May 25, 2022.
2.75 mi | 500′ ele. gain | 1:20 hr
Way out in the middle of nowhere, driving between two remote destinations in Nevada, I desperately needed a leg stretcher. I spied on the map one of the “unique natural features” that I’m so fond of. And it was a short(ish) detour to get there.
That detour: Lunar Crater.
To be fair, seeing volcanic features in the wild is a little less exciting now than it used to be. I’m surrounded by spectacular lava flows and volcanoes every day I live in Central Oregon. So, I wasn’t super excited that this was what we were driving out to. But, if the map architect decided to call it out in the Gazeteer, I thought it must be worth a peek.
The drive in took us past buttes, cinder cones, depressions and colorful lava flows. It looked familiar enough, but had its own special character so that I knew we weren’t exactly at home. The road came to a dead-end at the edge of a crater. Despite the name, it’s a run-of-the-mill volcanic crater, but it’s unique to this part of the west. So unique, in fact, that it’s “one of Nevada’s six natural landmarks.” This seems totally unreasonable given the amazingness across this state. I feel like the people who decide these things either don’t get out much or have a secret agenda to develop tourism in particular places. Anyways, it didn’t appear that the tourism campaign encouraged much development, so we had a nice quiet stop along our otherwise boring drive.
A short trail led from the parking area to a bench, and a user trail continued a bit beyond that. Eyeballing the crater, I guesstimated that it was about a 2-mile trip around and that sounded like the perfect little walk for me. Aaron disagreed, heading back to the car to edit his photos and catch up with friends and family via text.
The air felt much hotter than the mild 73 degrees that registered in the car, but that was likely due to the complete lack of shade and the heat emitted by the dark lava.
I moved quickly along the edge of the crater in my Bedrock sandals, which were getting a lot of use on this trip. It was mostly flat until it wasn’t. I descended into a bouldery canyon, which was much easier to navigate than it looked from afar. On the other side, I ascended up a relentlessly steep pile of cinder towards what looked like the summit. Luckily, there were so many tiny wildflowers blooming on this slope that I had more reason to stop than just to catch my breath.
Atop what I thought was the rim, I spied the true summit just to the south of the crater’s edge. I made a quick detour to the jagged boulder pile and found that I’d been beaten to the top, by a chubby black lizard. I touched the top of it without disturbing my highpointing lizard friend and sent Aaron a quick text check in.
I’d be back in no time, I thought, and began walking back towards the edge of the crater.
I was stopped in my tracks, however, by a 6-8 foot tall vertical cliff band. Hmmm…I thought, it was supposed to be a quick but miserable scree slide off the side of the crater. I didn’t want to walk towards the center of it, so I backtracked to the summit and looked for a breach in the rock. Nothing. UGH. I’ve climbed so many of these volcanic buttes that I thought I had a good sense of what kind of terrain to expect, but then I remembered I wasn’t in Oregon anymore.
After what I felt was too much backtracking, I finally saw a safe gap to get through the rocks. That 6 foot drop may just as well have been 600 feet; I couldn’t get down in either case. But what was worse was that the easy part was *so* close!! Annoyed, but in one piece, I proceeded to bomb down the steep, loose and hot scree field.
Remember, I was wearing my sandals, so every 3 seconds I had to stop and remove a rock that got between the sole and my foot. That was, until I discovered that loosening the straps just so allowed the pebbles to pass through without getting stuck. After that adjustment, I was infinitely more comfortable and fast! At the bottom of the hill, I re-joined a road that led me right back to where Aaron was parked.
I never would have sought out this place to visit, but it was a worthy diversion along our route that day. I’m glad I followed my curiosity all the way around the “lunar” crater.