Saturday, June 18, 2016



This is the second time we've stopped in Arco which is a pretty interesting little town. As the sign above says it was the first city in the world to be lit by atomic (nuclear) power.
The area south of Arco is a giant, flat desert. There's not much there, which I guess is why it's been used for nuclear reactor experimentation and development. We were told that it's also the area where they store nuclear waste from submarines. It's sealed in lead and buried. Most of the 900-square mile area belongs to the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory (INL) and is closed to the public. Not that I'd want to go there. The Arco reactor suffered a partial meltdown -- another World's First - in 1961 and three people were killed. A historical marker at a pull-off posted that "Since 1949, more nuclear reactors -- over 50 of them -- have been built on this plain than anywhere else in the world." No marker about the meltdown, though.

We had a conversation with an interesting man whom we met at the cafe in our RV park. He told us that he's a nuclear engineer in the Navy and he's stationed in Arco. This was pretty surprising until he explained why he was stationed there. The Navy trains its nuclear engineers at  INL because it's where the nuclear reactors for atomic subs and also aircraft carriers are built.  Since the cold war years, some 40,000 sailors have been trained in nuclear operations there. He also told us that the reactor for the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier, the Enterprise, was built there.

There's a bluff overlooking Arco called Number Hill. Every year the graduating class goes up and paints their class number on one of the rocks, and during class reunions the paint is refreshed. The earliest number we could identify was 20, which I assume means the tradition was started in 1920.

Craters of the Moon National Monument

The largest lava field in the contiguous United States is found in and around Craters of the Moon National Monument. The whole lava field spreads across 618 square miles, not all of which are in the monument. There's only one road that goes through a small portion of the monument, but there are a couple of hiking trails. We started our hike early, before the sun got to work and started reflecting off the lava.

Most of it looks pretty inhospitable and it's hard to imagine much of anything surviving. We visited at a good time since the wildflowers were blooming, adding color to the dark lava fields.

There were several areas that had carpets of tiny little flowers growing among the lava.

Some of the rocks were unusual shapes and colors. There were signs explaining why the rocks look the way they do. Interesting to read but not surprisingly I don't remember a lot of it.

This little rock weighed almost nothing, possibly because of gases trapped in the rock, and was almost iridescent. We read about some rocks that were referred to as blue glass - this looks like what they may have been referring to.

This was our second visit to Craters of the Moon and we're glad we came back. The last time we were there it was pretty hot, and unlike this time, there weren't too many signs of life. We probably wouldn't have gone back except for the advice of our friends Cheryl and Kay. We had a pretty unique visit with them - they were heading back to Colorado from Glacier NP and Craters of the Moon as we were heading west. Through the magic of email we were able to figure out how to meet at an exit on I-80. We found a nice little cafe and visited for a while, and took their suggestion to see Craters again. Glad we did and what a fun visit!


We spent a week near Boise, exploring the area and relaxing a bit. We went to back to the Snake River Birds of Prey Conservation Area with hopes of seeing more birds than we saw the last time.

We hiked along the banks of the Snake River and across an historic bridge to try to get a closer view of an eagles' nest located on a bluff overlooking the river.

We could see the eagles' nest, then saw an eaglet on the ground below the nest. It was pretty far away and tough to zoom in on with the camera (easier to see with binoculars) so I put an arrow in the photo pointing to the eaglet.

The conservator for the area told us that the eaglet had tried to fly but was unsuccessful. We could see the parent eagle hunting and bringing it food.

We hope the youngster makes it. It doesn't seem like the parents would be feeding it unless they expected it to survive.

Maps -

Boulder, WY to Arco, ID

Arco,ID to Caldwell (Boise) ID

1 comment:

  1. Great pics of the wild flowers. What an interesting place to visit. It'd be cool to know the story behind the nuclear meltdown among other details.