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Chapter 8:
Recreation and Tourism in the Craters of the Moon Region, 1924-1942

Overview of Recreation and Tourism on the Snake River Plain

In the nineteenth century few tourists envisioned the Snake River Plain as a vacation paradise. The monotonous desert landscape compelled travelers to view it more as a place to cross and survive, rather than as a place to appreciate for its scenery. Often by chance pleasing natural features or panoramas presented themselves, much to the relief of overland travelers. One exceptional natural wonder, flowing deep in the basalt canyons of the Snake River, was Shoshone Falls. Its beauty mesmerized a handful of explorers and sightseeing adventurers in the 1860s and 1870s. They likened it to Niagara Falls, symbol of the young nation's sublime natural grandeur, and though published accounts of Shoshone Falls reached an eastern audience, only a small number of intrepid tourists found their way to this distant part of the country. Like the plain itself, Shoshone Falls was difficult to reach, and the predominately genteel tourists of the time favored the lavish hotels and fancy resorts of the Southwest and California. Just as important, these tourists traveled to their exclusive destinations on the newly finished transcontinental railroad, a trip conducted in both comfort and style. [1]

Thus, the completion of the Oregon Short Line across southern Idaho by 1884 exerted a considerable influence on tourists' perceptions of the Snake River Plain. The railroad conquered distance and time and improved the comforts of travel. With improved transportation facilities came expanded vacation opportunities and destinations on the once-reviled plain. Railroad publicists, the state immigration agency, and local boosters, looking to sell the territory's wonders to the nation, extolled the plain's scenic beauties in the late nineteenth century. Guide books and other literature lured tourists here primarily to see Shoshone Falls, the "Niagara of the West," but the publications also lauded the region's healthful environment, from its dry climate to its curative hot springs. Along with hot springs, guest ranches and resort hotels were common enterprises within reach of main and branch lines around the turn of the century. All of these benefited from the Union Pacific's promotion of scenic excursions, tourist developments, and the sale of its vast land holdings to prospective settlers. [2]

How they arrived--and more so what scenic splendors they sought out--told much about tourists in the Snake River country. In the boundless volcanic plain, the falling water of Shoshone Falls captured the most interest of nineteenth-century sightseers; hot springs, such as those found at Hailey, were also a popular destination. An interest in sublime scenery and healing waters reflected national trends in tourism. Disenchantment with continued urban-industrial growth and a concern for physical health around the turn of the century spurred many Americans to seek relief and spiritual comfort in the great outdoors. Whether bird watching, soaking in spas, or climbing mountains, tourists favored familiar sights--picturesque peaks, lakes, and rivers--to endless tracts of desert. City dwellers from the burgeoning population of Spokane, Washington, for example vacationed in northern Idaho. They retreated from the confines of their urban environment and the hot summers of the Palouse country to the cool and quiet forests, rugged mountains, glacial valleys, and beautiful lakes of the nearby Coeur d'Alene country. Southern Idaho, though to a lesser degree, was no exception. [3]

Around the turn of the century, for example, Idahoans proposed setting aside Shoshone Falls as a national park in order to save it from the destructive processes of water-power projects. They also wanted to preserve the falls for its intrinsic qualities and its tourist potential. Though the movement failed, it reflected a change in perceptions about the value of the Snake River Plain. Of particular significance was that many of the natural wonder's numerous visitors hailed from Idaho. By 1890, the young state's population had increased by 171 percent over the previous decade, from 32,000 to 84,000; it had almost doubled to 161,000 by 1900, and leaped to 430,000 in 1920. Many residents lived in cities, a trend common in a nation now more urban than rural. Beset by big-city problems, Idahoans expressed an appetite for the outdoors and an affinity for rural virtues. [4]

Improved roads contributed significantly to these changes. The Good Roads movement flourished across the country in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Politically active reformers rallied for federal assistance to improve farm-to market routes and postal delivery to rural areas--roads that would eventually lead urban dwellers from town to country. Overall, the highway movement reflected the beliefs of Progressive-minded Americans that better roads would improve rural life, stem the tide of rural migration to cities, and expand commercial opportunities for both rural and urban citizens. By doing so, good roads advocates helped form a national road building program run by the federal government, which, to this end, passed highway legislation in 1916 and 1921 to construct the nation's first road system. [5]

Changing views of nature, and the popular cry for better roads, were also aided by the dawn of the automobile age. Between 1910 and 1920, automobile ownership skyrocketed throughout the country from less than half a million owners to a staggering figure of more than 8 million. The popularity of the automobile, as both a personal plaything and a practical agent of transportation, was linked not only to improved roads but also to affordable prices, symbolized by the Model-T Ford. Prior to the Model-T, automobiles were toys for the rich, but Henry Ford's design changed that, creating a durable, mass produced, and cheaply priced automobile within range of every American. Free to travel where and when as they pleased over better roads, urban Americans, who worked less and recreated more by the 1920s, escaped the city for the country in their cars. [6]

Idaho's urban residents displayed similar traits. Although Idahoans were slow to adopt the automobile in the early 1900s, they outpaced the national average for automobile ownership by 1920, primarily because of the state's flurry of road construction throughout the decade. With the state's network of roads in place, even the previously inaccessible recesses of the Snake River Plain were within reach of Idahoans as well as other motoring Americans. [7] Free to see the plain on their own terms, from the safety of their motorized buggies, scenic tourists were more inclined to find the once-maligned region less threatening and more appealing.

It was in this atmosphere, when wild and dangerous nature was seemingly transformed into nature tamed by roads and cars, that state promoters hoped to capitalize on some of the excitement surrounding auto tourism. In the years after World War I, national parks formed a popular destination for sightseeing motorists. Many traveled to the parks over the Park-to-Park Highway, a formal route that covered six thousand miles and eleven western states, connecting the West's premier nature preserves. Scenic boosters were also anxious to join the "See America First" campaign--a patriotic movement to market American scenery as superior to Europe's natural marvels in the years surrounding World War I. To do so, Idaho promoters adopted the slogan "See America First: Begin with Idaho." Even though the "See Idaho First" literature extolled the state's scenic mountain wonders, "beautiful bodies of water," roaring streams, and therapeutic hot springs as unparalleled by anything in Europe, it suggested that the volcanic country was unique as well. [8]

In this regard, few boosters could match the ebullience of Boise's Robert W. Limbert. Believing that tourism was the future of the state's economy, Limbert, a man of many callings--taxidermist, explorer, and photographer, to mention a few--publicized Idaho's diverse geography mostly through photographic essays. He helped sell Idaho to the nation beginning with an exhibit at the 1915 World's Fair in San Francisco. Soon after he turned his attention to unknown places in Idaho like Craters of the Moon. He explored and advertised its wonders to the country in illustrated articles which appeared in such widely circulated journals as National Geographic. His promotion greatly aided in lifting the veil of obscurity from the lava country and made it a place of national renown. The ultimate statement of his efforts was the monument's establishment in 1924. Moreover, his promotional endeavors bolstered the efforts of those in the Lost River country who hoped to save the young state's spectacular volcanic country as well as cash in on its potential for scenic tourism. [9]

Throughout the 1920s and early 1930s, Limbert and others continued to tout the Snake River Plain's superlative natural scenery and stressed the region's image as a "last frontier" to an urban nation: Yet the opening of Sun Valley in the late 1930s somewhat altered this image of the frontier in Idaho with a more modern image, that of a destination ski resort. Sun Valley, while located in the Sawtooth Mountains, provided an important tourist draw to the Snake River region, particularly for tourists traveling between Yellowstone National Park and the mountains of central Idaho. Moreover, Sun Valley was the brainchild of Union Pacific Railroad mogul W. Averill Harriman. During the early years of the Depression, Harriman launched the development of the resort to boost his railroad's lagging passenger profits and to rival the best Europe could offer. Compared to other western sites, the slopes overlooking the old mining town of Ketchum were considered ideal--for their spectacular views, dry powder snow, and year round access from the Union Pacific's primary line at Shoshone. Built on a four-thousand acre ranch, Sun Valley opened in 1937 and soon became a world-class resort, primarily for the rich, yet it also influenced the development of other ski areas in the state, and contributed to the growth of tourism as one of the state's leading industries and largest employers. [10]

Scenic tourism had hardly reached its apex in the late 1930s. Recreational opportunities were still underdeveloped despite the establishment of Craters of the Moon, the opening of specialty areas like Sun Valley, and the creation of picnic sites and campgrounds in the state's expanse of national forests. As a recreational study concluded in 1939, many of these sites were far from population centers. More importantly, the study lamented the fact that the state's highway system traversed broad valleys and desert spaces, preventing the scenic tourist or traveler from seeing the state's true natural beauty--its mountains and forests. Only in these areas would they know the solemnity of nature's gifts, "the solitude and restfulness that always accompany the beauties of nature." [11] Evidently, not all were convinced of the Craters country's scenic value.

