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Craters of the Moon National Monument

Desolate, difficult lava fields punctuated by cinder cones rising to 700 feet and more give this barren landscape its apt name, "Craters of the Moon". Protected as a national monument, this harsh, "prickly" landscape is one that at first glance seem so well armored as to have no need for human protection. The casing of basaltic formations does not invite plough or tire. Pioneers despaired over the place, and miners found nothing to entice them. From personal experience, I can tell you the eroded basalt rock whisked about by the wind is akin to ground glass; it is hard on the lungs and within minutes will get into shoes and ruin stockings.

Craters of the Moon National Monument

Of course, on second glance the uniqueness of this landscape is well worth preserving for future generations. Robert Limbert and W. L. Cole, who were instrumental in having the area declared a Monument in 1924, appreciated this. They became advocates for the area, despite a trek through this lunar landscape that lacerated their boots, as well as the paws of their faithful four-footed companion whom they had to carry most of the way.

Craters of the Moon National MonumentCraters of the Moon is situated at the northern end of the 60-mile long Great Rift Zone on the Snake River Plain. The rift zone is basically a series of big cracks in the ground, out of which lava flows began about 15,000 years ago, until about 2,000 years ago. (There is no volcano as such.) The most recent activity was in the Monument's part of the rift zone. The rift is due for another extrusion of lava within the next thousand years. Scientists theorize that what's caused the plain, the rift and the Craters area is a "hot spot" beneath the earth's crust. As the North American continental plate floats past over it, that part of the crust gets melted (the plain), opens up (the rift) and gets erupted upon (the lava formations). Yellowstone National Park is where the hot spot is believed to currently be. The Monument also encompasses the foothills of the Pioneer Mountains (see photo above), and it is fascinating to see how the lava has flowed into their folds.

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