Thursday, December 5, 2013

Craters of the Moon National Monument

A few weeks ago we decided to wake up early and take a trip to Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. If you remember, we actually stopped here on our way into Mountain Home. Just for a few minutes at a scenic overlook, it's right off of Highway 20, which is the way we drove in. Seeing the lava formations from the road was enough to encourage us to go back and spend a little more time there.
The weather forcast for the day we'd be there changed throughout the week and we decided we'd go no matter what - we longed to explore something new!

When we got there we discovered it had snowed and was still snowing! The fresh snow on the lava rocks made everything quiet and peaceful, if not a bit slick.
Through the main section of Craters by the visitor's center there is an auto loop that drives you to the "main" attractions and some hikes. We drove the loop and stopped at all the sights. The first was a small nature trail loop called Devil's Orchard Trail. 

Everything looked so pretty, the landscape is very open and sparse...I'm not sure I'd want to visit in the summer. The parking lots for the different stops were huge! I think they might get quite a crowd during the peak season. But on this snowy day there were only 2 cars we saw in the whole place!

In the formations they call cones, there were really cool impressions in the rock. Doesn't this one kind of look like a paw print?

And yes, the whole time we were there we couldn't help but make comparisons to Mordor - if Mordor ever got snow.

We wanted to go into the caves around the park and Caves Trail is a great way to do it since there are three caves on this trail alone (there are others in different parts of Craters). 
You do have to stop at the visitor's center to get a permit for caving. They ask you a few questions about your activities in caves over the past 8 years. This is, of course, to help prevent the spread of White Nose Syndrome. Since, nothing we were wearing had been in a cave previously we were safe to go in.

Yeah, they aren't joking about unstable, the giant rock sectioned off fell from the ceiling of the cave. Can you see Andrew's headlamp behind the rock?
The caves are explore at your own risk and are freaking dark!
We both had headlamps and flashlights, plus gloves because some of the rocks down there were sharp. I didn't take my camera down into the caves just in case I dropped it, so I left it behind near the entrance.
When we got a ways into the cave we turned our lights out to see how dark it was and it was incredible. You could see nothing! There was a pinprick of light back near the entrance, but it would only serve as a guide to follow - it wasn't enough to light anything.

After exploring the caves we were pretty tired and hungry! So we put up our chairs next to a picnic table and made macaroni and cheese for lunch. 
The fact that is was 30 degrees outside and we were the only people there made it all the more special!