The trailhead for the 2.0 mile return (3.2 KM) Tree Molds Trail is at the same location as the trailhead for the Broken Top Loop Trail. The Tree Molds Trail is relatively flat, heads southwest, and passes to the west of 1,986 m (6,515 ft) Big Cinder Butte.
The excellent trail passes through rugged volcanic territory, with a number of interesting features, until we arrive at a sign. Just as well, because our search for tree molds is frustrating. There are some holes that might be the location of ancient trees.
We are looking for impressions of trees in the hardened lava. If they are there, we are not confident we found them, but about 20 yards (18.3 m) away there are two more posts sticking out of the lava so we hike over to that location. Eureka! We find tree molds. They are distinct, but far from obvious. The tree molds are semicircular troughs in the lava with wrinkled impressions. They could be tire tread marks but since they are 2,000+ years old, we are assuming seared bark from hot lava forming around trees. I am going to insert the photographs now but I am not certain you are going to find them. Trust me! If you look closely, the tree impressions are there.
That was pretty exciting, wasn’t it? The truth is, we found the tree molds somewhat anticlimactic but the hike is short and certainly worthy of consideration. The trail is very good and travels through some beautiful 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. We enjoyed the hike and there was a sense of discovery, so the hike is definitely worth doing. We hike the same way back and leave Craters of the Moon National Monument with a sense of achievement and a wealth of new knowledge.
In the half day available to us, Mel and I have tried to cover as much of the Craters of the Moon National Monument as reasonably possible. We focussed on short trails in many different locations. It is an intensely interesting place where we enjoyed beautiful sights and learned a lot about lava formations in Idaho’s Great Rift. Fascinating!
From Craters of the Moon National Monument, we drive southwest on Hwy 93, through the town of Shoshone, past I-84, over the impressive Snake River Canyon and into Twin Falls, Idaho where we will stay overnight. Twin Falls is surrounded by a half million acres of prime, highly productive agricultural land. The city has also developed on the edge of the Snake River Canyon formed about 15,000 years earlier by the Great Bonneville Flood. We are 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 if the Spring, I am told Shoshone Falls is worth a look. We enjoy a hearty, reasonably priced meal at the nearby Perkins Restaurant after a rewarding day of exercise and discovery at Craters of the Moon National Monument.