Day 35 – February 14 – Kingman to Sedona, AZ
When we left Kingman we decided to travel the section of the historic Route 66 that we had done when we visited Grand Canyon and all the Utah parks in 2012. We had driven past the Grand Canyon Caverns on that journey because it looked like a real tacky-tourist joint. We decided to pull in this visit and see what was there.We are very glad we did. Grand Canyon Caverns are privately owned by a CA company that purchased the site from the original owner, Walter Peck, who discovered the natural entrance to the caverns while waiting for ride. It was raining and the water was running into a nearby hole and disappearing. He told his brother about it and they returned to the place whereupon Walter tied a rope around his younger brother’s waist and sent him down the hole with a kerosene lantern.
The light from the lantern showed sparkles in the rock – some gold, some silver and some clear – and they thought they had discovered gold, silver and diamonds (they didn’t know that those three elements are not found in the same place). When the assayers were taking too long to send the report on the samples they had taken Mr. Peck bought 800 acres of the surface land, thus securing the rights to everything underneath. Two days later the report arrived. All of his samples were worthless quartz or crystal.
But the caverns were huge and interesting to walk in so he decided to salvage his loss by charging people 25 cents to be tied around the waist with a rope and lowered down with only a kerosene lantern.
A few years later Mr. Peck built a ramp-ladder access to the caverns and upped his fee to 75 cents; and you had to bring your own lantern. He made so much money he retired and sold the land to the company that owns it today and who built all the cement walkways and railings and lighting.
At one time they were trying to determine where the air flow came from so some people dropped red smoke bombs down the shaft and others were to watch where the smoke went. After several days of this no smoke was ever appearing on the surface so they stopped. Two weeks later they got a call from the rangers at the the Grand Canyon (78 miles away) asking what they were doing down there as there was red smoke coming out the walls of the Grand Canyon.
Our tour took 45 minutes and we walked through caverns larger than a football field and very, very high. Unfortunately I can’t remember all the information Nico, our guide, told us. But the most interesting thing was that Grand Canyon Caverns are dry caverns. Only 3% of all caverns on earth are dry and only 10 of them are accessible. The temperature stays a constant 51 degrees F and there are no stalactites or stalagmites as those formations are created by dripping water.
There is a stage area with theater seating. The cavern has great acoustics. Beside the entertainment area is a bedroom you can rent to sleep in. The Grand Canyon Caverns are number 9 on the world’s 10 most unusual places to sleep list. There is a queen-size bed, flat screen TV, DVD, VCR, shower and a toilet that is good for about 6 or 7 flushes before it needs to be emptied by a staff person. A total of 9 weddings have been performed in the Cavern and there is to be a 10th later this year.
My photos, obviously do not do it justice as it is quite dark and hard to get images with any distance. The nice thing about a dry cavern is that you can use flash on your camera because there are no delicate formations that are damaged by light.
Another interesting thing is the dryness of the air. It actually dehydrates your body as you spend time in it. If you have no water with you to restore your body’s moisture you will be dead in three days and mummified not long afterward.
In the cavern were two examples of this phenomena. The first we saw was a bobcat that had fallen in the entrance hole and broken it’s hip. Even without the injury preventing it’s movement it could not have gotten out of the deep cavern. His mummified remains are still there along with a taxidermy example of what the cat would have been like. There is still hair and skin on the mummy, all it’s teeth are intact, and the pads are on his paws. Pretty weird. (They sent one of his legs away for analysis; that’s how they know the approximate time of his demise.) The second creature in the cavern was a 15′ pre-historic relative to the Great Sloth and Armadillo. Her name is Gertrude and she too fell in the hole of the natural entrance to the caverns; breaking her back. She tried to climb out again and there are scratch marks from her claws high up on the rock wall. A tip of one of the toenails was found imbeded in the rock. 95% of the remains were located. They were sent to the University of Arizona and the university sent back a life-size replica of the creature.
Final interesting point: During the cold war the American government actively searched for places that could be shelters for communities in the event of a nuclear attack. The caverns were perfect, deep undergroud, constant temperature, large size and constant flow of air. The government sent boxes of kits that contained calcium tablets and candies for sugar – which are still edible but don’t taste very good. They also sent barrels of water, portable toilets and six rolls of toilet paper. There were enough supplies to care for 2000 people for two week. Over the years the water in the barrels became undrinkable and the Cold War ended and it was assumed the bomb shelter was forgotten. Not so. About a year and a half ago the government sent iodine tablets to re-purify the water and boxes of dried foods. Since then the staff have also been bringing down cases of water and storing them in the cavern. Along Route 66, back in the 60s the Bruma Shave company posted these fun advertising signs. The five signs comprising each rhyme and the Bruma Shave name were spaced about a quarter mile apart and each group was 5 or more miles further down the road. I have put them in this blog for the chuckle. They were very popular and iconic to the Route 66 Highway.
At the end of the Route 66 section we rejoined Highway 40 east for a few miles before turning south on Highway 89 and east again on 89A so we could go to the Tuzigoot National Monument near Cottonwood. The section between the turn-off from 89 to 89A and Cottonwood was a high winding Mingus Mountain pass. Who knew? Another great road though. Good motorcycle road too.
The down-side of the mountain pass took us through the little town of Jerome, perched on the sheer cliff-side. You wind down narrow hairpin bends through all the streets. It is the most vertical city in the US and the country’s largest ghost town. It was a copper boom town producing 3 million pounds of copper per month; the largest copper mine in AZ at the time. After WWII the demand for copper slowed and they closed the mine in 1953. The few remaining residents (50-100 people) promoted the town as a ghost town. In 1967 the town was designated a National Historic District.
The place was PACKED! Both sides of every street were solid with parked cars, there were people walking all over the place. Businesses had names like The Haunted Hamburger. Obviously a very popular spot to visit.
A few miles further down the road we turned off the highway to drive a couple of miles up to Tuzigoot National Monument, the site of an ancient 110-room pueblo. The oldest rooms were built over 900 years ago and were added onto over several centuries. (The National Park Service makes such nice signs I am not going to write out all the info.)
The Visitor’s Center
We left the Visitor’s Center as it was closing and drove the few miles through Cotton Wood to the red rock city of Sedona for the night; where I discovered I had left my computer’s power cord in the hotel in Kingman. And….John’s camera crashed.