August 20: Craters of the Moon (by Madison)

Trip Start Jun 02, 2011
Trip End Sep 25, 2011

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Flag of United States  , Idaho
Saturday, August 20, 2011

Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho

(Entry by Madison)

Today we drove to Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho.  This is where the NASA astronauts train to be in non-earth surfaces.  It got its name because it is supposed to resemble the moon.  It is a huge area of 750,000 acres that was covered in volcanic lava during 5 known eruptions that began 15,000 years ago.  When you drive toward this area the landscape suddenly changes from brown desert to black rock formations everywhere.  It was really amazing.

When we first got there we went to the Visitors Center to get our "Lunar" Ranger books.  We drove around a 7-mile loop and made 4 stops along the way.  The first stop was a short 0.3 mile hike around the North Crater.  On the hike we saw about 50 yellow and black grasshoppers on the lava.  We also saw really cool lava rocks called Phaphoehoe and A'a (these are Hawaiian names).  We learned that the lava has different names depending on how it flowed out of a volcano, and we could really see the difference.

At our second stop at an area called Devils Orchard we did a 0.5 mile hike.  On the hike we saw many types of plants that can live in the fields of lava.  One really cool tree we saw was called 'Witches Broom.'  It is a dead tree that has branches that look like a witches broom.  We also saw many other smaller plant growth along the way.

Our third stop was a 0.4 mile hike that went up a hill of black shiny rocks called cinder.  The cinder is rock that grew volcanic glass all around it, and when the sun hits it the reflection is very shiny.  We also got a very good view of the entire lava field from the top of this hike, and we took several pictures in trees.

The last stop we made was my favorite: the caves.    They are actually lava tubes that are hollow in the middle and form these caves.  We went into three caves: Indian Tunnel, Boy Scout Cave, and Beauty Cave.  The first one we did was Indian Tunnel, and I thought it was not exciting because you could see from the light shining in from holes above.  Next was my favorite, Boy Scout Cave.  It was really cool because you needed to use your flashlight and it was so cold that the floor had big patches of ice on it.  The final cave we went in was Beauty Cave, and I thought this one was boring compared to Boy Scout Cave. 

We got a campground inside the park, and when we drove to the campground we went to 2 different evening "Lunar" Ranger programs in the campsite.  The first one was about the wildlife and plants at Craters of the Moon.  The second one was my favorite.  It was about the sage grouse, which is a very interesting bird.  The male bird has air sacs that they blow up during mating season to attract the female birds.  It was really cool!

I really liked Craters of the Moon because it was so different than anything I have ever seen.  When you come here you feel like you are on the moon without actually traveling to the moon.

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