Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Kartchner Caverns

March 21, 2014: Jacob and his fiance Danielle crack each other up
when we stop at a Carl's Jr. for lunch in Tucson.

It's been a year since my children visited their dad, who's in a prison in Tucson, AZ. So they decided it was time to make the 4-hour drive to our resort in Oro Valley, just north of Tucson, and make a fun family weekend of the trip.

While at Carl's Jr., Sarah and Dylan demonstrate the proper methods
of straw-sipping and burger-munching.
The kids have great memories of our first Oro Valley trip in June 2005, almost 9 years ago, when their dad was still with us. They were so young then: Sarah was 15, Jacob was almost 14, and Dylan was not quite 8. We took one of the 2 tours at Kartchner Caverns and went horseback riding in the foothills of the Santa Catalina mountain range.
Friday, March 21, 2014: Outside the Discovery Center at Kartchner Caverns:
Dylan (age 16), Jacob (age 22), Danielle (age 20) and Sarah (age 24).
* [This photo is a different version than the one I posted on Facebook.]

So Sarah suggested that we go to Kartchner Caverns on this trip, and take the "Big Room" tour we didn't take in 2005 (since that particular tour closes from April 15 to October 15 every year due to the bat colony's arrival during those months).

Jacob and Danielle in the gardens outside the Discovery Center.
* [This photo is a different version than the one I posted on Facebook.]

And that's exactly what we did. We left home at 7:00 a.m. and arrived at Kartchner Caverns, just south of Benson, Arizona, at 12:15 p.m., with a quick stop for lunch in Tucson. Our drive time was about 4 hours and 45 minutes. Our tour reservation was at 1:15 p.m.

Mary and Dylan outside the Discovery Center. (Love the windy bangs look.)
* [This photo was not posted on Facebook.]

We had a great time, and lots of pictures to remember it by. Many of these photos have already been posted in my "Tucson, AZ 2014" album on Facebook, but a few of them are different. I've noted which ones are new with a note and an asterisk, for those who pay attention to such things. I do know my future daughter-in-law likes to get copies of some of our pictures, so it might be useful info for her as she decides which to put in her own album.

Jacob explores a fake cave in the Discovery Center.

Inside the Discovery Center, we watched a short film on the 2 cavers who discovered the caverns on the Kartchner family's property in the 1970s, who went to great lengths to protect them from vandalism until the area became a state park about 20 years later. There are also exhibits about caves and the critters who live in them.

Jacob explores another fake cave opening.

Dylan checks out the fake caves, too.

Family togetherness amongst the Discovery Center exhibits:
Jacob, Danielle, Dylan, and Sarah.

The ladies wait outside for the tour to begin: Mary, Sarah, and Danielle.
* [This photo is a different version than the one I posted on Facebook.]
After the exhibits, we went outside to wait for our tour behind the Discovery Center. At exactly 1:15, our tour guide (kind of a homespun story-teller type) met our tour group at the bench area. He told us more of the history of the caverns for about 10 minutes, and then directed us to where our tram awaited.

The gents also wait for the tour to begin: Dylan and Jacob.
The road to the cave entrance and the door are visible behind Dylan's shoulder.
* [This photo is a different version than the one I posted on Facebook.]

The caves are actually located beneath the hills behind the center, and a tram carries you up a road to the thick metal entrance. The tours pass through several of these doors, which provide airlocks to protect the natural state of the living cave beyond.

Jacob and Danielle waiting for the tour to begin.
* [This photo is a different version than the one I posted on Facebook.]
I'm sure you can guess why I didn't post "Fish-face" on Facebook!

They go to great lengths to protect the caverns. That's why it took decades to open to the public. You pass through a misting system so your lint will stick to you and not float off into the caves. And they watch you like a hawk to be sure you don't touch anything along the path, not even the rocks. 

Sarah, Jacob, and Dylan scrounge for quarters so we can put all our stuff
in a locker right before the tour.

Tourists aren't allowed to take anything at all into the caves except the clothes on their backs. You can leave your stuff in your car or, like we did, rent a locker to keep all your stuff in safely until the tour is over. No keys (except a locker key), cell phones, wallets, purses, nothing at all.

Mary and Dylan pose by the entrance sign on our way out.
Dylan is cuddling his souvenir.

Kartchner Caverns is a "living cave" because it's still wet and growing. I can't even explain why it was so exciting to wait for a drip to drop from a stalactite and fall onto the "fried egg" formation on the stalagmite beneath it, but it really was! The tour lasted an hour and a half, on foot in a warm, humid, dark hole in the ground, and it was entirely fascinating.
I do love caves. In fact, I was quite a "spelunker" in my single days (although today they're mostly called simply "cavers"). The tour guide asked us 3 times if we'd crawl into that little opening in the sink hole where the discoverers originally made their way into the caverns, and I kept saying I would. I don't think he believed me, but he didn't know me 30 years ago! I have quite a collection of minerals I gathered from caves and old mines during my younger years.

Mr. Wolfers

After the tour, we visited the gift shop. I always get myself a tee-shirt as a souvenir when I travel (I have an extensive collection), and Jacob bought a Kartchner Caverns tee-shirt for Danielle, too. Mine is blue and hers is pink: our favorite colors!
During the tour, Jacob was fascinated by the deposits of bat guano (poop), although he kept calling it bat "guava" (a tropical fruit). In the gift shop, I tried to get him to buy the little tin of "bat guano candies" (little chocolate mints), but he decided against them.
As for my 6'3" 16-year-old son, he fell in love with a little plush wolf he calls "Mr. Wolfers." First he begged for the huge, 60-dollar version. No way! I tried to sell him on the tiny, newborn-puppy-sized one I thought was adorable ($10), but he compromised and took the $16 medium pup instead. And he already paid me back for him, so it's all good.
From the backseat of Jacob's car, Mr. Wolfers waved at people in the other cars we passed on the freeway, all the way back to our resort!

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