State seal of Idaho Idaho Bureau of Mines and Geology Bulletin
Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho



The birds that are known to inhabit the area are given in the following list. This list is not complete, for doubtless many other birds visit the area in certain seasons of the year.

1. Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos). In flight.
2. Geese. Variety unknown. In flight.
3. Killdeer (Oxyechus vociferus). Frequents water holes.
4. Sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus).
5. Mourning dove (Zenaidura marcoura carolinensis).
6. Western goshawk (Astur atricapillus striatulus). Nests on top of crater rims.
7. Western redtail hawk (Buteo borealis calurus).
8. Red-bellied hawk (Buteo lineatus elegans).
9. Black hawk (perhaps Buteo abbregiatus, but has no white bands on tail).
10. Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos).
11. Bald eagle (Haliaetus leucocephalus).
12. Sparrow hawk (not identified, perhaps Falco columbarius).
13. Screech owl (Otus asio asio). Reported.
14. Western horned owl (Bubo virginianus pallescens).
15. Clarke nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana).
16. Red-headed woodpecker. Reported.
17. Yellow hammer. Reported.
18. Western nighthawk (Chordeiles virginianus henryi).
19. American magpie (Pecappica hudsonia).
20. American raven (Corvus corax sinuatus).
21. Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos).
22. Western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta).
23. Loggerhead shrike (Lanius ludovicianus). Frequently seen sitting on sagebrush.
24. Mountain bluebird (Sialia currucoides).

The first impression received by a casual visitor to the area is that animal life shuns the lavas. However, numerous mammals live in the area; the common varieties are listed below:

1. Coyote.
2. Pack rat.
3. Porcupine.
4. Chipmunk.
5. Pocket gopher.
6. Black-tailed jack rabbit.
7. Cottontail rabbit.
8. Rock rabbit.
9. Snowshoe rabbit.
10. Rock chuck.
11. Bobcat.
12. Bat.
13, Skunk.
14. Pine squirrel.

Mr. S. A. Paisley reports that a small red fox also inhabits the area. One bat caught in Needles Cave was identified by Mr. Gerrit S. Miller, Jr., curator of mammals, Smithsonian Institution, as a big-eared bat (Corynorhinus rafinesquii pallescens). Other varieties also may live in the caves, although none were found. The lava caves are favorite places for bear to hibernate, but the number that visit the area has rapidly decreased in the last decade. Mr. Era Martin reports that he killed several grizzly and black bears in the area some time ago. The bear cage near the automobile road was hauled in to trap a bear alive for a circus. It is stated by Mr. Martin that no bear was ever caught in it, although a bear removed the bait on several occasions. It is now the object of considerable curiosity. During the investigation numerous bear dens were found in such caves as Sunbear Cave and Moss Cave. In these two caves shallow saucer-shaped bear beds were found in the dust on the floors. The wild parsnip on the cinder cones in the lower part of the Monument is their favorite food, and at the time of his early visits to the area the writer saw acres of these parsnips that had been pulled and dug up by rooting bear.

The skulls of antelope and mountain sheep are occasionally seen bleaching in the sun among the lavas. Formerly these animals wintered in the area. According to a statement by Mr. S. A. Paisley, a buffalo horn was found in Buffalo Caves. During the autumn of 1926 a buck, doe, and fawn lived in the timber in the crater of Sunset Cone. Several decades ago the number that ranged in the Monument was much larger. Under the protection of the National Park Service more may take refuge in the Monument. Conies are reported to inhabit the rock ledges of the craters. The little chipmunks are great travelers, for they are often seen half a mile or more out in the roughest and freshest lava away from all visible food supplies. The pack rats likewise cross the roughest lavas and inhabit the principal caves. Mr. Paisley found their nests in the bottom of Crystal Pit, one of the spatter cones at the end of the road, 80 feet below the rim of the crater. Doubtless the rats find their way into this abyss through crevices or tubes at the base of the cone. No snakes—not even the desert rattler—are found in the Monument, although they are sometimes seen at the margins of the lava beds outside. It is thought by many that the skin of snakes is not sufficiently tough to withstand travel across the rough and jagged lava.


