So it’s Adventure Week here at Camp KD. Yesterday was Kitt Peak. Today it was Kartchner Caverns.
These are the Whetstone Mountains outside of Benson, Arizona. In 1974, two dedicated (read “so obsessed they were possibly dangerous to themselves”) cavers revisited a sinkhole one had seen before, and realized the hole was “breathing.” There was a cave down there.
The story is told elsewhere, but I’m going to explain that for fourteen years they kept the cave as secret as they could. They knew many caves that had been ruined by uncaring tourists, and they didn’t want that happening to the magical place they called Xanadu. So they kept it secret, telling only people they believed they could trust to help them keep it safe.
I’m so glad they did.
We were met at the parking lot by some rather adorable greeters.
At Kartchner, I’m thrilled to report they take preservation of the living cave very seriously. We weren’t allowed to carry anything in that might be dropped to defile the environment inside. For example–though I had my sunglasses on a lanyard, if I forgot and put them on my head I was reminded to let them hang. Though the cave has been open to the public for over twenty years, over 80% of the cave floor has never been stepped on by a human. They intend to keep it that way.
Every image from inside the cave I’ve borrowed from the internet, since cameras are not allowed. Each picture will link back to its source page.
Going in you go through a series of three or four big sealing doors, like on the walk-in freezer back at Taco Bell. The boundaries are to remind you not to touch anything–we were even asked not to touch those guide walls, as the cave’s caretakers can wash down the path, but not the tops of the walls. This part of the tunnel is not natural; it was cut by miners to allow access.
If anyone did touch a living part of the cave, our guide would tie a flag to the spot so the place could be carefully cleansed. They’re that serious, with good reason.
This is cave bacon. It’s formed by water dripping, leaving minerals behind. If left alone–such as, not touched by humans with their greasy mitts–it will form a glorious drapery.
Have you ever seen light shining through rock? It is an odd and marvelous thing.
These are soda straws. We saw one nine feet long.
You can imagine how easy it would be to break one carelessly, or deliberately. Something that took over 50,000 years to form, maybe, snapped off by some lob who wants a bit of rock to show his friends? No thank you.
I could go on and on with pictures. There’s so much to see! I have to say I was impressed with the pace of the tour. So many times I’ve been rushed through/around/over something with no time to actually appreciate it, but our guide was flat-out awesome. We had time to look at things. Time to gasp and mutter and discuss and then she would point her flashlight at something else amazing.
Though I could go on and on with pictures, I’m not going to. You know the way to Google, but I’d really recommend you see it for yourself if there’s any way at all. If all the other wonders aren’t enough–well, there’s this.
This is Kublai Khan, the 58-foot column in the Throne Room that is just…guh. No words, no words!
58 feet. In the U.S., that’s the height of a six-story building. It doesn’t look that big, since it’s hard (for me, at least) to judge the distance in the cave. They put us back far enough we could see the whole thing, then told us to make a fist and hold up our thumb. Our thumb would show us about how tall we’d be next to it. So…in the picture if I were standing at the base, I would be completely in shadow. If that helps. (I’m five foot, not that an extra foot would make much difference.)
It’s not the best picture. The shadows are funky. But even the very best picture could never convey the incredible majesty of the Throne Room. You’re just going to have to go.
Do it. Go on the tour. It’s about $25 per adult, but it is so worth it. (Also, you have to make reservations, and be there an hour before your tour starts. There’s tons to see, though, so it’s not like that’s a hardship!)
(Just don’t be the jerk who sneaks his camera in for some flash photography, or tries to take a piece of Kartchner home. I will find you, and I will kick you. Hard. You see these clouds? That’s just the beginning of my wrath if you muck up that incredible cave.)