Note: With so many RVers headed for Tucson for the Escapees RV Club’s Escapade Rally next week, I thought some of them would be interested in this story from the May-June 2008 issue of the Gypsy Journal.
Just a few miles southeast of downtown Tucson, Arizona is a wonderland of underground adventures, wildlife, native plants, and history stretching back over a thousand years. Colossal Cave Mountain Park offers visitors the opportunity to take a trip underground to explore the historic cave that is the centerpiece of the park, hike desert trails where they may encounter the animals who live there, camp under a star filled sky, and tour a historic ranch and two museums.
Archeologists tell us that the first people lived in Colossal Cave Mountain Park over a thousand years ago. Around 900 A.D., the Hohokam Indians had a thriving community here, farming in the valley below Colossal Cave and using the cave itself for shelter, storage, and as a shrine. From about 1450-1880 A.D., Sobaipuri Indians inhabited Colossal Cave, followed by the Apache and the Papago (now Tohono O’odham).
In the mid-1870s, the Southern Pacific Line operated a stagecoach stop on what today is part of La Posta Quemada Ranch, located near the cave. It did not take the local Apaches long to raid the station and burn it to the ground. In 1878, Solomon Lick built the Mountain Springs Hotel and Stage Station about a mile west of the burned facility. On January 15, 1879, while searching for stray cows, Lick discovered an entrance to the cave and began exploring Colossal Cave. When word got out about Lick’s cave discovery, curiosity seekers from Tucson came to explore the underground passageways, the first of many thousands who would follow.
The human history of the area is not without tragedy. Just a few days after Solomon Lick discovered the cave entrance, his baby daughter overturned a candle or lamp at the Mountain Springs Hotel and died of her burns.
Not everyone who came to the cave was searching for adventure. On October 3, 1882, nine prisoners escaped from the Pima County Jail. Three of them, indicted for the murder of a gambler, were apparently tipped off about Colossal Cave by their jailer, and hid out in the cave.
Five years later, in 1887, three outlaws robbed the Southern Pacific train near Vail and escaped with $3,000 from the mail car. Less than four months later the gang again robbed the train, making off with a considerable quantity of gold and Mexican silver dollars.
Legend has it that a posse trailed them to the entrance to Colossal Cave, and decided that rather than getting into an underground gun fight, they would starve the gang out and waited the for them to emerge from their hidden lair. What the lawmen did not know was that the gang had already escaped by way of another entrance. Their ill gotten gains were never recovered.
At first, it was hoped that Colossal Cave might hold mineral deposits, but no gold or silver was ever discovered, saving the cave from the damage a mining operation would have caused. In 1905, a 75 foot long tunnel was excavated into the cave to mine bat guano. The tunnel serves today as one of the openings for bats going in and out of the cave.
In 1922, German immigrant Frank Schmidt filed mining claims on the land occupied by the cave, and rented the land surrounding it from the Empire Ranch. He and three others are reported by local newspapers to have made the first extensive survey of the cave, traveling within it for six days before exhausting their supply of food and water. Schmidt relinquished his interest in the land to the State of Arizona in 1934, clearing the way for Federal funds to be used to make improvements in the park. Today La Posta Quemada Ranch and Colossal Cave are united as the 5,714 acre Colossal Cave Mountain Park.
Visitors can take a half mile long tour of the cave, which takes about 45 minutes. Tour guides relate the Cave’s history, legends, and geology, as visitors walk down and back up about six and a half stories and see beautiful cave formations like stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone, boxwork, and helictites. Tours are given daily, year-round. Tours are not pre-scheduled, but the wait is never longer than 30 minutes.
After hours, the cave is lit by candles and you can take a candlelight tour to see the cave in its original beauty. The candlelight tour is available for groups of up to twenty, age 10 and older. Each participant carries a candle on the tour, which lasts from an hour to 90 minutes.
Those seeking even more adventure can make reservations for a Wild Cave Tour. You and your guides will follow the footsteps of early explorers through unlit, unmarked, and rarely seen passageways that extend a quarter mile into the depths of the earth. Hard hats and lights are provided. Participants must be 18 or older, physically fit, agile, and able to scale obstacles. The tour size is limited to seven people and lasts two to three hours.
No special clothing is required in the cave, which is always 70 degrees and dry. Visitors are welcome to take pictures on the regular tour. High-speed film and a flash unit are required for cameras.
The ranch headquarters house on La Posta Quemada Ranch was built in 1967, after the original adobe ranch house burned to the ground in 1965. Today it houses a museum with two focuses: the human history and the natural history, specifically that of caves, of Colossal Cave Mountain Park and the Cienega Corridor region.
Colossal Cave Mountain Park has plenty of spots for picnics and other fun family recreation. If you’d like to spend more than just a day at the park, overnight camping is available by permit in the picnic areas. Be prepared to rough it, because there are no hookups, and camping is limited for larger RVs.
For more information on Colossal Cave Mountain Park, call (520) 647-7275. The park is located seven miles north of Interstate 10, Exit 279. (Check the park’s website for current directions, due to road work.) Parking is limited and visiting the park in large RVs is not recommended.
Today is your last chance to enter our Free Drawing for a USB flash drive with all of the digital issues of the Gypsy Journal from 2003 through 2016. That’s 14 years, or 84 issues. If each issue was purchased individually it would be over a $250 value! Enough to keep you reading forever! We weren’t quite as refined with the earlier issues – the photos are black and white and they don’t have a searchable table of contents, but there is still a wealth of RVing information in them. To enter, all you have to do is click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn this evening.
Thought For The Day – It’s the little moments that make life big.