What kid (or adult) hasn’t dreamt of walking on the moon? Making that dream come true isn’t as far-fetched as you think. In fact, it’s as close as this National Park in Idaho.

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Craters of the Moon park has lots of caves where you can escape the heat

Visitors hiking a volcanic cone.

Visitors hiking a volcanic cone.

As part of National Parks Week, we’re exploring one of the U.S.’s lesser known, and totally unique parks, Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. Craters of the Moon isn’t the least-visited park in the NPA—that distinction goes to Aniakchak park in Alaska (“No Lines, No Waiting!” as advertised on the NPS website). Only a three-mile drive east from Boise, exploring the acres of ancient lava flows and basaltic cinder cones of this park and you certainly feel like you’ve veered way, way out of off the map.

Welcome to another world

Welcome to another world

A view of the North Crater

A view of the North Crater

Astronauts visit Craters of the Moon in 1969

Astronauts visit Craters of the Moon in advance of their lunar exploration

Astronauts have in fact visited Craters as part of their training for lunar exploration. In 1969 astronauts and soon-to-be moon walkers Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell, Joe Engle, and Eugene Cernan visited Craters. Trained as pilots and not geologists, the crew trained at Craters, and other volcanic sites, to better familiarize themselves with different types of volcanic specimens so that they could gather the most valuable specimens for study back for study here on Earth.

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Craters Park also has lots of caves to explore, so pack your flashlight.

The other worldly landscape of Craters was formed by a series of volcanic eruptions that occurred 15,000-2000 years ago.  As giant explosions of lava erupted from the Great Rift and spilled out onto the Earth’s surface, they changed the landscape from rolling hills to miles and miles covered in unforgiving volcanic rock. (Here’s a basic little animation the eruptions.) Today’s visitor’s center and seven-mile driving loop have made it vacation-friendly, and Crater features several hiking trails and caves for spelunking, but still much of the park remains unexplored.

It's not all lava flow and volcanic soil, Craters also has beautiful green(ish) vistas

It’s not all lava flow and volcanic soil, Craters of the Moon also has beautiful plants and wildlife

Hiking a cinder cone, aka a mini volcano

Hiking a cinder cone, aka a mini volcano

Craters is open year-round and offers basic camping sites. Spring or fall are best times to visit, before temperatures become too extreme. Even in the most temperate months, most of the hikes are somewhat strenuous due to natural elements of sun, wind and temperature. But if you’re up for the effort, it’s worth it to get right into the middle of this ‘weird and scenic’ landscape. Isn’t planet Earth amazing? image credits: www.rvgoddess.com, www.worldisround.com, www.everytrail.com, www.americasgreatoutdoors.tumblr.com

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