The Breakfast Club

An Affiliate of the Arizona Pilots Assn



The Knife & Fork



Breakfast Club Visits Benson/Kartchner Caverns




12 Mar 2011

by Warren McIlvoy



One of the neat things about flying around Arizona and visiting many small and remote towns that dot the state, is that we get to see a wide variety of terrain and flora.  On our most recent venture to Benson, Arizona, was that we got to see what is under a small part of that scenery.  Kartchner Caverns State Park is one of the “crown jewels” of the state park system.  Benson, Arizona is unique in its own right but with the addition of a side trip, Benson is a must see location for any pilot or group looking for an interesting place to have that “$400 ham & eggs” and to see some truly interesting underground scenery.


Our early Saturday morning departure out of Deer Valley Airport was in an easterly direction to GRINE Intersection that is just outside the Phoenix Class B airspace and then direct to Benson.  I often use this routing when flying to most any destination in southeastern Arizona as it offers a plethora of scenery that includes mountain ridges to the east and mostly flat desert to the west.  I have applied the nick-name of “copper row” to this route as it parallels a multitude of small, historic copper towns that have contributed volumes of history to the Arizona legacy.  A little further to the south, we will travel just to the west of San Manuel that once had a smelter that serviced the copper industry and to the west we will rub elbows with the Santa Catalina Mountains and Redington Pass that separates the Catalina Mountain and the Rincon Mountains.  After passing over the last of the Rincons, Benson is a mere 10-miles to the south and along I-10.


The last turn-off on runway 28 at Benson was notamed as being closed for repairs so if you missed the midfield turn, you would have to back-taxi on the runway and cause possibly delays for other traffic in the pattern.  The best choices, since the wind was calm anyway, was to land on runway 10 and just make the first turn-off to the ramp.  A number of aircraft were already there but parking was no problem.  Weeks prior to our arrival, I had spoken with the folks at Southwestern Aviation regarding reservations for their two cars as well as contacting the head of the Benson Visitors’ Bureau who had committed the use of a larger van.


Not all of the folks who were in attendance would be taking the cave tour following breakfast so I had to commit one of the cars for their return to the airport after breakfast in town and the other car would be used for the cave tour folks.  The van turned-out to be a van used for transporting wheelchairs so seating was a bit limited but there was ample “floor” space to accommodate a few folks whose outside view would be limited to the area just below the window sill. 


Breakfast this morning would be held at the Horseshoe Café in beautiful downtown Benson.  This would be a new place for us and it came highly recommended by the Visitors’ Bureau.  They said that the Horseshoe was housed in a portion of the old Greyhound Bus terminal and that the parking lot on the west side of the building is where the buses would park to unload and reload their passengers.  Upon entering the restaurant, the first thing that you would notice is the nostalgic appearance of an old-time diner.  There were two smaller eating areas immediately to your left as you entered and this is where we gathered for breakfast.  We had two long tables that accommodated 12-people each with 6 on a side.  There was not a lot of room between the two rows so it involved some coordination when arriving and departing the dining area.  It took a little while to get our food orders and we were also working against a time constraint as we had a time that we had to leave for the drive to the caverns.  As such, it did not allow for too much conversation after our meal before we had to leave.  We were advised that there was some road construction on the most direct route to I-10 so we took a more roundabout route through town and connected to State Rt 90 and headed south. 


Karchner Caverns State Park was established as an official addition to State Parks System on 27 April 1988.  In November 1974, Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts were exploring the limestone hills at the eastern base of the Whetstone Mountains. They were looking “for a cave no one had ever found” and found it. The two kept the cave a secret until February 1978 when they told the property owners, James and Lois Kartchner, about their awesome discovery. Since unprotected caves can be seriously damaged by unregulated use, they knew the cave had to be protected. Tenen and Tufts spent several years looking into the possibility of developing the cave themselves. Some members of the Kartchner family lived in Tucson and were very impressed with the development and operation of Catalina State Park by Arizona State Parks. They decided to approach State Parks to see if the agency was interested in acquiring this outstanding resource”. 


As you can see, it took 14-years for this gem to go from complete secrecy to being added to the park system.  It took another 16-years for the opening of caverns to be viewed by the public.  I can recall seeing several incidents on the evening news where the State Legislature had threatened the State Parks System with the cutting of their funding as the budget for the development of this gem ran well over initial cost estimates.  But once you have had the opportunity to tour the caverns, you will most certainly come away with the overwhelming conclusion that the park system did the job right.  You can read more detail of this saga by clicking on this link: Kartchner Caverns History.  This is a “living cave” and great care is extended to make sure that nothing brought into the cave will affect the ongoing ecosystems that are at work here.  This is, as far as I know, the only handicapped accessible cave in the entire country.  At the end of a typical day of tours, the evening crews go into the cave and wash-down the trails and wipe the stainless steel hand rails to remove any micro-organisms that have been left by the thousands of hands that have touched them.  If any formation that protrudes into the area of the trail, is accidently touched by a visitor, the guide marks the spot with a small flag and the night crew will treat the spot as part of their evening duties.  Even entering the caverns has set protocols.   You enter through a series of “airlocks” and upon entering one lock; the next door is not opened until the first entry door is securely closed.  If all of this sounds a bit extreme, well it is.  The park guides are stewards of this crown jewel and they intend to keep the caverns as near to pristine as they possibly can.


As our group was too large for a single tour, and to help coordinate our departure time as close as possible, some folks took the Big Room tour and another group took the Thrown Room tour.  Since the spacing was only 15-minutes apart, we were all able to rejoin fairly quickly when the tours had finished.  Following the mandatory “pit stops”, we loaded-up the car and van for the return trip to the Benson Airport.


It is with the deepest appreciation that I thank the folks at Southwestern Aviation ( and the Benson Visitors Bureau for their assistance in making this Breakfast Club event possible.


The Benson/Kartchner Gang


  • Warren & Jeri-Ann McIlvoy in 93MB, BC-1 & 1.5
  • Rich Kupiec and Austin Erwin and Kris and Suzanne Bjornson in 6693M, BC-47 & 86
  • Larry Jensen in 14LJ, BC-65
  • Adam Rosenberg and Mike Ames in 8377W, BC-77
  • Doug Doehrman and Libby Vance in 428DW
  • Richard & Marcia Azimov and Paul and Marnee Solon in 6864Q, BC-2
  • Sam Foote, Tami Tripp, Nancy Shore, Charleigh Clme, and Richard Spiegel in 901KA, BC-3 & 53
  • Larry & Debbi Berger in 7077V, BC-66
  • Jim & Debra Abraham in 305L


What’s Next?


Our April Breakfast Club event will see us flying over the Grand Canyon and parking at Marble Canyon (L41) with breakfast at the Marble Canyon Lodge & Trading Post.  After breakfast, we will take the short hike down to the old Navajo Bridge that spans the deep canyon and the Colorado River.  In May, we will be doing the first of our two overnight events and traveling to Henderson Executive Airport where we will have breakfast at the Landing Café on the second floor of the terminal building.  We will be staying at the Platinum Hotel in Las Vegas with a dinner location TBD.



To view photos of this event, just click on the Benson/Kartchner Link


Please note: This link may not work with older versions of FireFox.