About Kartchner Caverns State Park
Kartchner Caverns is a stunning limestone cavern system in Southeastern Arizona discovered in 1974 by two amateur cavers from Tucson. It is host to world-class cave formations considered to be the best of their kind in the world.
Discovered by explorers Randy Tufts and Gary Tenen, the cave was kept a secret for 14 years to protect it from vandalism and exploitation and to ensure the survival of its delicate ecosystem. Kartchner Caverns is a wet living cave into which water still percolates from the surface above and calcium carbonate features are still growing. It has an unusually wide variety of brilliantly colored cave formations, including the longest known Soda Straw stalactite formation in the world.
The contrast between the cave's natural 99%+ relative humidity and the dry desert climate above makes this cave particularly vulnerable. Unmonitored air exchange could quickly destroy the cave's delicate ecosystem, halt speleothem growth and diminish the cave's natural beauty.
Due to the caverns location in the middle of a transition zone between the Sonoran Desert and the Chihuahuan Desert there is a great difference between the annual evaporation rate on the surface (65 inches) and the evaporation inside the cave that averages a scant .08 inches per year. The rate of evaporation on the outside is 800 times greater than the rate inside the cave.
Admission of outside air into the cave would deplete the entire annual supply of moisture to the cave almost immediately. Therefore, reducing the potential for increased air exchange was paramount in the development of Kartchner Caverns to maintain the moist microclimate of the cave. Therefore, reducing the potential for increased air exchange was paramount in the development of Kartchner Caverns to maintain the moist microclimate of the cave and keep it alive.
The staff at Kartchner has been keeping meticulous records since cave preliminary development began in 1991. To aid researchers, there are 22 environmental monitoring stations that measure air temperature, relative humidity, evaporation rates, air trace gases and airflow in the cave 24 hours per day.
Then as now, the cave depends on the stewardship and commitment of the best scientists and cave developers in the world to ensure its survival.