With Idaho Falls in the rearview mirror, and the dash thermometer reading 22 degrees Fahrenheit, we headed west. Destination: Craters of the Moon. Along the way, 90 miles of relatively flat terrain, populated only by pronghorn, hawks, sagebrush and, apparently, the Idaho National Laboratory.
The Craters of the Moon National Monument spans over 750,000 acres. Volcanic eruptions ranging from gentle to explosive created the landscape. Deep cracks in the earth allowed lava to blast, plop and flow to create cinder cones, spatter cones and lava tube caves. We couldn't wait to drive the seven-mile loop and see it for ourselves!
Click on the photo below to enlarge the plaque which explains why park managers once poisoned or cut more than 6,000 of these trees.
|"The major problems in the world are the result of the difference|
between the way nature works and the way man thinks."
Gregory Bateson, anthropologist
The landscape of the Monument was not created by one massive volcano, but from a series of deep fissures - known collectively as the Great Rift - that cross the Snake River Plain. Some of the "hills" are spatter cones, miniature volcanoes formed as ejected globs of lava welded together.
Other "hills" are cinder cones, created when foamy cinders accumulate near the vent of a small volcano that generated lava with high gas content.
And then, as if to compensate, there are massive craters, as you can see in the video below.
How innocuous to see a random pine cone nearby.
I was fascinated by the lava cascades. When the lava leaked through cracks in a natural rock "dam", fiery rivers of lava flowed across the landscape. And then they "froze" in position!!!
And all of this happened a mere 2,000 years ago. Geologists believe that future events are likely!!!
The story of the Preserve began in 1976 when the local community urged The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to purchase 470 acres then called the Sun Valley Ranch and create its flagship preserve, Silver Creek. This launched a landowner conservation effort along the stream to protect an additional 12,000 acres through conservation easements, making this one of the most successful stream conservation efforts ever undertaken for public benefit and a model for community-based conservation.
Over the last forty years, TNC has expanded the Preserve to 881 acres and restored this high-desert spring creek to a thriving ecosystem for an abundance of wildlife including eagles, coyotes, bobcats and moose. Yes, moose!!!
As I traversed the far end of the trail system, I spied something large and dark, nestled in the alders along the stream's edge. My binoculars trained on the spot, I was fairly certain it was a moose. Then, my peripheral vision caught motion to the left. I lowered the binoculars, and what to my wondering eyes should be there, but a moose calf. Check out the video!!!! It trotted over to Mama, and you can see how close they were to the trail.
You do not mess with a Mama moose! As much as I would have liked to get closer and get shots of Mama, it would not have been a good life choice! So I had to skirt far to the left of them and then re-connect with the trail. I was exhilarated in equal parts from seeing two moose and from the proximity of a 500+ pound mammal that has a reputation for being a little nuts! I looked back several times just to make sure she was not pursuing me!
I crossed a couple of bridges along the way, and each time I was mesmerized by the clarity of the water.
Near this point, I saw two more moose. They were on the opposite side of the creek; one was nestled on the ground. I took a couple of pictures, but they are not the best. I marveled at the glory of seeing 4 moose in the space of 2 hours. Proper habitat and ecosystem protection makes all the difference! To add to the joy of the afternoon, I saw a muskrat eating near the middle of the stream. Here is a video of this enchanting creature.
If you can't tell, my heart was truly captured by this magical place in Idaho's high desert. It offers something for everyone.
If you are a photographer or an artist, you'll make the trip for the legendary, glorious light: a light with its rich pastel of purples, reds, yellows and blues. As for me, I could barely drag myself away from the spectacular collision of water, sky and hills.