We left Lost Dutchman State Park, right next to the beautiful and rugged Superstition Mountains and are now staying for a week at Kartchner Caverns State Park (near Benson Arizona). The trip southeast to our destination was interesting in regards to how the desert changed; there are no Saguaro Cactus anywhere to be seen and, big surprise to us, there are lots of trees! There is a lot of dry grasses waving in the slight breezes and lovely rolling hills. On the way to our destination, we traveled through jumping cholla forests, and after our experience with Calle and Jumping Cholla at Usery Mtn Pass, we are not fans of that particular plant! After turning south, just before Benson, the terrain and vegetation changes to grass lands, prickly pear, and our favorite, Yucca. We love finding Yucca sticks that have bloomed, and are on the downside of their life, they make great walking sticks. Kartchner Caverns State park is lovely, quiet and serene, and as we mentioned, SO different from any desert we have been in yet. The Whetstone Mountains, in the Coronado National Forest, is a very picture perfect range of mountain tops with two enjoyable and scenic hiking trails; the 2.5 mile Foothills Trail and the 4.5 mile Guindani Trail. The Foothills trail is an easy trail that goes around the very large hill that Kartchner Caverns is under, and that is amazing, because you would have NO idea what exists 75 feet, or so under that unassuming hill. The Guindani Trail goes up into the Whetstone Range, and is moderate to difficult. After setting up Huey, we checked out the visitors center and Michelle picked up our tickets for the tour of the ‘Big Room’ that we reserved way back in July. Day two of our stay, it was raining so we just stayed in Huey. After the rain subsided, in the late afternoon, Michelle couldn’t stand it and hiked the Foothill Trail, with Calle, and when she returned marveled about how nice it was. Thursday morning we ate breakfast and decided to hike the Foothills Trail before our tour of the caverns at 11:45 – she was correct it is a wonderful trail to hike. The tour of the Caverns is well worth the admission price, it is amazing as is the story of how it was found! Here are some of the pictures from the Visitors Center.
Besides the story of how the caverns were discovered, there were many other interesting facts told to our tour group by the very knowledgable park volunteer who led our tour. Our guide, Pat, has been doing tours at Kartchner for nine years, you can tell he really enjoys what he does. The caverns are a very fragile environment and the guide is responsible to help keep it alive and thriving by instructing people to not touch anything, and everyone is misted off to try and remove any loose lint or dust from clothing before entering the caverns.
One particular story that was very interesting was the facts about the lifecycle of the bats, who return to the caverns every year to give birth and raise their young. He informed us that the little bat mother giving birth, would be the same as a human female, weighing 100 pounds, giving birth to a 25 pound baby while hanging from a cave roof by her thumbs AND catching her newborn baby in a webbed net between her legs so that it didn’t fall to it’s death. Then that little baby bat climbs up to start nursing for its nutrition, this process goes on for many weeks. This whole time the mother isn’t leaving to eat, just keeping the nursery warm hanging from her thumbs with all the other mothers. Every year they come back from southern Mexico and do it all over again.
The Guindani Trail is on the flank of the Whetstone Mountains and is a 4.5 mile hike up from an elevation of 4750′ to 5620′ at the high point. From the top we could see the mountain before Bisbee to Sierra Vista and Fort Hauchuca. Halfway up the trail we noticed that some good sized animal had been digging quite a bit on the trail, we are pretty sure this was done by wild Javelina, which made me think I sure hope we don’t startle one or a group, because all we have are whimpy little walking sticks and our little best friend Calle the dog. The beauty of the hike and the views from the top quickly take your mind off the possible danger. The Yucca on this mountain trail are very nice and if I only had a nice small saw AND if it were ok to take Yucca from a park, we could have had walking sticks to work on for the rest of the year.
Also from the trail you can see old mines typically with the entrances covered with rock all along the downside walk on the trail. I found the signs at the entrances amusing, but there isn’t anyway I would venture into one of those just because of the desert snakes.
And finally there are the two cavers that found the Kartchner caverns. It takes a lot of nerve to crawl on your belly through a hole the size of a metal clothes hanger for over 100 feet to get to the main rooms of these caverns. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to run into snakes spending the winter in the caves. Those two guys did that for 4 years off and on before letting anyone know where they were at!