Kartchner Caverns State Park

1/29/13 Tuesday at Benson, AZ (Valley Vista RV-PPA)

It was pretty windy and cold last night. It might have snowed, but it was wet drops on the rig when we got up. That wind is killer, especially paired with the cold. Our low was 26 degrees and it has been in the low 40’s when we looked at a thermometer during the day.

IMG_6274Snow on the surrounding mountains – in our “back yard”

We got excited about slow cooking tortilla soup, so we went grocery shopping at Safeway. When we got back we saw Annette and Tex from last night. They’ve decided to stay another day because they’re headed into bad canyons, especially with these winds. Less wind is predicted after today.

I called Mark for his ideas on our slide. He said it’s hard to say without looking at it, but it’s built to handle going in and out, plus the seals have memory, so leaving it in with the wiper seal not pulled through for a third of the side would not be a good thing. He suggested I send him photos of it – in and out. So I got the “in” photos, then, holding my breath, sent it “out”, as John watched. It went smoothly and looked fine at the end. I took the “out” photos and sent them to Mark.

We’d called earlier for reservations for Kartchner Caverns and so had a quick lunch of chili. We realized that there was not enough time to make our tortilla soup, so we tossed a beef roast into the crock pot, turned it on and then headed out.

Cool Caverns, but rather expensive ($45 for 2 adults). We couldn’t bring any cameras, cell phones, water bottles, flashlights…on our tour. Bummer. So I have no photos to share. Most caves we’ve been in are cool- in the 50’s or 60’s – this one averages in the 70’s, with 90% humidity. Apparently they take on the average temperature of the land above. Since this is desert….it’s warm! So we took off our winter coats and wore just our sweatshirts. Thus we froze for the little journey by tram to the cave entrance. Boy was it ever warm and humid. Fogged, dark glasses once inside. They have several heavy steel doors the tour group passes through that get closed behind them – to protect the cave from outside air. We have a concrete trail, with handrails, to follow, all to protect the cave from our leavings like oils, lint, bugs. They wash that trail down every night.

You choose 1 of 2 tours: The Rotunda and Throne Room or The Big Room. Since the Big Room tour didn’t allow kids and was more scientifically oriented, we chose that one.

The story of its discovery: In 1974, 2 young men, Tenet and Tufts, were cavers, looking for a cave. They found a sink hole that Tenet remembered from 7 years before, but people (trash) had been there before. This time, though, there had been a drop in barometric pressure, so the cave was dropping it’s pressure, and this resulted in warm guano air gushing out from the small sinkhole. With this hint of a cave beyond, the guys opened the hole enough to fit through and crawled far enough to find the Big Room. They could tell that it was a virgin cave – no one had been here. Their deep concern was that anyone should disturb it. They kept it a secret, but knowing that wouldn’t last forever they went to the Forest Service to see if they could purchase that property, only to find out it belonged to the Kartchner family. It took 14 years for the whole deal to be completed, but the Kartchner’s were thrilled to sell their land to Arizona State Parks for $1.4 million in 1988. They, too, were concerned that this cave be preserved from misuse and shared with the public. They even gave our 2 heroes some finder’s fee money in thanks. So this explains the major efforts at controlling damage of this treasure. They’ve monitored it since the State Parks took over and said the air and humidity remained the same.

There are beautiful formations (stalaCtites – they come from the Ceiling and stalaGmites – they come from the Ground), cave bacon (reminds me of caramel ribbon candy), flowstones (cascading calcium carbonate – reminded us of the Mammoth Hot Springs at Yellowstone) and among my favorites: egg yolk stalagmites. They really look like they have a raw egg at the top and you can see the drips falling into the “egg” portion down from the stalactite above. They have the world’s longest straw (hollow tube) stalactite, at over 21′. So delicate for such a long distance.

This is also a nursery cave – for baby bats (Common Cave Bats). The mom’s get dad’s sperm before they hibernate, then when they come out of hibernation, they decide when to join the sperm to egg. While gestating (being pregnant), they come (around 600) every year to Kartchner Caves. Because of this, the caves are closed to everyone from April 15th until October 15th. Their babies are ¼ the size of mom when born (and naked). Mom nurses her baby (it’s extremely rare for them to have twins), then leaves the cave for bugs – 600 an hour – then returns. Interesting facts: when they relax their feet clench, thus they can fall asleep with their feet clinging all the while. When they urinate, they will lift their body upright, do their thing (they are very clean creatures),then drop back down to hanging. They leave, of course, lots of bat guano (number 2). It looks like coffee grounds and is home to lots of cave creatures (super tiny). I must say, not having a camera enabled me to relax and let the caverns special beauty enfold me. We watched a lovely 15 minute movie after our tour, then headed into that dastardly cold wind for our car and home.

The smell of roast beef cooking in our crock pot greeted us, so we enjoyed a wonderful dinner with lots of thin slices of roast beef left over for sandwiches.

Big day, so we just relaxed with TV.

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About Patricia Elser

I've always loved the loose, flowing, transparent look of watercolors, of Chinese paintings and their calligraphy, but alas, no watercolor classes were available when I was in school, so that interest remained buried until my children were grown. Even then, I was afraid that I couldn't really paint, so upon my sister's advice, I actually started to take classes. I signed up for every class available, determined to learn no matter how afraid I was. I came upon a teacher, Stan Miller, who inspired me, who opened the door to success in watercolor. I love to look at beautiful images. I want to capture them forever. All my life, photography was how I gathered images of the beauty I saw. Thanks to all that photography, I enjoy composing pictures, especially up close. Watercolors allow me to add more of me in their translation of that beauty. My paintings reflect my love for music and dance, with their rhythm and flow. I am fascinated by the play of light, so it appears in my pictures as drama for they are filled with darks and lights. Maybe it's the challenge, maybe it's the beauty, but now, when a work comes together, it fills my soul.
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