Craters of the Moon National Monument, ID  

TOPIC: Craters of the Moon National Park, ID


In August 2005, I visited Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve located in south central Idaho.  Craters of the Moon is a large National park  It is over 1,100 square miles (over 750,000 acres) which is roughly the size of Rhode Island.   The major feature of the park is series of basaltic lava flows that cover 618 square miles of the park.

The young lava flows that make up the bulk of the Monument and Preserve can clearly be seen from space.   

I am a geologist by training. My focus has always been on soft rock geology.  I am interested in karst features, limestone, fossils, caves, and vertebrate paleontology.  The bulk of my classes and research focused on these themes, but I had all the core material on igneous petrology and related  phenomena.  I found my excitement building as I crossed the first lava fields on the way to the park entrance.  The main entrance is located on the northern side of the monument.  This is the only area easily accessible to the public.  Other areas can be reached through rough primitive roads or hiking, but on this trip I simply planned on visiting the northern end of the park.    In addition to the volcanic features are several unique old growth systems represented in the park.  More about them later. 

Geologic Background

Between approximately 8 and 10 million years ago, the Yellowstone Hotspot was beneath Craters of the Moon. A hotspot is a plume of molten or near molten rock that essentially burns its way through the crust.   The source of the hotspot plume is likely at a depth of 125 miles or even as deep as the mantle/inner core boundary. The hotspot is generally believed to be 17 to 18 million years old, but exactly how they form is not completely known.  The hot spot itself was stationary while the North American plate slid across plume forming a series of volcanic features.  This early period time was characterized by violent rhyolite eruptions and caldera formation.  Ryolite is a very viscous form of lava that is generally pinkish in color.  It is the major lava type exposed at Yellowstone and in places like Mt. St. Helens and other peaks in the Cascade Range in the Pacific Northwest.  The continents are made of lighter material of granitic composition while the ocean floors and layers underlying the continental masses are made of heavier basalts.  These early rhyolite deposits are made primarily of granitic continental crust material re-melted by heat from the hotspot and expelled by eruptions at or near the Earth’s surface.  It is more viscous – stickier – because of high quartz content.  Essentially the continents are the scum that floats on top of the basalts.  Biological materials, including people, are the scum that live on top of the granitic scum, which floats upon the basalt that together form the crust of the Earth.  

Between 6 million and 15,000 years ago, numerous basaltic eruptions produced a 4,000-foot-thick sequence of lava flows in the vicinity of Craters of the Moon. Basalt is made of darker heavier material and is much less viscous than earlier rhyolitic flows. That allowed broad relatively flat lava flows to spread great distances across the land surface.  A prime example of active basaltic flow fields of which everyone is familiar are the lava flows and volcanoes of the Hawaiian Islands.  Between 15,000 and 2,000 years ago, the Craters of the Moon Lava Field formed during eight major eruptive periods. During this time the Craters of the Moon lava field grew to cover 618 square miles. The Wapi and Kings Bowl lava fields formed contemporaneously about 2,200 years ago.  The lava fields and cinder cones found at the surface of the park all date from this later period.

The Visitor’s Center and Campground

My first stop at any park is the visitor’s center.  They have displays and explanations of the features in the park.  They also have leaflets and books that provide more details of the features present.  I am a collector of free booklets, pamphlets, and flyers from the places I visit.  I turn them into a trip scrap book when I get home.  One of the really interesting features of the visitor’s center area was a series of displays made by school children.  After presentation on the park they drew pictures of various aspects of the park, the volcanoes, the ecosystem and so forth.  These were incorporated into a series of signs along a path outside of the visitor’s center itself.  

photo by Edward Frank

I have mentioned this previously and have a photo of one of the signs on the page listed above.  This is pretty relevant to discussions of how to get children interested in the outdoors.  I am sure the sign drawing activities excited those who participated and their prominent display at the park will also interest other children who see them.  Kids are interested in activities in which other kids participate.  I wish Nickelodeon would pick up a show like “Bindi the Jungle Girl” currently only available in non-basic cable channels.

The campground is located just past the visitor’s center on the north side of a modest sized cinder cone.  I set up my tent, pounded the stakes in the loose cinder, threw some gear into the tent and I was off to see the park

North Crater Flow

There is a loop road that leads to the major features at this end of the park.

