Administrative History
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Chapter 8:


By definition, National Park Service interpretation seeks to "communicate the natural and historical significance of parks to the public." [1] Its function at Craters of the Moon has been no different. For more than six decades, monument managers have attempted to develop the visitor's understanding and appreciation of the area's natural and cultural environment. As with other management programs, the volcanic landscape, with its variety of features, plant and animal life, has been the main focus. Craters of the Moon's enabling legislation has dictated this thrust, thus relegating cultural interpretation to a lesser emphasis by comparison. The interpretive program at the monument has evolved slowly, reflecting both NPS trends and the monument's administrative development pattern. The first several decades witnessed primarily ad hoc management, as small and underfunded staffs attempted to meet the monument's educational needs. Mission 66 provided new facilities and expanded staffing, enabling interpretation to address both education and resource protection in the ensuing years; it allowed a formal program to emerge.

Such a program has performed a vital role in the monument's administration. Unlike park areas that showcase scenery and whose visitors are aware of why they are coming and basically what they are seeing, Craters of the Moon's scientific uniqueness has assigned interpretation a particularly important function. It must intellectually stimulate both the informed and lay visitor alike. Especially for the untrained visitor, it must convert the initial impression of the dark landscape's stark scenery into a greater understanding of the recent volcanism on display. Instilling an appreciation of the monument's geologic significance, its variety of colors, forms, and textures, enhances the visitor's experience and helps protect the volcanic environment.


Beginning with Secretary of the Interior Franklin Lane's 1918 policy directive, national parks were to be managed for their educational as well as recreational values. [2] Director Stephen T. Mather created the Education Division in 1923, and his successor, Horace M. Albright, established the Branch of Research and Education in 1931. Both developments testified to the Park Service's commitment to science and education. At the park level, these advances contributed to visitor service programs in the form of guided hikes and tours, campfire talks, and museum exhibits. [3]

In its developing stages of administrative growth, Craters of the Moon lacked the required personnel and scientific research to carry out these programs to their fullest and convey to the visitor the monument's importance. The one-man operation in the 1920s and early 1930s concentrated on displaying the features more than it did on relating their scientific qualities. Providing access and guidance to the volcanic phenomena occupied much of the time and energy of the first several custodians. If visitors could not see the sites, then they could not appreciate them. Influenced by this basic premise, Custodian Paisley established a series of "firsts" in the form of guided and self-guided activities, giving structure to the monument's nascent interpretive program. Paisley created the monument's first "museum service" in the summer of 1925 when he constructed an "elaborate display of specimens from the Monument..." and erected the exhibit outside his headquarters cabin. For decades to come, this crude display case functioned as Craters of the Moon's sole museum exhibit and orientation device for visitors before they toured the monument. [4] Because of the area's low visitation, Paisley also personally assisted visitors in seeing the primary features, as part of his guide business, having laid out a "tour" of the monument along the primitive loop drive.

Although the rudiments of visitor services were set up in the latter 1920s, the Park Service was aware that more needed to be done than greet, direct, and accompany visitors through the monument. Civil Engineer Bert H. Burrell in his 1927 report, for instance, stated that the Craters of the Moon deserved a better trained staff, particularly in the position of custodian as well as in the position of ranger naturalists. With these changes, the engineer intimated that the monument could carry out an educational program. Chief Naturalist Ansel Hall believed as much when he related to Burrell that the Park Service could employ naturalists at the monument for the six-month season to conduct "educational work." [5] But upgrading the monument's personnel in terms of numbers and scientific training awaited several more years, as did any developments in an interpretive program. [6]

Until these changes took place, the Park Service relied on Harold Stearns' pamphlet, "A Guide to Craters of the Moon," to enhance visitor experience. When Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Roger W. Toll inspected Craters of the Moon in the fall of 1931, he observed that it was the only printed information available to the public. Published in 1928 and revised several times thereafter, the guide represented the geologist's extensive research on the monument's volcanic formations, a result of the surveys Stearns undertook in the early 1920s which helped to establish and later enlarge the monument. Toll believed that the geologist's guidebook, available for twenty-five cents, adequately met the visitor's needs. [7] What Toll could not know was that the interpretive program would rely on Stearns' booklet until well past mid-century, a reflection of the quality of the geologist's work and the monument's lack of staff, money, and research to produce a comparable document.

Cinderhurst Camp, ca. 1925
The first visitor center and museum at the Cinderhurst Camp, erected by Custodian Samuel A. Paisley, seated on the left, ca. 1925. (CRMO Museum Collection)


The Park Service's expansion during the New Deal augmented the monument's interpretive program substantially. Increased appropriations led to the creation of the first seasonal ranger position, and on July 22, 1935, G. Frederick Shepherd entered duty. His presence not only allowed Custodian Albert T. Bicknell to better supervise and protect the monument, but also enabled Bicknell to provide visitors with a more organized educational program. Shepherd's main duties were registering and handing out information to visitors as they entered the monument. Shepherd "was a good young geologist," according to Bicknell, who possessed special training in volcanology and helped inaugurate the monument's naturalist services. He gave naturalist talks to visitors hiking among the monument's features, and accompanied scientific groups on their inspections of the area's formations, all of which led to "a correct interpretation as to the age relationships of the lava flows and many detail problems." He conducted his own investigations of the monument's volcanic terrain as well, further increasing the understanding of Craters of the Moon. His most ambitious exploration occurred in October 1935 when he traversed the Great Rift from the monument to Minidoka. Shepherd, having previously established caches along the Great Rift, set out on October 6 and arrived at his destination on the 13th. Three days later he retraced his route by airplane to photograph the Rift. The week-long journey emulated somewhat Robert Limbert's 1921 exploration, namely in severity of route, yet unlike Limbert little information remains of his trip and how it aided the interpretive program. [8]


A significant development in the evolving interpretive program took place with Shepherd at the monument. He and Bicknell drafted a report titled the "Proposed Museum and Educational Program at the Craters of the Moon National Monument," in response to the National Park Service's growing educational program development and the establishment of a Museum Division in 1935. [9] Bicknell and Shepherd stated that the monument needed a museum and educational program: "first, to preserve and display specimens of unusual scientific importance and public interest; second, to explain the natural phenomena of the Monument; and third, to fill the growing demand of the public for education." In summarizing the deficiencies in the existing program, they struck a familiar chord, noting that "these needs are inadequately met due to improper facilities and insufficient personnel." With respect to museum collections, preservation, and presentation, only Paisley's "crude specimens table" was available, and it did not protect fine specimens from exposure to weather, mishandling and possibly theft by the public. Moreover, the small display case lacked enough space to hold the entire collection, which had increased in number, nor was there a "satisfactory way in which to label and explain these specimens other than verbally." [10]

As for the educational program, that was "being carried on as well as possible under existing limits of time and personnel." It was in fact better than it had ever been with the addition of Shepherd. Both he and Bicknell interacted with visitors as much as possible, explaining the specimens in the collection, answering questions, and orienting them to the monument's sites. Visitors expressed their appreciation of this type of instruction, claiming that it enhanced the value of their visit. Other contributions to the program were covered in campfire and field lectures, mainly by the seasonal ranger. In any case, due to rising visitation and small staff, some visitors were overlooked, while those who received assistance desired more in-depth instruction or field guidance. The two men concluded that the value and necessity of an educational program was beyond question.

