State and national parks and monuments nearby are a great place to immerse yourself in nature, and are home to some significant research and conservation projects.
Kartchner Caverns State Park, discovered in 1974, then deeded to the state for park development in 1988. The park opened to the public in 1999, making it one of Arizona’s newest state parks.
Kartchner Caverns features two major caverns open to the public for guided tours. The Throne Room contains one of the world’s longest soda straw stalactites (more than 21 feet long) and a 58-foot high column called Kubla Kahn. The Big Room contains the world’s most extensive formation of brushite moonmilk. The Big Room is closed from mid-April through mid-October each year as it is also a nursery roost for cave bats.
As a research site, scientists study and document the biology and ecology of macro-invertebrates occurring in this living cave. The research provides information to Arizona State Parks and supports a science-based approach to management and preservation. Click here to learn more about the research projects underway at this national treasure.
Visiting the Park
Kartchner Caverns State Park is open all year. Other activities include camping, hiking, bird and wildlife watching, and picnicking. If you would like to tour the caves, it is best to make your reservations online in advance as tour size is limited. Click here for a map.
Coronado National Memorial
Coronado National Memorial, just minutes from downtown Sierra Vista, offers a wealth of opportunities to learn more about our natural world. The 4,750-acre memorial is abundant in plant and animal life, as well as geologic features that shape the ecosystem. At last count, 167 different species of birds were spotted there, along with 59 mammals and 29 reptiles and amphibians. Unique plant species was tallied at 645, more than 2.5 times the total of the other categories!
History buffs will appreciate the hike to Coronado Cave, rumored to have been used by Geronimo (be sure to bring water and flashlights). And the influences of 16th Century Conquistadors have left cultural traces on today’s Arizona. But predating the Apache and Spaniards—by several millennia—is the geologic history of the area, which began about 1.7 billion years ago when Arizona was formed. The oldest exposed rocks in the memorial are from the Pennsylvanian-Permian age Naco Group (319-251 million years ago). Formed by seas, volcanos, subduction, uplifting and subsequent erosion, the resulting terrain became the Madrean Sky Island Archipelago, a topography unique to southeastern Arizona and northwestern Mexico. The Sky Islands include five distinct climate zones and are responsible for the evolution of flora and fauna species unique to each island in the formation.
Visiting the Memorial
Coronado National is open every day except Christmas Day, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Be sure to stop by the memorial visitor center for exhibits, a film, bookstore, and more. Click here for a map.
Chiricahua National Monument
Called a wonderland of rocks, Chiricahua National Monument is an 11,985-acre site with an 8-mile paved scenic drive and 17-miles of day-use hiking trails.
The park encompasses grasslands, riparian areas, marshlands, and soaring rhyolite columns. The varied habitat attracts an extraordinary collection of animal species, including the western box turtle, black bear, whitetail deer, reptiles, and birds. In all, there are 71 species of mammals, 46 species of reptiles, 8 species of amphibians, and 171 species of birds call Chiricahua National Monument home. But most noticeably is the rock pinnacles, rising hundreds of feet into the air, many balancing on a small base.
As you drive to the monument’s overlook, you’ll pass through lower grasslands dotted with cacti and succulents, then pass through riparian vegetation and Arizona cypress, sycamore, oaks and juniper. As you gain elevation, you’ll see manzanita and encinal oak woodlands, and finally high conifer forests. Regardless of elevation, wildflowers abound, bursting with a spectacular array of color in late spring and summer.
Visiting the Monument
Chiricahua National Monument is open all year. Camping is available in the Bonita Canyon Campground. Click here for a map.