Recreation and Tourism in the Craters of the Moon Region, 1924-1942

Scenic tourism in the Craters of the Moon country was a twentieth-century phenomenon, for during most of the nineteenth century, the region seemed to epitomize the Snake River Plain at its worst. A foreign and forbidding landscape, the sagebrush and lava desert presented a harsh environment that fur traders and overland travelers avoided throughout 1800s. When they did come into contact with the region it was less by choice than by necessity. In the 1820s and 1830s, fur brigades traversed the desert between the Big Lost and Snake rivers, well to the east of Craters, only to make trade more efficient. Similarly, in the 1850s and 1860s, emigrants chose Goodale's Cutoff because it offered a shorter and safer route to their destinations. Even though the trail crossed through the Lost River country and the northern edge of the lava flows within today's monument, overlanders shared the opinion that the country was scenically worthless. And some, if not all, felt endangered by the perilous terrain and the arid climate. Here, then, was a visually monotonous and alien desert landscape better to cross and survive than to ponder its natural wonders. Few would have disagreed with Julius Caesar Merrill in 1864. Having passed through the volcanic desert, he was glad to put the "desolate, dismal scenery" behind him, to be rid of such a sterile, "unvarying mass of black rock," or in even more negative terms, "black vomit." [12]

The trend continued in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Miners, ranchers, and settlers routinely passed through the Craters region on their way to someplace else, and in the process, overlooked or ignored the lava landscape's aesthetic qualities. In general, travelers were not impressed with the scenery of the Craters country because it seemed to be such an uninviting place which caused great physical hardships. Speaking for many potential tourists in the early 1880s, Carrie Strahorn described the stage trip from Blackfoot to old Arco, or "Lost River Junction," as forty miles

through a sage-brush desert with not a drop of water the entire distance except what was hauled by teams from Snake River. The dust was insufferable enveloping the stage in such clouds of ashy earth that we could not see the wheels of the coach and it spread over us like waves of the sea.

To make matters worse the Lost River Junction provided only primitive accommodations for stage passengers, though conditions steadily improved, over the several years as she and her husband, Union Pacific promoter Robert Strahorn, traveled through southern Idaho. [13]

What seemed to remain a constant were the poor traveling conditions and their negative influence on aesthetic perceptions. Just as experienced by early emigrants, the rough desert road damaged stage coaches and slowed travel. One particular spring seemed more difficult than other times of the year to Carrie Strahorn. Passing west through the lava beds of the Craters country, she recalled that her party had to contend with the "expected rocky roads." She knew from experience that the lava region was "without parallel for roughness and ruts," and the day traversing this stretch of road stood out starkly in her mind. "I cannot begin to portray the trials of that day on the lava beds," she wrote. 'Thousands of acres of black rock, as hard as iron, rose in waves, jagged points, and minarets from a few inches to twenty-five feet." [14]

Strahorn's experience illustrates what shaped travelers' negative opinions of the volcanic territory of Craters of the Moon prior to the twentieth century. In the first place, physical discomforts--heat, dust, and rough roads--exerted considerable influence. Parched, worn, and tired, Strahorn was in no frame of mind to see this country as anything but a lava waste. In the second place, without familiar picturesque scenery, Strahorn overlooked this country's unique charm and instead emphasized its dreary monotony. This became apparent, for example, when she sought out one of the plain's more famous natural wonders, Shoshone Falls. As her stage approached the falls, Strahorn described how "the scenery was so wild and enchanting, with vast amphitheatres and curiously shaped lava rocks," so fascinating in fact "that the most critical people would forget the roughness and lose themselves in admiration of nature's freaks." [15]

Finally, as Strahorn's words reveal, nineteenth-century Americans considered awe-inspiring natural features, such as Shoshone Falls and its surrounding canyon, as "freaks" or "curiosities" worthy of seeing and preserving. As national park historian Alfred Runte argues, Americans derived a sense of cultural heritage from natural wonders that were monumental in scale--like California's ancient sequoias, the Southwest's time-worn canyons, and Yellowstone's geysers. Natural splendors of this caliber provided the young nation with a rich past. Moreover, these wonders rivaled and even eclipsed Europe's most renowned landscapes and cultural masterpieces. They not only drew scenic tourists to the West, they also encouraged the development of the national park idea and thus the creation of national parks, beginning with the Yellowstone country in 1872. [16]

However remote the Snake River's great cataracts were, sightseers willingly braved overland hardships to reach them in the 1880s and 1890s, but were not willing, it seems, to undertake the same trials to reach the Craters country. Despite this, the region was described, on occasion, in language similar to that used to extol the nation's wondrous works of nature. A few observations from this period suggest how views of the Craters landscape evolved from a repulsive region to a natural wonder of the world.

In the mid-1860s, for example, George Forman, a miner heading for the Boise Basin, passed through the lava landscape of the present monument. Surveying the formations, he expressed genuine interest in the fresh appearance of the rippled surface, the "large masses of Rock" and "honeycombed ore," which in places was hollow-sounding under foot and in others piled with cinders. Having seen other sections of the Snake River Plain as well, Forman ascribed an Old World quality to the region, noting that the three buttes rose on the horizon "like Pyramids," and suggested that the plain was unique, perhaps the "largest crater or Lava Bed in the world." [17] In the late 1870s, the noted Scottish geologist Sir Archibald Geikie, who briefly encountered the plain's eastern margin, suggested that the plain's "floods of basalt" were essential to understanding the origin of the basaltic plateaus of Ireland and Scotland. [18] In a similar sense, E.W. Jones wrote of the plain as one of the wonders of Idaho, if not the world, in the late 1880s. Jones emphasized the "varied character" of the lava landscape. The Snake River Plain, he noted, was a land of contrasts, unmatched throughout the world. The "second largest lava field," it spanned some 150,000 square miles, only exceeded by India's Deccan region. Nevertheless, he wrote that India's field could not equal in "interest our own, with its vast canyons of the Snake and Columbia Rivers, its intricate and impassable" sections, "its vast streams of basalt, black and frozen in the channels down which their floods advanced." Nor could India's lava plain compete with the Snake River Plain's magnificent surrounding mountains, the streams draining into it, the timber scattered across it, the wildlife populating it, and the wild grasses and sagebrush that clothed this "blackness and desolation...with verdure." [19] Jones presumably included the Craters country, a "line of extinct volcanoes," with his observations of the plain's exceptional character and international ranking. [20]

Despite their contributions to revising the negative image of the lava territory, Jones' and Geikie's writings seemed to have generated little interest in both the plain and the area of today's monument for sightseeing. In the late 1880s, tourist promoters may have included the "great lava bed of Idaho" in their guide books, but they did so only because tourists would have to cross the plain to reach the real western marvel, Shoshone Falls. [21]

More substantial evidence of the lava country as a natural curiosity came in 1901 when geologist Israel C. Russell studied the region. Russell's wide-ranging inventory covered the plain's geology, water, vegetation, and wildlife as well as its agricultural and settlement potential. Yet he also described the region as a natural and visual wonder. Downplaying the arid and wind-swept desert image, he emphasized instead the "healthfulness of the land" and its wilderness quality. Its wildness should be appreciated, not feared or loathed. 'To lovers of nature," he wrote, "and all who rejoice in scenes of natural wildness unmodified, or what is too frequently essentially the same thing, unmarred by the hand of man, the plains of southern Idaho present exceptional attractions." Russell's experience in the region taught him that cursory observations of the plain would not impress a traveler, especially one unaccustomed to desert environments. This was especially true when the mid-day sun or winter clouds rendered the country flat and featureless: The plain's true beauty only became known to someone who spent weeks or months riding across its "seemingly boundless surfaces," he noted. That is when he will find this landscape "to have charms unthought by the casual passerby." [22]

An important element in revealing the plain's beauty was light. As Russell pointed out, the time to view the plain was at dawn or dusk when the slanting sun beneath a clear sky cast all things in shadow, bringing out "details everywhere on its surface." Not only did light expose definition but color and shadow as well:

When the sun is high in the cloudless heavens the plains are gray, russet brown, and faded yellow, but with the rising of the sun and again near sunset they become not only brilliant and superb in color, but pass through innumerable variations in tone and tint.