The experience thus far gained has proved conclusively the potential value of an educational program which would enable visitors to hear talks either in an open-air theater, at campfires, or at various places on the loop road thru the Monument. The demand for literature and maps has also increased to the point where apologies are needed to explain their lack. [11]

The principal feature of the proposed program was the construction of a museum building. The ten-room structure would house exhibits of geology, natural history, some cultural history, as well as library and new ranger-naturalist's office and living quarters. Having the naturalist stationed at the museum building would facilitate visitor contact. In this regard, the naturalist would be on duty twenty-four hours a day. The museum building would function as the central orientation point for tourists, and the exhibits would be supplemented with explanatory labels, thus relieving the shortcomings in the educational services already provided. [12] "We also believe that in so doing," Shepherd and Bicknell stated, "we are furthering the extensive educational program inaugurated by the National Park Service to develop the cultural instincts of the public." [13]

But the prospectus was just that and remained in "preliminary status," joining other study plans from other parks at the Branch of Plans and Design in the late 1930s. While the museum and educational program remained in the design stage, the monument's interpretive services waxed and waned. In 1936, for instance, funding allowed for hiring two temporary rangers, further increasing public contacts. However positive this appeared, the end of the New Deal programs and entrance into World War II diminished funding and seasonal staffing, and hence diminished hope that Craters of the Moon would receive the needed facilities and personnel to build its program. Regional Director O.A. Tomlinson's opinion that the monument was self-operating in 1943--requiring only minimal staffing and few physical improvements--caused the monument's interpretive program to suffer further setbacks. [14]

Despite setbacks and delay the Park Service continued to plan for developing the educational and museum program at the monument. Assistant Director Hillory A. Tolson called for Craters of the Moon to be included in the Museum Exhibit Planning Program for 1948. [15] Renewed emphasis only engendered the same response. In 1949 Superintendent Aubrey F. Houston reported, for instance, that preservation of museum objects was basically in the same status it had been for almost thirty years. Underscoring the area's deficiencies in this aspect of management, Houston refused to submit a priority list for museum projects in July 1950 because the monument had no museum. The superintendent suggested to the regional director that the agency begin again with another comprehensive museum prospectus and include a museum building in the monument's development plans for the 1952 season. [16]

At this same time interpretation assumed new importance in the Park Service, [17] and its effect was soon felt at the monument. In January 1951, Region Four initiated a program for producing an interpretive development outline for Craters of the Moon as part of its master plan, and hence for establishing an interpretive program. Upon completing the report by the following January, Houston reiterated his earlier analysis regarding interpretation.

We may safely assume that we must start from scratch, since there has been no physical development of interpretation devices nor any coordinated program of interpretive service and contact, to my knowledge, since the area became part of the National Park System. There have been individual efforts from time to time, such as those of Mr. Bicknell and Mr. McCarty as well as my own. But for all practical purposes the Monument may be considered as having no interpretive program at present. [18]

Houston hoped to build on the earlier educational program and museum prospectus drafted by Bicknell and Shepherd. With that document and his own outline, the Service could work out an "integrated program which will enable our visitors to see and understand the significance, as well as the scenic and esthetic values to be found here." [19]


Although preliminary, Houston's interpretive outline documented the status of interpretation at the monument. In terms of themes, the natural environment received the most attention. The wide assortment of volcanic features associated with a fissure eruption compressed into such a small area offered the perfect arena in which to study and enjoy the geological phenomena. The biological environment was important for how it related to the volcanic landscape, especially plant adaptation and the abundance of life found throughout the seemingly desolate lava. Humans also fit into this category, since rock mounds marked Native American trails through the area. Only a few scientific studies, however, supported the interpretation of geology, flora, and fauna. While Houston attempted to interest universities in research, knowledge of the monument's resources remained mostly incomplete. [20]

Along with the shortcomings in research, interpretation at the monument was suffering setbacks because of increased numbers of visitors to the area. [21] Rising visitation in the postwar travel boom, the regional increase in population with the establishment of the Atomic Energy Commission site near Arco, and the improvement of national highway access to Craters of the Moon all resulted in additional visitors to Craters. The monument, then as now, was not a destination area. Visitors en route to or from Yellowstone National Park or Sun Valley, for instance, stopped in at the monument for a brief visit, reinforcing the "rest stop" perception of the monument by regional and Washington offices. Traveling mostly by auto, the majority of visitors toured the monument in several hours and left, leaving only a small percentage to spend the night in the campground or at Crater Inn.

The short period of time larger numbers of visitors stayed at Craters increased the pressure on the small staff to convey the monument's significance to more people in a shorter period of time--without the proper facilities to do so. Typically, two permanent employees, the superintendent and the supervisory ranger, along with a few seasonal rangers attempted to inform and interact with visitors as best possible. A seasonal ranger greeted the public at the checking station in the monument headquarters, collected a .50 cent fee, handed out a leaflet, directed visitors to the rock display table and the loop drive. For these reasons as well as a lack of adequate parking and personnel, the superintendent complained that "It is impossible to give more than a very few minutes to interpretation," especially for those who have "more than a superficial interest." Moreover, without a museum, the headquarters office functioned as an interpretive center, interfering with administrative duties during the summer months, and insufficiently meeting the informational interests of the general public. This further reinforced the need for an orientation hub.

The limited interpretive program relied heavily on the self-guiding theme. The loop drive, connecting the frontcountry sites, was central to this activity, offering turnouts and trails to the sites and beyond. Interpretive devices such as waysides and signs were incomplete, though, and improvements to them would only add to the visitor's experience as would the addition of self-guided trails. In addition, limitations of staffing and increases in visitation impeded what personal interpretive services the monument provided. Conducted tours were popular but restricted to special groups. As a rule, seasonal rangers and the superintendent conducted interpretation through short contacts in the form of roving patrols. Major events such as Opening Day saw an increase in regular activities, as did holidays and Sundays. Moreover, the best known form of interpretation in the Park Service, campfire talks, was missing from Craters of the Moon after 1939 and continued to be during the early 1950s due to low demand, among other reasons. While the monument continued to rely on the Stearns pamphlet, Houston noted that his staff hoped to form a natural history association some time in the near future to correct deficiencies in publications. Away from the monument, the superintendent also presented talks about Craters in the local and regional communities. Some headway in interpretation was being made in the early 1950s, yet the persistent lack of proper facilities and personnel continued to restrict any noticeable development. Until these improvements occurred, visitors would continue to criticize the monument's administration.


Plans to improve the monument's interpretive capabilities climaxed with the Mission 66 program. Interpretation constituted a main focus of the management and development program. As Superintendent Everett Bright detailed in the monument's Mission 66 prospectus, the continued lack of facilities, personnel, and increased visitation caused Craters of the Moon to fall short of its interpretive objectives "as a scientific and recreational area." The approximately 120,000 visitors in 1956, for example, certainly experienced the monument in a physical and scenic sense but received virtually no educational experience, no real appreciation of the site's importance, no expanded understanding of what they were encountering. The Mission 66 interpretive concept remained unchanged from previous proposals, though the intent differed slightly. Managers wanted to help the visitor achieve a better knowledge of the area's resources and in doing so foster a sense of public responsibility to protect those resources.

As part of the Mission 66 program, the Park Service drafted a new museum prospectus and sign plan for the monument in the summer of 1956, and improved the monument's road and trail system by 1957. A combined visitor center and headquarters was finished in 1958, containing a lobby, museum, and offices. The visitor center formed the conceptual and structural heart of the interpretive program.

