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Craters of the Moon

The last couple days at my camp in Sawtooth National Forest go quickly. Perhaps it’s the sleep deprivation from last week’s sunrise photoshoot catching up. I spend my time reading and writing, and don’t go anywhere. When you’re living in as beautiful location as this, the desire to go explore isn’t as compelling.

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Having a new phone grants me the ability to download apps I had no room for before, and I’m not ashamed to say that I also spend a fair amount of time playing Pokémon Go (Team Mystic, for the curious). I’ve been a Pokémon fan since the phenomenon came to America when I was in junior high.

On Monday the 18th I’m making use of the free WiFi at the Ketchum, ID visitor center (which also happens to have a Starbucks – bonus) and I see this teardrop photo on the wall. This fellow lived in his teardrop in the Sun Valley Lodge parking lot in the winters of 1947 and ’48, all so he could be close to the ski hills, now that’s dedication! I wouldn’t want to live in my larger Casita anywhere where snow was common, let alone a teardrop.

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The lure of free internet access keeps me in town longer than anticipated, a fact I’m not sad about even though it made for a more interesting drive back to camp (had to brake for deer twice). The sunset I was treated to is worth the trouble.

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July 19, Tuesday

Goodbye, Sawtooth! I pull out of my idyllic spot along the river just after noon and head south on 75 until it intersects with US20. There, I point Bertha’s nose east, and cruise on out to Craters of the Moon National Monument. When I stop at the entrance sign to get a photo, a park service employee is there working on it – some of the lettering is wearing off. She goes to leave the frame and I tell her no, the picture will be more interesting with her in it. She grips her scraper and smiles for the camera. Afterward we talk a little about things to do and see in the park, I never do catch her name, but she’s a vibrant woman and clearly enjoys her job.

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Craters of the Moon is not a high-visitation park, it sees the most use during the shoulder seasons when the weather is neither too cold nor too hot. Entry is $10 per vehicle, although you can get to the main visitor center off of highway 26 without having to pay. The visitor center isn’t large but it’s nice, with good educational displays.

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I’ve had people tell me that this park is ugly, it’s certainly different. There are no majestic rock formations, impressive trees, spectacular views, or abundant wildlife. It’s all old lava flows, the landscape is black, dry, and rather barren.

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I take the short North Crater Flow trail, which has interpretive signs about the different types of lava found at Craters of the Moon. In some places, the lava looks pulled like stretched taffy, In places it’s crumbled and very porous. The most recognizable features though are the cinder cone fragments, where lava built up around the vents where it escaped the crust of the earth, creating jagged monuments of stone. To the undiscerning visitor, the lava might all look the same, but there is a surprising amount of variety if you take the time to look closer.

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And there is life here too. A number of flowering plants can be found at Craters of the Moon, although by this time of the summer the unrelenting sun has vanquished most of them. This pinkish flower is quite dried out, but still contrasts nicely with the ground.

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The Loop Road is open seasonally, and it’s the easiest way to see the park. RVs up to 60 feet are allowed on it, and all of the pull-outs have at least some RV parking. The drive isn’t long, it took me about two hours total to see the park and besides the North Crater trail I stopped at a few points of interest.

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Among them, Inferno Cone. One can make a rudimentary guess on how long ago a lava flow happened by how much plant growth there is. By that ruler, Inferno Cone is a pretty recent development. It’s places like this that give the park its name. Black ground, not a spec of green in sight – it almost could be the moon. Heat radiates off the dark cinders underfoot, making my legs warm. But a strong wind keeps the heat from getting oppressive.

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At 0.2 miles one way, this is probably the easiest place to get a good panorama of the park. The demarcation at the edge of the lava flow is easy to see from up here. Conifers dot the landscape, true survivors in a land as harsh as this.

Click for larger image

Click for larger image

There are also caves to explore in the park, lava tubes where a flow of lava hardened on the outside while the inside stayed liquid, and eventually drained out to leave the shell behind. Some of these tube caves can be explored at no cost and without guidance, but you do still need to get a permit for it. I don’t visit them, it’s already getting on in the afternoon and I still to find a place to camp tonight.