The first stop was at the North Crater Flow Trail:  from the website:  “At this first stop a short trail crosses the flow to a group of monoliths or crater wall fragments transported by lava flows. This flow is one of the youngest and here the Triple Twist Tree suggests, because of its 1,350 growth rings, that these eruptions ceased only 2,000 years ago. You see fine examples of both ropy pahoehoe lava and a'a lava flows on North Crater Flow. Just up the road is the North Crater Trail, Take this longer, steep trail to peer into a volcano vent.”   And “This trail takes you onto the North Crater Flow, a pahoehoe flow that spilled from the North Crater vent about 2,200 years ago. Signs along the, trail introduce other typical features: pressure ridges, squeeze ups, aa lava, and rafted blocks.”  This was a short hike.  There were two feature of note.  The first was ancient Limber Pine (Pinus flexilis  E. James 1823) tree mentioned above. 

photo by Edward Frank

This is the triple twist Limber Pine.  Impressive isn’t it?  It is perhaps 8 inches in diameter and snakes along the ground for maybe 10 feet.   It was dead appearing when I saw it.  Dr. Christopher Earle, of  gives a nice description of the species overall and comments on this particular specimens:  Maximum ages-  Crossdated ages of 1,670 years from site ERE in New Mexico, collected by Swetnam and Harlan; and 1659 years for specimen KET3996 from Ketchum, Idaho collected by Schulman in 1956 (Brown 1996). Given the fact that crossdated tree ages are always underestimates because of the near-impossibility of sampling the tree's seedling growth years, either of these trees could have been the older, particularly since KET3996 was sampled about 30 years before the ERE tree. During a 1994 visit to Craters of the Moon National Monument, I believe I located KET3996; it was dead, and had been for many years.’ On the subject of memorable Limber Pine localities he mentions Craters of the Moon:  “Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho, which has numerous groves and an interesting history. Many ancient limber pines in the Monument were killed by the Park Service in the early 1960s in a poorly conceived attempt to eradicate a mistletoe infestation.”  Also of interest on this page is a photograph of the largest Limber Pine documented, Height 18 m, dbh 222 cm, crown spread 14 m. Locality: On a ridge S of Snowbird, Utah with a tiny Dr. Bob Van Pelt for scale.

[   Brown, Peter M. 1996. OLDLIST: A database of maximum tree ages. P. 727-731 in Dean, J.S., D.M. Meko and T.W. Swetnam, eds., "Tree rings, environment, and humanity." Radiocarbon 1996, Department of Geosciences, The University of Arizona, Tucson. ]

The other major sight to see on this short trail, are fragments of the edge of a crater that were broken free and swept down by the lava flow.  A variety of lava flow features are present.  Two lave forms are [resent in this area:  1) Pahoehoe lava is a thin ropey looking form with a relatively smooth surface;   2) A’a  lava is another type that has a blocky or chunky appearance, Both are present along the trail,  The park includes a number of distinct ecological communities based upon the substrate. 

Limber pine on Blue Dragon - NPS photo

  The open basalt flows represent one of those community types.  The park website reads:  “The types and density of vegetation vary considerably and depend on such factors as geology, availability of soil and water, aspect, air temperature, and exposure to wind. The density of vegetation on lava flows depends primarily on the amount of soil available. Although lava flow surfaces support only lichens, vascular plants are able to grow in depressions on those surfaces. When basalt rock is very young, the only soil available is whatever blows into cracks and fractures. As soil develops within these cracks over time, vegetation can begin to grow. The depth of crevices, cracks, and depressions fixes the amount of soil and moisture that can be held. The size of the crack also determines the types of plants that will grow and what degree of protection they will have from harsh climactic conditions, such as extreme air temperatures and exposure to high winds.”  Here you can see plants struggling to grow in tiny cracks and lichens growing on the rock surface. 

Wildflowers on Cinders  - NPS photo

Continuing along the road toward the next stop several cinder cones are present.  The website reads:  “Cinder cones support three different plant communities: cinder garden, shrub, and limber pine and/or juniper trees. These communities are determined primarily by aspect and by succession. In the early stages of succession, cinder gardens are colonized by species that produce spectacular spring wildflower displays. As soils develop on the cinders, antelope bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) dominates shrub communities. And on the north-facing slopes where sufficient moisture is available, limber pine trees (Pinus flexilis) and/or juniper trees (Juniperus spp.) dominate.”  This trip was in August, so I had missed the spring flower show, but in some areas numerous plants were present giving the surface a poke-a-dot appearance.

 photo by Edward Frank

Dwarf Buckwheat – the tiny flowers can have root systems up to three feet across

photo by Edward Frank


The Devil’s Orchard Nature Trail

This paved trail explores an area of cinder beds scattered with pieces of the North Crater wall. Exhibits along the trail describe the difficult challenge the National Park Service faces in trying to protect this fragile volcanic environment. This trail is wheelchair accessible.    

