Sunday, July 14, 2019

Salmon River Scenic Byway

Traveling Hwy 93 northward from Arco, Idaho to Missoula, Montana was one of the most scenic drives we've experienced.  This two lane road travels through the Salmon River Valley.  It was a mostly curvy road as it followed the river through mountain ranges, fertile, green valleys and desert hillsides. Labeled the Salmon River Scenic Byway, this section of Hwy 93 even runs along portions of the Lewis and Clark Trail.  Here are just a few photo highlights I made while peering out our motorhome windshield.  Please excuse the bug spatters. 
The road begins fairly straight and somewhat flat.

Here Hwy 93 is entering a narrow rocky gorge and the road seems to disappear into the rocks.  At the time we didn't realize we would get this view a few more times.

We enjoyed many windshield views like this one, green irrigated valleys surrounded by high, rocky mountain ranges.  This day's drive was about a 230 mile trek.  We made several rest stops along the way but with averaging about 45 miles an hour to navigate all those curves, it made for a very long day for Ronnie.

Ronnie was pretty tired after this exhausting day's drive.  The road was almost all curves with very few straight stretches of highway, many of them somewhat narrow.  We had many views like this one where the road just seemed to disappear into the rocks.

This section of Hwy 93 displayed a mostly a dry, rocky landscape.

Evidence of hay field irrigation here.

Again, the road seemed to curve and disappear into the dry mountainside.

Highway 93 continued to follow along the Salmon River.  We traveled through several small towns and communities like Challis and Salmon, however I only made pictures of the interesting landscape of towering hillsides and surrounding mountains.

The thunder clouds gathered and a small sprinkle of rain fell.  Unfortunately it was not enough to wash the bugs off the windshield. 

After a long hill climb up into the Bitterroot Mountain Range, we reached the Idaho/Montana border. We were at 6995ft at the Lost Trail Pass, named for where Lewis and Clark crossed the Bitterroot Divide in 1805.  At the Lost Trail Powder Mountain Ski Rest Area, the beargrass was in full bloom that day.

Descending down the mountain, we entered the Bitterroot Valley and the highway leveled out to flat terrain.  The next five nights, we lucked out with a riverside campsite at River Edge Campground just west of Missoula.  From our campsite we saw osprey, eagles, deer and the freight train as it followed the Clark Fork River.

We spent a day exploring Petty Creek Road up to the Jack Saloon and Restaurant, a day exploring downtown Missoula and also gearing up for our upcoming time in Glacier National Park.
The Jack Saloon, built in 1972-73, has an unusual history. Notice the three hefty cedar logs that make up the side walls.

The building was made around that one huge cedar log that makes the bar.
The surrounding mountain views were amazing and the food was pretty good too.

We also came across this large herd of Big Horn Sheep on the Petty Creek Road, sheep were everywhere.

Time seems to be flying by again.
More Later
from Kalispell, Montana.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

What Else Did We Discover In and Around Arco?

As we entered Arco's downtown district (Hwy 26), we saw an interesting roadside display that has become known as the "submarine in the desert".  It's the conning tower from the fast-attack nuclear submarine USS Hawksbill. It was brought to Arco in 2003 to signify the community's support for the armed forces as well as to show the town's unique history with nuclear energy.

Arco was also the first town to temporarily to use, in 1955, nuclear peacetime-produced electricity (the electricity actually came from a separate plant that shut down later in 1956).  EBR-1 is an acronym for Experimental Breeder Reactor #1.  On December 20, 1951, 4 electric light bulbs were first lit using nuclear fission to power steam turbines that generated electricity.  (Sounds so simple..but was it not!) We discovered much about how nuclear energy is produced from this very informative Visitor Center.  Located about 15 miles east of town on Hwy 26, EBR-1 is not far off the road and easy to see.

The Self-Guided tour was perfect for us. We could take our time and sort of internalize (meaning read and re-read) the complicated steps of how nuclear fission happens and the process of how the electricity is then produced.

 Photo on the left is the very important SCRAM switch.  It stands for Safety Control Rod Axe Man.  Hitting this button stops the nuclear reaction.  The photo on the right is of the actual reactor.  Of course all of the necessary parts inside have been removed and it is very safe for the public to view.

 Photo on the right is from an information board about how peaceful nuclear energy was born.  You can see a photo of the 4 light bulbs lit from nuclear power in the lower left of the poster.  The actual 4 bulbs were on display in the museum.  Photo on the right is 'hand-signatured' evidence of the actual event.  Engineers on site that day wrote their names in chalk on the wall to commemorate the event.  A sheet of glass hangs over their names to protect their signatures.

I probably should have taken more photographs but I was too busy trying to comprehend and understand the complex steps of this process.  EBR-1 was decommissioned in 1964.  Soon, EBR-2 was built in 1964 and it produced nuclear electricity until 1994.
Located about 5 miles from the EBR-1 is the 900 square mile Idaho National Laboratory. Closed to the public, this isolated site is a major center for national security technology development and demonstration.  There is a lot of history here too.  Initially it began as an artillery test range in the 1940's and it was also used for performing maintenance on the Navy's high powered turreted guns.  Even the prototype reactor for the world's first nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus was made here as well as training of many of the nation's nuclear submarine operators.