My end goal is farther than I want to drive today, especially with reports of road construction that will slow things down. After Craters of the Moon I continue east past the towns of Arco, Howe, and Terreton, crossing I15 and eventually arriving on the outskirts of Rexburg, where highway meets I20. Just west of town is little county park called Beaver Dick, named after a mountain man from the late fur trade days who lived in the area.

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Sites are $5 a night or $15 for five nights, dry camping, first come first served. I choose site B11 at the very back. There’s a playground and several sheltered picnic areas, pit toilets, and a boat launch on site which also doubles as a swimming area. The park is nothing special, but for an overnight stop it’ll do just fine.

The park boarders a rather shallow and sluggish section of Henry’s Fork, a twisting waterway that feeds into the Snake River just south of here. A full moon rises over the river in the evening, which my new phone still can’t capture very well, but better than the old one did. The strong wind at Craters of the Moon is a whisper of its former self here, but it feels great coming off the water after a hot day. I sit out in my camp chair and sip lemonade as the evening smells of grilling and campfires reach my nose. Okay, maybe I’ll upgrade this stop from “it’ll do” to “not too shabby”.

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You may have noticed that IO looks a little different, I’ve upgraded to a newer version of the theme I use, which changed a few things. Most notably, the blog is now mobile-device friendly, which should make it much easier to read IO from a smartphone or smaller tablet. Less obvious but still important, the update closed a few potential security issues. Don’t be surprised if things change a bit more, I’m still fine-tuning the look. Functionality-wise, everything should be working as normal although if you do notice any broken links or missing content or anything of the sort, please let me know!

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At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.


  1. Kit on July 26, 2016 at 8:33 am

    Thanks for all the helpful info! I’m planning a 2-week August trip to Missoula, MT to visit family. I love cave exploring and will try to visit this park for that, if I can convince my boyfriend – he hates caves! I had no idea there was a fungus going around that’s killing the bats. Looks like there’s five caves to choose from:

    • Becky on July 26, 2016 at 3:32 pm

      You’re welcome Kit! I’ve heard good things about the caves and I bet they’d be fun to explore. If your boyfriend won’t go can you leave him somewhere else in the park while you visit them?

  2. Weston on July 25, 2016 at 3:13 pm

    Your website no longer expands on my iPad. It used to, all others still do, but yours doesn’t, is this a result of your adjustments, or do I need to change something on my device?

    • Becky on July 26, 2016 at 3:28 pm

      Yes it’s probably due to the update Weston, this latest version is suppose to conform to fit better on phones and tablets (the old one didn’t work well on phones at all). There likely is a setting somewhere you can change to make the website display differently but since I don’t have an iPad myself I’m afraid I can’t tell you what it is. I hope you find a solution for it!

  3. Dawn in MI on July 24, 2016 at 8:48 am

    I meant to ask after your post about the new phone…what was your old phone?
    Dawn in MI recently posted..The people of New York CityMy Profile

    • Becky on July 24, 2016 at 9:44 am

      iPhone 4S

  4. Jay on July 23, 2016 at 8:55 pm

    HI Becky,
    checking in to see what adventures you are having ! great photos and lots of good info about the area.
    If things go well ( wife may have to have hand surgery ) we will be heading your way after Labor Day, hope to make it to Custer SP. If we are delayed and the weather get to bad we will head in to Nevada and Utah.
    Take care and have fun. Jay

    • Becky on July 24, 2016 at 9:42 am

      I hope her surgery goes well Jay! Custer SP is a neat place, as I recall it’s usually still visitable in September.

  5. Jodee Gravel on July 23, 2016 at 8:50 pm

    Locations with incredible geologic interest are big on our list. Your photos are beautiful.
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..Pretty Town, Pretty Lakes – Helena, MTMy Profile

    • Becky on July 24, 2016 at 9:40 am

      Glad you enjoyed this Jodee.

  6. Rox on July 23, 2016 at 7:23 pm

    Oh Becky, the photos taken with the new phone are beautiful! You’re getting close to Yellowstone, and I’m so excited! Thank you for providing this means to live vicariously through you, as I hope to experience these beautiful places for myself in two more years when I can acquire a Casita of my own and live the life I am dreaming of. You are an inspiration; please continue to show the way!

