ambience: crowd inside air lock, airlock door shutting
We’re about to visit one of the country’s newest subterranean tourist attractions. As a heavy steel door shuts, we’re being closed inside an airlock at the entrance to a cave. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
“Does anybody know what a conservation chamber is?”
That’s tour guide Conny Despain taking us into Kartchner Caverns in Arizona, through a series of conservation chambers, each with a set of heavy freezer-type doors.
“In order to keep the cave alive we do have airlocks that are put in in such a way that we can keep the humidity up, we can keep the temperature at approximately what it was before we opened it, and keep all this moisture going.”
Park Manager Dick Ferdon tells us that Kartchner Caverns are “alive” because the cave is very wet. The formations are still growing and changing, and park officials are trying to keep them that way by protecting them from the dry desert air outside. There’s also a misting system throughout the caverns, to counter the effect of all the warm bodies that walk through everyday. Again, tour guide Conny Despain.
“As you’re going through the cave today, you’re going to hear a misting system. We take through about 500 people a day, that’s taking a lot of humidity. Because each and every one of you, when you walk out today, your clothes are going to be a little damp, you’re taking that out. So you’re replacing it? So we’re replacing it, and that misting system goes 24 hours a day.”
The humidity controls are part of an ambitious experiment under way at Kartchner Caverns — to see whether people can visit a living cave without destroying it in the process. We’ll hear more about that in our next program.
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