Eerie yet Beautiful

Upon entering the park for the first time, I was met with a diverse flood of thoughts ranging from eerie to beautiful.  The land appears stark and foreboding, but if you look close, a vast array of life can be seen.Craters of the Moon

I was lucky to visit Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve at the very beginning of wildflower season, and since arriving in Arco, Idaho, in early May, I’ve been dropping by the park regularly to keep an eye on the status of the craters of the moonwildflowers.   With each visit, more and more delicate beauties were popping up.

In early June, I was able to share this strange and scenic place with friends, Faye and Dave.

I believe the peak of wildflower season is suppose to be in mid June, but we thought our timing was darn good and were overjoyed with the abundance of blooms everywhere we looked during our early June visit.

Dave and I were going crazy with our cameras trying to capture the gorgeous periwinkle color of the Scorpionweed.

those wildflowers captivated our attention

Scorpionweed flowers captivated our attention

Since I’d had a few weeks to explore Craters of the Moon before Faye and Dave’s visit, I knew exactly where to find an abundance of wildflowers to photograph up close, but that would require a bit of a climb… a climb up the inferno cone.

it was hard to photograph 'inferno cone' and capture its size. Note the hikers on the trail - offers scale.

it was hard to photograph ‘inferno cone’ and capture its size. Note the hikers on the trail – offers scale.

me climbing the Inferno Cone at Craters of the Moon

me climbing the Inferno Cone at Craters of the Moon

With less than a half mile up and back, this large, black, barren hill is worth the 160 foot elevation gain.  Once at the top, there are views in all directions and a surprise bonus of wildflowers.  We were also able to observe the spatter cones from above.

At the top of inferno cone - views of spatter cones

At the top of inferno cone – views of spatter cones

What exactly are these cones?  A cinder cone, like the inferno cone, are formed when gas-rich volcanic froth erupts high into the air then falls back to earth forming a huge mounded pile of cinders.  Spatter cones are miniature volcanoes that form when thick, pasty globs of lava plop up to the surface, piling up in the shape of a cone.

Craters of the MoonThe volcanic nature of the park, creates a lunar like terrain.  So much so, that NASA routinely uses Craters of the Moon NM for research and development.  In 1969, Apollo Astronauts prepared for their moon mission here at Craters of the Moon.

Next week, the Mountain View RV Park (our work camping home this summer) will be hosting a large group of NASA scientists/engineers, which will keep all of us super busy for a two week period.  All hands on deck!

After Faye, Dave, and myself hiked the inferno cone, it was time to explore another interesting geological feature – a lava tube.  Lava or magma?  Hot, molten rock from deep within the earth is called magma. When magma erupts onto the earth’s surface, it’s called lava.  A lava flow that hardened on the outside while the lava still flowed within, creates a lava tube.

me inside Indian tunnel lava tube

me inside Indian tunnel lava tube

There are several lava tubes in Craters of the Moon that are accessible for exploring, but most are geared toward those familiar with caving.  Since we didn’t fall into that category, we opted to hike the Indian tunnel cave/tube which is clearly marked and offers enough daylight to explore without a flashlight.  There is one short section though where I thought the aid of a little artificial light was helpful.

There is a fair amount of rock scrambling involved in this hike, especially at the end of the tunnel where we exited out of a small hole.

The exit

The exit

Me exiting Indian tunnel lava tube

Me exiting Indian tunnel lava tube

Before embarking on any lava tube exploring, a permit is required.  The permit is free and is simply a matter of answering a few questions at the visitor center regarding any previous caving.  This is for the health of the bat population and to stop the spread of white nose syndrome.

Yes, we were hiking down in there!

Yes, we were hiking down in there!

I have to admit, the first time I hiked the lava tube, I was extremely uncomfortable.  This time around, I knew exactly what to expect and was familiar with the general area of the trail.  Thus, the second time around was much more enjoyable.  Oh, and entertaining company always helps 😉

me, Dave, Faye inside Indian tunnel lava cave tube

Me, Dave, Faye inside Indian tunnel.  Dave enjoyed introducing us as “his wives” to fellow hikers.

Although the caving was a fun experience, those wildflowers were calling.  And several more stops were in order.  Over 600 different types of plants have been identified growing in Craters of the Moon.

Dave stalking wildflowers!

Dave stalking wildflowers!

We stayed on the road to photograph the stunning display of wildflowers.  These delicate plants have to overcome a lack of moisture, meager soil conditions, and surface temperatures that can exceed 150 degrees Fahrenheit.  The thought of accidently stepping on one of these beauties, was not an option.  Respect and admiration for these tough little things were at the forefront of our minds as we took in the amazing sight.

