To the Bat Cave We Go ~ Kartchner Caverns ~ Benson, AZ

Advice from a Cave:  Breathe deep; find beauty in unexpected places; search inward; see the hole picture; good things take time; look beneath the surface; hang tight!  (c) Ilan Shamir

We are spending a few days at Kartchner Caverns State Park, at the base of the Whetstone Mountains, near Benson, Arizona, a lovely campground with 360º views of wide-open desert and mountain ranges touching the heavens.  An added bonus is the brief walk to the famous Kartchner Caverns.  Large bands of billowy clouds surround us, whipped around by brisk winds, as a storm fast approaches. There is probably no place better to be right now than underground, so to the “Bat Cave” we go.

Kartchner Caverns Big Room, image courtesy of Wikipedia
Kartchner Caverns Big Room ~ photo credit Wikipedia

Since we had seen Carlsbad Caverns last year we didn’t know what to expect.  We found the “Big Room” tour at Kartchner to be a wonderful experience, enhanced greatly by our tour guide, Park Ranger Lisa.  A 6-month veteran of the park (impossible to believe), she is a walking encyclopedia of Kartchner Caverns history, presented with passion and humor.  She followed very strict protocol, as we traveled through six air-lock passages and a misting machine, to preserve the cave’s inside temperature of 72º and 99% humidity year-round.  Nothing was allowed inside that might disturb the cave’s health, including cameras.

Image courtesy of
Photo credit

We found the history behind the discovery of this cave to be fascinating.  Two cavers, Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts, knew that where there’s limestone, there most likely would be caves.  They set out to explore the limestone hills at the base of the Whetstone Mountains, looking for that perfect cave but anticipating another dry, dusty hole in the earth.  What they found instead was a sinkhole, with a narrow crack in the bottom, breathing warm, moist air.  Two hours of digging around this “blowhole” allowed them enough space to wiggle through and explore 2.5 miles of pristine cave passages.  They knew they had found something very special, something to be preserved.  Fourteen years of arduous work resulted in a bill that protected this cave and in 1999 the Rotunda Room opened to the public, with tours of the Big Room following in 2003.

Breathtaking soda straws - image courtesy of
Breathtaking soda straws – photo credit

Kartchner Caverns is a wet cave, very much alive, and if the spectacular displays of stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws and “cave bacon” weren’t enough, the Big Room is closed from mid-April until mid-October when it is turned into a nursery roost for ~1,000 female common cave bats.  The females give birth to a single pup in late June and the babies remain in roost until mid-September, when they leave to begin the migration to their winter home.

Advice from a Bat:  Trust in your senses; spend time hanging around with friends; don’t be afraid of the dark; get a grip; enjoy the nightlife; sometimes you’ve just gotta wing it; guano happens!  (c) Ilan Shamir

Our tour guide Lisa explained the birthing process in a rather unique fashion. Picture a 5-foot tall, 100 lb. woman giving birth to a 25 lb. baby (size of a 2-year old), while hanging from her thumbs, enduring a breech birth, worrying about catching her baby before he plunges to his death, and that is what birthing a bat pup is like.  I don’t know about you, but I have a new-found respect for bats, at least the female variety!

Prelude to a storm
Prelude to a storm

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45 thoughts on “To the Bat Cave We Go ~ Kartchner Caverns ~ Benson, AZ

  • wow.. what a challenging childbirth! i am a bit bat phobic, thanks to five vanpire bat bites in my dozen years in latin america. if there’s a chance of bat bites in the night, i tuck under the covers and don’t emerge until morning!


    • I have always been leery of bats, since a cousin got one twisted in her long hair as a child. I cannot imagine vampire bat bites…ewww.

      • they never spooked me until the first bite! i’m better now, but for a while i was classic hollywood girl scream when i encountered a bat! i don’t think i would enjoy that trek into that cave!


      • There aren’t any bats right now so you would be safe. I can’t believe you have been bitten more than once. That would be so scary.

      • after the first, i definitely did my share of research on bats and rabies. first was to rule out rabies in that area… the last time i was bitten, the clinic told me that i had to bring in the bat – how does one do that when the bat has bitten and flown away while one is sleeping?!

        the only time when i was more worried than norm was in nicaragua.. i sweated that one out for a while, though there was no rabies in that area — or they thought… peru has deaths yearly from rabies in the amazon.. i don’t think i want to go there!!!! z

      • Yikes! I had no idea you could get bitten in your sleep like that. My husband has been wanting to go to the Amazon. I am going to share this with him. I think I’m going to take a pass on that one. You have certainly led a colorful life Z!

