Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Day 11: The Craters of the Moon

There are three things that gave special significance to me when we visited Craters of the Moon yesterday. First, its formal launch as a National Monument in 1924 was on the same day as my birthday 24 years later. Second, it was named a National Monument by Calvin "Silent Cal" Coolidge, the 30th president of the US and the only one to come from my home state of Vermont.

Third, about 150 years ago, a pioneer heading to Oregon described Craters of the Moon as "the Devil's Vomit," which is something I have been called a few times in my life.

Actually, there was a fourth connection. The Craters of the Moon had most of its hot and fiery activity many years ago and today it is crusty and pretty much sedentary.

When he made this fantastic place a federal park, old Silent Cal called it "weird and scenic". Today "weird" carries a slightly different meaning, but back then it mostly referred to things that were not like other things, kind of other-worldly. In that sense, Craters of the Moon is still weird. And wonderful.

It is a lovely legacy of thousands of years of volcanic eruptions. Massive fields of lava are frozen in time, some so fluid at the time they hardened you can almost see them rippling today. Some of the volcanoes erupted so violently that they destroyed themselves in the process, and there are places you can see large fragments of the craters scattered among the lava flows.

And throughout, but particularly in a section called the Devil's Orchard, you can see life growing among the lava and rocks as centuries of dirt finally settles atop them and the hardiest plants borne by birds and the wind take root.

It is desolate, but not in the way the Nevada desert seemed so barren. The frozen rivers of lava, the Great Rift of Idaho where the earth split and huge mounds of cinders are permanent testament to the fury of dozens of volcanoes exploding over thousands of years.

LK and I hold a fascination with volcanoes, fault lines and those other places that give such strong evidence of the turmoil inside our planet.We have walked among steaming outlets in Montserrat several years before it exploded, as well as smelled the sulfur on the Big Island in Hawaii. Last year, we visited Vesuvius, and we have been at the Eastern Africa Rift. Yet today was as spectacular a display of the power of volcanoes as I have seen.

And I have saved the best for last.

Deep into the park, there is a massive cinder mound. It's about a quarter-mile walk to the top and about 165 feet (60m) rise in elevation at a 15-degree pitch. (The standard wheelchair ramp pitch is about half of that.)

The picture to the left is near the top, and the people behind me are probably halfway down to the car parking, which is just barely visible.

Well, we haven't been walking the streets of Greenwich to get over here and be intimidated by a (big) pile of old ashes. "Shall we climb it?" I asked LK.

She calculated how hard it would be to drag me down the hill if I collapsed. It soon dawned on her that she could just roll me, and said "Sure".

Off we went, and quite frankly it was nowhere near as hard as it was walking up the stairs a year ago. I huffed and puffed a bit, but really never had a problem. And once we got to the top, what a payoff!

The views of the Great Rift are spectacular. In every direction, you see for miles, and it was well worth the effort. I even got to do a fairly poor form of the Warrior, as you can see at the top of this post. Plenty of pictures from the top and elsewhere in the park here.

On the way back down we encountered several people persevering in the climb. One guy who was not in particularly great physical shape looked to be reconsidering. And as you do here in the US, we said Hi and smiled at everyone we passed.

When he had gone on, I turned to Linda having gained a genuine insight. "You know," I said, "every one of them is looking at me and saying to themselves, 'If he could make it, so can I'."


PS Sports Bulletin. In the third day of competition, the tie was broken. LK won 2-1 in a bitterly fought oldies contest. DK took the early lead when The Crew-Cuts came on, but LK parlayed two old white guys, Paul Anka and Bobby Darin, to win the day. DK remains convinced that Patti Page was a good choice for the contest, but after three days no one has once asked how much is that doggie in the window.

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