Spelunking in the Summer Sun

June 26, 2013

SpelunkingSummers at the ranch are jam-packed with fun adventures – from fantastic morning rides to the breathtaking sunset rides followed by a filling outdoor BBQ down at the Cottonwoods. But it in the afternoon, a dip in the pool can be refreshing or an adventure “spelunking” or cave exploring might be the perfect remedy for a warm afternoon.

Tucson has two great spelunking adventures close by. With a constant temperature of 70 degrees, the caverns holds many treasures, history and stories to behold besides the cool respite from the Arizona sun.

Colossal CaveColossal Cave

The first people lived in Colossal Cave Mountain Park over a thousand years ago. Around 900 A.D., the Hohokam Indians formed a thriving community, farming in the valley below Colossal Cave and using the Cave itself for shelter, storage and as a religious shrine.

In 1884, four men held up a mail train near Pantano, a tiny town east of Tucson and just south of Colossal Cave, and got away with $72,000 in gold and currency.  Sheriff Bob Leatherwood rounded up a posse and trailed the bandits to a “hole in a mountainside”—Colossal Cave in the Rincon Mountains. Escaping through another exit, the bandits were later captured by the posse nearly 70 miles away in Willcox, AZ. After arrests were made, the caves was thoroughly explored, unveiling the back entrance and the bandits’ lair, which included the remains of a campfire, food and clothes—but not a trace of the $72,000.

Colossal Cave is currently on the National Register of Historic Places and was erected thanks to the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) who constructed the buildings, walkways, and wiring in the mid 1930’s. The hand-set flagstone walkways and handrails are exactly as installed by the CCC. These days, however, Colossal Cave is wearing new lights and is more breathtaking than ever before.

Kartchner CavernKartchner Cavern

Forty miles southeast of Tucson, under the limestone rock of the Whetstone Mountains, lies Kartchner Caverns. It was discovered in 1974 by Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts, two amateur cavers from Tucson. A simple cleft in the rock led to a fantastic underground world they called Xanadu.

Except for telling the Kartchner family, who owned the land, they kept the cave a secret for years, fearing it would be vandalized. Eventually, Tenen and Tufts came to believe that the best way to protect the cave was to turn it into a state park. The Kartchners agreed. Years of legislative wrangling ensued, but Kartchner Caverns State Park finally opened in the late 1990s.

The cave 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 1½ hour tour.

The Kartchner Cavern’s 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.

Both cave tours are a great way to explore the history of Tucson besides seeing some of mother nature’s greatest subterranean masterpieces. While kid’s Summer Camps take advantage of these tours, but guests can also take advantage of these great adventures on most warm afternoons throughout the summer. For more information on these exciting excursions check out the websites for Colossal Caves or Kartchner Caverns, or if you visit the ranch just ask our front desk staff! They will surely lead you in the right direction to make an underground memory of a lifetime.

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