Search Stories by: 
&/or
 

Geology Talk, Geology













Patrons absolutely have to stay on the trails within the Kartchner Caverns. They must only touch the handrails and are barred from touching any of the natural formations.
Patrons absolutely have to stay on the trails within the Kartchner Caverns. They must only touch the handrails and are barred from touching any of the natural formations.

Kartchner Caverns –preserving a ‘living’ underground sanctuary

Last month, Bill Langer described the visit he, his wife Pam and their grandchildren Donovan and Delaney made to the Kartchner Caverns, a world-class geologic wonder located in south-eastern Arizona. Bill rounds out the visit with some background about how the caverns were discovered and developed …

In 1974, two amateur spelunkers removed their belts, exhaled to make themselves as skinny as possible, and squeezed through a tiny opening into a cave untouched and unseen by humans for hundreds of thousands of years. In cave terminology, the underground sanctuary was “living” – because water still seeps down the limestone walls, creating stunningly beautiful speleothems such as stalactites and stalagmites.

Randy Tufts had been caving since he had been in primary school. In 1967, aged 18, he began searching for caves in southern Arizona in the Whetstone. A tip from a miner led him and some companions near the cave, and a cluster of ocotillo (a plant that loves limestone soil) led them to the sinkhole entrance to the cave.

However, the only possible entrance at the bottom of the sinkhole did not appear to “go”, so the group left without entering the cave.

In 1974 Randy returned with fellow caver and college roommate Gary Tenen to re-examine the sinkhole.

“Everything seemed the same as before except for one thing: there was a breeze coming out of the crack we’d found before. It was warm, moist air – and it smelled like bats!”

In a time when countless caves had been turned into tourist traps or destroyed by vandals and looters, the two young discoverers realised their extraordinary find must be preserved. For the next two years they secretly explored the cave. In 1978 they told the property owners, James and Lois Kartchner, about their amazing discovery and their interest in making the cave public while preserving its natural, near-pristine condition. James Kartchner was a science teacher and a school superintendent and was delighted with the idea. A decade of hushed diplomacy followed.

The cave’s existence became public knowledge in 1988, when its purchase was approved as an Arizona State Park. Kartchner Caverns’ development spanned nearly 11 years and included innovative ways to allow public access while protecting the cave.

During our tours we entered a tunnel to access the caves and passed through a series of conservation doors that prevents moisture from leaving the cave.

The Kartchner Caverns were discovered by amateur cavers Randy Tufts (left) and Gary Tenan.
The Kartchner Caverns were discovered by amateur cavers Randy Tufts (left) and Gary Tenan.

Nothing would accidently be left in the cave because we were not allowed to take anything in except what we were wearing. This meant no backpacks, food, gum, tobacco products, drinks (including bottled water) or cameras (including phones). Nothing.

We were even sprayed with a mist that moistened the particles of lint, skin and hair we might shed so they would fall onto the trail outside the cave and be washed away later in the day. Otherwise, those spare body parts might become food for fungus colonies that could ruin the beauty of the cave.

Most importantly, everyone absolutely had to stay on the trails. We were only allowed to touch the handrails and were admonished to not touch any of the natural formations. If anyone touched any natural formation, that spot would be flagged and carefully cleaned that night.

None of these restrictions was unwelcome. All the visitors happily complied, realising what a privilege it was to visit a living cave and leave it unspoiled so that generations to come could enjoy the same breathtaking experience.

Our thanks to Randy Tufts and Gary Tenen, who deserve to sit at the table with other natural conservationists such as John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt. 











ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bill Langer
Independent Research Geologist

Bill Langer is a freelance writer and retired Senior Research Geologist for the U.S. Geological Survey. Bill is now an independent researcher specialising in aggregate resources. Click here to email Bill or visit his website.
enewsletter banner 2
advertisement








Monday, 26 August, 2019 3:35pm
login to my account
Username: Password:
Skyscraper 2
advertisement
Free Sign Up

Receive FREE newsletter and alerts


CONNECT WITH US
Isringhausen
advertisement
Skyscraper 2
advertisement