The scenery of the Craters of the Moon National Monument is so vastly different from that of the national parks that the tourist naturally wonders if the flowers are not different also. The flowers are not essentially different from those in other parts of the West but their variety in this place is unusually large as compared with those in the remainder of Snake River desert, and the contrast of them among the black, brown, and red cinders, and the bare-looking lava flows, is striking and unexpected. The usual green of the short spring, which is characteristic of the semiarid plain, is lacking in this area of black lava flows. However, for a short period much of the area of the cinders is carpeted with white bitterroot and red monkey flowers. The beauty of the blossoms of these short-stemmed plants, practically obscure and often passed unnoticed at other times of the year, is accentuated by the black and drab background. Later in the hot summer when one is tramping across the fields of lava, one is agreeably surprised at suddenly coming upon the profusely blooming mock orange, clinging tenaciously to the otherwise bare lavas, or, being confronted by a deep crack, to find growing in its shady recess a beautifully green and dainty fern. On every hand are striking examples of the struggle to heal and conceal this great black scar on the face of the earth.

The trees are dwarfed because of the unfavorable conditions under which they grow. Three species are found in the Craters of the Moon but the visitor who motors around the loop road will probably see only one, the limber pine, Pinus flexilus. It seems better adapted to growing on the cinders than on the lava. Small stands of quaking aspen, Populus tremuloides, grow on the slopes of Big Cinder and Fissure buttes where the snow lies late in the springs. The other tree, western or red juniper, Juniperus occidentale, is found on the lava flows at the southern end of the Monument but it is not abundant. The mistletoe that is found clinging to the limber pine is a small, scarcely noticeable, yellow-green plant, and not the white-berried and broad-leaved variety of the southern states.

If one visits the Craters of the Moon in July he is surprised at the abundance of blossoms. The mock orange, Philadelphus Lewisii, the state flower of Idaho, is found in the deep crevices of the lava. It is a small shrub but profuse in its blossoming. Purshiana tridentata, sometimes called buck brush, a shrub with dark green trilobate leaves, yellow flowers, and rounded fruit, pointed at the tip, is the most abundant of the shrubs. Another conspicuous shrub is Sericotheca glabrescens (Chamaebatiaria millefolium), mountain spray. It has a viscid stem and leaves and bears numerous panicles of small white flowers. Ribes Hudsonianum or viscosissimum is an inedible currant found near the Registration Booth. Ribes cereum, an edible variety, is very abundant on Little Prairie. Rabbit brush, Chrysothamnus graveolens; sagebrush, Artemesia tridentata; service berry, Amelanchier alnifolia; and chokecherry, Prunus melanocarpa, are found on the cinders.

Many of the herbs on the cinders attract the attention of the traveler, whether they are in blossom or not. In June during the heat of the day, bitterroot, Lewisia redeviva, is in full glory and surpasses all the other flowers in beauty. It is an acaulescent perennial plant with a thick, short stem, white flowers, and large orange root. In June and July the cinders are covered with patches of the red monkey flower, Mimulus nanus, a small annual with a reddish-purple, funnel-shaped corolla with yellow spots in the throat. The buckwheat, Eriogonum, is found in all kinds of places. The most common variety is Eriogonum depressum or acaule, a small plant with white leaves, a perennial root and heads of cream and sometimes red flowers. The other buckwheats are Eriogonum aridum, pale yellow heads that turn purple with age; Eriogonum ovalifolium with oval-shaped leaves and a single, loose, yellow head of flowers on each scape; and Eriogonum vimineum, a very lacy pink-flowered plant with the flowers in the axils of the leaves and not in the heads.

