Day 9, Tuesday, August 1, 2017
We got up around 6 am and got on the road at about 7:15, since we had a long day ahead of us! Trying to keep 3 kids quiet while you are packing up tents, brushing teeth, and getting ready to go is tough! Today was the day we were going to see Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve! Craters of the Moon NM is a relatively little known monument in kind of the middle of nowhere Idaho. It is really cool though!
Craters protects the site of lava fields and lava tubes that were created by previous volcanic eruptions; it compass three major lava fields and about 400 square miles of sagebrush steppe grasslands. The is 53,571 acres in size. The three lava fields in the monument are along the Great Rift of Idaho, and have open rift cracks, including the deepest rift crack known on Earth. It is 800 feet deep! There are examples of almost every kind of basaltic lava, as well as tree molds, (where a cavity is left by a lava-incinerated tree), lava tube caves, and many other volcanic features. Craters is also known for its excellent wildlife habitat, as many animals survive on the sagebrush grasslands. This post, however, will not contact much wildlife because it was about 95 degrees on the day of our visit!
We went out into the lava fields to hike some of the lava tubes – remember to bring a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water – it was really hot the day we were there! The above ground hike is 1.6 miles, if you walk to the entrances of each of the lava tubes. You can also go inside! Remember, if you want to go into the lava tubes, you have to have a free cave permit; just stop by the Visitor’s Center before you head out, and they will give you one, hassle free.
Our first lava tube was Indian Tunnel – this is a fairly long lava tube, but has sections where the roof of the tube has collapsed, so part of it is exposed to the sky. It is really cool! The cooling lava and the later collapses of the roof left huge lava boulders on the floor of the cave, so you have to scramble over them in order to make it through. The kids loved it, and even the 5 year could easily do it. There were lots of pigeons in the shady upper reaches, and we found a lot of chipmunk and other rodent bones in the cave as well. We left them for the next people to enjoy.
We also hiked into Beauty Cave and Dewdrop Cave. Dewdrop Cave is the smallest; it is really just a recess back into the ground, but there is a tucked away section that is pretty dark. Beauty Cave is relatively short, but completely dark (bring a flashlight). Beauty Cave is suitable for most people, as long as you can enter the cave, you will find that the floor of the cave is smooth and easy to walk on; it doesn’t have all the boulders that are present in the other caves.
Boy Scout Cave is the most challenging of the lava tubes. It requires crawling and squeezing through tight spots; we debated, but ultimately decided to leave Boy Scout Cave for another trip, and settled for a quick peek at its entrance.
After the caves, we planned on a picnic at one of the picnic tables in the shade. Where we quickly realized why no one else had snagged the shady spot on such a hot day. As soon as we got out of the van, we were SWARMED by hornets! And I mean SWARMED – they were everywhere! It was so bad that my brother got back in the van to drive it away, while the rest of us followed on foot in hopes that we could lose the hornets and not let any of them into the van. It was crazy! Our tactic worked, and we did manage to escape without anyone getting stung. There was a huge meltdown in the van a little bit later after we discovered a small bug that needed to be let out. No photos of this hornet cyclone – sorry!
The hornet escapade did prevent us from doing another hike that we had planned on, the Devil’s Orchard Nature Trail, because the trail head had some hornets hanging around the cars, and the kids absolutely refused to get out of the car. I’m not sure I blame them – perhaps the hornets are why it is called Devil’s Orchard.
Instead we went to see the Spatter Cones. There are two miniature volcanoes here, and a third called Snow Cone, just a short walk away. These cones were created when the volcano spewed blobs of hot lava into the air, mounding into the form of a cone about 2,100 years ago. These spatter cones are mere babies in the life of geology! Snow Cone was fascinating, because its crater is so narrow and deep that snow from the winter lasts all year long! We got to peer down into it and see the remaining snow – on the first of August on a 95 degree day! We also found a chipmunk enjoying the cooler temperatures of the crater.
We headed back to the Visitor’s Center and listened to the Ranger Talk on types of lava. She explained the differences between cinder cones and spatter cones, as well as black lava versus pahoehoe lava (which gets its name from the Hawai’ian lava flows). She let us hold lava rocks; some are really heavy and others are way lighter, depending on how dense the rock is – it was a great talk, and everybody enjoyed it. Of course we got Junior Ranger badges too!
Our stop for the night was at a Sleep Inn in Nampa, Idaho. It was our first hotel of the trip! We had talked it over and decided that camping in 90+ degree weather just didn’t sound very appealing, and setting up after our long day of driving seemed like a chore too (who knew Idaho was so wide?). The shower was amazing though!
Distance for the Day: Victor, ID – Craters of the Moon NM – Nampa, ID (5 hours, 51 minutes; 341 miles)
Craters of the Moon Entrance Fee: $15 per vehicle for 7 days, free with a National Parks Pass
Sleep Inn: Nampa, ID: $107 per room (includes tax) – free breakfast!