   Devils Orchard- NPS photo

This was one of the most striking areas of the park.  Intermixed among the lava features were larger specimens of limber pine.  Some were standing others were the graying remains of long fallen specimens.  Colorful lichens grew on lava blocks and a variety of other plants grew on the cinder surface.  Yellow flowered Rubber Rabbitbrush provided color to the scene.  “Rubber rabbitbrush grows to two meters tall and produces yellowish-green flowers from July to September. Native Americans made chewing gum by pulverizing its wood and bark. Rubber rabbitbrush can also be used to make tea, cough syrup, yellow dye, chest pain medicine, and is a small commercial source for rubber extraction.”

photo by Edward Frank

Limber pine and Rubber Rabbitbrush. 

This is an example of an old growth ecosystem in this climate. The website reads: “The dominant tree in the northern half of Craters of the Moon is limber pine (Pinus flexilis).  Limber pine habitat provides important cover and food for wildlife. The large, wingless seeds of limber pine have a high energy content and provide a critical food source for rodents and birds. 

Clarks' Nutcracker  - NPS photo

Clark's nutcrackers are major dispensers of seeds, caching groups of seeds in the ground. These caches are relocated by Clark's nutcrackers, pilfered by rodents or are forgotten and germinate under favorable conditions. Limber pines are more abundant on aa than pahoehoe flows, but in both cases are able to grow where water collects, and especially where the trees receive protection from the fierce high desert winds.”  One of the notable aspects in this location is the relationship between the limber pines and the parasitic species of limber pine dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium campylopodum forma cyanocarpum. )  It is parasitic almost entirely on five-needled pines, especially Pinus flexilis. Mistletoe infections are extensive on limber pine in this Park Unit, even on trees of the most interior lava fields.   Limber pine is a native species locally common across large areas of western United States.

Distribution of the Limber Pine


The park website  describes these two important species  Limber pine is “a species generally occurring in forests or ridgelines at greater elevations in Idaho, it is also at home on lava flows and cinder cones, to where it is largely restricted in this Park Unit. It has five needles per fascicle, and its branches are limber enough to be bent into a “U” without breaking! The limber pine at CRMO are characteristically odd-shaped, twisted, and bent due to a combination of harsh environmental conditions and infestations of dwarf mistletoe “  

Limber Pine Snag - NPS photo

Dwarf mistletoes are dioecious stem parasites of plants in the families Pinaceae (pines) and Cupressaceae (junipers). They are not leafy or green but are somewhat photosynthetic. They often cause the infected tree to produce swollen limbs called “witches’s brooms.” Mature fruit can be projected with force over considerable distances from the plant. Regrettably, the eradication program of mistletoes in the 1960’s brought about the cutting down of many old and ecologically important conifer trees; such a program is discouraged today.  

Dwarf Mistletoe on Limber Pine  - NPS photo

The note above and following is a brief statement which includes the only reference or information I could find about a hideous decision made by the National Park Service in the 1960’s:  Dwarf mistletoe and white pine blister rust are two primary causes of concern for ecosystem health at Craters of the Moon National Monument. Both affect limber pine stands, which account for over 95 percent of the forested acres in the monument. Dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium spp.) is a native infectious parasitic organism that establishes itself on hosts such as limber pine trees. In general, dwarf mistletoe reduces the vigor and growth of infected trees by appropriating water and nutrients, and disturbing the normal physiological processes of the tree. Heavy dwarf mistletoe infections increase the susceptibility of the trees to attacks by bark beetles and to system failure from environmental stresses. In some cases, they can kill the tree by slowly robbing it of food and water. Death occurs slowly in most cases and depends on the severity of infection and on the vigor and size of the tree. Dwarf mistletoe has a relatively long life cycle between infection and seed production (six to eight years), which allows for long-term disease management. Management and control efforts in the 1960’s were unsuccessful and resulted in the removal of 6000 limber pine trees. Today, dwarf mistletoe is recognized as a natural parasitic organism that has been a part of the Craters of the Moon limber pine ecology for hundreds to thousands of years. It has become an issue of “which is worse, the disease or the cure?”

