|Entrance to the lava tubes|
Thursday we took the scenic drive north up to Flagstaff to check out one of my many Arizona "bucket list" items, the Lava River Cave. The area around Flagstaff is just so dang beautiful, and since the temps in Phoenix have been over 110 all week, I welcomed the pouring rain and thunder storms that engulfed the Flagstaff area. We drove out to a fairly remote spot in the Coconino National Forest and I was really surprised when I saw how many cars were parked at the trailhead to the cave. There were probably 20 to 30 cars out there on an early Thursday afternoon. I couldn't believe it. With the time of day and the storms overhead, I actually thought we might have the place to ourselves. Wishful thinking I guess. The family and I made the short hike to the cave entrance, which was essentially just a hole in the ground. Again I was surprised by the narrow opening and how much scrambling we had to do just to get into the cave. I actually wondered if I had gotten the kids in over their heads.
Lava River Cave was formed from a lava flow about 700,000 years ago, and the place is pretty dang cool. After the scramble to get inside it opens up into a huge cavernous tunnel. Foot placement was somewhat of a challenge as the ground in places was littered with boulders and my stepson Jonah had a hard time making his way through. Even with the cold temps down there (about 42 degrees) I was still shedding layers. The coolest thing about it though was just how dark it was. At one point, when we reached the end, we switched all of the lights off and just stared into the darkness. It's definitely a place that feeds your imagination. The hike is under two miles in and out, but it took us about two hours because of the footing and just the fact that it's so damn dark. Even with headlamps it wasn't always easy to determine the best way forward, and in some places the ceiling got so low that I had to bear crawl through.
We had a good time despite the short trip. It's not often that I get the chance to hike in a giant cave, so just the uniqueness of it was enough to satisfy me. I didn't really get any good photos though, because I just don't have the equipment to shoot in that level of dark. At the end of the tunnel I shone my headlamp at the cave wall and did a little shadow puppet show. I'll bet early man did the same thing.