Warriors Become Spelunkers Kartchner Field Trip

By Candy Rodriguez and Alyssa Soza

Twenty-seven Warriors were treated to another world as they ventured on a field trip to Kartchner Caverns with teachers/sponsors Ms. Elaine Straub and Dr. Lolita Levine on Friday, Feb. 16.

This “other world” is just 50 miles southeast of Tucson, near Benson—a perpetual 68 degrees year-round no matter how hot or cold it might be outside of the cave. Students gasped as they marveled at nature’s wonders.

Senior Jorge Becerril, one of the lucky students who attended this field trip, said, “When you really comprehend how old each stalactite and stalagmite is, you really can appreciate Kartchner Caverns—or any cave system. In my entire lifetime, a stalactite or stalagmite might grow less than a foot! The delicate ecosystem in which we all inhabit is truly amazing and overwhelming.”

He added, “The light show presentation in the cave near the end of the tour was definitely the best of the trip. I’m glad that Dr. Levine and Ms. Straub chose this trip for us. I returned to Tucson with a lot more respect for nature and its natural beauty.”

A lot of people don’t know that Kartchner Caverns are relatively “new” when it comes to tourism. Actually, the cave was discovered by Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts in 1974, who found a narrow crack in the bottom of a sinkhole. The story is, they followed this warm, moist air toward what ended up being more than two miles or perfect cave passageways, with the help of Erick Campbell, an Arizona biologist.

They kept the cave secret for 14 years because they wanted to keep the cave pristine. After gaining the cooperation of the Kartchner family and working with them for more than a decade, they decided that the best way to achieve the goal of protecting the cave was to approach Arizona State Parks.

In 1988, the landowners sold the area to the state for development as a park and show cavern. Kartchner Caverns opened to the public in 1999 and has become one of Tucson’s best road trip destinations—just 50 miles southeast of town. The caves aren’t just for Southern Arizonans; people from all over the country and world have visited the mighty “The Big Room”, the most impressive area of the cave. Nearly 250,000 visitors frequent Kartchner Caverns, and spelunkers (cave experts and explorers) have rated these Caves in the World’s Top 10 Best.

Sponsor and teacher Ms. Elaine Straub said, “This field trip was for the science club to learn about living caves, the ecosystem of this unusual environment—as well as how the natural rock formations are created. Since both Dr. Levine and I are biology-oriented teachers, this close natural wonder is a great opportunity for our students to experience a science topic that we don’t have as much expertise in and do not include in our lessons.”

She added, “The highlight of the trip was observing the beautiful formations and learning about them through the analytical references the guides used to help us remember what each formation was.”

Senior Julia Sullivan also attended this trip; she was astounded by what she saw.
“I love what Earth has created for us,” Sullivan said. “So much of it is undiscovered. I’m glad that Kartchner Caves’ secret is out of the bag for all of us to enjoy—and to actually experience it. We were not allowed to take pictures inside the caves, but that was a good thing because it keeps the spectator in the moment. When we have cameras, we’re too busy looking through a lens and not seeing the real picture.”

Senior Riana Lara, one of the 27 students who participated on this field trip, said, “The trip was pretty exciting! I learned that the limestone mixed with water drips makes straw-like rock formations. The whole process is awesome and amazing.”

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