“Oh hey – that’s the time I ran down a mountain of sandpaper and almost gave myself the world’s most painful road rash.”
I’m sorting through pictures from Craters of the Moon. I find this set of my husband, running down the side of a dormant volcano. We only spent one night here in Idaho – the last of our trip. Craters of the Moon is a volcanic landscape – various types of black lava fields every which way you look. Craters of the Moon is one of the best preserved flood basalt plains in the continental US. As I mentioned in one of my Yellowstone posts (here), there is a hot spot underneath Yellowstone – the reason for it being a supervolcano. The hot spot has migrated over time and, a long time ago, it use to be underneath Craters of the Moon, one of the reasons for this volcanic moon like terrain. The volcanos in the park are no longer over the hot spot, but still considered to be dormant as opposed to extinct (in fact, they predict an eruption in the next 1000 years). Ray took the steep 0.5 mile climb to the top of the Inferno Cone – and then thought he would run back to the bottom. Almost crashing into me, he was grateful he avoided a major fall, realizing only after the dangerous attempt that the ground would have destroyed his skin.
We drove from Moab, Utah to Craters of the Moon in one go, an eight and a half hour drive. We left early, and arrived around 4 PM. We pulled into the visitor centre, to get a quick orientation to the park. We knew from reading online that we needed to get a cave permit for Ray to go hiking in the bat caves that evening. They are very very concerned with controlling the spring of White Nose Syndrome – a disease that is highly contagious and killing bats. Now, Ray would never do anything to endanger a bat. He LOVES bats. However, the ranger in charge of the permits may be the crankiest park ranger I have ever come across. Now, remember we drove all the way to South Dakota for a BAT FESTIVAL. We knew a lot about bats. But this park ranger insisted on being the most difficult, condescending, mean, grouchy thing – and it was trying our patience. After enough insistence that we had followed the protocol (washed our clothing, bleached our shoes, etc), she issued the hiking permit, and we headed into the campground to find a site. Sites at Craters of the Moon were $10 and first come first served. After finding a site you register your site by putting your name, site number and a $10 bill in an envelope and throwing it in a box on the wall. Very high tech system. There were lots of sites free, but none were very large – and we only had 2 small tents. We finally found one what was level enough, on the edge of the site. We set up while waving at the red fox in the distance, and then demonstrated our superior strength by lifting “large” lava rocks (which have a low density – and are deceivingly light, in case you were unaware). We decided on dinner first (pancakes!) and then it was time to drive the loop and see the park.
We were pushing ourselves for daylight. It was late August, so the sun sets earlier than in June or July, so we only had a few hours. This meant hiking volcanos, walking short trails, looking for the limited amount of flora in between the black ground, and then, sitting in a parking lot, watching the sunset as Ray hiked off with his headlamp towards the bad cave. Because of course – if you are going to visit bats, you might as well do it in the dark. Given his love of bats though, he would have it no other way. We made it to the trail head at sunset, and Ray was not deterred – heading straight down the path and across the road terrain, right into the bat cave. I’m assuming there were bats (not easy to photograph in a cave, at night, in the dark), and I know there were cool looking rocks. The shortest and least adventurous of his hikes this trip, it was still an enjoyable one. The park loop is small, so it didn’t take long to see the sights and get to the bat parking lot. As Ray was off searching for bats, I stood alone in the quiet and watched the sun set and produce a few moments of pastel colour in the sky, while the ground continues to be various shades of black and grey. I had a moment of reprieve from the monotone surroundings and sky that reflected them. It was as if I had stepped into a black and white movie. After a while, everything starts to lose its colour. While Craters of the Moon was not my favourite park or terrain, it was definitely unique, and an interesting contrast to the greens and browns of Yellowstone, the golden farm fields of Montana and Wyoming, and the red dirt of Utah. Truly a marvellous world we live in.