The interpretive design theme proposed and implemented by Mission 66 concentrated on self-guidance; it envisioned the visitor confronting the strange environment along the highway, pausing at several pullouts, and entering the monument to learn more about the volcanic landscape. The first stop was the visitor center itself, located strategically near the entrance, where audiovisual media and discussion with trained personnel introduced the public to the area. Upon leaving the information center, the visitor then traveled through the monument along an improved loop drive. The newly paved road circulated cars in one direction for most of the tour. Waysides and signs informed visitors about the sites, and those individuals wanting to explore the monument by foot could do so on several self-guided trails which were in place by the early 1960s. Personal activities such as guided walks, auto tours, and evening programs also complemented the physical improvements. [22]

Administratively, Mission 66 provisions led to an important stage in the interpretive program. Plans called for the creation of an interpretation division; prior to the late 1950s the superintendent and chief ranger shared the responsibility for running the program. Steps to alleviate this obstacle took place on July 8, 1956 when, in lieu of creating a permanent naturalist position, the Park Service split the ranger position into half-time duties as ranger and naturalist. Robert Zink, the monument's ranger who received this classification, stated that this new designation merely affirmed the double duties he had been active in for several years, leaving interpretation in the same status. [23] By July 1959, Superintendent Floyd Henderson created a permanent park ranger-naturalist position at the monument in order to better manage interpretation. And in October, David C. Ochsner assumed the position of the monument's first park naturalist, transferring from Olympic National Park. With his arrival, the monument officially had an interpretation division. [24]


Although many aspects of the interpretive program were in place before Ochsner's arrival, the park naturalist did influence the development of interpretation. In 1960, he helped to reinstate the campfire program. He was one, if not the first, person to suggest interpreting plant succession at Craters and proposed that the monument develop a self-guiding nature trail at Devil's Orchard, where the dominant theme would be ecology.

By the mid-1960s the interpretive program included self-guiding tours via the visitor center, loop drive, and trails; and guided tours in the form of auto caravans, nature trails, and campfire presentations. Craters was still lacking a formal document directing the program, such as an interpretive prospectus. Superintendent Daniel Davis, interested in strengthening the existing interpretive services and their expansion, assigned Chief Park Naturalist Edgar P. Menning to write the monument's first interpretive prospectus. The purpose of the document, drafted by January 1964, was to "incorporate the existing and proposed interpretive media for the monument..." in addition to establishing some conceptual foundation for interpretation. [25] All of this was necessary because the Mission 66 program only established the basics of the interpretive development and a more comprehensive approach was needed. For example, funding limitations prevented the installment of many interpretive and orientation devices in the visitor center; revisions and additions to outdoor media were warranted due to new information on the monument's geology. All told, changing forms of media and concepts in interpretation placed a particular emphasis on audiovisual programs. [26]

While the prospectus validated the interpretive values presented at the monument, its primary concern was to determine the best method of conveying the area's significance to the public. Of particular concern was the individual visitor. The 450,000 annual visitors as projected in the Mission 66 prospectus failed to materialize; the roughly 200,000 annual visitors stayed only a matter of hours, thus confirming that program development should concentrate on self-guidance. Menning determined that the visitor center attracted nearly all visitors, and for this reason, he proposed making the existing eruption film the "primary interpretive media" for relating the complex story of the Great Rift and formation of Craters of the Moon. The three-minute film deserved this emphasis because of its popularity, its informative qualities, and its ability to quickly familiarize the short-term visitor the area. To centerpiece the film, he proposed increasing its length and building an auditorium to house it. The secondary media in the visitor center would be the existing exhibits with some revisions. These would include better illustrations of volcanic activity, would introduce mounted animals to replace ineffective photo panels of the monument's wildlife, and would emphasize the area's plant distribution patterns, habitats, and succession.

As stated in the interpretive prospectus, the visitor center was a critical element to the monument's self-guiding tour. Beyond the visitor center the loop drive constituted another of the monument's main self-guiding interpretive devices and should be viewed, according to Menning, as important since it enabled the normal "transient" visitor to gain some appreciation of the weird landscape and stimulate interest to return. The drive also operated in conjunction with the monument's trail system, which provided access to the exhibits in place. By this time four trails were self-guiding. One of these, the Devil's Orchard, boasted one of the first audio stations in the monument, exemplifying the new shift in media devices. In addition, the prospectus recommended some conducted activities, such as proposing that a permanent campfire circle be built to replace the temporary structure assembled in 1960. It also advised that research was also badly needed to establish a comprehensive program--geology still being the best-known subject.

In January 1967, Superintendent Paul Fritz's administration reviewed the interpretive program in order to bring it up to date. While leaving the major themes intact, the monument's park naturalist, Dennis L. Carter, recommended several changes in the program that diverged from Menning's prospectus. Carter stated that only half of the monument's visitors currently stopped at the visitor center, and therefore, since the facility supplied enough interpretive devices, no efforts would be made toward expansion of the media program. More important for planning, Carter suggested that future attention would have to concentrate on the expanding season, as tourists were arriving in shoulder months of May and September. [27]

Carter was expressing a central factor in the monument's interpretive program: the balance between guided and self-guided services. Most often, as suggested by the naturalist's analysis, decisions weighed in favor of the latter, since the combination of visitors, funds, staffing, and physical landscape dictated such an approach. It was the impetus behind Superintendent Roger Contor's decision to end auto tours in 1966. Although self-guidance formed a major interpretive activity, Carter believed that some guided activities were requisite because there were limits to self-guidance. Conducted hikes, then still in the experimental stage, exemplified a viable and efficient interpretive activity. [28]

One of the main administrative changes proposed at this time was to combine the interpretation division with the resource management division. A May 1968 management appraisal team suggested this action, reasoning that, while the divisions functioned well individually, they overlapped in "research programs and proposals and visitor services." Due to the close interrelationship between the two divisions, "they are functioning essentially as a combined I and RM organization." [29] Superintendent Paul Fritz concurred with the team's findings, but noted that no action would take effect until a chief of I and RM was classified, possibly allowing for decreasing the grade of either the ranger or naturalist positions. Available records do not indicate when this change took place, but by at least 1972, both interpretation and resource management had been officially merged into one division, with the monument ranger functioning as chief of I and RM. [30] By 1978, the situation had come full circle when Superintendent Robert Hentges abolished the single division and reestablished two divisions. This move reflected his own view that separate divisions offered more administrative efficiency in spite of the overlap, and also reflected a Park Service directive to this effect, around since 1974. [31]

Besides the separation of divisions, the most notable administrative change impacting interpretation during the 1970s transpired in 1978 when Hentges hired David Clark as the monument's chief interpreter. Clark's tenure has spanned more than fifteen years, and his long tenure and vigorous leadership are responsible for the area's current interpretive program and development. This most recent era in interpretation has its roots in the 1979 interpretive prospectus which Clark prepared. This document expressed the need to revise the program to match visitor use to personal and nonpersonal services, in order to provide the most effective interpretive programs. [32] That Clark believed a major revision was necessary does not mean that his predecessors were negligent. It is more a commentary on the frequent turnover in the chief interpreter's position, causing a lack of unity in the entire program. [33] Furthermore, the program has benefited from better research, improved funding, and professionally trained staff, mostly unavailable to past managers. In all of these areas, traditional problems persist, the significant highlights being a more organized and well run natural history association helping to fund programs, and the establishment of the first permanent park ranger (interpreter) position in 1989. [34]

The principal philosophy guiding the program since Clark's arrival has been to provide the visitor with a more complete understanding of the volcanic landscape by furnishing a variety of interpretive themes, based largely on the most recent and extensive research conducted at the monument. [35] The comprehensive approach to interpretation--covering natural and cultural resources, as well as objectives relating visitor safety and Park Service information--was set down in the 1981 statement for interpretation. The document listed five specific themes and objectives for interpretation:

