On our latest Spring adventure, we set out on the open road to visit Lunar Crater, which sits in a remote area near the center of the state. To reach the Lunar Crater National Backcountry Byway, we drove nearly 100 miles southwest of Ely through numerous mountain ranges, with the last being the Pancake Range (which may or may not have given me a serious IHOP craving).
The Byway winds about 20 miles through the Lunar Crater Volcanic Field. The dirt road wasn’t bad, but sometimes the washboard bumpiness and deep sand made it slow- going. Which was fine- it is a place you want to go slow and savor.
We didn’t drive too long before we were ready for lunch. We decided to stop for a picnic at the Lunar Lake playa (a dried- up lake bed). The vast expanse of glaring white sand was pretty cool, especially since it wasn’t a hot day. We decided this wouldn’t be the best summer destination, but we had fun moseying around the playa in the pleasant spring weather.
After lunch we continued our journey through the pretty red hills.
Before long, we reached the main attraction- Lunar Crater. This 430- foot- deep maar was formed when underground magma boiled the groundwater, causing lava to shoot up from beneath the earth’s surface. This left behind the dry, circular hole that we now call Lunar Crater.
The area didn’t really remind me too much of the moon, but it was good enough for NASA. In the 1970’s, astronauts trained here to prepare for the Apollo moon missions. The astronauts, in full gear, traversed the crater in rovers and collected rock samples. The story goes that two astronauts almost got stranded out here. Their rover broke down a couple miles from the rest of the group right as the group was packing up to leave the area, so the stranded astronauts had to race on foot to catch up.
This place was thought to be similar enough to the moon that the astronauts came way out here to middle- of- nowhere Nevada to practice basic procedures. This beautiful, desolate area sure has an interesting history.
The area doesn’t have any actual trails, so we thought we might as well try to hike up the hill/ mountain that rises from the back of the crater. It was a steep, slow trudge to the top (For me, anyway. Roland raced up the slope like it was nothing, with enough time left over to stop and do nature studies of the rocks and flowers along the way. Seriously- he must be part mountain goat).
Along the way we saw several different lizards, including this cool guy. I’m no lizard identification expert, but I’m pretty sure he is a northern desert horned lizard. It is a good thing we gave him his space. When threatened, these horned lizards like to swell up, hiss, bite, and stab with their horns. As a last resort, they will shoot blood out of their eyes. Lovely little critters, aren’t they?
We eventually made our way to the top and we were rewarded with a stunning 360 degree view of rolling red hills, craters, sparse sagebrush valley, and the mountains in the distance.
We got a good view of Easy Chair Crater, which is a cinder cone volcano.
We gained enough elevation to also be able to see our picnic playa in the distance, surrounded by the rugged red hills.
After taking in the view, we hiked down the backside of the mountain, which was thankfully a little less steep. We finished the backcountry byway without any hiccups and made it back to the pavement, which eventually took us back to civilization 100 miles later.
It is so fun to just pick a place on a map we haven’t been before, get out of town and our normal everyday lives, and explore this amazing state. We don’t get to do it as much now that Roland is in school, so every family outing now is even more special.
As our son gets older, I know he will have an increasingly busy schedule of his own, but I feel these outings are so important, beyond just family time. So many kids hardly ever leave the city limits of the town they live in. How are they able to understand the importance and beauty of wild places, or to feel humbled when they actually experience how small they are in the grand scheme of things, or to see God’s power and magnitude bursting out from His own creation? If a child has never experienced the grandeur of creation, then how can he be awe-struck of the Creator’s deep, personal love just for him? Of course standard education is immensely important, but there is so much more to learn and experience outside of those schoolroom walls, and I think that is how passionate, curious, involved, well- rounded adults are formed. That’s the hope, anyway.
“To the dull mind, nature is leaden.
To the illuminated mind the whole world burns and sparkles with light.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson