Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Closures at Craters of the Moon

Construction limits trail access at monument


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Photos courtesy of the National Park Service Wildflowers bloom at Craters of the Moon National Monument east of Carey.

With weather in the Wood River Valley forecast to remain cold and dreary through the week, outdoor enthusiasts might be tempted to explore more southerly trails. However, closures at Craters of the Moon may prevent some from exploring the monument as fully as in seasons past.

The Devil's Orchard trail, the hike to the Spatter Cones and Inferno Cone as well as the North Crater Trail are closed indefinitely due to construction and roadwork at the trailheads, park staff said Tuesday.

"It's not going to be closed all summer long," said Lennie Ramacher, interpretive park ranger for the monument. "But it's going to be dictated by how fast the parking lots can be rebuilt."

Parking lots at three major trails have not been repaved in decades, and Ramacher said they were long overdue for replacement.

"They were literally crumbling apart," he said.

Despite the closures and the gray weather, Ramacher said many of the popular trails are still clear and ready for hikers and bikers.

"This weekend, we had rain showers, we had hail, but we didn't have any accumulation," he said. "That's the nice thing about the terrain here—it dries out pretty quickly."

The best hike for now, according to Ramacher, is the Wilderness Trail. The eight-mile trek passes near Echo Crater, a volcanic feature that Ramacher said is a popular destination for backcountry campers and hikers.

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"It's a neat place to go and find some solitude," he said. "It's a nice distance away from the trailhead and because it's a crater, it's somewhat sheltered for campers."

The monument will offer a ranger-guided hike to the crater on Saturday, June 4, but Ramacher said visitors are welcome to explore on their own.

More kid-friendly jaunts include the Caves Trail, and Ramacher especially recommends Indian Tunnel. The 800-foot lava tube is a short hike that is accessible to those of all ages—and all levels of claustrophobic tolerance, Ramacher said.

"It's like a subway tunnel. It's huge," he said.

However, those wanting to explore the caves will need to obtain a permit at the visitor center. The national spread of white-nose syndrome, a fungal infection capable of killing many bat species, has led to concern that spelunkers using equipment used in other caves could spread the infection to the monument.

Ramacher said permits are not reliant on skill or quality of equipment, but solely on whether the equipment being used has been used in other caves.

"It's basically to make sure we don't introduce that fungus," he said.

Later-season activities include wildflower walks as blooms begin to pop up in late June. Of the monument's 800 native species, Ramacher said, the most striking display is often the carpet of brilliant pink dwarf monkey flowers and white bitterroot blossoms. It's still too early in the season, however.

"The way it's going, closer to the third week of June will be the peak," he said.

Ramacher said that before coming, visitors should check the monument's website at www.nps.gov/crmo for updated trail and construction status as well as a full list of activities. Visitors can also call 208-527-1335 for more information.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com

Know before you go

Craters of the Moon National Monument has a few requirements and regulations visitors should be aware of before making the trip.

( Pets are allowed at the campground, in parking lots and on paved roads, but not on trails or in the visitor center. In addition, pets must be kept on a leash at all times.

( There is no lodging or dining available in the park. Nearest services are in Arco, 18 miles east of the visitor center.

( Campfires are not permitted within the Monument except by permit in the group campground fire grate.

For a complete list, visit http://www.nps.gov/crmo




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