Arizona Caves
              Student Papers in Geology
Cochise College          

Geology Home Page                        

Roger Weller, geology instructor

by Sarah Moore
Physical Geology
Fall 2007    

      A Look Into Some Caves Throughout Arizona


            There are over 2,000 caves hidden throughout Arizona. “From the large Lave Tubes
of Northern Arizona, to the profusely decorated limestone caves of Southern Arizona,
our state contains some of the most beautiful and scientifically important caves in the
nation. And since Arizona has such a variety of localized climates, from arid deserts to
lush mountain forests; we also have a high diversity of cave types” (Arizona Cave
Survey). I have lived in Arizona my life and always found caves very interesting. I have
been to a few such as Coronado Cave and Kartchner Caverns. Many of our caves our
very delicate because they receive little water, making the formations grow extra
slowly. There is a law that protects Arizona caves stated in the Arizona Criminal Code
Title 13, statutes 13-3702 and 13-3702.01. There are even fines up to $150,000 to people
who are convicted under these statutes (Arizona Cave Survey). Looking deeper into these
statutes shows fines from $750 to $150,000.

              13-3702. Defacing or damaging petroglyphs, pictographs, caves, or caverns; classification

Section A: A person commits defacing or damaging pictographs,
caves, or caverns if such person knowingly, without the prior written
permission of the owner:Breaks, breaks off, cracks, carves upon,
writes, or otherwise marks upon or in any manner destroys, mutilates,
injuries, defaces, removes, displaces, mars, or harms petrogylphs,
pictographs or any natural material found in any cave or cavern; Kills,
harms, or disturbs plant or animal life found in any cave or cavern,
except for safety reasons; etc.

(Arizona Cave Survey)

          It goes on talking of breaking, removing, or really in any way tampering with any gate,
door, or obstruction blocking the cave’s entrance. Then in Section B it explains what a “natural
material” is such as; “stalagmites, stalactites, helictites, anthodites, gypsum flowers or needles,
draperies, columns, tuna dams, clay or mud formations or concretions or other similar
crystalline mineral formations found in any cave or cavern” (Arizona Cave Survey). Section C
states these acts are classified as a class 2 misdemeanor with a fine up to $750. In statute
13-3702.01 is about excavating sites and collecting specimens this is punishable with a fine up
to $150,000. I think it is great that the cavers were able to pass these statutes, it is very
important to keep the beauty around us for as long as we possibly can.



Grand Canyon Caverns

copyright Legends of America


The Grand Canyon Caverns were formed in the prehistoric times by an inland sea. It
was first discovered by Walter Peck. “He was on his way to play poker with a couple of friends
at the nearby Yampai railroad siding house, he stumbled and nearly fell into a large, funnel-
shaped hole” (Legends of America). Returning the next day with ropes and lanterns, Walter
and his buddies were ready to check out this hole in the ground. It was a steep fall and the
smart idea of tying a rope around on guy’s waist was thought up. He took a coal oil lantern
and I’m sure held his breath and said a prayer.  It took 150 feet of rope before he reached the
bottom. “The man in the hole below began to explore, casting light around the cavern with
his oil lantern. Seeing sparkles among the rocks of the cave, he was sure that they had
discovered gold and gathered up a sack full of samples” (Legends of America). He tugged the
rope and up he went. He gave Walter the “ore” and even told the men that he was two
skeletons and the loose ends of a saddle deep below. This got the men excited and their stories
soon turned to the speculation of the skeletons being prehistoric cavemen; make as money as
you can right?

Walter could have cared less about the so called prehistoric bones he thought he found
who knows how much gold down in that hole and was rich so, he purchased the property.
“However after having taken several rocks from the cave to an assayer, he was disappointed to
find that there was no gold in that thar hole” (Legends of America). Well, Walter wasn’t down
for long, he decided to use the other guy’s genius idea of the prehistoric bones and began to
charge 25 cents to see where the cavemen were discovered. He even gave his customers the
luxury of having a rope tied around their waists and lowered to explore the cavern. They
became known as Yampai Caverns.

            Through the years new entrances were constructed such as a wooden staircase
instead of the exciting rope trick, then a swinging bridge was added to let more people in at
one time. These comforts caused the entrance fee to become 50 cents. During all this there
was some bad news: “The remains discovered in the cave had been found to conclusively not
be those of prehistoric men, Instead, they were the remains of two members of the Hualapai
Indian tribe who had died in the winter of 1917” (Legends of America).  In later years there was
a permanent elevator installed and the natural entrance was sealed off “out of respect of the
fallen Indians and their scared burial ground” (Legends of America). The name of the cavern was
also changed several times from Coconino Caverns to Dinosaur Caverns and then finally to Grand
Canyon Caverns.



