Spelunking -- or caving -- is a popular hobby for adventurous types..Of the 128 surveyed caves in Arizona, 65 are in four counties: Cococino, Apache, Cochise and Gila. Whether you are in the Colorado Plateau, the Mogollon Rim, the Sonoran Desert or the Sky Island region, Arizona has plenty of venues available for cavers.
Coronado National Memorial
One of the most popular hiker-spelunker destinations in Arizona is the National Park Service's Coronado National Memorial, near Hereford in Cochise County along the Huachuca Mountains. Go prepared -- this area can be dry and hot, and this is home to rattlesnakes and scorpions. Wear sound boots and bring water. Coronado features limestone caves that were formed by ancient seas. Coronado is also home to the Swainson's hawk and the extremely rare barking frog.
Cococino County is Arizona's mother lode of spelunking caves. Cococino covers north central Arizona and includes Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon. The vast network of canyons in the county has left four strata exposed, ranging from the Cambrian through the Devonian, Mississippian and Pennsylvanian, making this county a fossil hunter's mecca, too. Limestone throughout these strata has been eroded into 28 of Arizona's surveyed caves, including the Lava River Cave, a lava tube cave in the Cococino National Forest.
Apache County runs along the northeast boundary of Arizona, and contains 18 surveyed caves. U.S. Geological Survey map sheet names that are required to locate all 18 are: Boiling Over Well, North Canyon Point, Kinustsa Mesa, Mummy Cave Ruins, Whitting Knoll and Lupton. Cave symbols are on the map sheets. Cave names in Apache County are Cave 1 through Cave 9, Broken Flute, Fir Tree Alcove, Harris Cave, Massacre Cave, Miller's Cave, Mummy Cave, Obelisk Cave, Pocket Cave and Ram's Horn Cave.
Non-Arizona spelunkers are advised to seek the counsel of Arizona cavers on the best times and places for cave exploration. The two cavers' associations in Arizona are the Southern Arizona Grotto and the Central Arizona Grotto. Both are members of the National Speleological Society. The Southern Arizona group is located in Tuscon; Central is in Queen Creek, a town that straddles the Maricopa and Pinal county lines.
The two most spectacular caves in Arizona, Colossal Cave and Kartchner Caverns, are not open to spelunking. These caves are protected to ensure preservation of many of the caves' natural features. Colossal Cave is near Tuscon, in Colossal Cave Mountain Park. Kartchner Caverns are at Kartchner Caverns State Park near Whetson, east of Tuscon. Both caves can be seen by the public only during guided tours.
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