Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Lava River Cave near Flagstaff

For day 3 of our Fall Break (Day 1, Day 2), we headed to the Lava River Cave near Flagstaff (directions in the link). My brother warned me that this was a very popular destination, but I figured since it was a weekday and raining, there wouldn't be many people there. Wrong! We saw about 30 other people in the lava tube. And apparently that's a tiny amount, the parking lot is enormous.

The trail is signed and near the cave is a sign telling folks to bring headlamps and not to leave graffiti. Since I'm a caver, I thought the cave conservation and caver safety messages could be beefed up quite a bit.

We navigated the puddles to take a look at the map of the .75 mile long cave and the entrance. The map was pretty simple, it's one tube that goes in nearly a straight line. There's one place with an obstruction in the middle.

We put on our gear, which included not only headlamps, but also helmets and kneepads, and descended into the dark.

Actually there was quite a bit of algae growing on the lava near the entrance. It looked kind of cool and eerie at the same time.

What we found down below was a lot of walking passage, but the floor was often jagged and uneven.

Sometimes the ceiling was really high.

And sometimes it was kind of low (this is the right fork of the obstruction).

I had my good camera with me and enjoyed trying to take some cave photos that showed how large the passage was. I was a bit surprised at all the coloration, I was definitely expecting more dark lava color.

I also thought there might be some lavacicles, but I didn't see any lava tube formations except a bit of moonmilk.

We stopped to try and take a group photo, but it came out a little blurry.

Then we heard voices, lots of voices. It turned out a school group of 20 kids was in the cave with us. We stopped so they could pass and we could enjoy a quieter visit. They all had lights, but none had helmets. Some had some really inappropriate footwear that made me wince.

We continued on, but the back of the lava tube was nasty with a weird odor, plus a dirty diaper. We didn't want to stay there. So we headed back out.

I took a few more photos on the way out, enjoying the colors again.

The kids did great, this was an easy cave for them. I think they wanted a little more challenge. So we went into a little hole on the other side of the entrance and squirmed around in crawling passages for ten minutes in the collapsed part of the lava tube. If there's a way to the big one, we didn't find it, but we still appreciated a little crawling time. Maybe it makes me feel like a kid again.

One of the best things about leaving the lava tube is that the sun had come out. It was so beautiful in the ponderosa pine forest!

Did I mention it was beautiful?

We had a picnic lunch and goofed around. Then we got cold and decided it was time to head to our next adventures.
If you decide to visit Lava River Cave, I recommend good headlamps, backup lights, and a helmet. Kneepads really aren't necessary. Also be prepared for a lot of people. The cave was pretty clean, but it wouldn't hurt to take in a small trash bag and leave the cave a little cleaner than you find it.

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