Before entering Colossal Cave it was essential for me to educate myself and obtain some cave basics. The facts and information I learned about limestone caves made my trip profoundly interesting. Below is my humble, condensed version :)
Colossal Cave is an archaic KARST (meaning erosion has produced fissures, sinkholes, caverns and underground streams) CAVE.
Karst caves have 3 categories: limestone, gypsum and quartzite.
Colossal Cave is limestone and considered dormant, “dry”. A dry cave is without drips of water, streams or pools. How was the cave formed? Here is a short, simple answer:
The SPELEOTHEMS in Colossal Cave no longer grow. This cave formed by water depositing limestone that has NOW disappeared. Close by, in the same mountain park, are Arkenstone and La Tetera Caves with active growing formations. ** look for a future article on both…
crystallized calcium carbonate formations
The most abundant mineral in limestone is calcite (calcium carbonate). The majority of limestone formed on ANCIENT ocean floors.
Calcite is a main component used by echinoderms, like sea urchins, starfish, and sand dollars to make their spines and skeletons. Calcium carbonate (calcite), is found in the shells of marine organisms and truly is one of the MOST abundant minerals on earth!
In the marine environment, if the conditions are right, calcite is stable enough that it can cement together sediments and overtime make limestone.
limestone towers in the Atlantic ocean
On occasion another element may be present while calcite is being formed (ex: magnesium) and take the place of a calcium atom.
A less stable aragonite is a polymorph of calcite. They are both calcium carbonate but have different crystal shapes and symmetries. The calcium, oxygen and carbon atoms in aragonite bond together differently creating a unique crystal structure.
Ok this is plenty of background information so now journey with me to Colossal Cave Mountain Park!
The retaining wall and Visitor’s Center at Colossal Cave
The elevation of Colossal Cave Mountain Park is about 3,500 feet. The temperature of the cave averages 70 degrees Fahrenheit. No extra clothing is needed but feel free to carry water or a camera.
walkway outside of Colossal Cave entrance
Frank Schmidt was monumental in the improvements and preservation of Colossal Cave by handing over his leases to the State of Arizona. You can find information and historical photographs at La Posta Quemada Ranch Museum.
Frank Schmidt statue at the cave
bring the family and spend the day at this Arizona park
In 1879, Solomon Lick, the owner of the nearby hotel, was searching for stray cattle and discovered the entrance to this cave.
professional guides take you through this historical landmark
Thousands of years ago Colossal Cave was used by Hohokam, Sobaipure and Apache Indians. Travel down the road to the ranch museum for a fascinating display.
Hohokam, Sobaipuri, Apache and Papago Indians used Colossal Cave
Two Indian skeletons were found in Colossal Cave by archaeologist Byron Cummings. ~~courtesy of Colossal Cave’s website
Colossal Cave has 363 steps
What is a crystal? Simply put, it is a mineral that had a chance to grow how it was meant to be. When and where crystals form depends on the type of mineral being formed. Most crystals are found in areas, like caves, because they take a long time to form.
Crystals form from 2 processes:
- crystal growth in a saturated liquid solution
The majority of mineral crystals take thousands of years to grow. The growth continues until the saturation is stopped or the cave dries out.
Most crystals in a cave are calcite or aragonite. See my paragraphs at the top of this article.
calcite in the cave
Our cave adventure was the Basic Tour. The Ladder and Wild Cave Tours are more advance and take you through deeper less seen areas of Colossal Cave. click here for Colossal Cave Tour Information
experts determined this was an area for sleeping and even playing a game of cards
Your tour guide will tell the story of the bandits who hid out in Colossal Cave. These outlaws even played cards in the Colossal Cave Living Room. Legend has it that the gold from the train robbers is still inside the cave!
Ladder and Wild Cave tours
watch your head inside the cave
Stay with the tour group. Our guide really wasn’t kidding when she said the group might go left and you’ll go right and be lost for hours in Colossal Cave.
Take a peak in the wedding room! This Colossal Cave room maybe a beautiful area to renew our vows.
this room is for small weddings
Tectonic activity is noticeable in Colossal Cave. Your guide will point out a fault in the earth’s crust.
Wild Cave Tours and Ladder Tours
this desert cave is an ADVENTURE
Colossal Cave’s formations, speleothems, are created by the same water that dissolved the calcite in the limestone —- then deposited the calcite in other areas of the cave.
stalagmites and stalactites in Colossal Cave
Stalactites – “c” for ceiling – hang from the top of caves like icicles
cave formations with labels
Stalagmites – “g” for ground - emerge from the ground like a traffic cone
Because Colossal Cave is DRY; the appearance of these speleothems is different than living caves.
formations in limestone caves
Calcite builds up into curtains and flows down cave walls like waterfalls.
Stalactites hang from the ceiling in caves
The length and thickness of the calcite grows as the water continues to drip. Stalactites can take thousands of years to form.
Layers of calcite build up into fluted curtains.
Layers of calcite build up into fluted curtains.
breathtaking views inside Colossal Cave
our wonderful tour guide at Colossal Cave
We received bat education from our cave guide. Bat poop is called Guano. It makes good fertilizer and some companies use guano in lipstick. Guano in lipstick is called guanomine. Glad I do not use lipstick!
Civilian Conservation Corps designated by President Roosevelt
In the 1930′s, a Civilian Conservation Corps designated by President Roosevelt worked tirelessly building the retaining wall outside and improving the inside of Colossal Cave.
The Civilian Conservation Corps, CCC, put in the railings and stairs
The CCC, Civilian Conservation Corps, constructed the stairs, bridges and handrails inside Colossal Cave. The historic office and museum of the CCC is located at La Posta Quemada Ranch.
Civilian Conservation Corps, CCC, helping Colossal Cave
While visiting Colossal Cave do adventure down the valley to La Posta Quemada Ranch.
The ranch at Colossal Cave Mountain Park has been a working ranch since 1878.
La Posta Quemada Ranch at Colossal Cave Park
Resident cowboys handle the ranch operations along with trail rides, hayrides, cookouts and horseback riding.
visit the historical Ranch at Colossal Cave Park
Colossal Cave Ranch headquarters has the museum, gift shop, bat and cave exhibits. We ordered burgers, cooked out on the grill, and ate inside this Colonial Spanish-style historic house. The Desert Spoon Fresh-Air Cafe cooked up some of the best burgers we ever had!
The cowboys at Colossal Cave Mountain Park ride you through the Historic National Mail Stagecoach Route. Reservations are required. see Colossal Cave website
Horseback riding and Cowboy cookouts at the Ranch
history at the museum in the Ranch house
Several movies were filmed inside and around Colossal Cave. Enjoy the movie exhibit inside the Ranch Headquarters.
movies filmed inside Colossal Cave
Night of the Lepus movie at Colossal Cave
We spent quite a bit of time observing the Desert Tortoise. These are one of the hardiest creatures of the Arizona Sonoran Desert. Some even call tortoises “living dinosaurs”. The Colossal Cave Mountain Park Tortoise exhibit is well done.
Tortoise exhibit at the ranch
Colossal Cave and the historic La Posta Quemada Ranch are listed on the National Historic Register. Our adventure to the park was stimulating and we look forward to bringing a picnic or camping in the near future. Our campsite at Colossal Cave will have to be close enough to feast on the Desert Spoon Burgers!