Just like what the name suggests, Craters Of The Moon is not exactly an earthly environment. This National Monument is so far removed from the norm that a visit can be likened to touring another planet. The barren black lava flow landscape stretches out to the horizon, so a feeling of being "Robison Crusoe On Mars" will likely occur. Fortunately, the Craters Of the Moon is not a place where no man has gone before and there actually is a visitor center in this lunar base. In fact, this park features a seven mile touring loop that will help visitors become accustomed to the strange surroundings and there is plenty to experience along the way!
Loop Road starts near the visitor center and it first runs through the North Crater Flow, which is quite an eye opening volcanic landscape to view. There are a few hiking trails in this area that go to unique viewing areas that overlook this massive lava flow field. Mountains of cinders and several cones can be seen in the distance from the high ground. The jagged broken lava boulders that were displaced by continual lava flows can be seen in this section of the park. The surreal looking giant lava fragments standing tall above the cinders are even weirder looking in the Devil's Orchard, which is a hiking trail that is well worth doing.
Since there is very little erosion, it is easy to imagine that the volcanic activity was relatively recent on a geological timeline. The massive black cinder mounds are a study of their own, especially where green growth sprouts up in this inhospitable landscape. Some plant species have adapted to this environment in strange ways, which contributes to the other worldly effect. In this area there are odd looking solitary plant species that are evenly spaced over entire black cinder mounds, with no other competing vegetation. This is truly a thought provoking sight to see, which compares to planting a seed on the moon.
The Spatter Cone Area offers many hiking trails that go up and into the eruption sites. This area has tall crater cones that tower over the vast lava field below and the views are fantastic! A little further ahead there is a hiking trail that goes to a spot where prehistoric fallen trees left imprints in the hot lava. The Lava Trees Area confirms the timeline of this park and there will still be much more to ponder over after arriving at the Caves Area.
Near the Caves Area, all sorts of various textbook lava formation examples can be seen along the road. This stretch of the park has everything from lava falls to odd looking pillow formations, so it is best to just plan on spending some extra time when passing through. After passing over the final few mounds, the Caves Area will come into view and this is a jaw dropping sight to see if there ever was one. This vast black lava field literally stretches out to the horizon and the ground is absolutely barren. If there ever was a place on earth that could be compared to being on the moon, the Caves Area would be it!
Permits are necessary to enter the lava caves in this National Monument. The rules concerning White Nose Bat Fungus Prevention are very strict, so it pays to research the guidelines at the park website before planning a spelunking venture. Permits are not required for the hiking trails on the surface of the Caves Area and these trails definitely go way out into the heart of this big lava field.
As can be easily seen, the Loop Road offers much more than views through the car window and it would take several days to explore everything there is to experience along this touring route. Craters Of The Moon has a campground, so planning an extended stay is easy to do. For those who have longed for a place to escape from planet earth, the Craters Of the Moon National Monument simply must be placed at the top of the list!
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