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|June 2017 — Expedition to Mordor|
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Copyright © 2017 Larrie Easterly
It started while I was looking at the posts in the Northwest chapter of the Expedition Portal Forum. “Ghcoe” posted an invitation to join an expedition to the Land of Mordor. Those of you who are Lord of the Rings fans will remember that Mordor was a land broken by volcanic lava flows and earthquakes. The rock was dark and sharp. The earth crisscrossed with fractures making travel across the land difficult. How could I resist.
In the North America the Land of Mordor is located in Idaho between Twin Falls and Pocatello and a bit north. The area is more commonly known as Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve . Ann and I camped at Craters of the Moon several years ago on our way back from a trip to Jackson, WY. I enjoyed the area and wanted to go back. This trip came at the right time as it corresponded with the time when Ann would be away attending Chatcolab .
Wapi Lava Flow — Photo Galley
Wednesday morning I headed east on Interstate 84 headed for Glenn's Ferry, ID. I84 follows part of the route taken by the pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail. The Trail would become a common theme throughout the trip. Three Island Crossing State Park, in Glenn's Ferry, is a nice place to camp on the Snake River. The site of the park is where the pioneers forded the river. In 1869 Gus Glenn built a ferry a couple of miles up stream of the ford giving the pioneers an easier way to cross the river and giving the town its name.
Malad River Narrows — Photo Galley
Wildflowers — Photo Galley
One thing about the area that surprised me is that there are no streams, springs or natural ponds in the entire Craters of the Moon area. Rain will collect in the low areas for short periods of time turning the roads slick with mud before it evaporates or soaks into the soil. The ground is so porous that rain just soaks into the soil and goes down into the aquifer. Ranchers that lease grazing rights need to haul water for livestock, mostly cattle, or drill wells to get water for their stock. We saw lots of cattle. Most were standing and eating grass but some were running. Running cattle are a funny sight.
We continued to work our way north and then east through the sage brush past Piss Ant Butte. Some maps edit the name and list it as Ant Butte. We then stopped at a huge oblong depression called Snowdrift Crater. The floor of the crater is covered in grass. We were surprised to see a grove of young trees growing in one area of near the craters edge. They were just below the rim. We figured that there must be a water seep in the area that sustains them during the hot dry summer.
Crossing Grassy Lava Flow — Photo Galley
Once we got setup Randy showed us where there was an Indian trail that led across the flow we just drove over. There are places where the trail is clearly visible and easy to follow. Other places it seemed to disappear and we had to search for it. Once we found it again we could easily see it. It was almost like it was playing hide and seek with us. The only way to tell the trail from the surrounding lava rocks was by looking for areas where the lava was just small rocks that were packed together instead of large ones that were loose and scattered around.
That night it was to windy for a fire so after dinner we sat around talking about the days adventures, our past trips, and camping experiences as we got to know each other better.
Friday morning dawned sunny, clear, and windy. Before breaking camp we saw a rock marmot, also know as a rock chuck, looking at us from the lava. Marmots live in the lava and come down to eat the grass and farm crops. They are considered varmints in Idaho because of the crop damage that they cause.
After breaking camp we drove back across the lava field and stopped at another Indian trail that was not a clear as the previous one. Right next to where I stopped there was a small plant, with pretty white flowers, growing out of the lava. We continued south and then east along the edge of the Monument to the site of the Brigham Point Trappers Cabin. The cabin was burned down in the 1990’s by vandals. Now there is just a bit of foundation and some metal roof panels left. The cabin was nestled between two lava mounds that rise about 50 feet above the desert floor.
Bear Trap Cave — Photo Galley
After touring the cave we we headed across The Great Rift. The Rift is a 52 mile long section of the earths crust that is split open. We stopped at several places where the cracks in the earth varied from several hundred feet long to just a few feet. We measured one that was over nine feet deep. There are others that we did not see that are several hundred feet deep.
We camped that night at Wapi Park. The park is adjacent to the 2,200 year old Wapi Lava Flow. There are no designated campsite or facilities at the park. It looked like we were the first campers to use it in a while. After setting up camp part of the group hiked across the lava to Pillar Butte. While part of the group went on the hike the rest of us took naps. One of the parks features is a large depression in the ground that has a nice fire pit with benches around it. After dinner we all sat around a camp fire, telling stories and relaxing.
Lava folds — Photo Galley
From Wapi Park we headed north and then east to Aberdeen for fuel. Then it was north and then west to the 7,550 foot tall Big Southern Butte. On the way we stopped just short of a fence and cattle guard for what I thought was a stretch break. While it was a break the area we stopped at is also part of the Oregon Trail. Randy told us that originally the trail went south of the Craters of the Moon. The Native Americans in the Snake River area got tired of the pioneers and started causing trouble. The thing to remember is that the pioneers reached this area in August. They were hot, tired and irritable. I can understand why the Native Americans did not want to be near them. To resolve the issue the trail bosses rerouted the Oregon Trail north up the east side of Big Southern Butte and then west across the north side of Craters of the Moon to avoid the Native Americans.
While we were stopped Randy pointed out a pile of lava rocks that was about 24 inches wide about 60 inches long and 12 inches high. He thinks it is the grave site of someone that died on the Oregon Trail. It is about the right size and he said that there are no other lava rock piles in the area.
View from the top of Big Southern Butte — Photo Galley
Sunset — Photo Galley
Sunday morning we broke camp for the last time and headed to east to Atomic City, the first city in the world to be powered by nuclear power. From there we turned west and stopped at the Monument headquarters and gift shop. After touring the center and purchasing some shirts for the grandsons it was time for goodbyes and to head home.
The trip to the Land of Mordor was everything I hoped it would be even thought there were quite a few areas we did not get to see. I hope to go back again to explore more of the area next year.
282 feet below sea level
Summer Lake Hot Springs