I love Idaho, always have and always will. Here, you can go to the crisp, green mountains and sit beside a crystal clear lake in the morning and drive to a warm, wide valley covered with pungent Sage Brush and Bitter Brush by afternoon. I find my peace and my inspiration here in these little hidden gems around this great state of Idaho; the lush forests, the shifting sand dunes, the dry desert ridges and fields of ancient lava flows.
My family and I visited Craters of the Moon last weekend. It was our first trip out this year. The weather is finally beginning to warm up and a trip was well past due. Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is one of our favorite places to go, but a place that is best visited in the cool of the Spring or Fall.
At first glance, Craters seems like a barren and a very forbidding place to visit. The vast sprawl of ancient lava flow looks devoid of any living creature, uninhabitable by plant or beast. Take a closer look…once the snow melts in late April or early May, the wildflowers begin to bloom. From the tiniest of purple Monkeyflower and dwarf buckwheat, to brilliant red Paintbrush and by early June vast displays of the sweet-smelling Idaho State Flower, the Syringa. Limber Pines twist and bend up through the sharp crags of lava rocks, creating shelter for sweet-faced Pika and Pygmy rabbits. I didn’t believe it at first, but it is said that Bear traverse through this area as well. What is there at Craters for a Bear to eat? I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen a post on the Craters of the Moon Facebook page, proudly displaying a picture of a creamy brown, black bear traipsing through the Limber Pines on the very weekend we had visited!
Craters of the Moon is a fascinating place for day hikes. There are multiple paths through out the monument to walk. Each step deeper into the park is walking deeper into another world. Even NASA thought so:
According to the National Park Service,” NASA’s Apollo Astronauts Alan, Shepard, Edgar Mitchell, Eugene Cernan, and Joe Engle learned basic volcanic geology here in 1969 as they prepared for their moon missions.”
The quiet, barren landscape is almost unnerving, but unlike anything you will find anywhere else. To add to the strangeness of this place, you can also explore caves and smaller lava tubes. The largest, Indian Cave, is a large lava tube that is easy to climb down into and walk through. Others, like Boy Scout cave are a little trickier to negotiate, but well worth it. In order to visit these caves, make sure to stop by the Visitors Center to get yourself a permit.
If you do stop to visit Craters of the Moon here is a bit of advice for you. Make sure you dress in layers if you are going early or later in the season. Even on a cool windy day, you warm up quickly on the hikes but the caves will be chilly, often having ice in them well into June. It’s a good idea to always bring water with you. It may be a cool day, but the wind is pretty constant out there and will dehydrate you quickly. Don’t forget your flashlight! Most of the caves you can visit without flashlights but some can get pretty dark! Most importantly, stick to the trails. In order to preserve this strange but beautiful area, trails have been established to protect the lava flow. It is also important to stick to these trails because this is not an area that you want to get lost in. Exposure to the elements is a real danger here, but not if you are smart and know where you are.
If you do visit, I would highly suggest staying a night in the campground. Here is where the stars touch the Earth and the number of visible stars is infinite. It is truly a breath-taking sight to see. Along with the star gazing, if you sit still and quiet, you can catch glimpses of bats flitting around the night sky, weaving and dodging to catch bugs in mid-air.
How can you not be inspired in a place like this? I’ve always had a fondness for the strength and determination of a twisty, stubborn Limber Pine. And the sweet faces of the ever elusive Pika have always been a muse but for this trip, it was a big, noisy Raven.
In the evening, we would sit back at our camp site to soak in the stillness, that is stillness until our steak hit the grill. A giant Raven flew by and saw that juicy steak sitting on the grill and pulled a U-turn and came to rest on branches of this amazing, twisted Limber Pine just opposite of our campsite. He sat hollering and belly aching from his perch, hoping that we would leave our fine, well marbled steak unattended. There was no amount of noise or clatter that would have driven me from my dinner that night or any other night, and he left hungry just before the moon rose above the black, bizarre terrain. He made sure to visit us every evening around dinner time after that; hoping that we had left some tasty morsel for him. From his perch he would call, beg and plead for just a little bite. He would twist his head from side to side hoping to spy the tiniest of crumb. When all else failed, he would spread his wings and fluff his glossy black feathers in a huff. I truly enjoyed watching him pout and throw a fit. What an amazing and an intelligent creature!
I know that there are some amazing Raven tiles out there, but how can I not make a tile of the magnificent creature who came to entertain and talk with me every night? If there was a way that I could have brought home that Raven, I would have wanted to. Instead, I will keep his memory preserved safely in clay.
~Keep an eye out for my Raven tile, coming soon!
Thanks for reading! Dana