Saturday, August 18, 2012

BIG TRIP 2012 Day 9: Idaho and Craters of the Moon!

We got up bright and early in Twin Falls, Idaho, and hit the road. The sun looked like it should be setting, due to the haze and smoke in the air from eight separate wildfires that had been started in the state by lightning. This haze and smoke would follow us for a couple of days.

We were en route to Craters of the Moon National Monument, the place I've wanted to go since I was a child, and along the way we saw several flocks of what we figured out were Sage Grouse on the sides of the road! I never got pictures because they moved so fast, but we had another lifer! At COTM, the ranger told me they were probably females hanging out on the side of the road. How he knew that, I don't know.

Anyway, as the sun rose and the day began but before we got to park entrance, we came across this little oasis:
This pond is located at the Goodale's Cutoff historical marker on Hwy 26E/93N, the road that takes you from Twin Falls to the park. I jumped out of the car (AB took a nap) and got the following photos:

Mystery warblers:
 These can't be just female Common Yellowthroats, can they?
That's the closest match I could find in my guide but there were no males and no witchety's going on. Any help from you western birders?
Also present was this White-faced (updated from Glossy - note the red eye) Ibis, who doesn't have much white-faced on him -- perhaps it's a her?:
 And several Wilson's Snipe:
 along with a ridiculous number of very noisy Yellow-headed Blackbirds, which are so beautiful!
Also saw a Great Blue Heron, dozens of Common Nighthawks and Red-winged Blackbirds, and American Coots. If I'd had a scope with me, I might've picked out some ducks or whatever, but all I had were my bins. Dangit!

I spent about an hour at this place then got back in the car, and we made our way to COTM. I've been dreaming of this place since I was in fourth grade, wanting to be an astronaut and hearing about how the astronauts trained for the moon at COTM. I don't know how moon-like the landscape was, but it was definitely other-worldly.

After stopping at the visitor center and getting all kinds of doo-dads and a Kaufman's field guide!, we started exploring the park:
Me at the sign

flows of chunky aa lava

fields of ropy pahoehoe lava

 a Limber Pine, of which there were many here. Note that in the background you can see the mountains and prairies that surround this giant field of lava. 
The divide is sudden and rather disorienting.

a collapsed lava bubble

tall lava spikes

We then walked the Devil's Orchard Nature Trail looking for birds. It was probably around 9am at this time, so there was some good bird activity and I got some cool lifers!
 Clark's Nutcracker on some lava formations - these
guys were everywhere, and they were very noisy!

 a cute little chippy

 not a lifer - but a nice pic of Say's Phoebe, which were also everywhere

Then I saw my first mystery bird:
the beak is wrong for a sparrow;

and I don't think it's a flycatcher because of the streaky-spotty on the sides of the breast. I thought it might be a female Say's Phoebe, but none of the photos online look like this. Again I need help!

After this relatively easy trail, we headed for the giant Inferno Cone, the only place in the park where you're supposed to walk right on the features:

It's a long way up! But you can see the lighter path where you're supposed to walk up. The entire cone is made up of lava "cinders" that look like this:
Aren't they beautiful? They were so rainbow-shiny and lightweight. Here's the view from the top of the cone:
Pretty cool!
By now, the sun was well up and the heat was coming on. It was then that we decided to hike the Tree Molds trail. Wish I'd noticed this sign BEFORE we started:
Notice that it says it's ONE MILE just to get to the first set of tree molds! I didn't see this sign until AFTER I almost died of heat stroke, though. Of course. Still, we saw lots of birds and formations:

a lava bomb! spewed from who knows where, 
but it was probably three or four feet in diameter!

a mold of a tree that imprinted itself on the lava during the flows


a hole where a tree was standing when the lava flowed

I mentioned there were lots of birds, and there were; however, I was either too hot and dying to get good photos or the birds were too fast for me. However, I noted a strange chickadee with a mask that turned out to be a Mountain Chickadee! All my pics of him, though, are just a bunch of leaves and branches. Hmph.

I also saw this bird:

I thought it was a bad photo of the Sage Thrasher I know I saw, but now I'm not sure what the heck it is. But I do know I saw the Sage Thrasher -- lifer!

Also seen but not photographed: Mountain Bluebird (lifer! no photo yet but just you wait!), Rock Wren (lifer again! terrible photos, but again - later photos will justify), and Sage Sparrow (lifer!). Meanwhile, I had to stop at one point to wait for the blood to stop pounding in my ears. I never stopped sweating, so I know I wasn't in real danger of overheating, but it was HOT! Still, I survived, so now I'm convinced I could hang with Bear Grylls OR Dave and Cody of Dual Survival. No problem.

This place was just so amazing; COTM would be one of many places we went on this trip that completely surpassed my expectations of it. The very idea of a giant eruption and lava flow, right in the middle of otherwise flat plains, was mind-boggling. You're driving along the highway, watching the mountains in the distance and mile after mile of prairie-like pasture, when suddenly these black crumbly areas just interrupt the pastoral scene, and you realize you're in a field of LAVA. Then you walk around and it's like you're suddenly in Hawaii or someplace, walking on LAVA. In IDAHO. Wow.

I highly recommend to anyone going out west that you stop here. There are great birds, great scenery, and the risk of death -- what more could you ask for?

Next up: The Grand Tetons!

5 comments:

Jen said...

Haha, yes the risk of death always adds to a location! I think your Glossy might be a White-faced Ibis (the red eye is a big indicator). As for the warbler, I'm not sure... Seems like a yellowthroat or maybe young Wilson's? No idea on the other mystery bird. Looks like you had an awesome time there!

dguzman said...

Hi Jen, Ah--you are correct; I noticed that the white was minimal and guessed Glossy, but you're right--the big red eye is obvious. The warblers do look like COYE, but I felt like I would've heard some witchetys. ?

Rabbits' Guy said...

Don't know those birds but there are a number of different yellow warblers around. Quite the place.

Lucy in the Skies said...

so glad you were able to go to this wondrous place! A friend and I went there for Halloween and stayed about 2 nights with the full Moon rising over the craggy cliffs of COTM(as you put it); You two should read each others' blogs-look up Marilyn Kircus and you'll find her blog-Vagabond Traveler; she does great pictures; we had cool temps and the place to ourselves in at the end of October!then the next day a group of 5 busloads of school kids came!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Lucy Condon starwanderer2001@yahoo.com

Lucy in the Skies said...

so glad you were able to go to this wondrous place! A friend and I went there for Halloween and stayed about 2 nights with the full Moon rising over the craggy cliffs of COTM(as you put it); You two should read each others' blogs-look up Marilyn Kircus and you'll find her blog-Vagabond Traveler; she does great pictures; we had cool temps and the place to ourselves in at the end of October!then the next day a group of 5 busloads of school kids came!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Lucy Condon starwanderer2001@yahoo.com