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Frequently Asked QuestionsColossal Cave Mountain Park

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A List of Frequently Asked Questions

1.   Why is Colossal Cave dry? How long has it been that way?
2.   Is it cold in the Cave? Does the Cave temperature change? Why?
3.   Are there bats in Colossal Cave? Are there any Vampire Bats?
4.   Has Colossal Cave been completely explored?
5.   How long has the Cave been open for tours?
6.   What rocks come from Colossal Cave?
7.   What did they mine in the Cave?
8.   How deep is Colossal Cave?
9.   Who found the Cave?
10. Did Indians use Colossal Cave?
11. How fast do stalactites grow?
12. Has anyone ever died in the Cave?
13. Is Colossal Cave handicap accessible?
14. Can we take a stroller on the tour?
15. Can we take pictures in the Cave?
       What about using a video camera?

16. How often do the tours go into Colossal Cave?
17. How much of the Cave will we see?
18. Who built Colossal Cave?
19. How much does the Cave weigh?
20. How much of the Cave is underground?
21. What happened to the pools that I saw in the Cave 20 years ago?
22. Can I see more of Colossal Cave?
23. What else is there to do when I’m at the Cave Headquarters?
24. Are there cows and cowboys on La Posta Quemada Ranch?
25. What does “La Posta Quemada” mean?
26. What can I do on La Posta Quemada Ranch?
27. What kind of museum is located on the Ranch?
28. What types of items can I find in the Library?
        What subject areas does it cover?

29. Can I borrow anything from the Library?
30. Can researchers use the Library?
31. Are children welcome in the Library?
32. Where do the trail rides go?
33. What are the Cowboy Cookouts like?
34. What special events does the Park offer?
35. Is there picnicking and camping in Colossal Cave Mountain Park?
36. How long can we camp in the Park?
37. Are there hiking trails in the Park?
38. What kinds of animals might I see in Colossal Cave Mountain Park?
39. Are there rattlesnakes in the Park?
40. What mountain range is Colossal Cave Mountain Park in?
        What are all the mountain ranges I can see when I’m in the Park?

41. What is the Park’s altitude?
42. Is the Park cooler than Tucson?
43. Does it ever snow at Colossal Cave Mountain Park?
44. How often do the washes run? Are they dangerous?
45. Why do you lock Colossal Cave Mountain Park at night?
46. Why was the road to Colossal Cave Mountain Park changed?
47. Why is there a fee to enter Colossal Cave Mountain Park?
48. Who manages the Park?
49. What is the Pima County Parklands Foundation?

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1. Why is Colossal Cave dry? How long has it been that way?

Colossal Cave’s “water history” is complex: Recent discoveries indicate Colossal Cave has had two different sources of water. The first—the water that formed the Cave’s passageways—probably occurred 10–15 million years ago. Hot and laden with sulfuric acid, it welled up from below. At some point it cooled or was cut off and no longer rose into the cave system.

The water we normally associate with a wet cave seeps in from above, depositing crystals that eventually grow into formations—stalactites, stalagmites, and others. In Colossal Cave, that type of water probably began several hundred thousand years ago. As the mountains formed, the valley floors dropped below the Cave, leaving it perched on its hillside. Today it sits above the water table, with sparse soil and vegetation above it to hold moisture, and with many openings, large and small, that allow a high degree of air exchange with the arid climate outside—it’s dry.

Geologists surmise that the Cave has been dry from 2,000 to 10,000 years; and if we look at cross-sections of stalactites, we can see—like tree rings—a series of the brown crust layers that indicate past dry periods in Colossal Cave. In geologic time nothing is static: almost surely, Colossal Cave will someday again be wet—but it may be thousands of years from now!

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2. Is it cold in the Cave? Does the Cave temperature change? Why?

No. The Cave temperature presently hovers between 70 and 71°F and stays the same year-round.

Caves like Colossal, with a great many openings to the outside that facilitate air exchange, are said to “breathe.” This constant slow circulation of air tends to achieve a stable temperature and, in Colossal Cave, ensures that there are no areas where cool air can be trapped. Then, the limestone in which the Cave is formed is a huge thermal mass that has taken on the average year-round outside temperature and further regulates the air temperature.

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3. Are there bats in Colossal Cave? Are there any Vampire Bats?

