Yellowstone: Mammoth Hot Springs

Fissures, Faults & Water

Angry steam billows upward in white plumes from bubbling rusty orange puddles swirled in limestone white, while an acrid rotten-egg smell of hydrogen sulfide assault my nose. Water boils wildly over strange crystalline shells coated in bright lemon, then calmly trickles over oozy brown algae mats. The thermal waters effortlessly slides over terraces and into murky pools rimmed by a dark green slurry and white crusts. This is the famed Mammoth Hot Springs of Yellowstone National Park, a place I’ve wanted to see for a long time.

The trees that you see have thick deposits of travertine around them, basically burying them in a hot calcite tomb

The trees that you see have thick deposits of travertine around them, basically burying them in a hot calcite tomb

Mammoth Hot Springs owes its uniqueness to sedimentary deposits composed limestone, instead of the rhyolite found in majority elsewhere in the national park.  Named after the Morris-Mammoth Fault, this area is a network of fissures that form a system of earthen pipes filled with rainfall and snowmelt which seeped into the ground from nearby mountains. Deep within the earth, the water is heated by the Yellowstone Caldera and then bubbles up back to the surface through surface cracks. Over time minerals deposits clog the pipe system, while small earthquakes create new gaps or reopen old ones. As a consequence, Mammoth Hot Springs is always changing, even by season.

Travertine terraces

Travertine terraces – The Romans mined deposits of travertine for building temples, aqueducts, monuments, bath complexes, and amphitheaters such as the Colosseum

Main Terraces

I was surprised at how dull much of it looked, compared to the pictures I’ve seen, but I later discovered that this is all a part of the normal cycles of Mammoth. On the Main Terrace, we passed by Minerva Springs and saw that much of the field was dry and devoid of water. The terraces were a dull gray, but I could still see the ornate travertine formations formed in multiples layers stacking upon each other. From the 1990s pictures, those gray terraces were once white with limestone deposits, giving them an appearance of sculpted alabaster. Who knows what might happen to this particular spring, in years to come.

Minerva Terraces 2016 - Looking rather dry.

Minerva Terraces 2016 – Looking rather dull and dry today.

Of all its dynamic formations, Canary Spring seemed to captivate me the most. The water flowed quickly and steam puffed quickly into the cool air. Newly formed travertine formations are coated brown, orange, white and green. I later read that Canary Spring is temperamental and can change overnight. In 2007, the spring went dry for several days and then resumed its normal flow. Then in 2014, a new vent opened contributing to the limestone terraces I saw today.

Just below Canary Spring

Just below Canary Spring

Upper Terraces

Upper Terraces Drive held a number of interesting formations which Hitch and I saw by car, but I had to stop at Orange Mound Spring with its striking colors and odd shape. The spring water flowed up from several vents along the top and side. Thermophiles coated the limestone dome paint splatters of orange, brown, and white.

Orange Spring Mound

Orange Spring Mound, built up by years of limestone deposits.

Lower Terraces

In the Lower Terraces, Liberty Cap stands as a mysterious monument, which struck me as the most notable feature in the area. Nearly 37-feet tall, this hot spring cone was named for its resemblance to the peaked caps worn by French revolutionists in the 1790s. While the spring is no longer active, the cone itself formed because its hot spring plumbing remained open and in one place for a very long time.

Also near the Lower Terraces, and right next door to Opal Terrace is a Frank Lloyd Wright house built with his Prairie Style architecture. Both the terrace and Reamer’s Executive House are rather understated, and are hidden behind a parking lot, but I think it’s worth a quick visit. I read somewhere that in the winter, elk like to rest upon Opal Terrace due to its warm ground temperature.

Liberty Cap

Liberty Cap – named after the cap French Revolutionist wore. Also known as a Phrygian cap.

Fort Yellowstone

We also took a quick turn through Fort Yellowstone, a historic district which starts near the visitor center. Under threat from those who would exploit the park, US Army troops were sent in the 1880s The fort and barracks were created to house the soldiers once Congress allotted enough money, they built a permanent post in 1890. The buildings today now serve as administrative offices, residences for National Park Service employees, museums, and visitor center.

Overall, the Mammoth Hot Springs a quaint area to visit, and is a prime stopover for anyone driving the Grand Loop. It has offerings for the geology geek, geyser gazer, and historical buff. A wonderful exterior expression to Yellowstone’s deep volcanic might.

Fort Yellowstone built in 1890

Fort Yellowstone built in 1890

Minerva Terraces 1920s - steaming and filled with water.

Minerva Terraces 1920s – steaming and filled with water.

Minerva Terraces 1977

Minerva Terraces 1977 – water flowing back in the day.

Colors of Mammoth are created by Thermophiles, heat loving bacteria.

Colors of Mammoth are created by Thermophiles, heat loving bacteria.

Grassy Spring

Grassy Spring is about a 131° F which supports the brown and orange Thermophiles.

DryTerraces-Mammoth

Water flowing from Mound Terrace

Water flowing from Mound Terrace

CanaryClose-Mammoth

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Fishing in Idaho

Ever since we departed Seattle on our nomadic lifestyle, I’ve been thinking of all the outdoor activities I wanted to try and fishing was pretty high on my to-do list. I’ve never “really” been reel-and-rod fishing, and of the times that I do kind of remember fishing was when I was a very little girl. We’d leave early in the morning and end up under the cold wet rain of the Pacific Northwest. I recall being given a fishing line with a hook and some bait, no real fishing rod. I was told that once I caught pneumonia on one of those fishing trips (something I barely remember), and thus haven’t been fishing since. When we finally reached Idaho I decided that it was time to get geared up for a real fishing trip.

