SAINT DAVID, Ariz. (KSAZ) - It’s been more than 40 years since Gary Tenan and Randy Tufts discovered Kartchner Caverns in 1974.
Unfortunately, Randy died after a battle with a bone marrow disorder in 2002.
His dear friend Gary still lives in Tucson and has a day job that some would call surprising. He owns three Alphagraphics locations in Southern Arizona!
“We do lots of marketing pieces, lots of direct mail, newsletters,” Gary told FOX 10’s Liz Kotalik.
He got into the printing business because he “had to make a living”, but he sees some similarities between what he’s doing now and his passion underground.
“What I do every day is the same thing when I go down to the cave,” Gary said. “I try to create that feeling of pride, of craft, of making the visitors feel special...here and there...the customer always comes first.”
Gary travels about 40 minutes to Benson to visit Kartchner Caverns State Park about once a month. Most times, he stays anonymous; quietly watching visitors make their way through.
“I like to hear what people are saying…What kind of comments they're making, What they like, what they don't like. What they see, what they miss.”
Other times, he makes his presence known and answers questions people have about the cave and the remarkable time between discovery and its public opening.
“It was intense,” Gary remembered. “At that time, we were caving every weekend. Members of the Kartchner family, Bureau of Land Management, people from the Legislature… it was a continual process of educating people about the resource and what we could do with it.”
Those agencies, along with Governor Bruce Babbitt and the Nature Conservatory, all kept the caverns a secret as they worked to figure out ways to keep the cave intact but also accessible.
“There were so many good people who kept that secret because they saw how important Kartchner could be to the state. No one wanted to be the one to mess it up.”
It wasn’t until 1988 that the caves were finally made public, and today, thousands of people travel through them, with Gary not far away.
“Today, the cave is well managed. Arizona state parks is doing a great job and I get the gratification of going out there and seeing people inspired.”
If you’d like to visit the caverns: https://azstateparks.com/kartchner/cave-tours/tours