Yes. There are seven species of bats that live (at least seasonally) in the Cave. The Cave Myotis, Townsend’s Big-eared Bat, and the Big Brown Bat all roost and bear young in the Cave. The Mexican Long-tongued Bat, Mexican Free-tail, Pallid Bat, and Western Pipistrelle are known to use Colossal Cave for roosting.

There are no Vampire Bats in the Cave. Vampire Bats are found from central Mexico south to northern South America.

However, in the spring of 2001, an exciting discovery was made in a small research cave located in the Park: fossil Vampire Bat bones! These are the bones of Desmodus stocki, an extinct type of blood-feeding bat (sanguivores), that lived during the late Pleistocene period, between 10,000 and 1.8 million years ago. Fossil remains of Desmodus stocki have been documented in California, New Mexico, Florida, West Virginia, Mexico, and Northern Arizona, but to date, the only evidence of their presence in Southern Arizona are these bones recently discovered here in Colossal Cave Mountain Park.

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4. Has Colossal Cave been completely explored?

To date, in a small section (about 400' x 600' x 65') of the sizeable layer of limestone in which Colossal Cave occurs, over two miles of passageways have been explored and mapped. Given this extraordinary maze-like character of the passageways and the extent of the limestone, it is very likely there are areas that have not been seen, probably because the connecting passages are too small to enter.

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5. How long has the Cave been open for tours?

The Cave was opened for tours very briefly in 1917. In 1923 Frank Schmidt reopened the Cave for tours, which have run continuously (even, on a limited basis, during the 1930s while the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed the flagstone bridges and trails and installed the lighting) since then. Colossal Cave is one of the oldest established tourist attractions in Arizona.

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6. What rocks come from Colossal Cave?

The minerals found in Colossal Cave include limestone, calcite, and gypsum, among others. No rocks are taken from or mined from Colossal Cave.

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7. What did they mine in the Cave?

Colossal Cave was not formed by mining. However, one brief, exotic mining episode occurred in 1905, when a 75-foot tunnel was driven into what is now known as the Bat Nursery to mine bat guano. Historical anecdote relates that seven train carloads of guano were taken from the Cave before the deposit was exhausted.

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8. How deep is Colossal Cave?

The Cave extends into the mountain approximately 600 feet and descends approximately 40 feet below the entrance.

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9. Who found the Cave?

The first people who used the Cave that we know of were the Hohokam Indians about 1100 years ago. The Cave was later “rediscovered” by Solomon Lick in 1879.

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10. Did Indians use Colossal Cave?

Yes. We know that the Hohokam and the Apache people used the Cave. Most of the artifacts they left were found near the entrances of the Cave, although artifacts have been found throughout Colossal Cave.

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11. How fast do stalactites grow?

Stalactites grow according to the conditions that prevail where they are formed. Some may take thousands of years to grow an inch whereas others may grow an inch in six months.

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12. Has anyone ever died in the Cave?

Two skeletons were found in the Cave (on two separate exploring trips) by archaeologist Byron Cummings in 1917. He identified them both as being Indian; a sinew-wrapped bow was found with one of them.

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13. Is Colossal Cave handicap accessible?

The cave tours are not suitable for those in wheelchairs, using walkers, or on crutches, or anyone who has difficulty with many stair steps. Even so, we have taken a remarkable number of people with various physical impairments through the Cave, including those using canes or who are deaf or blind.

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14. Can we take a stroller on the tour?

You wouldn’t want to—there are 363 steps.

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15. Can we take pictures in the Cave? What about using a video camera?

Yes, you'll have lots of opportunities to take photos. And, if you're lucky, you'll meet a bat or spider while viewing the cave formations. You'll want to use the flash with high-speed setting. With a video camera, be sure to use the low-light setting.

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16. How often do the tours go into Colossal Cave?

The tour times are not prescheduled, but you never have to wait over 30 minutes for a tour.

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17. How much of the Cave will we see?

The tour route is about a half-mile long.

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18. Who built Colossal Cave?

Colossal Cave is a natural phenomenon, created by intricate geologic forces. The walkways, bridges, handrails, and wiring on the tour route were installed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

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19. How much does the Cave weigh?

It doesn't weigh anything. It’s air!

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20. How much of the Cave is underground?

