Pioneers from Hells Canyon, Oregon to the Moon Craters of Idaho

The eastern Oregon landscape is astounding. The canyons are very deep, carved by the Snake River. There are lush verdant valleys and stark hillsides of mountains. We headed up from the base of Hells Canyon, which is America’s deepest river gorge, to Flagstaff Hill, in Baker City, Oregon. The National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center is located here. There are terrific exhibits explaining every aspect of the journey of over 300,000 pioneers, explorers and miners who headed west.Outside the Center are replica wagons set in a typical circle corral around fire pits. It is easy to locate the still-existing imprints of the sets of wagon wheel ruts left by the thousands of travelers to the Pacific Northwest. There are several trails from the center that lead to viewpoints and historic sites. It is easy to lose track of time and get caught up in the trails history here.We left the Center happy to be traveling by car instead of walking alongside a wagon, and headed east to Idaho. The approach to Craters of the Moon National Monument is wild. There are piles and piles of black shiny volcanic rocks in all directions. It looks like miles of broken chunks of highway. Closer to the entrance, you can see remnants of volcanic splashes and spatter cones and melted water-like ground. The park has a ring road with several spots to stop and take walks on defined paths to view this volcanic wonder.The reference to moon craters was made by a geologist who thought the surfaces were similar in appearance as he looked through a telescope in 1924. The moon craters are from meteorites, the craters in Idaho are volcanic. The world’s deepest rift is right here. It is believed that about 2,000 years ago a fissure opened and flooded this area with an ocean of molten lava. (More intense than what is happening in Hawaii now) Today the view includes cinder cones, sage brush and hearty wildlife. We climbed a very steep cinder mound, peeked down spatter cones and marveled at the colors and the shape of the stones. The whistling winds through the porous rocks made eerie sounds and the lava formations conjured up sci-fi landscapes. There are lava tube caves here too; a permit is necessary to hike them. This national monument is an other worldly location; the deepest rift in the world right here in Idaho.

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