    • Becky on July 24, 2016 at 9:39 am

      Two years will be here before you know it Rox, and when it comes I hope you enjoy your Casita as much as I’ve enjoyed mine. 🙂

  7. Ingrid on July 23, 2016 at 3:52 pm

    We spent a couple of months workamping at an RV park in Arco and I made several visits to Craters of the Moon. It was really pretty when the wildflowers were in full bloom. We also stayed at Beaver Dick a couple of weeks ago before heading back to the Tetons for another visit. Your new phone takes great photos.

    • Becky on July 24, 2016 at 9:38 am

      Yeah I bet it would be a beautiful place when the flowers are at peak. Hope you enjoyed both parks, and glad you enjoyed these photos.

  8. John on July 23, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    Very nice photos, thanks. I like the new functionality of the site.

    • Becky on July 23, 2016 at 2:03 pm

      You’re welcome John, glad you like it.

  9. Judy Blinkenberg on July 23, 2016 at 11:11 am

    Becky, you have the prettiest pictures of the area! It’s great for my iPhone! I really like your new look. And your writing is so descriptive. We are going through Nevada as I write this, and I’ll bet you could take amazing pictures where I see barren land. Thank you for another amazing post!! Be safe!

    • Becky on July 23, 2016 at 2:02 pm

      You’re welcome Judy, glad you enjoyed this. I’m quite pleased with how the mobile version of the site turned out and I’m glad to hear it looks good on other people’s devices too.

      Nevada is tricky, I didn’t stay there long enough to try to get good photos because it was so blasted hot when I went through. Good luck!

  10. Dawn from Camano Island on July 23, 2016 at 10:41 am

    Gorgeous photos, Becky! My favorite is the river with the moon–there’s another shiny object next to the moon. I wonder what it is?

    Your transition to boondocker makes me smile. I sense that you’re enjoying travel so much more now. That and not having to work this summer…


    • Becky on July 23, 2016 at 1:59 pm

      It’s a sun-spot reflecting off the lens of the camera Dawn, although would that be a “moon spot” given the source?

      I have thoroughly enjoyed the boondocking experiment, much as I thought I would. I never much cared for crowds and boondocking saves me money and lets me avoid busy RV parks, it’s a win-win.

  11. GK Lott on July 23, 2016 at 9:58 am

    Thanks for another superb blog entry.

    • Becky on July 23, 2016 at 1:56 pm

      You’re welcome GK!

  12. Rick on July 23, 2016 at 9:13 am

    Thanks for the journey enjoyed the pictures and commentary. I’m in Western Canada and this park is very scenic to me. I’ve never seen lava parks. The tear drop reminded me of our R-pod we used to have. I used to drive commercial and remember how excited I was seeing the snake river canyon. Mainly because in my youth Evil Knievel did a stunt there. Being mobile as you are is fantastic. We bought a 36 ft fifth wheel to park on our off-grid 4 acres recently. Enjoy

    • Becky on July 23, 2016 at 1:56 pm

      You’re welcome Rick. I’ve come to the conclusion that the novel is often viewed in a positive light. To a person who lives in a forest, a desert looks exotic. To a person who lives in the deep south, snow is exciting. So it makes sense to me that as someone who’s never seen a lava flow before, this is pretty cool stuff (it is to me too). But I suppose to people who live near lava flows, it’s just the same-old same-old. Perspective is a funny thing.

      I hope your off-grid experiment goes well, happy RVing!

  13. Randy Springer on July 23, 2016 at 6:45 am

    Hi Becky, I receive your blog as an email and just want to let you know that today the print was very tiny, almost unreadable. Just an FYI.

    • Becky on July 23, 2016 at 1:52 pm

      No one else has mentioned this problem and my test e-mails I send to myself all look normal. Which e-mail service do you use Randy? I’ll look into it.

  14. Dawn in MI on July 23, 2016 at 5:05 am

    I agree that first photo’s light is amazing. But the image that made me stop and go “oh!” is the one of the two people walking up the crater.

