Located just north of the Snake River Plain in Central Idaho, the wonderfully bizarre landscape of this park seems to bubble up from the surrounding plains like some strange brew from an underground cauldron. Indeed, this descriptor is not far from the truth, as the park’s myriad of craters, fissures, and fossilized lava flows that comprise some 750,000 acres owe their existence to the region’s intense seismic activity and violent volcanic past. The most recent eruption occurred only 2,000 (!) years ago.
We opted to explore this strange and somewhat unsettling landscape by foot, as mountain bikes are not permitted on the trails. Additionally, there are a few areas where you have the option to explore caves formed by ancient lava tubes, and which are only accessible by foot (hint: bring a headlamp!).
Our day hike took us from the very top of the Inferno Cone – which at 6181 ft afforded beautiful panoramic views of the entire valley – to the caldera of the immense North Crater, and finally down to the subterranean maze of the Buffalo Caves. Along the way we encountered people of all ages and walks of life enjoying the wonders of the park, including the largest group of Boy Scouts we’ve ever seen. We have no idea how the Scout Masters kept them all accounted for.
Apart from being an ideal destination for losing a Boy Scout, Craters of the Moon also is an important ecological site that sustains a diversity of plant and animal life – including six species of bats that make their home in the lava tubes.
Interested in going? Check out the park’s website here for information on hikes and other activities inside the park. One important note: With the dark volcanic rock and ash, it can get particularly hot during summer months, so try to plan your visit early in the day.
Fee? Yes – $15 per vehicle. National Park Annual Pass also accepted. Pets? In the campground, park lot, and on paved roads. Not on trails. MTB? No.
Situated on the border of California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America, and the second deepest after Crater Lake in Oregon. The majority of the lake’s watershed is protected land, with several state parks including Sand Harbor; Sugar Pine Point; Spooner Lake; and of course the eponymous Lake Tahoe State Park.
The area is popular year-round – offering a myriad of lakeside activities in the summer, and skiing or snowboarding in the winter. Apart from being an Instagram-perfect vacation destination, though, Lake Tahoe also provides important ecological benefits as a watershed. Additionally, it’s home to numerous protected or endangered species, including the bald eagle and kokanee salmon, as well as rare plant species like the Lake Tahoe watercress.
On our visit, we took advantage of the beautiful blue-sky July weather to explore the region by bike and by foot. Our first venture took us on a 70+ mile bike ride around the entire lake, which included 4,000+ feet of climbing over a mix of long, gradual mountain inclines and gentle rollers.
Throughout the ride, we were afforded panoramic vistas of the lake and surrounding mountains, which were surprisingly still snow-capped in late July owing to the record snowfall the region received this past winter. The views were only somewhat marred by the seemingly endless traffic in both directions (FYI, if you’re not already aware, you could say that Lake Tahoe is *somewhat* of a popular tourist destination. On the weekend we were there, it seemed like everyone within a 2,000 mile radius also had the same idea to visit. It was crowded). However, even with the bumper-to-bumper traffic, cars were generally respectful, and gave us plenty of room to pass.
The next day, we opted to avoid dealing with traffic and ventured out for a run along the trails of Spooner Lake State Park. This Nevada park is about 8 miles to the east of Lake Tahoe, and is home to two equally picturesque lakes of its own: Spooner and Marlette. Our run took us point-to-point from one lake to the other, and back along the Marlette Lake Trail. The route climbed over 1,600 feet through rustling alpine groves and high mountain meadows – with epic mountain views the entire way.
Interested in going? Be advised that Lake Tahoe and surrounding areas are popular year-round, and can be particularly crowded on weekends and holidays. Plan in advance and make your reservations early. If you’re looking to do a hike or trip to the beach, you should also arrive early in the morning, as parking fills up quickly. (On our bike ride, we observed no less than 4 rather heated arguments over parking. Don’t be one of those guys – plan in advance.)
As for the state parks in the area: they will likely require a fee of $6 – $10. Most are dog and mountain-bike friendly, but be sure to check signs beforehand.
