Craters of the Moon National Monument – Arco, Idaho

June 2015

Craters of the Moon National Monument is an incredibly awesome place. Really. Truly. I could just leave it at that and show the pics, but I know you want details. Always wanting the details…

Lava Flow Campground

Named appropriate enough, the RV accommodations at the national monument is called Lava Flow Campground and offers 51 dry camping sites. There is no water on the premises that is suitable to fill your RV’s water tank, so make sure you come prepared!

We stayed in site 40 which was just large enough to fit my house and the Jeep, but offered unimpeded views of the very unique landscape. There is a trail from the campground that leads to the North Crater Trail, so access to the monument is incredibly good. As in you are camping amongst the lava rocks. And when the dust blows, you get coated in fine lava dust. As in it doesn’t get more like a lunar landscape than this.

Craters of the Moon National Monument

The monument covers 750,000 square acres, most of which aren’t very accessible. There is a visitors center, the campground, and a 7 mile loop that you can drive on to access certain areas. But the rest of the monument is a wide open, lava filled backcountry that you can hike (though there are no maintained trails).

The volcanic eruptions that created this area were pretty recent, happening in the past 2,000 to 15,000 years. Periodic volcanic eruptions along a 52 mile chain of cracks and fissures (called the Great Rift) are what created the landscape as it appears now. The lava flow now covers 618 square miles, and it isn’t done yet. Another event is predicted in the future. When? Who knows.

Exploring

With 7 miles of road inside the park, all of which is accessed only if you pay an entrance fee, it was a perfect place for Kathy to ride her bike. And ride she did. Around and around and around she went, covering the 7-mile loop multiple times over the course of our stay, taking time to stop to experience various features of the monument.

While she was putting miles under her tires, I was exploring by foot. Up to the top of Inferno Cone I went, a cinder cone you can climb up to get a 360 degree view. I wogged the couple of miles of the out-and-back Tree Molds Trail ‘cause I wanted to see some lava tree molds (kinda disappointed – I thought there would be a forest of them when there were only a handful). And I wogged part of Broken Top Trail so I could take in the vistas from the Big Sink Overlook.

Between the two of us, we covered most of the trails and covered many miles of road inside the monument. And we even saw much of it together, including the North Crater Flow Trail and the cave area. Yes, caves!

The ranger explained, and showed, us the different types of lava and what causes each type. He also took us into Indian Tunnel, the only cave that doesn’t require a flashlight.

India Cave ranger walk

After the ranger talk was over, Kathy and I explored Boy Scout and Beauty caves. Boy Scout Cave has two entrances. The one we first went into was a hole just large enough to fit down into and led to a room you could stand up in. But not much further in the ceiling came down to where you had to crawl to progress. I wasn’t in the mood to be crawling on lava rocks, so we went back into the day light and entered Boy Scout Cave from another much easier accessible hole.

Boy Scout and Beauty Caves

Craters of the Moon is the kind of place where you can drive or ride the loop multiple times and see something new every time. It is surreal. Gorgeous. Peaceful. And a must-see, in my book.

Goodale’s Cutoff

As we departed Craters of the Moon National Monument, we kept an eye out for Goodale’s Cutoff which was a spur of the Oregon Trail. Goodale’s Cutoff ran through the monument (just to the north of the lava flow) and is marked by white posts every now and again. Once we knew what we were looking for, it was very interesting seeing where the markers appeared. We even stopped at one point and hoofed it a bit. I found a marker, but it wasn’t really obvious where the trail was. By that I mean there were no wagon ruts, which makes sense considering the ground is very hard in that part of the world.

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