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Tuesday, February 10, 2009


LAVA RIVER CAVE Coconino National Forest As the Valley swelters in a 100-degree inferno, a subterranean cave where temperatures hover around a brisk 40 degrees all year, beckons heat-weary hikers. Located just 2 hours north of Phoenix in a stand of unassuming Ponderosa pines, the dungeon-like entrance to Lava River Cave spews inviting, cool air. Deep, dark and stony, the 700,000-year-old lava tube lacks the musty, clammy ambiance one might expect. A brief scramble down some boulders to get to the cave floor is a bit tricky, but with long pants and sturdy footwear, not too difficult. The 3/4-mile-long natural wonder winds through absolute darkness over fissured, molten “rivers” and the walls bear the marks of escaping volcanic gasses and hellish temperatures. About half way in, the river divides. One route is a tight fit; the other resembles a medieval cathedral. Both paths lead to the end of the cave, where, although warmer than the temperatures at the entrance, a jacket is required. LENGTH: 1.5 miles roundtrip RATING: Easy. You will need to bring two reliable light sources. ELEVATION GAIN: -100 GETTING THERE: Drive 9 miles north of Flagstaff on US 180 and turn west (left) on FR 245. Continue 3 miles to FR 171 and turn (left) south. Go 1 mile to FR 171B and turn left.

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