1) To encourage the understanding and appreciation of the geological, biological and ecological influences which make up Craters of the Moon. To stimulate an increasing awareness and interest in the visitor concerning all natural processes occurring in the monument and elsewhere. 2) To encourage understanding the role preservation plays in the maintenance and management of natural areas. 3) To instill in the visitor a sense of caution when confronted with unfamiliar safety hazards. 4) To give the visitor a better understanding of monument regulations and policies. 5) To create an understanding and interest in the role that past human influences have had upon the monument and our culture. [36]

Ten years later the only changes were some clarifications and revisions that reflected a broader perspective. The first was to emphasize that the geological processes at the monument were part of those that created the Snake River Plain; second to recognize the Park Service's concern for issues affecting the natural world; and the third to educate the visitor about resource management issues, in order to relate the concept of preservation and "the role it plays in the management and maintenance of natural areas." [37]

As these goals suggest, interpreting resource management issues has evolved as one of the most significant philosophic changes in the program. It departs from conveying information about the monument's resources and attempts to actively involve the visitor in their protection. Another theme that has become increasingly more relevant has been cultural history. As research progresses, the interaction between nature and humans in the monument's volcanic environment sheds light on how the harsh landscape influenced human activity. And finally, the program also hopes to complete the interpretation of all the monument's representative geologic features by including Big Sink, its importance brought to light by new research. [38]



Although the monument's physical landscape lends itself to a self-guiding format, managers have attempted to provide group activities that give a sense of one-to-one interpretation. These activities have involved guided walks, tours, campfire talks, and special programs. This type of interpretive approach continues to evolve since it requires proper funding, staffing, and visitor interest to maintain, unlike the self-guiding programs which tend to be more cost effective but lack the in-depth interpretation possible through personal services.


One of the earliest forms of interpretation at the monument was guided tours of the area's features. Custodians in their capacity as lone managers during the 1920s and early 1930s engaged in this form of visitor service because of low visitation and lack of well-developed roads, trails, and signs. Custodian Paisley, for example, personally guided visitors through the monument, as he stated, taking "special pains to point out all of the attractions of note." In this regard, the custodian owned an added incentive, since Director Mather had granted him the special privilege of operating an exclusive guide service. While private services of this type arose later (Limbert briefly operated a guide service in 1927), subsequent managers employed similar interpretive activities, greeting visitors, familiarizing them with the area, and when possible leading them through it. [39] In this capacity, managers attempted to relate to individuals the area's significance and regulate, to a degree, resource impacts.

Guided hikes, however, did not officially join the interpretive program for several more decades. Reasons for this stem from the fact that staffing did not keep pace with rising visitation prior to World War II, and that the war years saw decreases in both personnel and visitation. By the early 1960s, bolstered by Mission 66 developments and expanded staffing, the monument's interpretive program once again included guided walks. In the summer of 1961, Superintendent Henderson experimented with nature walks and scheduled one conducted hike to the caves area on Sunday mornings. Henderson felt they were popular enough to increase to three a day if the monument could hire more naturalists. His optimism was short-lived. Two years later, Daniel Davis and his staff increased the walks to once a day on weekends, yet lack of visitor interest discontinued the activity by 1964. Attempts to develop guided walks, though, continued. At the suggestion of former Chief Park Naturalist Ed Menning, Superintendent Roger Contor reintroduced the activity on experimental basis in the summer of 1965. [40]

After several years experimentation paid off. Park Naturalist Dennis L. Carter reported that conducted hikes were quite successful, attendance was high, and they would be made a regular aspect of the interpretive program in the summer of 1968. They were to receive the primary attention of day-time personal services since the auto caravan had been discontinued two years earlier. The main interpretive emphasis would be natural history, since geology was well covered through other media. [41] The North Crater and Great Owl Cavern Trails were the main routes used. [42] By the summer of 1970, the monument had initiated a hike to Buffalo Cave, which, Superintendent Fritz announced, proved popular enough to become a regular feature of the program. [43] Fritz reported several deciding factors for the success and scheduling of these activities--climate and staffing. While daily morning walks were well attended, the monument abandoned an attempt at a mid-afternoon trip because the "combination of hot sun, the strong winds, and our transient visitation at this time of the day apparently made it rather undesirable." Attempts at creating an early-evening walk failed since the monument was understaffed (although day-use visitation patterns suggested a reason for this failure as well). [44] Other walks up Inferno Cone and to the Big Craters-Spatter Cones, North Crater, and Devil's Orchard have been attempted since the 1970s but suffered from low attendance and were cancelled; exploring lava tubes (or caves) seems to have provided more incentive for visitors. [45]

Today the nature hikes follow largely the same format as established in the early 1970s. High visitor interest, attendance, as well as the cool cave environment are determining reasons behind three daily Cave Area walks in the summer season. Though these walks do not provide enough time for in-depth interpretation, their popularity and practicality make them important services. Balancing this out, more in-depth coverage is offered on the two-hour walk to Buffalo Cave, which targets campers who wish to take a hike during the cool morning hours. [46]

Naturalist hike, ca. 1963
Naturalist hike in the North Crater Flow, ca. 1963. (CRMO Museum Collection)


Prior to the 1950s, auto tours were an informal enterprise. Reflecting the new travel boom in American society and the monument's improved road system after completion of Mission 66 construction, auto tours then lived a short life as a formal part of the monument's interpretive program in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Compared to the larger parks which conducted auto caravans in the late 1920s, the program at Craters of the Moon was somewhat anachronistic. Nevertheless, the auto tour was the primary day-time activity of the monument's interpretive services during this period, while nature hikes were still in the experimental stages.

Superintendent Henderson initiated the caravans in the summer of 1959. The conducted tours operated from two to four times a day, spanned one hour in length, and consisted predominately of geology, and to a lesser extent natural history. The tour stopped at four sites along half of the loop drive: Devil's Sewer (North Crater Flow) for an introduction to aa and pahoehoe flows and features, as well as plant succession on pahoehoe; Paisley Cone for discussion of a cinder cone and the variety of cinder habitats and plant communities; the first Inferno Cone overlook (the pass before Big Craters parking area) for discussion of the monument's and surrounding area's landscape; and finally the Big Craters-Spatter Cones site for discussion of the Great Rift and forces of volcanism. [47] For a time the tours were well attended and elicited complements from visitors. Yet after examining the attendance in 1965, Superintendent Contor observed that visitor use was sporadic, and that the completion of signs and waysides converted it to a self-guiding format. Altogether, these conditions did not merit continuing the program, and the superintendent terminated it the next season. Contor instead decided to rely on conducted walks, roving patrols, and station duty at the visitor center to make interpretive contacts, which, he believed, were a successful means of interpretation. [48]

Auto caravans, early 1960s
Auto caravans were a brief, but popular, form of interpretation in the early 1960s. (Photo courtesy of Glenn Hinsdale)


As suggested by the conducted walks and auto tours, interpretive services at Craters of the Moon depended highly on visitor interest and proper staffing. The centerpiece of the Park Service's interpretive program was the evening campfire talk, one of the first standard features of interpretation at Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks. The Park Service used the traditional nightly gatherings to discuss the national park idea and how, whether in truth or legend, that concept was related to 19th-century explorers who discovered some of the scenic regions now preserved as parks. [49]

The campfire program at the monument commenced with the addition of the first seasonal ranger, G. Frederick Shepherd, in the summer of 1935. That season, at the behest of visitors, Shepherd conducted several campfire lectures. His training in geology added depth to his presentation, Custodian Albert Bicknell noted, and "aroused considerable discussion among the visitors," drawing crowds of twenty or more people, and "proved very successful and to be much appreciated by visitors." [50] Evening programs lasted only a few more seasons, however, before they were discontinued by Custodian Guy McCarty in 1939 at the onset of World War II. [51]

