Journey inside Colossal Cave – Arizona’s dormant cave

Before entering Colossal Cave it was essential to educate ourselves and obtain some “cave basics”.  The facts and information we learned about limestone caves made our trip profoundly interesting!

Colossal Cave is an archaic KARST CAVE (meaning erosion has produced fissures, sinkholes, caverns and underground streams).

Colossal Cave is a Karst cave
Karst region

Karst caves have 3 categories:  limestone, gypsum and quartzite.

Colossal Cave is limestone and considered dormant, “dry”.  A dry cave is without drips of water, streams or pools.  How was the cave formed?  Here is a short, simple answer:

  • Precipitation mixes with carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and decaying organic material in the soil.
  • When Carbon dioxide is dissolved in water it forms carbonic acid. The carbonic acid begins to form holes in rocks, seeps into crevices and dissolves the rocks, especially limestone; but very slowly.  (Thousands of years)
    rock crevices and joints.
  • Cavities form and further sculpting can occur from water and chemical weathering.
  • After passing through limestone, the acid water contains a dis-solvable calcium carbonate.  As this solution de-gases through exposure to air by way of splashing, dripping or flowing, it loses carbon dioxide and deposits a solid mineral called calcite.
  • Calcite is the main mineral component in CAVE FORMATIONS, (speleothems).
Calcite, which gets its name from “chalix” the Greek word for lime, is a most amazing and yet, most common mineral. – See more at: http://www.galleries.com/Calcite#sthash.7JQ91AJ6.dpuf

The SPELEOTHEMS in Colossal Cave no longer grow. This cave formed by water depositing limestone that has NOW disappeared.  Close by, in the same mountain park, are Arkenstone and La Tetera Caves with active growing formations.

dormant speleothems in Colossal Cave
crystallized calcium carbonate formations

The most abundant mineral in limestone is calcite (calcium carbonate).  The majority of limestone formed on ANCIENT ocean floors.

Calcite is a main component used by echinoderms, like sea urchins, starfish, and sand dollars to make their spines and skeletons.  Calcium carbonate (calcite),  is found in the shells of marine organisms and truly is one of the MOST abundant minerals on earth!

In the marine environment, if the conditions are right, calcite is stable enough that it can cement together sediments and overtime make limestone.

calcite in the ocean water
limestone towers in the Atlantic ocean

On occasion another element may be present while calcite is being formed (ex: magnesium) and take the place of a calcium atom.

A less stable aragonite is a polymorph of calcite. They are both calcium carbonate but have different crystal shapes and symmetries.  The calcium, oxygen and carbon atoms in aragonite bond together differently creating a unique crystal structure.

Ok this is plenty of background information so now journey with us to Colossal Cave Mountain Park!

what to do in Tucson
The retaining wall and Visitor’s Center at Colossal Cave

The elevation of Colossal Cave Mountain Park is about 3,500 feet.  The temperature of the cave averages 70 degrees Fahrenheit.  No extra clothing is needed but feel free to carry water or a camera.

Colossal Cave in Vail, Arizona
walkway outside of Colossal Cave entrance

Frank Schmidt was monumental in the improvements and preservation of Colossal Cave by handing over his leases to the State of Arizona.  You can find information and historical photographs at La Posta Quemada Ranch Museum.

preserved Colossal Cave
Frank Schmidt statue at the cave

 

good picnics and kids activities at this Tucson park
bring the family and spend the day at this Arizona park

In 1879, Solomon Lick, the owner of the nearby hotel, was searching for stray cattle and discovered the entrance to this cave.

Arizona historical sites to see
professional guides take you through this historical landmark

Thousands of years ago Colossal Cave was used by Hohokam, Sobaipure and Apache Indians.  Travel down the road to the ranch museum for a fascinating display.

must see historical sites in Tucson, AZ
Colossal Cave has 363 steps

Most crystals are found in areas, like caves, because they take thousands of years to grow.  The growth continues until the saturation is stopped or the cave dries out.  Most crystals in a cave are calcite or aragonite.

visotors must see in Tucson, Arizona
calcite in the cave

Your tour guide will tell the story of the bandits who hid out in Colossal Cave.  These outlaws even played cards in the Colossal Cave Living Room. Legend has it that the gold from the train robbers is still inside the cave!

Stay with the tour group.  Our guide really wasn’t kidding when she said the group might go left and you’ll go right and be lost for hours in Colossal Cave.

Tectonic activity is noticeable.  Your guide will point out a fault in the earth’s crust.

Colossal Cave spelunking
Fault lines inside the cave

Cave’s formations, speleothems, are created by the same water that dissolved the calcite in the limestone —- then deposited the calcite in other areas of the cave.

historical caves in Arizona
stalagmites and stalactites in Colossal Cave

Stalactites – “c” for ceiling – hang from the top of caves like icicles

stalagmites and stalactites
cave formations with labels

Stalagmites – “g” for ground – emerge from the ground like a traffic cone

Because Colossal Cave is DRY;  the appearance of these speleothems is different than living caves.

Layers of calcite build up into fluted curtains.
Layers of calcite build up into fluted curtains.
 cave
our wonderful tour guide at Colossal Cave
FDR's Conservation Corp
Civilian Conservation Corps designated by President Roosevelt

In the 1930’s, a Civilian Conservation Corps designated by President Roosevelt worked tirelessly building the retaining wall outside and improving the inside of Colossal Cave.

The CCC, Civilian Conservation Corps, constructed the stairs, bridges and handrails.

Colossal Cave repairs and protection
Civilian Conservation Corps, CCC, helping Colossal Cave

While visiting this cave do adventure down the road to La Posta Quemada Ranch.

what to do in Tucson, Arizona
visit the historical Ranch at Colossal Cave Park

Colossal Cave and the historic La Posta Quemada Ranch are listed on the National Historic Register.  When you visit be sure to enjoy a Desert Spoon Burger!

