Day 100: Moon Walking

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Sleeping Camper or Young Moose in for a Surprise

We got up this morning to see a moose wandering through the campground. For a little while it laid down near a small tent with a motorcycle. Someone thought it might be an orphan calf that recently lost its mom, but it was eating grass and moving through the campground well enough, so if it was on its own, it was doing ok. We also noticed lots of people with cameras on the edge of the campground looking out into a big meadow to the west, a sure sign of wildlife in any national park if ever there was one. Two moose were close by and a big bull moose was grazing out in the field. After observing for a while and snapping some pictures we had breakfast and broke camp for the day.

Bull Moose in Meadow, Grand Teton

Bull Moose in Meadow, Grand Teton

First order of the day was driving westward over Teton Pass. This pass is spectacularly steep and twisty as it winds out of Jackson. I haven’t driven anything like it in Colorado, straight up steep and then tight switchbacks, and it was a little nerve-wracking. On the west side, the pass rapidly descends into Idaho into the Snake River Valley, which is more of a broad plain that smiles across the southern part of the state than an obvious valley. Out there, the flat sage brush country reminded me of parts of western Colorado, with its dusty, long views. Before long, we passed by the Idaho National Laboratory, a research facility for nuclear energy development and then through the town of Arco, the first town in America to have its lights lit by nuclear power.

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Lava Fields

West of Arco, we arrived at Craters of the Moon National Monument. This might be the coolest and most unexpected park I’ve ever visited. I wouldn’t say the landscape is exactly moon-like, but it certainly is otherworldly. Volcanic rock of varying textures and shades of black covers the land for miles in every direction. At various times in history lava has erupted from a long crack here in the earth’s crust, called the Great Rift of Idaho. The most recent eruption was about 2100 years ago, and geologists predict that more eruptions are likely sometime in the future. This isn’t the huge, explosive kind of volcano, like you would see on Hawaii, although there are some similarities. Rather than shooting out, lava flows from the cracks relatively slowly, resulting in the features we saw around the park. There are fine volcanic cinders which look like black pumice and are very light. There are also more dense volcanic rocks called pahoehoe and a’a, Hawaiian words for lava rocks of denser and rougher types. It is a stark and unforgiving environment and there wasn’t much of any wildlife to see, just some small desert plants and a few juniper trees.

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Oozing Lava (solid, of course)

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More lava fields on the way to the caves

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Caroline Caving

We drove the park loop to see all the sights and different kinds of lava formations. We also hiked out into the lava fields to explore some of the caves. After our cave exploration hike, we met a man in the parking lot who was closing up his solar observatory, and showed us the inside. At the end of the day, we decided to get a camp site in the park instead of driving on any further. We’ll enjoy a night under the desert stars and make it to Boise tomorrow.

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Under cloudy desert skies

More photos from Craters of the Moon:

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