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.
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:
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 snakesnot even the desert rattlerare 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
The following is a list of plants found in the area:
Juniperus occidentalis, western juniper
SHRUBS AND HERBACEOUS PLANTS.
Acrolasia dispersa, sand lily
Bromus tectorum, brome grass
APPROXIMATE ERUPTIVE SEQUENCE OF THE PRINCIPAL LAVA FLOWS IN THE AREA IN ORDER FROM YOUNGEST TO OLDEST.
1. Indian Tunnel flow
Last Updated: 28-Mar-2006