The beginning of a hiking mission to Yosemite National Park. First a tour of Craters of the Moon.
My hiking partner leaves Edmonton, Alberta at 3:00 AM to pick me up in Calgary at 6:30 AM. Following a quick gear transfer, the familiar drive south begins through Alberta, past foothills of rolling grassland to swift passage through the Canada - USA border at Coutts.
The early morning sun paints Montana grain fields orange and a light breeze animates the surface with slow, rippling waves until formidable buttes appear as a precursor to the incredible ride into the Big Belt Mountains.
Past the Teton River, Great Falls, Montana leads to the roller coaster ride into the capital city of Helena via impressive Wolf Creek canyons. Old mining days are visually represented roadside by crumbling structures at Basin.
The objective on this long driving day is either Butte, Montana or Idaho Falls. We are on the way to hike incredible trail in Yosemite National Park, California.
The compromise is Dillon, Montana for the overnight stay at the Guesthouse Inn which offers an indoor hot tub, a pool and a free 6:00 AM hot breakfast.
Following a light supper and an interesting walkabout through Dillon, the setting sun is rendered crimson by nearby forest fires.
A great breakfast, including self-made waffles, precedes the drive south on I-15 over the Continental Divide at 6,879 ft (2,094 m) Monida Pass where Montana joins Idaho.
On this day, the long drive to California includes a foray into Idaho's fascinating Craters of the Moon National Monument.
From I-15 the turn west at Dubois begins the beautiful high-desert drive south on Hwy 22 past Arco, Idaho into the spectacular and unique lava fields of the Craters of the Moon National Monument.
Past Arco, Idaho there is a regret about missing a picture of an old, derelict building but the oversight will be fixed later by another adventuresome colleague.
The day's schedule is aggressive. There is no extra time to capture multiple photo opportunities but that old building at Arco remains indelibly engraved in my mind.
Almost a year, later, a colleague from Calgary happens to be touring Craters of the Moon, Grand Tetons National Park and Yellowstone National Park. She kindly takes the time to capture the images near Arco on my behalf. The early morning light is identical to my recollection.
A viewpoint near the entrance illustrates the enormity of the 750,000 acre volcanic field.
After checking into the Visitor Center, and picking up the mandatory caving permit, hiking begins on short, easy trails off the 7 mile (11¼ KM) one-way loop road.
The first hike is the ¹⁄₃ mile (0.5 KM) North Crater Flow Trail. Elevation differential is negligible. Paths are easily navigable.
The loop offers interesting and informative interpretive information to identify the nature of different types of lava flow. This new lava eruption occurred within the Great Rift about 2,000 years ago.
Over thousands of years, the rugged new lava is changed into smooth land covered by vegetation.
A vacant space underneath the hard surface may lead to a collapse as shown above.
The Visitor Center and North Crater Flow Trail are good places to begin a tour of Craters of the Moon National Monument because interpretive exhibits explain the fundamentals of terrain and vegetation.
For the next few hours, the initial component of this spectacular hiking adventure will provide a broad range of new experiences and the opportunity to learn more about the fascinating nature of new volcanic terrain.
This may be less interesting if you happen to live in the Hawaiian Islands or Iceland.