The Land of the Volcanos

If you were ever wondering the answer to questions such as: Why does the buffalo have it’s hump? Is bison the plural of buffalo? How far do you have to go to get to the earth’s fiery center? Well then this post is for you. Follow us on our adventures through the land of volcanoes. Starting with the fields of Pahoehoe (pronounced pah-hoe-ey-hoe-ey) lava at Craters of the Moon National Monument and moving on over to the sulfuric smells of mud volcanoes, geysers, and boiling springs of Yellowstone.

Craters of the Moon
When Caleb was a 19 year old youth delivering furniture to folks in Idaho he had the good fortune of driving by the Craters of the Moon National Monument and just like Calvin Coolidge who thought this “… a weird and scenic landscape peculiar to itself” Caleb was also taken in by the seemingly endless rivers of dried lava and had always wanted to return. 20 years later he got his wish. Last (at least it was last when I started writing this) Thursday we arrived at Craters of the Moon and were met with fields and fields of Lava every where we looked.

This is what craters of the moon looks like:

And this is what it looks like with people walking on it. This is Pahoehoe lava, named for similar Lava formations in Hawaii, rivers flowing of lava.


One of the toughest things for our kids in this park was the requirement to stay on the path and leave the lava in the park. Since we could not keep any of the awesome rocks Lucy picked up she insisted we take pictures of them. As a result, we have many pictures like this:


After lots of walking on the path we got the the neatest part of the park, the lava caves. All of a sudden the requirement to stay on the path was gone. We could go in the caves and guided by ourselves with no tour. These caves formerly were flowing with lava which created these tunnels. Here is our family walking into dew drop cave. This was the first cave we found. It felt like air conditioning had been turned on in the hot summer. You could look around at the beautiful dew drops on the ceiling with your flashlight.

Dew drop cave:
The dew drop cave seemed exciting until we got to the Boy Scout Cave. Boy Scout Cave was by far the most exciting cave to climb around in. It had a very tight entrance. You can tell by the size of Caleb’s bald spot just how big the opening was. Not very big.

Boy Scout Cave:
This entrance also explained why we saw other kids walking down the path with their bicycle helmets. We had judgmentally assumed that these other parents were strangely overprotective. But now it was all starting to make sense.

I tried to get in but felt intimidated by the tight squeeze and paused my attempt. But once I saw Caleb go in I followed with confidence. After a few minutes of shimmying, I was in! It was very cool there were parts of this cave that you could stand up straight in and corners to explore. Here are pictures of our little spelunkers:



From Craters we headed on to Yellowstone.

I always knew I wanted to go to Yellowstone. I did not know too much about it but mainly I wanted to see the Bison. But the whole Yellowstone experience was way cooler than I could have expected.

The first Yellowstone challenge is dealing with first-come-first-serve camping. To get a spot what you do is rent a hotel room outside the park and then get up at 6am the next day and drive in to beat the rush. Once you get to a campground you and about 5 other cars are on a mad rush to find someone leaving so you can take their slot and somehow claim it for your own. We were pretty excited to find out that this actually worked and we settled in a Norris campground. Norris was much more upscale than some of the other campgrounds we’d been at on our trip in as it had running water and flush toilets, but the pouring rain each night made us feel as if we were still roughing it.

Here is some of Leo’s oragami from inside the tent. Folding and then burning in the campfire was a favorite pastime on the trip.


After getting settled we decided to take a hike and followed the sign to Norris Geyser. We really had no idea what to expect. I’d heard of Old Faithful and seen cartoons of water spurting out of the earth but I really did not know what a geyser was. We walked through the woods for a about a mile and then we came to was a flat field with spurting geysers and florescent ponds everywhere. This was called a geyser basin. And the smell of sulfur. Boy did it stink. I didn’t mind too much because I’m always looking for a spot where my farts will be less obvious but the children hated the smell and complained bitterly. Sulfur got many more complaints than anything else on the trip.

Here is a video of what Norris Geyser Basin looked like:

The ground was so brittle that we needed to stay on the path. Falling off you could fall through the ground and get burnt.

This is basically what much of Yellowstone looked like. Smoke coming out of the ground. Smells of sulfur. And why? Well it is because Yellowstone is the Caldera (e.g. the big hole) of a volcano. Only 12 miles beneath Yellowstone you arrive at the earth’s magma layer. I heard this in a ranger session and thought that 12 miles actually seemed pretty far away deep down under there but it turns out for other parts of the earth it is more like 80 miles, so Yellowstone actually is really close to the fiery magma in the earth by comparison.

This is what it looked like to drive in Yellowstone, misty geyser’s everywhere.

Yellowstone was also place where all the rockhounding came together and we saw a cliff made of obsidian and a tree made a petrified wood.

Obsidian Cliff:

Petrified Tree:


The yellowstone wildlife.
Our second day in the park was rainy so we decided to drive out to see the wildlife. Wildlife in Yellowstone include bison, grizzlies, elk, and moose (mooses, meese?). Bison are the animals people know how to find predictably so we headed out to Lamar Valley. And check out what we saw.

A buffalo crossing the road! We were probably closer than we should have been but this was pretty exciting.


It sounds like buffalo almost became extinct about 100 years about and then then came back from fewer than 100 animals with the help of the conservationists. And now for an important moment of learning: why does the buffalo have such a funny hump? … and the reason is … that hump houses all the muscles that help the buffalo dig in snow in the winter by swinging their heads side to side. They dig in the snow to eat.

If a buffalo wanted to swing its head side to side near you it could be fatal. And despite being vegetarian’s buffalo injure more people every year than grizzlies because people get so excited taking selfies with them.


We met a family with a young child who told us that the word bison was the plural of buffalo. This sounded fishy so once we had internet service we had to check it out. Turns out that bison is only the plural for buffalo if you have a very loose definition. Because bison is a synonym for buffalo and you can have 1 buffalo and 2 buffaloes and 1 bison and 2 bison so you can probably have 1 buffalo and 2 bison but you can also have 1 bison. Got it? What is really more accurate is that buffalo is a less sophisticated of saying bison coming from the french word for beef: boeuf.

But now back to our trip. On our way back from seeing the bison we came across the elusive grizzly bear! This is what a grizzly looks like in Yellowstone:

That’s right, you know its a bear if there are all sorts of people jammed up. You cannot believe how excited I was “PARK THE CAR CALEB, PARK THE CAR!!!” Caleb parked the car in a ditch on the side of the road we got out to check it out.

This is what it really looked like:

Could you see the two cubs? No? Oh well, we couldn’t see them either without our binoculars. Seeing this bear in the distance of our binoculars was actually quite an exciting event and left us all feeling a bit giddy. And when we read in the newspaper the next day that a park employee had been gobbled up by a grizzly we did not regret the distance separating us at all.

To summarize our wildlife sightings: we got too close to the bison, not close enough to the grizzly, and another blood thirsty animal was awaiting us in Grand Teton, and this time it attacked Lucy! Stay tuned to find out more.

One Reply to “The Land of the Volcanos”

  1. Wow! Thanks so much for sharing your awesome adventure with us. I always say that there are two animals I hope I never see in the wild, a grizzley bear or a mountain lion!

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