Saturday 16th September – Lava River Cave

We surprise ourselves sometimes with how lazy we can actually be. The sun was shining in through the rear doors of the Cabana and our new bedding made the place so comfortable it was hard to justify leaving. And so, we didn’t. We rolled around in bed for hours, looking at stuff on the internet and being happy in general. In my search of free events in Flagstaff, I discovered that Science Week would be starting in six days with everything to be completely free. To kick it all off, there was going to be a keynote speech from a guy who, without arms or legs, climbed Kilimanjaro and Aconcagua. A motivational speaker, we thought that would be worth a look so I called the ticket office and booked us some free tickets.

Further perusing the schedule, I found that there would be a guided hike of Flagstaff’s Lava River Cave. What? I didn’t even know Flag had a lava tube! Not at all interested in the guided tour but keen to have a look ourselves, we found it wasn’t far away and decided that would be a suitable low-energy activity for the day.

Now that we had something to get excited about, Dan made us cereal for breakfast and we got ourselves dressed and ready for a semi-adventure. We drove out of camp just past noon. Such a shit life. Dan drove us out onto the main road and then back on forest roads until we found the signs for the Lava River Cave. At the carpark, we found we were entering a zoo. Of course, being a Saturday afternoon it was going to be busy. We didn’t let that phase us though, we put a headtorch around Cleo’s neck, armed ourselves with lights and marched on.

Dan ignored my advice to take a jumper even though I implored to him that caves are cold places, was satisfied with his shorts and shirt. Lo and behold, when we reached the mouth of the cave, he exclaimed, “It’s cold!” I gave him the opportunity to turn back and get warmer clothes but his pride wouldn’t let him. There were dozens of people crawling in and out of the mouth of the cave so we patiently waited for an opportunity to enter. There was no information about the cave posted at the entrance, so we were just going off what we’d read, that it was a mile long journey underground to the end of the tunnel.

Cleo wasn’t at all sure about this as we clambered down the loose rocks at the entrance, as we left the sunlight behind, I think she was apprehensive about not being able to see anything so we did our best to light her way as well as ours, me using my phone and Dan using his battery pack. Of the people struggling up and down the rocks, we seemed the most able, with most others being overweight and heaving in oxygen with every step.

Once we were inside the tube, the going was much easier. The roof of the cave was well above our heads and we could walk easily enough along the loose rocks. Cleo went better here too, not fussing too much about the moist ground formed thanks to the water seeping down through the roof of the tube.

We walked amongst a plethora of head torches, coming towards us and shining on us from behind. We made sure to stop every now and then so we could light up what was over our heads, instead of just looking at the ground. In doing so, we came across a section of roof that had a perfect grid of water droplets lining it. The water was clear and still, glistening in our torch lights, something most people probably didn’t notice.

The floor turned from loose rock to jagged hardened lava and we were careful to watch our footing. At one point, we managed to find a gap in the people so we turned our lights off to experience the darkness. Ooohh! Cleo froze where she was, not wanting to move anywhere and the same went for us. We carried on walking and when we came across a group of people that were smitten with Cleo, they informed us that there was a fork in the road up ahead and if we wanted to crawl, we should go right, otherwise the walkable route was to the left. When we came up on this obvious intersection, we took the harder path.

The tunnel was just as open as the rest of the way had been, but soon enough, the roof lowered to twice Cleo’s height and we couldn’t see if it opened up again. Knowing that there had been people in front of us that went this way, we weren’t phased and I crawled ahead. After a few dozen meters almost on our hands and knees, the cave opened up again and we rejoined the main tunnel. That was the most intense caving Dan had ever done and he wasn’t sure he liked it.

More admiring the walls and roof of the tube of black rock and a short while later, we were at the end. The roof and floor met with a bunch of big loose rocks and we could go no further. We could see a small body-shaped cavity at the end of the rumble and both army crawled to it to see what we could see. People had obviously gone through there before because we could see the graffiti that spawned from their efforts but we didn’t feel the need to try and crawl any further.

Since we had the end to ourselves, I played around taking photos then we were off, back to where we came from.

It was much the same going back, but we still took our time looking all over the different formations of the cave, matching the piles of loose boulder with the roof above where they’d fallen. I tried to be scientific about the few stalactites we found, concluding that this must be a relatively young cave because they were only short, but commenting that the water flow was probably too much and the minerals in the soil not adequate to form impressive mites.

Back at the entrance to the cave, we paused for the crowds and followed everyone out. Good timing too, our fingers were getting cold and my toes had started tingling. The warmth of the sun outside was welcome to our cold bodies and Cleo pretty much sprinted away from the cave entrance. Happy with our day’s activity, we sauntered back to the car, me taking layers off and pointing out to Dan how rugged up everyone was.

After a high speed drive through a mud puddle, we got out of the busy carpark to find a spot in the forest to have a late lunch and bask in the sun. We didn’t have to go far, Dan turned left onto the forest road, then found a spot almost immediately off to the side. With two trees a good space apart, it meant I could set up Dan’s hammock while he cooked our lunch. Burgers of course. We munched down on our favourite lunch, sitting in our chairs with our knees apart.

For the rest of the afternoon, I blogged while Dan swung in the hammock reading my blog. When there were no more patches of sun, I closed my laptop with the intention to go and collect some firewood. We hadn’t really intended to camp here the night, but the site was plenty good enough and there was plenty of fuel in abundance so we decided to stay. We both branched off collecting and I was almost dropped my armful from laughing when I watched Dan recoil from trying to snap a log in two. It had bounced back and caught him in the knee to bring on a hilarious facial expression of pain and disbelief, he had me in absolute fits.

With so much firewood, we didn’t mind starting the fire early and sitting beside it. Since we’d both been so comfortable in the hammock, Dan reparked the van so that we could attach one end to the rear door latch and swing next to the fire. It was a beautiful way to spend the afternoon, just swinging and chatting with the warmth and crackle of the fire nearby.

When the sun went down, we combined forces to make dinner. While Dan was inside the van cooking up some bacon, mushrooms, onions and tomato, I nestled a pot of pasta over the flames. Distracted by cuddles with Cleo, Dan yelled out as the inevitable happened – the pot tipped over and spewed pasta into the fire. Bugger. I was able to save half, but it was hardly enough to feed one now. We compromised with mixing rice and pasta, still cooked over the fire, but this time watched more tentatively and placed less precariously.

A short while later, we were enjoying a yummy white pasta rice mix by the fire. It only took us a while to do the dishes, then there was nothing left to do but sit and stare either into the fire or up at the stars. It felt colder tonight so we built the fire big and stayed by it for warmth. Dan called bed time and we’d enjoyed having the doors open to the fire last night so much that we did it again. Another repark of the van and we crawled into bed to watch the fire dwindle. We lay for a while with our heads poking out the back doors looking straight up at the wonder that is our stars. It felt so good to be in the forest.

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