Magazine article Sunset

Tour the Big Room

Magazine article Sunset

Tour the Big Room

Article excerpt

Kartchner Caverns' thrills are closer than ever

How do you stun a dozen hyperactive sixth graders into complete silence? Easy: Lead them into the newly opened Big Room at Kartchner Caverns in Arizona. Suddenly there are so many jaws agape, it looks like feeding time at a seabird rookery.

Kartchner Caverns, 50 miles southeast of Tucson, is unmatched by any other cave in the country. It was kept secret by its spelunker discoverers until it was designated a state park, so its geologic treasures were never chopped or blasted out by souvenir hunters or vandals. Features so fragile that a strong breeze could destroy them remain intact. After meticulous planning and construction, parts of the cave were opened to visitors in 1999, and the new Big Room tour tops off the experience.

The tour reveals many of the same fantastic formations that visitors marvel at in the cave's other sections, the Rotunda and Throne Room. But the concrete path in the Big Room adds intimacy to the grandeur, as it curves within arm's length of delicate features with nicknames such as bacon, popcorn, and soda straws, formed over millennia by the slow dripping of mineral-laden water. …

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