Nature & Hiking Photography

2021-07-05 Craters of the Moon National Monument

The Fins climbing is more of an afternoon place when the weather is warm because it gets direct sun at nearly first light. After scouting around there we figured we’d check out Craters of the Moon National Monument before heading back to Salt Lake City. The National Monument is only about 45 minutes from the Fins and so an easy side stop before heading home.

The National Monument is aptly named as lava seeped and in some cases spurt onto the surface as a result of a rift fault. The lava fields are quite new in geologic terms, 15,000 to as young as 2,000 years old. Much of central-southern Idaho has some kind of volcanic geology due to the rift faulting. Much more interesting reading here.

We opted to get a free cave permit, which entails listening to the rangers go through what white-nose bat syndrome is and whether we’ve been underground or in another cave within the last 10 years. The main problem is the fungus can be transported via clothing and other items many years after first exposure to it.

The monument is set up in on main loop which we drove. We didn’t explore every stop on our drive, but we did stop at the cinder cone and spatter cones. The spatter cones reminded me of all the video of Hawaii or Iceland I’ve seen. The shapes in the lava are the same and you can just imagine it being red hot and flowing out like peanut butter.

At the trailhead for the cave lathered up some sunscreen because while the walks are relatively short, about a half mile, it is completely treeless and you are in the thick of the lava fields so it is black all around you.

View from inside the subway sized Indian Tunnel Cave. This cave goes along for a tenth of a mile or so with large sections of skylights.

We did all the caves on this loop. The first being Dew Drop Cave, which is mainly an overhang and very casual. The next up was Indian Tunnel which is about a tenth of a mile long and a bit like a subway tunnel with openings to the sky, very cool. The next two caves were for the less faint of heart. Beauty Cave is a stoop to get into but then opens to 10′ ceilings and is maybe 20-25′ wide. This one is completely dark and requires headlamps. Inside it was 30 deg cooler at least than outside. We could see our breath in our headlamps. The air is also very humid and on the walls there are tiny droplets of condensation which reflect your headlamps making the walls kind of shiny. We also found some bits of ice from where the water had dripped and frozen on the ground.

The last cave was Boy Scout Cave and definitely not for the claustrophobic. There are two entrances to the tube one going right and another left in the same tube. Both require crawling in on all fours. I wouldn’t describe it as a squeeze since it isn’t quite that small, but it did require some care not to get scraped up. Since the rock is so new it is very sharp. We explored both sides which probably only go a couple hundred feet in either direction. After crawling into the entrances both sides open up to either a stoop or just barely standing. Saying that it is black inside is an understatement. I’m not about to get into caving, but this was a fun little exploration.

We skipped a couple of the other stops along the loop after the caves, gotta leave something to come back to at some point I guess. If you’re in the area I’d recommend a stop at Craters of the Moon. You certainly haven’t seen anything like it unless you’ve been to Hawaii or Iceland.

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