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Tuscon & Southern Region
Kartchner Caverns State Park
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Kartchner Caverns State Park © Mike Lewis / CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
A view of the Big Room in Kartchner Caverns
Kartchner Caverns State Park © Shaunnamm / CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Crinoid casts in limestone at Kartchner Caverns State Park, Arizona.
Kartchner Caverns State Park Kartchner Cave Bacon © T.C. Brown
Various flowstone formations can be seen in this one-of-a-kind cavern system.
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2980 Arizona 90
Benson, Arizona   85602
(lat:31.8366 lon:-110.3489) map location

Phone: 520-586-4100
Reservations: 520-586-2283
Experience a stunning limestone cave in Southeastern Arizona that boasts world-class features. This ?live? cave, discovered in 1974, is host to a wide variety of unique minerals and formations. Water percolates from the surface and calcite formations continue to grow, including stalactites dripping down like icicles and giant stalagmites reaching up from the ground. Tour guides will unveil this fascinating underground landscape during a memorable 1? hour tour.

The Discovery Center features museums exhibits, a large gift shop, regional displays, theater, and educational information about the caverns and the surrounding landscape. There are also campgrounds, hiking trails, lockers, shaded picnic areas, a deli, an amphitheater, and a hummingbird garden.

Nature of the Area
Rainwater, made slightly acidic by absorbing carbon dioxide from the air and soil, penetrated cracks in the down-dropped limestone block and slowly dissolved passages in it. Later, lowering groundwater levels left behind vast, air-filled rooms.

Kartchner Caverns' wide variety of decorations, called ?speleothems,? began forming drop by drop over the next 200,000 years.

Water seeping from the surface dissolves minerals on its trip through the limestone. Once it reaches the cave, the trapped carbon dioxide escapes from the water. No longer able to hold the dissolved calcite, the drop deposits its tiny mineral load. Over time, these minerals have created the beautiful speleothems and variety of colors found in the cave. Kartchner Caverns is a ?living? cave; the formations are still growing!

During the summer months, the cave's Big Room serves as a nursery roost for over 1,000 female cave myotis bats. The pregnant females return to Kartchner Caverns around the end of April, where they give birth to a single pup in late June. The babies remain in the roost each evening while their mothers forage for insects in the surrounding countryside. During the summer the colony consumes about half a ton of insects, consisting of moths, flying ants, beetles, mosquitoes and termites. Mothers and their offspring will leave mid-September, to begin their migration for their winter hibernation roost. These bats provide the only link between the ecosystem of the cave and the surface.

History of the Area
It wasn't until February 1978 that Tenen and Tufts told the property owners, James and Lois Kartchner, about their amazing discovery. During the four years of secret exploration, the discoverers realized that the cave's extraordinary variety of colors and formations must be preserved.

The cave's existence became public knowledge in 1988 when its purchase was approved as an Arizona State Park. Extraordinary precautions have been taken during its development to conserve the cave's near-pristine condition.

Arizona offers a non-commercial standard pass for weekday use at all parks, including weekends at most parks and the non-commercial premium pass which includes weekend and holiday access to the parks. Boyce Thompson Arboretum is not included in either annual park pass. You can find additional Arizona Annual State Park Pass informataion and order online by visiting the ARIZONA ANNUAL STATE PARK PASS web page.
Visitors Center
The Discovery Center is located on the northeast end of the main parking lot. Visitors should arrive one hour prior to tour time in order to obtain tickets and experience Discovery Center activities. The facility consists of the front desk, a theater presentation, museum, gift shop, an amphitheater and food concession. At the Front Desk, customers may get park information, pick up reservation tickets or purchase walk up tickets. Only 100 walk-up tickets (5 per tour) are available for the Rotunda/Throne Room tour each day, reservations are recommended.

In the Tenen?Tufts Theater, a video presentation (15 minutes long) plays twice an hour. The program highlights the discovery aspect of the cave. The Museum contains exhibits on cave formations, cave life, hydrology and history. The Gift Shop offers a wide array of cave related and southwestern themed souvenirs, gifts and practical items to meet the needs of travelers. The amphitheater may host a variety of interpretive programs, weddings or other special events.

A two loop Campground is located off of the main road past the Discovery Center on the southwest end of the park. Campers must arrive prior to 6 pm before the park closes. Camping fees are payable with cash, Visa or Mastercard at the Contact Station or in cash at the self pay station located at the Campground entrance. Fees must be paid daily or in advance and there is a 14 day stay limit. All permits are sold on a ?first come, first served? basis, reserving sites is not permitted. Access cards are available for paid campers that will allow after hours access. Cards must be requested at the Contact Station from 7 am ? 4 pm. Request an access card when purchasing camp permit.

All sites are developed as electric hook up sites. NO sites have been developed or designated for basic ?dry camping?. Non-electrical and tent campers are welcome use these sites but the full fee will be required. A paid camping permit entitles the holder to use of the shower/restroom, water, electrical and dump station facilities. All sites have a table, hose bib and power post. Each site has a 20 amp and a 110 electrical outlet, some pull through sites have 50 amp service. Sites vary in length from 35? in the shortest, ?back in? sites to 60? in the pull through sites, all sites are single width. Sites have ample room on the side areas for pull out units.

