Tuesday, March 27, 2018

GUEST POST: Craters of the Moon by Maria

As you guys should know by now, the hubby and I LOVE adventuring (I mean, the reason I am sharing guest posts right now is because we are out on a three week long road trip up and down the West Coast). Well, when Maria volunteered to share about one of her recent adventures to a National Park I HAD to take her up on it! I had never heard of Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve, but after reading about her trip (which is full of crazy rock formation, volcanic lava flows, trail running, and cave exploring) it's definitely being added to our ever-growing list of places we MUST visit!

Hi, readers! While Carlee is away on her road trip I’m stopping by with a little tour of one of my favorite trail runs. As part of a trip to Idaho for last summer’s total solar eclipse, my boyfriend and I took a day trip to Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve — we couldn’t pass up the chance to visit a new national park and run across terrain unlike anything we’ve got back home in New York City! If you want to follow along on Strava, you can check out my run here.

Starting to look a bit extraterrestrial here...

Craters of the Moon is the accessible part of a truly enormous lava flow: it’s a series of outlooks, points of interest, and hiking trails that are also linked by paved road so you can drive between them. Last summer I was leaping into marathon training and didn’t think the distance would be a problem, but coming off a few days of hiking and running, and not factoring in the elevation gain here made us pretty grateful to have the option! Here’s the map from the Parks Service, with each of the volcanoes, rock formations, and points of interest helpfully marked. We parked right by the Visitors Center and set off for the North Crater Flow Trail from there. Even the first overlook (a short paved path with our backs to the road and parking lot!) was incredible, and the trail quickly headed out into the volcanic rock and got a lot more challenging. I’m not sure I’d climbed and descended elevation like this more than once before this trip!

Hm, maybe we’re actually on Mars?

The black and red rocks actually reminded us a lot of Iceland, a strange sort of déjà vu to have in the American West. There were a few overlooks to stop at on the side of the highway but we drove straight to the park so we could get out and running as early as possible — that made our first views on foot even more breathtaking. There was a chance of rain the day we visited (glad it hadn’t ruined our view of the eclipse itself!) but the area is usually pretty dry.

These are some sturdy trees! The trail was always easy to find, but that didn’t mean it was easy to run.

North Crater Flow is exactly what it sounds like. We hit some ups and downs past admiring hikers - some pretty surprised to see us running with hydration packs instead of taking the trails more slowly! - and then a sharp descent into the crater itself. Check out the stairs! The trail never felt unsafe but I was glad to have something besides lava gravel to run on.

This is only a few steps down, with plenty more to go...

...like this one!

The bottom of the crater was a place to stop and catch our breath: the craggy lava formations meant we had to slow down so we wouldn’t twist an ankle. The view was also worth stopping to take in. The crater is so old that part of one side has flattened out and we could see distant mountains as well as the steep sides from the bottom.

I felt like a tiny little bug down here, and didn’t even know what we were going to run across next!

We ran (with power hiking mixed in, as often happens with trail running) up the other side of the crater. When we first started trail running, we were a little reluctant to walk or hike the steeper bits, but we’ve learned that it’s necessary and even smart, so that we have the stamina to keep going for longer adventures. A little hiking doesn’t take away from the fun of running across mountains, and, if anything, those breaks give us the chance to see and run even more areas! As we headed down to the next crater we ran into the first person we’d seen running the other way - another trail runner!

“More runners!” she greeted us. The rain and wind were starting to pick up at this point but her enthusiasm was contagious and we smiled and greeted her back. “The best way to see the trail!” She confirmed before continuing past us. Runners are an inclusive and enthusiastic bunch to begin with, but trail runners have been especially great to cross paths with. Perhaps it has something to do with seeing relatively few people out on the trails (as opposed to the crowded city roads I’m used to!), so we feel more genuine about greeting others. I’d never get anywhere if I stopped to say hi to everyone I see on the roads at home, but since the Moon is a little emptier a quick greeting is worth it!

I’d never be able to climb out if I fell down here!

We continued on to the rest of the “Big Craters”, as they’re helpfully labeled on the map. They feel utterly prehistoric and breathtaking - and as the wind whips around up on the top ridgeline it’s easy to imagine you’re the first one to ever see this wild landscape. Even though the craters were daunting and the photos barely do them justice, their size also meant they were so huge that the trail along the top edge was comfortably wide.

This red landscape just demands to be called “Mars”. I’ll admit the black lava flows feel more like the Moon.

The views and adrenaline from the ridges and downhills more than justified every struggle uphill. These elevation changes are no joke - and as the nasty weather rolled in I started to question if I was dressed appropriately. Fortunately the storm left fairly quickly, and our day went on mostly as planned, but don't make the mistake we did of assuming conditions will always stay the same! A better jacket or hat would have gone a long way, and since we’d brought a little pack along it would have been easy to take with us just in case. Rookie move!

The last of the Big Craters, boyfriend for scale.

