Craters of the Moon National Monument AiR: Wildflowers and Geological Features

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. This post contains a bunch of pictures I took of the wildflowers and geological features I saw — like lava tubes and cinder gardens — while I was writing about the park.

p windswept vessicles

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.

Spatter Cones

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.

They look like they belong in the time of the dinosaurs.

s aaaa spatter cones b and w 22222222 betterspatter cones black and white

p inferno cone and cinder cones

Tell me you do not see a t-rex running around these.

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.

Cinder Cones

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.

ppp cinders again

Give me all your lucky charms.

Here are some sweet cinder cones.

p cinder cones with vultures

There are vultures.

Here is a sweet cinder cone at night.

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Here are some pics of the glittery, opalescent cinders.

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They are beautiful. I wrote them three poems. They are like the Beatrice of volcanic features.

Lava Flows

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.

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Or it is covered with blue and indigo glass over a thin layer of titanium to mirror a stormy, frozen ocean.

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Or it looks like the face of a fox, the leg of an elephant, reptile eyes, or an enormous basalt heart.

l fox lava facel elephant leg or trunk formationl lava like skin and eyesl BASALT HEART 2

Sometimes massive blocks rip off of a volcanic crater and flow along the surface of lava rivers like icebergs.

l stalled chalky blocks.jpg

Stalled chalky blocks.

This kind of volcanic crater.

p violent crater.jpg

Not the sarlacc.

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.

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.

w gland cinquefoil 2.jpg

(Other unattractively named flowers in the park included scabland penstemon and Suksdorf’s monkeyflower.)

This bitterroot is super pretty but tinier than you’d think.

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The plants are red with flowers on top like snowflakes.

This dwarf buckwheat turns a cherry color as the summer progresses.

wwwwww Wildflower 3 Buckwheat.jpg

Sometimes you see a bunch together in different pastel stages of redness.

wwwwwww buckwheat many in a row

Dwarf monkeyflower is a tiny, purplish flower that marches over the cinders like a great blanket.

www Single Monkey Flower

www Monkey Flower 2

Very militaristic.

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.

wwww larkspur for post i guesswwww larkspur okay i guesswwww beautiful penstemon 222

This scarlet paintbrush was epicly like lava in that it was incandescently bright.

wwwww GGGGG Paintbrush 22222.jpg

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.

wwwwww cinder gardens yay.jpg

This one is punctuated by some type of purple fleabane.

Limber Pines

Limber pines are the most dominant tree in the park, and they are super flexible to deal with the epic amounts of wind.

wwwwwww circley linber pine.jpg

Super twisty.

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.

wwwwwww land of the lost black and whitewwwwwww land of the lost dinosuarswwwwwww D NIGHT AND MOON 2

Sometimes, even their roots were twisted wildly.

wwwwwww tree roots like angry squid strangling a woman.jpg

This one looks like an angry squid creature.

3. Caves

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 wrote about 4 caves — Dewdrop Cave, Indian Tunnel, Beauty Cave, and Buffalo Cave.

Dewdrop Cave

Dewdrop Cave is a tiny round depression (kinda like a bread bowl). Here is a pic of its entrance from inside.

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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).

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The lichen on the walls creates unrealistically bright colors.

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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

Indian Tunnel is the best known of the lava tubes as it is massive and the ceiling has collapsed in places letting light in.

c b HHHHH indian tunnel

It is big and bright and interesting, but it didn’t compel me like the others.

Beauty Cave

This is another cave I spent some time writing in.

Here are some cool lava features on the walls and ceiling.

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The floor and walls were covered with ice, which glowed ghostly blue in the reflective light.

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Strange honeycomb structures of ice grew in cracks on the walls.

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This cave was my favorite.

Buffalo Cave

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.

c e buffalo caves better maybec e buffalo caves ooeyc e ooer stuff

There was a lot of crawling around on the hands and knees in this cave, which was exciting as I am claustrophobic.

Craters of the Moon is a really awesome place (either to write about or to visit), and if you have not gone there yet, you should definitely check it out.

If you want to hear me read some of the poems I wrote about the park, you can check out this short video.

One thought on “Craters of the Moon National Monument AiR: Wildflowers and Geological Features

  1. Pingback: Lava River Cave (Newberry National Volcanic Monument) | Lacrimosa Speaking

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