A Millennia Ago
Geologically speaking, the Colossal Cave system is a relative newcomer to the neighborhood. About 300 million years ago much of the American Southwest was covered by a vast sea populated by giant sharks, tetrapods and other primitive amphibians. Eventually the waters receded. Organic material left behind dried out and was compressed to form the limestone you see today. Then 80 million years ago the heaving earth thrust limestone and granite together to create new landforms such as the Rincon Mountains where Colossal Cave is located. After eons of water erosion, the Cave reached a dry state, and today Colossal Cave is one of the largest dry caves in north America — a snapshot of the formations as they were created millennia ago.
Circa 900 AD
In spite of the desert’s forbidding nature, life has survived, and even thrived here. The earliest inhabitants of the region were the Hohokam, a prehistoric culture who called Arizona home for more than 1,200 years. Subsistence farming was made possible through their highly advanced network of irrigation canals that at its apex stretched more than 150 miles. Archeologists have discovered evidence that the Hohokam used the Cave as temporary shelter as early as 900AD.
The Wild West
Westward expansion in the 19th century attracted ranchers and homesteaders. Solomon Lick was among them. He rediscovered the Cave in 1879 while searching for stray cattle. The Cave became legendary when train robbers used it as a hideout after pulling a job. But there were riches inside that the robbers did not appreciate: Bat guano. As fertilizer it was a valuable commodity. In 1905 a tunnel was excavated to mine the guano until it ran out. Next, a boom in Cave tourism was about to begin.
Civilian Conservation Corps
Just as awareness of the Cave began to grow disaster struck: The Great Depression. Ironically this economic catastrophe triggered the Park’s growth. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was created to provide jobs to the unemployed in public works projects. Early development of the Park was done by the CCC. Their initial efforts included building the Park roads along with lighting and walkways in the Cave. The stone building that is now home to the Café and Cave Shop was built by the CCC. Today Colossal Cave Mountain Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.