Interrupted by the war years of low visitation and understaffing, the campfire program was not reinstated into the monument's interpretive program for several decades. In the early 1950s, Superintendent Aubrey Houston reported that the evening lectures did not as yet deserve a formal program. Endeavors at conducting them experienced low turnouts, the superintendent observed, because the evenings were apparently too cool. An attempt to hold discussions inside Crater Inn proved ineffectual as well due to limitations of space. Technical difficulties further hindered the campfire presentations; still without electricity by early 1952, the monument staff was unable to show slides or films. Houston anticipated that any advances in this direction would be self-initiated since Craters of the Moon did not own any audio-visual equipment, but staff members were willing to show their own slides for special events as well as lecture programs. [52]

After the creation of the interpretation division and the hiring of the monument's first park naturalist in 1959, the evening program saw renewed life. In June 1960 Superintendent Henderson decided to construct a temporary amphitheater adjacent to the campground. omitted from the Mission 66 construction plans, the campfire program site included wooden benches seating 120 visitors, a projection table, and a plywood screen painted white. Beginning on June 18, park naturalists presented illustrated talks on geology or natural history two nights a week. After a few years their popularity had grown, and Superintendent Davis increased the program to once an evening during the summer season. [53] Variations of the campfire program have been tried. For example, for several years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the monument experimented with an early evening children's program as part of the Park Service's Urban Initiative and Year of the Child themes. [54] However, low attendance and a wide age distribution cancelled this activity. To date, the traditional campfire program remains one of the most well-attended and effective interpretive activities in the monument. [55]

For all of its popularity, however, the campfire program suffered through long years of operating with inadequate facilities. Built as a temporary facility in 1960, the amphitheater was never designed to withstand the monument's environmental conditions. In May 1963 Superintendent Davis involved his staff in a rehabilitation project, which entailed landscaping, seating and audio-visual improvements, and placing electrical wiring underground. [56] These renovations reduced some but not all of the program's shortcomings. In 1964 Park Naturalist Edgar Menning suggested that the proposed auditorium might solve some of the interruptions caused by the monument's weather. The auditorium was never built, and in 1973 Superintendent Fritz stated that the temporary structure had "deteriorated to the point that it is no longer usable." The location next to the campground created distractions and more importantly, the facility's electrical system was a nightmare, repeatedly failing during evening programs. [57] Fritz won approval for construction of a new amphitheater in 1974, but due to construction setbacks the project was not completed and operational until August 5, 1975. The project redesigned the amphitheater site (moving it over the hill) to correct the noise intrusions from the campground. [58] A prefabricated structure, this new amphitheater required replacement soon after it was installed. Although identified as interpretation's top priority in the late 1970s, nearly ten years passed before the project reached the top of the cyclic maintenance priority listing. Completed in 1988 and designed to blend with the monument's environment, the new amphitheater proved to be a "monumental improvement over the existing site." [59]

Campfire program, 1965
Campfire program, 1965, one of the monument's most popular interpretive programs. (CRMO Museum Collection)


Craters of the Moon also participated in other on-site and off-site personalized services such as roving patrols, orientation talks at the headquarters and later visitor center, as well as community presentations. Managers traditionally attempted to guide groups through the monument until visitation overwhelmed the small staff. By the early 1950s, Superintendent Houston restricted group tours to school classes and Boy and Girl Scout field trips. Of the two, only tours for school groups survived until the late 1980s. At that time, increased demands outpaced available personnel for this service; the visitor center became overcrowded, and it was too much to expect interpreters to work well with children of all age groups. For this reason, the monument phased out the guided tours in favor of the concept of teaching the teachers.

Promoted by Park Interpreter David Clark, this program aimed at fulfilling one of the most critical interpretive activities--environmental education. In 1990 the program was officially launched with the publication of a teacher's guide. Monument staff members had first broached the idea for such a guide as early as 1976, but administrative and publication matters delayed its production. The handbook's purpose was to advise teachers on how to plan monument field trips and activities, and how to understand the volcanic environment so they could in turn instruct their students. As the program has matured, it now includes several one-day workshops, a four-day accredited teacher's workshop in affiliation with Idaho State University, and resource trunks complete with video tapes of the monument, slide programs, books, posters, rock samples, among other things, located in various school district offices throughout southern Idaho. Although one of the monument's most successful programs, it is also one of the most susceptible to budget cuts and depends on funding from the monument's natural history association and work by volunteers. [60]

Off-site interpretive activities by custodians and superintendents also were a standard practice of monument managers during the spring and winter months. Custodian Paisley, for example, initiated this routine in 1925 when he provided museum exhibits for local fairs. Off-site programs received increased emphasis when the Mission 66 campaign sought to increase public awareness of the Park Service's purpose, and the environmental movement of the 1960s spurred the agency's activities in environmental education. [61]

In 1968 the National Park Service formalized this trend by initiating the National Environmental Education Development for Schools program (NEEDS). NEEDS met with varying success throughout the System, and at Craters of the Moon little of the program was used, mainly because of the monument's distance from local schools. Yet environmental awareness did find its way into the interpretive program. Superintendent Paul Fritz, influenced by his keyman and state coordinator duties, promoted an environmental education program in southern Idaho schools, assigning his park naturalist to conduct off-season presentations within the region in the late 1960s and early 1970s. [62]

By the mid-1970s, the environmental education aspect of the interpretive program had evolved to the point where it was, for the most part, an important though voluntary operation run by the park naturalist. Chief Interpreter Robert Reynolds by his own initiative, for instance, participated in educational training for southern Idaho teachers. He belonged to an interagency team, the Magic Valley Environmental Education Team, composed of United States Forest Service personnel, as well as local and state educators; he also worked with the Idaho Environmental Education Advisory Committee. The duties centered primarily on providing three to four teacher workshops a year around the region, and local meetings with teachers in Butte and Blaine counties. [63]

Outreach programs such as environmental education suffered setbacks in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the arrival of the energy crisis restricted travel, when budget cutbacks decreased seasonal naturalists, and when visitor trends expanded the visitation season. These new conditions strained the one man interpretation division during the winter months. Even though attempts were made to continue the program in the 1980s with school programs on energy conservation, monument involvement in this activity was effectively over. Travel restrictions and shortages of funding and staffing were the main culprits, but the monument also realized that it was more effective and would reach a wider audience to concentrate teacher workshops and school and special programs at the monument. To give one program to a single group often meant a two-hundred-mile trip. [64]

Experimental Breeder Reactor #1

Craters of the Moon has not always interpreted only its own resources, and for a time in the 1970s assisted in the interpretation of the Experimental Breeder Reactor #1 (EBR-1), a national historic landmark registered in August 1966. Located at the National Reactor Testing Station (now the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory) some twenty miles east of Arco, the site was operated by the Atomic Energy Commission (now Department of Energy). Early in the 1970s, the Atomic Energy Commission announced its plans to deactivate and decontaminate EBR-1 by 1976, and expressed its intentions to cooperate with the Park Service to establish a nuclear energy interpretive program at the historic landmark. [65] Superintendent Fritz supported the inclusion of EBR-1 into the National Park System; such an event fit well with his plans to relocate the monument headquarters to Arco where coordinated management of both areas could take place.

