One of my favorite things about this time of year is heading up north to play in the snow. Every year right before Christmas, we go on an SOS mission: search of snow. This year was a challenge because we have been quite dry. In fact, we’ve only had 15 days of measurable rain in Phoenix this year when we should have around 40. Eeesh. Please be careful as we had yet another fire started here in Tramonto over the weekend.
Anyway, we weren’t surprised when we got to Flagstaff (about 2 hours north of us) that there was no snow to be had. Although their temps have been cooler lately, we had the hottest November on record. Even Snowbowl look barren. However, we were successful and found some snow. I’m going to give you one way in and a different route out so that you have a scenic drive in and then a quicker way home. Sound good?
If you are using your GPS or navigational system, plug in the Lava River Cave. From Flagstaff, get on 180 and pass Snow Bowl on your right. Continue on for almost 20 minutes and pass the Nordic Center, also on your right. Just past that, you will take the left turn there onto #193. Continue straight for three miles and go left on #171. Then take Fire Road #171B on your left and drive to the gate. From there, you will walk less than a half mile to the Lava River Cave.
NOTE: In the summer, the road should be open, and you can drive the half mile to the parking lot where there are human restrooms. They are closed in the wintertime, though. Mom had to use the “Woman’s Tree.”
Because the elevation is higher and the forest is dense, there was still a good amount of snow on the ground. Oh, how this made me happy. Woof! As soon as mom got my coat on, I was out running and leaping in that snow. It wasn’t enough for my humans to put on snow shoes, but it was plenty to play in.
Thankfully, there was no wind and the sun was bright because the temps were in the 20s. Brrrr! Even for me, that was cold. But no bother, I was a happy boy. The half mile is flat and easy to the Lava River Cave or Lava Tube as locals call it.
To me, it is just a big hole in the ground with a brick wall around it. Nothing special to me, but apparently, this cave is the longest in the state, just shy of a mile. The Lava Tube was formed some 700,000 years ago by molten rock from a nearby volcano that erupted. We weren’t equipped to go in as you need head lamps. Even in the summer, it is only 42 degrees in there, so come prepared. We met some young folks coming out of it, and they said it wasn’t hard but tricky in some spots. The reward, though, is a 30-foot ceiling that is underground! Mom and dad said they would come back without me to check it out. I think I might freak out, so keep that in mind if you have your doggy pals with you.
For today, it was all about the snow. We continued on and hiked through the forest, following the old forest road. We had the place to ourselves, and it was so peaceful. We turned around after a while and headed back to the Lava Tube because there were picnic tables. Dad got some hot tea going, and mom fed us lunch. We sat and enjoyed the beauty of the area. Now it felt like Christmastime!
After a lovely break, we packed it up and headed back to the car. All in all, we only went 2.5 miles, but it was very enjoyable and worth the drive (about 2.5 hours each way). You, of course, could hike longer and farther is you wanted. Or not!
As promised, here’s the quickest most direct way out and home to Phoenix: From the gated area, turn left on NF #171 and follow it 6.8 miles to the Old Route 66 and turn left. You then take a right to get on I-40 East. It’s really the first major intersection you will come to from 66 (a frontage road), and you’ll see a Pilot Gas Station on your left. Take I-40 until you see the turn off for I-17 south, and you are on your way home.
If you go up on a weekend, we advise you head out early. We were on the road by 7 am, and we had the road basically to ourselves. We got to watch the sun rise over the mountains, and it was so pretty. I don’t remember much about the drive home because I snoozed, but we made good time.
I hope you get a chance to play in the snow and see some pine trees. It does a soul good to connect with nature. May you feel the peace of this season, and may Christmas come soon! I’m ready, and I’ve mostly been good.
My mom, Lorraine Bossé-Smith, is kind enough to help me share my Great Adventures, big and small. My mom is a motivational speaker, corporate trainer, executive recruiter, business consultant, coach, fitness expert, and author of nine published books. More importantly, she’s the best doggy mom ever!
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Get outside! You never know what you’ll discover, and our paths just might cross. Happy tails!