According to a Shoshone legend, a serpent was trying to nap on the mountains above the Snake River near Arco, Idaho and was angered when its sleep was disturbed by lightning. The snake coiled around the mountain and squeezed until the pressure caused the rocks to crumble. Stones melted and fire shot through the cracks. The serpent wasn’t able to escape and its charred bones still mar the landscape.
While recently driving from the Grand Canyon, AZ to Leavenworth, WA , I detoured into Idaho to visit Craters of the Moon National Monument. I never realized the amount of volcanic activity, and the effects it had on our landscape until recent years. Craters of the Moon is the largest area I have seen effected, with miles and miles of lava rubble.
Stretching for 52 miles, a series of fissures called the Great Rift erupted 15,000 years ago. Creating lava fields across this vast area, eruptions continued up to 2,000 years ago. Scientists anticipate that future events will also occur. The area is along the Snake River Plain in southeastern Idaho.
Since I visited early in the season, only a portion of the park was drivable. The area was surrounded by snow capped mountains, allowing you to imagine the amounts of snow that had covered the roads during the winter. It will be several more weeks before the park employees can plow all the snow from the remaining areas of the drive, and likely that the snow will come again before they can complete their plowing.
Although the land is stark, there is some vegetation. Over hundreds of years, lichen slowly breaks down rock, creating soil. A seed attaches to the soil and is able to thrive on this barren landscape.
I was surprised, and delighted, when a weasel poked its head from a lava hole to watch my dog and I passing by. It wasn’t too fearful, until my dog got tired of waiting for me to take pictures, and lunged toward the weasel to scare my model away. Birds were singing all around us. Proof that even in this barren landscape, life can exist. If you have the chance, it is a beautiful, surreal place to visit.
by Diane Moore
Photos by Diane Moore