Other flowers found in the Monument are as follows: a very pretty blue Pentstemon which has not been named; the blue larkspur, Delphinium Nuttallianum; Senecio Howellii and Senecio Sphaerocephalis (?) squaw weed or ragwort, a yellow composite; Castelleja pinetorum, Indian paint brush; Crepis acuminata, an other yellow composite; Lygodesmia spinosa, a pale pink composite with stiff branches and spinelike scales for leaves; Lupinus tenulus, a purple lupine with pale green pubescent leaves; Machaeranthera pulverulenta, a low blue composite with a deep yellow disk; Gayophytum ramosissimum, a delicate finely branched plant with pale pink or white flowers, which belongs to the primrose family; Nuttallia acuminata (Mentzelia multiflora), sand lily, a large plant with shining white stems and numerous large yellow blossoms; Acrolasia dispersa (Mentzelia densa), a much smaller sand lily much like the preceding; Potentilla biennis and Potentilla dichrona, two cinquefoils found on the lava; Drymocallis pseudorupestris, a plant much like the cinquefoils; Erigeron nanus, a low pale blue or white fleabane daisy; Navarretia minima, a small, exceedingly spiny phlox with white-flowers; Leptodactylum patens (Gilia pungens), a larger phlox with a spiny stem and large white flowers; Pentstemon deustus, a small glabrous plant with dense racemes of white flowers with purple markings in the throat; Calochortus Nuttallii, sego or mariposa lily, the state flower of Utah, a large white lily with a dark spot in the center; Phacelia heterophylla and Phacelia leucophylla, scorpion weeds, having recurved racemes with pale lavender flowers and leaves that are strikingly veined, silky pubescent, and tinged with purple; Chaenactics Douglasii, false yarrow, a grey-green plant with white flowers in dense clusters on a rigid stem; Crypthantha Torreyana, a white-flowered borage covered with stiff hairs; Oreocarya dolosa, also a borage, like the preceding except that the flowers are in dencer racemes; Eupatorium occidentale, Joe-pye weed or boneset, a plant bearing lavender or pink flowers and many leaves; Coleosanthus grandiflorus (Brickellia grandiflora) a composite which is like boneset except that it has fewer leaves on the stem; Nicotiana attenuata, tobacco, which has a viscid stem and a white tubular corolla and is abundant on the road near Big Craters and in Little Prairie; Opuntia at least two species, Opuntia xanthostemma and Opuntia polycantha the only cacti found in the Craters of the Moon; an umbellifer, probably wild parsnip, a low plant with yellow blossoms, found on the cinders ; Agoseris sp. (Troximon) or goat chicory, a yellow composite, which has not been identified; Salsola pestifer, the Russian thistle, and Circium orthe, Canadian thistle.

The ferns are found in the crevices of the pahoehoe lava where they have been able to gain a good foothold. There are three ferns found in the Monument, namely, Felix fragilis, a dainty fern; Woodsia oregana like the Felix but more common; and Polystichum scropulinum, Christmas or holly fern, a coarse fern with broad fronds.

One finds also several grasses, namely Bromus tectorum, brome grass, an introduced species found in almost every kind of place; Ericoma hymenoides, Indian millet; Oryzopsis Bloomeri, rice grass; Stipa comata and Stipa occidentalis, known as spear grass, porcupine grass, or feather grass; Melica bella, a large grass, indicative in its abundance of overgrazing, commonly known as melica grass but sometimes called rye grass; Sitanion rigidum and Sitanion cinereum, grasses with many long awns which give it a fuzzy appearance upon drying.

There are numerous interesting lichens, mosses and algae found in caves and on rocks. The most conspicuous is a large green fruticose lichen which grows on dead or dying limber pines. On the smooth spatter in the mouths of the little craters and on the pahoehoe lava, one finds a great variety of lichens; grey, green, red, orange, and black. In the water holes, in the coldest water, are found colonies of green algae. A few are also found in the open moist caves. All of the deep caves that have sufficient light are heavily carpeted with moss. Occasionally one finds a plant of Marchantia, liverwort, growing in the niches in the pahoehoe lava.1

1The identification of the majority of plants has been checked by Dr. P. A. Rydberg of the New York Botanical Gardens. New York City, to whom the author is deeply indebted, Aa attempt has been made to find common names for all plants and to correlate them with the text of Coulter and Nelson. In cases where two general names are given the keys differed as to the name of the plant; the first name is from "Flora of the Rocky Mountains and Adjacent Plains" by P. A. Rydberg and the second from "A New Manual of Rocky Mountain Botany" by Coulter and Nelson.