Just outside of Arco we finally got to see evidence of the Oregon Trail.  White trail markers indicate this road where the Emigrants headed westward in search of fertile ground to start a new way of life.  This section of the Oregon Trail, called the Goodale's Cutoff, travels around Arco and skirts the Craters of the Moon Monument.  Originally an old Indian and fur trading trail, this section was discovered to be a somewhat safer section.  At a total length of 230 miles, it avoided a part of the original Oregon Trail that came to be known for Indian attacks.  Around 1862, the Goodale's Cutoff became more widely traveled due to its safety.  To learn more about Goodale's Cutoff, click this link
Here, you can see how the Oregon Trail goes around the steep hillside.

The Oregon Trail's Goodale's Cutoff skirted the lava beds of Craters of the Moon, just too rocky to go through there.  It moves towards this small naturally occurring body of water called Lava Lake.  Can you imagine how thankful the Emigrants were for this water after traveling in this rocky, dry land?

My mind cannot help but to somehow try to comprehend how happy those weary travelers must have been to find this amount of water for themselves and their animals.

Next, we discovered Mackay Reservoir.  Located northward on Hwy 93, the views of the Lost River Mountain Range were impressive.

The small community of Mackay has a rich mining history too.  We found out from a local resident there was an old mine, with signage, good for exploring.  You can see Mackay in the valley below.

Copper was the mineral the miners were after.  Still standing, they built several of these cable towers to bring the ore down to the smelter.

Unfortunately, the last section of road to the top aerial tramway loading station was closed.  So we turned around and were amazed by the Lost River Mountain Range views!  Some of these peaks are over 12,000ft.

We enjoyed the old mining smelter site, partially restored for visitors to learn how the mine operated.  The Mackay mine was one of the largest mines in Idaho digging over 1 million tons of ore..some gold, copper and silver.

We found a great display of old mining equipment.

In the Shay Railroad House, we found this old 1928 GMC truck.

We found so much to see and enjoy in Arco, Idaho.  The most pleasant surprise were the delicious, 'so tender the meat just fell off the bone' smoked ribs and very tasty smoked potato all served from Mountain View RV Park's Cafe.
So very, very yummy.

More Later from the Missoula, Montana area.

Monday, July 8, 2019

An Awesome Week in Arco

Where is Arco?  It's in south central Idaho at the intersection of Hwy 93, Hwy 26 and Hwy 20.  Leaving Idaho Falls, we went about 65 miles westward to land at Mountain View RV Park in Arco, Idaho.  We were able to get into one of their best campsites to enjoy these great views of Arco Peak.  The July 4th fireworks display in front of the mountain range was extraordinary as well!

Arco, located about 20 miles east of Craters of the Moon National Monument, served as our homebase for the week.  Soon we set out to explore this strange landscape of volcanic origin.  Even though you don't see volcanoes anywhere, you do see buttes and cinder cones off in the distance.  It seems all this lava oozed out from a big crack in the earth called the Great Rift.  Driving through this National Monument, it's obvious that some of the lava flows are more recent than others.  Scientists state that the lava began to flow around 15,000 years ago with the most recent flow around 2000 years ago.  The seven mile loop road travels by cinder cones, spatter cones, smooth lava, globs of lava, crusty lava, dead trees, live trees and small brushy plants trying to survive in this dry, black rocky environment.  It is a very surreal landscape.
To learn more about the history of Craters of the Moon National Monument, click on this link
We walked to the top of Inferno Cone for extremely wide views of the surrounding landscape.  At 618 feet, the walk up wasn't too was the walk down that made me dizzy. (Not for Ronnie however, heights don't bother him.)

Views from the top are stunning on this clear, cool day.

The cinder rocks at the top are feather-light and have an iridescent, bubbly appearance.

You can see the Monument's Loop Road off in the distance.

In the lower left corner, you can see a car on the Monument's Loop Road plus the Lost Mountain Range off in the background.

Other paved trails wind throughout the lava flows.  Because this landscape resembles the moon's, in 1969 NASA used this area for training astronauts Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchel, Eugene Cernan and Joe Engle for basic lava geology.

Spatter cones are formed when lava shoots out from a fissure or crack in hot, molten chunks.  These sticky rocks then stack up to create a cone-like form.  There are paved trails lead up to the top so you can look down inside them.

One of the spatter cones still had ice inside!

We happened to arrive during the wildflower season.  There are over 750 variety of plants and wildflowers here, some of which can only grow in lava cinders.

From a distance the flowers just look like patches of dryish moss but when you observe them up close you see the pops of color and intricate flower petals.

I found the Devil's Orchard Natural Trail quite interesting.  The gnarly dead trees and lichen covered rocks created such an amazing variety of nature's textures and patterns.

We didn't get to explore the Lava Caves or the Tree Molds Trail, gotta leave something to check out for next time.

More Later from Arco, Idaho.