Craters of the Moon National Monument
After long debate, we decided not to do a river trip on the lower Salmon river. This route we decided was too soon after our amazing time on the Green River, and we were not 100 percent sure we could handle class 2-3 rapids in our inflatables yet. Thank goodness we did have a destination to bring us into Idaho aside from the river trip idea. This destination is best described by this quote from Julius Merrill, a pioneer in 1864.
“It was a desolate, dismal scenery. Up or down the valley as far as the eye could reach or across the mountains and into the dim distance the same unvarying mass of black rock. Not a shrub, bird nor insect seemed to live near it. Great must have been the relief of the volcano, powerful the emetic, that poured such a mass of black vomit.”
Craters of the Moon National Monument was an odd curiosity that caught Eric's attention and wouldn't get out of his head. This fascination was spurred on by the fact that this landscape has been used as a training site both for Apollo missions and more recent Mars missions by NASA. Beyond that, we didn't have any knowledge or expectations of the area except that their was a lava field...in the middle of Idaho.
After a quick jaunt around Park City, UT we traveled four and a half hours through the south eastern roads of Idaho. Sadly, I did not have a baked potato for the journey. Eric was reminded of the central valley out in California along the drive. Weaving through rolling hills of brown grass dotted with greens of trees and farms, Idaho looked like a delightful place to be a rich rancher/farmer. Each plot of land seemed vast and prosperous. It's good to have land 😉
Driving into the town of Arco we were skeptical that there actually were large lava beds somewhere in the area. You could barely tell. As soon as we were about 1 minute away from the campground, however, the landscape changed drastically. No longer where the roadsides covered in sagebrush, but rather hardened rivers of black rock. This was also the first time we camped in such obvious igneous rock, with the striking blackness of the ground and surrounding boulders enclosing our camp space. The down side to this dark scenery was that it was still hot, and it remained hot until about 10pm since the rocks retained the heat from the long summers day. It was still a nifty campground, and since we arrived around 7:30pm, we quickly cooked a dinner of Chimichurri burritos (thanks Trader Joe's!) and headed to bed.
We only took one full day to experience this park, but it is not that big (at least the accessible portion, in reality this is a gigantic park) so we felt pretty satisfied with our time. If I was determined to see a Greater Sage Grouse or was studying Pika, I could have spent forever exploring the back country. Alas, I am not. Eric and I are also not cave enthusiasts. We appreciate them and their unique ecosystem, sure, but do not seek out opportunities to shove our bodies through cracks deep underground. However, if this is what you desire, Craters of the Moon has a lot of neat lava tubes turned cave that you can explore to your hearts content (with a free permit.) We did go into the opening of a few cave for a break from the heat of the day, but found all the yellow jackets in the park to be doing the same, so we passed on the wasp caving experience.
We did enjoy exploring the park and were able to hike all of the front country trails. This led us to views of spatter cones, cinder cones, two different types of lava, scrub desert, and even snow. Lava covered with snow really made me want an Oreo milkshake. We felt justified that we weren't the only people there reminded of Hawaii's Big Island when we noticed that 75% of the interpretive signs showed only pictures of active lava flows at Volcano National Park. It got us thinking about our own trip to Volcano National Park, and how we would like to return there some day. It was weird to admit that the middle of Idaho reminded us greatly of the Hawaiian islands. Thanks to the park video and talking with the Rangers here, this place is actually high on our list of winter destinations. Apparently, it is quite the view when you can ski through lava rock.
Craters of the Moon was the first park that made us familiar with the hot spot that is responsible for the geologic on-goings at Yellowstone National Park. The Snake river valley housing Craters of the Moon was literally melted out of the mountains in a path leading straight towards the current Yellowstone caldera. This was best shown in a large elevation relief map table in the visitor center that explained the hot spot's movements and how this impacted the landscape of the western United States.
Within most parks, we try to enjoy at least one Ranger program. It dosn't always work out, but here it did. It was, like many are, an energetic interactive program that tested visitor knowledge and gave us new information that only increased our fascination about the park we were visiting. It was super neat to learn about the Pika in this region, but also, once again, sad to be reminded that climate change is already having drastically negetive effects on the land and it's inhabitants. This message is strong throughout most of the parks, and we did find it difficult to stay hopeful about the future of our natural spaces, let alone humanity itself.
All in all, Craters of the Moon was absolutely worth the drive. I was happy to see at least a bit of Idaho, and I look forward to exploring more of the state in the future. We leave this place with no doubt that it deserves to be protected, appreciated, and studied for years to come. As President Coolidge stated,
“this area contains many curious and unusual phenomena of great educational value and has a weird and scenic landscape peculiar to itself .'
and we would have to agree.
10/10 would camp on the moon again.