My second encounter in life with a volcano was when I hiked the ¾ mile long lava tube left when a long-dead volcano last emptied out at Lava River Cave in Coconino National Forest, Arizona. I met up with the other Arizona Sierra Club members at the entrance to Lava River Cave. Experienced spelunkers guided about fifty of us into the lava tube. Most of us were both scared and eager to plumb the depths of that long-dead volcano. I had no idea the entire ¾ mile was going to be strenuous boulder-hopping, even though the floor of the lava tube was completely covered by boulders ranging in size from ankle-twisters to massive clunkers that reached the ceiling. The group soon straggled apart, sorted fast and slow by individual abilities to suss out the thin paths between boulders or scramble over them.
About ¼ mile into the pitch-black lava tube a woman called out in angry fright, "I need to get out of here, I need to get out of here right now!" I was already middle-aged and although I found her in the dark I knew that I had neither the skill nor the stamina to pilot her out of the cave and then catch up with the group in the jumbled dark. Sooo...I called out, "We need a man here, we need a man to help this woman out of the cave." Like magic two large men appeared at our sides, and one of them escorted her away to the sun. I hurried to catch up with the group in the dark.
Soon people were exclaiming the exciting news that the hike would end with an enchanting waterfall. Toward the end there were maybe twenty of us who had not yet turned back. When I finally got to the tiny, tiny passage into the waterfall chamber, it looked as if I would not fit. It seemed that this well-fatted female mesomorph would be disappointed after all my effort to get there. But several men, experts in the ways of navigating caves, said "pardon" to me, picked me up, turned my shoulders one way and my hips another, gave a quick, firm push to my rump and I popped through to see the waterfall. When everyone was inside the very little waterfall chamber, we sat pressed in shoulder to shoulder with a powerful waterfall rushing noisily just a few feet in front of us. Then they told us to all turn out our lights at the same time. It was absolutely terrifying to be closed in the bowels of the earth in the dark with the waterfall rushing with a roar who know where right in front of me. When someone whimpered (not me but I felt like it) we got the instruction to turn our lights back on. They said we were free to stay and pray or meditate if we liked, but I exited as soon as possible. Amusingly, my animal body remembered exactly how to twist and turn through the tight, scary passage out of the waterfall chamber and I wriggled out on my own.
This excursion is a fun memory, it occurs to me often. I am so pleased that I was able to do it.
Caption: Lava River Cave, Coconino National Forest, Arizona, USA
public domain images 2019