I immediately pointed it out to David, who feeling on a roll after buying a rug coat and plastic cowboy hat at Tombstone, quickly dished out $3.00 for the item. At this point the complimentary fudge was brought to my attention, I snatched up a piece of the cappuccino fudge. The pieces were the size of a chicken bullion cube, which by the way are quite tasty, but I figured any amount of food no matter how big or small could help my appetite at this point. I swallowed it down (it was pretty good) and decided to keep the toothpick so that I could look cool with it hanging out of my mouth. Though after about five seconds my conscience kicked in and I started thinking, "maybe I should throw this away, who knows where it's been, we are in the middle of Arizona," so despite the fact of wanting to appear cool I trashed the toothpick.
As we began filtering out of the gift shop we were met by Dr. Merck who handed us our 4:20 cave entrance tickets and told us to meet next to the museum at 4:00. Seeing as it was only 3:30 I decided to go in search of some vending machines. I found some in a room around the side of the building. They had quite a selection of junk food, soda and among other things...burritos. I heard a microwave turn on so I walked around a wall in the room to find Jake making a burrito. He made some comment about how I should I hope I'm not in the same room as him later tonight. In seven days I believed I had survived all of Jake's smells so I blew him off and purchased some Skittles and a bottle of Vanilla Coke. Jake and I walked outside and sat down at a bench with Edd. We chatted and watched Dr. Merck scramble around trying to photograph hummingbirds until it was time to reconvene at the museum.
The clock struck four and we all met at the entrance to the museum. As we were waiting for our tour guide to show I wandered around looking at the exhibits. There were some interesting things in there like different types of caves around the United States and...um...other...stuff. They did have this huge scale model of the cave with buttons that lit up certain areas.
Our tour guide arrived and took us outside where he made small talk while we waited for the tram to take us to the cave entrance. I hadn't caught his name before so I asked and he replied "Chuck Duncan, Chuck D in da house." We all got a good laugh out of it and that's when Chuck established himself as one hell of a good guide. The tram arrived and as he led us to it we could touch a piece of a rock formation from the cave that they had cut out. Most people just gave it a small rub but after some egging-on Ally decided to hug or kiss it, I didn't really get a good look because I was cringing thinking about all the people who had touched it in the past. I wonder if Ally she'll get any diseases from that...hmm... hope not. We boarded the tram and Chuck told us that it was used in the 1996 Olympics and was purchased off the Internet at a discount price. He also noted and he didn't think it was meant for uphill climbs, which came apparently clear when we were flying up the hill to the cave entrance at a blazing two to three miles and hour. As we drove up we saw the fenced off sink hole that Gary and Randy (I don't remember their last names) had gone into when they originally discovered the cave.
We reached the entrance and got off the tram. At this point Chuck said that last fall he had been a member of the team who worked in the cave to make it accessible for all and that they "got buckets and hoes...lots of fun." He then pointed out a plaque that honored the team he was a part of.
We entered the cave to find a very hot and steamy environment much warmer and humid that outside. As we walked down the corridor Chuck pointed out a fault line that ran up the wall, then stated there were sixty faults throughout the cave just like this one. Next we passed under a concrete area, which sprayed water on us as we went through. It was explained that lint dries out the rock formations so the "shower" is used as an attempt to knock the lint to the ground or stick to our bodies. We were then lead through a series of two airlocks which separated the outside air from the inside air and kept at a rainforest like atmosphere.
As we walked through the second airlock we entered the Rotunda Room. This was a huge room about the size of a football field. The left half the room was basically a huge mud pit and the original tracks that Gary and Randy had crawled through were still visible. Chuck explained that the mud area flooded every so often but the water came in and receded at such a low pace that the tracks were preserved. On the right side of the room there was an incline and on it was an environmental monitoring station. It really wasn't anything spectacular; the instruments resembled a turkey baster, a metal stool, and some other things I cant really recall from memory. Despite their boring look they were very effective in measuring the health of the cave every so often. Some of the formations you could see in the Rotunda Room included draperies, shields and stalagmites.
We exited the Rotunda Room and entered a small passage that climbed up about fifteen feet by way of a series of switch-backs. In the passage we saw some soda straw, cave bacon and cave popcorn/coral formations. Chuck then informed us that the reason so many of the formations are named after food is because as cavers are exploring they get hungry and begin seeing food in the formations. As we approached the top of the passage on our right was a large formation, which I really can't remember the name of but it looked, as Dave put it, "like a pile of diarrhea." Then as we walked up the path we came upon the Flow Stone Wall on our left, which was a giant wall that had...well...a lot of flowing stones.
The next stop on the tour was the main attraction and amazing part of the cave. We exited the passage containing the Flow Stone Wall and walked into a huge room called the Throne Room where in the center was a massive rock pillar named Kubla Kahn. Chuck then gave us a description of the formation saying it was as tall as a five-story building and some other stuff that I've forgotten ad couldn't write down because of how dark it was. When he finished he had us sit down and not knowing what we were in store for next Dr. Merck whispered to me, "here comes the obligatory sound and light show." The lights dimmed and for about five minutes spotlights flashed on different rocks throughout the Throne Room while a narration spoke of the peacefulness of the cave. When the show ended Chuck led us out of the caverns through a series of airlocks for the conclusion of our tour.
Chuck Duncan was one of the best most enthusiastic tour guides I can ever remember having. He found great enjoyment in the Kartchner Caverns and this could clearly be scene by the way he presented himself during the tour. Some other information that he gave us about Kartchner Caverns was 90% of the formations in the cave system are still growing, and it is completely handicapped accessible. Also, other rock formations that could be found in the cave were the broomstick stalagmite, moon milk, welt shield, which ran along the fault lines, the chandelier and some halictites also called fettuccine formations by cavers.
After the tour we watched a fifteen-minute film in the visitors center describing how Gary and Randy discovered the caves and the lengths they went to, to preserve it. The film ended, we said our last goodbyes to Chuck Duncan and the rest of the crew at Kartchner Caverns, walked back to the vans and with a "Next stop...showers!" call by Dr. Merck we were on our way to Tucson.
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