Administrative History
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Chapter 9:


To build public support for parks in its founding years, the National Park Service encouraged tourism. By welcoming automobiles, and developing roads, campgrounds, and hotels, the agency enabled more Americans to enjoy the nation's wonders, and visitation soared. The Service's leaders, however, never intended to grid the parks with roads and mar the landscape with subdivisions, but rather to make the most spectacular sites accessible to tourists and concentrate other developments in a central location--leaving the majority of park lands as wilderness. While this approach reflected the Park Service's mission to balance visitor use and resource protection, park promotion attracted larger and larger numbers of tourists pressuring the agency to increase development. [1]

During the 1930s, the New Deal emergency work relief programs injected park management with the necessary manpower and appropriations to meet these growing demands, marking one of the most important phases in park developments. The next phase, perhaps the most significant, responded to an even greater crisis. The war years had backlogged critical maintenance and development projects, and a visitor explosion in the 1950s had swamped the already inadequate park physical plants. In the mid-1950s, Mission 66, the Park Service's ten-year rehabilitation program, arrived and with over a billion dollars in appropriations renovated the overwhelmed facilities of the national parks. The program strove to upgrade all areas, some for the first time, repairing and constructing thousands of miles of roads, campgrounds, employee housing, and sanitation systems. Innovations such as the visitor center incorporated interpretive facilities and administrative offices, containing in some instances concessionaire services and auditoriums. Since this period, development programs in the Park Service have concentrated mostly on maintaining Mission 66 facilities, but as has often been the case, increased visitation and staffing have outpaced the capacity of existing park developments. [2]


Craters of the Moon's development history conforms to the basic phases of Park Service's, detailing the agency's thrust to accommodate the public and to assist in the monument's management. The monument also possessed its own set of circumstances that influenced its development. A combination of environmental and administrative factors restricted the location of facilities to the northwestern section of the monument in a small and confined precinct. This design scheme reflected in one sense the agency's desire to showcase the volcanic landscape's most exemplary features and at the same time protect other natural phenomena. In another sense, though, it was the landscape that determined this approach, for the volcanic features, compressed into a small area, meant that no extensive developments were necessary to present them to the public. Moreover, the lava flows influenced a "confined" administrative development, offering only a few places in which to build administrative structures and visitor accommodations without disturbing valuable resources. These physical restrictions also corresponded with the Park Service's belief that the monument's management and protection required only the "bare minimum" of staff and facilities.


The Park Service did not inherit any structures, only common-use roads and trails, when it began managing Craters of the Moon in 1924. In planning the formation of the monument's physical plant, the Service envisioned the area as a "wayside" for Yellowstone National Park travelers, providing "sanitary conveniences" for tourists and increasing the isolated monument's popularity. Only a small staff and minor improvements were needed to protect the resources and service the public, and in 1925 Assistant Director Horace Albright estimated that a five-year, $35,000 to $50,000 comprehensive development program could accomplish this task. This level of funding never appeared, but the need for improvements remained. Although convinced that the volcanic terrain formed a barrier to resource destruction, Albright and other bureau officials believed that this environment performed the same magic on tourists.

The main emphasis in planning at this early stage, then, was softening the monument's image as a hostile place. In the monument's "first" development plan in 1927, Yellowstone National Park Civil Engineer Bert H. Burrell stressed the importance of accommodating visitors in the monument's beautiful yet harsh landscape.

It must be considered that the entire area of the monument is to a large extent forbidding to the average tourist in the present state of development. To hold the interest of the average tourist we must not alone present natural phenomena or beauty, but must cater to his comfort; none but those of purely scientific mind will endure the discomfort of the present campgrounds without conveniences usually furnished the motoring public such as suitable camping places, toilet facilities and adequate water. [3]

The engineer proposed four major construction projects to address these concerns. First and foremost was the need to acquire a permanent and adequate water supply; second was to provide the requisite "sanitary" facilities for camping; third was to assure proper administrative control through development of a single entrance, funneling visitors through a central area, complete with a checking station and residence for a custodian; and fourth was to improve roads and trails through widening and grading, and thereby improve visitor access and increase safety. [4]

While appropriation bills in the late 1920s went unapproved for construction purposes, Burrell's report established the main tenet of the monument's future development pattern--centralization, that all development should be confined to a central area. In 1931 the most important development, the water system, was completed, ensuring that tourists could visit the volcanic region in some modicum of comfort and that managers could live on-site without any great degree of hardship. More importantly, the water system influenced the concentration of administrative developments in the monument's northwestern corner, in the same zone they exist today, for here it was more convenient, economical, and practical to cluster administrative facilities and visitor services in one location than to spread them throughout the monument.


The New Deal emergency work relief programs in the 1930s granted the monument its first significant funding to carry out important development programs in the form of road and trail construction. These improvements allowed visitors to tour the volcanic terrain with greater ease. The additions of a comfort station, warehouse, and custodian's residence further contributed to the basic comforts and administrative operations of the monument. Although development was confined to the monument's northern reaches, the Park Service also addressed the idea of southern extension along the Great Rift during the 1930s. A somewhat controversial topic, alive since the late 1920s, expansion into the southern section of the monument was never fully acted upon, but was an option considered for several decades.

1939 Master Plan map
This 1939 master plan map displays the majority of projects proposed or undertaken during the 1930s as a result of New Deal programs and funding. Note in particular the improvements slated for the loop drive and projected southern extension of the road system.


One of the main reasons the Park Service did not depart from the confined development pattern was that it worked well in presenting and protecting the monument's volcanic formations. Regional Director O. A. Tomlinson favored self-contained development for this reason in the early 1940s, influenced as well by the World War II conditions of low visitation, funding, and staffing. Subsequent planning strategies reflected this opinion.

Yet this focus only met the smallest amount of administrative needs. By the 1950s managers had consistently complained of the decrepid conditions of the headquarters' buildings and the absence of other essential structures and facilities. Superintendent Aubrey F. Houston, for example, proclaimed that the monument's "installations are substandard and obsolete," highlighting the consistent neglect of administrative facilities in the development program. Visitation also skyrocketed during this period catching the monument unprepared; physical improvements, Houston noted, were needed in all areas at once, since none of any consequence had occurred for decades. [5]


These shortcomings were finally addressed with the Mission 66 program, which formally established Craters of the Moon's physical plant--in one comprehensive approach. Indeed the greatest single development achievement, the program was estimated to cost around $1 million dollars, and Craters of the Moon was one of the first park units in Region Four to receive the benefits of the rehabilitation program. Most of the construction occurred between 1956 and 1961, but the major work was accomplished between 1956 and 1958. The program affirmed both the compact development design, by concentrating improvements in the northern portion of the monument, and the area's day-use visitation pattern, by removing the concession services. A new administrative site was constructed just below the highway, complete with a multipurpose visitor center, containing museum and administrative offices, as well as separate employee housing and maintenance buildings. The monument's roads, trails, and campground were also redeveloped and improved. Other improvements and new construction consisted of a new comfort station, utilities, and water and sewage systems. [6]


Mission 66 planners believed that the developments implemented in the late 1950s and early 1960s were the most needed for the short and long term. Rising visitation, however, forced managers to address new development programs in the ensuing years. Monument officials anticipated nearly half a million visitors by the mid-1960s, double the number of the previous decade. Even though the Mission 66 program had apparently upgraded the monument's facilities to accommodate this number of visitors, Superintendent Roger Contor recognized that more growth was inevitable and development options to relieve congestion were requisite. Thus in his 1966 master plan, he proposed expanding the road system to the south, and relocating the administrative offices and campground to the northern unit. [7]

These plans were never acted upon, in part because Contor's successor, Superintendent Paul Fritz, objected to any new developments within the monument in order to maintain the proper balance of preservation and use. Yet Fritz entertained more far-reaching development plans in his 1973 draft master plan. Although the bulk of the document was given over to his proposal to enlarge the monument southward along the Great Rift, it also recognized that the monument's administrative and visitor service facilities would eventually reach the saturation point, and ideally new facilities would have to exist beyond the monument's boundaries. [8]

Fritz's plans were rejected by the regional director, but the superintendent's scheme indicated that changes of some kind would have to be made. Mission 66 developments eventually needed to be reassessed. Monument managers almost since the completion of construction in the late 1950s and early 1960s expended a great deal of time and funding maintaining the physical plant in the extreme climate. Roger Contor had noted in 1965, for instance, that the entire "package development is getting older..." requiring extensive maintenance and in some instances reconstruction. [9] Park Service engineers failed to understand the monument's harsh environmental conditions of extreme heat and cold; poorly insulated buildings and bad road surface marked two of the flaws. In the 1970s and 1980s, Superintendents Robert Hentges and Robert Scott initiated extensive maintenance programs for monument facilities. Moreover, as the area's staff grew, office and building space were expanded until by the late 1980s it was apparent that no more remodeling was possible.

