It must be stressed that any seekers of this cache not deviate from the trails inside or outside the cave. The Park System does not allow folks to be off trail and reminds seekers that the desert and cave are extremely fragile ecosystems, and the Rangers are doing their best to protect them. Remember, this is an Earthcache and there is no physical cache at this location, it is intended to be for informational and educational purposes only.
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.
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:
- one of the world's longest soda straw stalactites
- the tallest and most massive column in Arizona, Kubla Khan
- the world's most extensive formation of moonmilk
- the first reported occurrence of "turnip" shields
- the first cave occurrence of "birdsnest" needle quartz formations
- many other unusual formations such as shields, totems, helictites, and rimstone dams.
The contrast between the cave's natural 99%+ relative humidity and the dry desert climate above makes this cave particularly vulnerable. Unmonitored air exchange could quickly destroy the cave's delicate ecosystem, halt speleothem growth and diminish the cave's natural beauty.
Due to the caverns location in the middle of a transition zone between two deserts there is a great difference between the annual evaporation rate on the surface (65 inches) and the evaporation inside the cave that averages a scant .08 inches per year. The rate of evaporation on the outside is 800 times greater than the rate inside the cave. Admission of outside air into the cave would deplete the entire annual supply of moisture to the cave almost immediately. Therefore, reducing the potential for increased air exchange was paramount in the development of Kartchner Caverns to maintain the moist microclimate of the cave and keep it alive. The staff at Kartchner has been keeping meticulous records since cave preliminary development began in 1991. To aid researchers, there are 22 environmental monitoring stations that measure air temperature, relative humidity, evaporation rates, air trace gases and airflow in the cave 24 hours per day.
Please note that as of January 1, 2013, the logging requirements for Earthcaches have changed, and "Requests for photographs must be optional." We highly encourage geocachers to include a photo of yourselves outside the cavern near the entrance sign, we enjoy seeing all your smiling faces enjoying this wonderful spot. And email us the answers to the following questions (answers can be obtained from the tour guides along the way).
- 1. Kartchner Caverns resides on two desert types, Sonoran Desert and _______________, and what is the indicator plant species of this desert?
- 2. While touring the caverns, the guides ask that you do not touch the formations - what are the reasons for this request? How does touching a formation effect the caves natural environment?
- 3. What is the age of the extinct Three Toed Shasta Ground sloth, and what room of the cave was it discovered in?
- 4. What is the primary reason the Myotis Velifer come to the caverns? What is the total population at the end of each season?
- 5. When you are in the cavern, and a drop of water falls on you, what is this called?
There is a very modest access fee required in order to visit this wonderful natural resource. It is highly recommended that you call ahead and make reservations to ensure yourself a place on the tour. Please see the online ticket sales page here for more details.
The park includes a Discovery Center which houses world-class exhibits, a large gift shop, regional displays, theatre, and educational information about the caverns and the surrounding landscape. There are also campgrounds, hiking trails, lockers, shaded picnic areas, a deli, and an amphitheater.
Please Remember: Many of the formations you will see have been continuously growing for tens of thousands of years. The formations grow very slowly and are extremely fragile. When visiting remember that formations damaged even by accident will stop growing. To avoid damage to the cave and injury to yourself please refrain from touching any of the formations.
In order to preserve this special resource for all others to see, all park rules apply and are strictly enforced. Please review the Park Rules here and make sure you follow and and all instructions given by your tour guides or any other park representative during your visit.