Craters of the Moon is home to lava beds, caves and unforgettable skies.
Craters of the Moon was born out of a volcanic eruption 2,000 years ago. What’s left is an otherworldly land covered in basalt lava with little vegetation. In 1924, explorer Robert Limbert wrote an article for National Geographic about the unique land, and named it Craters of the Moon, as it was thought to resemble the surface of the moon. Thanks to Limbert, it was established as a national monument that same year.
Leading up to the moon landing in 1969, NASA trained at Craters of the Moon. Since astronauts traveled to the moon instead of geologists, they needed to learn how to retrieve specimens from unfamiliar terrain, and Craters of the Moon was the best place.
“Now that we know more about the moon and about other planets in our solar system, we now know that craters of the moon is a lot more mars like than it is moon like,” said Greg Reed, the lead interpretive ranger at Craters of the Moon.
Today, NASA researchers still come to Craters of the Moon, but now for Mars missions instead of the moon.
“So everything from testing a remote rover in a lava tube, which has taken place here, to coming up with ways to analyze chemicals in some of the mineral deposits in lava tubes that may eventually point towards the presence of past or present life in the solar system,” Reed said.
Craters of the Moon has four caves to explore: Indian Tunnel, Dewdrop Cave, Boy Scout Cave and Beauty Cave.
Be sure to pick up a cave permit from the visitor’s center before you go.
Craters of the Moon is an International Dark Sky park, so the lack of light pollution means breath-taking night skies.
The park takes advantage of this distinction by hosting star parties twice per summer season. Local astronomers gather with telescopes to let visitors have a close up view of the stars. They’ll see constellations, globular clusters and even the Milky Way.
“The stars were just so beautiful there. I just, I haven’t been to a place where it’s just so clear and you can see so many constellations, so that was really cool,” said visitor Katherine Jordan. “Like I have been places where there's not very much light pollution but I feel like that was just a good spot to see so many different constellations and just everywhere you look there’s something very clear to see.”
In addition to the occasional star party, Craters of the Moon hosts ranger led hikes during the day and evening programs every weekend throughout the summer season.