Craters of the Moon National Monument is a volcanic lava flow in south central Idaho. This park with its lava formations covers 1117 square miles, the size of the state of Delaware. The lava fields and formations are so large and dark, they can be seen by space satellites. The monument has 3 major lava fields, 60 miles wide, which are the largest and best preserved examples in the 48 contiguous United States. The rift that opened the Earth’s surface a million years ago is 62 miles long. The lava deposits are as deep as 10,000 feet, the deepest known on earth.
The park is aptly named as Apollo 14 astronauts spent several days here in 1969 preparing for a voyage to the moon’s craters. Truly, you feel as if you’ve stepped into a foreign landscape, one sharply defined at it’s edges. A 7 mile loop runs through the park, with several stops.Although some were closed for construction, we still were able to see a lot of the area. Our visit started in the Visitor Center with a video on Robert Limbert, one of the early explorers who gave the area its name. Limbert, his dog, and a friend spent 17 laborious days crossing the lava beds in 1918, resulting in publicity that gained national attention. For more on Limbert, read this short history segment.
First stop on the loop is a short quarter mile trail crossing one of the youngest flows to monoliths-crater fragments rafted here by lava flows. Several formations of lava are prominent in the park, composed of the following
The second type is Pahoehoe (Hawaiian for “to paddle” (probably from the swirls on its surface)a type of lava flow which spreads in sheets. The surface is a glassy layer which has been dragged into ropy folds by the movement of the hot lava below it.
Our last stop on the loop was near the “caves” formed of lava tube channels. As hot fluid lava streams begin to cool from the top, a ceiling is formed. Then lava drips down the sides making an enclosed tube cave. These caves can be 1,000 feet long.
These shots were taken along the 1/2 mile trail to the caves:
There are 4 caves near each other. We chose Indian Cave at 800 feet long because it’s ceiling has collapsed in several places, letting in enough light for you to explore without the use of a flashlight. Although much of the stone in these pictures appear white, that is an optical illusion due to the sharp contrast of light and dark, and the use of a flash once inside the tube. The stone is actually shades of dark gray to black.
"A weird and scenic landscape peculiar to itself," stated President Calvin Coolidge as he dedicated the new memorial. A pioneer traveling the Oregon Trail in the 1850s looked at the blackened earth and described the land before him as "Devil's Vomit." An explorer recalled in his journal that this land is "the strangest 75 square miles on the North America continent." And Jerald R. Lovell, a researcher and author, remarked (this part of Idaho is) "Iceland and Hawaii all wrapped up in one."