Cryptantha

Cryptantha

Scorpionweed and Dwarf Buckwheat

Scorpionweed and Dwarf Buckwheat

Equally as striking were the carpets of pink produced by the Dwarf Monkeyflower.  If there was any open space, the Monkeyflower was eager to fill it.

a pink carpet of Dwarf Monkeyflower

a pink carpet of Dwarf Monkeyflower

Monkeyflower

Dwarf Monkeyflower up close

Dwarf Monkeyflower up close

Thank goodness for digital photography or I fear Dave and I would’ve easily run out of film.  Eventually, we returned back to camp where Al was eagerly awaiting our return.  While we were having fun, he was busy building picnic tables and seems we all had worked up an appetite.

Al, Dave, Faye, and me at our place at in Arco, Idaho

Al, Dave, Faye, and me at our place in Arco, Idaho

We enjoyed a healthy meal of grilled chicken, baked potatos, steamed broccoli, followed by my somewhat healthy carrot cake cupcakes.  For my carrot cake cupcake recipe, click here.

I’m sure as the summer progresses, I’ll continue to visit Craters of the Moon, but up next, Al and I take a vacation!

Craters of the Moon

Syringa growing in a crevice

Live life to the fullest.  Don’t let the weeds smother out your flowers – unknownWildflowers

Here’s my latest addition to my arsenal of photography toys…. after having a camera topple from a fence post, I felt it was time to invest in a light, easy to carry, tripod.JOBY GorillaPod Hybrid Tripod for Mirrorless and 360 Cameras – A Flexible, Portable and Lightweight Tripod With a Ball Head and Bubble LevelJoby gorilla pod

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64 thoughts on “Eerie yet Beautiful

  1. How’d I miss this post? It was excellent with more fantastic pictures! What fun it must have been to share with friends.
    I forgot to mention when we were in the Frozen Niagara Falls Cave, we had to walk thru a solution to clean our shoes to help stop the spread of White Nose Syndrome.

    • The same holds true for the Lava Tube Caves here. We needed to get a permit to make sure we hadn’t been in any caves else where. On my last hike at Craters, the wildflowers were mostly gone and I didn’t enjoy the visit nearly as much. Those flowers really added a unique beauty and I’m glad I got to see it in full bloom.

      • Wow, not been in any other caves? For how long? We’re now in a “gorge” area….I doubt I’d ever get Bill in a Lava Tube cave anyway!
        Yes, I’d love to go when the flowers are in full bloom-such beauty and wonderful contrast!

  2. With the name Craters of the Moon wildflowers is not what I expected to see! Amazing landscape and as always you have some very beautiful photos.

    • End of May up to mid June was a lovely time to visit Craters of the Moon. By the end of June, she was looking mighty brown and barren. I’m glad I got to see her in her glory.

    • It was so pretty with all the wildflowers, and I too had never heard of Craters of the Moon until the RV Park owners shared. Unique place!

  3. An amazing place to experience, wow! Those dwarf monkey flowers are absolutely beautiful, I’d love to see a ‘carpet’ of them. As you visit more and more, I know you’ll explore and find more goodies to share, looking forward to those posts! I’ve been ‘eyeing’ this park for our future travels. 🙂 Have a great vacay!!

  4. LOVED those wildflowers..Isn’t it amazing how those pretty little pieces of color grow out of that barren land? I envy you where you are at right now…sooo much to see and do …keep posting..I’m following!

    • The hillside filled with wildflowers was such an unexpected and wonderful sight. The land in this part of Idaho is so diverse. We’re having a great time exploring. Hope you are feeling better than ever!

    • May/June have been a perfect time to visit but I can see it’ll start getting hot soon. Don’t think I’d go in the winter…. too cold and snowy for my blood!

  5. It looks like an amazing place to visit, a bit surreal almost. I’d love to clamber through those lava tubes myself. It’s interesting that NASA used the place for training it’s astronauts. I hope that when they eventually got to the moon, they weren’t disappointed by the lack of scorpionweed.

    • I can always count on you for a good chuckle. Craters is definitely a bit surreal but luckily those wildflowers add an earthly feel.

  6. At our last Rock Club Meeting we had a geologist from the BLM of Arizona talk all about the Volcanoes and craters of Arizona. You would have loved to share your thoughts on this fabulous place I am sure! That hike looks awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • As many times as we’ve driven Hwy 89 north of Flagstaff, we have yet to stop at that Volcanic site. We might need to remedy that on our next time through 🙂

  7. We’ve been to Craters of the Moon a few times now – it’s like leaving earth. So beautiful. One of our visits was during bad fires throughout the area – with the smoke and yellow-red sky is was very strange.

    • I would imagine the eerie skies caused from fires would only add to the strange landscape. I am more intrigued by this unique landscape than I ever expected to be.

  8. This reminds me of some places we’ve seen in Hawaii. Loved your post and all those gorgeous and unique flowers! How fun to have some quality time right now to further explore this place. 😉

    • There’s definitely an upside to staying in a place for an extended period; we’re given the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the location. Many of the interpretive signs at Craters include photos from the active volcano in Hawaii – very similar terrain.

