The History of Kartchner Caverns State Park
Have you ever wondered how the natural cave Kartchner Caverns became a treasured part of Cochise County? Two men, more than two decades, and one well-guarded secret brought this incredible natural wonder to the public.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
In the fall of 1974, two men were hiking the Whetstone Mountains with the intention of finding a brand-new cave, hoping to discover something no one had yet seen in our area. They weren’t expecting to find something quite on the scope of what would later become Kartchner Caverns, but they understood the gravity of their find.
KEEPING A COLOSSAL SECRET
The two men, Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts kept the find a secret for nearly for more years. In the Spring of ’78, they let James and Lois Kartchner, the owners of the property where the cave was located, in on the secret. The men knew that unprotected caves and the natural treasures within could be compromised if word got out. The two men spent some time researching the possibility of developing the caves themselves. All the while, the two men continued guarding the secret of the location of the cave into the early 1980s.
The two men finally met with Charles Eatherly of the Arizona State Parks service, but they refused to disclose any information and requested he sign an oath of secrecy. Mr. Eatherly declined, saying he was not allowed to sign any documents on behalf of the state, so Tenen and Tufts blindfolded Mr. Eatherly and took him to the living cave site. Eatherly agreed that the caverns were certainly worth protecting.
After nearly 10 years of guarding this majestic secret, Tenen and Tufts worked to connect with the right government agencies. Finally, an Arizona State Parks’ bill authorizing the acquisition of the cave property was passed by the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Rose Mofford. The signing of the bill was witnessed by Randy Tufts and Gary Tenen and Kartchner Family. It would be another 10 years before the caves were ready for the public.
OPENING TO THE PUBLIC
Many years after the initial discovery and more than ten years of planning, research, construction challenges, legal issues, mining concerns, and legislative threats, opening day for Kartchner Caverns State Park was finally held on November 5, 1999.
IF YOU GO...
Karchner Caverns State Park is located at 2980 AZ HWY 90 N in Benson. If you go, be sure to wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for local flora and fauna. Sharp plants and wildlife may be present, and it’s always good to pack more water than you think you’ll need for any natural outing in Arizona.
Find all the information on special events, cost to enter the park and more, on the Kartchner Caverns website.