By this time, the monument's personnel had increased beyond the capacity of the headquarters complex. Visitation, similarly, has increased and visitation patterns have changed, extending the traditional season. These trends gave rise to the 1991 draft general management plan, initiated by Superintendent Robert Scott. It reported basically that the Mission 66 headquarters design had outlived its usefulness. The headquarters complex with combined visitor center, maintenance buildings, park housing, and campground--all located in a centralized area--caused traffic congestion and parking problems; it also caused monument operations and visitor services to conflict. The close proximity of the campground to staff housing afforded little privacy to employees; likewise for the visitors, the location of employee housing diminished the quality of their camping experience. Furthermore, the monument's campground and road system were not compatible with the growing number of recreational vehicles driven by tourists. To correct these problems, some of which were Mission 66 flaws, the plan proposed a new design--one that separated existing administrative facilities from a new visitor center and monument entrance. Thus, the plan would improve the quality of the visitors' experience by reducing congestion and visual intrusions and by providing better facilities and roads. It would also improve the quality of the work environment for monument staff, expanding office space, reducing visitor interruptions, and adding privacy to employee residences. [10] The general management plan, in the context of previous design themes, stated essentially that the idea of the compact design was effective as long as staffing and visitation remained low enough to maintain a centralized development. These conditions were out of balance.



To an isolated area like Craters of the Moon National Monument, roads played a particularly important function in routing tourists to the area and circulating them through it. The highway traversing the monument's northern corner formed part of the historical travel route skirting the foothills of the Pioneer Mountains. During the early settlement period of the 1910s and 1920s, the citizens of Arco and Hailey developed the trail into a rough road to allow sightseers to reach the monument. In 1922 these same individuals created the double entrance system (see map), known as the Arco and Hailey entrances, enabling drivers to enter the monument from the east or west, respectively, along Highway 22. [11]

Concurrently, this group established the loop drive. Members from local communities--"Sunday Rock Pickers"--constructed a road beginning near Martin and extended it south into the monument hugging the cinder cone edges, through the old eastern entrance. From there it led south of the old headquarters site (near the campground), over the North Crater Flow to Registration Waterhole, and around Paisley Cone to Devil's Orchard. There it branched, one section heading toward the Caves Area and the other to the Big Craters. [12]

Inheriting this primitive road system in 1924, the Park Service has changed little in its design, for it successfully led visitors to the monument's most scenic sites. It was this guideline that governed road developments in subsequent decades along with programs for modernization and maintenance. Although the Park Service planned a five-year program for road improvements, among other things, budgeting some $50,000, the monument's first custodians were allotted only a few hundred dollars for road work. [13] Even with this "limited means," in 1926 Custodian Samuel Paisley reported that he improved the entrance into the monument and construct "fairly good the extinct craters." It also seems that Paisley might have finished the loop drive route, for he stated that he laid out a loop trip of five miles, apparently completing the route from the Big Craters around the southern side of Inferno Cone to the Devil's Orchard spur road. [14]

In the summer of 1927, Assistant Civil Engineer Bert Burrell's impression of the monument's road system was that the present conditions were adequate, provided that a long-range program was planned. He recommended, however, changing the circulation system in order to centralize the entrance to aid the one-man staff in visitor contacts and campground control, and at the same time aid the concessionaire's business located on the proposed entrance road. When the sudden water shortage occurred shortly after Burrell's inspection, tourists began congregating at Crater Inn for water. Complying with the engineer's suggestions, Custodian Robert Moore constructed the new entrance west of Sunset Ridge, abandoning the former double entrance, by the fall of that year. [15]

The general activity during the late 1920s and early 1930s was road maintenance, although a new administrative, two-track road was laid in the northern unit as part of the water system construction in 1931. In some cases, road improvements were necessary to protect monument resources. In 1932 Custodian Burton LaCombe lined the loop drive with rock barriers to keep motorists from driving onto the delicate cinders. [16]

LaCombe's work anticipated the New Deal work projects entered into over the next several years. The major road work, recommended by Custodian Albert Bicknell, was covered under a Public Works Administration project for widening and improving four sections of the monument's road system, beginning on May 8, 1934. The first road section worked on was the segment of Highway 22 crossing the monument. Originally built by volunteers, the road was nothing more than a trail. Widening the road and removing its blind curves, Custodian Bicknell noted, allowed two cars to safely pass, decreasing dangerous situations as travel increased. [17]

Next, the work crew eliminated the two entrance system. Although Moore had abandoned this entrance system in 1927, motorists still entered the monument from two different directions across the flat, sagebrush-covered terrain near the highway. Both east and west entrances were short roads leading into the monument from the highway, approximately a quarter of a mile apart. In the sagebrush the roads were nearly invisible from the highway, and visitors often passed the monument without seeing them. The roads were also narrow and dangerous. To correct these problems, workers closed the western, or Hailey Entrance, a third-of-a-mile road paralleling the highway, and constructed a "Y" at the eastern, or Arco Entrance, [18] since it was both a shorter and safer route from the highway--now visible with sagebrush cropped and a cinder surface applied. The final two narrow sections of the monument loop drive were likewise widened, straightened, graded and cinder-surfaced for better driving conditions. These included the two-mile stretch from the headquarters to Devil's Orchard junction, and the spur road leading from the loop drive to the Big Craters parking area. Additional road work entailed construction of embankments and rock barriers to keep cars on the road. [19]

Auto travel through the park, ca. 1920s
Auto travel through the monument's rough lava flows underscored the importance of a good road system, ca. 1920s. (CRMO Museum Collection)


Along with improving the existing road system, the Park Service contemplated extending the system south from Inferno Cone to Broken Top and down along the Great Rift to Echo Crater, although some road plans name the more distant Sheep Trail Butte as the final destination. The subject was broached in the 1920s when the communities of Rupert, Kimama, and Minidoka in southcentral Idaho lobbied for construction of a highway through the vast lava country to the north, seeing this as a way to strengthen communication and commerce with the communities of the upper Snake River Plain. In some cases, the proposed routes would have intersected with the monument's road system from the south, forming a southern entrance, and opening up a new region of the monument to visitation. [20]

The Park Service expressed other reasons for extending the road system within the monument. Primarily these centered on exposing visitors to as much spectacular scenery as possible without being repetitious and incurring excessive administrative costs. Not all of the monument's features were seen from the loop drive, and viewing the Great Rift, with its relatively gentle terrain, was an attractive prospect.

