My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Halloween Moonwalk

Dateline: October 30 - 31

I had to add a rack to clear the front seat for Lucy and carry her two bags

Roadside view

We arrived just before dusk to a bleak, rocky landscape. This was the Craters of the Moon?   Early viewers thought it must be a moonscape of black rock, some sharp, and other parts smooth. Huge blocks of black rock surrounded out campsite. In the fading sunset, we drove a little ways through the park, and saw huge monoliths and fields of seemingly unending black rock.

Sunrise silhouetting large volcanic rocks

But in the morning, we saw the place differently. We could see mountains off in the distance, some bare, and some with trees, sage, or other desert plants growing on them. There were even some plants growing on the volcanic ash or small pebbles. And there were colors mixed in with the mostly black rock. Orange was the most obvious, but there were blue colors and sometimes even white.

A view from the trail to the nested crators

We started off our Halloween day at Crater of the Moon National Monument with a short trip to the Visitor Center where we learned a little about the volcanic activity that has occurred over the last  15,000 years. This area contains some of the best examples of basaltic volcanism in the world. It is the last place, before Yellowstone, to move over an earth’s hot spot, so it’s volcanic activity is fairly recent. There is about a half mile of basaltic lava lying over more than one and a half miles of rhyolitic lava. There are two kinds of lava flows: the pahoehoe flow that is formed when the lava hardens quickly to a smooth surface, which can be ropy, hummocky, or flat. Aa lava flows are more rugged and are almost impossible to walk across.  Bombs are lava that solidified in flight and form various shapes. Tree molds are formed when molten lava surrounds and burns trees, leaving only the impression of the charred tree.  Eventually we got to see all the forms of lava except the tree molds. We could also see mountains made of lava ash as well as splatter cones, and groups of nestled craters.

Pahoehoe lava showing colors

A breadcrust bomb

Spatter Cones

One of the nested craters
One of the rocks I collected - only in pictures, of course

Pahoehoe "logs"

Pahowhoe ropes
.The most fascinating part was finding the colors within the rocks. We drove the entire auto route, stopping to hike through small areas. By day’s end, we had seen most of the park, missing only the trail to a spot where we could have seen the molds formed over trees. 

Our favorite spot was the trip to and through a “cave”, a lava tube with openings. We walked though a huge lava field – fortunately on a paved trail – then down into the tube named the Indian Tunnel.  Several spots had holes in the ceiling so we had some amount of light to traverse the path and see some of the details. One of the most interesting details were lava stalactites on the ceiling.  At the far end, we had to scramble up over large rocks to climb to a small opening There are three  (or two) other caves open to the public which are wilder and require a flashlight to find one’s way through. 

Lucy walking through lava field to cave

View inside cave

Lava stalactites

Cave wall detail

Lucy climbing out of cave

This place helps you to understand geologic time and has a wonderful, awful beauty. One part of the Oregon Trail ran through this area. It was a southern loop used to avoid the Shoshone Indians who were attacking the wagon trains.  One man wrote that he had to drive his wagon over a rock just barely wider than the wagon. He was within a foot of turning over. There are many other stories of the hardships the settlers suffered on the lava beds.  But the Shoshone Indians traveled through the area in their migrations and left trails on the rocks. They also marked water sources though out the area. And they have tribal memories of the last eruption to occur here, some 2000 years ago. 

The closest thing we found to a jack-o-lantern's grin

Our only trick-or-treater - he was happy with a piece of bread

I’ve been editing these pictures over a few days. Lucy and I spent last night and tonight in motels so I could get on-line. We’ll camp tomorrow night and then get to Houston/Galveston the following night. Then I have around 700 more pictures to edit and lots more stories to tell of our visits to Bryce and Zion National Parks and visits to National Monuments. 

If you want to see more pictures from the Crater of the Moon, check out my Picassa album.