Tour underground marvel: Grand Canyon Caverns

Northern Arizona’s Grand Canyon Caverns, the largest dry caverns in the United States, are popular with visitors, and the surrounding area offers year-round recreational opportunities.

Grand Canyon Caverns are about a 2½-hour drive from Las Vegas. Follow U.S. Highway 93 into Arizona to Kingman, then exit U.S. 93 onto old Route 66 heading toward Peach Springs and Seligman.

A few miles past Peach Springs, watch for exit 115 onto a short paved side road to the caverns. The road takes you past a motel and an RV campground to a building that houses the cave entrance, a restaurant, curio shop and other facilities. For room or camping reservations, call 928-422-3223.

It may be winter in the woods near the entrance, but below ground, the temperature remains a steady 57 degrees with 2 percent humidity. Although the caverns are dry, they contain various formations created when moisture moved through the limestone.

Tours start every 30 minutes and begin with a 21-floor elevator descent to a high-ceilinged room about two football fields long. The regular 45-minute guided tour explores this room and others along about a mile of walkways.

Because of steps and stairs, portions of this popular tour are not wheelchair accessible. Visitors with physical limitations, families with small children or those short on time may prefer the 25-minute tour.

Visitors seeking more adventure should consider the Explorer Tour, which ventures into more passageways and rooms and is limited to 14 people.

A highlight of touring the caverns is seeing a stockpile of food, water and medical supplies left over from the Cold War era, enough for 2,000 people for two weeks. In the 1960s, the caverns were deemed suitable as a civil defense shelter, and the supplies have been in place since 1963, still usable today.

For the regular tour, expect to pay $18.95 plus taxes for an adult ticket and $12.95 for children. The shorter tour costs less. The extended exploration tour costs $69.95.

The motel and RV park near the caverns are central to miles of roads and trails used by hikers, horseback riders and ATV enthusiasts. The overnight facilities are the nearest accommodations for visitors to the beautiful Supai portion of the Hualapai Reservation deep within the Grand Canyon.

The privately owned Grand Canyon Caverns site is one of about 1,000 known caves in the Grand Canyon area, but it’s the only one that is open to the public.

The Grand Canyon Caverns were discovered in 1927 by Walter Peck, a cowboy and woodcutter working in the area. Peck later returned to the narrow natural entrance with friends and lowered a fellow cowboy by rope 150 feet into a room that gleamed and sparkled in the light of his lantern.

Peck purchased acreage at the site, hoping the rock there would prove valuable. The rocks were worthless, but Peck began to recoup some of his expenses by charging curious visitors a quarter for the thrill of entering the cave by rope.

In the mid-1930s, access to the caverns was improved when Civilian Conservation Corps workers built stairs, ladders and suspension bridges. The modern entrance and elevator, built in 1962, provide safe access for many more visitors.

Margo Bartlett Pesek’s column appears on Sundays.

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