Craters of the Moon National Monument: June 29-30, 2018


Squeezing out of the Buffalo Caves

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.




Caves make me think of Tom Sawyer.


It can certainly be spooky in the caves if you let your mind get the best of you.

Cinder Garden of Dwarf Buckwheat, Dwarf Purple Monkeyflower, and a few Primrose Monkeyflowers


Primrose Monkeyflower, the itty bitty tiny little flowers are something else.


Dwarf Purple Monkeyflower


Dwarf Buckwheat


Huge pressure ridge

Cushion Wild Buckwheat

Wax Currant

Limber pinecone


It looks like someone splattered yellow paint all over this lichen covered rock.


The hard to photo Blue Copper Butterfly on a Cushion Wild Buckwheat

My two girls enjoying the morning sun.

Atop the Inferno Cone looking east


Southern view


Blazing Star

I once lived in Idaho Falls



I once lived in this house.


As a child you kind of live in your own world and are oblivious to your surroundings.  If you are lucky you’re just a kid having fun, that was me in Idaho Falls.  We moved there in the middle of 5th grade and left for San Diego at the end of 8th grade, what I consider the formative years.  My recollections of that time are a lot of camping, fishing, hunting, learning to ski, and picking wild asparagus along the irrigation canals.

My Grid Kid football team (just like Pop Warner, but for some reason it was called Grid Kid in Idaho?) got to play in the Southeastern Idaho championship game on AstroTurf at the Idaho State University mini dome in Pocatello.  This is when AstroTurf was a big deal.  Our little league baseball had four teams.  The blue hats, light blue hats, red hats, and green hats.  I kid you not!  I was on the green hats.

I learned to play the trumpet and was even in the marching band.  I also remember the biting cold and having to walk to the school bus stop.  One time we all waited and waited and the bus never showed up, so we went home and school ended up being canceled.  The busses could not start in 20 below zero weather that day.

During the winter, the city would make ice skating rinks on the empty lots in the neighborhoods.  They would just snowplow the snow to form a rink and then the water truck would come by to fill it, it would freeze, and we would skate.

The last time I was in Idaho Falls was 1994, and before that 1978.  In the 44 years since we moved a lot of changes have occurred in the world and Idaho Falls.  My childhood memory of Idaho Falls was not meshing with what I was seeing and feeling.  I guess it’s silly to think it would, but it still brought me down.

It seemed like a clean, neat little Mormon town when we lived there.  What I saw was run down, dirty, and a rough crowd with a bad element.  I’m sure it didn’t help that our first stop was downtown to find a place for dinner.  Driving there we passed payday loan stores, vape shops, smoke shops, liquor stores, and seedy bars with rooms above.  Maybe that stuff was always there, minus the vape shops, but I don’t think so.

After dinner we drove down E 17th St.  The farmer’s field my brother and I used to walk through to go to Albertson’s to eat free donut holes (that’s right free, they hadn’t yet figured out yet they could sell them) was now a mile of strip centers and a Sam’s Club.  Amazingly enough the Albertson’s was still there.

All the old houses on the north side of the street looked worse than their age.  The backstops for the little league fields where still behind the old KID tv/radio building, but you could tell the fields haven’t been used in years.

I called my dad and told him what I saw, he confirmed my thoughts.  Back when we lived there it was a clean, neat little Mormon town.  I had plans to see all my old haunts but after one evening I saw enough, so we stayed around the Ririe area.  And I worked on getting my head screwed back on.  We didn’t go back to IF, we just drove through on our way to the next stop.



Field of mustard seed heading into Ririe


Sara chilling while we were setting up


Sunset over Ririe Reservoir


We did a short ride at this trailhead.


This part of Idaho is not known for mountain biking trails.  There’s a lot of shared use with ATV’s.


Osprey are a dime a dozen along the Snake River.  So many, that special platforms are built for their nests.  This couple was making a colorful statement.


Where I learned to ski, Kelly Canyon Ski Resort.  I can’t believe they are still in business!  It hasn’t changed a bit, still a rinky dink four lift ski area, heck still the same old slow chairs.  I guess 40 minutes from Idaho Falls is what keeps them in business.


An evening stroll on one of the docks at Ririe Reservoir.


Juniper Campground, a Bonneville County Park.  It was really quite nice, full hook ups, spacious and no mosquitoes.  It was also quiet mid week, but apparently it fills up during the weekend with loud water enthusiasts using Ririe Reservoir.


Utah’s state flower in Idaho, a Sego Lily