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.Craters of the Moon 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.2010-08-26 -2- ID, Craters of the Moon National Monument -1011 A 7 mile loop runs through the park, with several stops.Craters of the Moon MapAlthough 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

a’a (Hawaiian for “stony, rough lava” or “blaze, burn”) lava flows quickly, causing cracks to be formed on the surface, resulting in jagged razor sharp slices of stone.2010-08-26 -2- ID, Craters of the Moon National Monument -1044

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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.2010-08-26 -2- ID, Craters of the Moon National Monument -1042

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It’s hard to believe that these monoliths floated here in the flow of lava.  Scientist estimate all this activity happened 2,000 to 15,000 years ago.2010-08-26 -2- ID, Craters of the Moon National Monument -1025

Our next stop was at the Spatter Cones, which are small craters.2010-08-26 -2- ID, Craters of the Moon National Monument -1062

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At an outside temperature approaching 100 degrees, we were amazed to see snow still at the bottom of one of these craters.2010-08-26 -2- ID, Craters of the Moon National Monument -1053

Climbing the steep path nearby, we gazed down into one of the larger craters.2010-08-26 -2- ID, Craters of the Moon National Monument -1069

An amazingly hardy little tree stands bravely at the bottom.2010-08-26 -2- ID, Craters of the Moon National Monument -1071

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:

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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.

Several metal steps lead down into the tube opening. 2010-08-26 -2- ID, Craters of the Moon National Monument -1134

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Light shines through the collapsed ceiling in several places. 2010-08-26 -2- ID, Craters of the Moon National Monument -1138 2010-08-26 -2- ID, Craters of the Moon National Monument -1142 2010-08-26 -2- ID, Craters of the Moon National Monument -1147 2010-08-26 -2- ID, Craters of the Moon National Monument -1158   2010-08-26 -2- ID, Craters of the Moon National Monument -1165

Toward the end, there is a huge pile of debris to climb over2010-08-26 -2- ID, Craters of the Moon National Monument -1167

and the final exit is a climb through a tiny hole. 2010-08-26 -2- ID, Craters of the Moon National Monument -1168

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Once out, you make your way over the rough lava back to the paved trail.  This is one of the few places in the park where you are permitted to walk on the lava.2010-08-26 -2- ID, Craters of the Moon National Monument -1184

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We marveled at this crack, so defined along a cubic break. 2010-08-26 -2- ID, Craters of the Moon National Monument -1180  2010-08-26 -2- ID, Craters of the Moon National Monument -1174   Craters of the Moon… a fascinating, otherworldly experience.

 "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."2010-08-26 -2- ID, Craters of the Moon National Monument -1177

Jerome to Craters of the Moon

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