Normally I am quite good at keeping the crazy hidden.
I said normally, not always.
The crazy is always bubbling there, just out of sight behind a thin veneer of normality. Every once in a while, though, someone or something causes my inner demons to come roaring out in a glowing blaze of insanity.
This is one of those times.
Several years ago my friends decided to go to Idaho to visit another friend who was spending the summer in a town called Stanley. It seemed fun enough and I agreed to come with. We planned a few places we could go and visit before Jasmine (one of my friends) in a colossal lapse of judgement suggested, “We could even visit Craters of the Moon on the way! I’ve heard that’s kinda fun!”
Jasmine unleashed a monster.
Craters of the Moon is the closest volcanic field to my house, a place covered in lava flows, cinder cones and pyroclastic deposits; a place that positively oozes nerdy science from every crevasse and crater. Scientists expect it to erupt relatively soon in geological time with some betting on an eruption before this century is over. In short, it is one of my favorite places to visit. And I lost my mind at the mere mention of its name.
Jasmine cursed her stupidity but at that point there was no going back. “Well,” she reasoned apologetically to the rest of my friends who were giving her death glares, “We could spend just a few hours there before going on to Stanley.”
And so our glorious trip to Craters of the Moon-I mean, Stanley, Idaho began!
We got to the visitor’s center around noon. One of my friends, Jessica, had expressed some disinterest in this section of our trip and was determined to keep it as short as possible. In contrast, I had determined that I needed to convince her of the error of her ways. “Remember,” Jessica said as we pulled up, “We can only spend one or two hours here before we have to LEEEEEEE!”
She never finished the sentence. I bulldozed over her like a volcanic lahar slamming into a bridge and blasted out of the car.
My friends found me waiting for them in the center of the visitor’s center ten minutes later.
I seized Jessica by the arm and took off out the door towards the hiking trail.
The rest of my friends, (reasonably) fearing that I was going to offer Jessica as some sort of maiden sacrifice, tore out the door behind us while shouting at the ranger in the visitor’s center to use his gun.
I dragged a screaming Jessica to the top of a large hill over a mile away. “BEHOLD,” I thundered impressively, my voice echoing off the landscape. “WHAT DO YOU SEE?”
“I’m standing on a hill with a lunatic!” She yelled angrily. “What is wrong with you??”
“IT IS NOT JUST ANY HILL, FOOLISH MORTAL,” I boomed.
The rest of my friends arrived huffing and puffing in time for me to deliver a thirty minute lecture on the nature of cinder cones and their lifecycle.
At this point my friends began to realize the significant jeopardy their trip was in. “Zach,” Jasmine reasoned, taking the same tone she would with a toddler holding a loaded gun, “This is fascinating, but we should probably think about getting on the road again-“
She was interrupted by a screaming Jessica, who had been pushed by me down the steep trail into the cinder cone’s crater. They stampeded down the trail after us.
I pushed a bruised and bloody Jessica up the other side of the crater to the opposite rim, down into another crater, and up the rim beyond. “BEHOLD,” I intoned somberly, pointing to a few more volcanoes piled on top of and next to each other, “A CINDER CONE COMPLEX ON THE EDGE OF A VOLCANIC RIFT!”
My friends were no longer being diplomatic. It was ninety degrees and we were surrounded by black lava rocks. The sun was beating down and the heat was oppressive.
I didn’t even hear them, so deep was my madness.
My friends at that point formed a protective wall around Jessica, hoping that I would be discouraged by their combined efforts from kidnapping Jessica again. They might as well have used a tissue to stop a hurricane. I bulldozed through them like a bowling ball hitting bowling pins, grabbed Jessica by her hair and blasted down the cinder cone to the trail ending. “BEHOLD,” I rumbled dramatically, pointing towards a few low mounds of rock near a parking lot, “SPATTER CONES.”
Jessica, overcome by the beauty of the spatter cones, collapsed unconscious at the side of the trail. My friends were angry enough to trigger a volcanic eruption of their own.
Jasmine stormed back up the cinder cone, shouting insults at me the entire way. The rest of them gathered around Jessica, fanning her with park brochures and glaring angrily at me as I beat my chest and chanted at the top of a spatter cone.
Eventually Jasmine came with the car and we all piled inside it. We’d been in the park for four hours. My friends were thirsty and exhausted as we pulled up to the visitor’s center parking lot. They were ready to leave.
I was not.
I seized the steering wheel and sent the car careening over the curb, across the lava flow and onto an adjacent road, the horrified screams of my friends shattering the windows. We arrived at the parking lot for the lava flow trails and I leapt from the car with a still-comatose Jessica, who was no longer capable of remembering her own name.
It was at this point that my friends lost their collective minds. The combination of soaring temperatures, lack of water and the continued abductions of Jessica caused their sanity to snap like overtuned strings on a violin. They burst from the car, seizing large chunks of sharp volcanic rock and shouting the closest thing to obscenities their Mormon upbringing would allow.
There is something about meeting your impending death that can shake the lunacy out of any man. I dropped Jessica by the side of the trail and took off running, my godly facade shattering like the summit of an erupting stratovolcano.
I, however, am not known for my athletic abilities. Within a few moments they had surrounded me, cutting off any chance of escape. “ANY LAST WORDS?” they thundered vengefully.
The prospect of shelter and cool temperatures tempered their homicidal rage. “Where?!” they demanded, tossing the rocks behind them.
“The lava tubes!” I shouted dramatically.
It is a fact that volcanic rock is an amazing insulator. The top of a lava flow will crust over, preserving the heat below and allowing the lava to flow far further than it otherwise could under the insulating “skin.”
After the lava drains, voila! Instant cave. This is a skylight in Indian Tunnel at the park.
Craters of the Moon is littered with these lava tubes, some of them a fifty feet wide and over thirty feet high. They are sheltered from the sun and many have ice year round. My friends carried Jessica into one of the larger tubes and we stayed there for several hours until they all recovered their strength. This turned out badly for me.
We continued to Stanley that evening, only eight hours behind schedule. My friends had a lovely time-probably because they kept me tied up in the trunk for the rest of the trip.
To read more about my passionate love affair with volcanoes, go here. If you ever want me as a tour guide for your trip to Craters, hit me up. Seriously.