[graphic] Map of the cave

Copyright USDA Forest Service


Tonto Natural Bridge has been in the making for thousands of years. “It is
believed to be the largest natural travertine bridge in the world. The bridge stands
183 feet high over a 400-foot long tunnel that measures 150 feet as its widest point”
Lava River Cave). It is a mile long lava tube that was formed around 700,000 years
ago. It was formed by molten rock from a volcanic vent in Hart Prairie. “Ample
evidence of how the tube was born is written in the rocks of which it is formed,
Small wave-like undulations in the floor are the remains of ripples frozen in the last
trickle of molten rock that flowed form the cave. Stone icicles hanging from the
ceiling show where a final blast of volcanic heat caused the rock to partially
re-liquefy and drip” (
Lava River Cave). The cave can be as cold as 42 degrees even
in the summer! The rocks inside the cave are ice covered and jagged.


Flowstone formation








Copyright National Park Service


Coronado Cave is made of limestone and the limestone was formed around
250-300 million years ago when southern Arizona was covered by a sea. The creatures
the die bodies settle on the sea floor and the waves slowly break them into silt and
sand. They become compacted and hardened into limestone. The actual cave was
formed from water seeping through the cracks in the limestone. “Calcite grains in
the limestone are slowly dissolved by the water. Even normal rainwater becomes
slightly acidic as it absorbs carbon dioxide gas from the air and percolates through
soils rich in carbon dioxide released by insects, bacteria, and plant roots. The rough,
pitted surface of many flat limestone slabs exposed to rainwater along the cave trail
is evidence of this process” (
Coronado National Memorial). Iron sulfide left it minerals
as the rocks surrounding Coronado Cave.

            There are many amazing formations inside this cave, including, stalactites,
stalagmites, flowstones, and helictites. “As water seeps down through the ground and
drips from the roof of the cave, calcite is deposited to form stalactites. When the floor
of the cave is exposed beneath these drips, mounds of calcite called stalagmites form.
Sometimes they meet each other to form a column. Helictites grow in all directions,
even horizontally, and rimstonesdams are ridges of calcite deposits that can hold pools
of water in areas of underground springs” (
Coronado National Memorial). Scalloped and
titled limestone bedding planes are found often throughout the cave. “These features
illustrate the tectonic and hydrologic history of the region. Geologists examining these
scallops estimate that at one time as much as 50,000 gallons of water per minute flowed
through the cave from east to west” (
Coronado National Memorial). This is one cave
I hope the people that graffiti the walls were caught. It made the cave look cheapened
and it was sad. Although, the rock formation that looks like a Dinosaur and had minerals
that glowed made up for those fools.

            Coronado Cave is the home to many diverse creatures. There are many small
animals and insects call this cave their abode. “Within this community are beetles,
millipedes, spiders, crickets, coatimundis, ringtails, and bats” (
Coronado National




Copyright Kartchner Caverns State Park



Kartchner Caverns was discovered by Tufts and Tenen. “It took a full year of
exploration before they knew the full extent of what they had discovered” (Kartchner
Caverns State Park). The entrance to the cave was two and a half miles long, and it had
two large rooms inside. ”If the breakdown of fallen rock were removed, each of the
rooms would be roughly the size of a football field. Off the two main rooms were 26
smaller ones, almost all of them dripping with rock formations that looked like
something created by a Hollywood special effects artist, only all of it was natural”
(Kartchner Caverns State Park). They wanted to keep it a secret so no one would
damage it, the problem was is was quite easy to access. They decided the best bet
would be to find someone to buy the land. ”We thought if it had economic value,
someone would supervise it and protect it” (Kartchner Caverns State Park). They both
knew they could never afford the land so they approach James Kartchner. “Kartchner,
who died in 1986, had been a science teacher and the superintendent of schools in St.
David. He and Lois had 10 children of their own and two that they adopted. Six of their
children are medical doctors, and one had a Ph.D.” (Kartchner Cavern State Park).  
Tufts and Tenen soon found that Kartchner had concern for geology and knew he was
the right man. Tufts and Tenen continued to explore the cavern and went as far as
using an eight-pound sledge hammer to chip away the limestone bedrock until a hole
they found was barely big enough for a person to fit through. “They crawled toward
that space and found themselves in  10-foot-high corridor that took off in two
directions. They were able to walk upright for the next 300 feet. Around them in the
jerky light of their headlamps, the chamber glistened with stalactites, soda straws, and
tiny twisted finders of calcite called helictites” (Kartchner Cavern State Park).

            The three types of formations found in this cave are stalactites, stalagmites, and
flowstone. All of these materials are made of calcite. “It takes about 100 years to form
one cubic inch of calcite. The different colors are caused by mineral impurities in calcite.
Reds are form iron; yellow is from sulphur; green is from copper; blacks and grays are
from aluminum salts; and pure calcite is white” (Kartchner Cavern State Park).

            Caves are everywhere in the world and so amazing to see. I just talked about a
 few of the many caves found throughout Arizona and hope everyone goes out and
takes advantage of the beautiful caves nature has gives us!


Works Cited


"Arizona Cave Survey." Arizona Caves. 19 Nov 2007

"Arizona Legends." Legends of America. 19 Nov 2007

"Coronado National Memorial ." National Park Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. 19 Nov 2007

"Lava River Cave." Coconino National Forest. USDA Forest Service. 19 Nov 2007

“Kartchner Caverns State Park." Wild Arizona. 19 Nov 2007