The site was never included in the System, yet the Service did assist in the facility's interpretive program beginning in June 1975. At that point in time, EBR-1 was dedicated and opened to the public on a daily basis from mid-June to mid-September. At that time as well, the Park Service entered into a two year cooperative agreement to assist in the structure's management. Craters of the Moon supplied two interpreters and janitorial services, as well as covering some utility costs; the DOE supplied the majority of funding for overall operations. The monument also helped create a self-guiding booklet that first year for the interpretive program. [66]

After two years elapsed, Superintendent Robert Hentges wanted to sever the agreement between the agencies. As he stated, "It is Craters of the Moon's feeling that...interpreting this particular site does not coincide with what we feel is Park Service philosophy and policy." [67] Unable to dissolve the arrangement in 1977, however, the monument continued operations at the site, except that the monument was now involved in a contract capacity. DOE was responsible for the operation costs, while Craters of the Moon administered the seasonal staff, both hiring and supervising the personnel in return for the costs as well as a 25 percent management surcharge. [68] After four seasons of operating the interpretive program at the EBR-1 site, Hentges further expressed his desire to end the relationship, but foresaw no immediate end to the situation. The most recent agreement ended after the 1979 season, and available records suggest that as of 1980 the monument terminated its interpretive program with the site, the DOE evidently assuming all responsibility for managing the landmark. [69]


To achieve its goal of fostering understanding and appreciation of the monument, Craters of the Moon reached out to the public in other ways. The most notable example was the Opening Day ceremonies, the pet project of Arco business leaders since the area's establishment. The event provided managers with a special occasion once a year to interact with the local communities and impart to them the monument's and Park Service's mission. Although cut back by Superintendent Daniel Davis in the early 1960s, Opening Day was eliminated by Superintendent Fritz in 1968. To conduct this program gave the impression that the monument was only open seasonally, and Fritz worried that visitation would be adversely affected. [70]

An offshoot of this outreach tradition has been the special emphasis programs sponsored by the interpretation division. These programs occur usually once a season in which a particular theme such as the bicentennial or Park Service anniversaries is presented. The monument intends for the programs to attract neighboring residents, who would otherwise never visit the monument, as well as special interest groups. Moreover, the programs provide the opportunity for the interpretation division to integrate pertinent management issues, such as air quality, into their educational program. One example is the highly successful program of 1988, "A Day in the Air," an event that featured guests from the Park Service, Department of Energy, Idaho congressional representatives, and local and state officials. The event was successful in the areas of public relations and resource management, and resulted in a commitment from DOE to install air quality monitoring facilities at the monument. Along these same lines but on a smaller scale, the division scheduled special topics programs for Saturdays on an experimental basis in 1990. These events cover subjects such as wildflowers, ecology, wilderness, lava tube explorations, and history. They have proven to be popular with the general public, based on attendance and visitor surveys, but their scheduling depends on demand and the expertise of available interpreters. [71]


Many interpretive activities have had only transitory value at the monument, dependent on visitor attendance and administrative efficiency. Early evening campfire programs and evening naturalist strolls, for example, mark some of the services attempted in the past and which might be tried again. [72] Sky interpretation has assumed a more lasting role. Interpreting the stars in the monument's night sky complemented discussion of other aspects of the monument's resources, such as its clear air. After a 1972 star-gazing workshop, Superintendent Fritz proceeded to initiate a small-scale program following each evening's campfire talk. As Fritz stated, "Our nighttime sky is superb, the sort of sky seldom seen by visitors from urban areas, and we feel that this is as much a part of the local environment as the lava." [73] Sky interpretation had become "an integral part of the interpretive program at Craters of the Moon," reported by Superintendent Hentges three years later, yet rather than expand the program, Hentges stated that the monument would first attempt to improve the quality of the program. Quality depended on the expertise of the monument's naturalist staff, which varied from year to year and person to person. These conditions caused the program to occur sporadically, supplemented by the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers who conducted sky interpretation with three-day presentations for several years in the early the 1980s. [74]

In the end, personal services fluctuated with visitor attendance, funding, and staffing conditions. Interpretation and guided services functioned based on this formula. In a monument where the self-guiding theme predominates, and where only 7 percent of the visitors take advantage of the personal activities, the program receives continual reassessment by managers. The most recent appraisal began in the summer of 1991. For a two-week period at the end of the season, the interpretive program experimented with roving patrols, point interpretation, and evening strolls, rather than relying entirely on guided activities. All three had been tried at some point in the past. Proving to be effective--fitting in well with the short-term visitor and staffing levels--some of these activities were resurrected as part of the interpretive program. [75]


The self-guiding theme has directed the interpretive program at the monument in the form of nonpersonal services, and comprises a bulk of the program itself. A variety of factors influenced this development, namely the short-term visitor, the close proximity of the monument's volcanic features, and the fluctuations in the size of the seasonal staff and annual budget. Consequently, the combination of a self-guiding road and trail system, waysides, publications, and facilities enable the visitor to both understand and experience the monument with as much ease as possible.


Finished in March 1958, the visitor center provided the monument with its first interpretive facility and the key component of the young program. Situated near the highway and high enough to overlook monument scenery, Craters of the Moon's visitor center advertised the presence of the National Park Service and attracted visitors to the building. There they could view the volcanic terrain and learn more about it before embarking on the self-guided loop drive.

The monument's 1956 museum prospectus called for the use of museum exhibits, panels, and audiovisual media in the new visitor center to introduce and explain the weird volcanic phenomena and life found within this landscape to the visitor. With Superintendent Floyd Henderson's administration, monument officials proceeded to set up the visitor center's museum. Display cases, panels, and a relief map visually related the complex story of basaltic volcanism and associated natural history contained in the monument. An important and popular device was the three-minute eruption film of Hawaiian volcanism which concluded the visual narrative. [76]

When installed in May 1959, the automatic projector (with film tree) soon proved to be the most "effective means of interpreting the area," [77] Henderson reported, but malfunctions plagued its operation, damaging films and often excluding this important audiovisual feature from visitor orientation--a situation which continued intermittently over subsequent decades. [78] The usefulness of the short film occupied the majority of the interpretation division's activities at the visitor center. In 1964, for instance, Chief Park Naturalist Edgar Menning advocated expanding the film's length to twenty minutes to convey a more comprehensive story, and proposed constructing an auditorium adjacent to the visitor center capable of seating 150 people. This type of building would solve an inherent design problem in the museum exhibit room, whereby sound from the film spilled out into the room disturbing concentration on other displays. Yet plans fell through and the Park Service dropped the project. Naturalist Dennis Carter had recommended against the longer film and auditorium because the visitation patterns had changed. Rather than the 90 percent estimated in the mid-1960s, only 50 percent of the monument's visitors stopped at the center, and a twenty-minute film, Carter believed, would waste too much of the average visitor's one-to-three-hour stay. [79]

The problem with sound spillage persisted. As detailed by Chief Interpreter David Clark in his 1979 interpretive prospectus, the monument decided to correct the issue by creating a soundproofed alcove for the audiovisual program, which has yet to be built. [80] In 1987 an exhibit development project funded the completion of a new monument video; it extended the play length to five minutes; the troublesome projector/film tree was replaced by a video cassette player/television, and in 1989 the interpretation division installed a laser disc player, thus completing the mission to find a relatively maintenance-free, if not quiet, audiovisual program. [81]

Another of the dominant issues relating to the visitor center has been the condition of museum exhibits. Completion of the displays was staggered through the late 1950s and early 1960s because of funding limitations. Because of the monument's interpretive design theme, the visitor center museum was dedicated to relating only the essentials to visitors, placing more emphasis on the "exhibits-in-place." Although various revisions and rehabilitations of the displays have occurred in both content and media throughout the last several decades (such as the addition of a topographic relief model, mounted animals for wildlife exhibits, and the incorporation of monument history), the exhibits are around thirty years old. While in good condition their effectiveness has dwindled. In response to this, Harpers Ferry Center undertook a new exhibit program in June 1987, although completion of the project awaits funding. [82]


