Tree Molds Trail - Craters of the Moon - Hiking Idaho

 

Molten lava captures trees in volcanic flow and centuries later their impressions remain.

 

 

The trail-head for the 2.0 mile return (3.2 KM) Tree Molds Trail is at the same location as the trail-head for the Broken Top Loop TrailThe Tree Molds Trail is relatively flat, heads southwest, and passes to the west of 1,986 m (6,515 ft) Big Cinder Butte.

 

Tree Molds Trail - Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho, USA

 

Excellent trail passes through rugged volcanic territory, with a number of interesting features, until arrival at a sign.  Just as well, because the search for tree molds is frustrating.  There are some holes that might be the location of ancient trees.

 

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Looking for impressions of trees in the hardened lava is less than intuitively obvious.  If they are there, there is no confidence they have been found but scanning the area reveals two more posts sticking out of the lava about 20 yards (18.3 m) away so the hike proceeds over to that location. 

Eureka!  The tree molds are somewhat distinct, but far from obvious semicircular troughs in the lava with wrinkled impressions that could be interpreted as tire tread marks but since they are 2,000+ years old, the assumption is seared bark from hot lava forming around trees.  The photographs of the tree molds follow but you may not find them.  Trust me!  If you look closely, the tree impressions are there.

 

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That was pretty exciting, wasn't it?  The truth is, the tree molds are somewhat anticlimactic but the hike is short and certainly worthy of consideration.  The trail is very good and travels through some unique and beautiful volcanic features.  Over flat lava fields, visibility is long to mountain ranges beyond.  There are different colors of cinder and desert plants are brilliant in contrast to the black lava.  The hike provides a sense of discovery and is definitely worth doing.  The return hike is via the same route taken in and departure from Craters of the Moon National Monument occurs with a sense of achievement, a wealth of new knowledge and indelible memories of a fascinating experience over unique terrain.  Highly recommended.  Much of the fascination is in the detail.

 

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In the half day available, as much of the Craters of the Moon National Monument as reasonably possible was explored.  The focus on short trails in many different locations is a sample of the wonders to explore at this intensely interesting location where bizarre and beautiful attractions provide the opportunity to learn about lava formations in Idaho's Great RiftFascinating! 

From Craters of the Moon National Monument, the drive southwest on Hwy 93, passes through the town of Shoshone, past I-84, over the impressive Snake River Canyon and into Twin Falls, Idaho for overnight accommodation. 

Twin Falls is surrounded by a half million acres of prime, highly productive agricultural land and the city has also developed along the edge of the Snake River Canyon formed about 15,000 years earlier by the Great Bonneville Flood.  This day is too late in the season to visit but, about 5 miles (8 KM) northeast, the Snake River plunges over 200 ft. at Shoshone Falls, otherwise known as the 'Niagara of the West'.  If you happen to be near Twin Falls in the Spring, the word is Shoshone Falls deserves a look.  This day ends with reasonably priced food at the nearby Perkins Restaurant following a rewarding day of exercise and discovery at Craters of the Moon National Monument

 

 

 

 

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Comments

To be honest, I do not know but I have never been accused of being short of an opinion. It happens I was in Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument on the day it opened in the Spring of 1981. I believe the differences may be attributed to terrain and event. Mount St. Helens is in lush rain forest country in Washington State, fairly close to the Pacific Coast. It was a sideways explosive event, including glacier melting causing flooding and distribution of land. When I was there the majority of the land was covered in several inches of tuff which might become a growth medium more easily. Craters of the Moon is in desert-like terrain. The Idaho Rift is a weak spot in the earth where molten rock can escape and flow. Before anything can grow, the rock must be broken down, first by lichen, then by progressively larger plants. It can take thousands of years for adequate soil to accumulate in an area where rain is less frequent. That is my theory. Someone more knowlgeable than I may be able to shed further light on the subject. I do know the eco zones are substantially different. Thanks for your comment, Bill.

I can see the tree molds clearly. Very interesting. I was wondering why the Craters of the Moon area has not replenished itself over the years. Before and after pictures of Mount St. Helens, over the thirty plus since the eruption, has regrown into a new forest. Do you know why this has not happened here?

It was a bit frustrating. While I am travelling, I do not approach a computer for any reason. I try to focus on the hiking experience as completely as possible. At the end of each day I summarize with a few handwritten, cryptic notes. Force of habit. If it works, leave it alone. Between my notes, copious photos and supporting documentation, I prepare a post for my blog. At the first location there were three large, very circular holes about 2 feet deep. On return I discovered by photos on Flickr these were molds of tree trunks surrounded by lava. The molds are very subtle and probably very plentiful if one were to take the time to explore. If a person chose to ignore looking for the molds, the hike in and out is worth the time and effort. The terrain is spectacular. Good to hear from you Laurel. Soon I will visit Hell Valley Gorge through your eyes.

Craters of the Moon is a catchy name intended to attract attention and to describe territory similar to some of what may be found on the moon. In 1901 US Federal geologists explored here. In 1920 an Idaho taxidermist and amateur explorer, Robert Limbert, hiked the entire length of the Great Rift and his initiative heightened national attention. US geologist, Harold Stearns, became an advocate for preservation of the area in 1923. In 1924 the area was declared a National Monument. In 1969, as preparation for their moon mission, NASA's Apollo astronauts, Alan Shepard, Eugene Cernan and Joe Engle learned about volcanic geology. The area was designated as wilderness by Congress in 1970. A visit by President Clinton in 2003 became a precurser to funds being made availble for further development. It is a very interesting place. There are a broad variety of easy, short trails. It is an ideal place for children to learn and discover. Thank you for your comment Sophie. I am looking forward to reading your post on Murder and Mayhem in London.

Looks like a desolate, yet very interesting place. Why is it called the Craters of the Moon? Does it resemble the moon's landscape, perhaps?

The tree molds do look hard to find, but I like the idea of hiking somewhere that resembles the moon.

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