do-si-do with knowledgeable docents
This ½-mile long, easy, super-informative tour takes 1:45 and hasn’t a dull moment.
This isn't so much a warning as it is a heads-up. Video and photography is not permitted in the cave. Nor are cell phones, bags, backpacks, purses, food, bottled water, or strollers. Lockers are available for storing such items if you prefer not to leave them in the car. Pets are not allowed in the cave. The cave is at a constant 77 degrees and 99 % humidity, so you probably won't want to wear a coat. This tour is only available from mid-October to mid-April. It is strongly recommended that you reserve your ticket online or by calling the state park as its a popular tourist attraction.
Back in 1974, two young guys by the names of Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts were looking around the Whetstone mountains for a cave that had never been found. A boy, did they! Thinking they were in the Coronado National Forest and not on private property, they kept the cave a secret for a few years. Upon learning, in 1978, that they were actually on private property, they disclosed the cave to the owners, James and Lois Kartchner. In 1988 the state of Arizona purchased the property from the Kartchner's and turned it into a state park.
Having science backgrounds, we are often skeptical of popular cave, boat and geologic tours. We cringe when a docent points out a formation that resembles a cluster of grapes, a formation that supposedly looks like an elephant, or a hillside that matches that of the profile of Abe Lincoln. This tour, however, was far from a Disney-fied spelunking venture.
The tour begins with a 15-minute introduction to the history of the discovery and development of the caverns followed by a brief tram ride past the natural entry (a small sinkhole) to the man-made tunnel into the caverns. The path in the tunnel is wide enough for two, is gently sloped, and is fairly well-light. You go through several doorways as you wind your way into the bowels of the caverns and go from virtually no humidity to a constant 77 degrees and 90 % humidity atmosphere.
Our docent was very knowledgeable, didn’t sound rehearsed, left ample time for questions, seemed passionate about her work, and offered up a few dry lines of pun-humor. She described how the various formations came to be, how they’ve determined their age, why they have different colors, the other non-mineral findings that have been discovered, and how there’s plenty left yet to be uncovered. She also discussed the bats and other life-forms that live in the cave as well as the research that is presently being conducted.
In short, the tour pleased everyone in our group. Definitely well worth the entry fee and time.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.