The type of fishing I wanted to try was spin fishing, which is a type of angling technique where you are using spinnerbait, spin lures, and/or a type of lure that spins in the water as you reel it in. Hitch has been fishing a number times with his father as a boy, mostly within the wilderness of Alaska, so I relied heavily on his knowledge.

Near where Buffalo River and Henrys Fork River meet.

Hitch casting a line near where Buffalo River and Henrys Fork River meet.

Our first step was to get some gear, and for that, we went to Cabela’s and got two Shakespear Lake & Pond fishing kits, which includes a 6-foot rod, a spool filled with 6-pound monofilament fishing line, and a beginners tackle and box. Cabela’s also sells fishing licenses, so we got two 3-day permits to fish in the state of Idaho. The lures included standard ones, spinnerbaits, spoon lures, and a few soft plastic ones that look like worms. A nice well-rounded assortment for lake, pond, and stream fishing.

Henrys Lake State Park

Due to Hitch being sunburn sick on one of our fishing days, we were down to only 2-days of fishing. For our first day, we went to the south shore of Henrys Lake, located in east Idaho. Henrys Lake is a high mountain lake and is famous for cutthroat, brook, and cut-bow hybrid trout. Much of the fish comes from the fish hatchery from the north side of the lake. The lake itself covers about 6,000 acres and is considered a shallow lake with a max depth of 25 feet. It’s mostly boat fishing at this lake, but we decided to try our hand at shore fishing at the only spot where the depth changes quickly. I mostly practiced tying fishing knots and casting. After tying my ump-teenth knot, I settled on the Palomar Knot, which is an easy one to remember.

Hitch taught me how to do a Palomar Knot. Easy Peasy!

Hitch taught me how to do a Palomar Knot. Easy Peasy!

While we were fishing, we had a few local visitors. One elderly gentleman came by with his adult daughter and told us that he use to fish at the very spot we were at, but over 65 years ago and with his wife. He also told us a story of a local doctor that liked to go ice diving in Henrys Lake. That doctor didn’t come up one day and they found is body the following spring. A sad fishing story, from a local fishing pro, but he did give us tips on where else to fish in Island Park.

After a couple of hours and not a nibble to be had at Henrys Lake, so we decided to move our operations. We selected a spot frequented by the locals, just south of Island Park Reservoir Dam within Targhee National Forest. Here we found a place where the Buffalo River and Henrys Fork River meet. Patronized by mostly fly fishermen, we decided to give this area a try. We saw plenty of fish jumping and swimming, but we came away fishless. Still, I enjoyed my sun lounging and the scenery while practicing knots and casting my line.

Here's a depth map of Henrys Lake

Here’s a depth map of Henrys Lake, Idaho

Henrys Fork, Targhee National Forest

On our second day, we went back to Henrys Fork but on the north side closest to the dam, and along the banks of Buffalo River. We even bought some lures recommended by a seasoned local fisherman, some power bait, and a decently priced fishing net. Having read that trout prefer to feed either late or very early in the day when the waters are cooler, we were out by 5pm. I was surprised to find osprey and other fishing birds out in force also hunting for fish; I guess they read the same websites I did for fishing tips! Since the water looked fairly deep and slow moving, we even tried a bit of float fishing.

After an hour of nothing, we moved just south of the dam on Henrys Fork itself, where we found a boat launch and two other anglers. Hitch got to talking with one of the fly fishermen and got some nice tips on where to fish along the bank. The water here was pretty fast with some white water, so we switch to a lure recommended by the pro fisherman we met earlier. Apparently, the trout here tend to go after a brass Kastmasters, which is a simple looking lure that won’t bend or break, and keeps its shine.

As the sun dropped just below the treetops and the bugs came out in force, I heard a whoop from Hitch and looked up to see him reeling in a fish. He brings it in for me to see and I can tell instantly it’s a rainbow trout just shy of 10 inches. We quickly put it in the cooler with some water. With all the gear we bought and the licenses I know Hitch wants to eat his catch.

Hitch is looking pretty scary here, but the fish is slippery, and he's feeling pretty goofy!

Hitch is looking pretty scary here, but the fish is slippery, and he’s feeling pretty goofy! Hitch I mean…not the fish.

I have to say that I like fishing. It’s relaxing and enjoy just chilling in the outdoors. And although we only caught one fish, I certainly learned a lot about fishing. We spent about $135 for gear, plus another $50 in licensing, so about a total of $185. Fish per dollar, our little rainbow trout cost about as much as a fancy dinner for two. I can see how people can spend a lot more in this hobby, but I think what we have is enough for us and the occasional casual fishing trip. Now if we could catch more fish!

Dusted with salt, pepper, and flour. Then fried for dinner!

Dusted with salt, pepper, and flour. Then fried for dinner!

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Pokemon Go on the Road

Pokemon Go is sweeping the nation, perhaps the world and Trail and I are among the very many playing this game. If you are curious what it is or why it is a great game for RV Travelers, sit back and give this article a read.

What is Pokemon?

