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Lava River Cave
The entrance to Lava River Cave just north of Flagstaff looks like a large pile of volcanic rock with a crack at the bottom. But once you duck inside, a one-mile trail leads you into the earth’s womb…and pitch black. Don’t attempt this excursion without a flashlight or, better yet, headlamp – the Forest Service recommends bringing backup light, too. But if you’re prepared, a day in the cave is a singular experience and a great way to beat the heat.
The cave, comprised entirely of molten rock, formed about 700,000 years ago when a volcanic vent erupted in nearby Hart Prairie. Lumbermen discovered it in 1915. The floor, walls, and ceiling are incredibly sharp, jagged, and slippery, so take it slow and watch your footing. Stone “lavasicles” hang from the ceiling, which, in some areas, slopes so low you’re forced onto all fours (bring gloves and sturdy boots). Temperatures range between 35 and 45 degrees, even in mid-summer, and it’s not unusual to see ice inside, thanks to lava rock acting as an insulator – its dark color and density prevent heat from traveling – and the cave’s shape, which traps cold winter air. It’s also not unusual to see crowds, as we learned one Labor Day weekend, and teenagers who smoke at the back of the cave (we warned you). But if you’re lucky enough to be alone at the back, take a moment to turn off your lights and experience some of the deepest darkness and silence we’ve ever known. There’s only one way in and out of the cave so don’t worry about getting lost; be more concerned with your footwear and light sources.
Lava River Cave is located 14 miles north of Flagstaff. Take US 180 north and turn west on FR 245. Continue three miles to FR 171 for one mile and turn left on FR 171B. There is no parking fee and the cave is open as long as the Coconino National Forest remains open (check for closures due to fire protection). For more info, visit www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino/recreation/peaks/ lava-river-cave.shtml or call 928-526-0866.
Lake Powell/Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
No one’s suggesting temperatures at Lake Powell in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area are cool during the middle of summer – but what’s cooler than diving off a houseboat into blue waters in a secluded red rock canyon? Stretching across northern Arizona and southern Utah, Lake Powell is 400 feet deep, 186 miles long, and boasts nearly 2,000 miles of shoreline, or more than the entire U.S. west coast. The lake was formed when Glen Canyon dam was built in the late 1950s and early 1960s, backing up the Colorado and San Juan rivers and flooding Glen Canyon (still controversial today). It took 17 years to fill the lake but Mother Nature has had other plans recently – lake levels plummeted to 36 percent capacity in 2004. To our eyes, it’s obvious Lake Powell doesn’t belong – it’s disconcerting to find this huge body of water with red rock monoliths rising from the surface – but, for better or worse, it’s here. Might as well rent a boat and have some fun.
The second largest U.S. lake sees nearly 3 million visitors each year – Labor Day weekend alone has been known to attract upwards of 500,000 visitors and July 4 can be just as crowded. There are 96 major canyons to explore by watercraft, making Lake Powell a boater’s paradise – the canyons also allow for a modicum of peace and quiet; it’s not unheard of to have entire canyons to yourself. Boat and jet-ski rentals line the streets of the nearby town of Page, or you can rent from one of four marinas. If you don’t feel like navigating your own craft, a boat tour shows you the lake and the Rainbow Bridge National Monument. Water temperatures rise into the 70s during summer so you’ll also spot swimmers, scuba divers, and snorkelers. Fishing, kayaking, and water skiing are also popular. The lake is well-known for houseboat rentals (during our visit the world’s largest houseboat was docked here); other overnight options include hotels or numerous, blessedly shaded, campgrounds. There’s also hiking, though we don’t recommend it in the summer heat.
Lake Powell/Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is located three miles north of Page on Hwy 89. The lake is open 365 days a year with limited boat rentals during the winter. Fees: $15/vehicle for seven days; camping ranges from hookups and tents to primitive beach camping at a cost of $6 to $12 per night. For more information, visit www.nps.gov/glca/index.htm or call 928-608-6200.