All of it.

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21. What happened to the pools that I saw here 20 years ago?

Perhaps you saw puddles. Occasional torrential rains or extended rainy periods (or snow) will cause the Cave to briefly "take on water." The dripping and small pools are short-lived.

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22. Can I see more of Colossal Cave?

Yes, if you’re feeling strong! By reservation, you can venture on a Ladder Tour. Your small guided tour (2-6 people) will visit an exquisitely beautiful, only partially improved area of Colossal Cave—an area not seen by the public since the 1950s. If you have a party larger than 6, we can typically accommodate you by taking out a second tour, with advance notice. We provide hard hats and lights; participants must be ready to climb and clamber. Offered every Saturday night, the tour takes about an hour and a half, and is followed by a dinner and (weather permitting) a bonfire on the ramada.

If you’re feeling really strong, you can make reservations for a Wild Cave Tour. You and your guides will follow the footsteps of early explorers through unlit, unmarked, and rarely seen passageways that extend a quarter mile into the depths of the earth. We provide hard hats and lights; participants must be 14 or older for the Intermediate Tour and 16 or older for the Advanced Tour, physically fit, agile, and able to scale obstacles. The tour is limited to six people and lasts two to three hours.

Another adventuresome possibility allows you to see the Cave in its "original" beauty—by candlelight! By reservation for groups of up to twenty (age 12 and older), this treat is offered after hours. We glow the Cave with candles, and give each participant a candle to carry, as well. Plan to spend an hour to an hour and a half in the Cave.

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23. What else is there to do when I’m at the Cave Headquarters?

Browse in the Bat Pot Gift Shop, housed in the historic C. C. C. headquarters building and filled with charming treasures. Stroll in the Bat Garden, which highlights desert plants that are pollinated by nectar-feeding bats. Or just sit under the ramada and enjoy one of the most spectacular views in southern Arizona—overlooking the rest of Colossal Cave Mountain Park and beyond: on a clear day, as far as old Mexico.

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24. Are there cows and cowboys on La Posta Quemada Ranch?

Yes. The Ranch has been a working Ranch since 1878 and still is. The Pima County Parklands Foundation, under contract with Pima County, controls Colossal Cave Mountain Park and the Ranch property. The Parklands Foundation has 5,714 acres of State grazing leases surrounding the Park. Currently the Ranch is a cow-calf operation. We have two resident cowboys who handle the ranching operation.

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25. What does "La Posta Quemada" mean?

In Spanish, "La Posta Quemada" means "burned post office" or "burned stage station." The Southern Pacific Mail line operated a stagecoach stop in the mid-1870s on what today is part of La Posta Quemada Ranch. Edward Vail, who co-owned the Ranch immediately thereafter, wrote that there was a burned stage station in the area in 1875, "hence the name Posta quemada—'Burnt station.' " We know of three fires on the Ranch since 1879.

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26. What can I do on La Posta Quemada Ranch?

Lots! In the beautiful Spanish Colonial-style Ranch Headquarters house is an historical museum and research library. Also tucked into that building is the Doubletree Gift Shop, packed with southwestern treasures. Just outside, a gemstone sluice offers great fun for the kids (and adults, too). Nearby is the Butterfly Garden and the Tortoise Exhibit. The Desert Spoon Fresh-Air Café offers the flavors of Mexico and America (call for hours of operation).

Feeling adventurous? Guided trail rides go out from the Colossal Cave Mountain Park Stables every day. Or, under your own steam, wander down the Gale W. Bundrick Hiking Trail into the riparian area. Go birding—ask for our bird list at either of the gift shops or the Booth. Or just relax and have a picnic in the shady Mountain Springs Grove or Bosque Picnic Areas.

By reservation, stagecoach rides, hayrides, and Cowboy Cookouts are available. Our arena is also open for gymkhanas, ropings, and other equestrian events.

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27. What kind of museum is located on the Ranch?

The 5,000-square-foot adobe Ranch Headquarters house, built in 1967 by John S. Sullivan, features displays pertaining to the natural and human history of the Park. These include a timeline delineating the history of the Ranch, displays of prehistoric artifacts discovered in Colossal Cave, and a comprehensive caving museum. The caving museum has two focuses: cave exploration; and speleology (the science of caves), illustrated by scientific findings from a small wild cave located in the Park, which is closed to exploration and dedicated strictly to research.

