Ever had a cave kiss? Ashley Fotheringham has. She went on a field
trip to Karchner Caverns. Unlike Colossal Cave which is a dry cave,
Karchner is a living cave. A wet cave. The incredible formations are
still forming. Water is still dripping through the limestone and other
minerals and miracles are still taking place. If you are touched by
one of the drops of water as you walk along the path, you have been
kissed by the cave.
In November 1974 two young cavers, Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts, were
exploring in the Whetstone Mountains. They found a hole with warm
moist air coming out. They knew this meant a cave. Within the next
few hours they knew they had found one of natures rare treasures.
They explored for four years before telling the owner James and Lois
Kartchner. The cave's existence became public knowledge in 1988 when
its purchase was approved as an Arizona State Park. Extraordinary
precautions have been taken during its development to conserve the
cave's near-pristine condition.
The Caverns are located about 10 miles south of I-10 near Benson
which make it very easy to stop without going out of your way.
The three formations in the cave are stalactites, stalagmites and
flowstone. These are all made of calcite. Calcite is the result of
seepage through the earth and changes that occur in the water as it
mixes with minerals and other compounds in the soil. The colors in
the cave are elements that have mixed with the calcite. Reds are from
iron, black and gray are from aluminum salts, yellow is from sulpur
and green is from copper. Pure calcite is white.
It can take over 100 years for one inch of calcite to form so you
can imagine how long the cave has been building when you see a 58
foot stalagmite! Some formations are gigantic while others could easily
break if you were to blow on them. Flowstone looks like waterfalls
running down the walls of some of the rooms. Rooms? Yes, there are
Soda straws are hollow stalacites that are very thin. Karchner holds
the record for the longest 21.16 feet! Bacon Draperies are clear sheets
of dripstone with just enough of the right colors to make them look
like bacon. Some columns are 50 feet high and more. Stalagmite. Mineral-rich
water dripping from a high ceiling splatters in a wide pattern, forming
a flattened, "fried egg" stalagmite. The formations that
decorate caves are called "speleothems." Usually these formations
are composed of layers of calcite called travertine deposited by water.
The form a speleothem takes is determined by whether the water drips,
flows, seeps, condenses or pools.
The guided tour takes about 75 minutes. You will come away with a
better understanding of caves and the life forms that live there and
depend upon each other to sustain them. It is an amazing cycle.
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