Over the past three months I have taken many trips down Memory Lane, revisiting sites I’d not seen in years or even decades. This past Labor Day I made my second hike in thirty years to southern Idaho’s Pillar Butte. Dubbed Molly’s Nipple by early settlers, Pillar Butte looks more like a benign pimple sitting on its rock cushion than the fiery cauldron that some 2,270 years ago blew out blast pits and spewed the lava covering much of the 125-square-mile Wapi lava flow that is part of the Great Rift.
The roads, for the most part, were good, except for the rocky, rutted Crystal Ice Cave road, which composed the last seven or so miles to Wapi Park. I had traveled this road in a pickup, but it was a rough, slow go. THESE served as our transports on this trip and, trust me, are the only way to travel those desert roads.
I had never ridden in a RZR before and was grateful at first for the grip bar on the passenger’s side. However, the ride wasn’t bad at all, and by the time we reached the Ice Caves road I had let go of the bar, picked up my camera, and recorded my first RZR ride. It’s tame by most standards, but I sure thought it was fun!
At any rate, we reached Wapi Park and prepared for the two-hour trek to the butte. The broad lavas stretched before us, swirling and swelling into the lobes and toes characteristic of a pahoehoe flow. While the footing was good overall, we did encounter stretches of loose, shale-like rock, along with some sizeable cracks and pits.
We had made pretty good time, but as we neared the butte the going got a lot tougher. Blast pits and thin-shelled tubes that a foot could break through surrounded the cone. The easiest route would have required a mile-long hike to the east, then circling around to the butte’s south side. However, it was close to noon, and we were hungry and wanted to eat our lunch on the summit. We inched our way into one of the blast pits, scrambled up the other side, and then made our way up the cone.
Near the top, I looked down and noticed the junipers and a beautiful pattern on the floor of this pit.
To the west this island of untouched earth, called a kipuka, lies amid the lava sea.
We even saw a rainbow around the sun.
After lunch we descended the cone and went to look for a cave supposedly located somewhere southeast of the butte. Along the way, I took this beautiful shot of the cone with the lavas cascading away from it.
Incidentally, this area had been a military target during WWII. While most of the empty 50-caliber casings have been picked up over the years, one still turns up from time to time. My brother found this one laying atop the rocks.
We didn’t find the cave, but we did find scores of interesting lava formations.
At one point I glanced at the butte and, for all the world, it appeared to be glowering at me.
I zoomed in for a closer look. Sure enough, there was a face in the cone’s south flank and it did not look happy. In fact, it looked flat-out furious!
I wondered, with some amusement, what had ticked the old boy off. Maybe he’s still smarting from all those artillery rounds. Maybe he resented us eating lunch on his scalp. Or maybe he just HATES being called “Molly’s Nipple!”
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