After work, we drove out to Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. We spent some time in the Visitor Center looking at the exhibits, picking up ‘Lunar Ranger’ books (not Junior Rangers this time but Lunar Rangers) and watching the movie overviews. We requested the movie with some of the Apollo 14 astronauts. They came to visit the area both pre-and post- their space flights. One of their comments was that the area is very similar to the moon’s vastness, if we could imagine it without the roads or any vegetation.
It is incredible that anything is able to grow in the cinders of the lava and even within the gaps in the thick, black lava rock. Surprisingly though, some plants do make it through and survive. We liked the tiny, purple/pink monkey flowers which almost rest on the surface and create a blanket of color on the otherwise, dark surface. The cinders must absorb the heat as we read that in the height of summer, temperatures on the ground can reach 150°F, add to this that the area receives very little rain and you really don’t have conditions conducive to plant life.
We decided to drive the 7-mile loop to see the huge fields. Particularly interesting were the two ‘young’ lava flows: Broken Top and Blue Dragon. In the Hawaiian language, pahoehoe means ‘ropy’, which is exactly how the lava looked. Geologists predict that the processes that created these flows are likely to generate future events; I was glad we were not there to witness it up close! There were general rumbles from the rear participants of the truck as we were driving, that they absolutely did not want to hike a trail – fine, OK, we’ll just look, get out now and again to read the informational signs, and be on our way.
All this being said, we pulled into the parking area at Inferno Cone, an enormous cinder cone and immediately one of them asked: “Can we climb to the top?” “Yes, I think you can, it indicates that there is a very steep half-mile trail to the top.” “Oh wow, that’s so cool, can we?!” “I guess so!” Out they jumped and were well on their way up before we had got ourselves together to follow them, having not anticipated going on a trail at all – so fickle these kids of ours! It was a great little hike to the top with incredible views of the lava fields, other cinder cones and spatter cones. The was a lone tree just off the top which looked so out of place as well as various shrubs, some of them covered with tent caterpillars – lots of them, it did look a tad disgusting but the kids were fascinated.
The cinders are quite crunchy and contain many gas bubbles or vesicles which make them very light in weight. We kept picking up different rocks and truly, they felt as though you had nothing in your hand. Apparently some are light enough to float on water. Thin layers of glass coat the cinders, creating prisms that refract and reflect light into millions of micro-rainbows, so beautiful.
We continued with the loop, stopping in at Devil’s Garden and checking out the cave area – we’ll be coming back later in the week to see anything we missed. On our way out, at the Visitor Center, the kids were sworn in as Lunar Rangers and received a very cool patch for their efforts.
States visited: 49!
visited 49 states (98%)
Create your own visited map of The United States
Miles driven so far -
LOOP 1 (Aug 2009 - Aug 2010): 29,000
LOOP 2 (May - August 2012): 10,800
Highest altitude with camper: 11,158ft (I-70, CO)