Geology Home Page physical geology historical geology planetary gems
Roger Weller, geology instructor
by Sarah Moore
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.
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
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.
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.
Copyright National Park Service
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
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
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 Memorial).
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!
Cave Survey." Arizona Caves. 19 Nov 2007
Legends." Legends of America. 19 Nov 2007
National Memorial ." National Park Service. U.S. Department of the
Interior. 19 Nov 2007
Cave." Coconino National Forest. USDA Forest Service. 19 Nov 2007
Caverns State Park." Wild Arizona. 19 Nov 2007