Southern extension formed part of the general road development program for the monument. In 1926 the National Park Service commissioned the Bureau of Public Roads to study the monument's road system, in order to "determine the progressive road units for [a] construction program within the Monument, which would reach points of main interest and ultimately form a well correlated system." The report recommended a road system extending from the Idaho Central Highway in the northern section of the monument to the southeastern section ending at "Sheep Trail Mountain." [21]

These plans lay on the back burner, limited by appropriations, while monument managers concentrated their efforts on improving the main loop drive. Nevertheless, they continued to propose a southern extension. In the late 1920s, Custodian Moore contended that a southern road would open up an interesting and scenic part of the monument not already available to tourists. The custodian stated that this was a natural addition; an "old wagon road" already ran across the lava from the existing loop drive to Broken Top, and from there along the moderate topography of the Great Rift. The costs were economical. The only construction necessary would be to Broken Top; from there, the wagon road was well enough established for automobiles to proceed, unimpeded, to Echo Crater and beyond. [22]

Administrative realities, again, forestalled plans. Although Custodian Burton LaCombe located a route over easier terrain for what had come to be called the "Echo Crater Road," Assistant Landscape Architect Kenneth C. McCarter recommended in 1933 that the road project be eliminated. "With insufficient ranger assistance the Custodian would be unable to patrol or control the area which would be opened to the public." Instead funds during the New Deal era were diverted to construct trails adjacent to the present road system. This was considered a logical progression of development prior to extending the loop drive, and a more efficient means of management. [23]

In 1935 Custodian Albert Bicknell requested another Bureau of Public Roads survey of the proposed Echo Crater Road. On August 12, Assistant Highway Engineer J.S. Scofield, Bicknell, and Landscape Architect Frank Mattson conducted the inspection and concurred with the original survey--that an approximately four-mile road should begin from the south side of Inferno Cone and run to Little Prairie Waterhole. From there the road would follow the Owl Cavern Trail (built in 1934 from Inferno Cone south to Broken Top), swing west, and then southeast wrapping around the base of Broken Top to Buffalo Caves. Then it would advance to the northeast of Big Cinder Butte along or near the old wagon road to Trench Mortar Flat, leaving the road to pass over a saddle east of Coyote Butte and drop down to an area just east of Echo Crater. And finally it would end in a loop road constructed between this point and Little Prairie Waterhole. [24]

Big Cinder Butte
Looking south toward Big Cinder Butte, a portion of the existing loop drive and trail system in the foreground, and the proposed region for southern expansion in the distance. (CRMO Museum Collection)

The Broken Top Spur

Associate Director A.E. Demaray approved the Echo Crater Road in the first part of 1936, and asked the Bureau of Public Roads to continue with plans for road construction following the above route. Generally, the road was viewed as a valuable addition to the visitors' experience. Some controversy surfaced, however, regarding the road's location at Broken Top. From a geologic standpoint the road section was deemed worthy because it accessed the Great Rift. Yet there were questions of aesthetics. While the road would enhance the visitors' experience by penetrating a new and interesting part of the monument, at the same time it would intrude on the scene, marring the monument's pristine condition. Hence, the monument faced the issue of preservation and use head on.

The Bureau of Public Roads' survey proposed that its low-line route was the best choice; it traversed the lava flows at the base and some distance from the western edge of the cinder cone, leaving the slope intact. The other alternative was the high-line road which skirted the west slope of the cinder cone, cutting a road bed into the feature itself. Having weighed the options, Associate Director Demaray granted his approval for the low-line route because it "will obviate the necessity of side hill bench construction down the south slope of Broken Top Cone." [25] In effect, this option scarred the landscape less and saved on construction costs.

Two subsequent NPS surveys challenged Demaray's choice. It was generally agreed that both alternatives had advantages and disadvantages. The high line route offered a panoramic view of the lava fields below Broken Top but scarred the slope with a side cut, while the lower route inflicted less damage on the resource but offered no view. Thinking the view more valuable, Region Four District Landscape Architect Harry Langley supported the high-line route. In his extensive report released in August 1936, Region Four Geologist J. Volney Lewis voice a similar opinion. To support his position, Volney established what he called the "basis of choice." This method weighed the values of the resources and visitor experience in both proposals. The geologist recognized that road construction would injure the landscape no matter where it was located. However, the geologic features in the lava flow below Broken Top were more valuable than its "featureless slope" and therefore worth the sacrifice. The geologists recommended the higher route for its view and its protection of more significant surface features. [26]

Although available records offer few details about the final decision, the Park Service selected the low-line route. The date when the road section to Broken Top was constructed is not known. [27] By at least 1940, a "minor cinder road" existed across the lava fields to the cone, where a parking lot was also established. At this point, the Park Service turned its attention to further extension of the road to Echo Crater and points south along the Great Rift. Sketchy at best, details about the condition of the southern road system suggest that some improvements took place and that the Park Service was still interested in expanding southward. [28]

Some of the driving force behind this trend was Custodian Guy McCarty, who seems to have been eager to open new areas up to visitors and make their trips to the sites as convenient as possible. He reported in July 1940 that he had improved the old wagon road along the Rift so that "it is now possible to drive to Trench Mortar Flat and the Tree Molds," as if doing so would cause formal construction. [29] McCarty also wanted to build a road across the existing trail to Great Owl Cavern. As it stood now, the extreme roughness of the trail prevented many visitors from seeing the cavern. Any "ladies wishing to make the trip have to pass over lava and cinders which are extremely hard on their shoes [which] means that most ladies, and lots of men," McCarty stated, "refuse to make the hike." Assistant Regional Director B.F. Manbey concurred with McCarty during a May 1940 inspection, and he proposed that a minor road could be built without any significant damage to the resource; construction required only widening the trail, and the work was justified given the significance of the cavern. [30]

In the early 1940s Regional Director O.A. Tomlinson addressed both proposals. On the one hand, he stated that construction of a "Great Rift Road" south of Trench Mortar Flat was of questionable merit. It would duplicate features found in the northern area of the monument already accessible to automobiles. A road as far south as Sheep Trail Butte would only renew pressure for construction of approach roads from southern communities and for the Park Service to open a southern entrance. All of this would only "add to the expenses of administration without affording much additional interest or value to users of the Monument." [31] For these reasons, the regional director discontinued plans for the Great Rift road extension on August 21, 1944. [32]

On the other hand, Tomlinson greeted the Great Owl Cavern road proposal with a more positive response, attracted to the lower costs and ease of construction. It also gave life to a new proposal--extending a road section from Great Owl Cavern one way around the "base of Big Cinder Butte to connect with the Great Rift road in Trench Mortar Flat." This would "open up splendid views of the Blue Dragon Flow." [33] As with past proposals, Tomlinson was interested in opening up scenic areas of the monument that contained unique volcanic features. But he was only interested in doing so if the projects were economically and administratively feasible. Furthermore, they needed to meet the monument's purpose and add diversity to the visitors' experience, rather than duplicate examples of volcanic formations associated with the Great Rift. Although the Great Owl Cavern road and Big Cinder Butte extension were favored by Tomlinson, World War II placed the new proposals on hold.


Not all attention was focused on the southern end of the monument during the 1930s and 1940s. A significant improvement occurred with the realignment and resurfacing of four miles of the Idaho Central Highway passing through the northwest corner of the monument. In 1938, two public interest groups, the Eastern Idaho Association of Civic Clubs and Southern Idaho Inc., spearheaded the better roads movement by promoting tourist development in eastern and southern Idaho. Their campaign won support from the Park Service, at the prodding of Custodian McCarty. But improvement could only happen if the state received federal highway funding, and that could only happen if the state owned the road. Not considering the road its own in the first place, the National Park Service ceded the approximately ninety-four-acre strip of land to the state of Idaho in a July 18, 1941 proclamation. And in late August 1942, Federal Aid project 128-E (1) was completed. [34] Construction straightened the highway across the monument, eliminating the former connection to the Arco route. The road, having been relocated, headed more easterly than northerly, reduced the mileage to Arco, and entered the monument slightly south of its former location. [35]

By the 1950s, the Park Service regained its development momentum. In his 1950 master plan, Superintendent Aubrey Houston addressed some familiar road issues. In the northern section, he recommended construction of a new entrance road that ascended Sunset Ridge. There motorists could look out across the monument before descending to the loop drive. Most attention, however, was aimed at the southern district. Houston recommended that the spur road to Broken Top be reconstructed, and renewed the call for construction of a primary road to Great Owl Cavern and a secondary road to Echo Crater. [36] The superintendent's plans underscored the Park Service's continued interest in southern expansion. In the summer of 1955, the monument fulfilled some of this goal when it straightened, widened, and filled the one-mile spur road to Broken Top (also known as the Great Owl Cavern parking area). According to Superintendent Everett Bright, the road work was a success because it increased the number of visitors to the Great Owl Cavern. [37]

Yet further construction either toward Echo Crater or Great Owl Cavern was not undertaken. Even though the 1949 Coyote Butte fire triggered the bulldozing of a dirt road to the Echo Crater, the Mission 66 prospectus reflected past policy decisions, stating that this route would only open up an area with features seen elsewhere in the monument. Likewise, extending the road to Great Owl Cavern was left out of the construction program, although the prospectus proposed doing this in the near future. Planning after Mission 66 strove to retain the primitive quality of the southern region. Superintendent Contor, who conducted the monument's wilderness study in the mid-1960s, recommended extending the loop drive around Big Cinder Butte as one final outlet for future increases in visitation. However, Contor's successor, Paul Fritz, revised the wilderness boundaries to include the butte and exclude the road. And the wilderness designation of the southern region of the monument in 1970 terminated any more planning for roads beyond Broken Top. [38]


The road system at Craters was as old as the monument itself. As late as the mid-1950s, it remained unsurfaced; wind eroded the cinder surface causing high annual maintenance costs, and road hazards annoyed the motoring public. Paving and reconstruction during the Mission 66 program solved many of these problems.

