There is a very large section of this country that is covered with evidence of many different volcanic eruptions, including lava tubes, caves, and miles of volcanic rocks. Luckily many of these areas are also federally protected lands. It is important to keep these areas protected as they help geologists to reveal so much about the history of the Earth as well as it’s formation and how it has changed over time. Some of these areas include Northern California, Southern Oregon, Eastern Oregon, Central Idaho, and into South West Montana, and North West Wyoming. We unintentionally happened upon this trail without really knowing that it even existed.
Our first national park visit was to Crater Lake. This huge lake was created by a volcanic explosion that left it inactive. It was amazing to see how big and clear it is, and it is also the deepest lake in the United States. The island that is clearly visible on the western side of the lake still looks like a small volcano rising up from the depths. There is only one place around the entire lake that you can hike down to the water because the sides are so steep. We would have liked to take this hike, but did not want to have to carry a four year old all the way back up to the top, so we had to forgo this particular hike. Fortunately, there are many other hikes within the park that are more kid friendly that we enjoyed. The kids really enjoyed the Castle Crest Trail which took us through a meadow and over a stream where we walked along rocks through the water. This was the first stop on the volcanic tour we still did realize we were embarking on.
After leaving Crater Lake we headed toward Boise and made a stop for lunch just outside Bend Oregon. The brown road sign read Lava Cave. I thought it sounded interesting, especially after having been at Crater Lake, so we pulled off to the visitor center. We ate our lunch and then went to check it out. Apparently they have the longest lava tube in Oregon there (unfortunately we did not have time to take the tour). There was also a great hiking trail behind the visitor center that wound through what seemed like miles of lava rocks and up a large hill. It was really amazing and I hope we make it back to explore even more, especially since we left the camera in the car and didn’t get a single picture there.
From Boise we headed east where we stayed in a small town called Hagerman. While there we took a day trip to Craters of the Moon National Monument. This is another huge area covered by lava rocks, and caves from around a million years ago. A park ranger told us that on the other side of the park astronauts were training for future Mars expeditions. We got to go into one of the lava caves which the kids were thrilled by, and to climb a mountain of lava rocks that they believe were blown there from hundreds of miles away. On top of this mountain grows a single pine tree, nature is so incredible! This place was so big we wished we could stay longer, but the kids earned their Junior Ranger badges and got a really cool astronaut patch.
The last stop on our volcanic tour was the one that is still active……..Yellowstone National Park. This year is the 100th birthday of Yellowstone as it was the first national park. I thought it was pretty cool we got to be a small part of it. It is also the most visited of all the national parks, but after being there I get it. Of course we had to see Old Faithful, and it was very faithful. It erupts about every hour give or take ten minutes. Our youngest was getting pretty impatient while we sat and waited, and waited, and waited, but once it really started to go off he was enthralled, as were we all. We were also fortunate enough to see another geyser called Castle Geyser erupt. It was even more awesome because it only goes off about every 14-16 hours, but it goes off for about 15-20 minutes when it does. The geysers and hot pools were really something you should see first hand because like so many things pictures are just not the same as being there. I never thought I would be so impressed by water shooting up out of the ground, but it truly is Earth showing off. Yellowstone also has it’s own Grand Canyon, which the Yellowstone River flows through, we took a hike down, and were so glad we did. The view down the canyon was beautiful and the waterfalls amazing! It was difficult to decide where to go inside the park because there are just so many things to see and do at this beautiful place. Honestly, we could have spent weeks here and still never seen it all, but the kids still earned their Junior Ranger badges and had a great experience.
So while I know there are many other volcanic sites around this was our unplanned tour of just a few of them. It was really cool, and I am so glad we stumbled along this path. We all learned so many things and saw some pretty amazing feats of nature. I am grateful to all the people who made the national parks possible, and to those who keep them going because they really are some amazing and beautiful places.