Thursday, February 27, 2014

Camping in March: Hell’s Half Acre

One of the things I love the most about Idaho is the variety of landscapes we have to explore – and one that gets explored the least is our volcanic terrain.

Which is a grand shame, because it’s beautiful, and not as stark as you’d think.

Take, for example, the Hell’s Half Acre lava flow, mostly west and south of Idaho Falls. It’s the same flow you drive through when you’re on I-15 between Idaho Falls and Blackfoot. Ever taken a walk out there? It’s a fascinating place.

And though the trails at the rest stop on the freeway are nice, nicer still is the 0.9-mile loop trail in the desert east of Idaho Falls (and, one of these days, I’ll take the 4.5-mile trail to the vents).

This lava flow, marked on Highway 20 as the “Lava Flow Trails” is a wonderful spot for exploration. From the parking lot there’s immediate access to the flow, where hikers can jump over fissures in the rock, clamber up lava hills and admire the foliage and critters that call the lava flows home. There are many more birds out here than you’d expect in a nearly treeless landscape, as well as the lizards you’d expect. There’s also plenty of antelope and coyote scat to see, so you know they’re not all that far off. I’ve heard owls out there as well.

And as you’re walking, looking for the blue-topped fence posts that mark the trail, you have to pause to look down in the cracks. In the early spring, they’ll still be filled with snow. And in summer, when it’s hot up top, you’ll look down into their cool depths and see ferns growing. Actual ferns.

Hiking isn’t as easy, since there are no marked trails, but I’ve had kids as young as five out here, and they’ve had a ball. Good views of the buttes – extinct volcanoes – as well.

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