By Mary L. Peachin
Sunday, November 07, 2003
BENSON, Ariz. – The Myotis velifer have departed the crevices of the Big Room of Arizonas Kartchner Caverns State Park. Its not that these bats are extinct or endangered.
Its that they give birth to only one pup a year, and their maternity ward is empty six of each 12 months.
Thats when humans will be allowed to enter their private space and tour this dramatic desert room, part of an underground cave system discovered in 1974 by the late Randy Tufts and Gary Tennen. Grand opening of the Big Room will be Nov. 11.
The Myotis bats annual migration to roost is a barometer that normal humidity levels and the ecosystem of the cave have not been adversely impacted by the sold-out capacity of 600,000 visitors who have toured since the Rotunda and Throne Rooms opened two years ago.
The ¾-mile, 1¾ -hour, one-way tour of the Big Room is a journey along a paved path winding through narrow openings lined with walls of pink limestone and flowstone cascading from 30-foot ceilings. It will be offered through April 15.
Soft, needle-thin hollow-straw stalactites hang. Round columns and twisting totems are an arms length away. The most spectacular area of the arena is the Strawberry Room, named for its intense red and orange colors of iron-rich ore.
Unique to the Big Room is the largest formation of nontronite ever discovered in a cave and rectorite found in the brown clay of the floor. Equally dramatic are immense draperies of mineral. Fried-egg stalagmites, wet with yellow yolk-like calcite, concentrate in one area, while in another 60-foot-long roots of mesquite trees hang into the room from the desert surface. A 68,000-year-old fossil of a Shasta ground sloth was discovered in a narrow tunnel.
For tour reservations, call 520-586-2283, or visit www.pr.state.az.us. Five hundred visitors can be accommodated each day in groups of 15. Big Room tours cost $22.95 and are by reservation only.
To reach Kartchner Caverns from Phoenix or Tucson, take Interstate 10 east to the State Highway 90 exit (Sierra Vista/Fort Huachuca). The cave is nine miles south of the exit. Driving time from Phoenix is about two hours; from Tucson, 45 minutes.