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Cool Stuff to Do

Get Out There

(page 2 of 5)

Nordic Skiing at Craters of the Moon

Skiing the loop at Craters of the Moon. Photo: courtesy National Park Service

Headed to Jackson Hole this winter? Have a meeting in Idaho Falls? Looking for a change of scenery? Try stopping by the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve for a winter wonderland treat!

Recognized for its unique volcanic attributes, Craters of the Moon has long been acknowledged as one of the country’s wildest and most unusual geologic sites. You’ll quickly understand why this area of the Snake River Plain captured the attention of Idaho explorer Robert Limbert back in the 1920’s.

Limbert trekked through the impressive 50 miles of volcanic formations and shared his findings in an acclaimed National Geographic article. Reputable geologists, like Harold Stearns, also brought attention to this wondrously weird landscape that evokes feelings of being on the moon. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge forever protected this area by creating a national monument. In 2000 the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management partnered together and expanded the area to 750,000 acres (which is close in size to the Sawtooth Wilderness Area). The Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is alluring to people of all ages and interests during any season.

During the snow-covered winter landscape, this remarkable place has long been available to cruise around on skis, but now the experience will be even better. I was surprised and excited when National Park Service Ranger Lennie Ramacher told me they purchased a Piston Bully snow groomer last year. With adequate snow comes grooming: classic or skate skiing styles, take your pick. In the winter, the sevenmile paved road that loops through Crater of the Moon’s most scenic spots is transformed into a flowing white Nordic track.

Ski through an Ansel Adams-type landscape where great black cinder cones peek up from the frosted white layers and limber pines are caked with snow and ice, frozen in various poses. And although you may not see the wildlife, prints of all sizes speckle the snowy surface.

 When asked why he enjoys the park in the winter, Ranger Lennie described how peaceful this vast area becomes. “It’s a completely different experience than the other seasons,” he said. “The light, the solitude and the space creates a spirituality that’s tough to describe.” He looks forward to his daily patrol of the trail where he can get fresh air and exercise while on the job!

As with most remarkable places, one needs to experience it first-hand to really get to know it. I was captivated this fall as I day-tripped to the park with my family. Impressed by how welcoming the visitor center was, in terms of use of space, presentation of information and, of course, the enthusiasm of the rangers, I told them I’d be back this winter to have a ski. Then we grabbed our packs and headlamps, and drove out the loop in preparation for exploring several caves [For more on cave exploration at Craters, click here]. We conquered Buffalo Cave, as well as Dew Drop, and you can bet we’ll be back for more. I had anticipated a moment of “we should have done this before . . . it’s so close and so amazing” and indeed, that became true.

Now it’s your turn to go and get out there! -Nicky Elsbree


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