The following is a list of plants found in the area:


Juniperus occidentalis, western juniper
Pinus flexilus, limber pine
Populus tremuloides, quaking aspen


Acrolasia dispersa, sand lily
Agoseris sp., goat chicory
Amelanchier alnifolia, service berry
Arabis perelegans, rock cress
Artemesia tridentata, sagebrush
Calochortus Nuttallii, sego or mariposa lily
Castelleja pinetorum, Indian paint brush
Chaenactis Douglasii, false yarrow
Chrysothamnus graveolens, rabbitbrush
Circium orthe, Canadian thistle
Coleosanthus grandiflorus
Collomia lineanis
Crepis acuminata
Crypthantha Torreyana, borage
Delphinium Nuttallianum, larkspur
Drymocallis pseudorupestris
Erigeron nanus, fleabane daisy
Eriogonum aridum, umbrella plant
Eriogonum depressum, umbrella plant
Eriogonum ovalifolium
Eriogonum subalpinum, sulphur plant
Eriogonum vimineum, umbrella plant
Eupatorium occidentale, boneset
Felix fragilis, brittle fern
Galium boreale, bedstraw
Gayophytum remosissimum, baby's breath
Gilia leptomeria
Heuchera ovalifolis, alum root
Leptodactylum patens, phlox
Lewisia redeviva, bitterroot
Lupinus tenulus, lupine
Lygodesmia spinosa, prairie pink
Machacranthera pulverulenta, viscid aster
Mimulus nanus, monkey flower
(Eunanus Tolmiei)
Mentzetia dispersa
Navarretia minima, small phlox
Nicotiana attenuata, tobacco
Nutallia acuminata, blazing star
Opuntia polycantha, cactus
Opuntia zanthostemma, cactus
Oreocarya dolosa, borage
Pentstemon deustus
Pentstemon sp.
Phacelia heterophylla, scorpion weed
Phacelia leucophylla, scorpion weed
Philadelphus Lewisii, mock orange
Philoria tenufolia, desert pink
Potentilla biennis, cinquefoil
Potentilla dichrona, cinquefoil
Prunus melanocarpa, chokecherry
Purshiana tridentata, buck brush
Ribes cereum, edible currant
Ribes Hudsonianum, inedible currant
Salsola pestifer, Russian thistle
Seriocotheca glabrescens, mountain spray
Senecio Howellii, squaw weed or rag wort
Senecio Sphaerocephalis (?),squaw weed or ragwort
Umbellifer, sp.


Bromus tectorum, brome grass
Ericoma hymenoides, Indian millet
Melica bella, melica or rye grass
Oryzopsis Bloomeri, rice grass
Sitanion cinereum
Sitanion rigidum
Stipa comata, spear or porcupine grass
Stipa occidentalis, spear or porcupine grass


1. Indian Tunnel flow
2. Needles Cave flow
3. North Crater flow
4. Northeast Big Cinder Butte flow
5. Southwest flow from Big Craters and Crystal Pit fissures
6. Northwest Big Craters flow
7. Cave flow
8. Owl Cavern flow
9. Little Prairie aa flow
10. Derelict flow
11. Spatter-cone flow on Sheep Trail Butte
12. Northeast Big Craters flow
13. Serrate flow
14. Sheep Trail Butte flow
15. Highway flow
16. Coyote Butte flow
17. Trench Mortar Flat flow
18. Sentinel Butte flow
19. Fissure Butte flow
20. Ancient northeast flow from Big Cinder Butte
21. Vermilion Chasm flows
22. Fissure flow northwest of The Sentinel
23. Echo Crater flow
24. Moss Cave flow
25. Grassy Cone flow
26. Sunset Cone flow
27. Silent Cone flow


