Craters of the Moon Redux

The wonderfully strange and unique landscape of Craters of the Moon remains one of my favorite places I’ve visited. The vast lava flows and steep cinder cones that shroud the earth in a ebony are magnificent in contrast to the surrounding grasslands and sage desert, and are particularly beautiful when viewed against the snow-capped Sawtooths in the distance. Other than the sheer size of the blackened landscape, the most impressive thing about Craters of the Moon are the sheer number of different volcanic “formations;” lava flows, craters, cinder cones, spatter cones, lava tubes (caves), tree molds, and more. It is surprisingly diverse once you are able to recognize some of the features.

My previous visit was unfortunately short, so this visit I set out to see some of the features I’d missed as well as walk some of the trails I had skipped, notably the Tree Molds Trail and part of the North Crater Trail. As much as I recall being fascinated by the lava tubes and cinder cones I’d seen before, I think I actually enjoyed these two longer walks more. The former was a an especially nice treat since the older flow had been punctured by rabbit brush, sage, and small pines. The tree molds (hollow places in the lava with visible imprints of bark) did not photograph well since they were essentially black holes in a black landscape, but in person the detail was neat indeed.

The North Crater Trail was probably my favorite excursion of the day however as I was able to gain enough elevation to survey a large portion of the lava flow as well as gain an aerial view of some of the craters. Traversing this extreme landscape was a more difficult walk than I originally thought it would be but extremely rewarding as rivers of lava spread out before me upon reaching each rise. In between the steep climbs over the sides of craters I crossed some excellent examples of pahoehoe lava – the smooth ropy flows that often take on a blue iridescent tinge when cooled – as well as a lot of awe-inspiring formations and chunks of rock.

I ended the day by drinking a can of the Laccolith Dark Ale I’d picked up at Wildedge Brewing in Cortez; it seemed a very appropriate place to imbibe a beer named for an igneous intrusion, no?