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Chapter 10:


In the tradition of Stephen T. Mather, the National Park Service promoted tourism for Craters of the Moon hoping to gain public support for both the agency and the new monument. The Park Service as well as many preservationists believed that large numbers of tourists would ensure the monument's protection by arousing an appreciation for its "scientific" and "scenic" wonders. Agency officials and monument supporters envisioned Craters of the Moon as a "wayside" to the popular destinations of Yellowstone National Park and Sun Valley. Seeing the monument as an inducement to travel through remote southcentral Idaho, local boosters foresaw substantial profits from monument travel, and encouraged the Park Service to develop the conveniences a traveling public expected. The Service, in turn, enhanced the visitor's experience by providing the "luxuries" of roads, trails, and campgrounds, running water, restrooms, and overnight accommodations. While not on the scale of the great hotels and services found in many national parks, the modest comforts offered at Craters of the Moon reflected the Mather practice of making the parks accessible and enjoyable for motorists.


The earliest services at the monument were guided tours. Deterred by the remote recesses of the lava country, the casual explorer depended on entrepreneurs, mostly neighboring ranchers, miners, or Arcoites, to lead him to the geological spectacles. Men like Samuel Paisley and Robert Limbert conducted excursions before the area's creation, introducing Idaho and the nation to the weird and beautiful terrain. This personal service carried over into the early administration of the monument. Stephen Mather, for example, appointed Paisley as the monument's first custodian in May 1925 because of his intimate knowledge of the area, granting him permission to run an exclusive guide service to augment his meager salary. Mather agreed to these conditions as a means to other ends--to stop similar guide and commercial services operating outside of the Park Service's control, as well as to regulate approved tourist activities and protect the resources. Paisley's guide service, in Mather's eyes, was a temporary measure, an expedient solution to a bigger problem, that ended when the custodian retired after two seasons. [1] Guiding tourists to the monument's features, however, formed an important public service, one which subsequent custodians, better paid and trained, continued.

In a time of low visitation this type of service was possible for the lone custodian, and necessary due to limited development of roads and trails. Yet the Service could only afford the bare minimum, barely able to pay its custodians and improve access, and when local commercial clubs, political leaders, and the Union Pacific Railroad pressured the Park Service to develop tourist conveniences in the first years of management, the agency turned to private interests to meet the desired services.

In January 1927, the Park Service, apparently in return for his years of promoting the monument, awarded Robert Limbert a permit to run a packhorse concession at Craters of the Moon for one year. Limbert and several associates organized Craters of the Moon Tours, acquiring horses and planning to operate from a ranch near Martin. Although the concession appeared ready to open for business in June, there is no record of its operation. [2]


At the same time the packtrain business appeared and faded from sight, another concession was conceived. In May 1927, the Park Service signed the first five-year permit for Crater Inn, allowing the operators Jo G. Martin and John R. Wright of Arco to sell "gasoline and oil, lunch goods, cold drinks, and the usual line of accommodations furnished to tourists and sight-seers." Crater Inn provided a full-service business for monument visitors who, especially in an era of poor road conditions throughout the state, may have been stranded otherwise, the monument being a long drive from the nearest village or town. Stephen Mather's approval of the concession came as early as October 1926, a short time after the monument's creation, indicative of his belief that comforts would attract more visitors and raise the monument's stature. [3]

To be visible, the concession operators located their buildings under Sunset Ridge, across from the present campground, and at the time, near the junction of the two monument entrance roads. They began construction in May 1927 and by October had completed five log structures--the central concession building, Crater Inn, a gas station, and three log cabins. Crater Inn stood west of the cabins, which formed a line to its east, beneath the slightly curved crater wall, facing out to the campground and headquarters. With walls of Douglas fir, chimney of lava stone leaking smoke, and mule deer antlers hanging from its eaves, Crater Inn composed a familiar country (rustic) image in a strange and unfamiliar scene. [4]

The site was dry, the Park Service having instructed Martin and Wright to establish here to protect the monument's limited water supply. In return, the concessioners were promised a connection to a permanent source in the near future. As it turned out, the concession site played an important role in the location of the water system; at the same time the buildings were under construction, the water levels dropped to near depletion, and the Park Service implemented plans to centralize the headquarters complex across from the operator site, where the new water system would serve both the monument's administration and concession. [5]

Without water in the monument and with the appearance of Crater Inn, visitors were drawn to the concession. At the request of the Park Service the owners supplied tourists water free of charge during the "dry years." Martin and Wright hauled the water from Martin, around five miles away, and stored it in a three-hundred-gallon tank. Ironically, the benevolent act of providing free water for four years constituted Crater Inn's greatest achievement, for as a business venture it failed. [6]

The owners expected that once the water system was installed they would be able to modify the inn and cabins with running water, toilets, and "bathing facilities, without which it is impossible to have a first rate establishment." Water and the improvements it would bring were important to the growth and stability of the concession, and essential to conveying the significance of the monument to the public. As soon as these improvements were in place, Martin declared, the "popularity of the place will catch up with its real merit as one of the most interesting scenic phenomena in the world. People will not come in large numbers or stay very long where they are uncomfortable or subjected to hardship. We hope to relieve that at Craters of the Moon and profit accordingly, but we are practically at a standstill until the water is brought in." [7] When the water system was finished in 1931, however, Martin was proven wrong. The business operated in debt for several decades, unable to provide the monument with the "dignified accommodations" it deserved. [8]