Pokemon started as a handheld computer game back in 1996 and became an international sensation. The games are about a young boy/girl who collects creatures called Pokemon. They can be as mundane as caterpillars or as exotic as dragons. Some are super cute, others fierce. The protagonist trains and raises the Pokemon and uses them to battle other rival trainers, some friendly, some villainous. Generally, there is a plot where evil trainers are trying to use Pokemon for selfish ends.

The Pokemon game quickly spawned printed comics, animated films, and a host of other merchandise. Pokemon started as a Japanese game but quickly came to the US and gained incredible popularity. Not only did it resonate with kids, but young adults and hobby gamers also embraced the games and its characters.

Not all Pokemon are this cute but most of them are fairly adorable.

Not all Pokemon are this cute but most of them are fairly adorable. This is Eevee and it’s many evolutions.

What is Pokemon Go?

Pokemon Go is a cell phone/mobile device game. Unlike other games it has no over-arching story and is set in the real world with you as the hero. As you walk around the real world the phone will help you find and capture Pokemon hiding all around you, only visible with your phone. You can then use the Pokemon you collect and train to battle for control of local “gyms.” You can play simply to collect all the cute monsters available or for team competition.

Pokemon Go was created by Nintendo, who owns the license, and Niantic, who did the game development. Niantic was a Google subsidiary who first created a similar game called Ingress. Ingress, like Pokemon Go, encourages its players to get out, explore, and walk in the real world. In both games, real world works of art serve as places players can go to get resources that help them play the game. In Pokemon, these are called “Pokestops” and give players Pokeballs needed to collect Pokemon and other goodies. The more you walk and explore, the more Pokemon you can collect.

Pokemon Go is set to conquer the world. In its first week it had 7.5 million downloads in the US alone.

Pokemon Go is set to conquer the world. In its first week, it had more than 7.5 million downloads in the US alone.

Why play Pokemon Go?

It’s Free: Like Ingress, it costs nothing to play Pokemon Go. There are ways to spend money in the game, but these largely just make it easier and faster to achieve your goals. You can do everything the game has to offer without paying a dime. Mind you it does use up data on your phone, and it can drain your battery pretty quickly so there are indirect costs to play.

It’s Fun: The Pokemon themselves are incredibly cute and the act of collecting them strangely compelling. It’s easy to learn how to play, but Pokemon games have some depth when you get serious about trying to collect them all. You can evolve them into new, more powerful versions and even breed them together to give their offspring special abilities. The world of Pokemon is great for the casual player as well as the hardcore fan. The fact you can see the Pokemon moving around in the real world adds a lot of novelty to the game. Facebook is currently inundated with pictures of Pokemon in unusual places.

It’s Good For You: Pokemon Go is designed to get you walking around. First, you have to explore to find the Pokemon and the Pokestops where you can get your Pokemon hunting equipment. You also need to log miles in order to hatch Pokemon Eggs. The more you walk, the more eggs you can hatch. The game will also award you medals for the distance you have traveled and the number of different locations you have visited. Having fun while staying fit is the whole idea of the game.

Pokemon Go players invading Central Park in New York.

Pokemon Go players invading Central Park in New York.

Why it’s great for RV life

Trail found this guy in Yellowstone.

Trail found this guy in Yellowstone.

Unlike folks who spend most of their time in a few locations, full-time RV travelers get around more than most. That means you get to find a wider variety of Pokemon and spend more time in the sorts of places they like to hang out, near point’s of interest, both natural and man-made.

Another nice feature of the game is as you play it shows you a map of your surroundings. Often it will show trails and geographical features such as rivers and roads. This can make it handy for navigating or scouting where a trail is going to go. I used it while fishing to figure out exactly where a nearby bridge was located.

Finally, it just adds some fun to hiking. When not taking in a grand view or examining the plants and animals, you can chase down some Pokemon. It’s even a fun way to meet other gamers on your travels. The game is designed so players in the same area can help one another out.

pokemon_love

Use some caution

When you load it up, the first thing the game tells you is to be aware of your surroundings. Hunting Pokemon can be very engrossing as you wander around so you need to be mindful of where you are walking! Remember that you can use the sound or vibration in the game so it alerts you to nearby Pokemon and Pokestops. There is no need to stare at the screen everywhere you go.

Also, just because there are Pokemon somewhere, doesn’t mean you are allowed to go get them. Playing the game is no excuse for trespassing or jaywalking. Generally, most Pokemon and Pokestops are concentrated in public places so this isn’t a problem. That said, they can be found nearly anywhere so use common sense while playing.

 

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First Day at Yellowstone

We decided to stay at Yellowstone National Park for a full month. It is America’s first national park and covers more than 2 million acres. Chances are good a month won’t be enough to really explore the park in any depth but we will do our best.

Destination: Adventure

For our first trip into the park, we decided to check out Boiling River which is one of only two places in Yellowstone where you can get into the water. It had been some time since we had access to a nice pool and were eager to get wet. We packed up a lunch and our swim gear and set out. The trip took us from our base in Idaho into Montana, then into Wyoming, all in all, a two-hour drive each way.

Yellowstone is known for its wildlife and day one did not disappoint. During our drive through the  park we saw pronghorn, bison, a grizzly bear, a bald eagle, and white-tailed deer. The wildlife on display slowed down the traffic quite a bit as folks rubber necked or pulled over to look. Fortunately, the absolute throngs of people there for the 4th of July weekend had weaned itself to reasonable levels on the 5th.

