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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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