Hidden Wonders of the underworld: Desert Edition

Coronado Cave map

Coronado Cave map

As I explained earlier during my stay at Coronado National Memorial, the area has such an extensive geologic history. The surrounding region was once under shallow waters allowing the deposit of calcite from sea creatures. The Sky Islands formed through volcanic activity, much like the Hawaiian islands have formed. Eventually, through a violent volcanic explosion, the Montezuma caldera was formed carpeting the exposed limestone with rocks and volcanic dust. After the early triassic period, began the painstaking process of carving of the cave.

After thousands, if not millions of years, the calcite deposits shifted and now we see the layers of deposit on the cave ceiling.

Out of this impressive history, I would like to focus on one of the many interesting features within our park boundaries, the Coronado Cave. just at half a mile and 500 feet in elevation gain from our visitor center sits the entrance of our Coronado cave which was exposed thanks to collapsing rock. Scrambling 40 feet of boulders and rocks, you get to what is called the Twilight Zone where only a limited amount of light filters in through the small opening. The cave itself is vast with a height of 6 meters(20 ft) and 180 meters(600 ft) deep and 20 meters(70 ft) wide. Unlike many other caves, due to the early nature of the Park Service, many visitors were allowed to take items from the park, and unfortunately, the cave suffered the loss of many of its stalactites and stalagmites. Nevertheless, it is still a fascinating cave.   Culturally, we can find graffiti dating back to the late 1800’s done on the shelvings of the cave with the smoke from candles or small torches. Some urban legends also claim that this cave, among many within the Huachuca Mountains, served as corridors for the famous and revered Apache leader, Geronimo, who, along with other Huachuca Apache warriors, fought for the preservation of their lands against the forthcoming United States military and the settlement of Anglo mining communities in what is now Arizona. Yet, no archaeological evidence has confirmed this tale. Calcite Pools Geologically, it is even more wondrous than what can be seen with a quick run through. Being a microenvironment at the crossroad of 4 different ecosystems leads to many mysteries that we can only hope our young geologists in training can one day explain. The one mystery of the cave is something called the clay room. After crawling quite a few meters into a narrow passageway, we find a tiny entrance to a tiny cavity within the cave just tall enough for an average size human and wide enough for at most two people is a humid room with clay walls. No geologist has yet to explain this phenomenon, but we look out to our young geologists to earn their Cave scientist badge with their findings! Deeper into the rest of the cave we can still find many other cave structures such as cave bacon, cave popcorn, what once used to be columns, now split in two, soda straws, and many more. And if one is quiet enough, one can hear the process of stalagmite and stalactite formation in the dripping which will awe any geologist in the room, or the cave I should say. Though not a match to Mammoth cave in Kentucky or Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, this dry and dusty wild cave sure has plenty of history to go around and is a hidden gem in the vast desert populated with our Sky Islands.

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