Nearby is a smaller, historic adobe building, constructed in the early 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, which is planned as a C. C. C. Museum. Currently under construction, it will showcase vintage photographs and memorabilia of the C. C. C. days in the Park

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28. What types of items can I find in the Library? What subject areas does it cover?

The Library, located in the Ranch House, includes books, journals and journal articles, newspaper clippings, film media (videotapes, reels, slides, photographs), and various artifacts related to the natural and human history of Colossal Cave Mountain Park.

The Library’s subjects include, but are not necessarily limited to, ecology, geology, speleology, prehistory, legends, Native American studies, ranch life, and grazing management.

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29. Can I borrow anything from the Library?

No. The Library is for research and reference only; it is not a lending library. We encourage you to visit and browse and use our reading area.

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30. Can researchers use the Library?

Yes! Our librarian will be happy to assist researchers seeking information on the Library’s subject areas. For help with an extensive project, it’s best to make an appointment.

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31. Are children welcome in the Library?

Yes! We have an extensive collection of children’s books on plants and animals of the Sonoran desert, including bats and cave life, native American history and folktales, and fiction about the desert. We have a children’s area, where we schedule story times, as well as activities (both educational and FUN) for children.

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32. Where do the trail rides go?

The rides follow the historic National Mail Stagecoach route. They ramble through unspoiled Sonoran desert and riparian zones, past historic sites and spectacular and complex geological formations. By reservation, the Stables offers half-day rides; all-day rides with lunch; breakfast or dinner rides; and cattle drives. For more information, call (520) 647-3450.

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33. What are the Cowboy Cookouts like?

Beef, beans, and bonfires! Our La Posta Quemada Ranch facility offers lunch or dinner cookouts by reservation for groups of twenty or more. You can:

“Hang” your boss or your spouse on our gallows.

Limber up your lariat (or borrow one of ours) and practice your roping skills on our unique Rolleroper calf.

Play a good old-fashioned game of horseshoes.

Include western music, a trail ride, a stagecoach ride, or a special Cave tour.

Call (520) 647-3450 or 647-7121 for information and reservations.

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34. What special events does the Park offer?

Sunday in The Park, held the first Sunday of each month, features entertaining and educational programs on the natural and human history of the area: you might learn about the Hohokam or Saguaros, take a geology hike, chase a butterfly, or hear a storyteller or a cowboy poet.

Keep an eye on our What’s New page for details of all upcoming events and whatever else our terrific team is inventing.

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35. Is there picnicking and camping in Colossal Cave Mountain Park?

We have picnic areas in two locations: The north Picnic Areas, tucked in the mesquites in Posta Quemada canyon, were built in the 1930s by the C. C. C. These consist of two large areas—El Bosquecito and La Selvilla—and a number of smaller ones, totaling about 44 individual sites. On La Posta Quemada Ranch, there are about 13 individual sites in the Mountain Springs Grove and Bosque Picnic Areas.

All areas have tables and barbecue grills. Water and restrooms are available in El Bosquecito, La Selvilla, and at the Ranch.

You may camp in the Park’s north Picnic Areas. Note this is primitive camping—water and restrooms are limited, there is no electricity or RV hook-ups. There is no camping at La Posta Quemada Ranch Picnic Areas.

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36. How long can we camp in the campground?

One night.

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37. Are there hiking trails in the Park?

There are two trails on the Ranch plus the Arizona Trail which runs through the Park.

The Gale W. Bundrick Trail goes into the riparian area from the Ranch Headquarters; and the Bridge Trail runs from the lower parking lot to the Headquarters.

The Arizona Trail, a National Scenic Trail, is a continuous, 800+ mile diverse and scenic trail across Arizona from Mexico to Utah. It links deserts, mountains, canyons, communities and people. At Colossal Cave Mountain Park, it passes by La Posta Quemada Ranch before heading north through La Sevilla Campground and is open to hikers, bikers, and equestrians. Visit the Arizona Trail Association for more information.

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38. What kinds of animals might I see in Colossal Cave Mountain Park?

Mule Deer, Javelina, Raccoon, Skunk, Coyote, Fox, Bobcat, Mountain Lion, Ringtail Cat, Coatimundi, lizards, snakes, and a wide variety of birds.