There are four host sites, three handicapped designated sites (one is a pull through site), twelve pull through sites and forty three other sites of varying sizes. Handicapped designated sites have paved access to the site and adjacent restroom, a paved pad and wheelchair accessible table. Waste bins and shower/restroom facilities are located on the upper west end of each Campground. Restroom buildings have bottled water vending machines and dishwashing sinks located on the rear east side.

Kartchner Caverns State Park is located near Tucson

Day Use Area
The Group Day Use Area is located at the northwest corner of the Main Parking Lot. The area features three covered ramadas, eighteen picnic tables with one handicapped accessible table, water faucets and drinking fountains, 110 electrical outlets and lighting, waste receptacles and an area for a band and dancing. Optional use of a large covered gas grill and built in counter is available for an additional fee. The Group Day Use Area may be reserved for a fee and the grill may be reserved for an additional fee. All fees must be paid in advance when making the reservation and are a per day fee. No personal checks will be accepted for payment. Please pay with cash, Visa or Mastercard at the Front Desk of the Discovery Center. Reservation fees apply only to the rental of the Group Day Use Area, all other per vehicle Day Use, Camping and Tour fees are separate, additional fees. Please leave the Group Day Use Area in the same condition that it was found in. Please clean the grill and place waste in receptacles.

Covered picnic tables are located around the perimeter of the Main Parking Lot and adjacent to the food concession area outside of the Discovery Center. Seven single table sites are located on pads under a shaded ramada with a water source on the west and south end of the main parking lot. Two handicapped accessible sites are located in the center of the sites on the west side of the lot, they have a wheelchair accessible table and adjacent parking. All perimeter tables are accessible by a developed sidewalk and pad.

Three uncovered tables on pads are located in the southeast section of the Main Parking Lot, only one table is accessible with a paved sidewalk.

Seven single tables and one wheelchair accessible table are located under the covered dining area outside of the food concession area at the Discovery Center. The dining area looks out onto the Hummingbird Garden and the vista of the Whetstone mountains. Announcement of tour times are audible in this area. A counter area with wheelchair accessibility will be located inside the concession building.

Hikers should ensure that they wear comfortable clothing, durable shoes and have plenty of water when hiking, especially in summer months. Hats, sunscreen and regular consumption of water will help prevent exhaustion and heat related injuries. Hikers should stay on developed trails to prevent erosion, damage to vegetation and personal injury. Please report any problems along the trail or trail damage to the staff at the Front Desk.

The Guindani Trail (#398), located on the east flank of the Whetstone Mountains in the Coronado National Forest, is 4.2 miles in length (first mile is an easy walk, next 2/3 of trail is moderate difficulty, and the last leg is strenuous). This is a shared-use, non-motorized trail that is well-marked with directional signs.

Trail elevations range from 4750? at the park trailhead to over 5620? at the highest point along the Guindani Trail. The summits along the crest of the Whetstone Mountains are over 7000? in elevation. Vegetation is mesquite-invaded Chihuahaun semi-desert grassland at the lower elevations and open oak-juniper woodland on the higher slopes.

Access to the Guindani Trail is located on the west side of Kartchner Caverns State Park campgrounds; a kiosk marks entrance to trail. For more information, contact: Sierra Vista Ranger District, 5990 W. Hwy 92, Hereford, AZ 85615 or call (520) 378-0311.

The Foothills Loop Trail (loop) is approximately 2.5 miles, rated moderate to difficult. There are two access points, one at the northeast end of the Discovery Center parking area and one at the Hummingbird Garden.

This is a hiking trail, with no bicycles or motorized vehicles permitted. The trail climbs the limestone hill north of the cave and descends into the wash that follows the fault between the Whetstone Block and the San Pedro Block. A short spur trail at the upper portion of the Foothills Loop Trail leads visitors to the scenic Mountain Viewpoint.

Informational signs along the Foothills Loop Trail will discuss such trail highlights as the foothills, scenic view, riparian area, bedrock mortar and the Native Americans that inhabited the area.

Some of the vegetation seen on the Foothills Loop Trail hike include: Ocotillo, Creosote Bush, Mesquite, Desert Broom, Acacia, Wait-a-Minute Bush, Scrub Oak, Barrel Cactus, Prickly Pear, Buckhorn Cholla, and Hackberry.

The Hummingbird Garden Walk is located on the southwest side of the Discovery Center. The walk is lined with a variety of local vegetation. Some of the varieties include: Catclaw Acacia, Velvet Honeysuckle, Beargrass, Yellow Bells, Black Spine Prickle Pear, Autumn Sage, Agave, Desert Bird of Paradise, Desert Spoon, Fairy Duster, Chaparosa and Hesperaloe.

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Pets are allowed in all outside areas but they should be leashed. Pets are not allowed inside any of the buildings or on cave tours except for certified service animals. Pets should not be left unattended in vehicles in the parking lot or left unattended outdoors. Ensure that pets have access to a water source. Pets should be restricted to trails and developed areas due to potentially harmful desert plants and cactus. Wildlife and other pets may pose a danger to unrestrained pets due to potential conflicts or predatory behavior that could be harmful.

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