Cool blues covered distant peaks rimmed with the rising sun, and as the sun rose, the colors deepened to violet and purple "of a strength and purity never seen where rain is frequent." All shades of purple bathed the arid lands. At sunset, shadows deepened and color reclaimed the landscape creating "a sea of purple on which float the still shimmering mountains." The plain's clear air turned clouds molten and magnified stars in the night sky. Such visual wonders surpassed "the ability of even a poet to describe." [23]

Though he surveyed the entire plain, he concentrated his efforts in its eastern half, discovering in the process "a score or more of volcanic cones" he called "Cinder Buttes," today's Craters of the Moon National Monument. Russell, believing these remarkably fresh craters and lava flows held the key to the geological history of the plain, conducted an intensive reconnaissance of the area from Big Cinder Butte north. It is likely, too, that Russell's experience in what is now the monument, a veritable microcosm of the entire plain, shaped his opinions about the region's aesthetic values. For here the numerous textured craters, cones, and lava streams presented "many pleasing variations in color, ranging from deep red through brown and purple to lusterless black." Particularly impressive was what he called the Blue Dragon Flow. A sheen of "desert varnish" coated the lava flow with a film of cobalt blue; its flecks of light blue or gray, like scales of a reptile, shimmered in the sunlight, creating an indelible image in his mind. [24]

By the turn of the century, it seemed at least to some observers that the Craters country was not as visually repellent as was commonly believed, especially to those trained in geology. Even so the region remained isolated and difficult to reach in the early 1900s. But eventually it was "discovered" by local communities as a place for outdoor recreation and sightseeing. This discovery depended on changing attitudes of ordinary people toward the volcanic landscape, aided, for example, by experts like Russell whose work educated the general public about an obscure district in the West. In a sense, geologists, and other scientists, gave tourists and others ways to understand the unfamiliar landscape. They provided lay people a new vocabulary of geological terms and a sense of what natural forces produced the scene before them.

That discovery also depended on a growing population. Up until the turn of the century the Lost River area, as with much of the Snake River Plain, was lightly populated. But by the first decade of the twentieth century, the region's population swelled with the advent of irrigation projects in the Big Lost River Valley and along the Snake River. And these new residents, living in Idaho's isolated towns and villages like Arco, expressed a greater interest in the lava district's scenic qualities and tourist potential for their own enjoyment and economic returns.

Perhaps the most powerful influence in this changing perception was reclamation. Irrigation projects in the early twentieth century transformed "lava dust" into "gardens" and seemed to make the landscape less threatening. Once "smiling fields of grain, divided by rows of poplars" appeared, villages sprang up, and "white cabins" looked out "from laden orchards." In this way, the plain's "drear desolation" was modified, at least in the eyes of railroad publicists, irrigation promoters, and local boosters. In addition, irrigation "miracles" promised to make settlers rich, for example, who farmed the new tracts near Twin Falls, Blackfoot, Pocatello, and Idaho Falls. Farming and its potential wealth tended to create a sense of opportunity for settlers, and opportunity weakened critical thinking about the lava landscape. [25]

Moreover, as agricultural production reduced the amount of wild lands, it seemed to instill a sense of appreciation for what remained. As the historian Roderick Nash has pointed out, anxiety over the close of the frontier underlay the conservation movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Similar forces were at work in southern Idaho and affected the Craters country as well. The legend of the "lost valley," for example, demonstrates how the lava territory took on a mysterious image, one more attractive than repulsive, as more lands were reclaimed on the Snake River Plain at the turn of the century. The volcanic landscape emerged as an island wilderness in a sea of settlement. The fable of the mythical valley, it would seem, helped foster a more enticing image of the region. [26]

The image of the Craters country evolved from a lava wasteland to a lava wonderland largely through the efforts of Arco residents and other settlers in the Big Lost River basin, who, after the promise of rapid agricultural growth ran aground, turned to tourism as a source of income. In the early 1900s, Arco was nothing more than a dusty village of about one hundred residents. That radically changed in 1909 when settlement was opened for the Big Lost River Project. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of people rushed to Arco to file on land being opened under the Carey Act. Incorporated that year, Arco boasted a population of more than three hundred in 1910, and six hundred including the surrounding communities. Unfortunately, the irrigation project failed to live up to its promotion. Mismanaged from the beginning, the project never delivered enough water for all of the lands opened to settlement. Those whose lands were eventually irrigated experienced some brief benefits from the World War I agricultural boom. In 1917, Arco became the county seat for the newly created Butte County and seemed to be on the verge of economic stability as the commercial and supply center for the surrounding Lost River country. [27]

But Arco's growth never seemed to realize its full potential, much of its fate resting with the troubled irrigation project. With unbridled optimism, Arco boosters had predicted another Twin Falls in the making and named Arco the "Coming City of the Big Lost River Valley." Yet between about 1910 and 1920, many settlers were forced to abandon the desert lands they had cleared of sage in anticipation of water that never arrived. Consequently, boosters looked around for other ways to promote faster growth and a stronger economic base for the burgeoning community. An important part of this public spirit was the formation of a commercial club and its promotion of the region's outdoor opportunities. [28]

Advertising the Lost River country's natural features began with the railroad. In the summer of 1910, the Oregon Short Line experimented with Sunday excursions from Blackfoot to Arco. Responding to the desire of urban residents who wanted a respite from city life, railway officials offered special trips to the Big Lost River Valley for fishing and sightseeing. The "reputation of Lost river is spreading," the Arco Advertiser reported, and "as a pleasure resort it is becoming famous." [29]

Although Union Pacific officials were most likely promoting settlement in the valley to support their line, Arco boosters had good reason to be positive about scenic tourism. The first lengthy debates to market American scenery emerged around this time. The "See America First" campaign spread across the nation in the years leading up to World War I as a way to convince scenic sightseers and patriotic Americans to spend their money in America rather than Europe. Switzerland's alpine scenery could not compare with America's western wonders, the argument went. Catching the fever, Idaho boosters added the state's name to the slogan, and Arco commercial leaders promoted the Lost River country as one of the West's scenic treasures. The scenery here "beats the best that famous land [Switzerland] can offer," the editor of the Arco Advertiser wrote in 1912. National parks were the nation's premier scenic wonderlands, the editor suggested, and nearby Yellowstone was so vast it could contain thousands of Europe's "little parks." Yellowstone, just like the Lost River country, was untainted by civilization, and "just as left by the forces of nature and nature's God." [30]

More than the railroad, the automobile was responsible for bringing sightseers to the Lost River country in these developing years of the tourist business. Almost at the same time community leaders realized scenic tourism could be profitable, they joined the Good Roads movement and campaigned to improve roads to Arco so the growing numbers of auto tourists, primarily from other states, could pass through the region. The automobile, though, was also important to the local scenery seeker. As more residents of Arco and outlying rural areas purchased new and more affordable cars, it was anticipated that "these machines will give a long needed impetus to sightseeing, a much neglected opportunity for great and interesting research among the scenic wonders of this region," the local press reported. [31]

Arco's civic leaders rallied for new highways to connect their town to interstate auto travel, and were particularly inspired by the thought of attracting motorists en route to the World's Fair in San Francisco in 1915. Meanwhile, a new highway was being proposed to link the Yellowstone Highway with Arco and continue west through the lava country to Hailey. Still more stimulus occurred that year when Yellowstone National Park opened its gates to cars. Arco boosters hoped to syphon some of the park's tourist traffic from the proposed highway as well as the Lincoln Highway, which led to the park. They also hoped to attract motorists heading for other scenic spots west of town such as the Sawtooth Mountains. Boosters soon were publishing information about the great camping and fishing opportunities for eastern tourists traveling through the Big Lost River Valley. The Big Lost River, they advertised, offered the "best fishing in this section of Idaho." The river was just a half mile from town, which itself "affords every convenience for the benefit of the tourist and fishing parties." [32]

It was in this climate of tourist promotion that the Craters country emerged as a central feature of the Lost River region's natural wonders. Shortly after settlement surged in the area, Arco residents expressed a curiosity for and a growing appreciation of the volcanic district's strange and fantastic formations. In some of the earliest reported outings, a group of adventuresome sightseers visited the "Devil's Playground" twice in June 1912. These adventurists, as had others before them, marveled at the weird phenomena--the numerous craters, serpentine lava flows, snow and ice-filled crags, among other sights. More importantly, they emphasized that the lava country's uniqueness gave it tourist potential. Echoing the patriotic tone of the "See America First" campaign and displaying an affinity for nature's oddities, they declared that "globe trotters have always been desirous to see places where, when nature was young, the earth's internal forces played havoc with her surface and left it in weird and fantastic shape." For centuries tourists have

gone to Europe, Asia, and the islands of the Pacific to see the results of volcanic activity. How many know that one of the greatest vents the world has ever known lies but a few miles away from here, that one may drive to the spot, make careful inspection for hours, and return before the day closes? [33]