The night before we attended the fireworks at Yellowstone West, which is a town on the Montana side just outside the park. It was modest by big-city standards but we enjoyed it very much. Even the sunset was giving us fireworks as seen in the cover photo. We also went to the visitors center so Trail could pick up the stickers and stamps she collects for her National Parks passport. They are a fun way to chronicle your adventures and hers is filling up fast! We also checked on what parts of the park were currently closed and what wildlife we could expect to see.

This is where the boiling river emerges. Ya, its not actually boiling.

This is where the boiling river emerges. Ya, it’s not actually boiling but it is very hot.

The Boiling River

We managed to find a spot near the trail head and walked a quarter mile to where you are allowed to go bathing. Boiling River is a very short stream that emerges from a cave and runs quickly into the Gardner River. The water is scalding hot, near boiling at times, so you don’t actually jump in there. The thing to do is wade over to where it empties into Gardner. Here the confluence of hot water from Boiling and cool mountain water from the Gardner create a natural jacuzzi.

I was not well prepared for the experience. I figured there would be somewhere I could change. It turned out the bushes were about the only option for that. I also discovered we had to wade down-river in the Gardner to get to the nice bit near the Boiling. The Gardner is not deep, but it is swift, swift enough you can feel small stones rolling past your feet at some points in the current. Said stones were well rounded but far from soft and I’d neglected to bring any aquatic footwear.

So I picked my way carefully down the stream wincing with each footstep and trying not to fall over into the river. Others were also clearly struggling but ultimately all parties, myself included made the journey with no harm to anything but our dignity. Thus I suggest you have your bathing suit on ahead of time, and bring some good waterproof footwear.

Our short but challenging journey complete, we made our way to a lovely eddy just beyond the mouth of the Boiling where the current was gentle and there was even a sandy bottom to rest on. There were some lovely rocks perfect for sitting on and others where you could anchor yourself and let the current of the river flow past you. By moving to different locations we could regulate the temperature of the water. Sit close to the boiling and you could enjoy near scalding water. Move just a few feet and you could enjoy the brisk chill of the Gardner.

Here folks are making their way down the Gardner River. We went a bit farther than these folks.

Here people are making their way down the Gardner River. We went a bit farther than these folks.

The magic spot!

It’s like having a Caldarium and a Tepidarium in one place. Most magical of all was the middle zone. Here the changing currents of the river would fluctuate between warm and cool, sometimes cool on one side and warm on the other. Trail found the perfect stone to anchor to and let these changing currents wash over you.

After some experimentation, I turned on my back with one hand behind me on this anchor stone. I then found a weighty rock from below to rest on my chest so that my whole body would remain submerged with no effort. Finally, I leaned my head back so that I could see and breath but was otherwise submerged. My ears in the water, I could hear not only the movement of the river but also the tumbling stones gently moving with the current. The alternating hot and cool currents washed by as I watched osprey circle above while the river flowed away into gentle grassy hills before me.

It was magical and absolutely, relaxingly blissful. Probably the most amazing bath of my life and this was just our first day here. After a while, I had the place to myself. First, the other tourists left, then Trail decided to climb out and gather our things closer to where we bathed. I stayed a good long time, around two hours all told.

Apparently this is what blissful relaxation looks like. Trust me it felt better than it looks.

Apparently, this is what blissful relaxation looks like.

The aftermath

Finally, reluctantly, I decided I was satisfied and we headed back to the truck. We had a picnic lunch before heading home. It wasn’t until we returned that we discovered the price I’d paid and the true depth of my lack of preparation.  My time out in the sun and water had burned my back and shoulders pretty badly, just on the verge of second-degree. I’d forgot the sunscreen. Never forget the sunscreen!

Soon both Trail and I began to itch and we found that the Yellowstone Mosquitoes had made a meal of us both. We decided to turn in early and as we did so, I began to feel chilled. It was 74 Fahrenheit in the trailer and I had goosebumps and was shivering uncontrollably before long. My back was both cold and burning at once and my limbs began to ache. I had to break out the electric blanket, down some ibuprofen and try to sleep it off. I slept fitfully for the next 20 hours.

Fortunately, the long sleep cured me of any fever or cold and I was left with only a red and painful back, sore feet, and many itchy spots. For our next outing, I would be sure to bring sunscreen, insect repellant, and wear appropriate shoes. I have no regrets. A little pain and suffering for an experience so blissful is something I’m willing to suffer. Hopefully, if you get the chance some day, you can heed my tale of caution and get all the benefits without any of the challenges.

Here I'm a bit too relaxed as other folks start invading my sanctuary. Time to go.

Here I’m a bit too relaxed as other folks start invading my sanctuary. Time to go.

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Hitch Interviewed

A fine gent by the name of Heath Padgett asked me to do an interview for his podcast: The RV Entrepreneur. He normally interviews folks that have found success in making a living on the road. In my case, he was looking for someone in the process of trying to make it work.

Check it out if you want to hear me talk about the ups and downs of the financial side of our adventure. I tried to be as honest as possible. If you are thinking about making a living on the road, listen to all his interviews. There is a great deal of insight and inspiration in every episode. I’ve learned a lot listening to it and the people he interviews are always interesting.

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Hells Canyon: Oregon

Hells Canyon is the deepest river gorge in north America at just shy of 8,000 feet at its deepest point. It was carved by the Snake River and runs through Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Trail and I decided to check it out from the Buckhorn Viewpoint just inside of the Oregon border with Idaho. Unlike many of our trips, this one was chosen on impulse. We were staying near where we were going to have our RV serviced rather than to visit a national park. Mostly we spent the week writing and getting the trailer ready but I felt we needed to get at least one outdoor trim in while we were there.

