Let’s pick back up with our adventures in the Sun Valley area, shall we?
We almost didn’t go to Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. When I was researching our trip to Sun Valley I stumbled across reviews on TripAdvisor and mentioned it to the husband. At first he wasn’t too enthusiastic. He cautioned me that it was flat-splat in the middle of the desert. He remembered a trip there when he was a kid and said it was hot and not particularly interesting.
As the trip approached he suggested that we should go to Craters of the Moon. He thought that I would like it. So, I added it to the list.
On the evening of our third day we talked about what we wanted to do the next day. The topic of Craters came up. The husband reluctance reemerged. I told him that if he felt it wasn’t worth the hour and a half drive that we didn’t have to go. He thought about it a bit and finally said that we should go.
So, we did.
We’re both glad we did.
As we drove South through Hailey and Bellevue we spotted one of my favorite memories of the trip: a field of cows. Close to the road. With a single prong horn antelope in the middle of them, grazing just as busily as the cows. We were, unfortunately, going too fast for the picture and there was no pull-out in the area. It was a fantastic thing to see. That was one smart antelope.
There is evidence that the Northern Shoshone passed through the area now known as Craters of the Moon on their annual migration. In the 1850’s and 1860’s settlers following Goodales Cutoff of the Oregon Trail traveled along the Northern edge of the vast expanse of lava, but do not appear to have ventured into the area.
Federal geologists explored the area in 1901 and 1923. Also in the 1920’s a taxidermist and Idaho promoter, Robert Limbert, made three journeys through the lava. His lectures and articles helped to publicize the area and contributed to the establishment of a national monument there in 1924.
NASA used the area in 1969 to introduce the likes of Alan Shepard to basic volcanic geology as he prepared for his moon missions.
In 1970 Congress designated much of the national monument as wilderness, one of the first in the National Park System. The Wilderness Act of 1964 recognized wilderness as as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain”. The Monument was expanded in 2000 to include an additional 495,000, bringing the total acreage of the Monument to 750,000 acres.
If you’d like to learn specifically about how all of this lava came to be I invite you to check out the National Park Service website here. They say it much more succinctly than I ever could.
The husband and I arrived at the visitors center mid-morning on a warm Wednesday in September. There weren’t a lot of people around. Just how we like it. We picked up a map and started making our way around the Loop Road. This seven-mile loop allows for plenty of stops at trails (most very short) that take you over, under and around a variety of volcanic features. We stopped at all of them. One thing I found interesting is that signs we were reading, out in the desert, describing the different types of lava before us, contained Hawaiian words for that lava. Pahoehoe and a’a are just a couple. But, it makes sense since our consistently active volcano is on the Big Island (went there a few years ago. Didn’t get to see lava flowing, but it’s pretty cool to see that caldera glowing in the night sky. Rather Indiana Jones-esque).
We were most impressed by the views from atop Inferno Cone, a short, steep 0.4 mile walk. From the top the valley spreads out before you on all sides. Big Cinder Butte, towering above the lava plain to the south, is one of the world’s largest basaltic cinder cones.
We stopped at a beside-the-road pull-out and enjoyed lunch at a picnic table under a shade tree. Our view? Lava fields…as far as the eye could see.
After lunch we headed to our final stop: Broken Top Trail. This 1.8 mile self-guided walk goes around a cinder cone with an opportunity to explore Buffalo Caves.
We were excited by the prospect of exploring a lava tube, but we didn’t truly understand what would be required. When we looked down at the entrance of the cave, which would require some serious ducking and scrambling to get into (though it looked like it opened up once you were inside), we both felt a little claustrophobic and chickened out. There are ranger tours of a different (and I suspect, larger) cave system two times a day, but we didn’t manage the timing right. That’s my one regret, as I think it would have been really cool.
Our explorations kept us in the park until almost 3 in the afternoon. We agreed that we would not have lingered as long, or explored as much, if it had been the height of summer and difficult to get around due to masses of people (if there’s such a thing at this rather remote park).
But, we only had to deal with one tour bus, and they only stopped a couple of places before moving on (we wondered where the tour originated from and where else it was going). And we found that many other people barely got out of their cars before hustling to the next view point. Their loss…our gain.
It was pretty much just us…and a random squirrel who appeared completely convinced that we were there to steal his nuts. 🙂