The loop drive historically has been the route providing access to and linking together the monument's representative features, and so forms the central element of the monument's self-guiding interpretive tour. The road, in an unimproved state, predated the establishment of the monument. The monument's features and relative ease of physical relief determined the general direction of the route. In the 1920s Custodian Paisley helped to establish the loop road as an integral component of the self-guiding concept when he laid out a "five-mile loop trip" for visitors to tour the scenic wonders. [83] Mission 66 reconstructed the road, improving its interpretive function. The master plan of the period, for instance, related the route's significance to the interpretive program: "This seven-mile drive winds through a weird volcanic landscape where carefully selected `exhibits-in-place,' explained with signs, markers, and wayside exhibits, add perspective and a fuller meaning to the graphic displays in the Visitor Center." [84]

This statement reflected the interpretive concept that the monument's natural environment was on display and that the main occupation of interpretation was to educate visitors through the route's design and media. The primarily one-way road with its pullouts, waysides, parking lots, and trail heads provided visitors the opportunity to experience a unique landscape. At the same time it connected the sites to be interpreted. These are essentially the same today: the North Crater Flow, Inferno Cone, Big Crater-Spatter Cones, Tree Molds and Craters of the Moon Wilderness, Cave Area, and Devil's Orchard. [85] Today, the loop drive is considered successful because it enables visitors to see the representative features of the monument and because it receives some of the most intensive interpretive use. In many cases it is the only contact visitors have with the monument.


The loop drive, like the visitor center, was conceived of mostly as an introductory interpretive device, but it also provided access to the monument's self-guiding trails: North Crater Flow Trail, Tree Molds Trail (formerly Great Owl Cavern Trail), the Cave Area Trail, and the Devil's Orchard Nature Trail. The majority of these trails were in use in some capacity as common paths or designated with rock cairns during the monument's first stages of development. The New Deal work programs served to further develop and extend some of these routes. But the first formal self-guided trail did not come into existence until 1952. In July of that year Superintendent Aubrey Houston and Ranger Robert Zink designed a nature trail on the North Crater Trail; it employed point-by-point interpretation of geology and botany using numbered stakes with descriptive labels attached to each. The experiment lasted two years, when, as Zink recorded, "all the informational cards had been removed [by visitors] from the stakes and all but four of the twelve stakes were taken." Zink went on to describe the setbacks to this self-initiated interpretation, asserting that no "attempt was made to re-establish the Nature Trail since more stakes were not available, no money was available to purchase more, nor were funds available to mimeograph sheets of information for numbered stakes." [86]

Self-guided trails received more attention and funding in less than a decade with the Mission 66 program. The North Crater-Big Craters Nature Trail was at least partially self-guiding in 1960; however, this format was soon abandoned, and it is assumed that managers considered the trail better suited for conducted walks or scenic views. [87] The first trail to be designated as fully self-guiding was the Cave Area trail in June 1961. [88] At this juncture, the program addressed mainly the story of basaltic volcanism. The trail to the caves was one example, but plans also germinated during this period to interpret natural history in a self-guiding format.

After a survey of the monument's on-site interpretive devices in the fall of 1960, Park Naturalist David Ochsner suggested changes in the themes for some of the trails for the upcoming season. With new research on basic plant succession in the monument available, Ochsner proposed revising the Great Owl Trail interpretive signs to present this theme; furthermore, instead of using the point-by-point and leaflet method, he believed that the signs and imprinted text should tell the story. The naturalist also proposed that the monument develop a self-guiding nature trail at Devil's Orchard, then undeveloped save a parking area and roadside signs. Yet here the theme would differ from the others in that ecology would be the primary focus since the area appeared to support a substantial amount of plant and animal life. [89]

Work on developing natural history themes for both trails commenced in the winter of 1961, when the park naturalist began writing a trail guide for Devil's Orchard and revising the sign text for Great Owl Cavern. Park Naturalist Edgar Menning completed the Devil's Orchard trail in June 1963, drafting the pamphlet, designing the third-of-a-mile loop trail, and setting out the numbered stakes for point-to-point interpretation. In the summer of 1964, Menning also installed an audio station on the trail, which played bird songs for atmosphere. The trail received "numerous compliments," the naturalist reported, and upon visitor requests he further revised the path by adding signs for the names of flowers. [90]

Unlike the progress at Devil's Orchard, interpretation of plant succession for the Great Owl Cavern Trail never graduated from the planning stages. In his January 1968 draft revision of the monument's interpretive prospectus, Park Naturalist Dennis Carter stated he had decided to eliminate the plant ecology theme for Great Owl Cavern. Carter believed that the monument was too small for interpretation of plant succession in two areas; the signs previously designated for the Great Owl Cavern Trail would be installed at Devil's Orchard instead. An additional reason for altering the plan was that construction of the spur road to the Great Owl-Tree Molds parking area changed the trail head location and complicated the installation of the signs in the correct sequence. Carter received some criticism from the regional office for his views on restricting the ecological theme to the Devil's Orchard Trail. Park Service officials worried in a time of growing ecological emphasis within the agency that Craters of the Moon might slight this important topic, since the monument was a predominately volcanic area. Even so, Superintendent Fritz stood by the decision. The trail, however, would not be ignored by the interpretive program. As of the late 1960s, Carter had begun guided walks along the Great Owl Cavern Trail, replacing the self-guiding format. Once the wilderness area was established in 1970, these walks were discontinued; the staircase into the cavern was removed, and the emphasis was placed on the tree molds at the end of the trail. [91]

In this same era, the monument worked on expanding the North Crater Flow Trail and its self-guiding devices. Up until the mid-1960s, the principal feature interpreted was the Devil's Sewer lava tube, [92] to which a three-hundred-yard trail crossed part of the flow from the parking lot and terminated near the monoliths. In his 1961 survey, Park Naturalist Ochsner had recommended expanding the features interpreted at the site, and the final destruction of the Devil's Sewer feature by visitors necessitated refocusing the program. All of this coalesced into Menning's 1964 proposal to revise the site's interpretation. The naturalist recognized that the loss of the Devil's Sewer had compromised the area somewhat, and so he decided to interpret the North Crater Flow instead, claiming that the "potential of this fascinating area has not been developed...." Menning pointed out that the site was the most popular self-guiding trail even without much development. It was the first site along the loop drive and possessed a variety of volcanic phenomena such as pahoehoe and aa lava flows, squeeze-outs, a pressure ridge, the famous Triple Twist Tree, and plant life associated with pahoehoe flows. And an estimated half of all visitors stopped there and spent ten to fifteen minutes exploring. These elements made the area an "excellent introduction to the monument." Some repetition of the geologic interpretation available on the Cave Area Trail would occur, but the popularity and importance of the North Crater Flow as an introductory site overrode this fact. [93]

Menning planned to interpret primarily the volcanic features and secondarily plant succession. Over the next several years, the monument installed a wayside exhibit at the parking lot and signs for the self-guiding trail. In August 1965 Superintendent Roger Contor and Park Naturalist Arthur Hathaway put the finishing touches on the development by designing a return trail to relieve visitor pressure on the resource; this quarter mile loop trail complemented that concept in operation at Devil's Orchard. [94]

By the end of the decade, the self-guiding trail system was fully developed with only revisions in media and theme. For instance, beginning with a 1972 wayside exhibit plan, the interpretive program has made more use of waysides than signs along these trails, as with other places in the monument, since the plan's approach was for the field devices to bear much of the interpretive information about the resources. Modifications along these lines have taken place at North Crater Flow Trail and the Cave Area Trail in recent years. These changes often carry different messages based largely on new research available since the late 1970s. Furthermore, in the 1980s Chief Interpreter David Clark decided that it was necessary to balance the information interpreted at these sites. For example, he added more waysides to the North Crater Flow Trail to tell a more complete story of and incorporate recent research on the area. Any signs or waysides repeating this information at the caves were removed.

