Natural beauty can take many forms. Sometimes it’s an alpine lake, or an oceanside waterfall, or a mountain adorned in fall colors. Other times, it’s more dramatic and unusual. Such is the case with Craters of the Moon National Monument, a landscape unlike any other. Forged from the lava and ash of thousands of years of volcanic activity, it’s a spot that’s invented its own kind of natural beauty.
Craters of the Moon protects lava fields in South-Central Idaho. Within the preserve, you can find the remains of more than 25 volcanic cones and 60 ancient lava flows. Eruptions here occurred between 15,000 and 2,000 years ago. That means that Native American tribes like the Shoshone likely witnessed some of the later eruptions, and stories from their culture seem to corroborate this; they tell of an enormous serpent who, angered by lightning, coiled around a mountain so tightly that it exploded in a firey eruption of molten rock.
Pioneers more or less avoided the area, as it was too rocky for crops or cattle, so it wasn’t until the early 20th century that people started to explore it. In the 1920s, Calvin Coolidge proclaimed in a National Monument in order to “preserve the unusual and weird volcanic formations” (yes, he actually called this place “weird.”) In 2017, the Idaho State Senate voted to petition the federal government to declare it a National Park. Interestingly enough, it’s thought that the hotspot underneath the Yellowstone Caldera (the Supervolcano) was actually located here years ago, and moved to its current position as plates shifted. And as for the “moon” part of things, it got its name from its striking similarity to the rocky, barren landscape of the moon. In fact, in 1969, a group of astronauts (they would become the second men to walk on the moon) visited here to study and adjust to the harsh environment.
It’s quite an exciting place to explore. See the purple-blue obsidian embedded in the North Crater Flow, explore the Devil’s Orchard, a collection of cinder cone fragments, hike to the top of Inferno Cone, look at the tree molds (formed when the bark of ancient trees left prints in lava), camp out, cruise Loop Drive through the stark landscape, and spend a few hours exploring the lava tubes in the cave area. It’s a pretty special place that’s quite unlike any other park in the country and will have you re-thinking your bucket list of beautiful parks entirely.