Colossal Cave Mountain Park

This article authored by: Catherine Hallberg

This week Rob & I were treated to a tour of Colossal Cave Mountain Park by Martie Maierhauser. She and her husband Joe have been sole proprietors of the sub-lease from Pima County since 1956.

Comprised of Colossal Cave and La Posta Quemada  ( Burnt Station)Ranch, this 2700 acre park has a long history. As far back as 900 A.D. the Cave was used by the Hohokam Indians as well as other local tribes. La Posta Quemada Ranch served as a stagecoach stop for the National Mail Stage Line in the mid 1870’s and gained its name when the stagecoach station burned down.

Solomon Lick built the Mountain Springs Hotel and Stage Station near the old location in 1878, the present site of La Posta Quemada Ranch’s Mountain Springs Grove. Solomon also discovered the entrance to Colossal Cave and did extensive explorations of what is now the 3 miles of Cave tunnels open to the public.

There is evidence that in 1887, the Cave served as a hideout for several train robbers. They committed two robberies in nearby  Pantano, and a third in El Paso where they were finally caught. This is the basis for the “Bandit Legend” told on the Cave tours about the lawmen who were in hot pursuit of train robbers and saw them enter the Cave and staked out the entry only to find out the wily outlaws had escaped out the back entrance and were causing more chaos in Wilcox. A shootout took place and the “good guys” emerged victorious.

Frank J. Schmidt filed mining claims on the land occupied by the Cave in 1918, sublet the land surrounding it from the Empire Ranch and made an extensive survey of the Cave. He began guided tours which consisted of providing guests with ropes and lanterns and leading them through the unlit passageways. Having toured the lit version of these tunnels, I can only imagine how perilous this “tour” must have been.

The biggest improvements to Colossal Cave Mountain Park were made by the Civilian Conservation Corps (C.C.C.) from 1934-1938 when they installed handrails, lighting and improved the Cave trails making them more “user friendly”. In addition they constructed the limestone block headquarters  buildings and an historic adobe building Colossal Cave, Vail Arizonaused as their camp office which remains today along with some of their equipment and memorabilia.

Pima County leased Colossal Cave from the State Land Department and in 1956 Joe Maierhauser became sole proprietor of the sub-lease. In 1966 John S. Sullivan bought La Posta Quemada Ranch and erected the headquarters house which is now occupied by the museum.

Over the years, various movies and TV shows have been filmed at the Cave, but the Ranch and Cave are now united as Colossal Cave Mountain Park where visitors can tour the Cave, go on trail rides, visit the Ranch Headquarters, Butterfly and Desert Tortoise enclosures, eat at the Desert Spoon Fresh-Air Cafe , or take advantage of the picnic sites and just hang out and enjoy the beautiful scenery and wildlife.

Rob and I were so impressed that we’ve arranged for our Long Realty Office at Houghton SE to have a cookout there. It’s a great place for the whole family to spend an afternoon. With a $5 per car entry fee and affordable Cave tour rates, you don’t need to spend a fortune to have a good time and see one of largest historic dry Caves in the US.

Catherine Hallberg

Rob and Catherine Hallberg are Associate Brokers with Long Realty, a Berkshire-Hathaway Affiliate and Southern Arizona’s largest Brokerage. Since 2008, they have been ranked in the top 5% to 8% of all U.S. REALTORS®. Send Rob and Catherine an email  for a fast response to your questions; for an even faster response, Call (520) 407-8667.

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