Nature creates some interesting and magnificent structures, as is the case with the Lava River Cave in Flagstaff, Arizona. The Lava River Cave is a mile long tube that was formed over 700,000 years ago. Molten rock that erupted from the Hart Prairie volcanic vent helped to shape the tube like structure. The top, sides, and bottom would solidify after the flow cooled. The rest of the lava river would then flow into the cave structure that can be toured today. Geologists have spent many years examining evidence for how the tube began. The rocks in the structure are like a map. The small wave like ripples on the walls show what happened.
Today there are still some stone icicles that hang from the ceiling of the cave. These structures were formed when a final blast of volcanic heat caused the rock to re- liquefy and then drip. Temperatures even in the summer will be 42 degrees Fahrenheit inside the cave. Visitors are asked to wear appropriate clothing and sturdy shoes before taking the tour. The rocks can be sharp and slippery. There is no official tour of the cave. Instead it is open to any visitor who wishes to drive out there. It is suggested that all visitors have two to three sources of light when they take the trek. It is a very dark one mile hike into the cave.
A few portions of the cave have in the past been defaced by graffiti. Luckily these areas have been cleaned up and many visitors take care to report any vandalism they have seen. The cave itself is located 14 miles to the north of Flagstaff. It usually takes 45 minutes for visitors to reach the cave. To access the cave visitors need to drive 9 miles north of Flagstaff on US 180. There is a left turn onto FR 245 that takes three miles to FR171 for another mile to FR 171B. It is a short distance from there to the Lava River Cave.
Visitors can reach the cave year round. However, during the winter period it may be necessary to snowshoe or cross country ski to the cave. The cave will remain a constant temperature between 35 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Besides the cave and lava flow track the area has a beautiful scenic drive. It is also easy to view wildlife native to Arizona around the cave. Arizona does have snakes so individuals are warned to be cautious. Facilities are scarce around the cave.
The Lava River Cave is considered a Natural Museum. This means that visitors can still learn about the history, geology, cave climates, and biology without being inside a city building. The entrance to the cave is a hole that leads to a lot of slippery boulders. The ceiling height will vary from 30 feet to some areas where it is higher. The coolest point is towards the beginning of the cave. At one point there is a low ceiling with a sharp curve in the passage.