These closing comments suggested the importance of automobiles and the volcanic country's proximity to Arco, some twenty miles away. Where nineteenth-century travelers bound to wagons saw this as a hazardous lava waste, twentieth-century travelers, in the comfort of their cars, saw this more as a visual wonderland than a wasteland-- mostly because they could come and go as they pleased. Thus promoters of the lava region considered the "queer shapes" and "roughness" of "these wonderful fields" to be "food for contemplation" rather than worthless desert. Only a truly thoughtless person would not be inspired by this landscape to meditate "upon the past, present, and possible future of this mundane sphere and its inhabitants." [34]

After these initial visits, boosters predicted that the Craters country could become one of the greatest tourist sites in the United States, and if properly exploited, "rank as one of the greatest regions on earth for sightseeing." Why, stated the Arco Advertiser, visit the "craters of Vesuvius and Mt. Etna and there see but a part of what could be seen, and seen easily southwest of Arco." [35] Soon the lava region was appearing as an important feature of the town's promotional stories. As part of Arco's campaign to lure motorists, particularly those heading for the 1915 World's Fair and Yellowstone, boosters advised tourists that taking the route through their town would bring them not only to a land of abundant fishing streams and big game, but also to the "craters, one of the most scenic spots in the west." Seeing these volcanic wonders alone was worth choosing the route. [36]

Despite these adulations, at first it seemed that the volcanic country only attracted a local audience. On one particular trip, a party of Arcoites picnicked at the "ancient craters" in the summer of 1913 for the sole purpose of "viewing the scenes where the Devil and Mother Earth cut up 'high jinks' when she was young and gay and giddy." Especially interesting were the "strange and freakish" shapes of lava bombs which party members collected for souvenirs. [37] But a short time later, the Arco Advertiser could report that "hundreds of people" from throughout the state were seeking out the Craters country. To boosters the reasons were obvious. "One look at these craters with their great mouths yawning" presented a picture unequaled in beauty no matter how many miles one traveled. More than unusual scenery, they proclaimed in the spirit of Progressivism, the lava landscape and the Lost River valleys offered an antidote to urban ills. Here the "tired city man" could "forget his labors and spend a few weeks" where "the exhilarating air and the beautiful scenery is second to none." [38] Over the next several years each new discovery in or exploration of the vast volcanic territory aroused Arco's booster spirit and encouraged pronouncements of the area as "one of the greatest drawing cards for tourists to this state." [39]

Even so scenic tourism seemed to lag behind predictions, judging from the continued calls for better advertisement of the lava wonders. An important step in increasing tourism came in 1919 with the location of the Idaho Central Highway through the Lost River country. For nearly a decade Arco residents had awaited this decision. The east-west highway would connect Dubois (and the Yellowstone Park or Lincoln Highway) with Arco, Carey, Hailey, and Mountain Home. It seemed certain now that Arco, known for its camping in nearby canyons, its "fine fishing and beautiful scenery," would "receive its share of tourists." More importantly, the highway would pass within "two miles of the extinct craters in the weird lava region near Martin." Publicizing "these wonderful craters and recent lava flows" and improving the road into them for easier auto access were vital tasks. The Arco Advertiser conveyed the significance of this when it stated that "Nature has placed there scenes no other part of the state can duplicate," and thus given Arco a calling card worth promoting. Already near the edge of the lava flows, the auto tourist could find shade, wood, and water for camping, and for just a few hundred dollars, the newspaper noted, the area could become "a favorite resort for the tourist as well as for our homefolks." [40]

By 1920, promotion of the Craters country was being propelled by the advent of better roads and auto tourism, and the desire by community leaders to reap the benefits of the growing popularity of outdoor recreation. In spite of this, Arco boosters could only point to limited results. Community leaders, however, became more committed to promoting the Craters region after a three-day, three-hundred mile driving tour of the Sawtooth Mountains in the fall of 1920. In a time when drives of more than fifty miles out of town made local papers, words failed to describe the region's natural beauties. Mile upon mile of lakes, forests, and mountains seen from the seat of a car not only inspired members of the group spiritually but also economically. Late in the season, tourists still crowded the hotel where the Arco party stayed. The adventurists concluded that central Idaho abounded in scenery and was a great playground, particularly since the Sawtooths were destined to become a national park. Such an abundance of magnificent natural resources could now be seen in a relatively short time and should not go wasted. [41]

The Craters country, of course, formed part of that abundant scenery, but despite promotional efforts, boosters still had to revise the region's desert image if they were to attract a wider audience. In 1920, Clarence A. Bottolfsen, editor of the Arco Advertiser and future two-time governor, made this clear in a speech before a statewide newspapermen's conference. While describing the Lost River region as a "scenic interest" to promote tourism, he implied the importance of overcoming the negative image of the desert. He downplayed, for example, the notion of the district as an awful waste, and instead emphasized it as a land of peculiar geological formations and phenomena found few if any other places. Where once seemingly endless space had made the desert intimidating and threatening, it was now, in Bottolfsen's words, a "land of magnificent distances." Buttes rose abruptly on the horizon and formed unique landmarks, and mountains, such as the Sawtooths, rimmed the plain and appeared sharply cut and distinct miles away. Nothing obstructed one's vision on the plain. The "spectacle of so much country spread before the eye," he said, was not intimidating but was an inspiring sight." Here one could experience "peculiar inspirations" as if on the ocean watching the sun rise or set with all its glowing colors. [42]

With this positive view of the desert, he identified the "crater region" as the main attraction of the Lost River country, for it was "one of the greatest wonderlands in Idaho," and one of the most geologically interesting in North America or even the world. At the Craters motorists could experience the sublimity of the volcanic landscape; its dormant and recently cooled appearance complemented Yellowstone's "eruptive" geysers, boiling mud, and hot springs. Moreover, one of Craters' "chief natural advantages" for sightseeing was that motorist could easily see it from the main highway, and view this volcanic wonderland whether visiting Yellowstone, the Sawtooths, or points elsewhere. [43]

Promotional efforts such as Bottolfsen's saw some returns in 1921. Rupert and Minidoka boosters threw their support behind road projects to connect their towns to Arco and the Craters country hoping to divert Yellowstone traffic. In addition, the Oregon Short Line agreed to advertise a trip to the "Valley of the Moon" as one of the many auto tours available to tourists who wanted to see Idaho's scenic wonderlands that lay beyond its rails. Perhaps most significant was the growing popularity of Craters for motorists. One report boasted that the drive to the lava country was only a "four-hour spin" from Hailey, especially once the Idaho Central had been finished. Decent roads and autos made it a simple task to "unlock the secrets" of the "forbidding craters." Already used by Arco picnickers, the volcanic wonderland was becoming an "easy and interesting little excursion" for those who lived farther away. All the "daring automobile tourist" needed to do was head for Martin, the Idaho Statesman reported, follow a sign posted there to the "Valley of the Moon," drive over a short entrance road, and join "numerous parties" of auto tourists already exploring the sites. [44]

What a few years earlier had been an isolated and shunned lava waste had become an attractive landscape for scenic tourism by the early 1920s, thanks largely to improved highways, automobiles, and changing values regarding the nation's wild lands. Influential as well was a growing awareness by Americans that the strange beauty and scenic wonders of places like the Craters country possessed both aesthetic and economic values. No one realized this more and was more responsible for promoting the Craters country as a tourist attraction than Robert W. Limbert. Naturalist and explorer, photographer and writer, artist and entertainer, as well as a taxidermist by trade, Limbert brought the lava wonderland to the attention of the nation, a campaign which culminated in the establishment of the region as Craters of the Moon National Monument in 1924. [45]

