Recently, I got to spend two weeks at Craters of the Moon National Monument as part of the National Park Service’s Artist in Residence (AiR) program. It was freakishly cold for a couple days, and I was under the weather for a couple of days too, but I ended up writing many poems–and revising many others.
This post contains a bunch of pictures I took of the wildlife and geological features I saw — like lava tubes and cinder gardens — while I was exploring and writing about the park.
1. Geological Features
I spent most of my time exploring and writing about the interesting geological features like spatter cones, cinder cones, and lava flows.
I walked on the wrong lava once and got into trouble. But I can’t do anything about that now.
None of this has to do with things like spatter cones.
By the way. . .
Spatter cones are tiny volcanoes that vent viscous, pasty lava at the end of the eruption cycle.
They are part of the great rift the park sits on, which is referred to as a volcanic fissure. (Just say the words volcanic fissure you will feel instantly cheerful.)
They look like they belong in the time of the dinosaurs.
The bottom picture was taken from the top of Inferno Cone, which is a tiny mountain made out of cooled pieces of lava from a lava fountain as they fell back down to earth.
Lava fountain are also words that lift one’s spirits when said over and over (you have to really like lava for this to work).
Which brings me to. . .
Cinder cones are my favorite feature hands-down. The cinders are opalescent like glass and porous like pumice. They glitter like diamonds, and they crunch when you walk across them like so much breakfast cereal.
Here are some sweet cinder cones.
Here is a sweet cinder cone at night.
Here are some pics of the glittery, opalescent cinders.
They are beautiful.
I wrote them 6 pages of poems. They are like the Beatrice of volcanic features.
They are as beautiful as anything that can be made from lava.
About lava . . .
Lava flows are like the sirens of CRMO. They are like a hag goddess begging you to hear their voices.
Lava is 100% the best.
It looks like ornate brooches made out of taffy.
Or it is covered with blue and indigo glass over a thin layer of titanium to mirror a stormy, frozen ocean.
Or it looks like the face of a fox, the leg of an elephant, reptile eyes, or an enormous basalt heart.
Sometimes massive blocks rip off of a volcanic crater and flow along the surface of lava rivers like icebergs.
This kind of volcanic crater.
This crater gives me the willies, because I could feel the dormant power beneath the earth’s surface while standing over it.
Ranger Ted said people compare CRMO to Mordor, and I guess I can sort of see the comparison, but I think this is just that most people are unimaginative about black surfaces.
Also, lava selfies.
(No off limits lava was walked on in these selfies.)
2. Wildflowers (& Limber Pines)
The wildflowers of CRMO were truly beautiful.
This attractive white flower is called gland cinquefoil, which is an unfortunate-sounding name for a relative of the rose.
This bitterroot is super pretty but tinier than you’d think.
The plants are red with flowers on top like snowflakes.
This dwarf buckwheat turns a cherry color as the summer progresses.
Sometimes you see a bunch together in different pastel stages of redness.
Dwarf monkeyflower is a tiny, purplish flower that marches over the cinders like a great blanket.
I saw a triforce of blue flowers, which made me very happy, as I love all blue things in nature — but especially blue wildflowers. Below are varieties of larkspur, lupine, and penstemon.
This scarlet paintbrush was epicly like lava in that it was incandescently bright.
I wrote a poem about it surfing across the stormy blue lava.
Sometimes the flowers grew together in endless fields of bright pastels called cinder gardens.
This one is punctuated by some type of purple fleabane.
Limber pines are the most dominant tree in the park, and they are super flexible to deal with the epic amounts of wind.
Supposedly, you can knot the branches of saplings, because they are so flexible. (I did not attempt this.)
I liked the fact that the wind twisted them into strange otherworldly shapes, which made the park feel like some sort of land of the lost.
Sometimes, even their roots were twisted wildly.
The caves of CRMO are lava tubes, which is a fancy term for the cooled shell of what was once a lava river.
There are eyeless beetles that live in the caves, but I didn’t get to see any of them unfortunately.
I explored 4 caves — Dewdrop Cave, Indian Tunnel, Beauty Cave, and Buffalo Cave — and poked my head in another I found walking about on lava.
Dewdrop Cave is a tiny round depression (kinda like a bread bowl). Here is a pic of its entrance from inside.
The ceiling is covered in some cool looking lava stalactites that have a layer of white calcite that reflects light from a flashlight (pretty blacklight friendly, if that is your thing).
The lichen on the walls creates unrealistically bright colors.
The bottom image is of a lava feature called pahoehoe, which looks like coiled innards.
Here are a couple other pics of pahoehoe on a smaller rock if you’re curious.
Indian Tunnel is the best known of the lava tubes as it is massive and the ceiling has collapsed in places letting light in.
It is big and bright and interesting, but it didn’t compel me like the others. Below are a couple more pics of Ray and I exploring this cave.
Random Lava Tube
I was walking across some lava and found the entrance to a cool looking lava tube. I did not go in it, but I did snap a few pics of lava features right at the entrance.
This cave exhaled a cold air like some sort of breath and gave me the willies. I booked it out of there as soon as I took those photos.
This is another cave I explored with Ray (as well as on my own). This cave was my favorite.
Here are some cool lava features on the walls and ceiling.
The floor and walls were covered with ice, which glowed ghostly blue in the reflective light.
Strange honeycomb structures of ice grew in cracks on the walls.
And here are some pics of us exploring this cave.
I had intended to leave a handmade chapbook called The Garrulous Chorus of Birds in a crevice of Beauty Cave as a sort of offering to hysteria / darkness / the underworld, but I assumed leaving stuff in caves is against park rules. Also, I felt it would be unfair to a park ranger potentially having to find it and get it out later. So instead it sits in a drawer in my desk.
I guess I’ll have to find some other slit of the earth to stuff it in.
Buffalo Cave was the last cave I checked out. It was tied with Beauty Cave as my favorite because of its interesting lava features on the ceiling and walls.
There was a lot of crawling around on the hands and knees in this cave, which was exciting as I am claustrophobic.
Here are a couple pics of me exploring this cave.
If I don’t look especially scared in this cave it’s because I was actually enjoying myself. Sometimes we end up loving the stuff we’re afraid of.
At the end of my artist residency, I had to give a 45 minute talk (twice).
I read about 27 pages of poems and had some photos up to illustrate them.
Here are a couple of pics of the talk. The lighting was mostly dim, so they are a bit blurry.
I’m hoping to eventually incorporate them into a book of poetry about the Pacific Northwest (Cascadia bioregion).