Before it was closed in the mid-1950s, Crater Inn changed ownership four times; the new owners, though, were not able to turn the business around and make it a profitable venture. In a sense, the concession's operation paralleled the monument's administration. During the decades of low visitation, the business, at times, could not even pay its permit fee; the situation was aggravated by the poor conditions of regional highways, the depression and World War II. The condition of the primitive structures was poor and overall the facility was unsightly and uncomfortable. The Inn's emphasis on meals and lodging produced little revenue, yet was a powerful fixation in the minds of the concession's owners. Even though past operators, for instance, could not afford to modernize the facilities, in 1940 Crater Inn's new owner began adding four more cabins, one of which housed the concession's house maid. [9]

Closed several years during World War II, the concession reopened to the new conditions of the postwar travel boom, regional population growth, and improved highways--all things that forecast profit. For a brief time, this was the case, until the business was beset by another ironic twist of fate. Better roads brought more sightseers who, rather than stay in the monument to eat or sleep, drove on to tributary towns, like Arco, attracted to that city's motels, cafes, and services. Besides the "amenities" of Arco, tourists were likely unimpressed by the appearance of Crater Inn, what Superintendent Aubrey Houston called in 1950 an "eyesore, and substandard in every way." [10] In short, the short-term visitor treated the monument like a roadside attraction, the concession offering little incentive to linger in the monument.

The superintendent thought that, as it existed, the concession should be eliminated. Still, national park visitors expected services, and he recommended that the agency offer a concession service in the new headquarters design. Regional Director O.A. Tomlinson, however, revised the existing concession policy, noting that the new boom and travel patterns dictated a change in public services. Citing the recent growth of motels in Arco, Tomlinson stated that

I have always felt that, due to the nearness of Arco to the monument, our monument visitors should find their accommodations in that town. For this reason I feel strongly that our development planning should be very modest as to public accommodations--perhaps confining them to meeting the day-time needs of our visitors. For this reason we should encourage the Chamber of Commerce and business men to provide the necessary overnight facilities for tourists who visit the monument. [11]

Tomlinson's decision to leave the provision of "personal comforts to the business interests of Arco" foreshadowed the demise of Crater Inn and established the Park Service's concession policy at Craters of the Moon.

In 1952, the concession's fourth owner attempted to stave off what appeared to be the inevitable by renovating the structures with electrical wiring (when electricity arrived that year) and by making other superficial repairs. The operator, realizing the changing times, stopped short of full modernization because it was not profitable in an age of "deluxe motels." He decided to emphasize the sales of souvenirs and refreshments instead of meals and lodging. The Park Service, as well, prepared for the eventual closure of overnight facilities, and enforced Special Condition 19 in the new operator's permit, which essentially stated that the agency could discontinue cabin rental with the completion of the new headquarters development. [12]

Although the monument's master plans of the early 1950s included a concessionaire wing in the headquarters complex, the facility was eventually omitted from the final Mission 66 master plan. [13] Until then the Service seemed indecisive. When the operator announced his decision not to renew his permit after 1956, the Park Service advertised for operators to run the new concession. The agency's stipulations, while not expressly stating that the Park Service was against a concession in the new development, made the venture an unattractive proposition, specifying that there would be no living quarters available and that the operator would have to incur all expenses (including, it seems, construction costs). [14] What was clear at the time, however, was that the Park Service had decided to officially end overnight accommodations, retain the campground, and operate the monument as a day use area. [15]

In the fall of 1958, Park Service authorities settled the issue by rejecting a concession proposal for a lunch counter, lounge, employee quarters, gas station, and souvenir shop. Although these services were strictly day use, they were available a short drive away in Arco. Moreover, it appears, the compact design theme and costs of construction made the concession facility expendable. [16] When the last buildings of Crater Inn were sold at public auction and removed from the monument in November 1958, the era of concessions ended at Craters of the Moon. [17]

Crater Inn, late 1920s-early 1930s
Crater Inn, three guest cabins, and gas station, as they appeared in the late 1920s and early 1930s. (CRMO Museum Collection)


In 1967, less than ten years after the monument's full-service concession ended, the idea of establishing a new concession operation was reconsidered, only this time the site selected lay outside of Craters of the Moon, on its eastern boundary at the Blizzard Mountain Junction. The idea belonged to Superintendent Paul Fritz, who broached the subject during his efforts to revise the 1966 master plan. [18]

The superintendent cited several reasons for his interest in developing a new concession. First, in an age of industrial tourism, the monument's 200,000 annual visitors saturated the existing services and burdened the monument's personnel. Second, larger numbers of monument visitors were "striving for...liquid refreshments, food, gasoline, and auto services, overnight accommodations, trailer hook-ups, and camping and picnic supplies." Third, reflecting his larger agenda of currying public support for the monument's expansion, Fritz advocated a multipurpose approach. The concession would serve well visitors to Craters of the Moon, the traveler along U.S. Highway 93A, and patrons of the Blizzard Mountain Ski Area. [19]