Robert Limbert devoted his life to promoting Idaho's wondrous landscapes. In an era when the population of the nation's cities was expanding, he envisioned Idaho, and places like the Craters country, as "a vacation refuge for America's urban masses." Similar to Charles F. Lummis, who romanticized and publicized the Southwest, Limbert portrayed Idaho's wild lands as the last frontier. He brought this romantic vision to his visual and literary publications on Idaho's outdoors--its wildlife, its mountains, its geology, and its Indian history--which appeared throughout the United States. Limbert also modeled his interest in geology and exploration after his hero, John Wesley Powell, the geologist who had explored much of the West in the mid-nineteenth century. Like Powell, Limbert looked for the undiscovered and unknown reaches of Idaho. He searched for places "where other fellows haven't been." Though he loved the outdoors, Limbert's primary motive was economic. While displaying his exhibits of Idaho at the 1915 World's Fair, for example, he realized the economic potential of tourism. He fielded questions from fairgoers about the state's opportunity for outdoor adventure, hunting, and fishing, and most likely it dawned on him that city dwellers hungered for the country life, for some relief from the complexity of their urban-industrial lives. And so acting as a self-appointed tourist bureau with his various depictions of Idaho's varied geography as an "ideal tourist attraction," Limbert in turn promoted his own business interests. He brought the full force of his skills to bear on promoting Craters of the Moon. [46]

After moving to Boise in 1911, Limbert began hearing fantastic stories about the mysterious lava country in central Idaho. Drawn to the Craters country by tales of the mythical "lost valley," strange lava beds, and especially grizzly bears, he decided to explore this unsurveyed lava territory. A blank space on the map, labeled as "rolling lava terrain," the "Valley of the Moon" whetted Limbert's interest, for here was an exotic place likely to lure tourists to Idaho. He undertook his first two trips into the lava country about 1918 and covered the area originally explored by Israel Russell nearly a decade earlier. Following these initial forays, Limbert set out on a longer exploration that covered the length of the Great Rift, an eighty-mile trek which lasted seventeen days. He launched his odyssey through the lava wilds in May 1920. He traveled north from Minidoka, accompanied by Walter L. Cole of Boise and an Airedale terrier, and for more than two weeks crossed the hot, arid, and treacherous volcanic terrain. Limbert believed that he and Cole were the first white men to undertake such an expedition, although others had penetrated parts of the lava country prior to his adventure. [47]

Limbert excelled perhaps less as an explorer than as a publicist. He produced no exact maps of the lava country, though he gave colorful names to prominent features. But, more important for tourism, he photographed the landscape. These remarkable photographs accompanied vivid descriptions of the lava district and accounts of this as well as subsequent expeditions in the area. Like others from the Lost River country, Limbert's experience traversing the contorted landscape helped him to "appreciate its scenic value." His expectations of an unattractive, barren, and lifeless region were proven wrong by his exposure to a land of solace and beauty, a land where there were, he said, "more odd and fantastic shapes and formations than one would believe existed in the whole world." [48]

Describing the region's unique beauty to an audience in search of inspirational scenery and restorative encounters with nature, Limbert wrote of the lava territory as "a place of color and silence." Some of the "grandest sights imaginable" were the "immense rolls and folds of fantastically formed lava...colored blue, black, and brown," and the myriad craters that "start at your very feet and dot the landscape to the horizon line," he noted. Descending into a huge crater dwarfed the human figure and enveloped one in a red walled funnel." The remarkable Blue Dragon Flow, above all, seemed to contain the very essence of this country. As the light of sun and moon danced across the cobalt blue lava, the flow changed from a "twisted, wavy sea" to a "glazed surface" with a "silvery sheen." Here, he decided, was a place that was, with few exceptions, unequaled in "variety of formation, color, and scenic effects" in the world. [49]

Limbert shared with local boosters their appreciation of the Craters country, but he surpassed their ability to broadcast news of these wonders to a wide audience, emphasize the district's tourist appeal, and draw national attention to it. He did this not only by writing of the landscape in glowing terms and producing impressive photos but also by proposing that this region be preserved as a national park. Writing of his third exploration in the April 10, 1921, edition of the Idaho Sunday Statesman, Limbert stated that "no more fitting tribute to the volcanic forces which built the great Snake River Valley could be paid than to make this region into a national park." True to the promoter that he was, he asserted that the area would attract thousands of visitors, provided that adequate highways were built to persuade Yellowstone tourists to visit the lava country. [50]

The park proposal echoed earlier descriptions of the volcanic region as a nationally significant resource. "Idaho should and will awake to the possibilities of this region as a scenic attraction," Limbert wrote, "for nothing of a like nature of its size exists in America." For this reason he spearheaded a campaign to convert the lava district into a national park by conducting free lectures and meeting with civic groups around southern Idaho. He also attracted national attention by guiding several more explorations of the region with scientists and reporters. In June 1921 the explorer-promoter conducted what would be his most important exploration. His party consisted of ten scientists and civic leaders who were "equipped to make an exhaustive study of the lava formations, bird and animal life, and explore the many craters." The trip lasted two weeks, during which Limbert snapped more than 270 photos, recorded an estimated 1,400 feet of motion-picture film, produced sketch maps of the lava country's features, and discovered previously unknown ice caves, what he thought were bottomless pits, and craters. [51]

Upon his return Limbert announced that the scenery and natural wonders of the "Moon Valley" were "unexcelled by either Yellowstone National Park or the Garden of the Gods." [52] To ensure this message reached as many sympathetic people as possible, he published a series of exceptional photo essays in a variety of newspapers and journals throughout the state and the nation. His most influential piece, "Among the 'Craters of the Moon,"' appeared in the March 1924 National Geographic. The essay was illustrated with twenty-three photos and a map detailing the route of his 1921 expedition, but the article actually represented a composite of his many trips. Limbert had submitted the article in the fall of 1921, but the National Geographic Society delayed its publication in order to confirm his observations--as if to suggest that such a remarkable place could not exist. Sunset Magazine, Outdoor Life, and Literary Digest also carried his stories of the Craters country. [53]

Limbert's publicity galvanized the existing appreciation that Arco residents had for the lava country and won new supporters at the same time. In the spring of 1921, for example, the Idaho Sunday Statesman reported that eastern scientists, Idaho commercial clubs, and women's organizations had expressed interest in the region's establishment as a national park. With the creation of a park and improved access into its interior, the paper noted, "this spot in Idaho may become as great a mecca for tourists as Yellowstone Park." In the wake of Limbert's 1921 expedition some 150 lodges and commercial clubs around the state were backing the park movement, some of whom petitioned Congress to create the "Valley of the Moon National Monument." Park advocates expressed concern for the area's protection and worried that without federal preservation the lava country would be despoiled by private and commercial interests. Nevertheless, preservation seemed more important for boosting the tourist economy of tributary towns near the proposed park. [54]

Arco was especially motivated by Limbert's promotion. In the summer of 1921, for example, more than two hundred people from the Arco vicinity turned out to celebrate Limbert's most recent exploration; they picnicked, gave speeches, and listened to music played by the Arco high school band. They also explored the wonderland, some for the first time, and it was such a "huge success" that the participants planned others. [55] By 1922, local promoters had built a rough road into the lava country's interior, marked waterholes, and distributed to visitors free maps drawn by Limbert. By this time as well the Arco Chamber of Commerce recognized the opportunity at hand. Clarence Bottolfsen, who used the Arco Advertiser to drum up local and regional interest in protecting the volcanic district, publicized the chamber's plans to join with other communities to attract tourists to the Craters country. The chamber vowed to "do everything in its power to bring the attraction to the attention of those who would enjoy a trip to the 'Craters of the Moon in Idaho."' The plan included a promotional blitz-- distributing circulars, maps, and films to towns and communities along the Idaho Central Highway--and a scheme to improve highways to the lava wonderland and the primitive road within it. Finally, a mother-daughter team announced plans to build a hotel and run a campground within today's monument. Ultimately Arco's leaders believed that their town--as the "gateway" to the proposed park--would benefit from a tourist season, if only people would "wake up and do something before...the season arrives and finds us all 'asleep at the switch.'" [56]

Promoters could boast that more than a thousand visitors had passed through the lava country and signed a petition for its protection as a park by 1923. Attesting to the region's growing appeal, many of those who visited were tourists from across the country. Likewise, a coalition of Idaho's civic leaders backed the park proposal that year by forming the Craters of the Moon National Park Association. With the assistance of Representative Addison T. Smith, the National Park Service, and the United States Geological Survey, who verified the scientific importance of the lava region, Craters of the Moon National Monument was established on May 2, 1924. [57]

