30. Kartchner Caverns
Kartchner Cavern is one of Benson's must see attractions. Discovered in 1974, by spelunkers Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts they noticed a narrow crack in the bottom of a sinkhole and followed the source of warm, moist air toward what ended up being more than 2.5 miles of pristine cave passages. Hoping to protect the cave from vandalism, they kept the location a secret for fourteen years, deciding that the best way to preserve the cavern was to develop it as a tour cave.
After gaining the cooperation of the Kartchner family and working with them for ten years, together they decided that the best way to achieve the goal of protection through development as a tour cave was to approach Arizona State Parks. In 1985, The Nature Conservancy acquired an option to purchase the land. The discovery of the cave was finally made public in 1988 when the landowners sold the area to the state for development as a park and show cavern. Prior to its grand opening in 1999, the state spent $28 million on a high-tech system of air-lock doors, misting machines and other equipment designed to preserve the cave.
The cave is also home to the Myotis bat. The Big Room is closed to visitors during the summer season while the bats arrive for their yearly migration from Mexico. This is an important time for the bats. Kartchner's Big Room serves as a nursery for some 1,000 female bats. The pregnant bats fly in at the end of April and each gives birth to a single pup in late June.
Two major features of the caverns currently available to the public are the Throne Room and the Big Room. The Throne Room contains one of the world's longest (21 ft 2 in (6.45 m)) soda straw stalactites and a 58-foot (18 m) high column called Kubla Khan, after the poem. The Big Room contains the world's most extensive formation of brushite moonmilk.
Other features publicly accessible within the caverns include Mud Flats, Rotunda Room, Strawberry Room, and Cul-de-sac Passage. Approximately 60% of the cave system is not regularly explored.
The park also includes hiking trails above the caverns for public use. The longest trail, the Guindani Trail, is 4.2 miles, while the shorter trail, the Foothills Loop Trail, measures 2.5 miles.
Artist: Doug Quarles
Size: 12' x 32'
Completed: August 2015
Benson Beautification, Inc.