Our original plan was to spend the afternoon hiking the area surrounding the Craters of the Moon monument, but we enjoyed our time in Hagerman enough that we stayed for a few extra hours after lunch. When we got to the lands surrounding the monument, we were surprised to find that Craters wasn’t as barren as we expected. Shrubby pioneer plants have all but taken over many of the lava flows, which continue right up to the base of the surrounding mountains.
The lava fields of the monument lie within the Great Rift of Idaho, an area of tectonic fractures which includes one of the deepest open rifts on Earth. Due to the efforts of Robert Limbert and others in the 1920s, the area was declared a national park during Calvin Coolidge’s administration.
The loop road is usually closed during winter, but due to the lack of snow, it was open when we arrived. The road leads to several geologic features, including some spatter cones visitors can walk up into. The difference between the two most accessible ones is striking: one cone has had several feet of its elevation eroded due to visitor traffic through the years, while the other is only just starting to show the wear caused by the weight of several thousand dusty shoes. Other stops provide parking spaces at trailheads to see petrified trees, different ages of lava flows, and the burgeoning plant and animal life which have a slightly tenuous grasp in the rugged area.
The views of the area at sunset are quite striking, with the bruised blue of twilight arising behind the black hills of the east, while ravens cry over the pink-orange sun which finds its daily rest amidst the burnt red volcanic rock of the west. Nestled in between, the chipping cries of douglas squirrels cease as the day turns into night over the small sheltered valleys of the area. Heck, its landscape unique and beautiful enough to make even the worst writers among us try to wax eloquent.