Although all of these people and agencies played an important role in the monument's creation, it was particularly significant that the monument was established two months after Robert Limbert's article on Craters of the Moon appeared in National Geographic. Limbert had exposed a historically and geographically isolated region to the public at large as an unknown scenic wonder. Through Limbert's work, Craters of the Moon not only appeared on the coffee tables of ordinary Americans, it also appeared before congressmen, agency officials, and a president who set it aside as a monument. (Limbert sent President Coolidge a photo scrapbook of the proposed area.) In addition to its scientific and educational importance, Craters of the Moon was now "officially" recognized as a lava wonderland, a label which forecast a lucrative tourist business for this remote area of Idaho, "one of the scenic districts in the west." [58]

The Tourist Experience at Craters of the Moon

For all of its promotion as a scenic wonder, Craters of the Moon had seen only informal tourist development by the 1920s. No grand hotels adorned its landscape. Only a crude road penetrated its interior. Claims of boosters aside, getting to and through the lava wonderland proved to be something of an adventure. In the years prior to the monument's establishment, adventuresome sightseers drove wagons and automobiles to the "Valley of the Moon" for picnics and group tours of the volcanic country. The primitive auto trail, which had been carved through the lava, traversed but a small section of the rugged landscape, and most tourists covered the country on foot, relying on local explorers to lead them through the wonders. By the early 1920s, the road had been slightly improved, and more importantly, increased publicity attracted more tourists, thanks largely to Robert Limbert's expeditions and promotional literature. [59]

In 1924, the year the National Park Service began its management of the monument, motorists could turn into Craters of the Moon from the Idaho Central Highway and find a rough road leading through the lava formations, but few other amenities. To encourage tourism and to enhance the tourist's experience at the new monument, the National Park Service relied on the informal guide services that were already a common practice. In May 1925, the bureau took steps to formalize this service. At that time, Park Service Director Stephen T. Mather appointed Samuel Paisley as the monument's first custodian, and granted him the right to operate an exclusive guide service to augment his meager salary. Paisley offered walking tours, which reflected the limited development of a road and trail system in the monument. It was around this same time that the agency turned down a proposal to run auto stages in Craters of the Moon because of the poor road conditions. [60]

In addition to Paisley's official services, Robert Limbert continued his own guided trips. In the summer of 1926, for instance, Limbert led a group of Seattle mountaineers to the "lost valley," the mythical Indian sanctuary in the lava wilderness. Though significant for being Limbert's last publicized trip, the mountaineers' expedition attested to the monument's appeal to urban dwellers interested in "roughing it" during the 1920s. Craters of the Moon beckoned to these modern adventurers. As a typical newspaper account stated, the "Black desert has a weird call." Though difficult to fathom, the call seemed to be "uttered by the grandeur of tremendous desolation. The call that savage Indians responded to, ages ago." This was the same call that "modern men surrender to, when they gird themselves for strenuous effort, draw on their high-topped, steel bound boots and surge forth into the unknown, seeking the paths their ancient brothers trod ages past and gone." [61]

Pressured by local commercial clubs, political leaders, and the Union Pacific Railroad to provide more services for tourists, the Park Service awarded Limbert a permit to operate a saddle and pack horse concession in January 1927. Limbert and several associates organized Craters of the Moon Tours. They acquired horses, printed brochures, and planned to operate from a ranch near Martin. For all of these preparations, no record of the business' operation exists at this time. Auto tourists may have been satisfied to see what they could of the monument from atop their machines than the backs of horses. Located several miles outside the monument, the business also may have had trouble attracting customers. Finally, it is possible that Limbert abandoned his Craters of the Moon concession in order to devote more time to developing auto tours from the Sawtooths to Craters and to Yellowstone, and to promoting tourism in the Sawtooth Mountains, particularly his hotel in the Redfish Lake area. [62]

Motorists who enjoyed nature by the road could also rely on travel logs and guide books to aid them in their visit to Craters of the Moon in the 1920s. Pulvers road log of the "Idaho Central Forest Highway," for example, illustrated the route to Craters of the Moon, "Idaho's Newest Playground," for motorists en route to or from Yellowstone National Park. It was only natural, according to the brochure, that tourists drive the Idaho Central because it was the "direct route" through Idaho to Yellowstone, the bonus for the tourist being Craters of the Moon, "one of the most phenomenal attractions in North America" located on the highway. With descriptions and map of the lava wonders, the log suggested that seeing Craters by car was not just worth the drive but part of the driving experience. [63]

Motoring tourists could also find information in Robert Limbert's Unknown Places in Idaho. Written for the Union Pacific Railroad in 1927, the guide was aimed at an audience "seeking a land of adventure and romance," a land where "new discoveries and features of unusual interest can be found and explored at every turn of the trail." Featuring several pages on the "remarkable region" of Craters of the Moon, the guide described ways to reach the monument from railroad connections at Shoshone, Hailey, and Arco, and recommended an extended trip of several days within the monument to see the "fantastic formations and other incomparable sights." Limbert's tours, best conducted by saddle horse, included such features as Indian Tunnel, Natural Bridge, Echo Crater, Blue Dragon Flow, the Spatter Cones, the myriad lava flows, caves (some filled with ice), waterholes, Indian mounds, Vermillion Canyon, and petrified bear tracks. Accompanying the text of these real, and in some cases imagined, features was an illustrated map which showed the monument's road system, campground, headquarters, and principal features. In 1928, Harold T. Steams' Guide to Craters of the Moon National Monument appeared replacing Limbert's work. Steams' book was the first official and for a long time the definitive handbook describing the monument's geology, natural history, and human history. [64]

By the late 1920s and early 1930s, more than seven thousand tourists were visiting Craters of the Moon a year. Although Limbert recommended a stay of three to five days in the monument, most visitors followed, it seems, the advice of the Pulvers travel log and made Craters an interesting side trip on their driving tours of other scenic wonders. Most tourists saw the monument from the front seat of an automobile, and, for a time, many received these brochures and other travel information from the Craters of the Moon Travel Association. The association formed in 1929 and was composed of businessmen from towns along the Idaho Central Highway, namely Arco, Carey, Hailey, Fairfield and Mountain Home. The group was devoted to promoting travel to the monument for those driving to and from Yellowstone National Park and the Pacific Coast. The association erected signs directing the way to Craters of the Moon. The association also built roadside information booths along the approaches to the monument, and printed descriptive road maps which it distributed from these booths and other points along the way. In cooperation with the Idaho Chamber of Commerce, the travel association stationed a representative at the chamber's office in West Yellowstone to promote travel to Craters of the Moon. A large sign advertised the monument, and the representative encouraged interested tourists to take the route west through the Craters country. Monument officials reported that the association's efforts were noticeably successful. However, the travel association determined it was too expensive to post someone in West Yellowstone and discontinued the service in 1932, which also seems to have been the end of the group's formal existence. [65]

What auto tourists experienced, however, remains mostly to our imaginations. Some sense of what auto travel to the monument was like can be extrapolated from the field trip logs of Edward F. Rhodenbaugh, a geology professor at Idaho State College. Rhodenbaugh led class field trips to Craters of the Moon throughout the 1920s--a time when just getting to Craters was an accomplishment in itself. On one trip in early June 1925, he set out with his students from Pocatello and drove nearly 150 miles to the monument by way of Idaho Falls. Most of the trip was over rough dirt roads that traversed the sagebrush desert. In places the surface turned "sandy and soft," and at times to nothing more than wagon tracks. When Rhodenbaugh met up with the Blackfoot to Arco road, he was elated. But as he pulled into Arco, the skies opened and rain fell, muddying roads and adding to the task of changing flat tires caused by the poor driving surfaces. Heading west from Arco, the professor encountered "terrible mud," and more flats slowed his progress as the rain continued to fall. Near dusk, he came across a cinder-surfaced section of highway near the Martin townsite, which eased travel considerably. But finding no place to camp there, he drove another seven miles to the monument's headquarters, excited to have arrived safely, twelve hours later. Rhodenbaugh's group spent a full day in the monument, inspecting its features while it rained and hailed. The geologist and crew set up makeshift windbreaks from canvas to shelter them from the weather, and sat by their campfires to ward off the cold as they repaired tires for their return trip. [66]

Contending with poor road conditions and inclement weather typified Rhodenbaugh's driving experience, mostly because he traveled to the monument in late spring. [67] Even when the roads were dry, motorists faced tough driving conditions. During the hot summer months, dust boiled up through the floorboards of Model-Ts nearly blinding drivers as they approached the monument over a tortuous, unsurfaced highway that hugged the edges of the lava flows.

