draperies, popcorn, flowstone, helictites and boxwork.
Kartchner Caverns is also home to:
- one of the world’s longest soda straw stalactites (21 feet, 3 inches)
- the most massive and tallest column in Arizona, Kubla Khan (58 feet tall)
- the world’s most extensive formation of brushite moonmilk
- the first reported occurrence of turnip shields and birdsnest needle quartz formations
- unusual formations such as rimstone dams, totems, shields and helictites
After our tour, we had lunch at the Bat Cave Cafe and then wandered around the Hummingbird Garden Walk which is located on the southwest side of the Discovery Center. The walk is lined with native vegetation that attracts bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other critters. The proximity to the riparian area of the San Pedro River, the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Desert and the canyons and arroyos of the Whetstone Mountains creates a unique opportunity to see species that are present in each of these habitats. A bird list is available.
There are plenty of shady spots and plenty of benches in this area. There are quiet, isolated corners and picnic tables as well.
We saw quite a few varieties of butterflies. I think the one J was fascinated with was an Elada Checkerspot.
We also saw some different insects, much to J’s delight. She’d take them all home if she could.
There are some hiking trails at the park as well. They are moderate to difficult trails so if you plan on hiking be prepared. The views are magnificent so if you can get some hiking in I definitely recommend it! We didn’t do any hiking today because it was drizzling and the sky was darkening. Campsites are also available.
If you are heading out with little ones you will definitely want to read the Park Rules. Here are some that are good to know if you are taking the kiddos into the cave:
- purses, handbags, backpacks, fanny packs, baby backpacks and other bags/items are not allowed
- cameras, phones, camcorders and other electronic recording devices are not allowed
- strollers and backpack carriers are not allowed (soft slings or carriers worn on the front are allowed for babies age birth to one year)
- food and drinks (including water) are not allowed
- the only things you are allowed to touch in the cave are the handrails
The website also states that it is not uncommon for young children (six and under) to become frightened or uncomfortable in the cave. J sure didn’t fit into that category!