Summer Report: Craters of the Moon

We drove through dry farms and towns of decay and certain abandon an hour north until we could see the lava rock--crumbly and firm like the top of a peach cobbler--covering the earth.

Welcome to Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve the sign said. When our car came to a stop outside the visitors center, we popped out like the contents of a Pillsbury dough container--me, the baby, Anson, Ever and Chup. Inside we were met by a series of interactive displays teaching us how this particular region came to be covered with thick black rock resembling the bumpy surface of the moon.

Idaho is mountain country, but thousands of years ago a series of volcanoes created the Snake River Plain an area of flat terrain covering one-third of the state in lava (the plain creates a smile across the lower part of the state.) These volcanoes left behind a durable trail of lava formations, caves and cones each with specific titles and identification. I walked slowly through the multi media offerings until my mind was stuffed with information. I felt dizzy, overloaded with an information binge.

This has happened to me since I was a little girl, my eagerness to know far surpasses my ability to understand.

My children didn't last long inside the visitors center. After pushing every button available to them in a circular frenzy we decided to make good on some of the hikes we promised them. But just before we left I found a small plaque in the corner of a photography display attributed to the Shoshone People, a Native American tribe who first set out to explain the creation of Craters of the Moon:

Long ago, a huge serpent left its bed where the Snake River is now, and coiled itself around a large mountain to sun itself. After several days, thunder and lightning passed over and aroused the serpent's wrath. Angered it began to tighten it's coils around the mountain. Soon the rocks began to crumble. The pressure became so great that the stones began to melt. Fire came from the cracks and liquid rock flowed down the mountain. At last, the fire burned itself out; the rocks cooled off; the liquid rock became solid again.
Sometimes when I write I want to be a scientist, trying to piece together hypotheses with exact conclusions using deductions and evidence to support my words. But most of the time when I write I am a Shoshone, telling stories as they felt, using the narratives passed on to me to tell new ones, letting the most simplistic explanations start with a mother earth and a father sky, a yin and a yang, a serpant...and a woman.

I took out my camera, clicked a photo of the plaque and reminded myself, all stories are valuable.

Then we hiked.
We came to a place of wild vegetation, a short walk through a spot fittingly called Devil's Orchard. Here was proof the earth is built to persevere, although covered in heat and fire, rocks of black and mounds of airy sediment the grass grew, the trees reached, vegetation returned.

It reminded me of The High Line a breezy park built on an elevated freight rail line in Manhattan’s West Side. After the last train rolled down the tracks, carrying three carloads of frozen turkeys, the High Line was abandoned, left to wild ways of urban weeds. The growth of eager vegetation where once there was none gave locals and idea to turn the tracks into an elevated public park with gardens and water features and beautiful views of Mid-town, a place to honor the stamina of nature over industry. Only weeks before our trip to the Craters of the Moon, Chup and I had pushed a pink-cheeked sleeping Squishy through The High Line on our way back to the hotel.

Growth creates stories, all stories are valuable.

In the middle of the Devil's Orchard we came upon a plaque describing a time in the park history when rangers thought to rid the landscape of the knotted, spotted, dead trees--wooden structures that showed in their shapes the blow of the wind and the harshness of the climate. These trees were not considered beautiful until rangers started to see the trees like sculptures of organic art. To me, these trees twisting and shouting, surviving and reaching were telling a story, different from the lava, different from the grass, but colored and captivating too.

Stories are plagued with disease, withered in experience, misunderstood and they are all valuable.

We hiked in the heat, we let the tepid water from our canteens slither down our throats, soaked our faces with the excess hydration, tried to understand the history of the land either from the perspective of explosion or sunning snake. I thought about mother earth, how she is bumpy in some places, smooth in the next, dark and brown, sandy and light, fired and cooled, expansive and enduring. Her body tells many stories.

All bodies tell stories, mine is valuable.

And that's our tale of Craters of the Moon on a Sunday afternoon in the Snake River Plain in Idaho.

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