ILX Drive: Colossal Cave in Vail, Arizona

Odometer (Legend):  526,888


Odometer (ILX):  53,722


Trip Distance:  287 Miles


Let’s go underground!  This tagline from Roadside America best describes my Acura ILX destination this past weekend:

Shelter for Indians, possible site of lost bank robbery gold, and a name that perhaps raises expectations too high.

That’s about the gist of this offbeat landmark cave about 22 miles from Tucson, Arizona near the teeny town of Vail.  On a rainy Sunday morning, a few friends showed up with this wide assortment of luxury vehicles.

  • Jack’s 2002 Lexus IS300
  • Michael’s 1997 BMW 740iL
  • Ryan’s 2006 Acura TL
  • David’s 2000 Volkswagen Jetta (not pictured)


The rain didn’t keep us from undertaking a freeway drive to Tucson on Interstate 10 eastbound from the Phoenix area.  I was glad to have my new Michelin Pilots installed on the ILX.  Traction was good and I had plenty of control.  Ryan rode with me, Jack and David took the IS300, and Michael and Alex took the 740.


About halfway to Tucson, the rain finally let up a little and we made a fuel stop at Picacho Peak.  Michael’s 7-series is in phenomenal shape for being 16 years old and having over 1/4 million miles on it.  He takes a lot of pride in his BMW and it shows.


The ILX only took about 10 gallons of fuel to fill it up, and we were on our way yet again.


Soon, we knew we were getting close when we saw signs announcing our arrival near Exit 279.


We made it!


The attendant at the ‘ranger station’ collected $5 per vehicle for our entry into Colossal Cave Mountain Park.


We were welcomed with a fun, twisty one-lane road as we made our way toward the parking area.


The park offered a lot of amenities that we didn’t explore, including a museum, picnic areas, horseback trail rides, and a butterfly garden.  Ryan admired the ILX design and said that his favorite features were the steering wheel design & the seat comfort.


Nice looking lineup here.  The BMW and Lexus are chrome-free, while the front end of the ILX has plenty of “bling,” especially thanks to those new grille inserts I added to the front bumper with a chrome strip on them.


We walked directly to the gift shop to pick up our tour tickets for $13 per person.  This was the view that surrounded us in the parking lot:  Beautiful desert landscape dotted with saguaro cacti.  It made me wonder what it would’ve been like to be the first person to discover a cave in this area.  That’s what happened in 1879 to a man named Solomon Lick.  He was searching for stray cattle and discovered the opening to the cave.


We used this map to orientate ourselves with the various attractions.


As it turns out, there are various tours that can be taken of Colossal Cave.  The blue line was our ‘basic’ tour which lasted about 45 minutes.  There are other tours offered that are much more involved, including one that requires scaling a ladder and wearing a hard hat.  We didn’t feel quite that ambitious.


Michael and Alex looked exceptionally excited to be there.  The opening to the cave was once much smaller than it is today; it required crawling on hands and knees when it was originally discovered.


We climbed up and down various sets of steep stairs while we were inside the cave.  During the early 1930’s, the Civilian Conservation Corps created a pathway through the key areas of the cave and installed a handrail wherever necessary.  Lights have been placed in various places to illuminate the way.


Colossal is a “dry/dead” cave, which means that it’s no longer growing new stalactites (growing from the ceiling) or stalagmites (growing from the floor).  We weren’t allowed to touch the formations with our hands.  Those formations had took thousands of years to form, and the oils from human skin can cause permanent damage.


This formation was called the “silent waterfall.”  It’s easy to tell that this used to flow heavily with water that deposited calcium which over time created permanent rock icicles.


The cave was used between 900 and 1450 AD by the native Indian tribes of the area.  They left many remnants of their existence, including tools, weaponry, and other artifacts.  Parts of the ceiling show smoke stains, so we also know that they built fires inside.


Our total hike was about a mile and it was pretty easy to navigate with the help of our guide.  We had to duck our heads and watch our step several times.  The cave temperature averages 70 degrees year-round so it was comfortable, albeit humid.  Jack looked happy to be there.  “Go Detroit Lions!” he says.


The below landmark within the cave is called the “witch.”  The long, pointed rock resembles a nose, while the head clearly shows an eye socket and open mouth.  It is said that early cave adventurers used this formation to identify their location.


This device was measuring various conditions within the cave including temperature & humidity.


Within the cave also lies a mine shaft.  This was used to extract bat guano during the late 1800’s and also later used by the CCC to haul in the flagstone rocks that were assembled to make the floor that we walked on.


Here, I was standing in the “balcony.”  There was a 40-50 foot drop off behind me.  Early spelunkers had to lower themselves down into that area using ropes, but later a more developed trail was created that goes to those deeper levels of the cave.  The lowest point of our tour was about 70 feet below ground level.


When we exited the cave, our eyes were blinded by the sunlight.  They were blinded even further when my friend Will pulled up in his absolutely stunning pearl white 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe.  I had to get my sunglasses out of the ILX before I could even open my eyes fully to look at it.


Will’s recent acquisition replaces his former “Red Jewel” Camaro SS.  The CTS-V is powered by a monster 6.2 liter Eaton-supercharged V8 engine delivering 556 horsepower.  Yes, you read that right.  This Cadillac has over double as many horses as my Acura ILX does.  Can you say “giddy up”?  I won’t challenge him to a car tug-of-war anytime soon.


Starting at $65k, the pricetag on one of these is also high enough to buy two Acura ILXs.


Pictured here are the car’s glossy obsidian black center console and “glide up” touch-screen navigation system.  In here, Will has access to a 10 GB hard drive for music storage, iPod connectivity, pause-and-play live radio, integrated rear vision camera and Bose surround sound system.  Entertainment galore.


This car even has a G-meter to measure and remember lateral acceleration!



Without even planning it, we had lined up the cars in descending order by horsepower.

  • Cadillac CTS-V:  6.2L V8 – 556 horsepower
  • BMW 740iL:  4.4L V8 – 282 horsepower
  • Lexus IS300:  3.0L I6 – 215 horsepower
  • Acura ILX:  2.4L I4 – 201 horsepower

We’d worked up an appetite after our underground adventure.  Lunch was at a place on Oracle Road in Tucson called Guero Canelo.  It’s famous for hot dogs, but the “caramelo” (basically a quesadilla w/ meat in it) was absolutely delicious.


Headed back to the Phoenix area, Ryan and I had a Legend sedan sighting at Tangerine Road.  This is a 1991 Golden Glow Pearl LS.  It’s a rare one-year-only color.


Michael’s BMW turned over 280,000 miles just east of Tucson on Interstate 10.


By the time we got back to Scottsdale, the blue skies were back.  Ryan’s 2006 Acura TL was looking fantastic and he takes great pride in keeping it that way.


Thanks to all who joined for the road trip, either in person or via the blog!

6 Responses to “ILX Drive: Colossal Cave in Vail, Arizona”

  1. I really want a CTS-V but the price isn’t right for this guy. The cave tour looks like its a nice afternoon adventure.

    • Dave, yeah the CTS-V is a really sweet ride! It had a nice rumble at idle. I only wish I’d asked Will to take me for a spin! The cave tour was one of those things I wanted to say “been there, done that,” and now I’ll probably never need to go back 🙂

  2. Tyson, you didn’t get a chance to ride/drive the CTS-V? That’s honestly the only American car I’d be interested in if money were no object. Loved the photos and the Colossal Cave. No idea that was around there. Impressive how you keep digging up new adventures in AZ…keep it up!

    • Jason, it’s true – the more places in AZ I go, the more I realize there’s yet to explore! I’m excited to show you the eastern part of the state when we do our Coronado Trail drive next month.

  3. Tyson, I’ll be up soon enough to give you a ride… maybe I’ll let you drive it too 🙂

    • Oooh, sounds like a plan! Hey, btw, I’m heading to Tucson area on Sunday with a few people to see the Pima Air & Space Museum – would you care to meet up while we’re there?

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