Keep in mind that most of these animals are more afraid of you than you are of them and are not dangerous unless you threaten them.

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39. Are there rattlesnakes in the Park?

Yes. We see Western Diamondback, Blacktail, Mohave, and Tiger Rattlesnakes. The most dangerous is the Mohave. Fortunately, we seldom see Mohaves in the area.

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40. What mountain range is Colossal Cave Mountain Park in? What are all the mountain ranges I can see when I’m in the Park?

Colossal Cave Mountain Park is located in the Rincon Mountains. From the Colossal Cave gift shop and ramada, you can see the Rincons, of course, as well as the Santa Ritas, Patagonias, Whetstones, and Empires. From the Cave Headquarters parking lot, you can spot all those plus the Catalinas, Tucson Mountains, and Picachos.

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41. What is the Park’s altitude?

It varies from place to place within the Park, but on average, the Park’s altitude is around 3,500 feet.

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42. Is the Park cooler than Tucson?

The Park averages a few degrees cooler than Tucson. On a 106°F Tucson day, we will likely be around 102°F.

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43. Does it ever snow at Colossal Cave Mountain Park?

Our rule of thumb is that, in any given year, it will snow one more time at the Park than it does in Tucson. So, if it snows once in Tucson, we will see two snows. If it doesn't snow in Tucson, it will snow here once.

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44. How often do the washes run? Are they dangerous?

On average, the Posta Quemada wash, which cuts through the middle of the Park, runs twice a year—during the summer and winter rainy seasons. It may run anywhere from an hour or so to weeks or months. You should always be cautious crossing a running wash, but we do close off areas of the Park if we feel a crossing is dangerous or impassible.

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45. Why do you lock Colossal Cave Mountain Park at night?

To protect the Park, its residents, and our campers overnight. In case of an emergency involving campers, a 911 phone is available in the campgrounds.

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46. Why was the road to Colossal Cave Mountain Park changed?

The road was changed because of the increased development in this area and the consequent greatly increased traffic. The aptly nicknamed "Roller Coaster Road" was very dangerous, particularly at night, and bringing it up to safe standards would have cost considerably more than putting in the new road did. And the road change has fortuitously given us the ability to protect Colossal Cave Mountain Park in a way we couldn’t in the past. The single Park entrance eliminates after-hours traffic past four Park gates, sharply reducing accidents and vandalism.

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47. Why is there a fee to enter Colossal Cave Mountain Park?

In 1991 our little 495-acre Park, with its beautiful dry cave and mesquite-shaded picnic areas, expanded to over 2,000 acres, taking in La Posta Quemada Ranch immediately to the south of the Cave. We are now offering a great many more amenities than in the past—museum and reference library, gardens, enhanced picnicking, hiking, and birding, and special events.

All this puts a much greater call on the Park’s resources. Colossal Cave Mountain Park is not funded by taxpayer money. Our revenue for capital improvements, maintenance, and security is through Cave admissions, special events—and now, Park entry fees.

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48. Who manages the Park?

Colossal Cave Mountain Park is owned by Pima County. In a remarkable arrangement, Pima County holds an administration agreement with a charitable corporation, the Pima County Parklands Foundation; the Foundation, in turn, holds a management contract with private operators, who oversee the day-to-day management of the Park.

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49. What is the Pima County Parklands Foundation?

The Pima County Parklands Foundation is a charitable corporation founded in 1987. Its sole mission is to protect and enhance the parks of Pima County: this includes funding park improvements, the acquisition of parklands, and the enhancement and enlargement of recreation programs. The Foundation is funded by tax-deductible donations. Donors may earmark contributions for specific uses, such as improvements in neighborhood parks, enhancement of recreation programs, or acquisition of land for existing or new parks. The Pima County Parklands Foundation is an all-volunteer organization, so donations are used, in their entirety, exactly as the donor directs.

For information, or to discuss an idea for a donation, call (520) 647-7121.
To make a donation, send it to:

Pima County Parklands Foundation
16721 E. Old Spanish Trail
Vail, Arizona 85641

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Colossal Cave Mountain Park
16721 E. Old Spanish Trail
Vail, AZ 85641 - 520.647.PARK (7275)

info@colossalcave.com

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