Beginning in the summer of 1956, work commenced on the new headquarters roads, curbs, gutters, sidewalks, and parking areas. The only significant design change was the relocation of the entrance road slightly to the west of the new headquarters site, since it would have divided the new complex. The following summer similar work continued, when the campground road and the seven mile loop drive were graded and paved, and sections of the loop drive were revised. Nine adjacent parking areas were also created at scenic views and volcanic features. By 1958 the majority of construction was complete, yet almost as soon as the pavement was laid a new set of maintenance problems arose. [39]


Superintendent Floyd Henderson and Park Service engineers noticed several defects in the road construction, namely in drainage and surfacing. In both cases, funding reductions and a misunderstanding of the monument's environmental conditions compromised design. Thinking the monument a dry place, regional office engineers omitted pipe culverts from the headquarters road system, and heavy winter snows and seasonal rains flooded the area. They also did not take into account snowmelt rising from the cinders. To protect the site from erosion, the regional office initiated emergency construction to correct the problem in September 1958. [40]

Likewise, the loop drive suffered from shoulder and surface washouts and required better drainage. A persistent issue was the poor quality of the road surface itself, which cracked. The reasons for this and how to repair it have been the subject of much debate. Funding cutbacks during construction reduced the quality of the road, and in May 1959, the Park Service allocated additional funds to reseal some sections and to install drainage devices. [41]

In spite of these "corrective" measures, lateral cracks and shoulder erosion formed chronic maintenance issues for the next several decades. Experimental solutions typified the approach to the road predicament. In 1961, for instance, Henderson reported that an asphalt sealant mixture had been applied but failed. By 1965 highway engineers were declaring that the entire road system needed to be reconstructed, and the best method to remedy the current problems was to lay a new asphalt treated base. Records do not indicate whether this material was used but in the late 1960s Superintendent Paul Fritz attempted to rehabilitate the road base where needed and repaved the entire road system. This included, for the first time, the Broken Top Road--which was also revised and extended to its present terminus. [42] Nevertheless, the problem reappeared. Sealing the asphalt and filling the surface breaks provided only temporary relief, since the filler settled into the porous cinder base. This prompted Superintendent Robert Hentges to exclaim in 1974 that until some other method was found "the crack syndrome will continue to plague the monument." [43]

That solution was offered by a 1991 road system study, which offered both short- and long-term solutions. For the short term, fabric material stretched across the cracks and covered with surfacing material would work adequately. But to create a long-term solution, reconstruction was necessary. [44] This work could be accomplished during the road reconstruction called for in the new general management plan. The document maintained that the road's original design suited the monument well; its curvilinear shape conformed to the landscape and connected the most interesting sites. Yet, reflecting changing patterns of use, it was determined to be too narrow for bicycles and recreational vehicles, nor did it allow enough turnouts for people to stop along the road. Current plans call for reconstruction to proceed in the near future. [45]

Road damage, ca. 1960s
Road damage, as a result of poor design and construction, was a common problem after Mission 66, as seen here on the Broken Top spur, ca. 1960s. (CRMO Museum Collection)


Compared to road work, trails received little attention. The Park Service catered to the motoring public, and the loop drive was the primary means of getting visitors to the monument's key features. Trails became an important addition to the road system. Along the drive, informal footpaths led to various sites by the time the monument opened in 1924. Early on, the agency decided that a formal trail system was important to enable visitors to experience the landscape more intensively, more safely, and more enjoyably.

In planning, building, and maintaining trails, monument managers concentrated on increasing the ease of travel to the most popular and diverse volcanic sites. After his appointment in 1925, Custodian Paisley established this pattern when he constructed paths to the caves and waterholes. In this manner, Custodian Moore further advanced trail development in the summer of 1928, clearing rocks from the Big Craters and Spatter Cones trails. He also constructed a trail from the Caves Area parking lot to Dew Drop Cave and Indian Tunnel, using cinders to fill cracks, and removing rocks in order "to make a good practicable trail for persons unused to difficult ground." With this intent, Moore built a new trail from Snow Cone to Great Owl Cavern, skirting the slopes of the spatter cone chain to Crystal Pit, Big Sink Waterhole, and ending near the cavern. All of this, Moore stated, eliminated "a number of rambling and confusing trails," making hiking across the rough terrain more attractive--and in the process increasing visitation to these sites. [46]

These developments, however, were "informal" at best, reported Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Roger Toll in 1931. In Toll's view the monument still did not possess enough trails, and in "the absence of trails," he observed, "visitors cannot find the points of interest and are likely to get lost in the maze of lava flows." Construction was simple and economic, he noted; it mostly involved hauling cinders to lay a trail surface, and a budget of $5,000 a year would meet this need. [47]

Although the monument never received this level of funding, two years later the allocations from the emergency work relief programs enabled the Park Service to comply with Toll's suggestions. Planning for trail development, Custodian Albert Bicknell decided that the Caves Area required the most improvement--voicing the reasons of earlier custodians--since only a few tourists ventured across this formidable landscape, in some cases unable to find the caverns in the sea of pahoehoe. Earlier improvements in this area had been attempted with limited success. Prior to Bicknell's arrival, for instance, Custodian LaCombe had hard-surfaced a short section of the trail to Dew Drop Cave and marked the route to the caves with dots of red paint. In December 1933, a Civil Works Administration project developed the trail system in the Caves Area more completely. A new surfaced trail connected Indian Tunnel with Dew Drop, Boy Scout, Beauty and Surprise Caves, while a rough trail extended to Natural Bridge and Last Chance Cave. With completion of the project, Bicknell called the new trails "a great asset." His spirits were especially lifted when he noticed that older visitors were walking comfortably to the caves. "This is very encouraging," he noted, "when we can get the children and the older people out to these points of interest." [48]

Civil Works Program trail construction, 1933
Workers, employed by the Civil Works Program, construct the first formal trail system in the monument to the Caves, December 1933. (CRMO Archives, File D 30)

Bicknell's words shed light on the Park Service's development mission--the importance of providing suitable access to the monument's prominent features. Another example of this was Custodian McCarty's attempts to have the trail to Great Owl Cavern developed into a road. [49] Constructed in 1934 with Public Works Administration funds, the trail provided access to the cavern for those visitors willing to venture across the rugged terrain, but for many the path was still too rough, depriving them of seeing one of the monument's more interesting sites. [50] Although the road was never built, the trend toward upgrading the trail system continued.

