My wife and I (mostly my wife) decided to take our kids to Craters of the Moon National Monument. I have driven past it a thousand times, but had never stopped. One of our friends said, “That’s a long drive to look at a lot of black rock.” I was kind of in agreement, but I didn’t say so. I always enjoyed spending time with my family, so we packed a lunch and loaded up the truck.
Peaks to Craters
We started the 3 hour drive the same way we always do: with a little excitement and hope for a fun filled day. That lasted about two minutes. We returned home three times before we had everyone’s personal items. After the second u-turn I admonished my children, “You guys need to be a little more responsible. Next time you’ll just do without.” Then my wife asked if I had my wallet. I didn’t say a word; I just turned the truck around again.
The highway from Salmon to Challis winds along the Salmon River. It is a pretty drive unless you get motion sickness from the curves. Half of my family does, so we had to negotiate the corners at a gentle speed. It was the “mild and scenic Salmon River” all the way to Challis.
Our children aren’t very good at keeping themselves occupied on a long trip, even though they have all kinds of electronic devices. Taylor amused herself by making constant irritating noises in the seat directly behind me; I was ready to ride in the bed of the truck ten minutes into the drive. Deleya wanted a snack, so we stopped in Challis to stretch our legs, use the restroom, and get a snack.
A Bunch of Black Rocks
After an interminable time stuck in the truck with my restless family, we arrived at Craters. The tumult in the back seat had reached WWE proportions. I stopped at the overlook and made everyone get out. We read the brief history on the information boards and took a couple of photos. I didn’t see a lot of excitement from my children and began to worry.
In the park, we had a picnic near the visitor’s center. Everyone seemed a little more eager after eating. Then we learned about the history and geology of the park in the museum. It was very interesting, and even kept my 4 year old engaged. I was amazed at the diversity of features, formations, plants and wildlife amid the jumble of black volcanic rocks.
As the afternoon began to heat up, we entered the park proper. A seven mile road winds around the park providing access to trails amid all the various features. At the first stop, we applied copious amounts of sunscreen and set out on the first short hike. It was, apparently, the gateway to hell. An asphalt path wound among the jagged features of volcanic rock; heat radiated unrelentingly from every surface. It was a blazing, beautiful inferno. I could feel the heat through the soles of my shoes burning into the depth of my soul. I was Dante and my journey had begun.
I Don’t Need a Damn Hat!
My wife is fair skinned; the type that never tans…ever. She burns, even with sunscreen, and her burns, if bad enough, get infected. I told her I was concerned about the ferocious heat and unrelenting sun…”You need a great, big hat.”
She said, “I’m concerned about your ferocious mouth and your unrelenting advice…I don’t need a damn hat. Put some of this zinc on my neck and shoulders.”
Sheesh! Apparently the heat was getting to her. After the first short hike, the kids clambered over each other to get in the air conditioned truck. We had plenty of water and gatorade, fortunately, because we were sucking it back like sailors in a bar. That first hike was 0.3 of a mile on fairly level ground; according to the trail guide, we still had a lot of hiking ahead of us.
Just One Circle of Hell With Ten Stops
We drove to each feature in the park, often going on a short hike to closely view particular points of interest. The temperature increased steadily all afternoon. We only went on the shorter hikes because of the heat and our 4 year old daughter. Some paths were nearly two miles in length.
One of our last stops was called The Broken Top Loop Trail. It was a path through the most recent lava in the park showcasing 10 points of interest. A complete circuit of the trail was nearly 2 miles; too long for our youngest. We decided to go along the trail just far enough to see the Buffalo Caves which were part of a lava tube system in this field. We would then return the way we came.
The trail began gently. I was a beautiful hike with many volcanic features close at hand. The heat was oppressive, though. Deleya was very concerned about “lava bears” since we were going to a cave. After the visitor’s center, we had spent most of the day convincing her that the lava would not explode and burn us. I was unsure how to address the lava bear issue. Hell, I wasn’t even sure where she got such a notion! My wife told her that lava bears did not live in this cave.
We got to the cave. I decided to enter it with the kids. Jenn refused because the trail guide said there were bats in the cave. Yuck! She said they fly in your hair and flap and make screeching noises. She actually did a pretty good imitation of a bat just then; flapping her arms like wings at all of us and screeching. I suddenly had some reluctant co-cavers, and I had to go first. Once I crawled over the rocks through the opening, it got dark immediately. A complete absence of light you only get underground. As we had no light, we couldn’t go far (and no one wanted to be the last out in case of lava bears).
We decided to continue along the trail instead of going back. Deleya did fine until we started uphill. I had to carry her for the remainder of the hike, and it was ALL uphill. It was so hot by then the soles of our shoes felt soft and unstable. Everyone was a little red around the edges, and I could see a spot on my wife’s back I missed with the zinc. That was the last hike of the day.
Runner-up State Flower
The ride home passed much faster. We had a great time talking about the sights we saw and laughing about the heat. We talked about the abundance of Syringa, which is the Idaho State Flower. I told my wife that it was actually the runner-up for State Flower. I told her they originally wanted to use the cooler lid, as it was so prolific along all the highways. She said she had never seen a cooler lid along any highway. They must not have been in season because I couldn’t find one the whole way home.
We stopped for dinner in Challis. We had some amazing pizza at Antonio’s Pizza and Pasta. I highly recommend it. Our boys played pool while the pizza cooked. My wife had to give them a little instruction; they looked like they were trying to push a bb with a fencepost.
Deleya danced between the tables while Taylor sang along to the music. I soaked up the air conditioning.
My wife ended up with sunburns on her back and scalp. She told me she needed a great big hat. “Hmmmm…that’s good idea,” I said.
Craters of the Moon is a unique, beautiful Idaho adventure, not just a bunch of black rocks. A word of warning: It gets extremely hot there in the summer, and the sun is brutal in that volcanic setting. Take the hikes in the morning with lots of water and sunscreen. Keep an eye out for the elusive cooler lid; they usually bloom in the summer months. IDAHO DOESN’T SUCK!