Boondocking Outside of Craters of the Moon National Monument

the moon high above Idaho


Is it the Love of Nature, the enjoyment of camping and wildlife spotting or the disdain of ever-increasing human population that drove us west on the “Great Adventure 2020”?

Covid 19 social distancing made us rethink our normal flight to family in Arizona coupled with SUV rental, tent camping and local pub fare.

Purchasing about the only available truck camper — within our budget and livable — on the East Coast we spent several months fixing, tinkering, modifying our 1997 Shadow Cruiser popup truck camper.

It fit nicely on our “in good shape” ’94 GMC diesel farm truck.

A couple of weeks of boondocking on our way west and we have settled into life on the road. We transformed to Travelers, RVers, and eventually grew accustomed to the angst that an old truck and portable home can bring. This model of truck was built, I’m convinced, with a strange way of doing things. However, it has relatively low mileage and has started every morning…so far.

Driving on long, straight, 2 lane roads with speed limits of 60 or 70mph is unusual for us Easterners.

Then we realized the last oncoming vehicle was 10 minutes ago!

A quick lunch stop in Arco, Idaho where we’d check and adjust all liquid levels: vehicle, camper and human, we plot a destination to be achieved in the next few days. A photograph of Number Hill, the local oddity, and we are moving again.

a mountain painted with many, various and white numbers
Number Hill, Arco, Idaho.

Purposely avoiding the popular Craters of the Moon Visitors Center (which was closed for the pandemic anyway) and likely busy scenic overlooks, we turned onto a 60 mile, well graveled, 3 lane road heading to Minidoka.  Feeling adventurous hope, early on this leg, 50mph was very comfortable. We made a few brief stops to investigate additional signs of man (PVC piping and underground valves?)

We took in the odorless, dry, 30 mph wind-driven, fine earth, sagebrush and distant mountains, as our imaginations open with wonder about this extensive, semi-baron space. With every passing mile the road quality degraded, requiring ever decreasing speeds.  

endless long dirt road in Idaho
Deep into Idaho’s desert.

Curiously, ahead in the distance was a cloud of dust, a dust devil?

We witnessed many earlier in the day including warning signs regularly posted along the paved road. No, it is an approaching vehicle. Checking my mirror, inspecting our dust, the oncoming vehicle generates a much lager cloud trail. Our speed was reduced to 35 on the lower quality, two lane road.

Approaching, head on and happening quickly, we noticed this small pick up truck had something behind it. A very large piece of metal, chained to the truck, dancing side to side behind him.  It hits the edge of the road and bounces to the center. Fear set in, with the duration and feel of sliding in a vehicle, uncontrollably on ice. I mentally pictured the damage potential of being on the zag cycle in his game of “crack the whip!”

Elation as we passed, damage free and realized we can return to our normal numb level of nervousness: old truck, old camper, no cell service, and other humans a days walk away (discounting crazy chain, truck guy.)

Not far down the trail we stopped to remove craggy shards of steel from the travel route. This pause gave us opportunity to reflect and try to imagine, “What the @^*!#? Salvaging for scrap? A water trough now unusable?”

The road beating our vehicle free of many of its own bolted parts, it occurred to me that he too was a boondocker, dragging the final remains of his RV trailer! The trail condition continues to dictate slower speeds.

Crossing into “Craters of the Moon BLM” we were traveling at 3-5mph across lava bed outcroppings.  Lunging and heaving up and down across the terrain the strong, relentless wind rocks our low profile rig side to side.

Leaving the lava field we stopped to guesstimate the required vehicle ground clearance needed to stay in the well worn, dry ruts and gauge it against that which we had available. Deciding a flat tire is favorable to undercarriage damage we straddled one of the ruts for the next ten miles equals one hour.

Forty miles in, the consciousness of exhaustion from feeling virtually every emotion set in. Digging deep to press on, the road quality finally began to improve and we saw a lifeless vehicle parked near a sign. “Bear Trap Cave.”

a well worn sign reads "Bear Trap Cave" and other unreadable texts
Bear Trap Cave.

Seems more like Traveler Trap Cave. Exiting the cab and leaning into the extreme winds, the parked car was vacant and cold. Feeling a strange relief by offering protection from the wind above, the hollow cave was not cold and defiantly not wet. We climbed down into a large crater style mouth where the interpretive signs, murdered by gun toters, were still legible. They verified the possibility of the car owners on a multi-day spelunking trip. Resurfacing we spot the approach of an open cockpit OHV. There were 2 helmeted, goggled, leather wearing occupants who turned around at this waypoint. Thinking of the Mad Max movies, I consider the possibility that some of the scenes were filmed here.

Continuing on, fortunately the landscape changed to rolling hills. We holed up behind one of them to block the winds. Though still breezy in our spot for the night, I was thankful that we didn’t need to display our 2’ of canvas pop up walls in the open, windy flats.

Hiking the area and climbing the hill at sunset the beauty was overwhelming. Here, there are vast expanses, clearly explored by man, yet unoccupied. Happily noted, there is not a human within double digit miles for the night. CLIN (Centrally Located In Nowhere) campers.

The months’ approaching full moon rose on the other horizon, a grounding reminder we were still on Earth.