Thursday, June 11, 2009

Craters of the Moon National Monument - Idaho

Craters of the Moon National Monument is located in central Idaho. We picked up our grandchildren and headed there for a grand adventure. Craters of the Moon is a vast lava field made up of lava flows, some from as long ago as 15,000 years. Craters of the Moon is part of the "Great Rift" is a system consisting of a series of fractures in the earth's crust which extend over 50 miles. This still active volcanic rift is the cause of the periodic lava flows of Craters of the Moon. Lava last flowed at Craters of the Moon about 2,000 years ago. Here is an animation showing the flows as they have happened since 15,000 years ago. Lava Flow Animation

The campground at Craters is nestled into the lava flows and I guarantee it is one of the most unusual campgrounds you will ever stay at.

Lava Flow Campground

Among the many features at Craters of the Moon are Lava Flows, Cinder Cones, Caves and Tunnels. One of the favorite hikes at Craters is the hike up Inferno Cone. Inferno Cone is a large cinder cone produced during a recent lava flow so there is little vegetation established on the cone. We took our young adventurers up the cinder cone shortly after we arrived. They have both been hiking since they were babies and had no difficulty with the climb.

We love hiking with our grandkids and doing it in a special place like this is even better.We ran into a couple of very special characters on the trip.

Volcano Man

Intrepid Hiker Woman

On our second day at the park we decided to explore the lava flows. There are a number of trails of varying length through the lava fields and out to some of the unusual features. The trails are paved or lined with cinders and easy to walk on. The grandkids were working on their Junior Ranger badges so we had to identify the various types of lava as we hiked.

Rafted Blocks.
Rafted Blocks are large chunks of solidified lava that have broken off and floated along on the lave flow until it sets leaving them high and dry.

AA is jagged chunks of lava that formed when the surface cooled and cracked.

Pahoehoe. (Pronounced Pa-Hoy-Hoy)
Pahoehoe is formed when the flow gradually cools and sets. Sometimes bubbles and tunnels form under the Pahoehoe as the still molten lave inside runs away under the surface. This is how caves and tunnels are formed.

Vegetation has started to reclaim some of the older flows, but as you can see it is an inhospitable environment and plants struggle to survive.

We saved the caves for last. There are 3 or 4 well established caves on the park trails and we visited them all. There are actually many caves in the 715,000 acre Park , but most require backcountry hiking and camping to reach them. The caves are easy to reach, but are very rugged and sometimes dark once you get inside. We were well prepared with headlamps, extra flashlights, and warm clothing.This is the entrance to one of the caves. You can see how rugged the terrain gets after leaving the trail. Note the snow covered peaks in the background...This is in June.The caves are rugged, with poor footing, and very dark as you get deeper. We each had headlamps and the adults had flashlights. Deep in one of the caves we turned all the lights off and experienced just how dark true dark really is. Spooky.

Craters of the moon has a small, but very informative, visitor center with displays of the local wildlife and a movie about the formation of the park. Ranger tours are available and recommended on a variety of subjects. You will learn more about lava than you would have thought possible.

NEXT: We drop off the Grandkids and head for Glacier National Park.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Dinosaur National Monument,Utah

One of the prime paleontological sites in the World is in North East Utah. Many fossil dinosaurs have been found in this area. If you remember your Jurassic Park, Utah was where Drs. Grant and Sattler were working when Mr. Attenborough recruited them to come to his Island. Dinosaur National Monument is in Utah at the site of an active dig.Oh! Here's one now. OK, not a dinosaur, but certainly a distant relative. The park is located on the Green River in Vernal Utah.The park has a small, but delightful campground right on the river. We had little time to spend here and had to pass up the University of Utah Paleontology field house (next time, for sure) but we did have time for a short hike.On the way we passed several areas of petroglyphs. Petroglyphs are ancient pictures that were chipped or scratched into the rock as opposed to pictographs which were painted on the rock.Here' a close up where you can see the relief of the image (Click on it!)We drove to Josie's cabin, which was the home of Josie Bassett Morris, who lived alone in this remote location for nearly 60 years, ranching and farming. The box canyon shown above was her corral and it's a beautiful little hike up a steep sided canyon with a small stream flowing through it.

