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Mountain Cactus BloomingJ. Marlow

The Spectacular

The sights of Southern Arizona remain painted in your mind long after you've visited Colossal Cave Mountain Park.




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The Intertwined Histories of
Colossal Cave and La Posta Quemada Ranch


How They Become
Colossal Cave Mountain Park
(condensed version)

M. K. Maierhauser
E. Lendell Cockrum
© 1996, 1998, 2000


The first person lived in Colossal Cave Mountain Park over a thousand years ago. Around 900 A.D. the Hohokam Indians formed a thriving community, farming in the valley below Colossal Cave and using the Cave itself for shelter, storage, and as a shrine.

That fact hadn't struck home when we started researching the history of the Park. What we did start seeing more and more clearly was that the histories of the two seemingly disparate parts of the Park-a ranch and a cave-were closely aligned, were even shared, throughout the entire span of time we studied. And that span of time proved to be over a millennium.

So, with this timeline, we celebrate the unique intertwining of the histories and fortunes of Colossal Cave and La Posta Quemada Ranch, now united as Colossal Cave Mountain Park, as-in terms of human history-it moves into yet another millennium.

We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the friends, neighbors, staff, and researchers whose willingness to search, ferret, donate, and reminisce made this project just plain possible. Any shortcomings it may have must fall directly at the feet of the authors.

And one final note: A task like this is never done. There will be noteworthy events to add. And there's always that tantalizing new bit of information just waiting to pop up. Although we have made every effort to ensure accuracy in this timeline, fuzziness creeps in, and we know it. We welcome-indeed, solicit-any and all information pertaining to the histories of Colossal Cave and La Posta Quemada Ranch. Please call, write, or e-mail:

Colossal Cave Mountain Park Research Library
Colossal Cave Mountain Park
16721 E. Old Spanish Trail
Vail, Arizona 85641
(520) 647-7121

- The Authors


c. 900-1450 A.D. Hohokam Indians use Colossal Cave as well as numerous other sites in Colossal Cave Mountain Park. One of the ways they use the Cave is as a shrine.

c. 1450-1880 A.D. Sobaipuri Indians use Colossal Cave; subsequently, it appears also to have been used by the Apache and the Papago (now Tohono O'odham).

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This makes it different from any other cave you
may have visited in the United States.

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mid-1870s Southern Pacific Line operates a stagecoach stop on what today is part of La Posta Quemada Ranch. According to a resident, there is a burned stage station in the area by 1875, "hence the name Posta quemada — 'Burnt station.' "

1878 Solomon Lick builds the Mountain Springs Hotel and Stage Station about a mile west of the burned facility. La Posta Quemada Ranch's Mountain Springs Grove is located here today.

January 15, 1879 Solomon Lick, searching for stray cows, discovers an entrance to "either a very extensive old mine, or a wonderful cave," and undertakes a series of explorations of what today is known as Colossal Cave.

January 23, 1879 Solomon Lick's baby daughter overturns a candle or lamp at the Mountain Springs Hotel, and dies of her burns.

January 23, 1879 A party leaves Tucson for Mountain Springs, eager to explore "the cave or tunnel near there."

January 26, 1879 The Arizona Daily Star reports on the five-hour expedition into the "Arizona Catacombs," in which the exploring party finds "a thousand varied beauties." the story also appears in Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly, June, 1879.

October 3, 1882 Nine prisoners escape from Pima County Jail. Three of them, indicted for the murder of a gambler, are apparently tipped off about Colossal Cave by their jailer, George Cooler, who was part of the 1879 expedition into the Cave; and they hole up there for a while, until fear that they might be starved out compels them to go elsewhere.


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April 27, 1887 Three men rob the mail car of Southern Pacific Express Train Number 20 near Vail, Arizona, and get away with about $3,000 in currency. Previous to the robbery, they spend several days camped at what has become Mountain Springs Ranch.

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August 10, 1887 Two of the robbers from the April holdup rob Train Number 20 again, between Pantano and Vail, this time making off with a considerable quantity of gold and Mexican silver dollars.

R. Gruss

Cave Exploration

For decades, from 1879, when the first group ventured out from Tucson to explore the newly discovered "wonderful cave," to 1934, when the Civilian Conservation Corps arrived to install walkways, gear similar to this was used by explorers and visitors to Colossal Cave.

August 16, 1887 Two caves are "discovered" about 12 miles from Pantano by the posses scouring the area for the bandits, who have escaped. Both caves are thought to have been used by the outlaws. Today, one, "Five Mile Cave," is Colossal Cave, and the other is probably a small shelter cave elsewhere in Colossal Cave Mountain Park. The bandits are thought to have rested at Mountain Springs Ranch and all the tracking parties use it as their headquarters.

October 17, 1887 Two men attempt to rob a train about four miles east of El Paso, Texas. They are the same robbers, now known to be John Maier and Josiah "Kid" Smith; this time they are shot down by Wells Fargo Messenger J. Ernest Smith. The third bandit, George Wills, alias George Green, who has been involved only in the first robbery, are apprehended and sentenced to serve five years in the Territorial Penitentiary in Yuma.

