Chapter 1 Introduction


Today, we open to the public for another year a different type of national monument. This is a scene of desolation, it is true, but it was not manufactured by shot and shell.

It was created by terrific winds that whirled out of space over a boiling earth. It was created by the settling of the earth's crust into its final shape hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Time has no reckoning here--only the works the Creator put here forever show us the wonders of the firmament. This park is aptly named Craters of the Moon. It is a weird spot, yet beautiful. Its mysteries half revealed in laval ridges are the mysteries of a celestial birth, the origin of the planet. Now the roarings are stilled and the lava no longer flows. But the spirit of the place remains, impressive and awesome beyond anything constructed by man.

Governor Clarence A. Bottolfsen
on Opening Day, May 7, 1939 [1]

On May 2, 1924, President Calvin Coolidge created Craters of the Moon National Monument. The monument preserves around 53,500 acres of volcanic formations and lava flows on the northern rim of the Snake River Plain in southcentral Idaho. A desolate yet sublime landscape that could only be described as "weird," the monument has never failed to inspire, if not evoke ambivalent responses from even its most ardent supporters left speechless by the unusual lava terrain. As with anything unusual, a better understanding of the volcanic region increased the appreciation of its national significance. The monument's founding document reflected this trend, stating that Craters of the Moon's purpose was to preserve "a remarkable fissure eruption," its associated features, all of which were of scientific and educational value and general interest, contained in a "weird and scenic landscape peculiar to itself." For nearly seventy years, its has been the challenge of the National Park Service to manage this weird and beautiful place, to protect its scenic, natural, and historic resources, while providing for the educational needs and enjoyment of the visiting public.


Although the monument's founding document gives the National Park Service general direction, federal regulations and agency policies further define the Service's responsibilities. The Park Service's Cultural Resource Management Guideline (NPS-28) calls for preparation of an administrative history for each unit in the National Park System. These studies document the history of the park unit itself; they record the evolution of its management and programs in order to familiarize new superintendents, staff, and other agency officials with the area, and provide them with a historical basis for future management decisions.

This report constitutes the first administrative history for Craters of the Moon National Monument. Even though the monument is fast approaching its seventieth year, this study is at present the only comprehensive source for the monument's management history. Despite the monument's age, Craters of the Moon's written record is thin. Many of its records have been purged, and only through the heroic efforts of park staff were some important files and papers saved. For these reasons, research was limited to known and available records in national archive branches, manuscript collections, the files of Craters of the Moon and the Pacific Northwest Regional Office, as well as oral histories.

Preliminary research was accomplished in 1988 by Gretchen Luxenberg, Pacific Northwest Regional historian, who organized the monument's archives and collected material from the monument's files for an administrative history. The archives and files formed the nucleus of the research conducted by the author beginning in the summer of 1990. The monument existed prior to the creation of regions, and has been in both Western and Pacific Northwest regions at different times. Consequently, its records were stored in several repositories across the country, including the National Archives in Washington, D.C.; the National Archives--Pacific Sierra Region in San Bruno, California; and the National Archives--Pacific Northwest Region in Seattle, Washington.

With the assistance of librarians, records officers, and Park Service historians from this regional office and the Washington office, important documents were collected from the National Archives in Washington D.C., and were retrieved from the National Archives in San Bruno, California through a loan process. Research trips to the monument, the Idaho State Historical Society, and Boise State University uncovered important documents related to the monument's founding and management. Oral interviews with former superintendents took place in the fall of 1990 and the following year.

Because of the poor conditions of the monument's records and the constraints of time and funding, the author has relied on interviews with current and former staff members, annual reports, and planning documents to fill in the gaps. Mission 66 had the most profound effect on the monument's management, and thus the best known period of the area's management dates from that era, leaving the first several decades in the shadows.

The methodology guiding this study was utilitarian. What has occupied the staff the most in managing the area has been the central focus. As seen in the table of contents, this work is organized to allow the park staff to retrieve information by subject. The first several chapters provide background for the monument and its establishment, a subject heretofore largely unexplored. Subsequent chapters attempt to provide an overall summary and history of the monument's management and the development of management programs. With few exceptions, chapters follow a chronological format within the various topics, moving from broad to specific discussion.

Finally, a study of this type can only scratch the surface of the many issues facing the monument. Other historians, it is hoped, might place the monument within the larger context of preservation history. For those interested, many avenues remain to be explored, especially among the principal players in the monument's past. Some themes such as the history of geological research might be studied by more extensive research in the various government agency records held in the National Archives and the elusive personal papers of early geologists. In the end, while I have attempted to be as accurate and thorough as possible in preparing this document and have relied on the assistance of many, all mistakes are mine.

Chapter 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11


Last updated: February 28, 2015

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Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
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Arco, ID 83213


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