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Discover a mystical lunar landscape at Craters of the Moon

Travels with Deb

Photo by Debbie Stone

Big Craters is exactly what you’d assume - a series of volcanic craters, the largest of which is North Crater. Descend into this bowl and be surrounded by an ocean of lava with a myriad of textures and patterns. Just know that what goes down must come back up!

If you want to get a taste of the wilderness area of the park, take the trail to the Tree Molds. These molds are created when lava quickly moves through a forest, cooling the outside of the trees, while burning them from the inside. A lava shell in the shape of the tree is all that remains after incineration. While some of the molds can reach several feet high, many are simply stumps or depressions in the ground, so you need to look closely to spot them.

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Photo by Debbie Stone

The final stop on the Loop Drive is the Cave Area, another great highlight of the monument. It’s an impressive collection of lava tubes that became empty once the volcanos ceased eruption. You can hike into four of the caves located at this site, as long as you have a permit, which is easily obtained at the visitor center. The process involves answering a few questions from a park ranger in regards to any past visits you may have made to caves. It’s basically a screening process in order to prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome, a fatal condition affecting bats that are exposed to a specific fungus. Humans can potentially spread the fungus between caves and other sites where bats roost.

Make time to explore this exciting underground world. Each of the cave entrances is well marked. Dewdrop Cave is the smallest and serves as a warm-up to the others. Indian Cave is the largest and has several massive skylights caused by collapses in the ceiling. These provide ample natural light so you don’t need a flashlight (unlike the other three). There’s also a staircase at the entrance, providing easy access. As the cave is well-lit, you can fully examine the shapes and colors in the lava walls. A lot of the rocks are covered in gold-colored lichen, making you believe you’ve discovered some long lost treasure trove. Marvel at the giant basalt boulders littering the floor and realize they once hung on the ceiling of the tube. If you want to exit the cave at the other end of the tunnel, you’ll need to do a bit of scrambling and climbing, but this only enhances the Indiana Jones experience!

For more spelunking adventure, check out Boy Scout Cave, where the entrance is so small you have to crawl inside. But, once you enter, it opens up into a decent size room. This cave is dark and cold, though, due to the fact that it retains ice year round no matter what the temperature is outside. Water drips down from the ceiling and forms ice crystals, while clusters of ice sparkle on the ground and walls like rhinestones.

Beauty Cave has a wide, yet rocky opening, and is spacious inside. It, too, is cold and icy and the walls are covered in moss and lichen.

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