    My family visited this park when I was a kid. Probably early 70’s. Thanks for bringing back good memories!

    • Becky on July 23, 2016 at 1:51 pm

      I really liked the Inferno Cone picture too Dawn, it’s just so eerie with that black ground and lack of plants. Given the harsh conditions of the place I doubt the park has changed much from the early 70’s, this place has kind of a timeless feel too it. You’re welcome for the reminder. 🙂

  15. Pete Cantele on July 23, 2016 at 3:56 am

    Hi, Becky;
    Thanks for taking me along! I enjoy your travel stories.
    Seeing the land through someone else’s eyes opens up new worlds. I have done a good deal of motorcycle traveling out west and have always appreciated the smaller ‘blue highways’ and ‘mom and pop’ establishments.
    In the above blog you mention I-20, (or I20 as you put it), but it’s really US20. I was confused as I-20 is down south and far from Idaho. I cracked out the Google map and quickly saw what you meant, though. Oh, and it’s also enjoyable to me to follow along with your descriptions on the map; I get to travel with you vicariously that way.
    Thanks again for your blog!

    • Becky on July 23, 2016 at 1:47 pm

      Heya Pete, glad you’re enjoying IO and thanks for reading. I see a lot of people traveling on motorcycles out west, I bet that would be a fun way to see the country.

      You’re right that I mislabeled 20, I saw the shield on the map and didn’t look close enough that it was white instead of blue, good catch. I’ve found that I get a lot less comments and e-mails of “where are you?” when I put the roads I take to get from point A to point B, it adds to the continuity. You’re welcome, and take care!

  16. Ed@Chasing Sunrises and Sunsets on July 23, 2016 at 1:16 am

    Hey Becky! I’m not getting emails when you post any longer. Did my subscription fall out? I did what you requested, but something seems to have happened.
    Ed@Chasing Sunrises and Sunsets recently posted..Downsizing – Not quite there yetMy Profile

    • Becky on July 23, 2016 at 1:34 pm

      Nope Ed I haven’t culled the e-mail list yet, that’ll be happening at the end of the month and when it does you’ll be safe. I looked you up on the list and it seems like the e-mail went out just fine, and that you clicked on it, that’s all I know from my end. It didn’t end up in a spam or promotions folder did it?

  17. Mike Goad on July 23, 2016 at 12:08 am

    Thanks for the memories, Becky. It’s one our favorites. We lived at Arco for about 3 years, when I worked out at the Idaho National Laboratory sites, Naval Reactors Facility. I was an instructor at the prototype plant for the nuclear aircraft carriers, A1W.

    We have pictures of our two daughters about 10 years apart. Both sets were taken on the Big Craters trail, the first when they were about 5 and 3, the second when they were 15 and 13 in 1988 on our first visit after we moved away. After the fact, I discovered, when I went back to look at the photos vs. the new, that both girls had been wearing the same color shirts that they had in the old pictures.
    Mike Goad recently posted..Seedol Kelpamalt TabletsMy Profile

    • Becky on July 23, 2016 at 1:31 pm

      You’re welcome Mike, sounds like it was an interesting job. That’s funny about your children’s shirts, I bet you’ll treasure those pictures (and memories) forever.

  18. Norm H. on July 22, 2016 at 10:31 pm

    Awesome first pic. Also really liked the one with the dried flowers, great contrasts. Oh, heck, I enjoyed them all. Keep using that new phone! Happy trails.

    • Becky on July 23, 2016 at 1:28 pm

      Glad you enjoyed this Norm, take care!

  19. pamelab on July 22, 2016 at 9:20 pm

    Hi, Becky –
    I’m with Jerry – that first photo is stunning. Stormy weather makes for good photo ops some of the time.
    It is interesting to learn about even the not so popular areas of our earth. I always like your geology information.
    August 2nd, I pick up my Casita! It’s getting down to the wire now and I am really clearing out items – selling, Goodwill, OfferUp. I do have a small storage unit for now and I am making a trip almost every day. Then, after I bring home “Purl”, I will redistribute the items in my vehicle and storage and see how much I can fit.
    I want to find a place to weigh Purl and tow vehicle, just so I know if I am at a safe weight.
    Happy trails and fun adventures to you.
    Thank you for your very nice blog.
    Pamelab in Missouri City, TX for now

