Category Archives: Lava Tubes

Created by flowing lava, the tube is a void left behind after everything has cooled.

2011 Snow Canyon Lava Tube

This was a somewhat spur of the moment trip. We had spent the weekend with my grandparents at their rental property in St George. My wife was unimpressed with the fact that our midwinter trip to “the warm southern part of the state” coincided with rain and snow clear down to St George itself. But overall we had a good time and found some fun activities. On our last morning down there we made the last minute decision that instead of stopping at Zion on our way home we would swing through Snow Canyon. Steph had already seen part of Zion once before, and we are planning more extensive trips in the future. So the 3-4 hours we had free seemed better spent at a new and smaller destination.

We loaded our stuff, including Jeremiah as a hitchhiker who realized our vehicle would pass his home long before my parents vehicle would arrive. (They were headed into Zion, and planning to be there most of the day.) Jeremiah humored us, since he had been through most of Snow Canyon a few weeks earlier. We ran up a few of the short trails, and enoyed the views of snow on the surrounding mountains. It was warm enough that a t-shirt wasn’t quite comfortable, but a sweatshirt was a bit too much if you were moving.

We decided to take Steph out along one of the trails that ran across the petrified sand dunes, and over part of the lava flows. Primarily because these were both things that Steph hadn’t really seen or been around before, and with a vague idea that we might poke around and see if we could find some lava tubes. I knew there were a couple tubes out there, but hadn’t found out much about them before the trip because we weren’t sure if we would have time to see Snow Canyon that weekend.

As we wandered around taking pictures, Jeremiah and I tried to explain what a lava tube looked like for Steph. She decided she understood the concept, but having never been on a lava flow she wasn’t certain what she was looking for yet. That uncertainty became hilarious over the next couple hours, as Steph would be walking ahead of us and yelling back, “I think I found something. Is this what you are looking for?”

She proceeded to be the first one to find every lava tube we discovered that day. Jeremiah and I would climb inside and look around, and Steph would walk ahead and find the next one. Ideal teamwork in this case.

We found several different tubes, basically right along the trail. Obviously many people had been here before us, and heavily influenced the route the trail took across the lava flow. Jeremiah and I felt under-prepared as we climbed into the dark areas with only our headlamps. No helmets or gloves on this particular trip. But adventure is where you find it, so we just took our time and didn’t stand up fast without looking at where our head would be going.

We felt less guilty about our single light source each, and lack of protective equipment, as we met some of the other people who had found the tubes. One large group had come to the park that day specifically to visit the lava tubes they had found on an earlier trip. This time they had come better prepared, by making certain they had at least one light for every two people. As we stayed out of their way in a wider area while they came out of the deepest part of the tube, we found ourselves having to light the path to the entrance for a couple people. And most of the group that actually had lights were holding them in their teeth while they climbed up a short section that was nearly vertical. I heard at least one kid slip and fall a few feet while still out of sight below us. (The short bout of crying was a giveaway that it wasn’t intentional.) I mentioned to Jeremiah that we may end up involved in his first cave rescue if we were unlucky.  Fortunately, it seemed to be more of a surprise at falling rather than any actual damage, and everyone in their group was headed back to the entrance under their own power when Jeremiah and I zipped down to see the end of the accessible tube.

It was a neat little find for our day overall. As is unfortunately too common in well known caves, there was quite a bit of trash and human evidence everywhere. But there was also some of the brightest colored oxidization of the lava that I have seen in a while, and the tubes were also easy to find and get inside in this case. The above picture is the “hard” route out, just to see if we could do it. There is a better route to drop in through the boulder pile 20-30 feet away from the obvious large entrance.

Steph had become bored on the surface waiting for us, and wandered around a bit. We talked a bit with the group we had encountered while we waited for her return. She showed us her new discoveries, and we headed on our way. We still had some quick stops we wanted to make before we hit the freeway, and headed back north into the cold again.

2006 Lava Tubes

This was the second part of jam packed day of caving. Earlier we had gone and seen Stanley’s Cave. Then we kept trucking down the road. It was an amazingly warm day in January, and we weren’t going to waste it.

Tabernacle Hill Lava Tubes are another reasonable beginner cave area. A high clearance vehicle or willingness to hike a bit is a must if you don’t want to bash up your car crossing the lava flow. The largest flow is easy walking through tunnels with occasional skylight holes broken through. There is one side tube that gets to total darkness, but much of the tube is simply in deep shadow. Again, being well known and relatively easy to access leads to a large amount of visitation, junk, and garbage. People occasionally camp inside the tube itself. I’m not sure why, it acts like a wind tunnel and blows absolutely nasty sharp volcanic dust everywhere. I wanted a shower after simply walking through it, can’t imagine how dirty you would be if you spent a night in there.

The thing you have to remember about lava tubes is that they are black. Not just dark, like any cave. But absolutely light sucking black. Every time I visit a lava tube I feel like my headlamp batteries need to be replaced, even if they are brand new. It is important to keep this in mind as you are traveling through the tube–you simply can’t see quite as well as you are used to. And it is hard to tell a rock from a hole if you aren’t paying close attention. I recommend stopping to look around, rather than trying to walk and look around at the same time.

We walked through the main tube from beginning to end with everyone along on the trip. Afterward we rattled our way across the flow to some of the other known tubes and checked them out quickly as well. Getting off the flow and onto the “smooth” desert plain was a welcome relief for everyone.

The information I have heard is that this flow was covered by Lake Bonneville, and it has accumulated a lot of “soil” over the surface of the flow because of this. Nearby younger flows are essentially bare rock, and difficult to walk on.(Impossible to drive on.) We spent the last of our daylight running around one of those younger flows in our t-shirts simply looking for additional tubes in the 60+ degree weather. We watched the full moon come up as we talked around our vehicles back on the paved road. Jeremiah absolutely crashed into sleep on the way back home in the dark, and I have to admit I was very glad I wasn’t the one driving the vehicle I was riding in.