“ Caves in Tucson, Arizona „
Colossal Cave was the destination for one of my early days out around Tucson. My son suggested it, and, as his wife was also free that day, I was really looking forward to it. She is half Native American and is a wealth of knowledge, especially in the field of wildlife flora and fauna, so I knew this journey would be interesting as it was like having a guide along with us!
The directions to the cave and park are given at the end of this review.
Although the cave was discovered in 1879 by a gentleman called Solomon Lick, who was a rancher and was looking for stray cows, it has a long history. The cave has yielded artefacts confirming the occupancy of the cave by Hohokam Indians, from 900 to 1450AD. The area around the cave in the valley below provided farmland for the Indians, and this area, now known as The Posta Quemeda Ranch, is today, together with the cave, known as The Colossal Cave Mountain Park. It seems incredible that the cave may have be undiscovered for longer, had Solomon not been searching for those cattle on his ranch, and accidentally come across the opening to the cave!
The day was very sunny indeed as we arrived at the mountain park. It costs $5 for entrance to the park itself if you arrive by car, which allows you to enjoy all the park facilities. These include picnic spots and a butterfly garden, as well as many hiking trails. If you are going to the cave then it is just a question of following the signs to the cave, and parking in the spacious car park provided.
There is a beautiful waiting area around the cave entrance, which is at 3500 feet, and tickets for the guided tours can be purchased inside the gift shop called "The Bat Pot" which is also situated there. Tours depart hourly or so depending on demand, and there is a drinks machine as well as free drinking water provided. We had to wait around half an hour for our tour to begin, which afforded the opportunity to take photographs from the vantage point at the cave, which was beautiful and certainly a place I enjoyed waiting. Lots of benches were provided in the shade and these were ideal to seek time out of the scorching Arizona sun.
To be honest it was something in the corner of my eye which caught my attention during the cave tour waiting time. On the summit of a mountain way into the distance was an incredible castle like building. On closer inspection it was apparant that this was in fact a private residence- Durham Castle. The owner Duane Durham built the castle himself, and I was in awe of the structure which was literally poised like a hat on a sharp ridge top. An architectural marvel- let alone a feat of engineering created this mountain top retreat on the roof of Arizona. I would love a tour of that place!
Our guide was young and friendly and certainly very knowledgeable about the cave. She was very keen to make sure we understood some basic safety points before we started, which I thought was excellent. Having said that, the cave tour is well within the capabilities of young and old, as the pace is slow, and the paths are dry. However, I wouldn't take pushchairs, and certainly disabled people in wheelchairs would not be able to undertake the visit.
45 minutes is the duration of the tour which passed more quickly, I felt, than the minutes it actually took to complete. The temperature was a constant 70degrees, which provided a welcome relief from the scorching sun outside!
A sad fact about the history of this cave is that in past years tourists were allowed to help themselves to souvenirs from the cave, so many of the formations are incomplete having been sawn off for trinkets.
The cave is home to seven species of bats, though I didn't spot any myself. The guide entertains the group with tales of history, including a rather interesting story concerning robbers who escaped into the cave many years ago. It's light hearted fun more than anything, and provides an interest and a piece of history to give the cave an identity.
Photographs are allowed, and the opportunities are there for you at your pace to take as many as you wish.
I wouldn't say this cave was the most spectacular I have seen by any means, interesting yes, awesome probably not, but all the same a very pleasant tour and one I enjoyed, though would not repeat. For the more adventurous, weekend ladder tours of the cave, which take you into more obscure areas of the cave system are available. There is also a wild cave tour with hard hats and lights, which takes you into the far flung crevices of the cave.
I thought on exit, that the location of the cave was probably more awe inspiring than the cave itself. The views are beautiful and the butterflies and cacti that surround the entrance are stunning. I enjoyed the walk back to the car as my daughter in law told me so much about the plants and the wildlife.
Would I recommend this cave tour? yes and no - if you are a cave enthusiast then you may find it relatively tame compared to others. If you are happy just to enjoy it for what it is, then it will entertain for sure. The mountain park which surrounds the cave is well worth exploring, and as you have already paid $5 for the privilege then why not? There is a mining sluice replica to pan for gold and fossils, you can go riding, have a picnic, visit the two adopted desert tortoises they have on the park, and maybe spend time watching birds or looking for other wildlife.
Just remember it is hot outside so bring your sun cream and plenty of fluids.
From east 22nd Street, turn south onto scenic Old Spanish Trail and follow it about 17 miles to Colossal Cave Mountain Park.
Or, take I-10 east from Tucson to exit 279 (the Vail/Wentworth exit), turn north, and follow the signs for about 7 miles.
Colossal Cave Mountain Park
Address: 16721 E. Old Spanish Trail Rd, Vail, AZ
Web Site: www.colossalcave.com
Price Cave admission: $11 adults, $6 children 5-12, free for children under 4, in addition to $5 per car for park entry
Summer hours (March 16 - September 15)
Winter hours (September 16 - March 15)
This review will also be published on Ciao under my user name Violet1278