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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.


MONTEZUMA WELL National Monument Roughly 11,000 years ago near the present day town of McGuireville, the earth fell out from under the arid countryside forming a sinkhole where tepid water from subterranean springs collects in a 55-foot deep limestone cavern. Beginning in the 10th century, Sinagua Indians inhabited the area around Montezuma Well, taking advantage of the perennial waters by building canals to nourish their crops. Today, many well-preserved artifacts of this farming culture can be seen in the cliffs, caves and ridges that ring the well site. An easy third-mile trail lined with interpretive signage, takes visitors on a trip through history while the more difficult Well Outlet Trail explores the swallet (an opening through which a stream goes underground) and a prehistoric irrigation ditch along the banks of Beaver Creek.  
HIGHLIGHTS: Easy trail with educational signs, cliff dwelling ruins and lots to explore. LENGTH: third-mile loop  
RATING: Easy. The paved rim trail is stroller and wheelchair friendly. ELEVATION: 3,651’ - 3,681’ DOGS: Park rules require that dogs stay on leash you clean up after your pet and keep him/her off the ruins, on trails and out of the water. Driving distance from Phoenix: 106 miles one-way GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, go north on I-17 to the McGuireville exit #293. Follow the signs for roughly 6 miles to the parking area. Admission is free, however, there’s an entrance fee at sister attraction Montezuma Castle located a few mile south off I-17. INFO: (928) 567-4521 or
USGS ARTICLE about Montezuma Well: