I was wondering whether to continue this series of blogs beyond our visits to Yellowstone and The Grand Tetons, considering that I had provided a synopsis of the rest of the trip a while back in this blog. I changed my mind after looking once again at the pictures I had taken of Craters of the Moon. For some reason, the awesomeness of what we had seen there did not register to its fullest extent until I saw these pictures once again. So I am continuing the blog series for at least one more day of the trip. I am not yet sure what lies beyond. Without much ado, here goes!
(And before I forget, you do not get the full impact of the panoramic pictures without seeing them on a full screen. So, go ahead and click on them!)
This was our last morning in Victor, Idaho. We had to clear out of the cabin that had been our home for four nights. We, once again, made an eastbound crossing of the Teton Pass for what we thought would be the final time. We were heading to Jackson Hole Airport to drop off Angela. After that, it would be just the two of us for the rest of the trip.
We went to the airport through the area of Grand Teton Park where the moose had been sighted by others on the first day of the visit to the park, giving it one last try! We were unsuccessful in seeing moose yet again.
After the stop at the airport, we headed out for our tourist destination for the day – the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. Unexpectedly, the route set out for us by our GPS device took us back over Teton Pass one last time, and into Victor. We took a left turn at the only traffic light in Victor and headed west towards central Idaho.
The drive towards Craters of the Moon took us through all kinds of different terrain and surroundings. There was first the forest land and the mountain pass that we went through coming out of Victor. We then drove over flatland and past massive farms, with the road running close to the Snake River itself. We could have stopped at one of the lookout points overlooking the deep canyon in which the river ran, but did not do so since we had a long drive ahead. The only significant population center along the way was the city of Idaho Falls. We arrived at our destination after an extended drive through what looked like wasteland. This space actually included the Idaho National Laboratory, a nuclear research facility. (There is even a place in this part of Idaho called Atomic City. It has a population of less than 100 people.)
The area of Craters of the Moon has a distinctive landscape that is quite different from what you see in the space around it. It is interesting that the activity from within the mantle of the earth manages to escape to the surface in just this small area. As I noted in the earlier blog, such activity happens approximately once every 2000 years, and we are due for some action any time now!
The park itself is a small one to drive through. We had enough time to do a couple of walks. The road through the park has turnouts at which you can pull over to visit some specific sites. We headed out after watching a video in the visitor center.
The first stop near the visitor center was to see the North Crater lava flow area.
We walked up to the formations that you see in the above picture. They are called cinder cone fragments. They are from the side of a volcanic cone that broke apart. They were carried to the place where we see them now by the flow of lava that resulted.You can see the nature of the rocks in the flow as you get closer.Interestingly enough, some of the rocks that we encountered in the park were extremely light. These were the ones that contained air pockets that were created by the hot gases caught within the rock when it was being formed from molten material.
The picture below shows our car parked along the road when we took the walk to see the cinder cone fragments.We made a stop at Inferno Cone. The black sand that forms the outer coating of this cone was quite fine, and the slope up the slope in some sections somewhat steep. We had to be extra careful because of the injured elbows.These are views from the top of Inferno Cone. The objects in the distance in the picture below are called spatter cones.You can see Big Southern Butte (that lies to the east) in the picture below. It is supposed to be one of the largest volcanic domes on earth.We got a 360º panoramic view from this vantage point.There are flowering plants that survive in these harsh conditions.We drove to the area of the spatter cones.This is what it looks like inside one of them. Notice the interesting color of the rocks towards the bottom of the picture.Here are some more of the hardy plants in this area.This is a picture of Inferno Cone from a distance. There is a person walking down the hill. You can make the person out more clearly in the second picture below. I also want to highlight the fact that the National Park Service has used material in the building of the pavements in the park that match the dark volcanic rock in their color. I thought this was a nice touch.Some of the larger vegetation that we saw reflected the harsh nature of our surroundings, and made for beautiful and dramatic views when set against the open sky. The wind does seem to shape the trees.The following pictures were taken from the Broken Top Loop Trail.You can take a detour from the Broken Top Loop Trail to the Big Sink Overlook to see another area of lava flow in the park.We stopped at the Buffalo Caves at the tail end of our hike on the Broken Top Loop Trail. You can see one of the openings to the caves in the pictures below.The presence of caves that you can enter is not very obvious from ground level. There were a couple of adventurous young ladies who were exploring underground, and they popped their heads out unexpectedly! They encouraged me to go in, saying that it was quite safe. One of them showed me the way. I had to crawl in through the shallow entrance. I was fortunate that I did not hurt myself when I bumped my head. (The rock was light and crumbly. So I was left with small pieces of rock in my hair.) I believe that you are supposed to wear a helmet.Once inside the cave, it expanded into a large space where you can walk standing up. One gets out of the cave from a different spot, at the other end of the space that we were standing over. Interesting experience! There are other caves to explore at the Craters of the Moon National Monument.
We left the park shortly after the hike on the Broken Top Loop Trail and started the drive towards Bellevue, the place we were staying at that night. It was a bit of an adventure since I had not done my research about the town of Bellevue, and about the driving distances involved in the drive, properly. The GPS function on the smartphone that we were using for navigation stopped working properly somewhere along the way. Fortunately, we were able to reset the device just in time to be able to find the turnoff from the road that we were on onto a secondary road towards Bellevue. Once on this road I began to get even more nervous, because we seemed to be in the middle of the countryside, and the GPS device indicated that Bellevue was close by, much closer than I expected. I was cursing myself for not having done my homework properly. We were going to be lost in the middle of Idaho! Fortunately, we hit a main road at the outskirts of the town itself before too long, and it was clear that we were in population center with some activity, including hotels and restaurants.
We found the Silver Creek Hotel where we were staying that night easily. It turned out to be a really nice and modern place. Our room on one of the higher floors faced west. We could see the end of the sunset.Dinner was at a Mexican restaurant close by that we were able to walk to. The place was a watering hole. They were serving relatively inexpensive mainstream beers (rather than local craft brews) in large 32 ounce mugs. Neither of us indulged to that extent!
We walked back to our hotel rather full. The Chinese restaurant next door to the place we had eaten at had an empty feel to it. There were some young people hanging out, but mostly the place was quiet. It felt like a small town.
The plan for the next day was to drive north through the Sun Valley to the Sawtooth mountains.