    • Becky on July 23, 2016 at 1:24 pm

      Sounds like you’re making good progress Pamela, glad to hear it. Soon you’ll be out learning the geology lessons first-hand. 🙂

  20. Peter Milliron on July 22, 2016 at 9:16 pm

    In spite of the name, Beaver Dick is a nice, inexpensive spot to spend a night or two. I was there about a month ago and it worked well for me. And if you’re headed to Yellowstone, Baker Hole Campground just outside of West Yellowstone is a good spot. But then, you probably know more than a few great places there!

    • Becky on July 23, 2016 at 1:22 pm

      Yeah Peter, I’m quite familiar with the area, having worked in Yellowstone last summer. I’ve found a place to boondock in the Island Park area for free, and I always choose free over paid camping when I can help it. But I’ve heard from others that Baker Hole is nice too.

  21. Jeff on July 22, 2016 at 9:08 pm

    Beautiful pics again Becky! Craters is on my ‘Bucket List’, for next year. Great timing for me to have you photo and blog it!

    • Becky on July 23, 2016 at 1:20 pm

      Glad to help Jeff. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  22. Thomas Gladfelder on July 22, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    Nice park, not great but worth the time. I once read a Zane Grey book about cowboys being pursued by hostel Indians across a lava flow in the heat of the summer. That’s all I could think about when I was there, how could you run in that ground let alone ride a horse? No water, no game, they were better men than me.

    • Becky on July 23, 2016 at 1:19 pm

      It certainly would be a challenge Thomas.

  23. sarah shillinger on July 22, 2016 at 7:15 pm

    Absolutely beautiful pictures as usual.

    I do have an unrelated question.

    Do you ever worry about leaving Cas when you are unhitched and you are off in Bertha? I am considering a 19 ft Scamp fifth wheeler, largely because I already have a f150 truck. available.

    • Becky on July 23, 2016 at 1:17 pm

      Not really Sarah. My Casita is in good shape for it’s age but when you look closely at it you can tell it’s older, the gelcoat no longer shines, it’s usually dirty from dragging it around boondocking. That makes it less of a target, it wouldn’t be worth much to thieves and they’d likely guess (and correctly) that I don’t have the latest and greatest gear inside that would make theft worth it. Plus vandalism and theft isn’t nearly as common as the media makes it out to be. It’s just that every single time it happens it makes the news and the story gets spread around through the community. It’s a fact of human nature – we pay ten times more attention to bad news than to good news which makes the world look like a scarier place than it really is. I talk more about safety issues in my Boondocking Answers post:

      • sarah shillinger on July 23, 2016 at 9:16 pm

        Thank You

  24. Ed Einwich on July 22, 2016 at 6:38 pm

    Becky, long time follower, love your blog….

    That’s Warren Miller the iconic ski film director with the teardrop in 1948 bumming while ski instructing, someone gave him a camera and rest is history.

    Ed from Reno

    • Becky on July 23, 2016 at 1:10 pm

      There was a little plaque up next to the picture with more info, but I didn’t include it all here. It’s an interesting story for sure. 🙂

      Glad you enjoyed this Ed and thanks for reading.

  25. Jerry Minchey on July 22, 2016 at 5:48 pm

    I love that first picture, Becky. You should submit that to a contest somewhere.

    On second thought, have you thought about selling your pictures on iStock (which is owned by Getty)? I buy pictures from them at a price of between $11 and $33 a picture depending on the quality. I don’t know how much they pay the owner of the pictures,but you can sell the pictures over and over. Just a thought since you have so many wonderful pictures.

    • Becky on July 23, 2016 at 1:08 pm

      Glad you enjoyed this Jerry. I haven’t looked at iStock specifically but I have poked at other sites like it. My phone pictures aren’t high enough resolution to be “sales” quality on those kind of sites from what I’ve found, they look good on my blog because I shrink them down to 640 pixels or so, but people who are buying pictures want them full-size. Maybe someday I’ll find a site that would be worth selling them on.

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