Many of you already know that we visited both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. We traveled north through the two parks camping in various strategic places and ending our visit at Mammoth Hot Springs campground within the park.
We left Yellowstone on June 10 via the North Entrance Road through Gardiner, Montana. Three days later, the Yellowstone River flooded and destroyed the North Entrance Road and several others, including the long drive through beautiful Lamar Valley, which is the prime area for viewing wildlife.
Both parks were wonderful! Both Bob and I were somewhat hesitant to visit Yellowstone because of the stories we’d heard about long lines of people waiting to get in, but we are now so glad we didn’t skip it. Yellowstone is truly a marvel that everyone should see.
Yellowstone is the first and largest national park at more than 3,500 square miles, containing more than 10,000 hydrothermal features (geysers, hot springs, fumaroles and mud pots). The 500 geysers comprise half of the geysers in the entire world. There are also 290 waterfalls. It’s really staggering to drive through the park and see just how big it is.
Scientists believe that this area of the country was created by a massive volcanic explosion a very long time ago that left behind vertical tunnels from the Earth’s crust down to the hot magma. The water is very acidic, in some places the acid is so potent that it will melt flesh, and with the surface being fragile it’s no wonder there are so many signs warning people to stay on the designated paths. Yet, every so often you hear about someone who wants to see just how hot the water is, and they generally lose their life for it. (The water can be close to 200°F and the steam over 300°F … stay on the path!)
After witnessing the remarkable beauty and nature of Grand Teton and Yellowstone, we are so sad that this disaster happened, but grateful that nobody was injured and also that we were not there when it happened!
On that note, enjoy a few photos of Grand Teton and Yellowstone.
Before Yellowstone, we passed through southern Idaho. What a delightful surprise that state is!
The trip into Idaho from Salt Lake City was quite pretty with the Wasatch Mountains framing us on the east and the Great Salt Lake peeking at us now and again on our west. That lake is huge! We knew it was big, but we didn’t know that it is the 6th largest lake in the US, only smaller than the five Great Lakes. But, just like every other lake and reservoir we’ve seen in the southwest, it’s shrinking. The lake is about 75 miles long and 35 miles wide, but it’s maximum depth when full is only 33’. It hasn’t been full for a long time. I’ve seen estimates of it’s current depth being 11 to 14 feet. We saw a lot of salt flats when we viewed the lake from Antelope Island.
Approaching Idaho, the terrain turns to beautiful rolling hills, fields of green very reminiscent of Vermont, but, unlike Vermont, hardly any trees. That trend continued all through southern Idaho. Miles and miles of fields planted with America’s favorite carbohydrate … potatoes! We have never seen so many irrigation devices going at the same time. Coming from the drought-stricken southwest, it was really strange to see so much water, especially since it rained a fair amount while we were in Idaho. I’m not going to lie, the bright spring green is absolutely lovely to look at following three brown months!
Our first stop was just outside of Twin Falls, Idaho. With a name like Twin Falls, we just had to go looking for those two waterfalls. What a surprise — there are at least a dozen natural waterfalls here! The 50 mile long Snake River Canyon skirts past the southern end of this town, and the snow melt from the mountains makes this the perfect time to go waterfall hunting. Some are big, thundering falls strong enough to supply power to the area, others are delicate ribbons of water cascading from the cliffs. It was fun driving around and hiking in search of them.
The drive from Twin Falls to Idaho Falls held another surprise: we passed signs telling us we were on the road to a place called Atomic City. Now, that’s a name we wouldn’t have been surprised to see in Nevada or even New Mexico, but Idaho? Our curiosity was piqued as we drove through the little town of Arco, past potato fields and into miles and miles of wide open, empty, desolate high desert. After about 30 miles of nothing, we came to a small cluster of signs: Atomic City; INL: Idaho National Laboratory; and EBR-1 Atomic Museum, A National Landmark. A museum in the middle of miles and miles of nothing? This deserved inspection and, lucky for us, the facility is now a museum was open.
In the 1940’s, after years of experimenting with nuclear energy in populated places like Chicago, the US Department of Energy went looking for a very large, desolate tract of land on which to build an experimental facility far from any populated area. They found this 890 square mile piece of barren desert in Idaho and began construction of the National Reactor Testing Station in 1949. Experimental Breeder Reactor 1 (EBR-1) was the first reactor built here. It would be followed by 52 more.
Two years after the experimental reactor was built, engineers successfully used nuclear fuel to power four 200-watt lightbulbs. The following day, they were able to power the entire building and parking lot. By 1953, the reactor was producing more power than it was using, and the nearby town of Arco became the first town in the world to be entire powered by nuclear energy!
For several years, the Idaho National Laboratory used EBR-1 and also constructed other experimental reactors on this site, learning and growing as they went along. Until 1961 when the first nuclear accident occurred. At that time, control rods were inserted and removed manually, and on January 3 three military employees of EBR-1 were tasked with powering up the reactor after a Christmas break. Twenty-six-year-old Richard Legg was on top of the reactor and the two other men were off to the side. Nobody knows exactly what happened, but the speculation is that the rod somehow stuck as Legg was attempting to carefully pull the rod up causing him to accidentally pull the rod too quickly or too far out of the reactor. It took 4 milliseconds for the explosion to occur. The entire reactor was lifted nine feet off the ground, the two men standing nearby were killed where they stood and Legg was found impaled to the ceiling. Radiological team members assigned to examining and cleaning up the scene were allowed into the building for only one minute at a time. The three dead men’s bodies were ultimately encased in lead and buried.
The field of nuclear engineering learned some very important lessons from this accident, not the least of which is to never again allow a human to manually manipulate a control rod. That tasks has been relegated to computers ever since.
Today, EBR-1 has been decontaminated, protected and is open to the public as a museum which President Lyndon Johnson designated a National Landmark. It’s a fascinating look at the development of an industry that most of us know little about. Nuclear experimentation continues on this 890 square mile property now known as the Idaho National Laboratory.
One final note ..
I logged onto WordPress to write this blog post and received a congratulatory note … my blog has been viewed 5,000 times since I started it. In the grand scheme of blogs, that’s a drop in the bucket. But, for a tool that we started to give friends and family a single place to keep up with our adventures and find out where we are, that’s kind of huge! There are a few folks following us who we have never met, as well as friends we’ve met along the way. So, thanks to everyone for stopping by! We hope you’re enjoying our stories!