I’m a big fan of solo travel, but there’s something to be said for having a travel buddy and some moral support on tough days! Even getting through the nasty weather we encountered was better with company; traveling as a pair definitely improved my Craters of the Moon experience, and while I’ll always love running solo, finding a running buddy or group can make the miles fly by. Plus, they can also take photos of you scaling volcanoes.

I have literally never felt more badass than this.

After the North Crater Flow trail, we climbed up some “splatter cones” and learned a little about geology — in addition to being runners, we’re both rock nerds! The Craters of the Moon signage is thorough and helpful, and whether you’re running or hiking there’s plenty to see and learn even if you have a basic understanding or interest already.

Then we changed our plan a bit: instead of continuing on foot to the next section, we acknowledged that we’d misjudged the weather and ran back along the more direct vehicle road to pick up our car. That way, we could grab some dry clothes and not be even further from our car and shelter if the weather got worse. The run on flat pavement felt so easy after the steep climbs and shifting volcanic rock! We drove back to the next trail we wanted to run, to the “tree molds”.

The trail to the tree molds was more of a rolling hill than crater climb, which made for a nice change!
Just a few miles down the road the terrain was already really different.

The Tree Molds Trail is a quick jaunt down to the molds - which aren’t a fungus! They’re molds, or casts, made from trees that were destroyed by the lava flows when they were first active. As trees were engulfed in the lava, then incinerated, they left behind an imprint of their bark in the cooled lava. The trail ends on the plain where the molds are found, and you can just walk around (or climb the bigger formations!) looking for them and other cool lava sightings. As you can imagine we spent quite a while frolicking out here.

This is from a tree that was lying down and left an imprint of its bark in the lava — not an alligator!

But some trees left a mold of where they had been growing upright.
No running near the molds, too easy to fall down into one!

Stuck, for just a moment.

After running back from the molds, we had a snack and continued on to our last stop. We decided to finish off with the cave trails before heading back to Boise: we didn’t want to be out too late with the return drive ahead of us. There are several small caves in another part of the park that we were able to visit. I’m not much of a caver, but after some little kids got up the courage to go into one, I gritted my teeth and did too!

This sign is a little intense for your average run, yet here we are. Proceed with caution indeed!

I’m glad we left these trails for last because they made a great cool down (and not just because the caves were pretty chilly!). They were quite popular with tourists and the trail was actually a paved path across a treacherous lava field. The tree mold area was safe to explore on foot, but the cave area asked pedestrians to stay to the marked path, so it got a little crowded. Worth it for views like this and a nice way to slowly wind down our trip.

What storm? The blue skies rolled in faster than the morning’s rain!

We were going to close out our visit to the Craters of the Moon with a stop at the visitors center to stamp our “National Park Passports”, which is one of the dorkier and surprisingly fun ways to track travel around the US. Every national park has a few unique rubber stamps and a page in a “passport” book to fill in. It’s the “gotta catch ‘em all” but for hikers, runners, or anyone with an interest in seeing the National Parks around the country! Monuments and Preserves, like Craters of the Moon, also count, of course. But we had one last pit stop to make on our way out...

Now that my legs were rested from our walk around the caves, I insisted we stop at the roadside speedometer meant to keep visitors to the park from speeding. Since there was relatively little traffic, and a clear view for anyone who might come by, I set my mind to using the speedometer myself! I did a few practice runs to find out where the radar would pick me up, and got down to business. The trick seemed to be starting far enough back that the speedometer would notice me - which makes sense, since in order to flash a speed at a driver it would have to clock them pretty far away. Boyfriend and I alternated playing photographer/traffic lookout, and with my trusty GPS watch to confirm my paces (and Strava to brag!), we capped off our day of trail running with a little speed workout.

Almost speeding!

And with that shiny new “PR”, we headed back to Boise. I hope you enjoyed this mini travel guide! You can keep up with me on Strava, Instagram, or Twitter, and also check out my young blog - Miles and Words! You’ll find plenty of travel talk and running recaps, including more from this trip to Idaho. Coming soon: a half marathon in a small town outside of Bordeaux, France, sandwiched in the middle of a trip to London and tour of Spain’s Basque Country!

Um... like I said at the beginning of the post, this is somewhere that we have got to see at some point! I've never been to Idaho before (and never really had it on my list of places I wanted to visit), but after Maria's recap I'm very interested and intrigued! Can you believe this sort of place exists in "potato country"?! It literally looks like you're on another planet!

Where is your favorite National Park?


Unknown said...

My husband and I stopped there as we were traveling back home to Washington after visiting Yellowstone. We LOVED it! We did a few short run/hikes, and then spent a lot of time in the caves. We would love to go back and explore more! It's a crazy cool area. It was so fun to read about your adventures there Maria!!!

Amazed at NEXTFLY Phoenix Website Design said...

Craters of the Moon is a huge national park. It is over 1,100 square miles which is roughly the size of Rhode Island. The young lava flows that make up the bulk of the Monument and Preserve can clearly be seen from space.