photo by Edward Frank

This is a prime example of managerial “doublethink” with more than a trace of Orwellian overtones.  They were going to save the forest by cutting down the trees.  In fairness the Park Service in the 1960’s was often populated by people involved in the production forestry.  To those of the production mindset, a tree was simply a crop to be managed and harvested without any intrinsic value of its own.  But still, even though over time there has been a shift in conceptual differences about the importance trees as part of an overall ecological system, I can’t see how anyone could have thought that cutting down these trees was a good thing to do.  [There is a quote I can’t quite remember, perhaps by a Russian novelist, and I am sure I am mutilating it, but it says in effect:  “The decision was without flaw or the possibility of error, because it was the result of official action, and not subject to the fallibilities of an individual man.”   - help me out here]  I have searched the internet for information about this management decisions without any success.  You can find almost anything on the internet, but this somehow has not been included.

photo by Edward Frank

A limber pine tree infected with dwarf mistletoe.  The mistletoe results in part in the formation of the witch’s brooms that appear prominently on the right side of this tree.

The question beyond “What were they thinking?’ is what affect did these tree removals have on the ecosystem of the park?  The trees form a core of the ecosystem.  They provide shade for other plants and animals.  They introduce large amounts of organic matter into the system through needle loss and through decaying wood eventually when they fall as coarse woody debris.  Fallen trees serve and windbreaks and a place where wind blown sediment can accumulate.  The removal process itself  likely damages the areas around the trees, and in an environment where existence is a struggle any disruption can have long trerm effects.  From a scientific and aesthetic standpoint, you must ask how many millennium old trees were cut in an effort to “save” them?  How many of those trees would have survived for centuries more if they had just been left alone?  The damage is incalculable.


Inferno Cone

The Inferno Cone lies along the inside of the road loop.  It has a trail that leads steeply up the side of the cinder cone.  From the top you can see panoramic views of the entire park, Great Rift, Snake River Plain, and Pioneer Mountains. On clear days you may see the Teton Range, 100 miles to the east.    The view from the top is spectacular.

photo by Edward Frank

Atop the Inferno Cone stands a lone pine bent by the wind.

It was here that my camera bit the dust.  I set the camera on the tripod and planned on using the timer to take a photograph of myself beside the lone pine tree.  Just as I backed away, a string gust of wind blew the camera and tripod over.  The camera did a face-plant in the cinders and stopped working.  This was the end of my photographic documentation of the park.

  Spattercone - NPS photo

Beyond the Inferno Cone are a series of other stops.  The next stop is at two small spatter cones.  Once pristine, these cones have been loved almost to death.  The cinders forming the cones are poorly consolidated and have been broken down by visitors tramping upon them.  Currently there is a paved path up around the side of each of the cones, and mesh fencing keeps people from venturing in the throat of the cones at the top.  So they are being protected now to minimize future damage to the volcanic forms. 

The next stop on the tour leads to the Broken Top area.  A spur road just past Inferno Cone leads to this trailhead. Here you can view the imprint of lava-charred trees alond the Tree Molds Trail (2 miles). Broken-Top Trail (self-guiding) circumnavigates a cinder cone (1.8 miles). The Wilderness Trail leads to molds of upright trees called lava trees (4 miles) and the vast wilderness area beyond.  Of particular interest at this stop are the lava mold plant fossils.  In a rare example of fossils preserved in igneous rocks, dozens of tree mold impressions are preserved in the basaltic lava flows and in lava tubes. These impressions were formed as lava flowed around a fallen tree. The molds typically show shrinkage cracks. Moisture in the wood may have prevented incineration of the trees.

