Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Craters of the Moon - No volcano in sight

Because I am an unbelievably fortunate person, I enjoyed a series of adventures and entertainments in July and early August. I used to feel guilty about being so favored, but I got over that and now just enjoy what I can, while I can.

The first fun was a week rafting Idaho's Middle Fork of the Salmon River with a small group of treasured family and friends. Awesome. I can't imagine a better river experience. Blog coming.

Next was a solo visit to the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in Idaho, the subject of this post.

A collapsed lava tube in the Indian Tunnel cave at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve.
Then came camping, dancing and laughing at the Red Ants Pants Music Festival in White Sulphur Springs, MT. I was so excited about it last year that I had to return, dragging along Charla, a girlfriend from East Texas. Another writing project.

At the festival's end, the two of us meandered back to Oregon on a serendipitous road trip in my camper van. (It belongs to PK as well, but he didn't happen to be with us. It was mine, all mine. And Charla's, of course.) Words and photos about the road trip may show up in this space.

But for now,  just this — Craters of the Moon

Getting to Craters of Moon National Monument and Preserve may involve ripping your tires off  Idaho's I-84, where the speed limit almost matches the interstate number, as travelers zip between Idaho's east/west borders.
If you have a flexible schedule, and are up for a unique diversion, peel north off the Interstate onto one of the two-lane roads that will intersect with highways 20, 26, and 93. All the same road. Craters of the Moon is worth the time and effort.

What's so good about it?
NOT CROWDED.  I swear, I saw at least 50 people on trails throughout Craters of the Moon during nearly three hours. Just not all at the same time. In mid-July, the height of tourist season. Isn't that refreshing? A fascinating public treasure that isn't teeming and steaming with irritable  tourists? The masses are at Yellowstone National Park, or the Grand Tetons, both of which  are only a few hours drive east. I love Yellowstone and the Tetons, but not during the congested maddening thick of high-tourist season.
TRAILS I took advantage of a few short hikes before I tackled a lava tube cave. This short but steep trail up a cinder cone led to an overlook, but also a collapsed lava tube with some surprising detritus.
Two hats, one deteriorated and the other, as if it may have been blown off somebody's head earlier in the day.  Plus a couple plastic bags and/or Styrofoam containers, litter the floor about 20 feet below. The hats? Well, I had to grab mine before it blew off. But the plastic/styrofoam? Likely a result of careless trash disposal. 


Short trails were good but I was most interested in exploring one of the three caves. A ranger, answering the same questions over and over at the visitors' center, said the most extensive and  interesting cave was Indian Tunnel. I went there.
BEAUTY! Why was I surprised by all the colors and textures in the cave? 

CAVE EXPLORATION  Inside Indian Tunnel, I vined in on a small group led by a monument naturalist. Among other things, I learned that the tunnel has two exits, and the more challenging spares a person a longer walk back to the parking lot. I'd made a stupid mistake when setting off from the van – not carrying water. The trail was hot and exposed, and what did I expect from the July sun radiating off the black lava? I looked for the shorter way back to hydration.

A MODEST ADVENTURE  I carried a flashlight but didn't need to use it.
Having natural light made all the difference to a novice spelunker.
There it is - the end! Actually, it was easier than it looks. 
No crawling involved. A little climbing required, however. 
Now they tell me! I expected the exit to be close
to the paved trail. But no.
Following the markers to the paved trail was fun and took my mind off of being so thirsty. It took about 20-25 minutes to reach the parking lot and my water bottle.
NICE CAMPGROUND - A typical campsite within the monument. When I arrived in the early afternoon, numerous campsites were still available. According to a monument employee,  a few out of 51 sites had been vacant the previous night. I don't see electric and water here, but I did note fine-looking restrooms. All sites are on a first-come basis.
The nearest towns are about 20 miles distant.

I could see staying a night here after a leisurely day hiking. If you don't care to hike, the area can be seen on a good quality paved road in an hour or so. But you'd miss the good stuff. Most trails are paved and easy with some handicapped access.

There's more! Exploration and camping by foot or 4WD are available in the adjacent Craters of the Moon Wilderness. 

NOTE: Craters of the Moon is part of the Great Rift, a 52-mile long  series of deep fissures. From the park's brochure:

The Craters of the Moon are definitely of volcanic origin. But where is the volcano? Vast volumes of lava issued not from one volcano but from a series of deep fissures —known collectively as the Great Rift—that cross the Snake River Plain. Beginning 15,000 years ago lava welled up from the Great Rift to produce this vast ocean of rock. The most recent eruption occurred a mere 2,000 years ago, and geologists believe that future events are likely.

1 comment:

  1. I'm guessing it's difficult to capture the full impact of all the colours and textures in the rock but they look beautiful. I was pleased to read that you've slain your guilt dragon. 2,000 years? That's a nonsecond in geological time. Must be one of the newest rock formations around.