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Finding Buried Treasure
Leo W. Banks
June 01, 1992
In 1974 two Arizona cavers made quite a discovery. The public will get a look in 1995
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June 01, 1992

Finding Buried Treasure

In 1974 two Arizona cavers made quite a discovery. The public will get a look in 1995

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As remarkable as the discovery itself was, it was overshadowed by what followed—an arduous, sometimes comical, 14-year period before Xanadu's purchase by the state as a commercial attraction. During that time Tufts and Tenen devoted a significant portion of their time and money to the cave.

"People always ask me if I'd want to find a cave like this again," says Tufts. "I don't know. It was a terrific opportunity to do something beneficial, but there's been a lot of agony, too. It's like having a kid. We never dreamed of the responsibility we were taking on."

Fearing that Xanadu would be ruined by visitors if its existence was revealed too soon after its discovery, Tufts and Tenen decided to keep the cave a secret. But they also knew that rediscovery was inevitable. The cave's entrance was only half a mile from Arizona Highway 90. Looking down the hill from the entrance, they could see cars whizzing past them.

They decided that the best way to preserve the cave was to develop it as a commercial attraction. "It's a paradoxical notion," says Tufts. "But we thought if it had economic value, someone would supervise it and protect it."

Tufts and Tenen spent several years devising various strategies. Eventually they approached James and Lois Kartchner, the owners of the property on which the cave was located, hoping the family would fund Xanadu's development.

The Kartchners live in St. David, Ariz., near the cave site. The family has owned the property since 1941. James, who has since died, was a retired school superintendent and biology teacher, and a devout Mormon. He and his wife, Lois, had 10 children of their own and two that they adopted. Six of their children are medical doctors and one has a Ph.D.

The family didn't know of the cave's existence until Tufts and Tenen told them about it in 1978. A short time later the cavers led James, then 78, and five of his sons on a tour of their discovery. The Kartchners were flabbergasted.

"We were in complete disbelief at the size and beauty of it," says Max Kartchner, an anesthesiologist who lives in Benson. "It was almost a sacred experience, so exquisite and out of this world."

With the Kartchners considering investing in the cave themselves, Tufts and Tenen went to work on the family's behalf, researching such technical matters as building trails in a cave, rigging lighting and working with dynamite. But the two cavers wanted their efforts kept secret. So when Tenen, using money from a joint bank account he and Tufts had set up with the Kartchners, hired Jan and Orion Knox, a couple from Austin, Texas, to map the cave, he used the name Mike Lewis as an alias. He used the same name when he attended two conventions of the National Caves Association, a group that assists those interested in developing caves as commercial operations. He also quit his job as a truck driver for Hostess baked goods in Tucson and worked for five months in 1979 as a volunteer at Caverns of Sonora in Texas and at Luray Caverns in Virginia, both times using the name Mike Lewis.

Tenen never gave away his identity, not even to the man he roomed with at Caverns of Sonora. When trusted friends called him there, they always asked for Mike. He paid for things in cash to avoid using checks and credit cards that bore his real name.

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