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Bisbee and Kartchner Caverns Trip
March 18-19, 2000
by Jeannie Van Lew
Thirteen Motorolans and family met at Einstein Bagels and made our way to Bisbee, Arizona for the first day of our Kartchner Weekend trip. We had Tom, Jeannie, Jason, Adrienne and Jon Van Lew, Jim Whitfield and Max Gibbons in our two vehicles. Then there was Kenn and Jessica Wright with Kim, Allie and Andrew Gibson. And not always in the rear were Yu-Ling and Dave Langford. We finally drove through Mule Pass Tunnel, and had our first look at Bisbee.

We had lunch at the Copper Queen Hotel sitting on the porch, keeping an eye on the guy and his Prowler parked up the street a ways. After lunch we walked to the Queen Mine for our tour. We were given a heavy yellow rain-slicker, a heavy hard-hat, and a heavy flashlight powered by batteries. We loaded up on a small train down that took us into the depths of the cold mine. From our ex-miner guide, we learned about the history of Bisbee and the mine, and how things worked and operated in the mine. I was amazed when he told us there are 7 levels of tunnels that run over 2000 miles long!


Our guide lead us up a flight of wooden stairs into an area that miners call a stope. He showed us a pneumatic drill called a stoper. He demonstrated how dynamite was used to remove ore from the tunnel walls, moving along 7 feet at a time, telling us how he began working in the mine at 17 for $4 per day. He left us feeling that those miners definitely had a hard life and how lucky we are to sit at our desks all day!

After the tour we all explored Bisbee with the streets curving around the mountain slope. Concrete stairways wind their way up from one building to the next clinging precariously to the side of Mule Gulch. We walked along Brewery Lane and found Café Roka that had been recommended to us by previous tour groups. We met up with our little group, and after bidding a farewell to Jarvis, Shilpa, Lucy and Subadra at Café Roka, we drove back to Benson for dinner at an Italian Restaurant.

The next morning, every one of the 32 people planned to go on the Motorola Hiking Club Kartchner tour was there, bright and early at 7:30 AM! After handing out the tickets for the two tours we split up, our 9:00 group settling in to watch the video on the discovery of the caverns. Soon it was time to board the tram, which took us past the original opening to our point of entry. Our ranger gave us repeated warnings about “Do Not Touch” but swears she never said, “Or I’ll kill you!” We entered the first set of doors and could begin to feel the humidity increase. Entering the caverns we walked though a series of tunnels which would gain us access to the Rotunda Room. After the mine tour the previous day, we felt we could appreciate the difficulty of creating such a tunnel. Once in side the caverns we were in another world.

Our ranger described Kartchner, “If all caves are like department stores, Kartchner is the jewelry department.” I think of it as a subterranean jewel box with the drops of water clinging to the stalactites sparkling in the light like diamonds on a string. The crystals in the stalagmites glistening the entire 5 or more feet of their length. They have only named one formation in the caverns, Kubla Khan. The rest were left to our own imaginations to name and remember. All too soon the tour was over, I wanted to linger a little longer, knowing there was a formation I had overlooked and didn’t want to miss. Someday, other areas of the caverns will be open, and we’ll be there to experience the wonder of Kartchner Caverns.

Some Thoughts and Comments from Other Participants:

We had a great time both at the mine and at the Caverns. I thought the tour was most informative and our guide did a great job answering all the questions people had. I can’t wait until the “THE BIG ROOM” opens up—that should prove to be more incredible to view. The State has taken lots of pain in making sure people don’t destroy what’s there and to keep it a “living cave” by soliciting from other caverns and capitalizing on their mistakes.

Anyway, I thought it was a great experience and would like to go back when the other room opens. BTW, we walked the foothills loop trail around the mountain where the caverns were. They said it was 2 miles, a little up and down and very scenic.

Gail Roberts 

A few quick thoughts on...

Kartchner Caverns:
•  Definitely cool. it’s great to see how they are trying to protect the caverns; like the sealed-off sections to keep the humidity high inside. Going through those big metal doors made me feel like I was going into a giant meat locker or something.
It’s amazing to look at the hill/mountain from outside and realize there’s a cavern inside. It looks just like a thousand other places in AZ...makes you wonder how many more of these exist.
Oh, the video was good too, but I wish I had seen it prior to the actual tour. Surprising to see the age difference of the two discovers between when they discovered the caverns and when the video was made. It’s amazing they were able to keep it a secret for so long.
Queen Mine:
Pretty educational. I learned more than a few things about mining, especially from a historical perspective. I really liked his explanations of how they drilled holes and sequenced the dynamite explosions to create ever larger holes until a huge section was blown out.
The guide was pretty cool. He threw in a lot of humor. The bit about being “called into the office” was hilarious.

Dave Langford 

To get home we decided to take the road less traveled. We drove north of Benson on Pomerene Road which eventually turned into Cascabel Road, which intersected Redington Road, and eventually hit 77 just south of Mammoth. The Pomerene Road/Cascabel Road stretch before turning into Redington Road was forty miles of gravel. It hadn’t rained recently and was easily, though slowly passable by sedan. The Pomerene Road/Cascabel Road followed the San Pedro river valley. It was VERY sparsely populated, has lined with hundreds of beautiful green trees (we aren’t sure if the trees were cottonwood, or something else). We were also treated to miles and miles of Saguaros.

Just south on Mammoth we were reminded of Arizona’s mining legacy, BHP’s San Manuel operation. Along 77 at Winkelman and on 177 along Hayden were major Asarco operations, and then there was Ray. The Ray mine is a huge operation operated by Asarco. The slag piles are miles long, the rift through the valley is longer. I appreciate what copper & other minerals bring to our lives but the cost is immense. I felt a perverse sense of amazement to watch earth get ripped apart for our benefit.

Five hours after leaving Benson we arrived at home. We saw the sublime wonders of Mother Nature at Kartchner, the snow capped Rincon’s, and the San Pedro Valley. We also saw mankind’s mark on the earth. I’ll take mother nature any day of the week.

Lee O’Brien 

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updated April 17, 2020