Craters of the Moon - Unique Places in North America

The Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is unique for its lava fields.

Craters of the Moon is a United States national preserve and monument in the Snake River plain, Idaho. The park was founded on May 2, 1924, and a presidential proclamation by President Bill Clinton in November 2000 helped expand the region occupied by the monument. In August 2002 the extended part of the national park service was assigned to the Craters of the Moon.

What Is The Craters of the Moon Park?

The park encompasses three main lava fields plus over 400 square miles of the Sage-Brush grassland to occupy approximately 1,117 square miles. The monument holds over 53,571 acres. The 3 lava fields are on the Idaho’s Great-Rift with some of the top open rift-cracks on earth including the deepest crack on earth which is about 800 feet deep. The lava field spreads over 618 square miles of land thus making it the largest holocene-aged basaltic field of lava in the United States. It has over 25 volcanic cones which include some unique spatter cones. The monument has all the different varieties of basaltic lava and lava tubes among other features.

Habitat of the Park

The monument features many harsh, barren flows which give us the impression that this landscape is lifeless. Although the population of animals is quite low, there are numerous hospitable habitats here which can support life. Some of the typical habitats here include:

1) Cinder regions

Approximately 2% of the monument is covered with a cinder garden. As the soil develops in the coals, the shrub community becomes dominated by the antelope bitterbrush.

2) Lava flows

The availability of vegetation on this habitat depends purely on the presence of soil. The only soil on the young basalt rocks are the ones blown into the fractures and cracks. As they develop within the cracks vegetation will start growing. Deeper cracks protect the plants from the harsh environmental stress caused by dry winds.

3) The Riparian

The northern part of the monument has three vegetative covers which include the riparian, upland-quaking aspen, and the mountain snowberry. The vegetation covers about 0.3% of the entire landscape thus providing crucial wildlife habitat. The quaking aspen is on the upland sites while the mountain snowberries are found on the north-facing slopes of the cinder cones along the cotton-wood canyon.

4) Kipukas

These are vegetation islands which developed on the older lava-flows, and newer lava flows surround them. Although some kipukas might have been destroyed by fire or overgrazing, others are protected by the rough-lava. Some of the dominant vegetations which grow here include needlegrass, blue-bunch wheatgrass, and big sagebrush.

The older cinder fields and flows support different varieties of plant communities which range from sagebrush steppe to wildflower gardens. The different lava deposits provide diverse environments of underground caves, cinder flats, jagged piles, deep cracks and bare rocks which support various wildlife species.

Uniqueness of Craters of the Moon

The unique solidified flows of lava which forms the parks lava fields range from 15,000 years to 2,000 years. Both the Wapi and Kings-bowl lava fields are approximately 2,200 years old. The monument has some unique lava tube caves like the Indian Tunnel, Big Cinder Butte which is one of the biggest pure basaltic cinder-cones on earth, and the Blue Dragon Flow. The monument has hundreds of smaller Kapukas scattered all over.

Tourism to the Park

The monument is one of the most toured regions in Idaho with numerous natural features for everyone to enjoy. The visitor’s center has multiple publications and displays about the history of the monument and a short film on the geology of the region. Some of the natural features visitors can enjoy here include the devils orchard, tree molds, and craters and spatter cones and finally visit the cave region. The caves are about half a mile from the parking space, and they include beauty, dewdrop and boy-scout caves among others.

Threats to the Park

The monument’s volcanic field is a polygenetic group of flows of lava which means that it erupted numerous times. Although it has not erupted in over 2,000 years, the crater is still active. If it explodes again, the craters will display different varieties of eruption styles ranging from quiet outpour to high lava fountain which will destroy the nearby farms which can result in significant loss of properties. Three national highways which pass through the monuments can be affected in case of an eruption. If it occurs on the northern side of the Great Rift, the population and infrastructure of the national monuments are at risk; therefore, evacuation at the earliest sign of volcanic activities is crucial.


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