Caves Trail
Completed trail through sharp lava to the Caves, ca. 1934. (CRMO Museum Collection)

By the 1950s, Craters of the Moon sported nine trails. In the northern section of the monument, the trail system reached the Cave Area, Big Crater and Spatter Cones, Great Owl Cavern, the Tree Molds, and North Crater Trails. In the southern end, three undeveloped trails generally paralleled the Great Rift on either side. Their starting point was located at the end of the Broken Top Road and they separated into two main routes at the Watchman. The Old Indian Trail extended south to Vermillion Chasm; the Natural Bridge Trail branched southwest of Fissure Butte; and the Split Butte Trail ran as far south as Sheep Trail Butte. There were also two proposed trails, one from Indian Tunnel to Last Chance Cave, and the other from Echo Crater to Amphitheater Cave. [51]

In subsequent years hard-surfacing trails near the loop drive for better maintenance and hiking formed the next major management emphasis. In 1953 Superintendent Bright began laying the first premix on the Cave Area trails. In addition to surfacing existing trails, Bright also constructed a new hard-surfaced trail to the Devil's Sewer site and four new hard-surfaced trails at the Big Craters-Spatter Cones area. By Mission 66, most of the trail development work was complete, and the monument shifted toward interpretive development. [52]

One of the more important management decisions regarding the further development of trails occurred at this time as well. With the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act and 1965 wilderness study, monument managers considered the southern region of the Craters of the Moon as "wilderness." In his 1966 master plan, Superintendent Roger Contor confirmed this view when he stated that no trails would be constructed into the southern end in order to maintain the area's wilderness character. Furthermore, due to the presence of numerous game trails and the area's rolling terrain, Contor determined that no formal trails were necessary, and he ended trail maintenance. In this way, the fire road to Echo Crater, which was also the central route used by wilderness hikers, was left to revert to its natural state. The creation of the Craters of the Moon Wilderness in 1970 and subsequent wilderness management plans finalized this policy. [53]

In the 1980s, the monument reversed the development trend and turned more to trails and their role in resource management issues. The 1982 resource management plan, drafted during Superintendent Robert Hentges' tenure, emphasized that no new trails were needed. The monument contained about twelve miles of trails, half of which were paved. Furthermore, the plan discriminated between the type of management for paved and unpaved trails. For example, the surfaced trails existed at volcanic features; therefore, they required maintenance to assist with visitor safety and resource protection. From a resource management perspective, the larger problem was the erosion of fragile volcanic features caused by off-trail use and poorly designed trails. The monument launched corrective trail maintenance and redesign programs in response to resource management issues. Not an entirely new approach, the best example of this policy in action was the Spatter Cones rehabilitation project in the 1980s. [54]

The unpaved trails located in more remote and less visited areas of the monument were hardly maintained. The management trend, again influenced by issues of resource and visitor protection, has been to deemphasize the use of many of these trails. When the monument's wilderness area was established, for example, managers removed the ladder leading into Great Owl Cavern, since it was a modern "intrusion." The intent was also to maintain the site's primitive state. Because the cavern lacked safe access, except through technical means, managers closed the trail in order to keep the casual visitor out. Similarly, trails to Crystal Fissure and Big Sink, and those caves to the east of the developed cave site were not maintained, even though they appeared on certain maps and had some tread and cairns. In a sense, many of these trails were managed as those in the wilderness, left to return to natural conditions. [55]

Expanding this policy in 1987, Superintendent Robert Scott introduced a cyclic maintenance program for trail management. Yet not all unpaved trails in remote regions could be left unmaintained. The Tree Molds Trail fell into a gray area. Considered wilderness, it was not maintained, yet it was a popular, short, and unpaved trail that by the early 1990s had worn and widened considerably. In response, Superintendent Scott reversed earlier policy and placed the trail under cyclic maintenance. [56]

In response to visitor use, in 1991 Craters of the Moon also altered its earlier policy of no trail additions. Superintendent Scott permitted the construction of a short access trail leading from the campground south over a ridge to the North Crater Flow Trail, following the general direction of a common-use trail. This was necessary to prevent further resource impacts and increase visitor safety, since the other alternative was for campers to walk the narrow loop drive. Alternatives for the revision of the trail up Inferno Cone involve similar issues, as does the planned revision of the Devil's Orchard Trail. [57]


Like other developments, the history of structures and visitor facilities reflects the monument's environmental conditions and administrative evolution. Because of limited land space and a commitment to inflict the least impact on monument resources, the Park Service confined administrative buildings and visitor facilities to one location, the headquarters area. In addition, headquarters development evinces best perhaps the long history of neglect prior to the Mission 66 program. It suggests that the monument has indeed had two lives, for few structures remain of the period before Mission 66 construction, yet that does not diminish the significance of that early era.


All told there have been three headquarters sites. The first lasted from 1925 to 1927, and was situated at Cinderhurst Camp in the saddle between North Crater and Paisley Cone. Custodian Samuel Paisley chose this place because it was near the loop drive and Registration Waterhole. With few sources of water in the monument as convenient and plentiful, this location was vital for early visitors who "roughed it" in the desert environment. The area's buildings were modest at best. Paisley, lacking a construction budget, erected at his own expense a tiny wood-plank cabin that functioned as office and residence, registration booth, and interpretive center. To aid in interpretation, he constructed a small museum display case filled with lava specimens. Later, as funding allowed, he built two pit toilets and a small registration booth. [58]

First monument headquarters, ca. 1925-27
The first monument headquarters in the saddle below Paisley Cone, administrative buildings on the left, outhouses on the right, ca. 1925-1927. (CRMO Museum Collection)

As suggested by the first headquarters "complex," water was central to the headquarters design and the monument's survival. Recognizing this, Paisley urged the Park Service to develop a water system from the springs of Little Cottonwood Creek to the headquarters area. When planning the headquarters development in 1927, Civil Engineer Bert Burrell agreed with Paisley and recommended construction of a new site designed to take advantage of a new water system in a central location. The site envisioned for this was in the vicinity of the present campground. Here, a centralized and small compound would not only streamline administrative duties, but also provide the conveniences to which visitors were accustomed: running water, a modern campground, comfort stations, and a concessionaire's services.

In late July 1927 the monument waterhole levels dropped drastically and upon Burrell's advice, the new custodian, Robert Moore, relocated the headquarters to its second location, near the present-day campground entrance. It was sited on the west side of the recently constructed entrance road, directly across from the newly constructed Crater Inn, its three cabins, and gas station. The Park Service had insisted on this "dry site" for the concession to avoid depleting the finite water supply in return for a hook-up to the system when it was finished. Forced to haul water from Martin, the concession owner supplied water to both monument managers and visitors for four years. [59]

New monument headquarters site, 1927
Site of the new monument headquarters and campground, on the right, concession, on the left; note the three white structures in the distance (center) are the original headquarters, 1927. (CRMO Museum Collection)

It was here as well that the monument designated its new campground. The former administrative site lacked the space for extensive auto camping, and the new area, the same as today's, offered room for 75-to-150 car camps. [60] Burrell chose this place over the northeast base of Grassy Cone as recommended previously by geologist Harold Stearns. Stearns included this section in his boundary expansion study because it was near water, the highway, and trees for shade--all ideal for camping. Burrell thought otherwise; it was too close to the highway, too far from the monument's main features and headquarters to administer properly, and too small an area for development. More importantly, it would have been too expensive to pipe water to the proposed campground as well as the headquarters area. [61]

By summer's end, Craters of the Moon's headquarters area consisted of its main components--custodian's cabin, outhouses, concession, and campground--all of which, with few additions, remained in place for the next thirty years. The main administrative theme of this era was improving and adding to these few facilities. Judging from the condition of its buildings, for example, one could say that Craters of the Moon existed in a destitute state until the mid-1950s. Small and remote, the monument indeed seemed to be a "second-class" site in terms of Park Service attention. Custodian Moore complained of the primitive working conditions in October 1929, wondering why the agency had not taken better care of what was to be "one of the most Scenic Wonders of the U.S." In this period of low appropriations and economic depression, the custodian had to make do with Paisley's one room, tar-papered shack, which served as living quarters and office. Small and cramped, "this shack is a great conductor of heat and cold...and the dust blows in when the wind blows, and some of it blows out too." [62]