Finally, it’s important to note that despite being a beloved travel destination, Lake Tahoe is under threat due to development and associated pollution. Studies estimate that the clarity of the lake has decreased substantially due to pollution from stormwater runoff associated with construction. Pollution of the lake in turn affects species that depend upon it for survival, including those found in the Truckee River fed by the lake. That said, efforts by local environmental groups like Keep Tahoe Blue have made substantial gains in protecting and restoring the lake and surrounding areas.
Interested in supporting global conservation efforts? Then check out the website of our sister organization, the Alliance for International Reforestation, here!
In summer of 2016, the AIR Adventures team headed west – farther west than even our home base of California – to explore the rugged beauty of the island state of Hawaii. More specifically, our destination was the island of Maui and the famed national park of Haleakalā, renowned for its mysterious, otherworldly landscapes and the diverse array of plants and wildlife found nowhere else on the planet.
Beyond its value to our ecosystem, through, Haleakalā is also of great cultural significance, as it has been considered a sacred place for native Hawaiians for over 1,000 years.
In previous posts, we have reviewed the environmental and historical value of our national park system. This latest entry focuses on their cultural value – and Haleakalā, whose name literally means ‘House of the Sun’ – is a prime example of the significance of our parks in honoring our nation’s rich cultural heritage.
The summit of Haleakalā is considered a wahi para – a legendary place – with most of the legends centering around the demigod Maui. According to myth, it was at the summit of Haleakalā where Maui snared the sun – so that his mother could better dry her cloth. Apart from being a birthplace of myth and legend, the summit and crater of Haleakalā figure prominently into Hawaiian ceremony and tradition, and is a place where generations of Hawaiians have journeyed for religious ceremonies and to pay homage to the departed.
The AIR Adventures team ventured to the summit of this national treasure on two separate occasions: Our first excursion was a bike ride from the coast at Paia, up some 30+ miles to the very top at 10,000 feet. Along the way, we were humbled by breathtaking 360 degree views of the Maui coast and countryside. See our ride here!
Our second venture to the summit was a hike through the ‘crater’ of the volcano – which was one of the most memorable hikes we have ever done. The combination of the fog-enshrouded trails; bizarre rock formations; and barren landscape devoid of all plant life save a few patches of the alien-looking (and highly endangered) silversword made us feel like we had somehow been transported through space and time to Mars. It was both unnerving and awe-inspiring. Nevertheless, despite its seemingly unforgiving appearance, the volcanic valley is home to numerous endangered wildlife – including the endemic Hawaiian petrol or u’au’ and the Hawaiian goose or nēnē – of which we were fortunate to see several during our trek through the crater! For a hint of what our 13 mile hike looked like, check out our route here.
Of course, it must be noted that Haleakalā is but one of many examples of the ways in which our National Park System protects and honors the rich cultural heritage of our nation. As described on its official website: the NPS maintains the National Register of Historic Places, which lists over 1.5 million historic sites, buildings, and structures, in almost every community – of which over 20,000 are in National Parks. Moreover, ‘the NPS joins with local, State, and private entities to promote the cultural, historical and natural assets of about 50 National Heritage Areas that provide economic stimuli to their regions and communities.’
For so many reasons, our national parks are one of our greatest assets as a nation – and yet they are under attack by our current administration. The current budget proposal would slash funding to the Department of the Interior – which includes the National Park Service – by roughly 11 percent. The NPS estimates that this – combined with the continual record-breaking numbers the parks see in annual attendance – would be unsustainable, and could lead to the closure of several parks.
We need everyday citizens to take action now, to protect our national treasures. Call your state representative and ask them to oppose these cuts today.
Interested in supporting global conservation efforts? Then visit the website of our sister organization, the Alliance for International Reforestation, and learn more about what you can do to protect natural resources around the globe, for generations to come.
Reminding us all that Earth Day is every day. How will you celebrate?
We here at AIR Adventures will be working with our sister organization, the Alliance for International Reforestation, to continue the life-changing, community-empowering work of planting trees throughout Central and South America.