Ever been to a National Park that is desolate and almost without vegetation? Where black, encrusted lava covers most of the landscape? Welcome to Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve!
The park encompasses a lava plain in the South-Central part of Idaho. A few trees crop up here and there between the crusts. Geologist Harold T. Stearns described the area this way: “The surface of the moon as seen through a telescope.” Word.
Yes, you go on hikes in this park — there are asphalt-covered, narrow paths within the lava so when you go on a “hike,” you are pretty much walking single-file. No one walks on the lava.
Unless, of course you go into one of the caves. Bring a flashlight! Several of the caves are completely enclosed, so it’s a little too freaky to go into one without light. We went into a larger cave that was half collapsed — so the daylight comes in. Still eerie, but lots of fun, knowing that this was once hot lava! (There is a video about the formation of the park in the visitors’ center.)
On that note, make sure that you stop into the Visitors’ Center before you go into the caves — if you’ve gone into East Coast caves in the past 5 years, they want to know. Some sort of mold is killing bats. Could be on your shoes! Be conscious!
This is a strange place to be, because not only is the landscape so desolate, the area of the state is as well. The closest town is Arco — mainly a pass-through location. Please note: bring your own food! Decent restaurants are few and (non-existent?) far-between in these here parts.
What else is close to here? I would say that it would be a wonderful full day excursion from Sun Valley — totally worth the hour drive. You could also work in the Atomic Museum further down the highway toward Idaho Falls. This is where the first Atomic Power was created in this country. The museum is open 7 days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Otherwise, you’ll have to call ahead and schedule a tour.
This area of the country is so hard to get to that if you are passing through, you should check these places out — you might never be back…