Finally, the proposed site was situated outside the monument boundaries. The superintendent opposed any new development inside the monument, which was constrained by the headquarters' restricted design and physical terrain. Thus the Blizzard Mountain Junction, two miles east of the headquarters and half a mile outside the area, was attractive because it was located on "generally flat terrain and not on fragile or high scenic geologic features." It was strategically situated near the monument, easily visible and accessible from the highway and secondary roads to the Pioneer Mountains and the Challis National Forest. In addition to the new concession development, Fritz planned to move the proposed group campground east, to the northern base of Sunset Cone, and construct a road from it to the Blizzard Mountain Road, north of the highway, thereby creating a self-contained camping and concession facility away from the headquarters area. [20]

In his negotiations with the Bureau of Land Management (under whose jurisdiction the Blizzard Mountain Junction fell), Superintendent Fritz found the agency amenable to his plan. In an August 22, 1967 memorandum, for example, the BLM offered an "equal" land exchange with the Park Service to allow the monument to obtain the proposed site, in effect transferring grazing for nongrazing lands, and modifying the boundaries for administrative efficiency. Hence, Idaho Falls District Manager Jesse Kirk suggested that the monument cede two parcels totaling 160 acres in the north end, believing they were better off under BLM management. A parcel of comparable size, contiguous with the monument and having little grazing value would be transferred from the BLM to the NPS. [21]

Over the next month the BLM tossed around several proposals for consummating the exchange. The first was formal legislation, with a special lease granted in the interim to enable the Park Service to begin planning and construction; the second means abandoned the first, however, and favored adding the lands by presidential proclamation, leaving the boundary adjustments intact. [22]

Even though Fritz had the support of the BLM, he could not convince his superiors in the regional office to alter the monument's concession policy. The 1965 master plan team concluded that no new facilities or boundary changes were necessary, and agency officials held firm to that decision. To no avail, Fritz argued that the proposed concession would be mutually beneficial, and in order to make it possible, the Park Service must enter into the land exchange, since the BLM apparently had no desire to operate a concession. [23]

Reiterating the Park Service's position, Acting Regional Director Raymond O. Mulvany told the superintendent that agency officials "do not share your enthusiasm for the development of a concession facility at Craters of the Moon." The costs were prohibitive, especially when "facilities are available within a 30 minute drive of the monument." And, the "prudence of adding lands to the monument" for the concession was questionable. Furthermore, Mulvany believed, the services of a concession should be left to the private sector to develop--outside of the monument--since, it was thought, nonmonument visitors would use the facility most. Thus, no matter the variations offered by Fritz, the agency held fast to the existing (1966) master plan and past policy, and considered the "matter closed until such time as a new master plan study is made at Craters of the Moon." [24]

In essence, the superintendent challenged the no-concession policy by attempting to remove the development from the headquarters area. But while that eliminated one problem, it failed to take into account that the Park Service would not manage a concession anywhere inside (or outside) park boundaries as long as nearby gateway towns or private industry satisfied visitor needs.

Rebuffed by Park Service officials, Fritz interested and then assisted local businessmen in their pursuit of developing a concession. He alerted Idaho Senators Frank Church and Les Jordan to the situation in early 1968, and with their influence and pressure from private interests, the BLM offered to lease or sell the site at Blizzard Mountain Junction under the Small Tract Act or Public Land Sale Act of 1964. In either respect, however, the bureau believed that commercial development would place it "in the 'town' business," a responsibility belonging to local government. Moreover, Butte County was not zoned. And federal law stipulated that public lands could not be sold without local zoning regulations to "control the manner and type...of commercial facilities." Thus, the responsibility and future of the concession fell to the Butte County Commissioners--and ended with them. In May 1968, they decided that it was not feasible to zone the county at the time, thereby terminating the proposal. [25]


Park service policy for a concession at Craters of the Moon was based on the failure of Crater Inn, limited physical space, the short-term visitor, and the availability of services in Arco and other towns. Therefore, the only services on site necessary were vending machine refreshments and snacks. In short, the "pop machine" satisfied the wants of the windshield tourists, and the Craters of the Moon Natural History Association, which managed the pop machine, filled the role of a concession.

Formed in May 1959, the purpose of the cooperating association extended beyond serving cold drinks. While it provided the basic visitor services in the absence of a concession, the natural history association's main purpose was to help the Park Service preserve and interpret the monument. Growing from a small organization into a sound business, independent of the regional cooperating association, the monument association has been able to make money for Craters through the sales of publications--books, maps, guides, and handouts--for which it supplies nearly all funds to produce. With the profits from these sales, the cooperating association has filled chronic NPS funding gaps for research, land acquisition and special programs, rehabilitation projects, and training in the monument. Many of the research projects supported resource management and interpretive programs. All told, the association enabled the monument to respond to changing needs as they arose, often independent and with out the restrictions of federal funding. [27]

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Last Updated: 27-Sep-1999