Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve. Pretty catchy name, huh? Funny thing, the park actually has nothing to do with the moon! CRMO is 750,000 acres, roughly the size of Rhode Island, and works to protect the Great Rift. The Great Rift is a 52 mile volcanic fissure that erupted for the first time 15,000 years ago and has eruptive periods roughly every 2,000 year. We’re home to one of the world’s largest purely basaltic cinder cones (Big Cinder Butte), the world’s deepest known open rift crack (King’s Bowl), and the largest Holocene-aged lava flow in the contiguous United States. There are cinder cones and spatter cones, lava flows and lava tubes, and a whole bunch of life taking on this harsh landscape. The ecosystem is characterized by the Sagebrush Steppe and is home to over 750 different plant species, around 300 animal species, and thousands of types of insects.
So why are we named after the Moon? When the park was being explored in the 1900s, people thought the landscape was so other worldly, it had to be more similar to the Moon. Calvin Coolidge used the language “weird and scenic” to describe it in the official legislation that created the original monument. Turns out, the two are not that similar- the Moon’s craters were created by impacts, so from the outside in, while here, our craters are volcanic, from the inside out. Still, astronauts from the Apollo 14 mission were sent here to train and learn about geology, which it pretty cool. Today, it’s believed that the park is actually more similar to the Martian landscape. NASA still continues to research our landscape in preparation for future Mars missions!
It is a pretty special place, and I’m lucky enough to live here, work here, and spend my free time here for an entire year. I work in our Interpretation & Education division, where I lead hikes, give interpretive programs, and talk to visitors. I’m Chief Junior Ranger for the park, so I respond to all of the Lunar and Junior Ranger mail we receive and know way more than I would like to admit about being a Junior Ranger. I also spent my summer doing outreach for the park, going to fairs and parades to talk about CRMO and all of the fun things there is to do. I get to talk to school groups when they come to the park, to help orient them and teach them about all of the fun things they will get to see (including setting off Alka-Seltzer volcanoes). I also help run volunteer programming in the park, and am happy to report that we had a very successful National Public Lands Day, working with a boy scout troop to clean up (and explore!) the lava tubes in the park. When I’m not working, we hike and explore. I’ve done all of the trails here, but I still find something new each time. At night, we have the darkest sky I’ve ever experienced. The Milky Way is clear and bright and there are so many stars, it’s almost hard to find constellations.
My friends have asked me what my favorite thing about working here is, and I think every day my answer is different. Sometimes, I have a great group of people on my cave walk and I remember all of the things I want to tell them and they ask great questions. That’s my favorite. Sometimes, I swear in a Lunar Ranger that has worked so hard and has so much to share about their visit and is so proud to take the pledge. That’s my favorite. One time, I worked with a school group that was all blind and visually impaired students and I had to learn how to teach them about the park in a different way. That was my favorite. Sometimes, teenagers are so excited to have volunteered at a group event, they spend a lot of time talking to me afterward about volunteering and what I do and how they can do it too. That’s my favorite. It’s not just one thing, it’s everything. Each day is new and exciting and different. I think that’s my favorite thing.