Unlike many of our trips, this one was chosen on impulse. We were staying near where we were going to have our RV serviced rather than to visit a national park. Mostly we spent the week writing and getting the trailer ready but I felt we needed to get at least one outdoor trim in while we were there. A good rule of thumb while traveling is to take advantage of whatever you happen to be and see at least one thing it has to offer a traveler.

Driving up to the overlook the roadside became purple! Other places it was yellow, and others white.

Driving up to the overlook the roadside became purple! Other places it was yellow, and others white.

We were expecting a nice view of the canyon and it’s rocky cliffs, and indeed there was. What we were not expecting was the riot of wildflowers covering the viewpoint and the road leading up to it. We got our first taste on the drive up to the viewpoint as we passed areas dominated by one or two species giving each a unique dominant color. Where we could we stopped to marvel at the flowers and take a closer look.

An intimate view of one of the flowers. I love to look at the close up details of nature.

An intimate view of one of the flowers. I love to look at the close up details of nature.

Upon arriving at the viewpoint we both grinned as the whole area was blanketed with not only those we’d seen on the way up but many more, all in abundance and competing for the sunny perch. The field of flowers was alive with the sound of bees taking full advantage of the nectar feast put before them. Butterflies, hummingbirds, and other nectar feeders were also present in good numbers.The whole scene had a magical fairy-land feeling.

It's hard to capture the close up beauty of the flowers and the overall grand scope of the vista together.

It’s hard to capture the close-up beauty of the flowers and the overall grand scope of the vista together.

We stuck to the marked trails so as not to damage any of the plants and very slowly wound our way about the natural garden taking time to get familiar with all the flowers and the critters visiting them. Of course, we also took in the grand picture, the colorful flowers giving way to pine spattered rolling hills and far below sharp canyon walls. It is truly a beautiful place and a wonderful contrast to the spectacular desert wonderlands we’d been traveling through for the prior months.

I call it: Picture postcard perfect picnic. And indeed it was.

I call it: Picture postcard perfect picnic. And indeed it was.

After a picnic lunch among the flowers and having exhausted the few, short trails in the area, we headed back home to our Airstream with many pictures and rich memories yet one more surprise awaited us. Trail heard a strange noise as we drove through the lowlands. We turned down the music, stopped the truck, and rolled down the window. The air was thrumming with the sound of cicadas. We’d heard a few now and again in Wyoming and Idaho but this was a real swarm of them camped by the river. We were enveloped by the hypnotic sound that seemed to come from everywhere around us.

I decided I had to try and get a picture of one. Because the brush was thick and on the steep bank of a river it took me a few minutes to locate one I could get close enough to take a good picture. Believe it or not, it was the first I’d ever seen live in the wild.

Here he is. I've tried to find them before but they hide well.

Here he is. I’ve tried to find them before but they hide well. The amount of sound he can make is amazing.

 

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Caves of Craters of the Moon

Craters of the Moon National Monument has a lot of caves: over 400 documented with discovery of more caves each year. The most common cave type are Lava Tubes, which form when as an exterior crust of a lava flow cools, and the interior lava continues to flow within. There are five caves that are easily accessible within the park. The rest need either a backcountry permit or 4-wheel drive to access. The second most common are Fissure Caves, located within the deep earthen cracks of the Great Rift. Some of these caves run deep, the deepest is recorded at a depth of 650 feet from the surface. The most notable ones are located in the Kings Bowl Lava Field but require professional caving equipment and knowledge for safe exploration. The last kind of cave found in the monument are Differential Weathering caves, which formed as wind, rain, and frost hollowed out the earth. They are hard to find, and the one I read about isn’t even named and can only be reached by rangers.

Inside Indian Cave

Long panorama of inside Indian Cave, Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve

Permits Required & Protecting Bats

Bats in the eastern United States and Canada are dying off in frightening numbers from white-nose syndrome, a condition that leads to death from exposure from a fungus. Humans have immunity to the fungus, but sadly bats die quickly from it. In order to help the bats that live in the caves, obtaining a permit is required before entering the caves. The permits are free, but they want you to be aware of the problem and not bring any gear used in another cave outside Craters of the Moon. It’s best if you leave that gear at home before visiting, or decontaminate it properly by thoroughly washing your gear with either bleach or 3% hydrogen peroxide.

Prevent the needless death of our beloved bats. Get a permit at the Visitors Center.

Prevent the needless death and protect precious bat lives. Get a permit at the Visitors Center.

Indian Tunnel

Indian Tunnel is one of four caves open to the public along the Caves Trail in Craters of the Moon and is by far the most enjoyable to walk through. When we went, the day was hot at near 95° F as Hitch and I took the steps down into this cave the temperature seemed to cool down, but I could still feel wafts of warm air blow through the collapsed areas of the ceiling. Since the light bleeds through, we didn’t need our headlamps as much. When we reached the central area, it was easy to tell that this lava tube was large and we could walk comfortably. According to signs, the cave is 30-feet high, 50-feet wide and 800-feet long. Many bits of rock and rubble lay before our path, so we walked slowly and watched our footing. At the far end, we scrambled over a large pile of rocks and squeezed through a small opening to exit the cave. When we followed trail posts along the lava flow back toward the trail head, we were delightfully surprised by swooping Violet-Green swallows and scurrying Golden-Mantle squirrels.

