PARKS and RECREATION AREAS
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KARTCHNER CAVERNS OPEN TO PUBLIC NOVEMBER 12th, 1999
by Ron Ratkevich
The Arizona State Parks Department will be opening Kartchner Caverns to the public, but this has taken years of secrecy, negotiation, study and assurances that every safeguard has been made to protect the integrity of this rare natural geological formation.
Kartchner Caverns were discovered in 1974 by two cave explorers Randy Tufts and Gary Tenen and kept secret until 1988 when they approached the Kartchner family with news of the discovery. It took two years for the Kartchners' to decline the offer of doing it themselves, but the alternative appeared more attractive and the land and the cave were sold to the State for eventual use as a park. After the sale in 1988, scientific research and development began on a frenzied scale, with many delays due to dangerous rocky structures which had to be engineered for visitor safety, and more importantly, every aspect had to be studied and mapped, which turned out to be a project beyond anyone's early estimates. Some of the cave rooms were immense, larger than a football field, the floor was literally lined with pitfalls; deep vertical shafts covered over with thin shells of calcium that could crumble under the weight of an explorer.
Nothing seemed to be going right, and press release after press release announced opening dates that came and went. Originally scheduled to open in 1992 or 1993, work still continues on making proper accommodations for the public. The delays, in reality, were probably a positive thing since Arizona never had to deal with such an amazing and unique park situation. Trails are being constructed to less sensitive areas of the cave, airlock doors are being fitted to control the inside atmosphere and rare fossils, like an Ice Age, bear-size sloth skeleton had to be slowly excavated for display in the visitor's center.
Tufts and Tenen do have certain regrets to making their discovery public. Kartchner Caverns is one of the finest cave complexes in North America, and until its discovery the hidden world was safe from the intrusion, at least during modern times. Kartchner is also a wet cave, meaning the delicate formations are still growing and the conditions for such growth are almost unheard of in Arizona. Had the cave been further away from civilization, Tufts and Tenen could have kept its exact location a secret known only to the most credible of cave explorers.
Kartchner Caverns is scheduled to open in November 1999. To make advanced reservations for cave tours call 520-586-CAVE. Be sure not to miss this incredible natural wonder!
Coranado National Forest
by Ron Ratkevich
In 1540, the Spanish explorer Don Francisco de Coronado and his expedition entered southern Arizona from Mexico in search of Seven Golden Cities of Gold, which were said to exist somewhere to the north. The exhausted expedition never found Cibola, but rather they found an immense region of cactus, grassy hills, lizards, and rugged mountain ranges. Today these mountains, administered by the Coronado National Forest Ranger Districts, rise like islands in a sea of desert. Their towering summits, capture the snow and rain that allow cities, industry, and agriculture to exist below in our arid Sonoran Desert environment.
The twelve mountain ranges of Coronado National Forest total 1.7 million acres of public land, and offer a remarkable range of vegetative types and climates. In only one hour, you can drive from the usually hot, arid desert to the cool pines. Elevations range from 3,000 feet to 10,720 feet. The Coronado National Forest is especially rich in its diversity of fauna and flora.
The Coronado, as are all National Forests, are not simply nature preserves, but they are devoted to the perpetual production of wood, water, undergrowth forage, wildlife and recreation. Visitors to the forest participate in a broad spectrum of activities ranging from backpacking in the remote and rugged Galiuro Wilderness to riding a shuttle bus in scenic Sabino Canyon, adjacent to metropolitan Tuscon. Other recreational pursuits enjoyed on the Coronado include camping picnicing, hiking, studying nature, rock climbing, winter sports, fishing, hunting, rockhounding, photography, bird watching, and just plain enjoying the majestic scenery.
A Few Recreational Opportunities in Coronado National Forest
Mount Lemmon, offers some of the closest Coronado National Forest recreation opportunities all among the cool mountain pines. The Catalina Highway, a steep, scenic winding mountain road, provides access from northeastern Tucson to this popular area. For the hearty who are aching for a great backpacking trip, the Santa Catalina Passage portion of the Arizona Trail (which starts across the border from Douglas and ends up in Utah) leads you to the top of Mount Lemmon, from a Sonora Desert ecosystem to one resembling southern Canada.
Sabino Canyon--The Sabino Canyon Visitor Center and Ranger station are located near the entrance of the canyon. No cars are permitted up the canyon but the shuttle ride takes you through this scenic canyon and carries the visitor under towering cliffs and along a boulder-filled stream crossed by 9 bridges. Well planned stops along the route provide opportunities for picnicking, nature study and hiking.
Madera Canyon--More than 200 species of birds visit this internationally renowned canyon, and each year thousands of birders see them among the oak juniper, and sycamore along the canyon's creek. There are limited camping and picnicing facilities, plus trailhead access to Mt. Wrightson Wilderness.
Pena Blanca Lake--Fishing, boating; camping, and picnicking can be enjoyed at this 49-acre lake surrounded by oak and cottonwood trees and colorful bluffs. It is located just 5 miles north of the Mexican border and is open all year.
Parker Canyon Lake--This popular spot near the Huachuca Mountains offers bluegill, bass, perch, trout, and catfish. Camping, boating, hiking, and picnicking can be enjoyed year-round at Lakeview Campground and associated facilities.
Mt. Graham--Campgrounds, miles of hiking trails, trout fishing in pine-bordered Riggs Flat Lake, and seasonal hunting for deer and bear can be found in this important recreation area. The Swift Trail, a paved road for about half of its length, provides good access except during winter months when it is closed because of snow conditions.
Cochise Stronghold--Once a natural fortress of the famous Apache leader and his followers is now part of a self-guided nature trail with various plants and objects of interest can he enjoyed by the recreationist and history buffs. Camping and picnicking opportunities are available with trail access to incredible rock formations at higher elevations.
Rucker Canyon--Rucker Lake offers camping, picnicing and fishing during the summer. There is no boating or swimming allowed in the lake. A trail leads you to Rucker Canyon and the Chiricahua Wilderness. If you are a backpacker, you won't want to miss the sights and sounds of this scenic wilderness treck.
Rustler Park--Rustler Park Campground is near a large meadow surrounded by cool pines at an elevation of 8,500 feet. Access is by way of a, winding, steep, unpaved mountain road not recommended for trailers over 16 feet. A trailhead allows access to the Chiricahua Wilderness.
Cave Creek--This is one of the forest's best areas for bird watching. Many species of birds can be observed here, including the Elegant Trogon and many species of hummingbirds. Several great camping and picnicking facilities are located at the bottom of this beautiful canyon.
All or portions of 8 wilderness areas lie w
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