Why yes, I did bring my handy headlamp in the event that any caves should need further exploring.

Our first “activity” on this trip was a visit to Kartchner Caverns, a state park just south of Benson, and about an hour southeast of Tucson.

*Kartchner Caverns does not allow photography inside, to protect the living cavern, so all inside photos are pulled from azstateparks.com/Parks/KACA*

Cory and I experienced a few very authentic (read: dirty and lax about any sort of rules) caves while traveling through Laos. These caves consisted of a local setting up shop directly in front of the entrance, charging about 50 cents per person (more if you wanted headlamps or a guide – usually non-English speaking), and showing you the entrance. We were left on our own for the most part, to wander through some pretty deep caverns!

Having had those amazing experiences, we were naturally a bit hesitant to experience Kartchner Caverns, which looks to be the Disneyland of caverns.

After reading reviews, and checking out the website, we decided on taking the Big Room tour – the only way to experience the caverns is through an organized tour. There’s a choice between two tours, the Big Room and the Rotunda/Throne Rooms. We thought the Big Room tour would be perfect – a smaller tour group, no children under 7 allowed (because you get closer to the stalactites and stalagmites), and it’s a longer time spent underground.  Also, the Big Room is closed for about 6 months each year, as it becomes the home to thousands of pregnant bats.

Of course, when we called for reservations, all Big Room tours were sold out for the day we wanted! So we “settled” on the Rotunda/Throne Room tour.

Overall, we were incredibly impressed with Kartchner Caverns. It’s inspiring to see the time, care, and science that went into creating this state park, and to ensure the preservation of the cavern for years to come.

While one does get the slight sense of being just another tourist to be shuffled along, the sheer size and gorgeousness makes up for that. And the explanations for the need of the guided pathways, cleaning crews, and many restrictions definitely helped me to realize that Kartchner Caverns is a park that has learned from history’s mistakes.

The history of Kartchner Caverns is incredible.  In 1974, Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts, two twenty-something amateur cavers, pursued a slight warm and moist breeze emanating from a sinkhole. After hours of digging, crawling, and scraping their way through mud, rock, and petrified bat guano, they realized the immensity of what they had discovered – a previously untouched living cave.

After years of exploring (and keeping secret) the caverns, Gary and Randy told the owners of the property (the Kartchners, of the eponymous caverns).  All kept it a secret until several years later, when the land was sold to the state of Arizona to facilitate the building of the state park.

A quick video shown in the museum center goes into a bit more detail with the history, and is definitely worth watching! It is about 15 minutes long, and recommended to view prior to a tour.

So, make your reservation well in advance, leave everything in your car, and know that while you may not get up close and personal with the stalactites and stalagmites, you will be viewing a part of the earth that will retain its beauty for generations.

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