Craters of the Moon

I spent a total of two days boondocking near Craters of the Moon National Monument. Work exploded the first day so I didn’t get to go exploring as much as I’d hoped, so I stayed a second night. This worked extremely well.

On the first day, I saw what there was to see on my bike. Unlike some other parks, there are no dirt roads or trails to explore, as I confirmed with a friendly ranger. This is no problem. The parks exist to protect the natural habitat, and I don’t want to go ruining it by riding where I’m not supposed to. The ranger also told me about someone who had recently tried to take an ATV across the rocks. He didn’t get very far, blowing multiple tires in the process. I wouldn’t want to try it over these sharp rocks.

It’s a fairly small park compared to some others I’ve seen, but that’s okay. I was able to zip around, get the lay of the land, and find that there’s plenty of RV parking at all of the major stops. A plan formed in my head: See what I could see on the bike, then deal with work getting busy during the afternoon. When I left camp the next morning, I’d drive back through, know I’d have room to park the van and trailer, and actually walk around and check these places out in more detail. It’s cooler in the morning, and I wouldn’t have to walk around in hot, heavy riding gear this way. Since I have the national park annual pass, it doesn’t cost me extra to make multiple visits on different days, so I took advantage of that.

I won’t go through my visit in chronological order. Instead, I’ll talk about each place I stopped, with pictures from both visits.

My first stop was the Devil’s Orchard, so named because of all the trees growing out of the volcanic rock. There’s a half-mile paved trail that winds through the Devil’s Orchard, which I walked. I shot a bunch of video clips as I went along showing off the various trees and rock formations. I haven’t edited it together yet, but I’ll share it here when I do. It’s pretty cool and otherworldly.

I wondered if this was also where they grow the Devil’s lettuce, but I didn’t find any. Since it’s still illegal on the national level, they probably removed any that was here.

My next stop was the Inferno Cone. I wasn’t about to climb it in motorcycle riding gear, but the next morning I tackled the short, steep climb. I had to stop a few times on the way up, not for my weak foot, but to catch my breath. The top of the cone is over 6,000 feet in elevation, and though I’ve acclimated to the altitude for everyday tasks, the uphill hike put a bit of strain on my lungs, and not with asthma.

I made it to the top, though. A lone tree clung to the far side, with many exposed roots because it simply can’t sink them into the cinder cone. The view over the other side of the cone was amazing.

Next up were the spatter cones. Unlike the smooth-sided Inferno Cone, these were literally splattered out of the ground, which gave them their rough appearance. They’re rather porous as well, particularly on the inside where the lava flowed through. You can follow a path to look down into these pits. They never see the sun, which is why on a 90º day in late July there was still snow down there. (And some poor guy’s hat.)

I didn’t go into the caves at all, but there are several there to explore if you’re into that sort of thing. Even without the caves, or very much hiking, I really enjoyed Craters of the Moon. It doesn’t actually look much like moon craters, though some of the Apollo astronauts studied the geology here before comparing it to the moon. I suppose if you’re talking about volcanic craters, rather than impact craters, it makes more sense.

Each morning when I woke up, I found signs of nocturnal visitors. The prints weren’t there when I arrived. In fact, the prints were on top of my tire tracks from driving in, so I know I had wild visitors right outside. Maybe deer, maybe antelope — I don’t know.

From here, it was time to put down some more miles. But not far from Craters of the Moon, I found another surprise place worth visiting. More on that next time.

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