A List of Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why is Colossal Cave dry? How long has it been that way?
1. Why is Colossal Cave dry? How long has it been that way?
Colossal Caves water history is complex: Recent discoveries indicate Colossal Cave has had two different sources of water. The firstthe water that formed the Caves passagewaysprobably occurred 1015 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 formationsstalactites, 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 outsideits 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 seelike tree ringsa 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 wetbut it may be thousands of years from now!
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.
Yes. There are seven species of bats that live (at least seasonally) in the Cave. The Cave Myotis, Townsends 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
8. How deep is Colossal Cave?
The Cave extends into the mountain approximately 600 feet and descends approximately 40 feet below the entrance.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
14. Can we take a stroller on the tour?
You wouldnt want tothere are 363 steps.
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.
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.
17. How much of the Cave will we see?
The tour route is about a half-mile long.
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.
19. How much does the Cave weigh?
It doesn't weigh anything. Its air!
20. How much of the Cave is underground?
All of it.
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.
22. Can I see more of Colossal Cave?
Yes, if youre 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 Cavean 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.
23. What else is there to do when Im 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 Arizonaoverlooking the rest of Colossal Cave Mountain Park and beyond: on a clear day, as far as old Mexico.
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
Yes! Our librarian will be happy to assist researchers seeking information on the Librarys subject areas. For help with an extensive project, its best to make an appointment.
Yes! We have an extensive collection of childrens 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 childrens area, where we schedule story times, as well as activities (both educational and FUN) for children.
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.
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:
Call (520) 647-3450 or 647-7121 for information and reservations.
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.
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 areasEl Bosquecito and La Selvillaand 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.
36. How long can we camp in the campground?
37. Are there hiking trails in the Park?
There are two trails on the Ranch plus the Arizona Trail which runs through
Mule Deer, Javelina, Raccoon,
Skunk, Coyote, Fox, Bobcat, Mountain Lion, Ringtail Cat, Coatimundi, lizards, snakes, and a wide
variety of birds.
Yes. We see Western Diamondback, Blacktail, Mohave, and Tiger Rattlesnakes. The most dangerous is the Mohave. Fortunately, we seldom see Mohaves in the area.
40. What mountain range is Colossal Cave Mountain Park in? What are all the mountain ranges I can see when Im 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.
41. What is the Parks altitude?
It varies from place to place within the Park, but on average, the Parks altitude is around 3,500 feet.
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.
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.
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 yearduring 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.
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.
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 couldnt in the past. The single Park entrance eliminates after-hours traffic past four Park gates, sharply reducing accidents and vandalism.
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 pastmuseum and reference library, gardens, enhanced picnicking,
hiking, and birding, and special events.
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.
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.
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Colossal Cave Mountain Park
16721 E. Old Spanish Trail
Vail, AZ 85641 - 520.647.PARK (7275)
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