Imagine stepping onto another planet. The palette is charcoal, onyx, iridescent ebony and jet. Notice crumpled and collapsed lava tubes, great black peaks, cinder cones, and subterranean caves with vaulting ceilings of rough bubbled magma.
Now, let me show you a place where this weird and otherworldly beauty is real, here, on this vibrant planet.
Craters of the Moon National Monument sits in the center of Idaho’s southern desert plains, in the belt of volcanic flats leading to Yellowstone National Park. The underlying magma hot spot that now fuels Yellowstone’s geysers and mudpots left a trail of destruction across this continent, and Craters of the Moon is an incredible display of the region’s volatile past.
Starkly different than the forested mountains to the north and the river valleys and desert to the south, here the landscape tells stories of the catastrophic geological forces that shaped this place.
The whole area is rich with caves and black rocky outcroppings, spatter cones, and lava fields.
Gradually, though, desert plants are reclaiming the once charred and barren earth. Even within the Monument, sagebrush and grasses are slowly encroaching. As the fragile lava breaks down, wildflowers take root in the shallow dirt. Trees do too. Pines flaunting limbs with witch’s broom fists grow in the Devil’s Orchard at the park’s northern corner.
This is a landscape of contrast. The earth’s endless cycles of burn and recovery, of blossom and reprieve, are excruciatingly evident, and marvelous to behold.
Summer here bakes, and winters are frigid, but life is everywhere. Pine trees, mule deer, squirrels, twittering birds. Even after the most horrific destructive events, new life carries on, and on, and on.
The beauty of Craters of the Moon is part violence, part flourishing rebound after those repeated cataclysmic eruptions. We look at the charcoal colored shards, and find wildflowers budding from the ashes.
Although Craters of the Moon has an uncertain future and may very well erupt again, for now we find hope in the recovery, and comfort that no matter the earth rumbling events, there will always be regrowth.