A radical change in content is found at Devil's Orchard. In the summer of 1991, the interpretation division redesigned the trail to discuss the story and importance of resource management at Craters of the Moon. The pilot program experimented with a new guide, new posts, and new (temporary) waysides. The intent was to interpret resource management issues occurring at Devil's Orchard and the monument in order to involve the visitor in understanding the problems faced by managers and the public in national park areas. After receiving a positive response, the monument planned a full-scale trail renovation for 1992 with a substantial grant from the National Park Foundation. [95]


In the self-guiding format, interpretation relies on some device to convey the interpretive message to visitors. In the monument's first decades, signs were indicative of the state of the program; enameled metal signs, for example, offered only descriptive information, such as the names of sites. As part of the Mission 66 program, the 1957 sign master plan continued this descriptive trend, establishing the monument's first formal interpretive sign program, and phasing out the enameled signs and replacing them with routed wooden signs. In addition, the Mission 66 program was responsible for installing the first wayside exhibits at the monument's principal features, waysides which underwent various design changes as did monument signs. [96]

In response to the call for more media in the 1964 prospectus, the 1965 sign and wayside exhibit plan incorporated new information on engraved aluminum signs and covered waysides. However, the 1972 wayside planning team introduced a new direction in field interpretation, stressing the idea that the field media should "carry much of the interpretation of volcanic features." The document also reflected much of naturalist Carter's contention in the late 1960s that the area was oversigned as a result of the 1964 media prescription. Exhibits could convey more information with less devices. In the late 1970s, the monument installed some twenty fiberglass modular waysides, beginning the slow process of eliminating the metal signs. [97]

Although it was thought that the 1972 exhibit plan would meet the monument's future needs, that was not the case. As with other aspects of the interpretive program, new research and lack of comprehensive scope required revisions within a few years. In the early 1980s, another wayside exhibit plan was undertaken and finally completed in 1988. As a result, the monument installed six new waysides and identified the need for twelve more. Many of these reflected the new emphasis on resource management and history in interpretation. Two waysides, for instance, interpret air quality and history, both relatively new subjects to the program. The air quality display incorporates interpretation of the Oregon Trail to strike both a historical context for clean air and inform visitors of the presence of the historic Goodale's Cutoff in the monument's northwestern corner. Both were placed at a pullout on the monument's eastern flank using a landmark for overland travelers, Big Southern Butte, as a target site twenty-five miles distant. [98] A third wayside was placed on the visitor center patio; it exhibits maps and photographs of the monument as a way to entice visitors to tour the loop drive, and a photograph displaying impacts of off-road driving and listing monument regulations attempts to instill a sense of responsibility in park visitors. Similarly a fourth wayside at the Big Craters-Spatter Cones informs visitors of the site's fragile nature and reasons for restricting off trail use in this area.


During the 1960s, the monument expanded its on-site media. In 1964, for example, Superintendent Davis and Park Naturalist Menning decided to install audio stations as a way to both educate visitors about the monument's resources and fill in for exhibits that had yet to arrive. Three stations were put into operation: one outside the visitor center as an orientation device; another on the Devil's Orchard Trail for bird songs, and the last at the crest of the Big Craters Trail describing the southern view of the Spatter Cones and Great Rift. After several seasons, the stations turned out to be a maintenance burden and of "questionable interpretive value." Their physical presence was unnatural and appeared to detract from more than aid interpretation. Park Naturalist Carter reported in 1968 that the monument staff removed two of the three for these reasons. Though in disfavor, the mason-block structures were not forgotten. In the early 1970s, Superintendent Fritz resurrected the audio stations. He first replaced the station in Devil's Orchard in 1971 in order "to restore an attractive program on birds." [99] Second, he returned the Big Craters station to operation but in a new location, near the parking lot and wayside, where it encountered more use than in its original location. This relocation, from crater rim to road level, also mitigated erosion of the crater wall, since earlier visitors short-cut down the slope returning to the trail head. [100] By the early 1980s only the Devil's Orchard audio station remained in operation, having been augmented with a solar panel to interpret energy conservation. But it, like the others, required too much maintenance to be an effective interpretive device. Once the trail guide was revised in 1982, omitting the reference to the station and bird songs, it was removed. [101]


The printed word provides an invaluable service to convey Crater's interpretive and management messages to the public. Without some type of publication service, most visitors would be at a loss to understand the monument's resources. At the monument the availability of printed information corresponded directly to the availability of scientific research. Consequently, Craters of the Moon relied on the 1928 publication and subsequent revisions of Harold Stearns' pamphlet, "A Guide to Craters of the Moon," for fifty years. While other publications were available since the formation of the Craters of the Moon Natural History Association in 1959, Stearns' booklet constituted the monument's handbook. In 1978, the monument received its first natural history handbook, Life in a Volcanic Landscape. At that same time, new research being conducted by the United States Geological Survey outdated Stearns' work and eventually the more recent handbook. To address this issue, in 1991 a six-year-long project by Harpers Ferry Center culminated in the printing of the monument's second handbook.

Over the last decade, the interpretation division has aimed to approach publications through a tiered concept. Free publications such as the park folder, activities handout, and park newspaper (started in 1981) relate the basic park information, as do more topic specific handouts. Inexpensive publications form the next level, providing information for the self-guided tour of the monument and elementary information on the monument's resources. The park handbook and more subject-specific publications furnish more comprehensive, yet general, source materials. The succeeding stage leaves the park itself and considers the monument and the region of the Snake River Plain.


From its inception in 1959, the Craters of the Moon Natural History Association has proven to be an invaluable ally in the interpretive program. Its main goals are to assist in better interpreting the park and to provide funds for research to accomplish this task. As a business it has remained independent of the larger regional natural history association, and has matured from a small-scale informal operation to one of sophisticated dimensions. In general, the association has provided funding for research projects, special programs, and publications for the monument, in addition to assisting in underfunded interpretive goals and management objectives. [102]

Like the natural history association, volunteers are used to complete important projects for the interpretive program. Shortly after the 1969 Volunteers in the Parks Act, the monument recruited volunteers to assist interpretation, but recruitment faces two problems: location and housing. Since the monument is not situated near a large urban area, it cannot draw potential volunteers from a sizeable population base. Travel expenses to Craters become excessive for most volunteers. This situation is further compounded by limited housing at the monument. Nevertheless, the volunteer program has been strong, especially in the 1980s when it grew in size and accomplishments. Two types of volunteers are employed; those who work on small, general projects, and those who work on more specialized assignments. The latter projects are completed by summer interns. Beginning in 1989, the monument recruited college students locally and nationally whose academic training could be applied to more complex projects. And as of 1990, Craters of the Moon offered two internships, one for interpretation and one for resource management; the majority of funding for travel, housing, utilities, uniforms and a stipend came from the natural history association. The intern program benefits the students who receive academic credit while providing critical assistance to the monument's interpretive programs. [103]


Interpretation is central to relating the significance of the monument to the visitor. Three general themes over time have been applied--geology, natural history and human history. Interpretation has also been important for imparting a variety of other information to the visitor such as safety, Park Service themes and concerns, environmental topics, and resource protection. The main philosophy has been to enable the visitor to understand and appreciate the volcanic landscape; this goal has required information based on sound research, which has not been available until recent times, as well as personal and nonpersonal services. These services attempt to accommodate the short-term visitor, who remains on average of one to three hours, through guided and self-guided activities, audio-visual media, publications, and special programs. One of the most long-term concerns has been how much emphasis to place on each service given trends in visitation, staffing, and funding.

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Last Updated: 27-Oct-1999