NEXT: We pick up the Grandkids (Jack and Autumn) and go to the Craters of the Moon...Really!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Dolores and Telluride, Colorado

Since viewing the ski movie "The Blizzard of Ahhhs" many years ago Cheryl has had an overwhelming desire to see Telluride, Colorado. So, we left Bandelier NM,passed through the Jemez Springs area and headed north. Our first stop was a campground in the San Juan National Forest, right on the Dolores River. We like the National Forest Campgrounds for several reasons. They're inexpensive, they're generally quiet, many campers avoid them due to the limited resources (not a problem for a solar powered, self-contained, truck camper like ours) and most of all, they are in some of the most beautiful forest and mountain terrain in America.As a case in point, this is the view from our camper at the Mavreeso Campground. Not too shabby, eh? Several deer crossed the river a few feet from our camper as we were eating our evening meal. Very cool.The next morning we left early and enjoyed the ride through a long valleyand across Ophir Pass on the way to Telluride.Telluride is at the head of a box canyon and while there is some development outside the canyon (due of course to the rather large ski area in the canyon) the town itself is much as it has been for many years. There's not much room to expand surrounded as it is on three sides by steep canyon walls.It's a great town of funky shops and restaurants interspersed with the expected bike and outdoor shops and the usual real estate offices. It's a fun town and we're thinking it would be a fun place to spend a winter. Could happen!I made an essential stop and we spend most of a morning strolling through town chatting with the locals and viewing the sights.At the head of the canyon is Bridal Veil Falls. Click on this picture to get a larger version so you can really appreciate this natural wonder. The people and places of Telluride are wonderful. I imagine the skiing is too.We drove out of Telluride and headed up along the Colorado / Utah border for Dinosaur National Monument.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico

Bandelier National MonumentBandelier National Monument is located in North Central New Mexico, between Los Alamos and Santa Fe in a rugged high desert at 6,500 feet. This altitude gives Bandelier a pleasant climate with warm spring days and cold nights. Bandelier, similar to Chaco Culture NHP, is a site of ancient great houses, but unlike Chaco there are cliff dwellings and cave dwellings as well. Bandelier is also a marvelous park for hiking.Our first day at Bandelier, on our way to an 8 mile hike to the Rio Grande River we stopped at the visitor center to observe a Native American Dance celebrating the presence of the Deer in their lives. The Dance and Drumming was very interesting, and the workmanship of the clothing worn by the dancers was exquisite.The hike took us past a group of "Tent Rocks" which are volcanic tuff capped by harder rocks. As the volcanic rock wears away the harder caps protect the tuff underneath forming various spires,needles, and hoodoos.The hike took us past many wildflowers as we wound our way down several thousand feet to the floodplain of the Rio Grande.One of the high points of this trip has been the opportunity to see many of the great rivers of our country. I can remember many years ago, in grade school, reading about these rivers that were so much a part of our history and development as a nation. I was always fascinated by them.Living in New England I often visited the Concord, the Merrimack, and the Connecticut rivers, but I have only recently begun to explore the great rivers of the west. I never pass up a chance to swim, or at least wade, in these rivers.We were fortunate on this part of the trip to have our friend Linda Regnier, Author of Best Easy Day Hikes, Santa Fe with us as guide. We did three of her hikes during our stay and if you are going to Santa Fe I can heartily recommend this book. Linda dropped by the bookstore to sign a few copies.We vistited some of the cave dwellings with Linda and her husband Jim after our Rio Grande hike.The day after Jim and Linda left for another commitment Cheryl and I headed out for a hike up Frijoles Canyon which is the main canyon containing much of the National Monument.The unrestored Great House is in Frijoles Canyon as well as the Long House.The Long House is essentially a long narrow Great House built on the ground against a high cliff with many excavated cave rooms adjoining it. We also went to the Ceremonial Cave.We accessed the Ceremonial Cave by a series of 4 very long, very steep, wooden ladders.There is a reproduction Kiva in the cave and it was cool, after seeing so many ancient Kivas, to be able to enter the Kiva.On another day we drove up to the rim of the Valle Caldera National Preserve and hiked down through the ponderosa forest lining the inside of the rim to the Caldera floor.The floor of the caldera is a huge meadow sitting in a bowl ringed by low mountains. The mountains are the eroded rim of what was once a vast volcanic cone. Can you imagine it?
Blue Bellied Lizard.
After the hike to the caldera we found a little used trail head to the boundary area between Valle Caldera and Bandelier National Monument.We found the usual wildflowers (isn't it wonderful that such things are "Usual" on this trip). These are Western Blue Flags, a small wild iris. They are often referred to by their state's name so I guess these would be New Mexico Blue Flags. The trail passed through a series of lovely meadows that once again led up to the Caldera Rim. As so often happens the naked beauty of this remote area drew us into a much longer hike than we had anticipated. Two hikes in one day and we barely had time to make it back for supper with our friends Ian and Jenny from Vermont who came to Bandelier as a stop on the maiden voyage of their new camper which they had just picked up in Chilliwack, British Columbia.On our final day at Bandelier we took a trip into Santa Fe to see the sights.It was interesting to compare the architecture of present day Santa Fe with the ancient buildings we had been viewing in Bandelier.Santa Fe is a marvelous city. Like many such places in the county, development and traffic are taking a toll on these historic and beautiful places, but if you can find the "Old Town" you will be richly rewarded.
NEXT: We head north to visit Telluride, Colorado and Dinosaur National Monument.