Thursday, June 12, 2014

June 2014 Idaho: Hell's Half Acre Lava Flow

Sign for Hell's Half Acre Trail

Our sister, D'lynn has been visiting with us for a couple of weeks.  It's been nice to have her here.  We've been showing her all the cool things about Idaho.  Her husband is retiring from the military very soon, so we are recruiting!

When the Hot Chick and I were a young married couple, one of my aunts passed away and we attended the funeral and the graveside service.  It was in Moreland, Idaho which is close to Blackfoot.  My parents had a plot already purchased in that cemetery and I made a comment that I'd like to be buried there someday too. The Hot Chick said, "What if I want to be buried by my family?"  I hadn't thought of that.  We told that to her father and he said, "Oh, didn't you know?  Your grandpa is buried in that cemetery."  Turns out my grandma and the Hot Chick's grandma were besties.

Every year, on Memorial Day we make the pilgrimage to the Moreland Cemetery and dress the graves of not only my Dad but also her grandparents.  D'lynn had never been to her grandparents' grave and expressed a desire to do so while she was here.  We made a day of it.

Stop #1  Hell's Half Acre nature trail:  The North side
Idaho does a lot of things right.  One of those things is having nice rest areas along the highways.  There was a lava flow approximately 5200 years ago in southeast Idaho.  It's a pretty big formation comprised actually of two flows, each about six miles long by three miles wide.  If my math is correct it's about 360 square miles of lava flow.  Parts of the flow are recognized as Natural National Landmarks and are administered by the National Park Service and the BLM.

The park service has created an interpretive trail on both sides of I-15 with the trailheads in the parking lot of the rest area.  We visited the north side (which on the map really looks like it's west but Wikipedia called it the north side) first to walk the flow.  It's only about a mile of paved trail and most parts are accessible by wheelchair.  There is interpretive signage in several places along the trail.  I like to walk the flow at least once every year or two.  I've always loved this section of Idaho.  I thought it would make a great movie location. About a week ago I had the opportunity to fly over it and I took several pictures which I posted on the Beantown part 1 blog post.

This flow is primarily a pahoehoe flow, meaning the molten rock was viscous and held together very well as opposed to an a'a flow which is less viscous and more jagged.  Pahoehoe, begins to cool on the surface and while it's still elastic the molten rock underneath pushes the hardening lava into ropelike formations.  A'a, on the other hand breaks up into small boulders with jagged, sharp edges.  Both are Hawaiian words to describe the lava.  I had a science teacher once who suggested that a'a was so named because it was the sound the native Hawaiians made as they walked across it in bare feet.  Who knows if that is true or not?

All over the flow there are lava tubes and chambers that have collapsed so the surface of the earth here is extreme.  Lava flows are one of the defining geological features of the Snake River Plain.  The signage has to do with the geology of the site as well as the ecology of the site.  Signs talk about the types of lava, the animals and plants that have found a home here and the forces of geology that have both created this alien landscape and are destroying it, making it sink back into the desert.  I find this kind of stuff very interesting. Whether you are interested in reading the signs or not, the views are spectacular.  I recommend this hike.

I won't bore you with the play by play on this one, I think I'll just get to the pictures.  This is the first time I've been to the site this early in the year.  I was amazed at the variety of wildflowers I witnessed here.  I usually don't see wildflowers because I visit here in August when most of them have gone to seed.

To the pictures.


Life and Death

I believe this to be Morning Glory

Crack in the flow where a lava tube collapsed

Prickly pear cactus and bud

A'a flow

Prickly pear blooms

If Arnold was a bumblebee, he would be the pollinator

Side view of the prickly pear


Prodigious amount of prickly pear.  You can eat this and drink the nectar in a survival situation, by the way 

Juniper berries

Pahoehoe, the most common type of lava on this flow

Little caves and caverns are everywhere out here

Where a lava tube collapsed

Mariposa lily and friend

Unsure what this flower is

Beautiful larkspur

Two of the Three Sisters.  Three mountains, each formed in a different way but all related to the volcano

What the sky looked like

 Hole in the ground

What a four hundred year old juniper looks like

Crack in the ground

Another cave made by a collapsed lava tube

I had never seen this cottonball looking thing on sagebrush before

Big, twisted juniper

Unsure what this white flower is

Stop #2  Moreland Cemetery
We didn't spend a lot of time photographing this cemetery.  We had just been there the other day and had dressed the graves and photographed them.  We also spent hours there one day last year photographing every tombstone in the place for my son's Eagle Project for the Boy Scouts of America.  I will post a photo of the grave we came to visit but it was taken at an earlier time.

The Robertson grave we came to see.  Photo was taken on Memorial Day, 2014

Stop #3  Hell's Half Acre nature trail:  The south side (which is really the east side if you believe the map)
On the way back home we stopped for part II of the lava flow trail.  This trail has a shorter trail that is wheelchair accessible and a longer trail that is not because it involves a couple of flights of stairs.  The nature trail and interpretive materials are at the same time similar and different.  The landscape is somewhat different on this side of the freeway as well.  It seemed to me there was more foliage and more loess (windblown sediment) had collected, creating a place for plants to grow.  Enough talk, let's look at pictures.

Sign for the South (East) trailhead

Apparently we have a white thistle called "Hooker's Thistle"  Who knew?  Throw in a pollinator for good luck.

The dead wood here doesn't rot with any frequency.  This stuff is almost mummified

This has been dead here for a very long time

More pahoehoe

Could this be a den of some animal?

Cracked basalt

Lichen covering this bush


Lichen, where life begins in the steppes

Fall colors but it isn't fall

A pika.  Short eared rabbit that is native to the steppes of Idaho

Lava tube collapsed

Small desert fern


Everybody thinks they can make a living here

The old man.  This may be the oldest juniper tree on the flow.  Huge.  Maybe a
thousand years old.

I still don't know what this is but I like it.

Dense pack
Hell's Half Acre is one of my favorite places in southeast Idaho.  I love to drive through it, hike through it and fly over it.  I imagine what it must have looked like when it was molten.  I have a bit of time in Craters of the Moon National Monument lately because business trips have taken me through there.  That flow is about 3000 years younger than this one.  When I visit Craters I try to imagine what it would look like in the future. I have a pretty good idea because of Hell's Half Acre.  Very similar landscapes, formed in very similar fashion.  Craters is more of an a'a flow whereas Hell's Half Acre is more of a pahoehoe flow.  However, when the loess begins to fill it in and the plants take root, ultimately it will look very similar.  I love this place and I love Idaho.  The wonders of nature are all around us here.  Come and see us sometime.

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