Being from Oregon, where there are plenty of opportunities to see lava fields, I wasn’t as excited about Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. Turned out this place actually impressed us. So yes, I recommend visiting this national monument in Idaho.
On August 22, 1969, Apollo 14 astronauts came to Craters of the Moon to explore the lava landscape and to learn the basics of volcanic geology in preparation for future trips to the moon. NASA felt that these astronauts would someday have the opportunity to collect rock samples on the moon. Due to a limited amount of material they could bring back with them, it was imperative that they have knowledge about geology to collect the most scientifically valuable specimens. Today, NASA still has ongoing volcanic researches at Craters of the Moon.
The Craters of the Moon is a crescent-shaped lava field at the foothills of the Pioneer Mountain Range in southern Idaho. President Coolidge established the Craters of the Moon National Monument in 1924, and President Clinton expanded it in 2000. The Craters of the Moon is made up of over 60 different lava flows, the most recent of which is about 2,100 years old, and the oldest of which is 15,000 years old. [NASA’s Visible Earth]
David and I visited Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve one afternoon while staying at Mackay Reservoir, about an hour drive from the park. Our Interagency Annual Pass covered the $20 entrance fee. Yay!
Inferno Cone is probably what I remembered most about Craters of the Moon. The walk up to top of this cinder cone is short but steep. You will be rewarded with panoramic views of the area. The park said that on a clear day you could see the Teton Range. I didn’t see any.
On this windy day it was extremely windy at the top of the Inferno Cone. We saw a guy threw small cinder rocks into the wind and caught them as they were being blown back at him. It was so windy that we couldn’t spend much time at the top. So we descended as soon as we snapped photos we want. As I was preparing this post I saw the park’s Hiking Trails page said not to climb the Inferno Cone in high winds as the cinders are sometimes picked up by the wind. Oops! Too late.
According to the park website, peak bloom for spring wildflowers generally occurs in mid-June. Although unplanned, our timing couldn’t be much better as we visited the park on June 14th. The wildflowers were abundant. What made them even more spectacular was that these flowers grew in the harsh environment of the lava fields and cinders.
Note: To protect the bat populations in caves at the monument, Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve has instituted a screening procedure to help prevent the spread of White-nose Syndrome. You can obtain free cave permits at the Visitor Center before heading into the park or on Ranger guided walks.
- National Park Service Website: https://www.nps.gov/crmo/learn/historyculture/astronauts.htm
- NASA’s Visible Earth: https://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view.php?id=3964