above sea
Height above
Section TownshipRange


Sunset Cone6.386590 262 N24 E
Grassy Cone6,351450 342 N24 E
North Crater Butte6,338440 352 N24 E
Paisley Cone6,050350 11 N24 E
Inferno Cone6,177300 11 N24 E
Big Craters Butte6,300300 21 N24 E
Silent Cone6,346450 21 N24 E
Broken Top6,060225 121 N24 E
Big Cinder Butte6,516800 131 N24 E
Half Cone6,041350 181 N25 E
Crescent Butte6,089490 111 N25 E
Coyote Butte5,907300 191 N25 E
Echo Crater Butte5.850250 291 N25 E
The Watchman5,871325 281 N25 E
The Sentinel5.840250 331 N25 E
Split Butte5,750250 31 S25 E
Fissure Butte5,877425 101 S25 E
Sheep Trail Butte5,617150 101 S25 E
Two Point Butte5,471120 231 S25 E

Round Knoll5,631125 272 N25 E
North Laidlow Butte5,906350 71 S25 E
Bowl Crater Butte5,596 50 181 S25 E


NAMEQuarter SectionTownshipRange
UnnamedSW 1/4 SW 1/4121 N24 E
Buffalo CavesSE 1/4 SE 1/4121 N24 E
Great Owl CavernNE 1/4 NE 1/4141 N24 E
Lava River CaveSW 1/4 SW 1/4332 N25 E
Last Chance CaveNW 1/4 SW 1/441 N25 E
Tom Thumb TunnelSE 1/4 NE 1/451 N25 E
Horseshoe CaveNE 1/4 SE 1/451 N25 E
Needles CaveNW 1/4 SE 1/451 N25 E
Surprise CaveNE 1/4 SW 1/461 N25 E
Dewdrop CaveNE 1/4 SW 1/461 N25 E
Indian TunnelSE 1/4 SW 1/461 N25 E
UnnamedNW 1/4 SW 1/4331 N25 E
Moss CaveSW 1/4 NW 1/4361 N25 E
Sunbear CaveSW 1/4 NW 1/4361 N25 E
Amphitheater CaveSW 1/4 NW 1/4361 N25 E
UnnamedNW 1/4 NW 1/4141 S25 E
UnnamedSW 1/4 SW 1/4151 S25 E


NAMEQuarterSection TownshipRangeHeightSpan
Natural BridgeSW51 N 25 E1230
Indian Tunnel BridgeSW61 N 25 E6075
Bridge of TearsNW361 N 25 E1540
Bridge of the MoonSE161 S 25 E2060


Kind of moldName of lava flow SectionTownshipRange
Lava treesTrench Mortar Flat181 N25 E
Lava treesTree Mold Flat28, 291 N25 E
Tree moldsNorthwest flow from Big Craters31 N24 E
Tree moldsOwl Cavern flow131 N24 E
Tree moldsBlue Dragon flows131 N24 E
Tree moldsBlue Dragon flows261 N24 E
Tree moldsBlue Dragon flows341 N24 E
Tree moldsBlack flows151 N25 E
Tree moldsBlack flows161 N25 E


NAMEQuarterSection TownshipRange
Registration Booth Water Hole1NW 11 N24 E
Ice CaveSE 21 N24 E
Pit Crater Water HoleNW 121 N24 E
Big Sink Water HoleNW 121 N24 E
Owl CavernNE 141 N24 E
Hoodoo Water HoleSW 272 N25 E
Surprise Water HoleNE 292 N25 E
Doves Water HoleSW 301 N25 E
Last Chance CaveSW 41 N25 E
Yellow Jacket Water Hole2SE 201 N25 E
Bearsden Water HoleNE 291 N25 E
Little Prairie Water HoleNE 291 N25 E
Sheep Trail Butte Water HoleSE 101 S25 E
Ice CaveSE 141 S24 E
Ice CavesNE 241 S25 E
1Went dry for first time in 1928; near site of former registration booth.
2Dry in September and October, 1926.

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Last Updated: 28-Mar-2006