Colossal Cave

Sonoran Desert - Vail, Arizona

by Janet Webb Farnsworth

It's always perfect weather for touring Colossal Cave, just twenty two miles southeast of Tucson, Arizona. One of the largest dry caves in North America, it maintains a pleasant seventy degrees Fahrenheit temperature year-around. Located in the Rincon Mountains at an elevation of three thousand seven hundred feet, the entrance commands a panoramic view of the Sonoran Desert. The cave is not fully explored, but scientists estimate that there are at least thirty nine miles of natural tunnels inside the cavern. Due to the enormously complex three-dimensional maze, it took over two years to map the two miles of passageway that are fully explored.


Groundwater seeping through the Escabrosa limestone formed the cave. Over millions of years, stalactites, stalagmites, columns and draperies formed slowly from water dripping from the ceiling. As the climate became more arid, the cave gradually dried up. Today, Colossal Cave is "dry," or dormant, and the formations are no longer growing.

Colossal Cave Mountain Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it certainly has a history. The cave was officially "discovered" in 1879, but artifacts and soot-blackened ceilings testify to use by prehistoric cultures. Recent studies show it once served as a Hohokam shrine.

Today visitors take a fifty-minute, one-half mile guided tour down six stories into Colossal Cave to see the beautiful formations. Tours leave from the gift shop at the entrance. There is a ramp to the gift shop, but the cave itself is not wheelchair accessible.

Deep inside the cave, tour guides explain how the cave formed, point out the beautiful formations, and tell the "Bandit Legend," the favorite part of the tour for many guests. According to the legend, the cavern served as a bandit hideout twice in 1887, after two exciting train robberies. In one holdup, the robbers disconnected the train's engine, mail and express cars and took off for Tucson, leaving the rest of the train and passengers stranded in the desert. In the second robbery, the bandits turned the locomotive over on its side with the engineer still in it. According to rumor, up to sixty thousand dollars were hidden away in the cave then later retrieved by one of the robbers. What finally happened to the money is still murky. Wells Fargo never did reveal exactly how much money was actually stolen.

The one hundred and twenty-year-old historic La Posta Quemada Ranch, a working cattle ranch, is located within the park. There is a second gift shop, a snack bar and a gemstone sluice along with a butterfly garden and tortoise enclosure. Many people enjoy hiking the trail system and birding along the riparian area. Trail rides are also available from the ranch.

Hours
September 16 through March 15: Monday through Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Sundays and holidays, 9 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
March 16 through September 15: Monday through Saturday 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Sundays and holidays, 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Directions
Scenic route: From East Broadway in Tucson, turn south onto scenic Old Spanish Trail and follow it about seventeen miles to Colossal Cave.
Alternate route: Take Interstate Highway I-10 east from Tucson to Exit 279 (Vail Exit), turn north, and follow signs for about six miles to Colossal Cave.

Rates
Admission to park: Five dollars per auto (up to six people, one dollar for each additional person in the same vehicle.)

Admission fees for guided cave tour: No reservations needed. click here for rates

Things to Do
Horseback trail rides
Picnic
Camping

Wher to stay
Tucson, AZ
Benson AZ

For More Information
Colossal Cave Mountain Park
16721 E. Old Spanish Trail
Vail, Arizona 85641
520-647-7275
info@colossalcave.com

Related Pages
Desert caves and Caving


Share this page on Facebook:


DesertUSA Newsletter -- We send articles on hiking, camping and places to explore, as well as animals, wildflower reports, plant information and much more. Sign up below or read more about the DesertUSA newsletter here. (It's Free.)


The Desert Environment
The North American Deserts
Desert Geological Terms

SEARCH THIS SITE









 



Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
The movie Stagecoach, in 1939 introduced two stars to the American public, John Wayne, and Monument Valley. Visiting Monument Valley gives you a spiritual and uplifting experience that few places on earth can duplicate. Take a look at this spectacular scenery in this video.

Glen Canyon Dam - Lake Powell Held behind the Bureau of Reclamation's Glen Canyon Dam, waters of the Colorado River and tributaries are backed up almost 186 miles, forming Lake Powell. The dam was completed in 1963. Take a look at this tremendous feat of engineering - the Glen Canyon Dam.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Canyon de Chelly NM offers the opportunity to learn about Southwestern Indian history from the earliest Anasazi to the Navajo Indians who live and farm here today. Its primary attractions are ruins of Indian villages built between 350 and 1300 AD at the base of sheer red cliffs and in canyon wall caves.

Laughlin - Lake Mohave - Colorado River
In the summer, Katherine's Landing at the southern end of Lake Mohave is a hub of activity. It has fuel, a general store, a restaurant and a snack bar. The Colorado River south of the dam offers many recreational opportunities. Take a look at this river destination!

___________________________________

Take a look at our Animals index page to find information about all kinds of birds, snakes, mammals, spiders and more!



Hot temperatures in the desertAre you interested in the temperatures in the desert?

Click here to see current desert temperatures!

is a comprehensive resource about the North American deserts and Southwest destinations. Learn about desert biomes while you discover how desert plants and animals learn to adapt to the harsh desert environment. Find travel information about national parks, state parks, BLM land, and Southwest cities and towns located in or near the desert regions of the United States. Access maps and information about the Sonoran Desert, Mojave Desert, Great Basin Desert, and Chihuahuan Desert.



 
   
 
   
Copyright © 1996-2017 DesertUSA.com and Digital West Media, Inc. - -