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Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Hikers on the Foothills Loop Trail

When massive blocks of Mississippian Escabrosa Limestone get jostled around by eons of geological turbulence, the results can be both transformative and magical. The Whetstone Mountains south of Benson are a good example of earth's dynamic forces at work. The range began when sediments at the bottom of an ancient inland sea solidified into layers of soft rock. Multiple episodes of faulting and uplifting formed the skyline of peaks that soar to over 7,000' and a chunk of limestone that slipped off the range's eastern flank that became the incubator of a celebrated natural wonder. From the outside, this slipped block appears as an unspectacular, ocotillo-studded hill. But inside, are the water-sculpted wonders of Kartchner Caverns State Park. Within the living wet caves, mineral deposits built over hundreds of thousands of years are still growing. It's like walking through a stadium-size geode.
Cave tours must be scheduled in advance. The half-mile excursions are naturally lit (no amusement park theatric here) and set to a soothing soundtrack. Guides tell the story of the cave's discovery and describe the science behind the bizarre formations that hang like melted wax, pulled taffy and flowing sheets of "liquid" stone. After the tour, you'll want to check out two above-ground hiking trails that explore the Chihuahuan semi-desert grasslands and oak-juniper forests that surround the property. The Foothills Loop Trail winds though a riparian area, savannah-like pastures and sandy washes with breathtaking mountain views. This hike is augmented with numbered posts that correspond with a free trail guide available at the Discovery Center. For a more challenging trek, the Guindani Trail #398 leaves the Foothills Trail, crosses into Coronado National Forest and makes a 1,000' climb to a scenic saddle where the peaks of the Huachuca Mountains near Sierra Vista hover over Arizona's border with Mexico.
Foothills Loop: 2.5 miles
Guindani Trail # 398: 4.2 mile loop
Foothills: moderate
Guindani: difficult
ELEVATION: 4,750' - 5,620'
GATE HOURS: 7 a.m. - 10 p.m.
From Tucson, take Interstate 10 east to exit 302 for State Route 90 (Sierra Vista/Fort Huachuca). Go 9 miles south on SR 90 to the park entrance on the right.
Cave Tour Reservations:

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