Idaho’s Black Butte is otherworldly destination

Instead of an actual trail, jumbled volcanic rock dictates that you meander through its obstacle course. Each turn brings you closer to the summit that tops out just up the road from the Shoshone Ice Caves, but progress was slow.

The immense stone garden that is traversed continually changes. Early on, the ground surface contains enough soil interspersed between rocks to support a mix of native vegetation such as sagebrush, bunchgrasses and the emergence of forbs. Halfway to the top, any evidence of soil had disappeared and only the occasional sagebrush and fern bush persists. Soon after, only dark lava rock remains.

While this shield volcano was only one of many across the Snake River Plain responsible for spreading liquid basalt across the landscape, Black Butte has several features that separate it from the rest. The eruption of Black Butte occurred only 10,000 years ago.

The most dramatic sight encountered comes at the summit itself. Rather than finishing out with an indistinct crest, much of the top of Black Butte is missing. Instead, you find a crater-like basin with several stair-stepped levels that lead downward from the west to its deepest point 200 feet below the rim.

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