The next stop leads to a series of short trails leading to a number of lava tube caves.  These form when the outer surface of the lava flow cools and becomes solid while the interior lava still molten continues toflow leaving behind a lava tube shell.  The website notes that the Caves at Craters of the Moon represent Pleistocene or Holocene basaltic lava tubes. The number of documented caves currently exceeds 300, and with further exploration and inventory a realistic estimate of the number might exceed 600.  Of these a few are open to the general public.  A good external link on lava tube caves is found at:  A virtual Lava Tube Cave tour with definitions by Dave Bunnel.  Caves you can visit include Dewdrop Cave,  Indian Tunnel, Boy Scout Cave, and Beauty Cave.  Indian Tunnel is a through trip.  You climb down a ladder into the cave,  work your way through, and come out another entrance at the far end.  From here you can follow a trail marked by cairns back to the original entrance.  The lava surface itself is brittle, almost like a rock foam.  Off trail foot travel has damages the surface in many areas of the park.  The pressure from your footstep breaks the thin shell on the surface of the rock.  In a short time this material will oxidize and form a rust colored mark on the ground surface.  One thing you need for exploring these short caves is a good light.  A regular flashlight just doesn’t make enough light to let you see much beyond your own feet as the black walls suck up the light.  I worked my way through a couple of the caves this way, but I could not really see anything of the cave shape or structure.  The solution I found back in my vehicle.  I pulled out my rechargeable 1,000,000 candlepower spotlight. This proved to be the ideal size of light for these explorations, and I revisited all of the caves open in the area.  Inside many of these caves, even in August, was cold with masses of ice still lingering in the back corners of the chambers. 

It was getting dark, so I headed back to the campground in a growing wind.  When I arrived I found the wind had rolled my tent over. The stakes were pulled out of the ground.   A previously damaged tent pole was bent in two.  The only thing that saved the tent from being blown away completely was the presence of a heavy cooler inside.  I set my tent up again, and took a quick shower.  The night was spectacular.  It was clear and the stars shone brightly.  We were far from the light pollution of any nearby cities and the crisp desert air seemed to fit the scene.   After a restless night in which my tent kept  bending and flapping in the wind. I left early the next morning, maybe 5 am local time.  Onward to my next destination…

Aspens and Lava - NPS photo


Other Features – Old Growth Junipers

Aside from the limber pine old growth there are a number of other significant ecosystems in the park that are worth considering and documenting should I visit again.   The website notes: 

In the southern portions of the monument, stands of Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) and Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) provide scarce structure and food source for birds and other wildlife. Although many were harvested by early settlers, some rare stands of old growth junipers (700+ years old) remain on the lava fields.  A few other species of trees are also found here, but in very limited numbers and geographical areas. The portion of the monument north of U.S. Highway 20/26/93 contains some Douglas-fir and upland quaking aspen stands. Douglas-fir forests are found on the relatively steep, north-facing slopes of older cinder cones and along Little Cottonwood Canyon. Quaking aspen groves are in upland sites away from permanent stream courses.

Several shrubs typically associated with mountain or riparian habitats are uniquely able to find similar growing conditions in the cracks of barren lava flows at Craters of the Moon. Examples include the fern bush and syringa. In order to resist being robbed of moisture by wind, the fern bush (Chamaebatiaria millefolium) grows inside deep crevices in the lava. It has aromatic leaves that resemble the fronds of ferns and that contain an oily substance which also helps the plants retain moisture. Native Americans rubbed the leaves over their bodies to repel insects. Deep crevices in the lava flows also provide the soil, moisture, and lower temperatures needed for the syringa (Philadelphus lewisii) plant to grow. Named after Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark fame, this medium-sized shrub bears numerous large white flowers with four petals. It is very fragrant and serves as the state flower of Idaho.

Other common shrubs include sagebrush, antelope bitterbrush, and rubber rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus). The dominant species of sagebrush in the northern part of Craters of the Moon is mountain big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. vaseyana), which is part of a sagebrush steppe ecosystem that includes different types of grasses. Basin big sagebrush, Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata spp. wyomingensis), three-tip sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata spp. tridenta), low sagebrush (Artemisia arbuscula spp. arbuscula),and early low sagebrush (Artemisia arbuscula spp. longiloba) are also found here. Antelope bitterbrush provides browse for mule deer during the summer months, is a frequent host of thousands of tent caterpillars, and is identifiable by abundant yellow flowers and small, three-lobed leaves.  

Ice Covered Limber Pine - NPS Photo



Kipukas are islands of native vegetation that have developed on old lava flows surrounded by newer flows. Some kipukas in the monument have been protected from alteration by areas of rough lava and represent rare examples of undisturbed shrub steppe habitats. Dominant kipuka vegetation includes three-tip sagebrush (Artemisia tripartita), big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), bluebunch wheatgrass (Elymus spicatus), and needlegrass (Stipa spp.).  Searing lava flows that initially destroyed everything in their path today protect the last refuges of intact sagebrush steppe communities on the Snake River Plain. These islands of vegetation, known as kipukas, provide important examples of what is "natural".