1905 A 75-foot tunnel is excavated into Colossal Cave in order to mine bat guano. The tunnel serves today as one of the openings for bats going in and out of the Cave.

Group entering the CaveDecember 25, 30, 1917 Professor of Archaeology Byron Cummings, Director of the Arizona State Museum, later President of the University of Arizona, takes expeditions into the Cave. He makes a survey and a map, giving names to the formations and passageways. He finds a number of Indian artifacts, as well as two human skeletons.

January, February 1918 Local newspapers carry advertisements for the "Arizona Colossal Cave Co. Why not motor out this Sunday with the family to Shaw's Ranch (or Radium Springs), which is a beautiful picnic grounds....After lunch proceed by auto one mile to Colossal Cave...."

1918 Frank J. "Pop" Schmidt, a native of Cologne, Germany, arrives in Tucson and hears about Colossal Cave.

1922 Frank Schmidt files two mining claims on land occupied by the Cave, and sublets land surrounding it from the Empire Ranch. He and three others are reported by local newspapers to have made the first extensive survey of the Cave, traveling within it for six days before exhausting their supply of food and water.

Early Expedtions1923-1924 Frank Schmidt runs guided tours into the Cave. These consist of outfitting his intrepid guests with ropes and lanterns and leading them through the unimproved passageways.

1933 Cattleman Charles Day buys Mountain Springs Ranch from Pete McDaniel and renames it "La Posta Quemada Ranch." He builds a house at the site of the Mountain Springs Hotel.

1934 Frank Schmidt relinquishes his Colossal Cave leases to the State of Arizona, thus clearing the way for Federal funds to be used to make improvements in the Park.

May 1934 Civilian Conservation Corps (C.C.C.) Company 858 relocates from Tucson to Colossal Cave and begins work on trails, handrails, and lighting in Colossal Cave, as well as construction of the camp. Their camp—Camp SP-10-A— is located on La Posta Quemada Ranch. The adobe building immediately to the north of the Museum is part of their camp construction, built and used as the office. What today is the barn, is constructed as the bathhouse.

The AdobeOctober 1935 Company 858 has been replaced by Company 2851, the Camp is in place, and work continues in the Cave as well as outside on the stone retaining walls and headquarters buildings.

August 1936 Work inside the Cave is completed.

1938 All Civilian Conservation Corps work has been completed, and the Camp is closed. Frank Schmidt continues to run guided tours in the Cave.

c. 1938 About this time, Charles Day has put together most of La Posta Quemada Ranch, which ultimately consists of Federal and State grazing leases and patented land totaling 33,000 acres, and which runs 600 head of cattle.

Jack And PaydayJune 1937 Work is underway in the campgrounds, putting in roads, picnic areas, and the stone barbecue ramada in La Sevilla Picnic Area.

1944 Pima County leases Colossal Cave from the State Land Department and names Frank Schmidt Supervisor. He continues to operate the Cave, personally or through managers, until age 84.

March 27, 1956 Colossal Cave Park, in an arrangement unique for a public park, is sublet to a private partnership, Joe Maierhauser and Earl Brockelsby, businessmen expert in tourism.

January 1, 1964 Joe Maierhauser becomes sole proprietor of the sub-lease of Colossal Cave from Pima County.

October, 1965 Yet another fire on La Posta Quemada Ranch, destroying the headquarters house, located where Mountain Springs Grove is today.

Jack & Payday

C.C.C. workers pets, Jack and Payday, born on payday.

May 1, 1937

1967 John S. Sullivan buys La Posta Quemada Ranch and builds the headquarters house today occupied by the Museum.

1975 Over the years, a number of (mostly forgettable) movies are made in Colossal Cave. Now, Walt Disney Productions chooses Colossal Cave and locations throughout the Park and on the Ranch to film a TV special, "The Outlaw Cats of Colossal Cave."

1989-1991 Pima County Parklands Foundation takes over the 5,714 acres of State grazing leases which have hitherto belonged to La Posta Quemada Ranch. Pima County Board of Supervisors purchases the Ranch, the Park, and additional acreage, and La Posta Quemada Ranch and Colossal Cave are united—as "Colossal Cave Mountain Park."
La Posta Quemada

Now over 2,000 acres, Colossal Cave Mountain Park comprises desert, mountain, and riparian habitats in a transitional Sonoran-Chihuahuan biome. Administered for Pima County by the Pima County Parklands Foundation, a charitable agency, the Park continues to be operated for the Foundation by Joe Maierhauser.

July 10, 1992 Colossal Cave Mountain Park is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

1992-1999 Development work takes place on La Posta Quemada Ranch and elsewhere in the Park: the education program is expanded; a docent program is put in place; a research library is established; the first of several planned museums is installed; three gardens are planted, a Bat Garden, a Wild Garden, and a Butterfly Garden.

January 21-23, 2000 Grand Opening celebration for the enclosed and gated Colossal Cave Mountain Park.


As noted, the above is a "condensed version" of the Timeline. After years of research, the complete Timeline was published in January 2000.

Fully illustrated with over fifty photographs, it is available for purchase from the Colossal Cave Mountain Park gift shops.

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

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