The trip, however, rewarded motorists with views of this lava landscape. First impressions had a lasting effect. The "thrill of seeing the black, rough cinders and a jagged horizon line of torn and jumbled rock towers belongs to that first trip," Rhodenbaugh recalled. "One's first impression is that of bareness, desolation, waste," wrote Norah D. Stearns, who accompanied her husband on his geological explorations of the monument in the 1920s. Driving to Craters of the Moon from Arco "along the dusty roads," she recorded in an early brochure, one is suddenly aware of this strange landscape. "Smooth cones of black cinders and dark yawning crater-bowls sparsely covered with vegetation are intermingled with masses of bare rock." "When driving into this spell-bound fragment of the universe," she playfully warned, "let the driver keep his eyes on the road. Too much scenery brought me woe." So overwhelmed with the sights in this "unique bit of chaos tucked away in a little corner of Idaho" that she veered off the road and sank into the deep, soft cinders. [68]

Norah Stearns' writings give provide a sense of what early tourists may have experienced when they visited the monument. After leaving the highway, drivers negotiated the rugged road past North Crater Flow and stopped at Cinderhurst Camp on the saddle below Paisley Cone. There they found a registration booth, custodian's cabin, outhouses, some limber pines for shade and maybe a picnic, and the cool waters of Registration Waterhole, a rarity in the arid lava country. From here, they could press on to see the volcanic wonders, or, if they desired, set up camp. [69]

Camping formed an important tourist activity and had an allure all its own in the monument. Photographs from Harold Steams' explorations, for example, showed a "picturesque camp" on the slopes of Inferno Cone--a canvas tent pitched in front of a Model-T like a Bedouin in the desert. It was an experience that left a distinct impression on the camper. Norah Stearns noted that after camping in the lava country for a time she was struck with the "stillness and lifelessness...of this strange place." "I always seemed to be gazing out of the door or window in a troubled, puzzled way," she said. "Something was strange! Perhaps this area is indeed an 'unfinished corner of the universe where the chaos of the primeval world still exists." [70]

With a similar fascination for the uniqueness of this country, she described hiking through the lava formations as an activity for the curious and suggested it as a way to better understand this mysterious country. Most tourists saw the monument on foot at some point, picking their way through aa and pahoehoe flows where an "hour's trip afoot over either lava seems like a long day's hike. You always find yourself picking out the smoother pahoehoe or the loose cinders of the cones for a path." The whole encounter very often "chewed up" heavy leather boots. Like others, Stearns was fascinated with the numerous lava formations--from ice caves to deep craters--and the myriad colors shimmering in the desert sun. She summarized eloquently the impression an extended stay in the monument made. As she viewed the snow-clad Sawtooth Range and Pioneer Mountains to the north and infinite lava fields to the south, she said, these mountains "give one a sense of security as belonging to one's own world, yet the lavas black and barren as they are, have a weird charm. The mountains seem to be a symphony, the lavas a rhapsody!" [71]

Driving through the monument was also an option for the tourist. The monument's loop drive--a dirt road improved over the years--wound around rugged aa and over smooth pahoehoe flows at the base of cinder cones for up to seven miles; it connected features such as Big Craters, the Spatter Cones, caves, and Devil's Orchard--a popular picnic spot, it seems, from the early 1920s. The intrepid motorist could extend his trip by driving over the rough wagon road south from Inferno Cone to Echo Crater, a favorite base camp of explorers and geologists which offered access to the southern reaches of the monument.

In the late 1920s, the National Park Service realized that tourists needed some facilities to make their trips to the monument more enjoyable. Just getting to the monument, as described by Edward Rhodenbaugh, was difficult enough, and once in the remote and parched landscape of Craters of the Moon, visitors could expect little protection from the lava country's harsh environment. Few would have argued, it seems, with Rhodenbaugh's comment that a cabin of some kind was needed at Craters in the future. For this reason, the Park Service contracted with Jo G. Martin and John R. Wright of Arco to build Crater Inn and sell "gasoline and oil, lunch goods, cold drinks, and the usual line of accommodations furnished to tourists and sight-seers." The log inn, three log guest cabins, and a log gas station were completed in the fall of 1927, adding to the comforts of the motoring public. Together the log buildings composed a rustic scene familiar to national parks. Especially evocative was the lodge itself; its lava-stone chimney leaked smoke in the chilled, high desert air, and a set of mule deer antlers hung from its eaves.7 [2]

Crater Inn symbolized the belief of monument supporters and Park Service officials that comforts would both enhance the tourist experience and attract still more tourists to the monument. In this way, Crater Inn played an important role in tourism during the late 1920s and early 1930s. One of its most important functions was supplying water to thirsty visitors. Having hauled the water from Martin, the concession owners provided the service for four years after the monument's waterholes suddenly dried up in the summer of 1927. Located near the monument's entrance, Crater Inn became the center for tourists, especially during these "dry years." Visitors congregated at the inn for refreshments, food, and relaxation after their drive to or tour of the volcanic wonderland. Advertising the opening of Crater Inn, Martin proudly announced that "Comforts Come to Craters of the Moon." A new experience awaited the monument tourist. "Cabins and a lunch service," he said, "free the visit to the lava formations from inconvenience and hardship." The structures, he stated, reflected a common form and made use of materials from the surrounding environment. "All the buildings are of logs and of that type of construction which the early pioneers found suited to the Idaho climate. The roofs are covered deeply with the black cinders of the region," he added, "resulting in a remarkable coolness in the summer." Visitors could find a "hospitable retreat" in the large hall, with open fire place, and rest before or after seeing the sights. Once inside, tourists could buy groceries, lunch goods, and cool refreshments stored in the natural refrigeration of the "underground passages" of the cinder beds. [73] For the guests who desired overnight accommodations, the small guest cabins were furnished with bed springs, mattresses, bedding, and wood stoves, but no running water or indoor toilets--all for the price of $1 to $1.50 per person a night. [74]

Further attesting to the importance of Crater Inn, the Park Service designed and relocated the monument's headquarters and campground across from the concession in 1927 so the new water system could serve everyone. Bureau officials also hoped that this new configuration would aid the monument's small staff in attending to the public's needs. [75]

Once the water arrived (1931), the concession owners anticipated that improvements such as toilets and bathing facilities would turn the operation into a "first rate establishment." An upgraded concession would raise the level of the monument's importance to the general public, they believed. As Martin declared, the "popularity of the place will catch up with its real merit as one of the most interesting scenic phenomena in the world. People will not come in large numbers or stay very long where they are uncomfortable or subjected to hardship. We hope to relieve that at Craters of the Moon and profit accordingly," he concluded. [76]

Park Service officials shared these beliefs as exemplified by the campground and headquarters relocation, as well as the piping of water to the site. Another step in this direction was the construction of a log comfort station in the campground in 1934, and with it the monument's first flush toilets and showers--amenities that would "add greatly to the comfort of the public," noted Albert T. Bicknell, the monument's custodian. [77] Funded by the Public Works Administration and built by local contractors, the comfort station was part of the New Deal work projects to improve the monument for tourists in the 1930s. Road and trail improvements were also part of these projects. Park crews created a single entrance, widened, straightened, and graded the highway crossing the monument as well as the loop drive leading through it. With better road conditions and access to volcanic features, auto tourists no longer had to worry about sinking into soft cinders that sucked cars in like quicksand and were free to enjoy the scenery. The Park Service also toyed with the idea of extending the road system along the Great Rift to expose motoring sightseers to more of the monument's wonders, but various administrative and preservation concerns scuttled the plan. The monument's "informal" trail system also benefited from the programs. Without good trails tourists were likely to get "lost in the maze of lava flows" and miss seeing some of the monument's more spectacular features. Thus construction crews built and surfaced new and existing trails to popular features near the roadside so tourists could examine the sites with greater safety and ease. [78]

On the eve of World War II more than twenty thousand tourists were visiting the monument. They stopped at Crater Inn, picnicked and camped, drove the loop road, and hiked to the lava wonders. Most of them, however, experienced the volcanic landscape in a short period of time, but one event was sure to draw a large crowd for a good part of at least one day a year. Opening Day celebrations attracted hundreds and sometimes thousands to the monument every year. A celebration of the monument's establishment, the annual fete had its origins in the outings and picnics Arco residents held as early as 1912. The celebration was thrown in the late spring, held in the headquarters area, and featured speeches by local community leaders and officials from Idaho and the Park Service. Other attractions included food, music from the Arco band, tours of the monument, and the Sheriff's Posse Dash--a parade of mounted riders down Sunset Ridge and across nearby cinder fields.

