If you are looking for a strange, but scenic landscape Craters of the Moon National Monument is sure to knock your socks off. I don’t know what it is about this kind of landscape but I will never pass up an opportunity to explore it. Not even when the cold and wind are so bone chilling it’s almost excruciating.
Let me paint the picture for you. We are heading up to Glacier National Park and one of our stops is in Idaho Falls. That put us driving for about 6 hours which is a lot when driving a 30 foot motorhome with a tow. We get set up, get some dinner in us and start exploring what to do in the area. Craters of the Moon showed up about an hour away and I was sold. I didn’t mind driving an hour in the Jetta to go see craters, volcanic ruins and lava tubes, in fact, I was so excited that I could barely sleep.
Now, we knew it was going to be chilly, but bone chilling was not expected. When we arrived at the visitor center would could see a brief snow/rain flurry starting. Seems weird for the end of April but what do we know. We have been in Phoenix, AZ area for years now. Yes, the visitor center does have a National Parks Passport stamp. (Let’s be honest, you know me by now and knew that’s what I was looking for first.) So after the stamp we ask the rangers what’s next. Would you believe we had to go through a questionnaire about our last 13 years of travels. Seems weird right?! Well, a little background to that is that apparently the bats are dying in unprecedented numbers and humans can spread the murdering fungus from cave to cave.
Luckily we had not been wearing the same clothes, shoes or same pack as the last time we were in caves so we got the go ahead to go exploring. Our first stop was the Inferno Cone, which is where we quickly realized how bloody cold it was. This is a .2 mile STEEP walk up the side of this cinder cone. The further up you go, the colder and windier it got. Not only are you freezing, but you are short of breath and breathing in the frigid cold air. Basically, what I am saying, is don’t go when it’s frigid. Anyways, once you get to the top of this cone the view is breathtaking. It’s near impossible to describe not only the accomplishment you feel but the lava land which appears to go on for miles. After a few pics we decide it was time to get out of the cold and head back down. The hike down was definitely easier. Once we got in the car we decided that maybe we wouldn’t do all of the hikes due to the cold and we would do the short 30 minute drive through the park and stop off at some of the spots and check them out.
Our next stop was number 5 on the map (Spatter Cones & Big Craters Area) which was definitely worth the short .25 mile steep hike. Up here you also get a great view of the area, but you also get to see down in to the volcano. I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty cool. We stopped at a few other spots on the map to check them out but didn’t do a lot of exploring because my toes were about to fall off.
Lastly, the ranger in the welcome center had told us the Indian Tunnels were her favorite, so me being Indian, loving tunnels and exploring, we HAD to investigate. She wasn’t kidding. This tunnel was truly amazing. So many little areas and routes to explore. We even went deep down in a cave that we couldn’t even see in. If it wasn’t blocked off (for our safety) I would have probably kept going and gotten lost, became a cave dweller, and died way down there. Sometimes my self-restraint for exploring is lacking so boundaries are always good. We probably spent a good hour down in these tunnels exploring, gawking and being tourists. Yes, it was actually warmer down here since the bitter wind wasn’t cutting through you.
Some history for you is this place finally became a national monument in 1924 after many reported cases of travel going through this area and also it being avoided. In the early 1800’s people avoided the lavas and it wasn’t until 1901 that geologists started to take an interest in the area and really explore it. This area is known as the Great Rift area because it wasn’t just one volcano that created this phenomenon but a series of deep fissures. It is said that this great vast ocean of rock began about 15,000 years ago. Even crazier yet is that the most recent eruption was only 2,000 years ago AND it is believed that there will be future eruptions.
- This lava field is the largest in the US at 618 square miles
- The highest cinder cone is 700 feet in the air
- There are 2,000 insect species, 148 birds, 300 plant species, 8 reptiles, and 47 mammals that have adapted to this environment
- There are more than 25 cinder cones at Craters of the Moon
- Lava engulfed the trees, which later died leaving tree molds around the park