Hitch celebrating Indian Cave

Hitch celebrating Indian Cave

Beauty Cave

Back on the Cave Trail, we made our way to Beauty Cave. The entrance was large, but we had to be careful scrambling downward upon a slope of large rocks. Here we had to use our headlamps, and soon discovered that the pitch blackness of a simple hardware store headlamp doesn’t pierce the darkness for far. Not too far in the cave, I noticed that the temperature dropped dramatically and we could puffs of breath in the dim light. On the floor of the cave near the back of the cave, I could see that the rock was made of pahoehoe rock. We decided to turn off our lights and encase ourselves in an eerie ebony void. Without sight, I focused on the sounds of the cave: water dripping and plopping sounded like a light rainfall, wind at the entrance sounded like faint whispers, and simple breathing took on a creepy tone. We turned our lights back on and were greeted by a gust of hot air as we exited the cave.

Beauty Cave

Beauty Cave – Listen to the “cave rain” and rest in the cool air.

Boy Scout Cave

We took the Cave Trail back to a cave we had passed earlier. Hitch took a look at the entrance and decided that we should pass on exploring this cave. According to the signs, this cave retains ice all year-round, and to enter it you must crawl over loose rock. The cave floor is often covered by a sheet of ice covered by several inches of water. After reading that, we determined that you have to be small as a boy scout to fit in the cave and to move on to our next location.

Boy Scout Cave

Boy Scout Cave – A cave for adventurous people under 5.5-feet tall with a girth of 38 inches or less.

Dewdrop Cave

Dewdrop Cave is small, and kind of dull compared to the other caves along Cave Trail. The emerald green algae and moss growing just beyond the entrance make this cave interesting. The cave was also cold compared to the outside sweltering heat and provided us with a nice place to rest. Unfortunately, the floor and entrance is littered with sharp rock, and I felt sorry for Hitch as he slipped and fell. On the way out, he bumped his head on the low ceiling, otherwise known as a “cave kiss” by the rangers. Its times like these that I’m glad I pack a first aid kit in my backpack.

Dewdrop Cave

Dewdrop Cave – small, rocky, and cool inside.

Buffalo Cave & Broken Top Loop

Buffalo Cave is located along Broken Top Loop and is part of vast tube system known as the Broken Top Flow. When we viewed this cave, we were led by Ranger Ted on a tour along the trail loop. The trail loop is an easy 2 miles and provides an opportunity to view nearly every type of volcanic feature in the park.  The cave itself has low ceilings and we crawled through the entrance to gain access. Inside the air was cool and damp, and along the far side, there were signs of a recent cave-in and warning signs saying, “keep out.”

Ranger Ted leads us along Broken Top Loop and down into Buffalo Cave

Ranger Ted leads us along Broken Top Loop and down into Buffalo Cave

Caves make both Cave Trail and Broken Top Loop the most exciting day hikes, and that’s just a sample of the what is often hidden in Craters of the Moon National Monument.  Not many people realize that there’s more to the park than just what is available along the main drive loop near the visitor center. There’s also the “Preserve” portion of the park, maintained by the BLM, and much of which requires 4-wheel drive and sometimes a high clearance vehicle. All of it worth a few days visit, if not more.

Extras

Bring your permit, your flashlight, good sturdy shoes and a first aid kit

Bring your permit, your flashlight, good sturdy shoes and a first aid kit

Hitch finally crawling out of the Cave

Hitch finally crawling out of the Cave

Dewdrop Cave - A cave you have to crawl into

Dewdrop Cave – A small cave you have to crawl into

Along the Trail

Hitch Along the Trail

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Mountain View RV Park: Arco, Idaho

Mountain View RV park in Arco, Idaho is one of those parks that breaks the mold a bit and shows the initiative and personality of its owners. It is a small park but has its own restaurant with a modestly upscale menu and yet features roadside decorations like a ceiling covered with signed dollar bills from travelers who have eaten there. There is even a small 9 hole miniature golf course on site.

Nights: 6

RV Park Cost: $207.36 ($34.50/night)

Discounts Used: Good Sam

Address705 West Grand Avenue  Arco, ID 83213

GPS43.627251, -113.306027

Website: www.mountainviewarco.com

Pros

  • Friendly Staff
  • On-site restaurant
  • Miniature Golf
  • Nice overall park

Cons

  • No 50amp hookups
There are plenty of shade trees and the grounds were well kept.

There are plenty of shade trees and the grounds were well kept.

Mountain View RV is located in the small town of Arco, not far from Craters of the Moon National Monument, which is what brought us to town. The town is small enough that it has few national chains but large enough that it has a decent grocery and other useful shops for travelers. Mountain View RV is likewise on the small side but has most of what you might need as well as a few extras.

The lots were nicely sized and the grounds well kept. They have the usual laundry, bathrooms, showers, and hook ups, though they aren’t equipped for 50amp power yet, only 30amp.  This meant we had to run only one AC unit at a time and otherwise be a little careful with what appliances we ran while cooling the trailer down. Since it got up to near 100 degrees while we were there, cooling down was important to us.

Here we are in our spot at Mountain View. Plenty of room for our rig.

Here we are in our spot at Mountain View. Plenty of room for our rig.

