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Kartchner Caverns
Benson
January 22, 2000
by Ben Velasquez

Participants: Ben Velasquez, Elaine Cobos, Darleen and Larry Lindquist , Doris Madueno, Linda Elliott, Michelle and Jim Kranzberg, Priscilla Molinar and Tom Phar, Brenda and Victor Garman, Neal and Catherine Alexander, Chuck and Peggy Giovanniello.

We all met up at Einstein Bagels at Ray and I-10 eager to start our multi-faceted adventure ... to boldly go where no other Motorola Hiking Club members had gone before ... Kartchner Caverns, the newest State Park in Arizona and home to some of the world’s best cave formations.

Most everyone was willing to trek down to Tucson and stop for lunch at a place of our choosing, although many people were worried that Ben’s joking reference to tofu was serious. However, Ben came through and located a terrific lunch spot, Baggin’s, several times voted the best sandwich shop in town.

From there, we headed straight to the Caverns. It’s an easy trip from Tucson and only about seven miles off I-10. Development is working at a demon’s pace to catch up with this newest tourist attraction. The exit (302) off I-10 sports a new Motel 6 and Holiday Inn Express. There’s also a Best Western if you continue into the town of Benson, a few more exits down the road.

Once we got past the park entrance at $10 per vehicle (up to 4 passengers), we made all the necessary pit stops and anxiously waited for the “show” to begin. And what a show it was! It’s like entering the world of the hobbit, at least what I imagine such a world would be like except I’ve never waded my way through those tomes. I think it would be akin to the path through the cave mud that we safely viewed from our guided tour path.

grandeur
It’s a little daunting to hear those large doors SEAL you into the cave when you enter. But the trail is set up well and even claustrophobic people shouldn’t have a problem. The tour first enters the Rotunda Room and you get your first taste of the wonders in store. You will be amazed at the clarity of the formations, especially if you’ve been to other caves. But ... be sure to eat BEFORE you go on the tour because there are several names for rock formations that could whet your appetite, such as bacon and fried eggs. The amazing thing is that the formations really resemble these food items.

Kartchner Caverns is home to the world’s second longest soda straw. In Australia, there’s one 22.5 feet long; Kartchner’s is 21.5 feet long. Ask the ranger and he/she can point out one that’s 17.5 feet long visible from the tour route. Soda straws are EXTREMELY delicate formations that form from the ceilings of caves. Generally, they develop a plug after only a foot or so and transform into forming stalactites. I’m sure you’ve heard the story that formations from the ceilings are holding “tight” and that’s why they’re called stalactites whereas formations from the ground are called stalagmites. When a stalagmite and stalactite join, they become a column. Kartchner has the largest one of those in the state of Arizona as well, called Kubla Khan, and it’s a name that’s well deserved.

Of course, I could go on and on about all the amazing things to be seen and felt in this living cave such as the fact that it’s quite warm, 68°F. and constantly about 98% humidity. When they say you don’t need a warm jacket, they’re not kidding! I think everyone in our group would agree that this is a magical place worth visiting several times, so don’t be daunted by the difficulty in booking your tour. Just do it!

Most of the group was willing to continue our adventure past Kartchner down into Bisbee. People’s choices of accommodations ran the gamut from the Copper Queen Hotel (old world grandeur) to a former schoolhouse set up as a bed and breakfast (real Victorian style) to the only TRUE camper/hikers in the group who opted to stay at the local Shady Dell Trailer Park. Of course, I have to admit, our stay in the Royal Mansion vintage 1953 trailer was anything but “roughing” it. And, of course, Michelle was in heaven because almost right next door to her trailer was the authentic Dot’s Diner that served up such good food (fries, biscuits and gravy, milkshakes, etc.), she and Jim went back for lunch as well as having breakfast there Sunday morning.

We had two group highlights while in Bisbee, namely dinner at a fantastic restaurant called Café Roka and the Queen Mine Tour. You have to call in advance for a reservation at Café Roka (they only serve dinner and they’re not open all nights of the week), but it’s well worth it. The food selection is exquisite, prices are amazingly reasonable and you get multiple courses including a genteel sorbet between servings to cleanse your palate. The Queen Mine Tour was a fun contrast to the tour of the Caverns. Where Kartchner was warm, the Queen Mine never gets above 52°F. A retired miner was our guide and had great stories to share with us. I think we all left feeling our jobs at Motorola (or elsewhere) weren’t so bad after all!

Bisbee offered several individual adventures as well, such as Brenda Garman picking up some great chairs for her dining room at an antique shop on the main street of old town Bisbee. Ben and I wanted to offer to help her get them home, but we were too busy trying to figure out how to fit all our purchases into our two-seater Miata. Next trip there we’re taking the 4Runner!

Elaine thinks we are taking the 4Runner. I am ready to raise the car, put big tires on it and see where we can really take it. Canyon de Chelly would be good.

After talking to several folks it seem the trip was well worth it. That part of Arizona has lots to offer in scenery, outdoor activities, shopping and eating. The other groups that make the trip also have Tombstone that they can visit.

We had a good group. I want to thank them for making the experience fun. Elaine did lots of prep work, which really helped.

If anyone from the other groups going to Kartchner has any questions or needs help please give Elaine or myself a shout.

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updated December 30, 2017