walking on the moon
From the Tetons we headed west across Idaho to Sun Valley in the foothills of the Sawtooth Mountains, stopping at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve to break up the drive.
We did not visit northern Idaho, which is comprised largely of several large national forests, but we did see a good deal of the rest of the state – starting out in Victor right on the border with Wyoming and ending in Boise, close to the Oregon border, ten days later. In addition to striking us with its natural beauty, Idaho also proved a fascinating state to visit.
From the mountains that form the state’s eastern boundary, we drove west across vast plains of farmland, stopping for lunch in tiny Arco. With a population of just under 1,000, Arco is the largest city in Idaho’s Butte County. It is also inscribed in the record books as the first city in the world to be lit by electricity generated entirely by nuclear power. The groundbreaking event took place in 1955 and lasted one hour. Six years later, the reactor that had made this seemingly miraculous feat possible was destroyed in an operator error-induced accident. Three people died, making it the world’s first – and America’s only – fatal nuclear reactor accident.
After driving for hours through flat, monotonous farmland, Craters of the Moon strikes the visitor as slightly surreal. Hay, barley, and wheat fields give way all of a sudden to a massive, charred expanse of otherworldly terrain. There are three lava fields in total, featuring everything from open rift cracks to lava tunnels, tree molds, and conical volcanic domes, spread across approximately 400 square miles of sagebrush grasslands.
Naturally, if one wanted to geek out on volcanic fossils, one could spend days exploring Craters of the Moon. For visitors with a shorter attention span and less time on their hands, the National Park Service conveniently laid out a loop road that takes in many of the preserve’s most impressive features and which can be traversed in a few hours. We checked out the north crater flow – the most recent of the park’s lava flows, dating back 2000 years – and took a stroll through the Devil’s Orchard before ascending to the top of the Inferno Cone for a panoramic view.
We had expected the lava fields to be hot in the middle of a sunny summer day. We were not prepared, however, for how windy it would be. The wind tore savagely across the denuded landscape, howling as it kicked up small volcanic rocks. It was particularly bad atop the Inferno Cone, and S, who was wearing Junebug in a carrier on her front, decided to turn around midway up the volcanic hill. Munchkin was having a blast in the wind, helping it kick up dust clouds until a small rock got wedged in his croc. He slipped off the shoe, and that was the last we saw of it – the wind picked it up and blew it across the hillside with such speed that giving chase was utterly out of the question.
The last stop on the loop was a trailhead leading to some open caves. Munchkin had a great time exploring them until he abruptly ran out of steam and asked D to take him back to the car. By this point Junebug, who was crabby for most of the visit because of a missed nap, conked out in S’s carrier, so S wandered around the caves on her own while D and Munchkin discussed the misadenture of the lost shoe from the safety of the car. Our questionable footwear choice aside, Craters of the Moon proved a solid day trip in between visits to Idaho’s two stunning mountain ranges.