|Active formations dripping over 50,000 years|
|Recently found cave - protected forth beginning|
|You seldom find a cave with so many active formations|
The caverns are similar to the Crystal Cave near Kutztown PA - a place where my students visited often. Except at Kartchner - they got an opportunity from discovery to protect the cave from the destructive forces of human invasion. The cave was founded by Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts - two guys interested in geology and the important preservation. They were exploring in a sinkhole where they spotted a small crack where there was evidence of bat habitation. They crawled through the small passage and discovered several large rooms - full of limestone formations. They kept the cave secret for 10 years - and arranged with the Kartchner family and the state of Arizona to preserve it.
The cave is designed to keep out invasive species. The well-designed walkways and lights keep visitors from contamination of the formations. Double door chambers are designed to keep the air inside as a constant temperature - pressure - and humidity. This prevents the desert air for drying out and killing the formations.
The air handling system alone cost the state $22 million. The founders were smart to get private and state backing - before the cave was even known to the public.
It is startling to see soda straw formations over 20 feet long - growing at less than one inch in 100 years. Usually these thing are broken by vandals - they have been forming for 55,000 years. They are kept a safe distance from visitors by guard rails. One disgruntled nut could do so much damage in a place like this.
They limit the tours to about 20 people at a time. You are not allowed to take cell phones or cameras with you. A tram takes you to the entrance which is about ½ mile from the visitor center. From there you walk into the air protection doors - and walk on paved - well hand-railed smooth lighted walkways for about ½ mile. There are some mild grades.
Outside the temperature was into the 80s and 20% humidity - inside it was 60s and 99% humidity. The wet air keeps the cave active - in the silence you could hear the drips - like little pieces of time.
Near the end - they have a small theatre set up in the main room - and a light and sound show.
In my 33 years as an Earth Science teacher - I have visited many similar sites. This one was caught in time - and will be protected for visitors forever - unless some stupid terrorist decides to ruin it for everyone.
Note - Pictures are stock photos - they do not allow cameras.