For a time it seemed that winter sports would provide a substantial tourist draw to the monument. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, downhill skiing and other winter sports activities grew in popularity at the monument. Local residents discovered that the snow-covered cinder cones provided ideal conditions for skiing, and in 1941 the Arco Civic Club asked the National Park Service for permission to build a winter sports facility on the northeastern slope of Sunset Cone. The club felt that the cone's proximity to the highway and the eastern boundary, as well as its lack of scenic qualities compared to the monument's main features, would not interfere with the area's mission. In fact, the resort supporters believed, a ski area would increase the monument's popularity. At first they hoped the Park Service would build the facility for them, but when the agency refused, they offered to install their own ski lift and lodge. Although the ski resort's promoters just wanted to find "a place to get out for recreation," the Park Service denied the group a permit by stating that no developments should impair the monument's scenic values. In this respect, there could be no visible impact to the monument's resources. After each season, all structures would have to be removed, making it virtually impossible to run the operation. [79] (A ski area was eventually built on Blizzard Mountain north of the monument. Never a profitable operation, it seems, it has run sporadically since its construction.)

No matter the popularity of the Opening Day celebration and the potential of winter sports, tourism never seemed to realize its full potential at Craters of the Moon, at least in the sense of the grand hotels. Craters of the Moon, a broiling desert of lava, was thought of less as a place to retreat to than as a place to pass through. The history of Crater Inn showed this reality all too well. The modern automobile and highway may have contributed to opening up this out of the way region, but they also contributed to the monument's wayside appeal. Crater Inn may have offered shelter from this shadeless environment, but most tourists could marvel at the monument's features in a few hours and still have time to reach the hotels, cafes, and other services Arco and other gateway towns offered just a short drive away. Realizing little revenue from meals and lodging, Crater Inn's original as well as succeeding owners were unable to modernize; sometimes they could not even pay their permit fee. By 1940, the operators added more guest cabins, it seems in a final hope that things would turn around. But the overall condition of the structures was primitive, unsightly, and rundown. Hardly the "dignified accommodations" Crater Inn's first owners envisioned for the monument, Crater Inn was in 1950, according to Superintendent Aubrey F. Houston, "an eyesore, and substandard in every way." Although more than 100,000 tourists visited the monument by the mid-1950s, the concession offered little incentive for them to stay longer than the time it took to see the sights. [80]

Considered more a relic of the past than an asset to the future, Crater Inn closed its doors in the late 1950s. The Park Service decided to leave tourist amenities, such as lodging and meals, to gateway towns like Arco and eliminated the service during the Mission 66 redevelopment program. In 1958, the last of Crater Inn's structures were auctioned off and removed from the monument, ending an era of catering to the comforts of auto tourists. [81]

Summary of Context Theme

Tourism at Craters of the Moon was more about changing perceptions of the volcanic landscape than the construction of tourist developments. For most of the nineteenth century, tourists viewed the Snake River Plain and places like Craters of the Moon as volcanic wastelands. Drawn to natural wonders like Shoshone Falls, tourists favored familiar scenic landscapes--falling waters, tranquil lakes, picturesque peaks--to unremitting desert. By the turn of the century, tourists were changing their opinions of the plain and the Craters country for the better, due to the coalescence of several historical forces: disenchantment with an urban-industrial society, an increased interest in outdoor recreation, the advent of the automobile, and improved highways.

Driving automobiles over better roads enabled scenic tourists to experience places like Craters of the Moon on their own terms, making them more likely to find the region less threatening and more appealing. They would also find the monument more appealing in contrast to the nation's crowded cities and vanishing wild lands, a realization tourist promoters also made. In the years surrounding World War I, this trend was symbolized best by the "See America First" campaign and Idaho's own version--"See America First: Begin with Idaho." Perhaps most representative of this was Robert W. Limbert, who helped sell Idaho's diverse and spectacular scenery to Idaho and the nation between 1915 and the early 1930s. Craters of the Moon received the benefits of his promotion, which led to its establishment as a national monument in 1924. Moreover, Limbert's promotions added to those of boosters from Arco and the Big Lost River basin who pinned their hopes of economic growth to scenic tourism--Craters of the Moon being a central attraction.

Craters of the Moon's establishment officially sanctioned the lava country as a tourist attraction, something worked for by local boosters for years. But the transformation was slow. The monument was largely undeveloped. Tourists relied on guide services to visit the strange landscape, and for the most part relied on travel literature and their own sense of motoring adventure during their visits. The National Park Service rectified this situation in the latter 1920s and 1930s by developing better roads, trails, campgrounds, and bathroom facilities. But the most significant effort was undertaken through private enterprise with the construction of Crater Inn. Although never a successful business, the rustic lodge, guest cabins, and gas station epitomized early tourism in national parks. It was the only enterprise of its kind in the monument, operating between 1927 and 1958.

Associated Property Types

Name of Property Type: Structures Related to Recreation and Tourism


Properties associated with recreation and tourism at Craters of the Moon represent both private and federal efforts to enhance the visitor's experience at the monument between the early 1920s and the early 1940s. During these years, private interests built Crater Inn and its related buildings, which consisted of a lodge, gas station, and seven cabins, and all of which were built using log materials. And the National Park Service constructed a log campground comfort station. All of these structures, both privately and federally owned, exhibited a distinct architectural style known as Rustic or National Park Service (NPS) Rustic. NPS Rustic evolved from the romantic and rustic styles of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, fostered by the National Park Service's early commitment to the principles of landscape design that supported both the integration and subordination of park buildings and other structural improvements to their natural setting.

All of the monument's "rustic" buildings associated with tourism were located in the second headquarters site in the vicinity of today's campground at the base of Sunset Ridge. They were originally constructed using logs with hewn ends for the walls, concrete foundations, lava-stone chimneys, casement windows, and gable roofs. In addition, most were originally built with either cinder, wood shingle, or split-log roof materials, although these have changed in the surviving structures. Although a variety of shapes and sizes, these single-story structures had simple floor plans.

Today, the only building that still stands is the comfort station. Concrete footings and concrete/asphalt pads identify where Crater Inn's guest cabins stood. These remnants, though not a property type, give a sense of the spatial arrangements and setting of the former headquarters compound. The location of the campground, in which the comfort station still stands, also gives a sense of the original organization for these structures; the campground itself was part of the improvements for tourists visiting the monument. (See Chapter 9 for more complete property descriptions for Rustic Architecture.)


These properties are significant under National Register Criterion A for their association with recreation and tourism, an important theme in the monument's history. They are also significant under National Register Criterion C for their association with the Rustic style of architecture.

Registration Requirements:

At Craters of the Moon, properties associated with recreation and tourism may qualify for listing in the National Register if they date between 1924 and 1942. (These dates may vary according to new information shedding light on tourist developments, especially since the period of tourist activity begins earlier.) The property must be historically significant, that is, be associated with prominent commercial activities related to tourism and recreation, the owners or operators of these businesses, or the National Park Service. Integrity is also an important requirement for registration. A historically significant property may sustain some alteration and remain eligible as long as it retains its historic character.

The following aspects of integrity require consideration when evaluating these properties:

Location and Setting:

A property's location should remain intact. Without this, the property would be rendered ineligible. Directly related to location is the setting of the property. The setting is generally defined by the physical features that make up the property's environment, either natural or manmade. Setting conveys the character of the place in which the property functioned historically, and how it related to the surrounding features and open space. Some changes to the setting may occur and the property may still be considered eligible. This may include the removal of some structures associated with tourism and the addition of other structures central to the monument's current operation. Whatever the case may be, it is important that the setting be intact as much as possible.

Design, Workmanship, and Materials:

Properties associated with tourism at Craters of the Moon should possess most of their original design, workmanship, and materials. In general, to remain eligible, the structure must retain the majority of its original foundation, wall material, and roof configuration. Any additions or exterior alterations must be compatible with original design, workmanship, and materials in terms of type and quality, in this case with the Rustic style.

Feeling and Association:

Integrity of feeling and association exist if the property retains integrity of setting, location, design, workmanship, and materials.

Properties Potentially Eligible for the National Register:

The following list identifies properties that could be proposed for nomination to the National Register in association with the context titled Recreation and Tourism in the Craters of the Moon Region, 1924-1942.

  1. Log Comfort Station


Craters of the Moon has few historic properties that are extant. The comfort station is one of these. A Determination of Eligibility (DOE) should be drafted for the comfort station, not simply because it is one of the "last" remaining structures from an earlier era, but because it represents two historic themes at the monument, Tourism and National Park Service Management and Development (see appropriate context statement). A DOE would assess the integrity of the property, and help determine the appropriate management of the property.

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Last Updated: 27-Aug-1999