Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Desert Destination: Lunar Crater

Ready to get away from it all? Really away? Take US Highway 6 out to the middle of Nevada and you will find the Black Rock Lava Flow and Lunar Crater. The nearest hotel or restaurant is well over an hour away, but feels even farther. I had visited the Black Rock Lava Flow in 2009, and wrote this very nice post.

The lava flowed out of vents and covered over 1900 acres. That's a lot of land!

The kids were eager to get out of the truck and stretch their legs. They scrambled easily up onto the lava.  I got the kids to pose for a photo. They think it's fun to make silly poses. (Note Desert Girl's shoes--I will explain them soon.)

I enjoyed seeing the lava flow with the backdrop of the cinder cones. This Lunar Crater area covers about 100 square miles and includes more than 20 extinct volcanoes and 35 lava flows. You can read more about the geology on this USGS page.

I saw this cave and wanted to go there, but it was a little too far and the kids had declared no hiking for them. Instead they were making a pile of lava rocks and calling it a shelter. They were happy, I was happy, and I did get to wander around a bit. Then it was time to go see the main attraction.

But, first, a brief interlude as we watch a dust devil. Perhaps that's why so much soil is interspersed with the lava.

I had passed this sign a few times over the last ten years and always told myself, Someday I really am going to go see that lunar crater. And today was that day! I was very excited.

The scenery was otherworldly, with cinder cones and lava lumps all over. The road turned out to be only 7 miles long and it was in much better shape than the one-mile long road to the lava flow.

Not to my surprise, we were the only ones at the parking area. Adjacent was a sign and the crater itself. The crater is a maar, a shallow crater formed by the heating of underground water until it boils up and explodes. Two of them exist in this volcanic area.

This crater is called Lunar Crater because in the 1960s NASA brought astronauts out to train in this area.

Desert Boy took off down into the crater before I could say anything. Desert Girl and I trailed after. Desert Girl had been reading a book from the library that we had picked up just a couple hours previous that featured a little girl in a dress and fancy shoes. Desert Girl had her fancy Mary Jane's on, and she quickly learned they were not a good choice.

So we were a little slow, but that let me take photos of the 430 ft deep crater that's about 4,000 ft across. Impressive!

She did smile for a photo.

Eventually I managed to yell at Desert Boy to stop, but he was already half-way down in the crater. I would have loved to have gone all the way down, but I was concerned that it might take us a long time to get back up, and I didn't want to carry Desert Girl. So we will have to return another day to go to the very bottom and explore some of the other nearby craters. Here's the BLM website for the area.

Isn't this curved basalt awesome?

Lunar Crater became a National Natural Landmark in 1973. I'm glad it has some extra recognition, it deserves it!

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