A Visual and Educational Day
Trip Start Jun 18, 2010
61Trip End Ongoing
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Another driving day with more
After our great stay at the Mt. Home RV Park, we were once again up and on the road early in our effort to make it to The Grand Teton National Park in northwest Wyoming by the end of the day; a quick stop at the local Wal Mart just down the road from the RV Park enabled us to do the grocery resupply on the way out of town.
I must admit, I goofed twice in quick succession at this point of the day
As it turned out, after the initial climb into the foothills of the Sawtooth Mountains, this highway was a really great choice. The traffic was light, the road surface was good and the views phenomenal; we were very pleased with the route when we suddenly realized that this took us right along the northern edge of the Craters of the Moon National Monument.
Now neither one of us had put this on today’s agenda, but as we drove along, the landscape turned really bizarre and mesmerizing; I finally had to take my camera away from Karen because after every turn in the road it was "look at this" click-click-click; “wow, this is different” click-click-click; “how strange is that” click-click-click. We probably had 50 pictures and we had only driven about a half of a mile
Just to reassure everyone that my “bizarre” comment is not just a personal opinion, in 1924 when President Calvin Coolidge established Craters of the Moon National Monument, it is said he referred to this geological lava uplift as “a weird and scenic landscape, peculiar to itself”. I would have to say he nailed his description perfectly.
We pulled in to the Visitor’s Center to learn more about this vast unusual terrain; the center has the typical listings of Ranger hikes, evening programs, along with many examples of life for the Shoshone Indians as they passed through the area and a narrated film of how the landscape came into existence. After viewing the film, we felt armed with a very superficial understanding of the area, so we took off on a seven mile driving loop to the major features. These all have their own mysterious names like: North Crater Flow, Devils Orchard, Inferno Cone and Spatter Cone; each has parking and hiking trails that extend further out into the lava crusted landscape.
We stopped and hiked up to view into the Spatter Cone feature. This is just what it sounds like; when the lava flowed to the surface thousands of years ago, certain spots would continue to spit and burp these foamy cinders which would form an edge and over time more would plop out eventually forming a cone. The two cones we took a look into were probably 30’ tall with an opening at the top about 10’ in diameter. This solidified lava foam is lying everywhere, however, just like all national parks, they say don’t take souvenirs; they do, however, encourage you to pick this stuff up and feel it. I picked up a chunk about the size of a large suitcase with one hand and it felt like I was lifting a rock sponge. Too bad I didn’t have all that strength when I was moving “real” rocks around back home; we decided this stop was well worth the time.
As we continued on east on Hwy 20 we were discussing this Craters of the Moon area when we passed through Arco, Idaho. Once again, we didn’t know anything about this town, but I couldn’t help but notice a marquee sign above Arco’s city hall: “First City in the World to be lit by Atomic Power”. Now if this won’t catch your eye, I don’t know what would.
It turns out that on July 17, 1955, the city of Arco was briefly powered by a connection to the output of an Army experimental nuclear reactor located at the present day facility called the Idaho National Laboratory which is just a few miles further down the road. Sadly enough, just six years later this area made history again by becoming the site of the world’s first (and the US’ only) fatal nuclear reactor accident. While these events are interesting, once again, they are beyond the scope of this blog (if interested; Google “BORAX experiments or SL-1 reactor). Who knew vacations could be so educational?
Leaving this historical area for Idaho Falls and points east, we continued our journey on Hwy 26; this passes through some of the largest wheat producing farms in the state. Harvesting was in full swing in some areas with combines and grain trucks performing their annual ritual in a cycle that operates 24/7 and doesn’t stop until the last section is harvested. As we were cruising down this highway viewing this harvest and with the Caribou Mountain Range on the horizon, I was reminded of the first few lines and lyrics of “America The Beautiful”, first penned as a poem by Katharine Lee Bates in 1893.
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
I think I might have actually broken out in my finest shower voice startling Karen who was probably thinking I had absorbed too much radioactive lava dust from back down the road. In any event, it was truly one of the many unique moments on this adventure that I won’t soon forget.
As we closed in on the edge of Idaho, we passed through the small town of Swan Valley and turned north on Hwy 31 toward the Wyoming state line. This was the shortest route to the Jackson Hole area and The Grand Teton National Park; this was mistake number three for the day.
Now I know when you go into the mountains, there are steep grades and high elevation passes so it wasn’t a complete surprise when we started climbing to Teton Pass at 8,429’. This access highway was constructed some number of years ago so it is not as large vehicle friendly as most roads are today; we encountered some 10% grades without passing lanes and this slowed the old motorhome down considerably
While admiring the view and letting both me and the motorhome cool off, I struck up a conversation with a guy on a bicycle doing the same thing. It turns out he had just ridden up from the Jackson side and was just about to start back down; like I’ve said before these people are insane, healthy but insane. As he started down, I pulled out to follow him down and attempt to run interference for him with the traffic coming from behind us. I saw us reach speeds of 50 MPH in some places and that bothered me inside this big steel vehicle; I couldn’t fathom being on this road at these speeds on two skinny narrow bicycle tires.
At the bottom, we turned to find our campground, The Moose Road RV Park, in the town of Wilson, WY; we decided we had driven, hiked, viewed and learned enough; we were done for the day.