Unfortunately for Moore, no improvements took effect until his departure. Coinciding with the completion of the water system and the era of trained managers, new quarters were not built until 1931. Trying to attract qualified ranger and friend Burton LaCombe to take the custodian job at the monument, Director Horace Albright agreed to fund construction of a new residence. Albright's consent came at the bidding of Yellowstone National Park Assistant Superintendent Joe Joffe, who related that the "most disgusting feature of the monument is the Government layout." More important was the fact that LaCombe's wife expressed profound disappointment in the monument's living quarters, adding impetus for a new structure. This latter reason underscored a new era in management at Craters of the Moon, one in which families would accompany staff to the isolated area, and thus heighten the need for adequate quarters and tolerable living conditions. A single-story, four-room log cottage was completed in early November 1931 near the campground entrance. LaCombe and his wife moved in after living the summer in a tent on the monument grounds. [63]

At this time, the Park Service also increased the monument's structures to assist in its administration. The log equipment shed (the log warehouse) was erected on November 13, 1932. [64] Moreover, a major step toward adding to the "comfort of the public," and tied directly to the presence of a water system, was the monument's first comfort station. Constructed ten years after the monument's establishment, the log comfort station, located in the campground, was completed on September 24, 1934, and paid for by Public Works Administration funds. [65]

New entrance, ca. 1935
New entrance, ca. 1935, showing Crater Inn complex and monument registration booth (and office not in photo). (CRMO Museum Collection)

The comfort station was one of several buildings contemplated in the master plans of the early 1930s, but funding limitations deferred a number of proposed structures, including a new administration building, residence, and checking kiosk to a later date. As of 1938, those needs were still unmet. Region Four Landscape Architect Earnest A. Davidson believed that these projects could be achieved through Civilian Conservation Corps assistance but both skilled labor and materials would be difficult to find. The winding down of the New Deal programs and the coming of World War II contributed to further setbacks, leaving the monument's facilities "hardly what could be adequate for present usage," Davidson said. [66]

Monument headquarters, ca. 1955
Monument headquarters complex before Mission 66,
showing the "central design" and limited space for expansion as well as eclectic collection of buildings, ca. 1955. (CRMO Museum Collection)

By the early 1940s, the monument added to the headquarters area one temporary frame cabin for a ranger's quarters. The most notable additions, at this time, were four more log cabins built by the concession operator. [67] For the first time in monument design, Custodian McCarty argued against the use of log building materials, "as there is hardly a tree in the whole area, particularly in the vicinity of these cabins," making the log construction "entirely inappropriate." Instead McCarty favored "the use of lava rock masonry, of which there is a great quantity available" at the monument, which would also be less expensive than logs hauled from more than two hundred miles away. Assistant Regional Director B.F. Manbey agreeing with the custodian suggested that future construction at the monument be modeled after lava structures at Lava Beds National Monument; they seemed appropriate and to "blend in with the natural surroundings." [68]

The Park Service incorporated these and other suggestions into a long-range planning process for the headquarters in the 1940s, which culminated in the Mission 66 program. By far the most penetrating analysis of the administrative developments was Regional Director Tomlinson's 1943 report that provided the essential "why" to future design. Writing during the war years, a time of low appropriations and low visitation, the regional director did not believe any major additions or changes were necessary at the time. In the future, however, he thought the current headquarters should be relocated about half a mile northwest to a site higher in elevation and at the junction of the monument highway and entrance road. His reasoning reflected that of Burrell's in 1927; given the monument's small staff, this "drive-through," central design was necessary to check visitors, collect entrance fees, issue auto permits, control traffic and provide information in a more efficient manner. The highway site was also appealing because it could expand the monument's interpretive program; the slightly higher elevation offered a near-panoramic view of the lava flows, a good vista with which to introduce visitors to the monument. Other practical matters such as snow removal played a role in his decision, since the highway department plowed this section of road at no cost to the agency. [69]

The preliminary master plan of 1943 embodied Tomlinson's suggestions, calling for a new headquarters complex, with one building for offices and museum, and two five-room residences, near the highway just to the west of the current entrance road. The custodian's residence would then become staff quarters, and only one additional dorm and storage facility would be required. The plan, echoing McCarty's and Manbey's suggestions, also stipulated a change in building materials, ones which would be more sympathetic to the monument's environment as well as more practical. For all future buildings, lava, rather than logs, was to be used for its natural effect and its insulating qualities. [70]

The plans, however, lay dormant during the postwar years. Regional Architect Sanford "Red" Hill's statement in 1946--that Craters of the Moon was isolated and appeared to be neglected by the Park Service--held true for the following decade. Beginning in January 1950 Superintendent Aubrey Houston attempted to steer the monument toward improvements. He enunciated that the combined highway improvements, postwar travel increases, and a regional population boom were pressing the area beyond its administrative capacity. Stating that most of the monument's facilities were "substandard and obsolete," limiting his ability to hire more rangers to his staff, Houston advocated enacting Tomlinson's plan. His 1950 master plan renewed the regional director's proposal, noting that a concessioner wing be added to the structure. In this way, Houston believed, the Park Service could get rid of Crater Inn's unsightly buildings and "improve the appearance of the Government area as well." [71]

Monument office in winter, ca. 1950
The monument office in winter, giving a sense of the working conditions experienced by monument personnel prior to Mission 66, ca. 1950. (CRMO Museum Collection)

Agency planners agreed that the headquarters should be located at the junction of the monument highway and entrance, yet the location of the residential and utility area posed problems. The small land space might crowd the buildings. There were also considerations of snow drifting and development costs. The Park Service considered two alternative sites for the residential and utility areas. The first site was on the hill north and above the highway, and the second was near the former eastern entrance, above the highway as well, near today's group campground. Houston recommended the original location because it was the most practical compared to these two sites. Although limited in space, it was more cost effective, requiring less construction for utilities and roads; the alternative sites were also too far from the proposed administration area to manage the monument well. In order to make room for the new developments, the master plan recommended moving the entrance road to the west, dividing the headquarters complex, with the residential and utility area to the east and the administration building to the west. [72]

Even though a new headquarters area had been planned, lack of appropriations stymied construction, and Houston spent the next several years fighting for funding to achieve even a modicum of improvement. Attesting to this struggle, the superintendent reported in the spring of 1951 that with little or no preventative maintenance for ten years, the hard winter of 1950-1951 led to the disintegration of some buildings and the dilapidation of others. At this point, it was cheaper to build new ones than to repair the old ones. More importantly, inadequate housing was continuing to hurt the monument's administration. Recently, "three prospective Rangers declined appointment to the vacancy here because the only house available has no water and sewer system." [73]

Faced with severe reductions in Park Service budgets for construction and rehabilitation in the early 1950s, the superintendent managed to secure maintenance funds to improve the condition of monument buildings. Houston, seeking to satisfy one of his principal concerns, acquired several temporary buildings (shacks and frame tents) and remodeled them for employee housing, shop buildings, and a new office. For a time, Houston considered housing staff in the Crater Inn guest cabins. Despite these slight improvements, permanent housing was still insufficient; these structures were only good for the summer season, and the extreme winter conditions made it imperative to build year-round structures for a year-round duty station. Although construction projects met some needs, most proposals for additional residences, a kiosk, campground redesign, and new headquarters were put off until "later years." [74]

Permanent ranger's quarters
The permanent ranger's quarters, a temporary structure that served as the monument's best housing until the arrival of Mission 66. (CRMO Museum Collection)


Those years arrived with Mission 66. As detailed in the 1956 prospectus, the headquarters in the mid-1950s consisted of the original structures with the addition of the temporary buildings serving as administrative office, housing, sign shop, and storage. In order to finally expand staff and meet the demands of climbing visitation (100,000 in 1955, having doubled in five years), the document proposed implementing the headquarters designs planned for over a decade. [75] In a sense, then, new facilities constructed during the Mission 66 era had the greatest impact on monument management, for they were intimately related to both visitor services and park personnel.

