62 years in Idaho and I have never ventured into this volcanic region of southeastern Idaho. It is the perfect trip for anyone who has a devotion to dressing like the “Goth” culture does. The entire panorama of Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is made up of blacks and grays punctuated with muted sage green. Someone dressed as a Goth would blend in so well they would probably disappear. There is a stark beauty in this landscape, and yes it does live up to its name.
We were so ready for this adventure. Our scheduled dentist appointments and other commitments behind us, we were chomping at the bit to get on the road.
|First camp spot on Lolo Creek.|
Leaving Post Falls at about 10:00 AM, we drove down Highway 95 through Moscow to Lewiston where we turned up the Clearwater River and wound our way along the rushing water. We passed through the Three Rivers area and made time up the Lochsa. It was a bit late in the day, but we still saw rafts and catarafts braving the whitewater and having a blast! Seeing this stretch of the river brought back many memories of our runs down this challenging stretch. Each turn on the highway provided glimpses of rapids that we have run many times. The whitewater, sun, and the beautiful vistas kept us entertained as we wound our way to our first night’s camp.
|Leave it to Linda to point out a misspelling!|
We stopped at a big pull-out about ¼ mile up river from Desvoto Grove on the North Fork of Lolo Creek. The 270 miles we covered was plenty and this seemed to be our best option due to all the Forest Service Campgrounds being closed. Traffic had been light all day so staying that close to the highway was not a problem; in fact, the rush of the river covered most vehicle noises. We slept well.
A cold morning brought ice on the mud puddles. Breakfast consisted of coffee, tea, and cereal. We were on the road by 8:00 AM. Up over Lolo Pass and then down into the town of Lolo where we filled the truck. We headed south which lead us over Lost Trail Pass, out of Montana and back into Idaho.
|Salmon River selfie.|
We stopped for some quick photos before we resumed our journey. The stupid Break Buddy on the Jeep signaled that we had a battery problem once again. I disconnected the system and we drove on.
The road follows the foothills of the Lost River Range of mountains through Antelope Flats and into the Thousand Springs Valley. All told the drive provides spectacular vistas. We entered Arco, Idaho and turned right. Leaving town, you look out to the west at a vast flat land. Up ahead it looked a bit like one of those scenes from an animated movie where you look upon thousands of soldiers dressed in black swarming into battle; as far as you can see, the lava flows of the Great Rift stretch out before us and we know that we have reached the monument area.
|Lost River Range|
At the Visitor Center, Linda went in and inquired about how the camping system worked and I unhooked the Jeep, hoping it would start. Naturally, it didn’t, but since we were parked on a slope I felt that if I rolled down the hill I could pop the clutch and start it. It didn’t. We met the maintenance staff and a ranger when they assisted me in jumpstarting our Jeep. Welcome to Craters of the Moon!
With the Jeep running, we found a spot in the campground and parked the truck. Then we paid for the site and took a long drive to get the lay of the park and to charge the Jeep.
|Welcome to the Moon!|
Our weather was near perfect; temperatures were in the mid 80’s with no clouds in the sky. Our drive gave us a great introduction to the park and teased us enough to get us excited for our upcoming explorations.
Back at the camper, we finished our set-up and fixed dinner. We ended our long day with a walk around camp and then watched the sunset
Linda rose early and got her six mile run completed. I drank my coffee and fixed us a couple of breakfast burritos for our morning meal. The day was spectacular! We loaded the Jeep with our water bottles and drove to the Visitors Center. Brochures and cave permits were collected and as we exited the building, five school buses pulled in.
As quickly as possible, we drove out into the park. We figured if we hurried, we could get to the caves and explore before the masses of kids got to them. We parked in the lot at The Caves Trail and hustled onto the path. Of the four caves in this area, two of them were open to exploring and two were closed due to snow. We walked to Dewdrop Cave, looked about and moved on. The information brochure explained how the caves were formed and gave us maps of the places we could climb.
On the trail to the Indian Tunnel, we spotted circles of rocks that are believed to have been placed by Indians long ago. At Indian Tunnel, the trail dropped into the rocks and we climbed down into the lava tube. The cave is about 800’ long with four areas where the ceiling has collapsed. The holes in the ceiling provide light throughout the cave, so it was never too dark as to cause us to use Linda’s phone as a flashlight. (Yes, we had forgotten to bring our flashlight… yes, it was on the list of required items. Fortunately, we did not need the light during our hike.) We exited the cave through a tube hole and followed the markers back across the rock to the entrance. In the distance, we could see the parking lot and there were two of the school buses. Scattered along the trail were the kids, their voices carried across the barren rock. We hurried back along the trail and met the leaders guiding the line of ants. We were told that there were 180 sixth graders visiting the monument today. We greeted them and let them pass. Linda looked to the sky and smiled.
On this day we also visited and hiked the Tree Molds Trail where, because of my haste, we did not read the informational sign at the start. When we found the tree molds, we were surprised to see that the molds had nothing to do with mold, but were lava formations left by trees after the rock hardened and the tree rotted away. They were molds, not mold. We laughed about that all the way back to the Jeep.
Extending our hiking, we walked the Broken Top Trail. We looked out over the Blue Dragon, a massive lava flow that has a spiny surface that when the sun was right showed a bluish hue. We hiked and read the information signs that talked about lava bombs, lava tubes, and pahoehoe lava flows. We ended our exploration at the Buffalo Cave where off in the distance we could hear the calls of sixth graders invading our quiet walk.
