REVIEWS

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Friday, March 22, 2013

The Cave God



Lots of people have heard of Carlsbad Caverns and Mammoth Cave, but few would suspect that Arizona, home to four of the great deserts in North America, would have a wet, living cave that is still making formations. That's because most people don't know that Arizona was once covered in shallow seas that formed layers of limestone, or that our desert soil, so rich in minerals, also has pockets of underground water.

Two people who did know these things were Randy Tufts and Gary Tenen, amateur cavers who followed a hunch. Kartchner Caverns, by Neil Miller, tells the story of how these two men discovered and preserved one of the great natural wonders of Arizona. The story is full of twists and turns, much like the cave itself.

We learn that caving clubs in Arizona are a secretive bunch for very good reasons: caves, like fossils, Indian artifacts, and petroglyphs, are the targets of considerable greed and destruction. This book documents some of that, illustrating the ticking clock that threatened Kartchner Caverns once it was discovered.

Yet even Tufts and Tenen were surprised by just how long that clock ran – 25 years slipped by while they plotted, planned, and recruited allies, including the family that owned the land. At any point in this story, someone could have revealed the secret and doomed the cave. Why this never quite happened is the reason this book is just as much a thriller as it is the biography of a cave and its champions.

Randy Tufts and Gary Tenen were two very different people who were united in their love of a cave and their passion to both share and preserve it. Their differences could have driven them apart and doomed the cave, but instead those differences balanced their partnership and made them an excellent team. My take on the situation after reading this book is that there were some essential qualities that made it possible for Kartchner Caverns to become a state park: passion, dedication, and patience as infinite as the patience of a cave that turns dripping water into beautiful formations, ion by ion.

The book is lavishly illustrated with photos of the cave and the people who loved it. It also contains a timeline and a bibliography. Deftly blending science with Arizona history, Kartchner Caverns, like the place itself, is something you'll want to visit again and again.


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