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Park Beat IX – Craters of the Moon National Monument

Have you ever imagined what it would be like walking on the moon? In 1969, a group of astronauts visited Craters of the Moon National Monument to study the volcanic geology of the area and soon became the second group to walk on the real moon. Today, people come from all over to discover the monument’s unique geology in the heart of Idaho. 






The alien-like setting of Craters of the Moon can be startling at first; an oddity found in southeast Idaho.  A lava field, actually formed by a chain of volcanic eruptions between 15,000 to 2,000 years ago, stretches to what is now Yellowstone National Park.



It’s a strange feeling hiking on top of crisp black basaltic lava flows. The landscape is stark, foreign and bland most days. Some people may find the terrain dull and uninteresting. But on a stormy summer afternoon, Craters of the Moon can come alive as the storms slowly roll in. The sound of thunder echoes against the vast and open landscape standing on top of the Inferno Cone. Looking out, there is space as far as one can see; the hard black lava stretching out miles away. The sun creeps up out of the clouds from the west pushing the storm away. 









The designated national wilderness area adjacent to the park is even more unfamiliar.  A hike out along a black sandy trail leads to an open vista. Mountains tower in the distant background. 




Lava trees protrude from the crusty ground. Barren branches are scattered along the way. But at the same the terrain is full of life; bright reddish-orange, yellow, and green vegetation sprout up in bunches.









By the end of the day, another storm rolls in. The sun sets between the cumulonimbus clouds while lighting flashes in the distance and quickly approaches. 





Given that Craters of the Moon can be one of the darkest areas at night in the country, we swiftly make our way back towards the car just as the storm hovers above us.  It is a beautiful summer night driving from the park with lightening and thunder reigning down around us. Beauty comes in many forms, and Craters of the Moon is no exception.




Fun Facts: 

  • Is the area encompassing Craters of the Moon still active? Not exactly, but it’s not extinct either. Craters of the Moon is dormant, meaning that the volcanos are basically sleeping. According to the National Park Service website, geologists believe the area will become active in the next 1,000 years. 
  • Where’s all the big volcanos? Craters of the Moon is actually made up of 25 small cinder cones rather than one big volcano. Because fissure eruptions occurred along cracks in the earth’s crust, very fluid lava flowed from the eruptions and gases could escape easily meaning there was low gas pressure. Low gas pressure = small volcanos. 
  • When was Craters of the Moon established as a National Monument? 1924
  • How did the park get it’s name? According to the National Park Service website, a man by the name of Robert Limbert called the area Craters of the Moon in a national article he wrote after exploring and promoting the area. The name became official when the park was established as a monument.
  • What kind of things are there to do at Craters of the Moon? There’s hiking, camping, and cave exploring!  A permit is required to enter the caves and can be picked up at the Visitor’s Center. 
  • How do I get there? It’s definitely a bit off the beaten track, but as always, anyone living today knows Google Map is their best friend. You will definitely have to go for a drive, since the closest major airport is Boise although there are smaller airports in Hailey and Idaho Falls, ID.


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