Summer Travels 2016 – Craters of the Moon, Idaho

I and the grandkids stopped off at Craters of the Moon National Monument and stayed one night at the campground that is located in the park!

What a unique and interesting place this was………A seven-mile loop road leads you to all the trailheads and the kids had a lot of fun walking the many paved paths and exploring the crooks and crannies. Craters of the Moon is located between the small towns of Arco and Carey, Idaho. The landscape here was created by a handful of lava flows over time. The lava here didn’t erupt out of volcanoes, but rather oozed out of fissures in the earth and occasionally spewed out of vents. Sometimes a flow would partially cover a previous lava bed, other times it would create new ones. The result is 618 square miles of cinder cones, lava tubes, tree molds, lava rivers, spatter cones, and lava beds as far as you can see. Craters of the Moon represents one of the best-preserved flood basalt areas in the United States.

Inferno Cone View Point is a cinder cone that appears to be a volcanoe but is really just accumulations of volcanic cinders from nearby explosions. The hike up Inferno Cone is straightforward, covering 160 feet in elevation gain over the course of 2/10 mile. Hikers will crest an initial hump about halfway up, followed by a brief pause and then another steep incline. The time to reach the summit is only about 10-15 and offers excellent views of various volcanic features.

One of the coolest things to do anywhere there are lava flows is hike through lava tubes. This makes “Caves Trail” an exciting hike in Craters of the Moon National Monument. The 1.6-mile paved trail has four caves that were created by lava tubes that guided molten magma up to the surface, where it bubbled and formed this amazing landscape. When the lava flow stopped, deep tubes were left behind, reaching to the source of the magma. Over the millennia, many of the tubes sealed up and collapsed, but some still remain, extending hundreds of feet below the surface of the park.

Pahoehoe (a native hawaiian word) lava tubes that covers about half the area of the Monument, is a billowy, ropy type of lava that is filled with caverns. Its shiny blue glassy crusts make some of the flows very beautiful in the sunlight. The ropy and wrinkled surfaces are due to the hardening from a thin crust or scum on the lava flow while the crust was being pushed forward by the flowing lava below. This motion caused the thin crust or scum to wrinkle and fold like molasses.

Next up was a spatter cone…….. these “miniature” volcanoes form during the final stages of a fissure type eruption. As gases escape and pressure is released, the lava becomes thick and pasty. When these sticky globs of lava plop to the surface, they pile up to form spatter cones.

As we drove along we saw “lava bombs” which are masses of molten rock formed when a vent ejected viscous fragments of lava during an eruption. The lava cooled into a solid mass before it reached the ground.

Lava flows that once destroyed everything in its path has now over time formed a spectacular landscape that protects the sagebrush, plant and animal life that has adapted to the harsh environment that exists in Craters of the Moon.