It was nice to get Idaho Falls in the rear view mirror. Heading towards Arco we saw antelope on both sides of the road and the Three Buttes were getting larger.
One of my classic childhood stories involved the Craters. My brother and I, to say the least, weren’t the biggest fans of our paternal grandparents, Beaumont and Mildred. It wasn’t until later we found out Mildred wasn’t even our dad’s mom. They always seemed to be around, Sacramento, Idaho Falls, and San Diego, they were close by. They wanted to see their grandkids, but when it came to taking us someplace they could only handle one of us at a time.
On this particular occasion I was the unlucky one they wanted to take on an overnight trip to the Craters. It was a hot summer day and Beaumont had the AC going full blast in his blue Chevrolet Caprice. Both of them were smoking cigarettes like chimneys, with the front windows cracked just a little for the smoke to escape, but plenty of it still engulfed me in the backseat. We spent the night at a motel in Arco, where they smoked in the room until it was lights out. The next morning we had breakfast at a diner, where they smoked straight through the meal, and then afterwards the waitress kept refilling their coffee cups and they kept smoking and sipping. I remember just wanting to yell, “Let’s go!”
We did the Craters and and then came home in the afternoon. Something happened and they had to leave which meant Eric didn’t have to go on an overnight trip with them. He was ecstatic about it, but acted like he was bummed in front of them. To make up for it they gave him $50 cash! Once they left Eric was running around laughing and shaking the money.
The park is in great shape. The rangers and volunteers do a wonderful job. At over 750,000 acres it’s big, but feels small because of what you can actually access. It is perfect for a two day visit, especially if you are lucky enough to grab one of the first come first serve spots in the 42 unit campground, which we did. The resiliency and stark contrast between the black lava and living plants is awesome. It’s an other worldly experience.
You are allowed to go unguided in any of the five caves, you just need a permit, which is free and amounts to only answering a few questions. We took a group guided tour. Which is something we usually do not do, but may have to more often because it was really fascinating. The Ranger did a great job talking about the volcanic activity and different types of lava, how they formed, and answering questions. After the guided tour of Indian Tunnel we did three more caves on our own. Well, really two and a half, we started to go into Boy Scout Cave but got the heebie-jeebies about how dark it was and how low you had to crawl through some of the passages. The iPhone flashlights are only so good, we would’ve felt more comfortable with our 800 lumens mountain biking lights.
My favorite was the Beauty Cave. It was darker than dark, but no low ceilings, and at the very back there was ice! I still can’t believe they let you trounce around in the caves unguided. Even more amazing, we never saw any graffiti.
Craters of the Moon, a really different place worth visiting.