We never ate at the restaurant but it was clear they took some pride in it. They serve wine, and steaks, and BBQ Ribs and other high-end road food along with other items kids might like. The table settings are fairly nice and overall it had a nice vibe to it. The ceiling was decorated with mosaics made from dollar bills left by prior travelers. We didn’t eat there, mostly just because we were saving money on food, but were that not the case I would have happily tried it out.

The facilities were in good order. The showers were small but the water pressure was impressive and the hot water plentiful so I’d give it a big thumbs up. Overall the park was well maintained and clean. I was really happy to see they had a small miniature golf course on site. Nothing too special, but I have a soft spot for playing once in a while. The course was definitely showing its age but it was playable. Trail crushed by 8 strokes on the 9 hole course when we played.

Bring me my putter Jeeves, the back 9 awaits!

Bring me my putter Jeeves, the back 9 awaits! And looks like it’s been waiting for quite a while…

The wireless was standard for parks. It worked nicely when most of the folks were not in their trailers and took a nose dive in the evenings to become nearly useless. Ultimately I’d say the price was a bit high for what was offered, but not exorbitant.

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Easy Hikes of Craters of the Moon

Long ago, a huge serpent miles in length, lay where the channel of the Snake River is now. Though the serpent was never known to harm anyone, people were terrified by it. One spring, after it had lain asleep all winter, it left its bed and went to a large mountain. There it coiled its immense body around the mountain and sunned itself. After several days, thunder and lightning passed over the mountain and aroused the wrath of the serpent. More flashes of lightning played on the mountain, and this time, the lightning struck nearby. Angered, the serpent began to tighten its coils around the mountain. Soon the pressure caused the rocks to begin to crumble. Still, the serpent tightened its coils. The pressure became so great that the stones began to melt. The fire came from the cracks. Soon liquid rock flowed down the sides of the mountain. The huge serpent, slow in its movements, could not get away from the fire. So it was killed by the heat, and its body was roasted in the hot rock. At last, the fire burned itself out;the rocks cooled off;the liquid rock became solid again. Today if one visits the spot, he will see ashes and charred bones where the mountain used to be. If he will look closely at the solidified rock, he will see the ribs and bones of the huge serpent, charred and lifeless.

This is the Shoshone creation story for Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. A wonderful myth story for America’s largest contiguous basaltic lava field which contains over 25 volcanic cones and 60 distinct solidified lava flows. The lava fields age from 15,000 to just 2,000 years old.

The park’s current name is in thanks to Robert Lambert, a part-time taxidermist, tanner and furrier from Boise, Idaho, who decided to explore the area in the 1920s after hearing reports of “strange things” from other fur trappers. On his third expedition, he and a friend, W.L Cole, explore south to north, covering 80 miles in 17 days. Among his gear, he also took a heavy box camera and tripod to photograph the area and its hidden wonders. They also brought an Airedale Terrier, a decision they were to regret. After three days of travel over the rough lava, the dog’s feet were raw and bleeding. For the remainder of the trip, Limbert and Cole had to carry the dog.

Robert Limbert

“Here are strange ice caves with stalactites and ice-encrusted walls, caves that contain as much ice in the middle of August as they do in the winter.” -Robert Limbert

Although Limbert wrote a number of photo essays, his most famous article was in 1924, entitled “Among the Craters of the Moon” in the National Geographic. Due to Libert’s work, Craters of the Moon National Monument was proclaimed by President Calvin Coolidge on May 1924. Later in 2000, President Bill Clinton greatly expanded the national monument to is current borders.

Hiking Craters of the Moon

When Hitch and I visited, we took few easy hikes, along a scenic drive loop, all of which can be completed in a day:

North Crater Flow: This 0.3-mile loop trail took us out onto North Crater Flow. This area is a pahoehoe (pah-hoy-hoy) flow that spilled from the North Crater vent about 2,200 years ago. Pahoehoe is basaltic lava which is smooth undulating, forming ropy masses. We also saw examples of pressure ridges, squeeze-ups, aa (ah-ah) lava, and rafted blocks.

Syringa, grow inbetween cracks in the lava flow

Syringa, grow in between cracks in the lava flow

Devil’s Orchard: A 0.5-mile paved trail where we explored cinder beds scattered with pieces of the North Crater wall. So called for its Island-like lava fragments stand in a sea of cinders. Here I learned that back in the 1960s park rangers actually cut down their old growth Limber Pine trees. In the end, management and control efforts were unsuccessful and resulted in the removal of 6000 limber pine trees. Today, dwarf mistletoe is recognized as a natural parasitic organism that has been a part of the Craters of the Moon limber pine ecology for hundreds to thousands of years. Makes you wonder, which is worse, the disease or the cure.

Devils Orchard

Devils Orchard – Twisted misshapen trees.

Inferno Cone: A steep 0.4-mile in-and-out trail that is worth the effort. The trail consists of cinders, a type of rock that crunches and crackles under each step. At the top, we were rewarded with a panoramic view of the Great Rift, Snake River Plain, and the Pioneer Mountains. The day was clear and I caught a faint outline of the Teton Range, 100 miles to the east. There was also a tall pine tree and we sat in its shade and listen to the wind whoosh through its branches.

Inferno Cone

Inferno Cone is a cinder cone, a steep conical hill of loose pyroclastic fragments, such as either volcanic clinkers, cinders, volcanic ash, or scoria that has been built around a volcanic vent

Splatter Cones: This is a short 0.2-mile walk to a chain of spatter cones Spatter cones formed as hot lumps of lava are ejected a short distance into the air and to fall to the ground around a small central vent. The molten blobs landed on top of each other, cooled, and adhered to nearby pieces, forming the walls of what looks like a mini-volcano. The trail lets you view into two splatter cones. One splatter cone is rather tall and deep, while the other is somewhat shallow. The shallower one called Snow Cone still has last winter’s snow inside its vent.

