Just outside of Flagstaff, far into the forest, is a hole in the ground that goes on for nearly a mile. There are no exits, a lot of cold stale air, and coincidentally, enough room for adults to walk upright 80% of the time. It’s called the Lava River Cave and it’s amazing!
We originally hiked it back in 2012 when we were staying in a cabin south of Flagstaff. We had done just about every hike in the area that appealed to us and were ready to drive off into the forest and find the lava tube. At the time it was not so easy to find on Google Maps, now however, it’s written on the map now, and I imagine it gets a lot more visitors. While walking around outside the cabin one day in Mountainaire, Arizona, two Indian (India) tourists had somehow made it way back into that neighbourhood and were searching for the road to the cave, which was actually about 30 miles away on the other side of Flagstaff. I tried my best to point them to the right place but I’ll never know if they found it.
The first time we hiked it we didn’t have headlamps, but were inspired to get some after that. There’s many places where you need both hands and it’s also just awkward to use the small beam of a flashlight to get around. I was regularly stumbling over bumps and crevasses much of the way. Luckily the cave if pretty even most of the time, and if we’d gone the right way (aka had better light) at one part, we wouldn’t have had to do squats and/or crawl for 40 feet. My legs were jello when we got out of there.
When we went with Blair, it was much more successful. We all had headlamps and I brought my camera flash. I’d had a chance to play around a bit with it at Carlsbad Caverns but still found it pretty much impossible to focus in complete blackness.
The cave is almost completely lifeless, although on some parts of the ceiling if you look up with your lamp it appears to glow in a bio-luminescent way, I believe it’s just some mineral deposits. Not a single bat, insect or animal, so if those are things that keep you out of caves, this is the cave for you! It’s also an excellent hike on a hot summer day as the interior of the cave is always in the 60s year round, it also never gets muddy or flooded so rainy days are a good time as well.
The hike seems a lot longer than it really is but it’s definitely worth it. There’s also some great camping and roads to ride on all around the cave in Kaibab National Forest!
Kaibab National Forest always has Forest Cows.