Girls Road Trip 2018 - Exploring Lava River Cave in Arizona

Originally scheduled for Wednesday, being evacuated due to the wildfire, we were free to change our schedule so we opted to do the cave on Tuesday instead.   This is a public cave - but it's not ran by anyone, nor maintained by anyone.  It's rough, and it's pitch black inside as there are no improvements, lighting, etc. it's just a naturally formed cave, carved out by lava to make tunnels. 

"This mile-long lava tube cave was formed roughly 700,000 years ago by molten rock that erupted from a volcanic vent in nearby Hart Prairie. The top, sides and bottom of the flow cooled and solidified first, after which the insides of the lava river continued to flow emptying out the present cave.
Ample evidence of how the tube was born is written in the rocks of which it is formed. Small wave-like undulations in the floor are the remains of ripples frozen in the last trickle of molten rock that flowed from the cave. Stone icicles hanging from the ceiling show where a final blast of volcanic heat caused the rock to partially re-liquefy and drip.
Dress appropriately when you come to visit, with warm clothes and sturdy shoes. The cave is as cool as 42° even in summer, and you may even find some ice inside. The rocks are always sharp and slippery, too. Bring two or three sources of light, in case one happens to fail, it can be very dark one mile from the nearest light source."

Basically you follow some rough dirt roads to find this place and then you park and look around and... there are no signs to tell you where the cave is.  So basically just start walking - either following other people or following a big wide open space that is actually a trail and then...boom.  there it is.  A pile of rocks that is actually the opening to the cave.

We were going during early May, on a random Tuesday so although it was busy, it wasn't busy.  There were a number of people milling around the park and the entrance to the cave so we didn't know what to expect.  It ends up we were super lucky; not busy inside the cave at all!  We managed to pass maybe two small groups of people coming back while we were going in and then two more small groups on our way out as they were going in. 

What this meant is that for 90% of the time we were on our own in the cave which was fabulous because we didn't have other peoples LIGHTS or VOICES.  It was truly pitch black and silent outside of the noise we made walking, or sometimes talking. 

You simply cannot go into the cave without lighting; and their website and all information will warn you to have at least 2 light sources in case one goes out.  If you get to the end and your light goes out, you are basically a mile away from the nearest available light source and no - you can't maneuver through the cave without some source of light.

We had bought headlamps at Lowe's in preparation for our trip.  I wrote about the headlamps we chose here:  Headlamps Post.

We opted for headlamps so our hands would be completely free.  This was a GREAT decision.  And invariably, the groups we passed commented they wished they had thought of it, as they held flashlights in their hands.  One other person we met also had a headlamp.  We also had two small LED lights in our daypacks and you can see in some photos we were using both.

I have tried to lighten some of the photos on my computer so you can see them better.  The ones we took with our iphones I had to lighten, although we took some with our NIKON camera using a flash an d those lit up the rock and the cave quite nicely in the photos so you can see details.


This is usually our view of each other...  a nice bright headlamp shining in our eyes.  Ha ha.

The cave is a mixture of smooth and rough, rocky and flat, wet and dry, chilly and warmer...  ever changing in just a few steps.

This is a typical photo of being in the cave.  I've lightened up most of the pictures so we can see them better.  In real life, it's pitch black down there.

Our headlamps had white, red and green light settings.  We liked the white the best as it was brightest but we did try all the different settings.

This is a typical view....

Part of the cave has ceilings 30 feet tall.  Other parts are so shallow you have to crawl.

Loved this - someone left a waterproof notebook at the end of the cave along with a pen so people could sign in and leave comments and inspirational quotes for others.

Don't attempt to do this cave in flip flops.  At the very least have regular tennis shoes - but preferably hiking boots or hiking shoes.  We opted to use our Salomon Ellipse hiking shoes for the cave.  We LOVED them.  They were great for gripping the rocks, yet were light weight and not heavy to weigh us down and they were like a tennis shoe so they were comfortable.

I wrote about the shoes we chose here:  Hiking Shoes

Have you seen the movie The Descent?  About the group of women that go caving in Kentucky?
Climbing out of the cave was so very much like the end of the movie... except we were climbing out over rocks, not bones.  (Link to the movie at the end of this post).

Yes, we often talked about the horror movie "The Descent" while were in the cave.

After we finished, we walked back to the car just in time to see 3 small buses pull in.  Off came youth leaders and 3 bus loads of teenagers, all outfitted with gear to go into the cave.  Although I was happy for them and the chance to go, I was even happier for US that we had just finished!  Had we been in with a large group like that, it would NOT have been the same awesome experience we had. 

For my readers; if you go, I hope you get a nice pitch black, dark, quiet cave exploration experience like we did.  This was actually our favorite part of the trip, activity wise even though we saw and did so much.  Because we were basically alone during this whole time it made it fabulous and it became a highlight of our Girls Road Trip 2018.

You might also be interested in some related products to this post - available through Amazon:

The Descent 
Headlamp LED  

Salomon Women's Ellipse GTX Hiking Shoe