The Kartchner Caverns are still alive, forming slow and steady over eons as water drips and falls into a secret world beneath the Whetstone Mountains, about 40 miles east of Tucson . The State of Arizona spent 11 years and more than $30 million developing Kartchner Caverns State Park , and it shows. It’s really one of the must-sees of a visit to Southern Arizona.
The Huachuca Mountains, rising high above the charmless military town of Sierra Vista , home to a U.S. Army intelligence center , offer sky island forests , cool mountain hiking trails , subtropical birds  found few other places in the nation, and some of the longest, clearest views of the borderlands you’ll find.
Ranging in elevation from 3,934 feet at the base to 9,455 feet at the top of Miller Peak, the Huachucas are another of Southern Arizona’s signature sky island ranges. You’ll see the common transition from semidesert grasslands at the base, up into arid scrub, onto mixed oak forests, and all the way up to cool ponderosa pine forests in the higher reaches. There are dozens of trails in the range, and labyrinths of dirt roads that lead deep into the outback.
Both of these areas can be visited as day trips, or even half-day trips, from Tucson , but if you want to spend some time hiking and exploring the mountains, there are a few excellent bed-and-breakfast-style inns  nearby. The restaurant scene  here is rather bleak, with the usual interstate-side chains and sprawlville corporate eateries (especially in Sierra Vista). I’d recommend bringing along food with you in the car, especially if you’re going to be driving around the dirt backroads in the Huachucas or hiking at the Ramsey Canyon Preserve  (and even if you’re just going to the caverns).
If you’re looking to put together a backpacking or camping adventure in the Huachuca range, talk to the staff at the Coronado National Forest Sierra Vista Ranger District (5990 S. Hwy. 92, Hereford, 520/378-0311). The Benson Tourist Center at the Railway Depot (249 E. 4th St., 520/586-2842) has a lot of local information, including historical displays and guides to the area’s lesser-known sights.
There are a few different routes you can take to Kartchner Caverns and the Huachuca Mountains, but there’s really only one way to get there: by car. Every now and again you might see a skinny bearded man pedaling slowly along the highway, weighted down with packs and bags, but the vast majority of day-trippers take their own car—or their own motorcycle, typically a late-model, possibly rented Harley piloted by a gray-haired retiree who was born to be wild but didn’t know it until just a few months ago.
The easiest way to get to the caverns is to take I-10 east of Tucson  to the Highway 90 exit, then head south on Highway 90 until you see the entrance to the park. From the park to the mountains, take Highway 90 south into Sierra Vista , then head for the hills.
For a longer, more scenic route, take I-10 east to the Highway 83 exit, then follow 83 south through the grasslands on the east side of the Santa Rita Mountains. Turn east on Highway 82, then north or south on Highway 90, depending on whether you’re headed for the caves or the peaks.