These areas are being invaded currently by some non-native grasses.  Evidence indicates that these kipukas were never grazed and represent the most intact shrublands in western United States.   The only activity that took place prior to the formation of the National Preserve were an occasional visitor, and earlier hunting parties by the native Shoshone. 



The most common vegetation type in the Intermountain West can be called sagebrush steppe, sagebrush grassland, shrubland, cold desert shrub, or simply western rangeland. 

Wildflowers in Sagebrush-Steppe Community  - NPS photo

Although there are differences in these terms and in the vegetation communities they describe, the common component among them is the presence of shrubs. A particular shrub called sagebrush dominates many of these communities, and occurs in combination with complex mixtures of other shrubs, grasses, and forbs. Climate, soil conditions, parent material and topography determine the general distribution of sagebrush and the various characteristics of shrubland communities. The dominant species of sagebrush in the northern part of Craters of the Moon is mountain big sagebrush. Mountain big sagebrush is widespread throughout the monument and is found in combination with the following types of grasses: bluebunch wheatgrass, Sandberg bluegrass, needle grasses, Idaho fescue, and cheatgrass. The five other species of sagebrush found at Craters are basin big sagebrush, Wyoming big sagebrush, three-tip sagebrush, early low sagebrush, and low sagebrush. Other common shrubs at Craters are antelope bitterbrush and rubber rabbitbrush. These two species are especially common on cinder cones. Sagebrush becomes a common vegetation component in areas with older substrates (geology) and where adequate soils have developed. The sagebrush steppe ecosystem provides an important watershed and valuable habitat for wildlife at the monument, including sage grouse, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, songbirds, and small mammals. Management protection afforded by the area’s wilderness status, along with the natural protection the surrounding barren lava flows provide, help keep many of the monument’s plant communities in pristine condition.


Edward Frank


== 2 of 3 ==
Date: Thurs, Jan 31 2008 9:43 pm
From: James Parton


This was a great post. I too have studied geology and this brought
back memories of much study & reading on it. I loved the Vitualtube
website you have included here. Very facinating. I would love to go
inside a lava cave.

James Parton.

== 3 of 3 ==
Date: Thurs, Jan 31 2008 9:55 pm

First, what do you do in your spare time?
What a wonderful account of your trip to "...the Moon" NP! Clearly you could have been a fabulous interpretive naturalist for the NPS!
Over the years, I have developed favorites (tree species) that generally fall in to those that are considered relict species...usually biogeographical remnants that escaped large natural forces such as (in this case) lava flows, or in the case of the Sierra Nevadas, glacial passages.
Limber pines are distributed across a fair portion of the Sierra Nevadas, usually within the confines of wilderness areas (not so much there because of protection, but because wilderness areas in Northern California are usually higher elevation, remote and difficult to access. The flexibility of the Limber Pine branches was always an easy treat for the uninitiated.
Junipers I've found in wilderness look like they should have Biblical sun rays illuminating them, standing singular in the Sierra granite, with what would seem to be insufficient amount of soil to base thousands of years of existence...early on, Bob and I talked about bark characteristics as one of the traits that tended to identify old age in trees...I have photos (some where) of these magnificent junipers (Hoover Wilderness out of Sonora, CA) with incredible bark furrows, plating.
There are hanging glacial valleys in the Trinity Alps and Marble Mountain wilderness that harbor relict species such as Brewer's Spruce , mountain hemlock, and western white pine that require fairly rugged cross-country hiking...a 1909 book by Sudworth (USFS Chief Dendrologist) described their location in his passing in an amazing 7 year accumulation of forest species, ranges, distributions, cultural uses, etc. While there myself, it remained as he had described, as if no one had been there between...except an osprey that dove as we watched, striking a fish at the surface and flying away to a nearby dining spot or nest.
During the last decade, wildfires have burned there way through some of the wilderness areas I liked best...I found an account of an adjacent area that details some of the richness of the area, from 