Advertisements

Agua Caliente History – a natural spring park in Tucson, AZ (part 1 of 3)

Drive northeast of the Tucson city limits and you will discover a natural spring surrounded by wildlife, palm trees and native vegetation.  Agua Caliente Park transports a visitor from the Sonoran Desert to a 101-acre hidden oasis.

Agua Caliente, (hot water) is named for the warm water spring that supports several ponds within the park.

sites in Tucson - must visit
a natural spring in Tucson – Agua Caliente Park

Agua Caliente Park has an open lawn edged by tall Date Palms, and a stream bank lined with mature California Fan Palms close to 100 years old.

Tucson, AZ parks and springs
Palm trees at Agua Caliente

Human habitation at Agua Caliente has been found to date back about 5,500 years.  I’d like to share a simple history and insights into the rich farming and ranching of the unique desert oasis called Agua Caliente.

Arizona natural spring park
natural spring in Tucson Arizona – Agua Caliente

From A.D. 600 to 1450, the prehistoric Hohokam constructed one of the largest and most advanced irrigation networks ever created using pre-industrial technology.

This technology would eventually give form to the unique prehistoric culture of southern Arizona known as the Hohokam.

hohokam found at Agua Caliente, Tucson, AZ
Hohokam village, Whiptail site

Around 1150 AD, a Hohokam village, referred to as the Whiptail Site, was established that extended into a portion of Agua Caliente in the Tucson basin.

hohokam people in Tucson Basin, AZ
Hohokam artifacts found at Agua Caliente

Deserving of our respect, the incredible Hohokam were able to sustain life in the area of Agua Caliente for nearly 1,500 years.

Hohokam lived at Agua Caliente in Tucson, AZ
Hohokam pottery – approximately 800 CE (A.D.)

The hot spring at the Whiptail Site at Agua Caliente Park has attracted native settlers since about 2500 B.C.  These facts are what has helped put the Tucson Basin on the map as one of the oldest continuously inhabited areas in North America.

Coronado National Forest in Tucson
Agua Caliente is south of the Coronado National Forest , Mt Lemmon area
Agua Caliente oldest Mesquite Tree
Giant Mesquite Tree by the main Ranch House is over 250 yrs old

About 1853-1870s,  Agua Caliente Spring was used as an army encampment following the Gadsden Purchase.  What is the Gadsden Purchase?

**James Gadsden was the U.S. Minister to Mexico who was sent to renegotiate a border with Mexico that provided a route for a southern railroad in exchange for U.S. financial obligations.

places to visit in Tucson, AZ
Agua Caliente Park – a must see in Tucson, AZ

In 1873, Peter Bain filed the first formal claim to 160 acres surrounding Agua Caliente Spring.  He began a dairy cattle operation by bringing cows north from Sonora. Bain built a house, several outbuildings and corrals at Agua Caliente.

must see parks in Tucson, AZ
Ranch House, now an art gallery, at Agua Caliente spring

In 1875,  James P. Fuller purchased “Agua Caliente Rancho” and established an orchard and cattle ranch on the property.

native Velvet Mesquites for shade
native Mesquite trees at Agua Caliente in Tucson

In 1881, Fuller’s Hot Springs Resort was advertised as a medicinal and recreational destination.  He promoted the curative properties of the natural warm springs.

Agua Caliente Springs and Ranch
Agua Caliente warm springs

1880s-1920s.  Various owners operated Agua Caliente as a cattle ranch and resort.  The ranch bunkhouse, which dates back to the 1920s, was used by the ranch hands.

historic sites in Arizona
Historic Ranch House at Agua Caliente Park in Tucson
best parks in Tucson, Arizona
Agua Caliente Ranch and Hot Springs

The ranch house, caretaker cottage, now known as Rose Cottage, and the bunk house have been restored. The ranch house depicts the home as it may have appeared in the 1920s.

Tucson, AZ historic landmark
Rose Cottage is a historic building at Agua Caliente

In 1935,  Gibson DeKalb Hazard purchased Agua Caliente and operated it as a working ranch while also growing fruit and alfalfa.

In 1951,  the Filiatrault family took over the ownership of Agua Caliente consisting of three large lakes.  They also grew alfalfa for their cattle and horses and maintained the fruit orchard Fuller established in 1875.

place to visit in Arizona
Agua Caliente Spring Tucson, AZ

In 1984,  local businessman Roy P. Drachman donated over $200,000 toward the purchase of Agua Caliente.  The donation provided the incentive for Pima County to acquire the property and establish Agua Caliente Park.

Agua Caliente Park, a Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Facility,  opened on January 19th, 1985.

March 1, 1997.  Agua Caliente’s expansion areas were opened for public use. The park improvements included a paved entry drive and parking lot, accessible trails, interpretive signs explaining the waterfowl and history of this unique park, and a new maintenance building.

Drachman donated to Agua Caliente
signs throughout Agua Caliente

April 17, 2004.  The grand opening of the newly restored Ranch House and Rose Cottage.

The ranch house was built around 1873 and is currently a visitor center and an art gallery.  Call 520-749-3718 for more information.

Agua Caliente Oasis in Tucson
Historic places in Arizona

July 9, 2009.  Agua Caliente Ranch Historic Landscape was entered into the National Register of Historic Places.

For more interesting info click , part 2 of 3 – http://tjsgarden.com/2013/09/07/best-picnics-family-time-perfect-weddings-tucson-spring-park/

part 3 of 3 – http://tjsgarden.com/2013/09/12/agua-caliente-park-spring-drying-up-tucson/

Pima County Agua Caliente Park, 12325 East Roger Road, Tucson  85749         Phone: 520-877-6120