  9. What an interesting place. I find lava tubes a bit intimidating, it’s good to know there are a few that are less so. I prefer having some daylight peeking in. Love the photo of you with your new tripod by the way.

    • The first time I hiked the lava tube, I was very uncomfortable and was out of my comfort zone. When I went with friends, I enjoyed it more and tomorrow I’m returning with a solo gal staying here in the RV Park. She too didn’t want to hike it alone and wasn’t interested in the slow pace of a ranger lead hike. Dave took that photo of me with the little tripod. We were laughing so much as I was running back and forth using the camera’s self-timer to photograph the 3 of us.

  10. Your wildflower photos are wonderful. Very envious that you were able to identify them all. You are very adventurous to explore the lava tube not once but twice. I’m afraid my claustrophobia would keep me away from that.

    • Thanks Beth. I downloaded the Craters of the Moon app to help me identify the plants or there’s no way I would’ve known what each little beauty was. I’m a little claustrophobic as well, and just moved quickly through the cave LOL. Second go around was much easier but I still kept a quick pace!

    • It’s pretty mind boggling and awing to see the abundance of beautiful flowers growing in that otherwise stark landscape. I managed to capture a couple of fun shots that day.

    • I ended up kneeling and sitting on the ground to get close ups of those flowers and in so doing, scrapped a bunch of skin. That lava rock is sharper than I imagined and scrapped right through my pants. Ah, but it was so worth those shots 🙂

  11. Wow, you guys were in the right spot at the right time. Im sure the flowers and Faye had a great time watching you and Dave snapping those beauties. I wonder how it would look without the flowers coloring a rather gray landscape.
    I think I may copy your new tripod, we have a similar one but is shorty like me.

    • I love the new little tripod. It was very solid when I used it on a rock inside the lava tube (photo of the 3 of us in the cave). This one will even hold my big camera (which is less than 2 lbs.).
      It will be interesting to see how the landscape changes with the season but it sure is pretty right now.

    • This place has definitely surprised me and I’m enjoying my visits to Craters much more than I originally imagined. Fascinating land!

  12. Gorgeous photos! So hard to capture scale, and you did an awesome job 🙂 You’ve got me thinking about Craters of the Moon as a stopover this year…. hmmm!

    • Thank you Ellen. I’m not sure how Craters looks at other times of the year, but I can say it’s so pretty with all the tiny wildflowers dotting the landscape. FYI…. it gets cold and snowy here so time your visit carefully. We’ll be in Arco until Labor Day then moving on before the weather turns 🙂

  13. What an interesting place to visit Ingrid. The flowers are stunning & it amazes me that they thrive in these conditions! Gorgeous photos😀

    • Thank you Lynn. It is perplexing how anything can grow in such harsh terrain let alone such beautiful flowers. I’m having such a great time exploring this strange landscape.

    • Aren’t the wildflowers lovely? Such a wonderful surprise and the hike through the lava tube was a little more challenging the first go around. Much more rock scrambling than I thought, especially since I went the wrong way the first time 😆

    • The Indian Tunnel tube was the only one I would consider. After a few heart palpitations at the beginning, I settled into the hike and moved quickly 🙂

  14. It’s amazing how those seemingly delicate wildflowers manage to thrive in such an unforgiving landscape! Seems like you’re there at the perfect time for blooms. Even though I’m not enthralled with caves, the Indian Tunnel hike looks like fun. Craters of the Moon is definitely on our list—I think the last time I was there I was about seven years old. It’s been a while. 🙂

    • I too am not into caving and as unique as the sight can be, caves/tunnels don’t hold my interest. I am glad I experienced it though. The formation is extremely interesting but the scenery is much better above ground 😆 I’m in love with the wildflowers.

  15. We so enjoyed our stop at Craters of the Moon. Although we were a bit early for all of the wildflowers you captured (especially that beautiful little Dwarf Monkeyflower) we managed to see more varieties than I had expected. Having never actually gone inside a cave before we also enjoyed the experience of Indian Tunnel, it was light enough to see so it didn’t intimidate me. Our most recent experience in Washington’s Ice Caves had me staggering and tripping around in total darkness (even with my head lamp I was terribly disoriented).

    • Staggering and tripping isn’t my idea of fun. Indian tunnel was perfect for my speed. The variety of wildflower colors against the stark landscape is quite a sight. It’ll be interesting to see how the place changes and looks as summer progresses.

  16. We had a great time exploring Craters with you,thanks for sharing this beautiful place with us, also thanks for a wonderful healthy lunch sister wife 😉

    • It has been a very pleasant surprise to see such a variety of flowers and in such abundance. I’m heading back over on Monday for a little more visual delight.

  17. What fun shots of those wildflowers, and great job identifying them! Love the contrast between the rocks and the delicate colorful flowers.

    • I actually downloaded the Craters app which helped me identify some of the plants. I too love that contrast between the rocks and delicate flowers.

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