Flagstaff, AZ

Lava River Cave

Our first trip together this Summer took us North, to the Lava River Cave. Neither of us had been before, and were both looking forward to the experience. On the way up, we stopped in town for an early lunch at a place called The Toasted Owl. The breakfast tacos we shared were amazing, and the griddle cake she had was enormous. I ordered a burger with an egg on top, and despite being a little undercooked, was still delicious.

Happy and full, we drove out of town to the cave. Being a weekend, it was busy, but not overwhelmingly so by any means. There was a surprising jet of cold air coming from the mouth of the cave. Not more than a few feet down, the sunlight gave way to complete darkness. I brought a handful of flashlights, headlamps, and a lantern for good measure. I’ve always found myself explaining the importance of having the right equipment for anything you do, and seeing other people in the cave struggling with gear that was under par exemplified that. Sure footing is an absolute must down there, as the ground is not smooth at all, and there’s plenty of loose rock to slip on. The initial decent into the cave is very steep, but the rest of it is pretty level. There were a few points where there was little more than crawling space to get through, and the discreet knee pads I wore were worth their weight in gold.

Reaching the end of the cave was quiet to the point of eerie. We paused in the darkness for a moment, and paying no mind to our own breathing, nothing moved. It’s hard to explain what that kind of stillness feels like. We found a switchback on our climb out, and not wanting to leave anything unexplored, we made our way through it. Unbeknownst to us, it took us in a circle and dropped us a few hundred feet back from where we came. The final ascent seemed to be the part that most people were having trouble with. The climb is quite steep, and the loose rock makes it very precarious. It took a second for my eyes to adjust to the seemingly unnecessary abundance of light. Emerging from the cave entrance left me wanting to explore another, soon.

Picture Canyon

Not ready to head home yet, we did a quick Google search to see where the wind would take us. Upon arrival, Picture Canyon looked dreadfully boring, but first impressions are often deceiving. It started off with a simple dirt path, oddly placed “Private Property” signs, and some kind of amphitheater. We happened to notice a small pond nearby, and following the path there led us to a creek. Following it downstream, along a rather plain and uneventful trail, we were rewarded with a breathtaking waterfall. Neither of us expected such majesty, tucked into such a plain field.

With the canyon carved deep, we’d have a hard time getting back up the steep rock faces without rope. Determined, she scrambled her way down a few cliffs, while I stayed up top just in case she got stuck. Satisfied, we continued to follow the creek downstream. Less a hike, and more of a nature walk, the winding trial led us to a quaint little bridge. Little did we know, things were going to get a lot more difficult from here on out.

Detouring from our original loop, we followed the creek up stream. The path we were on was very overgrown, and obviously the road less traveled. Navigating the brush, thorny bushes, and cacti, we found some of the most serene spots in Arizona I’ve ever found. Words fail to describe how peaceful the babbling brooks and dancing dragonflies were. It was like a little slice of everything I’ve been looking for.

Arriving at the bottom of the waterfall, we had to turn back quite a ways to get back to the top of the canyon. The last of the trail took us around a Natural Gas Plant, which explained the odd “No Trespassing” signs.

Happily exhausted, we decided it was time for a beer. Lumberyard Brewing Co was exactly what we needed. I had their Porter and IPA, while she tried the Raspberry Fruit Beer and Red Ale. The Red Rock Raspberry was pretty hard for either of us to drink, but we both tend to prefer hoppy IPAs anyways, thus our opinion is irrelevant. I don’t know about her, but I’m definitely sleeping like a log tonight.

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