Saturday, April 19, 2014

Craters of the Moon

While we were staying in Idaho Falls, on Sunday, April 6th, we drove an hour and a half westward through the lonely plains of Idaho to see Craters of the Moon National Monument.

Along the way, we stopped at the one and only rest stop along that Idaho plain.  To our surprise, the rest stop was educational in and of itself!  It turns out that this plain in Idaho is the top manufacturer of nuclear reactors in the world. Interesting!

We continued our lonely drive along the US Route until we reached the entrance to Craters of the Moon.  This national monument preserves a unique landscape, one which was formed by volcanic activity 2000 years ago.

We learned about the two types of lava rock: pahoehoe (smooth) and ‘a’a (rough).  We also learned about the types of volcanic cones: spatter cones and cinder cones.

We took the trail through the park after stopping at the visitor center.  Our first stop was the North Crater Flow which had a short walk through the lava flows. 

Next we walked through the Devil’s Orchard with its lava fragments standing in a sea of cinder.

We stopped here for a picnic lunch among the spongy cinder ground, then continued to the Inferno Cone.  This was a huge black cinder cone which enticed us to climb to the top.  It was very steep, but once we reached the summit we had an amazing view of the surrounding area.

Next we walked two very short trails which led to two spatter cones.  From the top of the cones we could peer down inside these miniature volcanoes.  They each still had ice inside them!

We skipped the next part of the park because the trails were too long for us to hike, and instead we went ahead to the cave area of the park.  While I stayed behind in the car with our 10 year old son (who had enough of “boring lava” by this time), Steve and the other boys walked 1.5 miles along the lava flows to reach three lava tube “caves”.  Since we had obtained a permit at the visitor center to explore these caves, the boys were very excited to be able to do this. 

Armed with flashlights, they started off down the path to the Indian Cave first.  This cave was big with a few skylight openings, so it wasn’t completely dark.  After they explored from one end to the other, our youngest son was “all caved out” and came back to the car.  The older boys continued to explore the Dewdrop Cave, then the Boy Scout Cave which was by far the most difficult.  This cave had a very narrow entrance, was pitch dark and icy inside, and had rough climbing over the jagged lava rocks.  Ironically, this was the highlight of the trip for the older boys!

Meanwhile, I took the two youngest boys back to the visitor center to turn in their workbooks for their “Lunar Ranger” badges.  After all, this was Craters of the Moon, the place where astronauts trained before landing on the actual moon! So instead of “Junior Ranger” badges, they got “Lunar Ranger” badges.

After meeting up with everyone again, we decided to go ahead and drive down the park road that we skipped earlier.  This drive gave us some remarkable scenery, but otherwise there was no reason for us to get out of the car.

With this final drive, we had seen everything there was to see at the park, so we headed back to Idaho Falls again.  We enjoyed this unique landscape with its jagged lava rock formations, smooth lava beds, and iridescent lava boulders, and spongy cinder ground.

Before reaching home, we stopped to see some scenery with buttes in the distance (and Steve took this funny picture... is my rear end really that big?!?  Guess who's going on a diet as soon as this adventure is over!).  

The next day, we packed up and headed on our way once again.