Mission 66 project
Mission 66 ushered in a new age in monument development, promising better working and living conditions for monument personnel, and better facilities for visitors, ca. 1956. (CRMO Museum Collection)

The main phases of construction occurred between 1957 and 1958, and established the monument's headquarters in its third location. Different from roads and trail programs, though, building construction created an entirely new look to the monument landscape. For example, the Park Service removed all but two of the former headquarters structures--the mixture of wood and log buildings--by July 23, 1958. Crater Inn met the same fate. Although Mission 66 plans originally provided for a concessioner in the new visitor center complex, the Service decided that Craters of the Moon should be a day-use site because of its short-staying visitor, thereby ending the need for a concession. Crater Inn's ramshackle condition and long struggle to stay in business also influenced the agency's decision. Most managers thought of the lodge as an eyesore and were happy to see its swift departure. The last of Crater Inn's buildings, sold at public auction, left the monument in November 1958. [76] With the former building sites restored to natural condition, the log comfort station in the campground and the log warehouse in the boneyard, having been deemed useful, survived as the only reminders of the monument's early era.

Removal of Crater Inn, 1957
As part of the Mission 66 program, Crater Inn, its guest cabins and gas station, were removed, ending the era of concessions at the monument, 1957. (CRMO Museum Collection)

At the same time that old structures were coming down, new ones were going up. On the new site near the highway, construction crews broke ground for the new headquarters complex in March 1957. Finally the structures essential to the demands of present and future administrations were becoming reality. The utility and maintenance building was finished in December 1957; the visitor center--housing lobby, museum, five offices, workroom, as well as staff and public restrooms--was completed on March 3, 1958. Five residences were ready the following August; these were three three-bedroom houses and garages, one duplex, and one four-unit apartment. [77]

During this time as well, workers also supplied the headquarters area with a fence, a drinking fountain, entrance kiosk, secondary water and sewage systems, and an irrigation system. The area was also landscaped, the volcanic environment altered to look like a city park with lawns, trees, and shrubs. The Park Service planted non-native vegetation, such as quaking aspen and Douglas fir, as well as native limber pines and plants to create this atmosphere. In doing so, the agency also attempted to add privacy to an otherwise open residential area--adjacent to the monument highway, entrance, visitor center, and campground. Unfortunately, most of the conifers died, and the deciduous trees fared only slightly better in the harsh environment. Although some shrubbery and trees screened the housing area from the public for privacy, the issue was never fully resolved. [78]

Having done away with the amenities of a concession, the monument upgraded its small forty-eight unit campground and picnic area by grading and paving the road and clearing and leveling camping spaces. Thirty picnic tables, twenty-five fireplaces, and a new comfort station were also added and fully operational by September 20, 1959. [79]

Surveying the new headquarters in 1958, Superintendent Everett Bright's comment about moving into the visitor center registered the significance of the new developments. "This is quite a change from the 10' x 14' one room tent covered frame shack which served as office and headquarters for the past twenty-five years." [80] The spacious new administration facility, compared to the rather spontaneous development of the past headquarters area, was more cohesive, modernistic, and well-designed.

Reciting the rationale of past proposals, agency officials believed that the new "layout" was a success because it offered a "much better relationship to the natural features" than in the past. The "gem stone" masonry blocks used in the construction of the new monument buildings, although not lava rock, blended well with the lava terrain, whereas the former wood structures had tended to stand out in the sparsely vegetated, volcanic landscape. The headquarters, situated on a gentle slope, bounded on the northwest by the highway and on the south by the campground, afforded outstanding views of the lava formations. And most of all, Service officials concluded that the site was a success because the headquarters conformed with the compact design theme. Their opinion was influenced by two things--the belief that the monument would only be "administered by a relatively small staff," and the fact that land space among the volcanic flows was limited. "Consequently," according to the Mission 66 master plan, "a compact development integrating operations, interpretation and Management produces better control, greater conveniences and a better overall operating efficiency. Furthermore a closely knit development of this sort located in a somewhat desolate area makes possible to group facilities closer together to gain architectural unity in the development." [81]

New visitor center, ca. 1962
New visitor center, ca. 1962. (Photo courtesy of Glenn Hinsdale)



Dedication ceremonies were held on June 1, 1958, and for more than thirty years, Craters of the Moon's headquarters remained mostly unchanged. As with other aspects of development, though, the main issue was maintaining the developments granted by the program. The monument's extreme climate of hot summers, cold winters, and prevailing winds exacted a heavy toll on the condition of the new structures. Poorly designed for these environmental conditions, the structures were not insulated; the mason-block walls and single-pane windows retained little heat, draining valuable energy supplies and making employee living conditions, especially in the winter months, uncomfortable. Less than ten years after their construction, Superintendent Roger Contor stated that the "relatively new facilities" required higher levels of maintenance funding than previously allotted. [82]

By the mid-1970s the buildings were showing even more signs of wear, and Superintendent Robert Hentges initiated corrective measures such as painting and reroofing. But it was the advent of the energy crisis that produced the most profound effect on the rehabilitation of the monument's structures. In 1978 Hentges reported that Craters of the Moon had reached its limit in reducing energy consumption without "making some major alterations to buildings or taking steps to insulate the structures." During the early 1980s, the monument sealed the porous brick walls of the area's residences and visitor center as well as added aluminum siding to prevent water and wind seepage. These as well as other energy-saving measures, such as adding solar panels to monument buildings and enclosing the visitor center entrance with glass walls, cut the monument's energy consumption in half. [83]

Yet living and working conditions were not necessarily improved by these renovations. The issue came to a head in 1982 when rental charges increased for government quarters some 300 percent. Many employees believed that the new rates were unfair given the poor conditions of the monument's homes, especially since higher rents and the high costs of utilities made living at the monument unattractive and unaffordable. Although rent was lowered to "comparable" rates shortly after the increase, Superintendent Hentges stated that many of his staff expected that "Washington will eventually make its interpretation of what are comparable rents and force higher and higher rents on...[the monument's inadequate] quarters." A number of his staff already had chosen to live in Arco rather than the monument for these reasons, and if rates continued to increase, Hentges predicted, "the Service will someday have no one living on site to protect facilities and park visitors after work hours." To make their case, monument employees unionized, joining the American Federation of Government Employees to "represent them as an exclusive bargaining agent...." [84]

Hence, bringing the monument residences and other structures up to standard continued to occupy a great deal of maintenance work throughout the 1980s. A 1986 study by the Park Service's Office of Maintenance and Communications Engineering concluded that the problem with the monument's buildings, despite past renovations, was that they "were...originally designed for a more temperate climate than the harsh mountainous climate" at Craters of the Moon. The most common examples were inadequate insulation, frozen water pipes, large single-pane windows, oil heating furnaces that did not work (these were supplemented by wood stoves even when they did work), and low sloped roofs susceptible to snow piling. The best solution was new buildings "designed for this location." In lieu of that, the report recommended upgrading the existing electrical system and switching from oil furnace heat to electric heat, and adding insulation. [85] Using the cyclic maintenance program, Superintendent Robert Scott accomplished most of the report's suggestions, bringing all park housing up to standard by 1990. [86]

In some cases, such as with the log comfort station in the campground, Scott preferred a new structure; however, he opted for rehabilitation in 1986 since there were no funds to build a new one. [87]

Contemporary view of headquarters complex
Contemporary view of the headquarters complex, showing the close proximity of the campground and monument administrative buildings and housing. (Photo courtesy of David Clark)


Problems with the headquarters design also surfaced after Mission 66. In the monument's 1966 master plan, Superintendent Roger Contor noted that it was only a matter of time before Craters of the Moon outgrew its "compact design." One significant example was the location of the campground; it interrupted the view from the visitor center, and its proximity to the monument's residential area invaded the privacy of monument personnel in their off-duty hours. In addition, the campground was in a sensitive lava flow, and continued use would only impact the outlying features. To offset this situation, the plan called for eliminating the campground, closing the west end and designating the east end as a picnic area with some room for off-season camping. Although tentative options were to eliminate camping in the monument altogether, [88] the plan proposed to relocate the campground north of the highway in the "unconfined" Little Cottonwood meadow, to be accessible by a new road on the southwest side of Sunset Cone. There, the monument could offer a minimum of 150 campsites, around twice as many as what was currently offered. Moreover, the new site would not compromise the monument's values, for it existed well north of the principal geological features in an area acquired primarily for watershed protection. The surrounding Pioneer Mountains offered pleasant hiking, and the plan suggested constructing an interpretive trail to the top of Sunset Cone to overlook the North Crater AA Flow. Another interpretive trail could be constructed from the visitor center through the former campground to the North Crater Flow Trail. [89]

