The dark, craggy, and desolate nature of the lava formations in Crater of the Moon National Monument near Arco, Idaho once led early explorers to speculate that this vivid landscape resembled the surface of our moon. This belief carried on for many years even leading NASA to send astronauts to the monument for training. However, it is know known that the moon is quit different from this dark rocked canvas of central Idaho. None the less, the name stuck with the monument and visitors are now blessed with Craters of the Moon National Monument.
The black volcanic lava is a surprise when first entering the monument as the surrounding Idaho mountains and prairie look nothing like the park itself. The visitor center offers great information on the violent recent eruptions that scarred the surrounding landscape. A big driving loop allows visitors to explore the rugged terrain on easy to walk black topped foot paths.
The vegetation within the park itself is most impressive. Small flowers of many shapes and sizes and strategically growing in a quadrant patten in the little soil they can find. The surprise of these flowers made the trip worthwhile.
Many cones and cinders can be visited along the looped road, and offer quick stops. The tree rings and molds stop is about a 2 mile hike back, but offer some very cool views of the bark and base molds of many ancient trees. You can literally feel the texture of the tree pressed into the volcanic lava centuries ago.
Continue along the loop road and make sure to stop at the caves and tunnels. Bring your flashlight, and make sure its a strong one. We only ventured into Indian Tunnel as it is the easiest to access and the brightest. Dewdrop Cave is more of a viewing cave. Boyscout cave looked difficult to access, was very dark and the signs reported that it was very icy and wet. We only stepped into Beauty Cave and that was amazing by itself as it was frigid cold and we could see our breath! Indian Tunnel was tons of fun, and was great to be able to explore around in.
Camping is available near the visitor center, but has little trees or shade and the black volcanic dirt does nothing but absorb the sun. Overall, we really enjoyed our time in Idaho and would certainly recommend a visit to Craters of the Moon National Monument.