Splatter Cone

Splatter Cone is a low, steep-sided hill or mound that consists of welded lava fragments, called spatter, which has formed around a lava fountain issuing from a central vent.

Mountain Bluebird - Idaho's state bird

Mountain Bluebird – Idaho’s state bird

Lava Towers

Lava Towers

Squirrel! Lots of nooks and holes to hide among the lava flow.

Squirrel! Lots of nooks and holes to hide among the lava flow.

Broken Top Overlook

Broken Top Overlook

Inferno Cone Pano

Inferno Cone Pano

Broken Top is a giant cinder cone volcano roughly 2100 years old

Broken Top is a giant young cinder cone volcano roughly 2100 years old

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5 Deadliest National Parks

Earlier this month, on June 7, I read an article about an Oregonian 23-year-old man who went over 225 yards off the boardwalk trail, slid, and fell into a hot spring in Yellowstone National Park. The Norris Basin Geysers are a set of geysers and hot springs that are the hottest and most acidic in the park. Depending on which geyser and what the geothermal systems are up to that day, the temperatures can run anywhere from 100°F to 400°F, while the pH levels range from 1 (battery acid) to 3 (soda pop).

Reading about this tragedy got me thinking about all the deaths I’ve heard about at the national parks I’ve visited. At one point my husband said I should write something about it. Although I find it rather morbid to talk about deaths at national parks, it serves as a reminder about playing it safe while you are enjoying the wilderness.

Porkchop Geyser, Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park

Porkchop Geyser, Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park

Before I dive into the topic, I have to say that the odds of anyone dying at a National Park are pretty low. An average of 150 people per year have died at a National Park according to recent records, not including suicides. I know it sounds like a lot, but near 300 million people visit parks each year. That makes the odds roughly 1 in 2 million. Better than winning at Powerball, but still slim. Just to give you a comparison, odds of you dying in a national park is the same as dying by ebola. You are more likely die because your pajamas caught on fire at odds of 1 in 983,575, or a real killer like heart disease at 1 in 7.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountains National Park Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake, Rocky Mountains National Park

Although it’s rare to die in a national park, since 2001, 21 people have died in Rocky Mountain National Park. 3.3 million visitors flock to the Rockies and many of them just walk away with some pretty awesome memories. The number one death dealer at this park is falling, and that comes as no surprise since much of the park is over 10,000 feet. The high altitude plays a big role in the park’s second leading cause of death: cardiac arrest. Better to heed those signs that warn “Do not climb unless prepared.”

Natchez Trace National Parkway

Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge

Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge

Imagine a beautiful 444-mile route from the southern Appalachian foothills of Tennessee to the Mississippi River. Once used by Native Americans for thousand years, before European settlers, the Natchez Trace National Parkway claims an average of 8 deaths per year, many due to traffic accidents. The Natchez Trace bridge also seem to attract those who wish to commit suicide. At least 15 people have fallen 155 feet to their deaths since 2000. They to put up signs with suicide prevention numbers in 2010 to deal with the problem. The death rate in past years have been higher, and the rangers have worked hard to reduce that death toll number. They’re even making efforts to improve safety for bicyclists. Incidentally, vehicle accidents and suicides are the 2nd and 4th, respectively, leading cause of deaths in all National Parks combined.

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park

I’ve been to Mount Rainier a number of times having lived in the Seattle area for most of my life. 419 people have died on or around the mountain since government records were first kept in the 1800s. Of that total, the mountain has claimed over 114 lives in climbing deaths, usually toward or from the summit. That’s not too bad considering that in 2015 alone, 10,025 people attempted to climb Mount Rainier and that number just keeps going up. Incidentally falling is the leading cause of death at Mount Rainer and the third for the whole of the National Parks in America.

Grand Canyon National Park

Trail View, Grand Canyon National Park

Trail View, Grand Canyon National Park

Since the mid-1800s, over 770 people have died at the Grand Canyon, according to Ken Field’s “Over the Edge 3D: Death in Grand Canyon Map.” That number is probably higher due to inconsistencies with record keeping. This yawning abyss racks up about 12 fatalities per year. That includes falling, traffic accidents, suicide, medical problems, exposure, and drowning. The most tragic death was in 1956 when two planes collided and over 100 passengers died.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Lake Mead National Reserve

Lake Mead National Reserve

I’ve been to Lake Mead briefly along with Hoover Dam. This manmade lake is a reservoir with over 200 million acres of water and is the 5th most visited park in the National Park Service. This aquatic playground is a wonderful place to fish, boat, water ski, swim, and jet ski. The annual average is 5 to 12 deaths within Lake Mead’s murky depths and its surrounding lands. A majority of those deaths are by drowning. With over 7.2 million visitors in the last year, it’s no wonder something bad happens, be it an accident, suicide or homicide. Sadly, Lake Mead is an example of the National Park’s number one cause of death: drowning.

Have Fun, Play Safe

This year is the National Park Service’s centennial, so expect crowds this summer. Your chances of dying at a National Park are slim, but play it safe and stay alive. Most importantly, have fun, and don’t fall into any boiling geysers.

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