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10 Things You Need To Know About Kartchner Caverns State Park



The Kartchner Caverns are located in the Whetstone Mountains near Benson, Arizona, which is 46.7 miles east of Tucson. This natural wonder is a must-see for anyone who wants a truly unique experience. The formations, flora, fauna, and geology of the Kartchner Caverns are all extremely fascinating. This is such an amazing place with an ancient history and a lot to explore. If you don’t know about the Kartchner Caverns, you’re missing out on one the Arizona’s most unique places to visit. Here are 10 things you need to know about Kartchner Caverns State Park.

1) The Kartchner Caverns is the “Best Cave” According to USA Today

A spelunker in a hardhat stands before speleothems in the Kartchner Caverns.
Flickr User arno92400

The Kartchner Caverns beat out 19 other caves for the honor and USA Today couldn’t be more correct! The Kartchner Caverns are the epitome of what we think of when we think of caves. The massive formations inside will make you feel as though you’re on an alien planet. We think it’s pretty fair to say you won’t be disappointed if you come for a visit.

2) The Caverns Were Discovered in 1984 by Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts

Speleothems inside the Kartchner Caverns.
Flickr User M P R

But they didn’t tell the owners James and Lois Kartchner about it until 1988. They spent four years exploring their discovery and taking in the colors and the formations of the cave. It was sneaky of them, but it makes a lot of sense considering all that was at stake. Something new that was also incredibly old was found and the excitement was too profound for anything else besides exploration.

3) They Had to Crawl for Hours to Reach the Cave Entrance!

Stalactites inside the Kartchner Caverns.

It was hidden away at the bottom of a sinkhole, revealed only by warm, moist air flowing from a narrow crack in the hillside. What a risky feat? Sinkholes are dangerous enough as it is. But exploring an unknown cave’s entrance at the bottom of one more than doubles the danger.

4) The Public Finally Learned of the Kartchner Caverns in 1988

Flickr User M P R
Flickr User M P R

Then it became an Arizona State Park the same year. Throughout its development, they’ve taken great care to preserve the cave as it is. Though tourism does change things and affects natural structures. However, in the case of the Kartchner Caverns, Arizona has done a great job of protecting this amazing place.

5) The Formations in the Caverns Are Called Speleothems

They form when water passes from the surface into the cave. The minerals in the cave mixed with the water over time form these amazing and archetypal giant cave structures.

6) The Speleothems Take Many Different Forms

Depending on whether the water is seeping, dripping, pooling, flowing, or condensing, speleothems form. For example, stalactites grow down from the ceiling, and stalagmites grow up from the ground. As long as water and the perfect blend of minerals mix together over a long period of time and collect within the caverns, there will be amazing formations.

7) The Caverns Contain Tons of Unique Minerals

The majority of the speleothems are made of calcite and travertine deposited by water. These are some of the most common minerals on the planet Earth.

8) The Kartchner Caverns Have the World’s Longest Stalactites

These magnificent formations look like sculptures made by creative artists. They’re called soda straw stalactites. They average to be around twenty-one feet and three inches long. You can find them mostly in the Throne Room.

9) The Caverns are Also Home to Kubla Khan

Kubla Khan is the tallest and most massive column in Arizona. It is 58 feet tall and can be found in the Throne Room. It also has the world’s most extensive formation of brushite moonmilk. You can find this unique mineral deposit in the Big Room.

10) The Speleothem Formations Began Over 190,000 Years Ago

Large hanging speleothems hang down in the Kartchner Caverns.

Obviously, they grow very slowly. They’re super fragile, so remember not to touch them, that way we can preserve that natural state of the cave and keep the speleothems growing!

The next time you’re around Tucson, you really should do yourself a favor and explore the Kartchner Caverns. That is of course, only if you want to have an unforgettable experience.

Cheyenne Reed was born and raised in Ohio. She recently relocated to rural Wyoming to try out working at an exclusive guest ranch. She graduated from Kent State University with an English degree, and most enjoys writing about travel. If she has free time, you may run into her anywhere, because she is always itching to explore new places. Her personal motto is, "Any day can be an adventure if you make it one!"