The glorious wonders of Kartchner Caverns are accessible to everyone, including people who mobilize with a wheelchair, scooter or cane. People like me.
I charged up my red power chair for spelunking into the unassuming Whetstone Mountains, and with the superb set up provided by the Arizona State Parks system navigated the depths of one of the world’s most magnificent “show caves”. A tram equipped with a mobility device ramp whisks all visitors to the entrance of the caves. Accessing the tram seated on my power chair was quick and efficient; and the volunteers assisting me were well-trained and reassuring. Once inside the caves, a network of switchbacks traverses the guided exploratory areas, all of them wide and smooth enough to spin my wheels.
It’s hard to say what’s more amazing: the history or the actual cave formations, some of which only grow 1/16th of an inch every 100 years. Discovered by Randy Tufts and Gary Tenen in November 1974, these caves opened to the public after years of secrecy and extensive planning in order to keep them untouched by humans as much as possible, yet accessible. True stewardship.
Our guide informed us that, despite multiple naysayers, the Arizona State Parks Executive Director in 1987 Ken Travous insisted upon development that made accessibility possible for everybody. As I gazed at stalagmites, stalactites, delicate soda straws, “bacon” drapery, a five-story column named Kubla Khan, and the final resting place of a prehistoric sloth, my soul swelled with gratitude. Living with FSH muscular dystrophy and unable to walk very far, I was witness to nature’s infinite patience, a spiritual sense of deep time, thanks to visionary leadership.
Drops of cool water fall gracefully from tapered stalactites overhead. In the humid air, an unworldly mist rises from the explorers’ skin…The water and stone continue their artistry. Ninety percent of the cave is alive and its formations are still growing.
— Randy Tufts,
co-discover of Kartchner Caverns
Throughout our visit, my husband Lou and I felt surrounded by rangers, guides, volunteers and park staff who love what they do and why they do it – to share and protect these precious caves for generations to come, and for the colony of maternity bats that return yearly.
You’ll find a large, ADA family restroom centrally located just outside the Discovery Center. The picnic area outside the park’s Bat Cave Café has a couple of tables where wheelchairs can conveniently slide right alongside. And a lovely hummingbird garden banks the cafe and is surrounded with accessible, paved paths.
Special note for scooters: Measure your device before arrival to make sure your scooter will fit. My scooter exceeded the maximum 40” length allowed for the cave tours, so I used my Jazzy power chair instead. The Discovery Center has loaner wheelchairs available, a sign of truly dedicated accessibility.
Tip: Book your tours online well in advance here. Or call (520) 586-4100.
2980 S Hwy 90
Benson, AZ 85602
9 mi. South of Benson on Hwy 90
Where to stay: Comfort Inn, Benson, AZ
Conveniently located near the entrance to Kartchner Caverns State Park, this hotel worked well enough for our two nights stay. Our ADA room was located on the second floor near the elevator and contained two queen size beds. (We spied ADA rooms available on the first floor near the pool.) Our room seemed a bit small, but manageable. The bathroom had a tub with grab bars and shower wand. Upon request, the front desk provided us with a good shower chair. Breakfast was included: a nice variety of waffles, eggs, sausage, yogurt and cereal. The pool was disappointing because the water was chilly. The front desk told us the water was heated to 65° to 70°—burr. From what we could see, Comfort Inn was the best accommodation available in the area, and we would stay there again when revisiting the area.
$$ Pablo’s Steaks & More Very good! We shared a ribeye steak that was just superb. Great salads and wonderful service, too. If we had more room after dinner, we would’ve ordered a slice of Mexican chocolate cake. Next time.
$ Farm House Restaurant An excellent value. Generous country style meals with all the fixins, including dessert. We both enjoyed the honey glazed fried chicken.
Making Accessibility Happen
Let government officials know what you need, want and appreciate in order to make greater accessibility happen for everyone.
The above post was sent to:
Sue Black, Arizona State Parks and Trails, Executive Director: firstname.lastname@example.org
Toney D. King, Sr., Benson, Arizona, Mayor: email@example.com
Take a moment to read Executive Director of Arizona State Parks and Trails, Sue Black’s comprehensive response. She shares the many ways ASPT is working in conjunction with disability advocacy groups, such as Ability 360, to continually improve outdoor recreation for everyone. Thank you letter