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Published: October 11th 2007
Onaxthiel Writes: We awoke to another foggy day. We had been hoping that the weather system that we were under would pass over in the night. It really hadn't. A low lying fog enveloped craters of the moon and a combination of mist and snow fell on the road as we headed back into the monument. We drove the scenic loop in the low viability and got out at every “scenic” stop to see what we could, and it was always more fog. The most interesting spot was a foot trail that was three quarters of a mile out to a small volcanic cone. Problem: in the fresh snow and 100 ft. visibility fog, we couldn't figure out where the path was, which direction the cone was, or how we would get back to the car other than following our foot prints back once we were lost in the fog. We opted not to try this route and instead pressed on to the next stop, splatter cones. A splatter cone is what happens when volcanoes burp up tiny little chunks of rock and lava at low velocity, thereby creating a rather unambitious looking mound right around the eruption site. We wandered
around the well marked and paved path near the base of the trail and then up a steep hill face to view an elongated lava crack. The trip up the hill was unusually steep and slick, two steps forward and one step back all the way up thanks to the snow and moisture. At the top we were pleased to be able to see all the way down to the jagged (no longer active) break in the earths crust, though the details were lost in whiteout. Are you getting a feeling for the trend of this day yet? The way back down to the car was kind of like a skiing run. More so for Obfuscator than myself, as his shoes had far worse traction than my boots. The sun looked like it was going to break through the gray for a few minutes there, but then the clouds ran BOB over again. We next went to a stop entirely devoted to caves. They were really more lava tubes like the Ice Caves we had seen in Oregon, but less icy. Again, a decent path to the caves made it possible to properly access the sites without fear of getting
lost in the murk, so out we went. The first stop on the path was Dewdrop cave and was quite unimpressive. We were so underwhelmed that we briefly discussed skipping the rest and laying down tread towards Wyoming. I'm glad the sun broke through enough to make it worth while to stick around and get ourselves into a few more holes in the ground. The next cave we went to was Beauty cave. It was noticably nicer than Dewdrop, but I'm not sure it quite earned the title Beauty. Perhaps Interesting Cave With Cracks would have been more appropriate. The last one we went to was certainly the best, Indian cave. This cave starts with a short and scenic lava loop to the right and then becomes a walk under of a series of natural bridges left by the collapse of the tube. The way the light (the sun was at least half out at this point) played on the stone, the steam and water dripping from above made this the most beautiful thing that we saw for the day. The little side hollows that dotted the walls also endeared this sequence of arches to me. Lastly we moved to
a place called Devils orchard, where the magma cooled into all sorts of vaguely plant-like shapes. The sun was now bright enough to mean that this was a scenic walk, even though the park service doesn't want anyone off the path these days.
After pulling out of Craters of the Moon, our route took us back to Arco one more time, so we had an opportunity to take some photos. Arco has the distinction of being the first town in the world to ever be serviced by electricity generated from the power of the atom! SCIENCE! I do not believe the town is powered this way anymore, but it is still a cool little bit of retro 1955s super science. Arco also has on display the conning tower of the submarine USS Hawkbill (hull number 666, for this god fearing little community in Wyoming.) as a memorial to submariners in general, and Atomic Submariners in particular. It turns out that due to it's support of nuclear research (by keeping department of energy research facilities right in their neighborhood) the navy named one of it's floating dry docks for nuclear subs after the town. Lastly we stopped off at Butte
high school one more time to get a photo of the Pirates' ship, a steel masterpiece of homecoming floats, which will no doubt be covered in Butte Pirates for their homecoming game this weekend. On our way out of town we stopped at Experimental Breeder Reactor 1, the atomic energy plant that started it all back in 1955. While shut down for the winter, this Department of Energy tourist spot still has all its radiation warning signs up to make sure the unwary don't break into their labs and gain superpowers/ create giant fire breathing lizards/ end up glowing in the dark/ steal their antique prototype atomic jet pack/ die a slow and painfully lingering death due to radiation poisoning. (Obfuscator adds: Or hanta virus, the other thing clearly marked to be wary of at the site.) I rather wish I had a rads badge to see how hot the zone was, but I will have to reassure myself by knowing that I didn't feel any inexplicable nausea until at least two hours after visiting the site. (Yes, this is a joke. Obfuscator and I do not appear to be suffering from any radiation poisoning symptoms. Although he DID have
an inexplicable headache last night...hmmm...) The site also houses the testing material from Eisenhower era research into an atomic bomber. Not a bomber to drop atoms, (although it was going to do that.) but a bomber powered by a nuclear jet engine. The program was ended under Kennedy, but not before some excellent proof of concept work was done in the empty parts of Idaho. They even had a massive, radiation shielded diesel powered rail engine to be used to move the aircraft out of its hangar and into a launch position. I think I miss the potential futures people used to believe in. Out past the EBR-1 is a small town called Atom City. It is mostly abandoned, with perhaps one hundred or so citizens and reminders that it was once where scientists and technicians working at the lab lived. I think that town misses the '50s potential futures, too.
This was the time we caught up with the weather that had blown over us in the morning, and it had only gotten worse out here. The next few hours were hard sleet and snow. This meant that cruise was inadvisable and there was virtually zero visibility past
100 yards. Our drive took us to a small town called Montpelier, on the border with Wyoming, for food. On the road again for a few more hours and a stop for the night in the town of Green River, WY for yet another motel to stay dry and warm for the night. I can now unreservedly state that at the moment I am sick of motels. Nice as some of them are, I miss my bivy. Hopefully we will remedy this tonight.
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