The "only other foreseeable development of the Little Cottonwood meadow," Contor noted, was "the ultimate expansion of Service residences and support facilities." The point was that "the present headquarters location cannot reasonably be expanded to any degree and ultimately might best be devoted to day time services only." [90] The Park Service never implemented these recommendations, considered expensive and somewhat impractical since it would create more traffic across the highway. (In later years, research determined the northern unit to be a sensitive grassland ecosystem and crucial mule deer habitat.) The situation worsened. In 1967, it was common for eighty-five camper units to press into the fifty available spaces. In order to maintain "privacy and [a] true camping experience" for the visitor, Superintendent Paul Fritz created ten overflow camping sites in the picnic area, opened a parking area to trailer units, and added more water hydrants and pit toilets. Furthermore, his staff converted a former maintenance area into the primitive group campground in the northern unit below the eastern slope of Sunset Cone. Capable of holding fifty people and well removed from the existing campground, Fritz believed the new site would "ease the strain" of having large groups such as Boy Scouts "within the campground proper." The superintendent also unsuccessfully attempted to have visitor facilities established outside the monument's borders in the late 1960s, and again in his draft 1973 master plan along with a proposal to relocate the monument's administrative offices to Arco. [91]

The problem with the campground stemmed from the monument's use as a rest area by travelers in remote southcentral Idaho. Following Mission 66 planning and developments, Craters of the Moon was to be managed primarily as a day-use site, yet visitors, unaware of this distinction, continued to fill the campground nightly. Confronted with this "winless" situation in the mid-1970s, Superintendent Hentges stated that it was good to offer visitors the experience of overnight camping in a volcanic environment, yet the "present location [of the campground] is a slap in the face to National Park Service imagination and needs to be relocated." [92]

Identifying the problem with the headquarters design was one thing; solving it was another. The 1991 general management plan, similar to past proposals, suggested separating the headquarters facilities from the visitor facilities. The plan's intent was to improve the visitor's experience by relieving the traffic congestion and visual clutter inherent to the compact design. By relocating the visitor center and entrance road to the eastern side of Sunset Ridge, the Park Service would accomplish these goals. In this respect, the plan offered a new approach. The majority of visitors would bypass the headquarters area, reaching the campground by a spur road. The plan also provided for campground redevelopments in order to expand the number of tent sites, to expand and improve sites for recreational vehicles, and to provide some services for winter camping. Moreover, these arrangements, along with a planting buffer to screen the residential housing from the campground, would reduce most of the conflicts between employee privacy and visitor services. [93]

The general management plan's proposal for a new entrance and visitor center reflects the reality the Park Service must face with Craters of the Moon. "Confined" development has become just that; the monument has outgrown its facilities. Relocation of the visitor center, entrance road, and other visitor services would allow monument personnel to expand administrative offices in the present building, solving the persistent problems of space, as remodeling for an expanding staff has reached its limit. The plan also provided for employee housing to continue rehabilitation to improve energy efficiency and livability, leaving the option of new housing open. Finally, the maintenance building would be remodeled to reclaim some space given to administrative offices, to receive weatherization, and to enlarge storage capacity. Departing from the former headquarters layout thus represents one of the most significant changes in the monument's development history.


The monument's physical plant would not be complete without the conveniences of water and power. The water system more than any other utility symbolizes the life blood of Craters of the Moon. As evident in previous discussion, acquiring a water supply was key to the monument's survival and development, influencing the location and centralized design concept of the headquarters area. The water system's construction was also interrelated with a variety of resource protection issues and management concerns. [94]

In the desert environment of Craters of the Moon, early travelers relied on surface water found in scattered waterholes to quench their thirst and wash their camping dishes. Hence, the only source of drinking water was susceptible to contamination from human use, and from animals who shared the same pools in the dry climate. Sufficient supply also posed a problem with the increase of visitors, and at the same time restricted visitor services and administrative developments. After receiving the results of several surveys, the Park Service remedied this situation when it filed for water rights to the Little Cottonwood Creek drainage in July 1927. When water levels dropped in the monument that same month, the agency quickly requested withdrawal of the area, which was granted under a July 23, 1928 presidential proclamation. Following delays in funding and land acquisitions, the Park Service finished the pipeline survey in August 1930, and constructed the line in 1931. Beginning in late April, workers dug and laid the line by May 28, piping water to the headquarters, Crater Inn, and campground. The system was completed by June 17, 1931. Four developed springs supplied water to a five thousand-gallon steel tank on Sunset Cone.

In subsequent years, the Park Service attempted to protect the springs from contamination from livestock trespassing in the northern unit. Although fencing projects failed, contamination was not a significant issue. In April 1948, though, the Park Service was forced to abandon Spring Number Four because of contamination from runoff, but was met current demands with the remaining springs. In addition, other maintenance problems involved breakage in the line due to faulty pipe and winter weather.

Increased visitation and personnel in the 1950s led to higher demands and redevelopment of the water system during the Mission 66 program. For instance, in order to supply the new headquarters area with water for domestic use and fire protection, workers replaced the two-inch water line with six-inch line, and installed a fifty-thousand-gallon concrete reservoir above the original container. Superintendent Floyd Henderson also found it necessary to reactivate Spring Number Four, after rehabilitation, to satisfy demands. Attesting to the need for more water, the Park Service installed a 100,000-gallon water reservoir and a chlorinator house on the southern slope of Sunset Cone on August 31, 1964. [95]

With some modifications, the water system of the 1960s remained intact. In the late 1970s and up until the present, the Park Service attempted to secure a subsurface water supply in the northern unit to replace the four springs, and thereby eliminate nagging issues over surface pollution and increased consumption. In addition, controversial practices, such as lawn irrigation, complicated the issue. From an aesthetic perspective, the green lawns clashed with the dark lava terrain; from a resource protection viewpoint, the monument's mule deer were attracted to the grass and water, and their migration to the headquarters area led them across the highway, and car accidents caused high deer mortality. And as for visitor services, lawn sprinkling used (or wasted) water that might otherwise have met increased demands. The monument's new general management plan calls for removing most of the lawns to conserve water and replacing them with native vegetation. [96]

Although not nearly as controversial as water, the topic of electricity suggests how remote, isolated, and primitive the monument's administrative conditions were. Craters of the Moon was without electricity until 1952. Prior to that, kerosene or gasoline lanterns or candles were used for light. In 1943, Regional Director Tomlinson and his staff briefly considered constructing a hydroelectric plant on Little Cottonwood Creek, but high costs and a low rate of flow caused the project to be dropped. The most logical solution was commercial power, yet prohibitive costs this alternative impossible. Until the region surrounding the monument acquired commercial electricity, Craters of the Moon operated with two gasoline generators, which frequently broke down and older methods were preferable. By 1950, Superintendent Houston had grown tired of the faulty generators. The Rural Electric Cooperative (REA) was advancing nearer to the monument, in large part because of the Atomic Energy Commission's development near Arco, and Houston joined the Lost River Electric Cooperative, Inc. (REA) on August 25, 1950. In doing so, the superintendent negotiated a contract on May 20, 1952 to have power supplied to Craters of the Moon. To overcome high construction costs and rates because of the small number of customers, the Park Service allocated funds previously slated for construction of a diesel generating plant at the monument to build the line; the agency also gave the REA a two-mile right-of-way within the monument to distribute electricity to the area's headquarters. After summer-long construction, Craters of the Moon was energized on September 30, 1952, marking a significant stage in the monument's administration, and making the "life in general...particularly during the winter period...considerably more tolerable." [97]

1958 map of the Mission 66 program, showing the new headquarters area. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

1957 map of the Mission 66 program, illustrating many of the program's improvements, such as the paved loop drive, and the planned improvements, such as the extension of the Broken Top spur. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

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Last Updated: 27-Sep-1999