"Situated in Northern Californias Klamath National Forest, Dillon Creek is a large segment of an even laCalifornia'stration of wild forest habitat called the Salmon Divide area, which extends from the Siskiyou Wilderness southeastward to the Trinity Alps Wilderness. Based on analysis of infrared Landsat imagery, the Salmon Divide area appears to be the largest block of relatively intact ancient forest remaining in Northern California. President Clinton's Northwest Forest Plan designated Dillon Creek a key watershed and established a late successional reserve in the heart of the watershed.
The Klamath forest ecosystem is recognized worldwide as a center of plant biodiversity and is renowned for its wealth of conifer species. For instance, in the Russian Mountain Wilderness Area, 17 different conifers grow within one square mile (dwarf juniper, incense cedar, white fir, subalpine fir, Shasta red fir, Brewers spruce, Engelmanns spruce, whitebark pine, knobcone pine, foxtail pine, lodgepole pine, sugar pine, ponderosa pine, western white pine, western hemlock, Douglas fir and Pacific yew)."

Not the GSMNP but nice enough for northern California~

TOPIC: Craters of the Moon National Park, ID

== 1 of 3 ==
Date: Fri, Feb 1 2008 5:54 am

James,Ed, and ENTS:
Some distinctive memories of visiting Craters of the Moon was a visit
in July when we scrambled, walked,crawled thru several amazingly long
lava tubes(caves) when the surface temperatures was 90 + degrees and
walked/slid on long expanses of ice that apparently never melts in
some years. Also the lava was real rough on hiking boots, clothes and
hide and the three of us came out tattered and bloody. We camped there
one nite and it was absolutely the darkest and most quiet camping spot
I ever experienced.

Turner Sharp

== 2 of 3 ==
Date: Fri, Feb 1 2008 9:54 am

As a youth, I recall being fascinated by the 'ice caves' that formed often in lava tubes in northern California and eastern Oregon, year around even though summer heat twenty feet away would be over 100 degrees!

== 3 of 3 ==
Date: Fri, Feb 1 2008 10:23 am
From: "Lee E. Frelich"


We have them in MN, IA and WI, as well. They are called algific talus
slopes. Caves in the limestone bluffs behind the talus gradually fill with
ice due to dripping groundwater during the winter. Then the cold air seeps
out through the talus all summer as the ice slowly melts. The balsam fir
forest in northeast IA and southeast MN are present (along with a number of
boreal herbs) because of the cold air seepage. The balsam fir in algific
talus slopes can be 100-150 miles disjunct from the main range.



TOPIC: Craters of the Moon National Park, ID

== 1 of 8 ==
Date: Fri, Feb 1 2008 11:02 am
From: "Edward Frank"


There were a few things I found interesting that I didn't mention. In the
park (or at least the ones by the cinder cones) the concrete sidewalks
leading into the lava fields were painted or coated black to make them blend
in better with the surrounding lava fields.

The tree molds in lava are rare because the lava must be cool enough to
freeze upon contact. If it is close to the vent or really hot the lava
will simply burn the tree down in a flash and sweep the ashes away. It also
must be the last flow in the area or they will simply be filled in by the
next flow. In Alaska there is a mold of a Woolly Rhinoceros in basalt. I
understand they recovered bones from it and actually made a rubber cast of
the animal. What is neat about this is that aside from surface burns the
mold shows a complete body for the creature and not just the skeletal


== 3 of 8 ==
Date: Fri, Feb 1 2008 12:09 pm


The area around Crates of the Moon gets a lot of snow in the winter which
melts into the lava beds. The lava tubes reportedly run for many miles and the
springs that feed the tremedous number of trout farms in the Snake River
Canyon are all fed by snow melt from the Craters of the Moon. There is one well
known lava tube that holds onto ice and snow longer than any other and it is
one of the most sought after places at the park on a hot day late in the


== 5 of 8 ==
Date: Fri, Feb 1 2008 2:16 pm
From: "Edward Frank"


Just before going to Craters of the Moon, I stopped by Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument in Southern Idaho near the Snake River.. This is a small park that simply encapsulates a site in which they recovered hundreds of horse fossils. There isn't much to see at the monument itself as the excavations are long since past. At the park itself were rutted paths left from settlers passing along the Oregon trail 150 years ago. There also were some mounted skeletons in the small visitors center.