      • for some reason, bats like me! i have known only one other ‘extranjero’ who has awakened to find he was bitten by bats… if you have a good tent or mosquito net, you will be fine in the amazon… i would probably take a trip there but never want to live there, as the odds would be against me in regards to more bites.


      • I wonder if bats seek out certain people based on scent or some other factor. You must have very enticing blood Z! 🙂

      • i have approached that baffling question from many angles. blood type – ph – genetic uniqueness – no one has a clue! in costa rica they say that the bats return to one particular animal in the herd.. or one person in a family in the primitive ‘open-air’ homes… go figure!

  • Yikes….like giving birth to a twenty pound baby!!! Loved this little bit of info. Stay warm and continue enjoying those explorations 🙂

  • Loved this post.. we have a few such caves in Africa… but as for the bats giving birth,,, I never felt a thing when my kids were born so why all the fuss about a big baby… you women….lol…

  • Thanks for deciding to visit Kartchner. Wanted to get there before I left AZ but Yellowstone’s call hastened my departure. Your words helped me feel that I have taken the tinest peek into it. I especially enjoyed your bat info. Learned to appreciate them when we were at Carlsbad.

  • We did Carlsbad and loved it. So glad to read a review from someone who has been to both places. We will now visit Kartchner. Some one mislead us and said once we visited Carlsbad, Kartchner would be a disappointment. Doesn’t look that way from your blog. Thanks so much for the lovely photos and the bat info. I have never read about the birth of a bat before. Very interesting. Their advice is great also.

    • We had also been told that we would be disappointed in Kartchner if we had been to Carlsbad but we were pleasantly surprised. I think a lot of this had to do with how wonderful our tour guide was. Don’t you just love those Advice From…series? 🙂

  • Your prelude to a storm picture is gorgeous.
    I’ve always loved bats (they eat lots of bugs!) My mother was scared to death of them. Sure enough one that managed to come down the chimney somehow got tangled in her hair. I was quite young when that happened, but her fear never rubbed off on me.

    • Thanks Gunta! I have also been fearful of them ever since my younger cousin got one tangled in her hair one evening. I have slowly gotten over my fear but I have heard some pretty crazy stories about bats recently. 😉

  • We also liked this cave and I think we had Lisa too as our tour guide. She knows here stuff. Since we did not make it to Carlsbad Caverns we could not make a comparison. But I would say that it is a little different from the Oregon Caves National Monument, smaller and with stricter protocols.

    There was also a brewing storm when we were there in January and dumped snow the following morning.
    Stay warm.

    • We have not been to the Oregon Caves National Monument but have that on the list. It seems you two have had a few storms brewing lately! Stay safe out there.

  • Very entertaining, LuAnn… 🙂
    We have the Jenolan Caves here in my home state. They remain open all year (no bats roosting that I’m aware of)… Like the Kartchener Caverns, they are looked after very well. What a wonderful thing the discoverers did by taking the step to ensure their longevity. So many of our world’s natural beauty is all too quickly ruined.
    The bat has always been a favourite of mine. Now I have an even greater respect; especially (as you wrote) for the female… ouch…!

    • I have never heard of the Jenolan Caves. So much to see and explore in this great country. I haven’t gone back to look on your site, but if you haven’t written about the bat, perhaps you should. 😉

  • Wow, that birthing process sounds challenging! How on earth do they ‘catch’ the new borns?? The cave looks amazing and your photos are as incredible as always 🙂

    • Thanks Madhu. I believe the female bats have skin that connects their legs creating a skirt, if you will. This is what they catch their new pups in. 🙂

      • Friends of Kartchner Caverns posted your blog on their Facebook page so it was nice to read.


      • I feel so honored. Thanks for sharing this with us Lisa and thanks again for having such passion for your work. It truly does show! 🙂

  • I would like to make a side note on the birth process.
    The female bat catches her pup in her femoral membrane.

    If you would like a mosquito-free summer evening with a glass of margarita, Thank a Bat!

    Safe travels!

  • As ever exquisite words accompanied by wonderful pictures…the places you travel are so wonderful and you always enthuse me with your descriptions.

  • HI LuAnn, it seems to me that the battiness of your post overwhelmed the wonderful photographs that you took, Sounds like a most excellent experience. They are fascinating creatures though, aren’t they? 🙂

  • Now, here’s the one I’d be very curious and would highly consider when or if I go to ArizonaI. I had gone caving before but not as magnificent looking as you shown here.

Love to know what you're thinking.

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