Sunday, June 27, 2010

Walking on the Moon in the Snake River Plain

Craters of the Moon
Driving to Craters of the Moon in the Snake River Plain.

After leaving Utah, we headed into Southern Idaho into the Snake River Plain. It was a very stark contrast coming out of the mountains in Utah and driving out into the flat expanse of the plain. We saw scrub brush everywhere and dry junipers growing out of the cracks of the basalt covered ground. The Snake River Plain is part of a long and large scar that ripped across southern Idaho. The mountains there were basically blasted flat by ancient volcanic activity which left huge calderas in its path and covered the plain in lava flows. The hot spot responsible for this is now located underneath Yellowstone, where you can see the modern volcanic and thermal activity. That is where the most modern caldera is located now, and it may erupt any time now again! To the north and south of the Snake River Plain are huge mountains, and in one spot of the plain, near Arco ID, is Craters of the Moon National Monument. There, the plain is actually being pulled apart, creating a rift where magma has been pouring out episodically. The last lava flow happened about 2,000 years ago, and the strange moon like landscape is protected by the National Monument.

Craters of the Moon

Volcanic cinder cones and lava fields at Craters of the Moon

It was pretty hot when we arrived around 2pm or so. The black surface made it feel even hotter. At the visitor center, we learned that there was a cave walk with a ranger at 4pm, so we drove around the park until it was time to join the ranger for the walk. There were a few other people with us, but we were a pretty small group. The walk started at the cave area parking lot, which was at the edge of a huge expanse of the youngest lava flow. All you can see to the horizon was black rolling and buckled lava, with a few wildflowers poking out here and there. A small strip of asphalt paved over the sharp pahoihoi and a'a' lava flows was the trail that took you out to the three lava tube caves. There were probably a lot more caves out there, but only three of them were open to visitors who wanted to explore them with a flashlight. It was close to 100 degrees out of the lava field, but when you went down into the caves, it cooled off a lot. In fact two of the caves, Boy Scout Cave and Beauty Cave, had permanent ice on the walls and floor. The Shoshone Indians used to use these caves as meat lockers and food storage. It was completely pitch dark in there, so we had to go in with our flashlights and be really careful where we stepped. Not only were there sharp pieces of lava rock everywhere, but there were slippery ice patches! We couldn't of been more than 15 feet under the surface, but it was freezing cold! Even though we were in t-shirts and shorts, we stayed in the cave for a while to cool off. It was fun!

Craters of the Moon

The paved trail over the lava field to the ice caves.

Craters of the Moon

Ice on the wall inside Boy Scout Cave.

Craters of the Moon

Marcel climbing out of Indian Cave.

We spent a lot of time exploring the caves and walking in the lava field, but we soon had to go. The day before, we ordered a new carburetor for our baja and shipped it to the KOA in Arco, ID, which was very close to Craters of the Moon. We were expecting the the package the next morning, so we decided to camp at the KOA. When we got there, they were completely full, but they had a spot in a field next to a farm with horses. They didn't charge us much, so we were pretty happy. We spent the evening relaxing with some beers. The next morning we were really anxious for the package, which was coming via FedEx Ground. When we saw the FedEx truck pull into the KOA, we almost hijacked it. Then we grabbed the package and ran back to our campsite to open it. To our suprise and major disappointment, the auto parts store (Bow Wow Auto Parts in Boise ID) sent THE WRONG CARB! We had to laugh at how retarded the situation was. So we ended up going to the post office to send them back the carburetor and ordered another one from the Buggy House in Cali. We knew the guys in the shop, so we trusted that they would actually send the correct one this time. But we had to move on out of Arco and into the mountains, so we had the next package sent to the KOA in Dillon, MT, to be picked up in two or three days. Now we were on our way to central Idaho, to an A-Frame cabin in the Salmon-Challis National Forest!

Craters of the Moon

At the KOA in Arco, ID, waiting for the carb to arrive. You can see the Big Southern Butte in the background, which is in the middle of an ancient caldera on the Snake River Plain.


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