August 27, 2009
We took our time getting out of Mountain Home and didn’t leave until 11:00 am. We were about 175 miles from Craters so took our time getting there. Actually there was no choice since the road construction kept slowing us down. Again the ride was long and the scenery less then appealing (our first encounter with ugly landscape).
We arrived at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve around three. Our original plan was to spend a few nights in Arco 18 miles from Craters but decided to stay at the no utilities campground in the park and camp among the basalt debris from the volcanic eruption 2000 years ago. The price helped us decide as well, only $5.00 per night for Golden Age Pass holders.
“The surface of the moon as seen through a telescope” is how geologist Harold T. Stearns described the area in 1923. Stearns saw a place where “the dark craters and the cold lava were nearly destitute of vegetation.” Its strangeness stirred local legends, public interest and then a feature story in the National Geographic magazine. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge established Craters of the Moon National Monument to preserve “ a weird and scenic landscape, peculiar to itself.”
Craters of the Moon was named some 45 years before the first moon landing and although there are many lava flows on the moon, astronauts confirmed that the lunar craters were caused by meteorite impacts, not volcanism. The craters of Craters of the Moon are definitely of volcanic origin. However, there is no visible volcano. The huge volumes of lava did not come from one volcano but from long fissures across the Snake River Plain that are known collectively as the “Great Rift.” Around 15,000 years ago lava welled up from the Great Rift to produce a vast ocean of rock.(basalt) The most recent eruption is said to have been 2000 years ago. Geologists believe that future events are likely within the next 1000 years. Tiffany, a geologist and Park Ranger told us at her lecture that she wakes every day hoping it will be the day of the big eruption. NOT WHILE WE’RE HERE – PLEASE!!!!
After dinner we took a ride along the 7-mile loop stopping at the Inferno Cone a short, steep 0.5 mile hike where from the top you can see cinder cones lined up along the 60 mile Great Rift. To the south towering above the lava plains we were also able to see Big Cinder Butte, one of the world’s largest basaltic cinder cones. The hike up Inferno Cone was difficult because of the 14 percent grade but coming down was much easier.
Despite the barren conditions and park’s lava fields and arid sagebrush areas the park sustains a diversity of plant and animal life.
We ended the day taking in the Ranger program led by Tiffany the Ranger with a death wish. She was excellent discussing the geology of the park and its’ history.