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!

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Apple Annie’s Orchard – Arizona travels!

Apple Annie’s is a “you pick” orchard in Willcox, Arizona.  It is about 1 1/2 hours from Tucson through the exhilarating countryside.  A must see for travelers or anyone looking for a gladdening family activity.  The farm is well marked and easy to find.

This WILLCOX ORCHARD was started in the 1980’s by a husband, wife and their 2 young children.  They humbly began with only tasty apples and their famous apple pie.

orchard in Willcox - activities in Arizona
Apple Annie’s Orchard in Arizona

Nowadays you can pick juicy peaches, Asian pears, bell peppers, corn, etc… Apple Annie’s is a farmers’ market dream! 

The start of the Fall season is complete with PUMPKINS of all sizes, shapes and colors that are available for picking at Apple Annie’s HUGE pumpkin patch.

Arizona places to visit - farmer's market
Apple Annies Orchard cider donuts

One of the best parts of Apple Annie’s Orchard is they sell “cider donuts” and your tummy will thank you! If you are adventurous, try a taste of the zesty jalapeno honey mustard, horseradish pickles and other oddly paired condiments.

Apple Annies Orchard - Willcox, Arizona
Farmer’s Markets in Arizona

For anyone traveling to Phoenix or Tucson, AZ the drive to Apple Annie’s Orchard is a great way to spend a relaxing, memorable day in the country. Remember to bring your camera and keep in mind fall days on the farm can be cold in Willcox.

giant Sunflower field in Arizona
Sunflowers at Apple Annie’s Farm

Before planning your trip to Willcox, you can call Annie’s Crop Hotline at 520-384-2084 to hear a list of what the farm is currently harvesting.

Annie's Arizona farmer's market
pick your own vegetables – Apple Annie’s Farm

Children can choose a wheelbarrow or bucket and pick their own vegetables while learning about farming.

pick your own fruit vegetables in Arizona
Apple Annie’s Farmer’s Market – pick it yourself
Apple Annie's orchard in Willcox, Arizona
Corn Maze activities at Annie’s Farm in AZ

For extra thrills make a reservation at the CORN MAZE.  Apple Annie’s added 3 levels of difficulty waiting to gobble you up!  Halfway through the maze is a high bridge with a great view of the farm; but, it will not give away the solution.

Apple Annies in Willcox Arizona
Annies Orchard farmer truck ride activity

Rest your feet by relaxing on a tractor pulled hay ride in “Farmer John’s truck”. God bless you Apple Annie’s for all your hard work and dedication to the community.  Oh and of course the YUMMY home made foods!

Arizona Farmer's markets and activities
pick your own Apple at Annies Orchard in Willcox

here is the link to  Apple Annie’s Orchard and Farm 

“When we planted the first apple trees we asked God for His blessing and guidance in this new venture, but we never envisioned the plans that He had for us! We planned for a commercially harvested crop, but His plans were for us to share our orchard, the farm experience, and the lifestyle that we love, with thousands of families from around the state. We consider it a real privilege to be able to offer an old-fashioned farm experience to today’s busy families!”  ~ John and Annie Holcomb