This summer, my family and I had the great pleasure of visiting five national parks in four states: Arches National Park in Utah, Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico and Petrified Forest and Grand Canyon national parks in Arizona.
It was an enlightening experience to visit all five within a one-week span. By the end of it, I had an epiphany about Craters of the Moon National Monument.
Each of these national parks has unique geologic features. They’re not just pretty places to visit. They’re actually unique in their very existence. The Grand Canyon is obvious. The Petrified Forest has thousands of petrified logs, as well as “The Painted Desert.” The Caverns is obvious. Mesa Verde has some of the best-preserved ancestral Puebloan cave dwellings. Arches, again obvious. These places truly are unique in the strictest sense of the word. You cannot find these features anywhere else in the world.
It got me to thinking about Craters of the Moon, near Arco in south-central Idaho, between Twin Falls and Pocatello. I have visited Craters a few times and backpacked into the adjoining wilderness area a couple of times. I fell in love with Craters the first time I visited. Craters of the Moon certainly qualifies as a unique geologic formation. Craters is a vast expanse of dramatic lava flows, towering cinder cones, lava tubes and caves and lava tree molds spread out over 1,100 square miles. It is a stunning and awe-inspiring place to visit.
The monument preserves around 53,500 acres of volcanic formations and lava flows. In all, Craters of the Moon encompasses over 1,100 square miles (over 750,000 acres) which is roughly the size of Rhode Island, according to the National Parks Foundation. The young lava flows that make up the bulk of the Monument and Preserve can clearly be seen from space, according to the Foundation.
Currently, Craters of the Moon is a National Monument and Preserve, a step down, if you will, from National Park status.
Recently, the current administration put Craters of the Moon on a list of national monuments to examine for possible reduction or removal from national monument status. In the end, it was recommended to leave Craters of the Moon as is.
There has been debate whether Craters of the Moon should be elevated to National Park, giving Idaho its only solely Idaho National Park. (It’s kind of hard to believe that Idaho doesn’t have its own National Park, given all the incredible outdoor areas in our state.)
The Monument was established in 1924 but it was expanded by President Clinton in 2000, which made it eligible for the administration’s scrutiny of any national monuments created or expanded after 1995 and including at least 100,000 acres.
I’m not even going to wade into the debate over the national monuments and the review of some of them. I think Craters of the Moon goes beyond even that debate.
As we drove around the Southwest, we considered visiting only National Parks on our way. We did not consider visiting national monuments or national forests. Having a National Park designation literally puts you on the map.
In 2015, about 250,000 people visited Craters of the Moon. I could imagine how many more would visit with a National Park designation.
After visiting five of the most unique and inspiring National Parks in the West, I am left with the firm belief that Craters of the Moon is in a category by itself and, just on its face, deserves the designation of National Park. It competes with the best of them.