From here I went to the area known as "Thousand Springs" here a bed of lava overlies the bedrock on the northern side of the Snake River. Water seeps into the fractures and caves in the basalt and flows along the boundary with the underlying rocks. When it meets the canyon rim it discharges in a series of waterfalls. The lava is generally harder than the underlying rock so it basically holds up the ground surface on the north side of the river, while at this locality on the south side it is eroded to near river level. The cliffs on the north side from which the springs discharge are step because they are formed not by erosion lowering the ground surface, but by the softer rocks underneath the lava eroding and undercutting the lava beds, which in turn break of forming the cliffs. I don't think it is the same lava fields exposed here as were present at Craters of the Moon.

From there I went on to the Snake River Canyon. The canyon here at Twin Falls is 500 feet deep. On the south side of the bridge is a monument noting the attempt by Evil Kneivel to jump the canyon a number of years ago on a rocket powered motorcycle (he didn't succeed). It is an impressive looking slot in the earth. You can walk across the highway bridge and get a nice perspective on the river and canyon.

The next stop was at Shoshone Falls. It is a series of beautiful waterfalls on the Snake River itself. Immediately above the falls is a dam, but the falls themselves are not modified. The falls are 210 feet tall and it is very impressive to seethe entire river plunge over the precipice.

Ed Frank

== 6 of 8 ==
Date: Fri, Feb 1 2008 2:50 pm


Fantastic pictures!

The hydrologic history of that part of the world is incredible.


== 7 of 8 ==
Date: Fri, Feb 1 2008 3:28 pm

Similarly, in northern California there's a river (Hat Creek) that flows into a lava tube, travels for some 20 miles or so, underground, and then re-emerges into one of the finer flyfishing rivers around!

== 8 of 8 ==
Date: Fri, Feb 1 2008 4:04 pm
From: Randy Brown

I was there in grade school and remember going down in the ice caves.
Unfortunately when we were there the ice was covered with ~1/2" of
water so we just looked at it.

Oh yeah and there is still a chunk of black lava grit stuck in my knee
from an ill advised gallop across the lava fields.

TOPIC: Craters of the Moon National Park, ID

== 1 of 1 ==
Date: Sat, Feb 2 2008 1:44 pm


I finally got to read your original post on Craters of the Moon. For
whatever reason my computer would not open the e-mail or the photos and today it
finally did. Excellent and enjoyable post.

The ensuing ice cave discussion has been most refreshing!


TOPIC: Craters of the Moon National Park, ID

== 1 of 2 ==
Date: Sun, Feb 3 2008 5:23 am


I took the time to read through your Idaho trip again and found it as enjoyable the second time as I did for the first reading. Your Idaho trip sets the bar for trip descriptions. The quality of the post sat me to thinking. Whether we are debating forester licensing in Massachusetts, the historical authenticity of biblical scriptures, formulas for measuring tree volume, biological versus chemical controls for an insect pest, how to photograph trees, or Native or Celtic tree lore, ENTS is a class act. No debating that point - and the beat goes on.

If the nerve damage in my hip and leg will settle down, on Thursday I will start back doing a vegetative inventory and forest structure study of the Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area. By spring, I'll also return to the hemlock inventory project for DCR and the committee on hemlock conservation-preservation which will include a seed bank. In addition there is the study headed by Lee Frelich on comparing tree measuring methods. That study will likely be followed by one that Lee has long wanted to do on tree height profiling for a dozen or more species across their full ranges. Then there is the live oak modeling project, the book on Dendromorphometry, continuing of Tsuga Search in other geographical areas, updating of Rucker indices, and a dozen other projects bouncing around. In this rich field of possibilities, it is easy to get overwhelemed. In my humble opinion, what we must always remember to do is to enjoy what we are doing and not allow ourselves to become driven to where
the magic of what we sat out to accomplish disappears to be replaced by compulsion.


== 2 of 2 ==
Date: Sun, Feb 3 2008 7:37 am
From: James Parton


I agree with Bob, that was one heck of a trip report. Like Bob, I read
it twice. Through well written trip reports and photographs we take
all ents with us on our outings. With me, trip reports rule! That is
what got me onto ENTS to begin with. Way before I joined I used ENTS
trip reports to help me find places to hike. I had found Cataloochee
and visited both the Boogerman Pine & Sag Branch Poplar using ENTS
trip reports. As a collective we go on many journeys. And think, Ed.
You are our vessel, by putting all those " voyages " to the website!

James Parton.