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Craters of the Moon National Monument

  (Craters of the Moon National Monument photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)



   We follow the path that allowed a smooth, safe, place to walk over the rough, broken, lava field covering the Snake River Plain of southern Idaho, out to the open pits and domed entrances to the caves.

   We’ve driven to Craters of the Moon National Monument to see what is here and what we’ve found, as have so many others before us, is a dormant but not extinct volcanic area.  Blackened and inhospitable, scoured by a constant wind and temperatures that reach the extremes of each season, this great volcanic rift zone is covered only by brush and gnarled trees, with tall cinder cones and sharp, twisted, formations.
It is, to even the most jaded traveler, a strange and compelling place.

  Choosing the trail to the right we make our way to the top of the set of steep steps that drops down to the entrance of the Indian Tunnel cave, a vast lava tube created when a hard crust formed over molten rock that flowed and then retreated as the surface cooled. Inside the tube, lit by skylight openings above, the rustling and cooing of doves belied stony harshness around us. We know there are also bats, hanging silently in the shadows, waiting for dark and their time to fly.

   We pick our way carefully over the basaltic lava floor of the cave, navigating around boulders and the fractured lines of every surface, caught in the ancient drama that formed the underground room around us.

   At Craters of the Moon, it is impossible not to be reminded that the worst we can do to one another, even our terrible carelessness when we damage the fragile systems that support us, is nothing when compared to the power of the natural world to change itself.

   We bicker and fight, build up and tear down, and move on to lick our wounds or gloat over petty victories. But the earth throws terrible punches, crushes mountains with powerful blows, sends rivers over their banks and blows away our sticks-and-stones lives with without a care. The earth erupts, boils over, buckles and heaves, shrugs and upends stone, breaks open its own crust and then, as though gathering strength for another bout, sleeps. Waiting.

   Craters of the Moon is, in geologic time, still young. The last flows occurred only 2,000 years ago. And, even today, we can only stand and shiver in the scarred strangeness of the aftermath, surrounded by a violent beauty, listening, in a hollow space that, until another act of nature exposed the buried chambers, was a secret, silent place known first to the Shoshone and then, in the 1800’s, the pioneers and fortune seekers and now to tourists like us.

   We take our photographs, turn back for one more look, and then climb back to the surface. We are exhilarated. Changed. Reminded of the power of nature to create and recreate the world around us.


You can see more Craters of the Moon photos at my CAMera: Travel and Photography blog


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Home Planet , Treasure Hunting and  CAMera: Travel and Photo blogs, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at


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Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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