Our computer lab assistant Helena Mallonee is working as an Interpretive Ranger this summer at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. Craters of the Moon is a surreal and awesome landscape located near Arco, Idaho about 3 hours driving distance from Boise, Idaho.
Craters of the Moon was explored by Robert Limbert in 1921, which led to the establishment of the area as a National Monument, and his archival papers are available at Albertsons Library's Special Collections and Archives. You can view the finding aid to those materials by selecting this link. Albertsons Library has many books, maps, and articles about the area which you can check out here.
Helena was gracious enough to spare some of her very rare internet time answering a few questions about her work for us.
Amy: You're a Boise State student, and you're working at Craters of the Moon this summer. What's the connection between your major and your job?
Helena: My job and my degree are closely related, although not the same. At Boise State University I'm learning about geophysics and geology. At Craters of the Moon, I explain these topics to the general public, at a much less technical level. I also need to know about the area's history and biology, subjects I don't have much formal education in. It's been a great excuse to learn about those topics! I also need to know how to explain things to people in a way that is clear, concise, and catchy - we're called "Interpretation Rangers" because we interpret between the resource and the visitors. Having a technical background is a huge boon in this line of work, but there are many more skills you need!
What's the weirdest thing you've seen there?
The weirdest thing is probably Craters of the Moon itself! In our enabling legislation, Craters of the Moon was described as "weird and scene, a landscape peculiar to itself." I'm very interested in basaltic volcanology, so it doesn't look very weird to me, but I know it appears very strange to most visitors!
What is the most commonly asked question?
The most commonly asked question is "Where is the bathroom?" That one is fairly easy to answer!
My favorite common question is "Where's the volcano that created all this?" or "How did this come to be here?" This question is great, because it provides an opportunity to talk about the geology of Craters of the Moon and explain what makes it important.
Why should we stay on the trails?
While off-trail travel is technically allowed in most areas of the Monument, we ask everyone to stay on the trails for two reasons:
- Many of the lava flows here have a delicate coating of volcanic glass on them, with a layer of oxidized lava beneath. When you walk on the lava, it breaks apart the crust, reveling the oxidized layer. This means that the people after you can't see the pretty, natural glass coating - you have left your trace on the landscape. One of the tenets of the Park Service is preservation of the landscape and features for future generations.
- Walking across lava flows is hazardous. It's not like a gentle walk in a forest, you are walking over rough, unstable terrain with many small holes and ridges. We don't want you to get hurt (especially with the limited cell coverage), and we also don't want to get hurt while rescuing you. You may feel comfortable taking risks, but it's important to remember that the people who come to rescue you (whether you want us to or not, we will come) are taking risks themselves.
If we come visit what are the highlights?
My favorite walk is the Broken Top loop - it's a 1.8 mile hike around a cinder cone, and it's kind of a microcosm of Craters of the Moon. The north side has trees and plants, and on the south side the trail takes you across the lava flows and down into a lava cave! We have a guided walk there weekday mornings at 9 am. The most popular place is definitely the Caves Trail, where you can go into 4 lava caves in 1.5 miles (roundtrip) of trail. We lead guided walks to the largest cave at 1 pm and 4 pm, and 9 am on weekends. Inferno Cone is a great place to climb a volcano & see a panoramic view of the Snake River Plain, and Devil's Orchard is great for taking sunset photos!
Anything else we should know about you and rocks and Craters?
Craters of the Moon National Monument is cooperatively managed by the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management. The developed area is managed by the Park Service, but there are many acres of undeveloped land managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Those areas are great to visit, but you need information & a high-clearance vehicle. This is my first summer with the Park Service - before that I worked this same job, but for the Bureau of Land Management. If you're interested in a job like this, a great way to start is by volunteering at a local park or public land! Other great ways are Student Conservation Association internships and GeoCorps internships. There are many different types of jobs at parks, including Administration, Finance, Maintenance, Biology, Geology, Law Enforcement, and Interpretation. It's an incredible experience, you meet great people, and get to spend the summer doing fun things outside!