Lava River Cave Spelunking, Passport Renewal, Dodging Bullets on RV Maintenance

From the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona:

Well, we’ve had quite the eventful week, full of adventures, chores and unexpected challenges with Lizzy (our RV). Let’s recap:

On Tuesday we decided to explore one of the local geological features, the Lava River Cave in the Coconino National Forest just a few miles from where we’re staying. This cave is a lava tube formed about 600,000 years ago during a time of volcanic activity in this area. The tube cave is about 3/4-mile long from the entrance to the underground dead end. We read a lot of online reviews about what to expect, so we were equipped with headlamps, extra flashlights, gloves, closed-toe boots, and jackets (the temperature in the cave this time of year is between 40°-50°).

Entrance to the Lava River Cave in the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, AZ

The entrance to the cave was a challenge right off the bat, as you have to climb down a big pile of boulders and rocks that at one time comprised the ceiling of the tube. You’re basically just climbing down into a hole in the ground. Once you get to the bottom of the rock pile, it becomes horizontal instead of vertical–at that point, you just start scrambling over rocks to move into the cave. Because the inside of the cave is so cool, condensation drips from the roof in some places, causing the rocks that you’re walking on to become extra slippery, especially since some of them were loose and most of them were tilted one way or another.

Even though I was wearing hiking boots, I found that the soles did not provide a great amount of traction on the wet surfaces, so I found myself doing a duck-walk or crab-crawl most of the time, using my hands to help keep my balance. It wasn’t long before my quads and knees were exhausted. Andy’s boots seemed to work better than mine did, as he was able to walk upright most of the time.

The rockpile we had to scramble over and the low ceiling at the beginning of the cave.

This is a totally undeveloped cave–in other words, there are no lights, no safety rails, no personnel on site, no instructions or directional marking of any kind (except for a little graffiti that we found), and no cellphone service underground. We met a group of sixth graders on a field trip, coming out as we were going in, and of course they seemed totally confident about clambering over the rocks. We met a couple more individuals, older guys who were solo hiking, and several couples/pairs of hikers.

Our original intention was to hike all the way to the end and back. But after about 45 minutes we stopped to rest, chatted with a gentleman who showed up, and then decided that we would head back to the entrance. The guy we were talking with told us that he was headed back to the entrance also, so we waited until he was a little ways away before we started back.

Taking a rest break by the light of our headlamps

But somehow, we got turned around, because soon we found ourselves in a section with a very low ceiling, and we knew we had not come that way. NOTE: Even though this is a “tube”, there’s a place where the tube splits into two tubes, and after a short distance, the two tubes rejoin into a single tube. We thought maybe we had gone into the other side of the split than we had used on the outbound hike. We turned around and went back, found a different tunnel and went that way. But after another ten minutes or so, we ran into a young couple and jokingly said, “We assume this is the way back to the entrance.”

“I don’t think so,” the guy said. “You’re actually going toward the end of the cave.” He pulled up a picture of the map on his phone, which does absolutely no good because there are no markings in the cave to relate to the map–the inside of the cave looks the same in both directions. But since they were going toward the end, we turned around and went back in the opposite direction, taking care when we came to the split to go into the right tunnel.

Finally we got to another spot where the ceiling was a little low, and there was a big rock pile ahead of us. Andy was certain that we were lost again, but I kept thinking I was seeing some light in my peripheral vision. I asked him to turn off his headlamp and I did the same, and at that point we could see sunlight coming through the ceiling at the top of the rockpile. It looked like just a small hole in the top of the cave, but it was actually the entrance where we had come in–it just looked totally different from the inside.

We had to scale the rock wall with hands and feet to climb out of the cave, but to me, that was easiest part of the whole thing since the rocks were dry and it was easier to balance when climbing up than it was when stepping downward. The young couple we had met in the cave had caught up to us by that point and we exited the cave together, after spending a total of 2 hours inside. We found out they are from Chicago (two other guys we met in the cave were from somewhere in the UK), and then we had them snap a photo of us to commemorate the adventure.

We made it out alive! 🙂

This was one of the most interesting things we’ve ever done on any of our travels, and I’m glad we did it even if I was extremely sore for the next couple of days. Guess I need to start adding some squats to my daily exercise to get these quads in shape!! If you ever decide to check out the Lava River Cave, be sure to read lots of reviews and heed the advice given. You can definitely get hurt in there, and you for sure don’t want your batteries to run out in your headlamp or flashlight!!

On Wednesday, it was time to dump the tanks again so Andy drove the rig into Flagstaff to take care of that chore. And since we’re getting ready to hit the road again, he also stopped by Jiffy Lube to get an oil change and a new air filter in the rig. As he was driving back to camp, he said he noticed a distinct “shimmy” in the way it was handling. He pulled off the road at one point and checked the tires but didn’t see anything wrong. But when he got back to camp and parked the rig, he checked the tires again and noticed that the front passenger tire had some slight cracking where the sidewall met the tread. We decided that on Friday he would take the rig into Flagstaff to have the tire replaced (cue the spooky music….).

On Thursday, we had a list of chores and errands to get done in preparation for leaving. At the top of the list was getting Andy’s passport renewed. It actually expires in December, but they recommend renewing up to nine months in advance due to the length of time it can take for processing. The bad part about the renewal is that you have to send them your current passport when you mail in your application, so at that point you can’t really travel internationally unless you pay extra to have the new passport expedited. We do plan to visit Mexico again in late October or early November, so we decided it was past time to get this process started. We went to the local post office in Flagstaff, got his picture taken, completed the forms, paid the appropriate fees, and then mailed everything to Irving, Texas for processing. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that it gets done quickly (mine only took about three weeks when I renewed it back in 2016).

Andy gets new hiking shoes for his 70th birthday.

After that, we went to the Flagstaff Mall so Andy could buy some new hiking shoes (birthday gift), ate lunch at Burger King (Impossible Whopper, FTW!!), bought groceries and supplies at Walmart, and picked up an Amazon shipment from the Amazon locker at Whole Foods. By the time we got back to camp it was close to 2:00 PM.

I stepped out of the rig for a bit and found Andy flat on his back up under the RV, checking on some wiring. I just happened to look at the tire next to him and noticed that the slight cracking we had seen the day before was now a full-blown split in the sidewall, exposing the inside of the tire. It was obvious that he could not drive the rig into town to buy new tires now, and that we needed to get someone to come to us to change the tire. We have AAA Roadside Assistance, so that’s who we called.

The small cracks became a split overnight. Time to call AAA.

After giving them all our information and directions to where we’re parked, they said they would call back and let us know who would be helping us. But when they called again, they said that they would not cover the service because we were too far off a paved road. The road we’re on is gravel, but it’s used every day by Fedex, UPS, school buses, all sorts of commercial vehicles, and lots of passenger traffic. But they wouldn’t budge.

Andy asked them if they would cover it if he drove the rig down to the highway, about two miles down the mountain, and they said they would. I wasn’t at all happy about that idea, but it seemed to be the only alternative unless we wanted to pay for a service call out of our pockets. So that’s what Andy did–he drove the rig down the mountain, very slowly, and sat there until the service guy showed up about 20-25 minutes later. By then the tire was totally ruined, and wouldn’t have gone any further. Fortunately we had a good spare tire, so they swapped it out and Andy drove back up the mountain. The service guy didn’t even carry equipment to add air to the spare tire, but again, fortunately we have an air compressor on board and Andy took care of that as well.

After driving two miles down the mountain, the tire was definitely gone.

So yesterday (Friday), Andy drove the rig to Discount Tires in Flagstaff to get two new front tires. One of our friends had offered us their family discount information, but this local store wouldn’t accept it–however they did work with Andy on the price, and we feel like we got a fair deal. We got two Michelin tires for $199 each, and also paid for the lifetime roadside hazard insurance. With all the fees and labor charges, it came to just over $550.

These tires had been on this rig for a long time, as they were on the rig when we bought it in April 2017. They had plenty of tread left, but dry rot had set in. They were just old, and needed to be replaced. We were very fortunate that all this happened BEFORE we set out on our next relocation move coming up this Tuesday! This tire could have blown on the interstate at 60 MPH….I don’t even want to think about it!!

So now we have the rig and the truck ready to hit the road again (as far as we know!). On Monday (Labor Day) we’ll do laundry and hit the grocery store again, then get things packed up and ready to go. We plan to leave out fairly early on Tuesday morning, on our way to Bluewater Lake State Park in New Mexico.

I love travel days, seeing new things, eating lunch on the road, the excitement of getting to a new camping spot. I’m looking forward to having electrical hookups for a few days, with unlimited water. I’m also looking forward to being able to use the campground showers every day if I want to, without having to worry about moving our big litter box out of our RV shower!

We’ll miss Flagstaff for sure, but we’ll be back next year unless plans change in the meantime. We made a return visit last night to MartAnne’s for their crunchy seitan tacos, and we’re going to hit Fratelli Pizza once more as well.

My fish tacos at MartAnne’s. Andy had the seitan tacos again.

And yes, we just reached our ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY on the road!! One year ago today, we met my parents for breakfast at Cracker Barrel in Tupelo, said a tearful goodbye, and then headed west toward Texas. Our first night on the road that night was at a Harvest Host winery in Monroe, Louisiana where we boondocked next to the vineyard. It doesn’t seem like a year ago, but on the other hand, it’s been so long since I’ve seen my family. I’m getting really excited about returning to Tupelo in November to spend a couple of weeks with my folks for Thanksgiving!!

Our next blog post will be our usual monthly expense report for August, but we’ll also look at what our costs were for the entire first year on the road. Be sure to subscribe if you’re interested in that kind of information!

Thanks for taking time to read our blog! Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV living. If you want to keep up with our adventures, please subscribe. And you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads if you want to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels!!

6 thoughts on “Lava River Cave Spelunking, Passport Renewal, Dodging Bullets on RV Maintenance

  1. Glad you got to hike the lava tube; I think it’s so interesting. I’ve been to the end 3 times now; last time we took 7 of our 8 grandkids to the end, their parents as well. Happy FTRV’rs anniversary and Happy B-day to Andy. Safe travels.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Monthly Expense Report and Full-Year Recap – August 2019 – Full-Time RV Living | Just Call Us Nomads

  3. Pingback: Coyote Creek SP, Enchanted Circle, Geocache Trackable, Return to Storrie Lake SP, Dropping AAA | Just Call Us Nomads

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