The Underground World

Heading to the desert Southwest to get out of the rain, snow and cold?  If Tucson is your destination, here’s a couple of unique adventures to put on your “must do” list.

The first is Kartchner Caverns State Park.  It’s a little over an hour from Tucson and there are clear driving directions on the website.  Unlike anything I have ever seen before, this is a LIVING cave.  That means there is still water coming in and new formations being made.  It’s truly spectacular!

We did both tours starting with what is called the “Big Room” and then the “Rotunda/Throne Room” after lunch.  Both are worth doing and are different enough you will be glad you invested the time and money.  I think you should do them in that order for maximum effect.  Leave time to watch the 15 minute film about the cave discovery and development before your first tour.

There is a snack shop by the visitor center so you can get some lunch if you don’t bring your own or just an ice cream treat after your last tour.

There is a tram to get you to the cave opening.  The paths are easy, even wheel chair accessible and the tours are guided by knowledgeable rangers and volunteers.  The cave is warm – always 70 degrees and 99% humidity so if you wear a jacket to the opening you will shed it quickly!

This is a VERY well run operation.  Everything is designed to strike a balance between letting us enjoy nature’s hidden beauty and preserving it for generations to come.  To that end there are NO cameras, cellphones, flashlights or anything allowed in the cave.  There are lockers you an rent for 4 quarters or you an lock everything in your vehicle.

Make a reservation for tours on line or by calling the number on the website.  The bats return mid-April to give birth so if you go before then you will be able to do both tours.  From April to October you will find only one tour available.

If this whets your appetite for a cave adventure worthy of the word “spelunking”, then schedule the Ladders Tour at Colossal Cave Mountain Park.  

Our guide, Brian Pittaway gave us our helmets complete with lamps and took us on a 1 1/2 hour adventure!

This is a physical outing not for those who may be claustrophobic.  It’s also a bit challenging and very dusty so expect to end up dirty, sweaty and likely sporting a few scrapes and bruises.

I wouldn’t bother with the “regular tour” especially if you have visited Kartchner Caverns.  The main difference is that where Kartchner Caverns is LIVING, Colossal has been dead for eons.  Colossal was also discovered a long time ago and the paths were put in back in the 1930’s so there has been damage to the formations.

 It’s not the pristine, spectacular beauty of Kartchner, but here you can don a helmet and crawl around in tunnels – something you can’t do at Kartchner.

You are also welcome to take photos in Colossal!  If you plan to do one of the adventure tours such as The Ladders, bring a pair of gloves.  I used some gardening type gloves I have with padded palms.  If you wear contacts, I would recommend clear safety goggles.  I didn’t have them and wished I had as the dust was irritating my eyes by the end  of the tour.  A cotton, long sleeve t-shirt that tucks in is also a good idea along with appropriate shoes or boots.

Also outside Tucson, this is less than an hour away.  Bring your own lunch or eat before you come because services near the cave are limited.

If you  want to spend a day marveling at the beauty of a spectacular LIVING cave, Kartchner Caverns is a MUST!  If you want to try spelunking,  the Ladders Tour at Colossal Cave is an adventure to remember!


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