A cave is a natural underground void large enough for a human to enter, while a cavern is a large cave that was formed chemically (through things like acid rain).
Our first introduction to these underground miracles was Kartchner Caverns in Southeastern Arizona in ‘06.
This “live” cave is host to a wide variety of unique minerals and formations. Water percolates from the surface and calcite formations continue to grow, including stalactites dripping down like icicles and giant stalagmites reaching up from the ground.
In November 1974 two young cavers, Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts, were exploring the limestone hills at the base of the Whetstone Mountains. In the bottom of a sinkhole they found a narrow crack leading into the hillside. Warm, moist air flowed out, signaling the existence of a cave. After several hours of crawling, they entered a pristine cavern.
It wasn't until February 1978 that Tenen and Tufts told the property owners, James and Lois Kartchner, about their amazing discovery. During the four years of secret exploration, the discoverers realized that the cave's extraordinary variety of colors and formations must be preserved.
The cave's existence became public knowledge in 1988 when its purchase was approved as an Arizona State Park. Extraordinary precautions have been taken during its development to conserve the cave's near-pristine condition.
This bell canopy is one of many fascinating features; it’s formed by water flowing over a bump on the wall, then dripping to create this beautiful formation.
Kartchner Caverns Throne Room also boasts one of the world's longest soda straw stalactites: 21 feet 3 inches as well as the tallest and most massive column in Arizona, Kubla Khan: 58 feet tall.
Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
As we travel back north to Canada in the spring we usually have a list of places we would like to spend some time so we made sure to include Carlsbad Caverns on our route in March 2008.
Carlsbad Caverns includes a large cave chamber, the Big Room, a natural limestone chamber which is almost 4,000 feet (1,220 m) long, 625 feet (191 m) wide, and 350 feet (110 m) high at the highest point. It is the third largest chamber in North America and the seventh largest in the world
We chose the self guided tour and were very impressed, first of all with the caverns and secondly with all of the helpful information provided. It was well lit and there was lots of room to move around at your own speed.
I’ve included a few photos but you can take a look at them all here.
We really enjoy traipsing around these underground miracles and to date we’ve seen four different caves or caverns in as many different parts of the country. While they are all magnificent in their own right we both agree that Kartchner Caverns would be our favourite. Perhaps because it was our first cavern experience and we all have a special fondness for our ‘first’.