Aka: Craters 2012!
Last year we did well, but our extensive wandering looking for the Bridge of Tears and the ensuing frustration which led us to cut the trip a day short left something wanting. Now I’m largely content, though that south to north traverse of the whole monument is still hanging out there.
Because Craters of the Moon is a great place to go backpacking. The combination of big expanses and endlessly fascinating minutia right before your feet is unmatched, at least in its constant consistency. Beyond giving my legs a fantastic workout, at the end of the our trip my mind was full from experience.
Our route is worth repeating: we parked at the visitor center and headed east out over the lava, soon turning SE and then more south until we struck Little Prairie. The variety of lava formations in this stretch is fantastic, and the walking is always decent. We found the Bridge of Tears midafternoon, and pushed on SW through the afternoon and some of the worst travel of the trip, through loose talus lava and an extensive series of cracks and gullies to end up at the foot of Sheep Trail Butte. A bit of searching found a good camp spot, and a lot of rock hauling had the Shangrila 2 guyed out well enough to survive the winds.
Amongst that pile of loose rocks I found three horseshoes. That stock would be out there, at least two mandatory lava flow crossings from any trail, was mind boggling.
The next day we left camp intact and dayhiked out through the Vermillion Chasm, Two Point Butte, and Bridge of the Moon before returning to camp, striking it, melting snow, and hiking north to camp beneath The Watchman. The last day to headed back to the truck, traversing Big Cinder Cone, dropping west to check out the tree molds, and taking the obvious shortcuts over the cinder hills to straighten the bends of the loop road.
I’ve been working on cowboy coffee, with very rewarding results. Add three heaping spoonfuls of espresso grounds to ~500 ml of boiling water, remove, vaguely bring to a boil again, then sit for a few, add cold water and tap to settle, then pour.
In short, go to Craters. You will not be sorry.