Thursday, July 17, 2014

Of Parking Lots and Dead Beaver Baths

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July 8

Our day must begin well before the sun rises if we are to enjoy Craters of the Moon National Monument.  Yesterday we nearly cooked while walking around in the desiccating heat, so we wake at 5 am and begin our hike just as the sun brushes the tops of the sharp landscape.

Beginning at what looks like a derelict parking lot, we make our way down the paved path.  

At the beginnings of all of the paths there are signs describing the slope and width of the path, presumably for the wheelchair-bound.  This strikes both of us as odd because the paths only go to caves, which are decidedly not handicapped accessible.  

Wandering through this hostile labyrinth, we arrive at the first cave.  A sign warns us that this is a "wild cave" and I wonder what the domesticated ones are like.  We scramble down a slope of large volcanic boulders that sound like glass when they scrape against each other, into a pit with a dark hole to one side.  I guess that is where we go in.  It smells a bit like an outhouse thanks to the resident bats.  This cave is not very large and a sweep around it with the flashlight tells us all we need to know.  

Back out we climb and are soon at the next cave: Indian Tunnel.  Once an underground river of lava, portions of the ceiling collapsed, leaving gaping holes in the 30 foot ceiling.  

This cave smells like a bird cage and we soon discover why.  Small swallows with iridescent green backs swoop and dive in and out of the roof.

The trail leads beside every manifestation of cooled lava you can imagine.  Most of it looks like the charcoal left after a camp fire, but there are patches that look just like wood.

In places, cooled lava ripples and buckles like ribbon candy.

Some rocks are silky with smooth craters in them while others have a thousand fractured points like pumice.  Some are deep black and iridescent while others are the color of rust, shaded
with gray.  Some are rounded with whirls and others are long and striated. 

The next cave is called Boy Scout cave and this is what it looks like inside:

This is not a cave for the faint of heart.  It is steep and some passages require a crawl to squeeze through.  It is also very cold.  In fact, this cave has ice in it year round despite the blistering temperatures above.  My flashlight goes kaput and I am left in pitch black.  Hubs' flashlight isn't doing much better and I am nearing panic in this cold dark hole that I am crouching in.  It is time to get out.

Oh beautiful sunshine and fresh air!  How plentiful it is!  Never does its light and warmth feel so welcome as after being deprived of it, even for a few short minutes.

Our last cave is called Beauty Cave and is also quite cold.  With only Hubs' light to guide us, I hang on to his belt loop and shuffle about after him with only a small circle of light before us.  This cave is dripping as we proceed through the blackness.  I would have named it Surprise Cold Drip in the Dark Cave.

I can see Hubs' breath as we make our way back toward the opening.

On our way back to the car, I am struck with the sense that this is the most beautiful ugly place I have ever been.

While it feels as though we have had a whole day's adventure, it is only 9 in the morning by the time we get back.  The people camped upwind of us are chain smokers and we are slowly being asphyxiated every time they light up.  The temperature is climbing and we have seen what we came to see, so we hitch up again and head north.  Our goal is a campground near the town of Salmon, ID.  On the way we are stalled by a herd of cows being moved from one pasture to another by a few cowboys and their trusty cattle dogs.  We point out to Otis and Murray, who are yipping and panting in the tube, how well these dogs listen to their people and how useful they are being.  The point is lost entirely on fat pugs.

We drive about 120 miles when we see a sign for camping and a grove of trees beside a river.  That looks nice…I wonder if we can afford it.

We pull in and discover a lush green lawn, a wide, cool river and groves of Cottonwood trees all around.  There is one spot left in the small, manicured campground and it is only $5 per night with our national parks pass.  I think we can swing it.  

We unhitch at our paved, level site, eat lunch, and make a beeline for that river.  Temperatures peak at 90 degrees and the sandy-bottomed river is clean and refreshing.  Otis and Murray wade about in the shallows wearing their life jackets which are tethered to us and watch a large able-bodied black dog fetch toys thrown into the deep current, no life jacket required.  

Otis is the self-imposed life guard on duty (his usual role around water) and wants so badly to stop that big dog from jumping in over its head, but he just can't bear to leave his shoulder-deep perch and is left to fret and frazzle himself about the apparent carelessness of the big dog.  

The dogs are thoroughly cooled when we take them the few yards back to the Airstream.  It is our turn to enjoy the water and we head back with soap in hand.  This is day number four without a proper shower, and with the river to ourselves I pull out my razor to shave my legs.  

As I am finishing up, a dead beaver floats by near the opposite bank and it suddenly occurs to me that this is the first time I have ever shaved my legs in a river with a dead beaver and here I am with no camera.  

Maybe some things are better with just a mental snapshot.  

We both take proper solar showers upon return to the Airstream.  With lots of soap.

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