Craters of the Moon National Monument
Matt Peiffer, Interpretive Ranger
Craters of the Moon National Monument
Location: Arco, Idaho
Park established: May 2, 1924 (1970 it was also designation as a Wilderness)
President in office: Calvin Coolidge
Park size: 750,000 acres
Highest elevation: 7,729 feet in the foothills of the Pioneer Mountain
Visitors: 237,774 in 2022
- 16.2 miles of hiking trails
- Nocturnal animals include packrats, skunks, foxes, bobcasts, mountain lions, bats, owls and more
- Some animals that are only found at Craters of the Moon include Great Basin pocket mouse, yellow pine chipmunks, and lava beetles
- 750 different types of plants
- 2017 – International Dark Sky designation
What is your earliest park memory?
I think that would be as a kid going to Fort McHenry in Baltimore. I grew up in Maryland, not far outside of the Baltimore area. That was a field trip I think I first took in second grade and was one of the first memories I have with the National Park Service.
You know, it’s always something I was very fond of. I majored in history in college. I’ve always been a big lover of that stuff.
And then, aside from that, I also remember spending a lot of time in, Catoctin Mountains out in Maryland. That was a beautiful park out there.
What made you love the parks?
I’ve always been interested in the outdoors, but I think I started to realize how much I love the National Park Service and the National Parks was probably after my first year here at Craters. I was working a summer seasonal job that year and went back home to Maryland over the winter and on my way back I had no time frame so I’d stopped at as many different National Parks and Monuments as I could and getting that experience made me realize I was already really loving working for the National Parks, but now I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.
What is your favorite thing about Craters of the Moon National Monument?
One of the things I love is on some of the cinders here, which are the small droplets of lava that get initially sprayed out when it first starts erupting, because of the way they cool, they have this glass that forms on the outside of them.
And when you hit them on the right light, it gives it this beautiful metallic rainbow color to the surface of these cinders. It’s an incredible sight, uh, especially if you go to Inferno Cone it. Just the right time of day, and you’re walking up the hill there, the entire pathway is just shining with those cinders.
What is your favorite thing to do at Craters of the Moon National Monument?
Hmm, favorite thing to do? I would say probably camping out in the wilderness area. I’ve gone out there three separate times now, and every time I’ve been out backpacking in the wilderness area, I’ve been the only person out there.
Not a lot of people realize that’s an option here. And it’s just an incredible experience. You know, camping out in the middle of an old volcanic crater and looking up at the stars, watching the bats and nighthawks fly overhead. It is. Something I have greatly enjoyed, and I think I will definitely be back out to Echo Crater sometime soon.
What park have you yet to visit but is on your bucket list and why?
Ooh, that’s quite a few actually. One that’s really been on the top of my mind is Zion National Park. It’s one I have not yet gotten to, and I can’t remember how I first heard about it, but I remember I was probably about maybe 13 or 14 when I first heard about that park.
Ever since I’ve learned about, and seen pictures of it, it’s been one that’s been very high on my list, and I’m thinking that I might be able to get down there sometime this year, not too far from where I am.
What are three must-haves you pack for a park visit?
Always bring some sort of good sun hat. I’ve got a pretty pale complexion, so the sun does not go well with me.
A good solid water bottle. I’ve got a nice one of those metal ones. I think it holds like 36 ounces. I always want to have lots of water.
And then another thing I always try to have with me is a pair of binoculars in case you get a view of an animal sighting, you can get a good view and still stay safe.
What is your favorite campfire activity?
In the past few years, I bought a harmonica and I’ve been trying to teach myself how to play. It’s one of my favorite things when I’m out doing a solo camp around the campfire.
Tent, camper, or cabin?
I have always been a tent man myself. You know, there’s something about being outside in a tent. I would like to maybe get a camper one day, but I’m sort of a traditionalist when it comes to camping. I’ve got a few different tents, my backpacking and car camping, and they’ve been serving me very well over these years.
Hiking with or without trekking poles?
Usually, I go without, but it kind of just depends. If I know it’s going to be a particularly rough hike, especially with a lot of elevation gain, I’ll tend to bring them along just in case.
And what is your favorite trail snack?
I would probably say beef jerky. That’s probably one of the most common ones I bring with me. It’s easy to pack, it’s tasty, and it gives you lots of protein and energy to keep the hike going.
What is the best animal sighting that you’ve had?
I’ve been incredibly lucky. I’ve spotted Pika here twice. They’re a rare sight here. They’re around, but they tend to stay hidden. I’ve just been in the right spot at the right time, on two occasions. Some of the rangers that I know who’ve worked here for 10-plus years have never seen a pika here.
A Pika is a member of the rabbit family, they’re pretty cool. They’re adorable little animals. They kind of look almost like a big hamster, it is the best way I can think to describe them. They’re known to hang out in rocky areas typically.
One of their telltale signs of pika is they store, they make hay piles. They grab grasses and plants and store them for the winter. So you can often spot them kind of running around with a bundle of flowers in their mouth, and they’re cool animals to watch.
What is your favorite sound in the parks?
I always really like the birds chirping and the winds going. Especially in the springtime, right around sunrise, when I’m camping out. It’s a very peaceful and relaxing sound.
What is the greatest gift the parks give to us?
I would say it’s the opportunity to get out and connect with nature and be away from all the busyness of the more modern, more urbanized life. Just getting away and experiencing these pristine wilderness areas where you can be the only person there for miles and miles and out enjoying all the beauty of nature and the outdoors.