Back at the camper we relaxed awhile and rested our legs. We figured we hiked about six miles during our day and we were dirty and tired. There was one other thing I wanted to do and that was to visit the Visitors Center and buy a sticker for the camper. Linda liked the idea, so we walked the sidewalk to the entrance of the park and entered the center.
|Linda existing Indian Tunnel.|
I pushed the door open for Linda and she walked into the gift shop and immediately screamed in pain. I turned to her just in time to see a huge yellow jacket flying off toward the gift shops front window. The damage was done! Linda had been stung and everyone saw it happen. The gift shop/visitor center staff was immediately at her side. They called in a ranger who had first aid training and he just happened to be with a young woman who was a paramedic for the City of Arco.
|Popping out of the tube, as they call it.|
They moved Linda into the back room and started monitoring her vital signs after questioning and finding out that she’d had some bad reactions to bee stings. A woman gathered some ice and they put that on the sting. The paramedic said that Linda’s oxygen levels were very low so she insisted that Linda have oxygen much to Linda’s chagrin. Everyone was very nice and exceptionally helpful. They explained that Linda was about 4000 feet higher than back at home, as well as the possible concern of the sting and this could be the reason her oxygen levels were so low. They attended to her and within 30 minutes everything was back to normal. I kept checking in on everyone as this all took place. I did, however, have a chance to buy a couple items for our memorabilia collection, including that sticker I was looking for.
|Circles of rocks placed by ancient Native Americans.|
Back at the camper, I threw together a spectacular Chicken Garlic Pizza from scratch as Linda tried not to scratch her bee sting. She was a bit sleepy from the Benadryl, but I think the pizza made her feel a lot better.
We slept well and in the morning we awoke to a wind storm of biblical proportions. The morning brought gusty winds and by noon they had cranked up to the next word used beyond gusty (I couldn’t come up with a word that covered this type of wind.)
We drove to the Devil’s Orchard Nature Trail in the park and hiked the short loop. This trail sat in the lee of the Inferno Cone so the winds were blocked and we had a pleasant hike. We then drove to the parking lot for the Inferno Cone and hiked up the 618-foot trail to the top. The wind was howling up on there! Linda kept grabbing hold of me as we hiked. I kept hoping she wouldn’t blow away. Our stay on top was short lived and we were more than glad to bet back to the Jeep.
|Inferno Cone hike going up.|
Just as we left the parking lot, Linda got a cinder dust particle in her eye. She spent the next several minutes trying to get so she could see. I continued on and checked out Snow Cone, one of the several volcanic cones in that area. The cones were heavily fenced in. There was an information board telling about how people have climbed around the cones to the point of destruction and that the park personnel had to fence them to protect them. As we explored this park, it became apparent that people damaging these areas were a continual theme. At one point there was a sign telling of all the damage caused by tourists and that no one should go beyond the sign, only to have tracks in the cinders just past the KEEP OUT sign. A very sad sight, but it looked like this happened all the time.
The wind kept growing stronger so we loaded up and drove into Arco to get a few needed items. We did our shopping and then went into an auto parts store so that I could get a couple of items to fix the Brake Buddy. We chatted with the owner about the solar eclipse that will take place in August. He was a bit concerned about all the hype and all the crowds that it might bring into the area. It was fun talking to him and we wished him well.
Back at the camper I worked on the Brake Buddy and tested all the wiring to make sure that power from the truck was getting to Stinky Jeep. It all tested properly and so we will once again journey out on the road with the stupid Brake Buddy connected and not sucking power.
The sun was out and we had our breakfast and everything secured in the camper by 8:00 AM on Thursday, the morning we headed back north. With Stinky Jeep and the stupid Brake Buddy following us, we turned left onto Highway 20 and drove to the junction of 20 and 75 where we headed north. This path would lead us through Hailey, Ketchum, and Stanley. Neither Linda nor I had ever been this route and we were hoping that everything that we had heard about the beautiful vistas was true.
|Antelope at play.|
This highway took us up over Galena Pass and along the base of the Boulder Mountains and the Sawtooth Range. At the summit, we talked for a bit to a couple who were visiting from Holland. They were nice enough to take our picture. They were very excited to be visiting this part of our country. We wished them safe travels and headed downwards. Spectacular is the word I would use to describe this drive. Both Linda and I loved the entire trip. There was not a cloud in the sky as we drove this entire stretch. After we climbed the pass and descended following the Salmon River, we found ourselves once again talking about the river trips we had taken down the Middle Fork of this beautiful river.
|Headwaters of the Salmon below Galena Pass.|
At Challis, we connected with highway 93 again and drove to just a ways past Salmon, Idaho, where we camped on the Salmon River in a campground named Tower Rock. The campground came at a good time; clouds had moved in and the rain came down. The river was high and muddy, but we enjoyed the evening of walks between rain showers.
We were on the road early, it was Friday before the big holiday weekend and we wanted to get home before the huge camping invasion. Like a horse to the barn, we drove straight home and ended our trip.
|Our camp site at Craters of the Moon.|
|In search of Tree Molds.|
|Pahoehoe lava flows.|
|Chicken garlic pizza, to die for!|
|Inferno Cone, 618-foot trail to the top.|
|Reading about Witches Broom.|
|Most spectacular RV dump we have ever used!|