|Birth: ||Aug. 17, 1948|
|Death: ||Apr. 1, 2002|
The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson, April 2, 2002
Caverns' finder Tufts dies
Randy Tufts, the co-discoverer of Kartchner Caverns who helped keep the underground wonder a secret for 14 years to guarantee its preservation, died Monday. He was 53. Tufts died at University Medical Center after a long battle with the rare blood disease known as myelodysplastic disorder syndrome, according to a statement issued by friends and family members.
"In my opinion, he was the most outstanding person I've ever know, a man of great dignity, honor and integrity, plus he had a wonderful outrageous sense of humor," said Tufts' wife, Ericha Scott. "I feel very blessed to have been his wife. I wish I had 100 more years with him."
It was 1967 when Tufts, then 18, first stumbled across the sinkhole in the Whetstone Mountains southwest of Benson that would eventually lead to the discovery of the caverns, which have been ranked in the top 10 worldwide.
That first trip would prove fruitless, but Tufts returned in 1974 with his friend and then fellow UA student Gary Tenen. The two gained entrance into the caverns after squirming through several cracks that eventually emptied into a series of corridors and rooms.
They were so impressed with the mineral formations in the cave that they decided to keep their discovery a secret to ensure the cavern would not be overrun by vandals or throngs of curious cavers.
Four years later, Tufts and Tenen told the Kartchner family, who owned the land, about their discovery. They all agreed to keep the caverns a secret while they worked on plans to make sure the caves would be protected.
After working to find a way to preserve their discovery, Tufts and Tenen broke their vow of silence in 1988 after the state of Arizona purchased the property from the Kartchner family with plans to protect it. The caverns opened as Kartchner Caverns State Park in November 1999. About 180,000 people tour the caves yearly.
"I think he felt that they had a unique responsibility laid on their shoulders, serendipitously, to preserve the caverns for posterity, so all of our grandchildren can see it the same way we see it today," said Dr. Mark Kartchner, a Tucson surgeon.
In his last years alive, Tufts continued to protect the natural wonder he helped introduced to the world, even as he fought for his own life. He and Tenen were critical of Arizona State Parks management, saying officials weren't doing enough to monitor the caves and investigate a warming and drying trend.
Tufts also waged a public fight against a developer's proposal to put a $40 million resort a half-mile from the caverns, a move some cave experts feared would pollute Kartchner. The state stopped the project by condemning the property.
Tenen said Monday that while the discovery of Kartchner Caverns is synonymous with Tufts' name, there was much more to the hardworking man who fought for the caverns' preservation until his health prevented continuing.
"There's a lot more depth to Randy than Kartchner," Tenen said. "Randy had an incredible love for people. I think that the Kartchner thing gets a lot of notoriety, but if you look at the hundreds of people he touched, that was really his legacy."
Tufts was born in Tucson and graduated from Palo Verde High School. He went on to graduate in 1972 from the University of Arizona, majoring in geology and serving as student association president. While at the university, Tufts helped create and lead the Arizona Student Services Corp., which founded several student businesses to provide income for student services.
Tufts embarked on a 12-year career in public policy after leaving the UA. He helped lead the grass-roots organization Citizens Take the Initiative and helped found and direct Tucson Public Power, which challenged proposed rate increases of former utility Tucson Gas and Electric Co.
During the late 1990s, Tufts turned his attention to conducting research as a UA planetary scientist studying Europa, one of Jupiter's moons. He is credited with discovering the 600-mile San Andreas-like fault "Astypalaea" on Europa. Tufts earned a Ph.D. in geosciences at the UA at age 50.
He was diagnosed with MDS two years ago, and in November 2000 he received a bone-marrow transplant from his only sibling, Judy Rodin. The transplant took, and Tufts began to recover. Then in late January of this year, his body unexpectedly rejected the transplant and he fell ill.
Besides his wife and sister, Tufts is survived by his mother, Carol Tufts, of Tucson. Memorial donations may be made to the Tucson Light the Night Walk of the Desert Mountain States Chapter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Suite E-100, 2990 E. Northern Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85028.
From discovery to a state park
1967: Randy Tufts and some friends discover a sinkhole outside the caverns, but conclude it doesn't lead anywhere.
1974: Tufts returns with Gary Tenen to the sinkhole. They crawl in and discover the cave.
1978: Tufts and Tenen share their discovery with the landowners, the Kartchner family.
Mid-1980s: The discoverers quietly look for a public entity able to protect the caverns. In 1985, Gov. Bruce Babbitt tours the cave toward that end.
1988: The state of Arizona, with the help of The Nature Conservancy and others, acquires the cave.
Early 1990s: Creating tunnels in and out of the cave proves to be more expensive and time-consuming than first thought, delaying the opening date by years.
Nov. 12, 1999: Kartchner Caverns opens to the general public.
September 2001: Arizona State Parks says it will stop a proposed luxury resort and spa from being built next to the caverns by condemning the resort property.
February 2002: State park officials give preview tours of the lower caverns, which could be open to public tours by the end of the year.
"There's a little sinkhole over on that hill, but it doesn't go anywhere."
- Recalling what he used to tell friends about an underground opening he found in the Whetstone Mountains.
"We're passionate about preserving the cave for future generations. We want people to see it hundreds of years from now in essentially the same condition as we found it."
Peter A. Tufts (1924 - 1992)
Carolyn Walker Tufts (1924 - 2009)
Cremated, Ashes scattered.
Specifically: Kartchner Caverns State Park, Cochise Co., Arizona
Created by: Cori Hoag
Record added: Apr 02, 2002
Find A Grave Memorial# 6311453