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.