Week 4, Part 3: Strange Idaho

 

Aside from Oregon, Idaho was by far the most interesting state to drive through. Breathtaking mountains welcomed me as I crossed the border, and despite being very close visually to Utah, it just seemed more exciting. 20170309_181056

This was the sight from the first gas station we stopped at in Idaho. I went to an A&W for the first time and had some wonderfully horrible fast food while enjoying this view. At the same time, I also saw more pickup trucks stop at and leave from the gas station than I have ever seen before in my life. Mountains and pickup trucks seemed to outnumber people (I know this fundamentally doesn’t make sense but it was crazy).

As the sun set, we continued driving until we reached Pocatello, Southeastern Idaho’s largest town. It was not very large. I did however have good meals while I was here, with plentiful comfort food wherever you went. I especially enjoyed the Pocatello Co-op, a small little market converted from an old soda fountain joint that specialized in serving fresh foods with locally sourced ingredients. My lamb burger was delicious, and I am not a big fan of lamb.

It wasn’t until our drive northwest that things in Idaho became most interesting. My mom and I wanted to see Craters of the Moon, a huge area of lava fields with caves and holes in the lava, and to get there we had to drive through a really strange part of Idaho, let alone the world.

The area around Atomic City and Butte Falls was that strange place.

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Atomic City was the first city in the world (along with Arco nearby) to run on nuclear power. Nearby was EBR-I, or Experimental Breeder Reactor 1, the first atomic reactor to produce usable electricity. This accomplishment was achieved December 20th, 1951. In 1955 Atomic City was lit. Booming during the Atomic Age, the town quickly dwindled after a series of meltdowns and explosions, most notably the SR-1 reactor explosion in 1961, drove people out of town. The town itself and the area around it is one of the most radioactively polluted areas in the United States.

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Right next to Atomic City is Idaho National Laboratories, a sprawling government installation maintained and ran by the US Department of Energy. The site is extremely secretive. Trespassing at the very least attracts agents to the scene, and if you carry anything deemed to be a weapon or a threat on to the property illegally you will be “seriously injured” as stated by the hundreds of signs posted along the outskirts of the lab’s land.

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The entrypoint to INL
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A watchtower rises above the hills outside INL
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INL nestled behind some ominous fog and power lines

There are all kinds of conspiracy and strange stories attached to this place and the areas around it. Hundreds of owls have been reported to drop dead around the area, a legitimate report from a local news outlet. It’s an eerie place with a clouded past, but it is also a source of great technological advancement. Regardless your viewpoints on this strange place, it makes for an interesting road trip. I am a huge fan of fog and secret government operations.

After we got out of the Butte Falls area, we discovered the Craters of the Moon was inaccessible due to snow. However we did stop at a very beautiful and still tremendously interesting lava field just outside the monument, and I grabbed some photos.

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A massive 15+ image panorama of the surrounding area. I walked to this huge volcanic rock from the road at the edge of the surrounding mountains to get this shot.

Later on after leaving this area we passed by the Snake River. After seeing a pixelized picture of the river in Oregon Trail last year in Dr. Rosinbaum’s class, I have always wanted to see it. I had no idea I would on this trip! Below is a phone photo of the river from a restaurant where I had lunch:

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After a fantastic lunch on the Snake River, my mom wanted to see one of the waterfalls in the river. I got some interesting photos from there as well!

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Looking down

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From here we drove to Boise, got there for dinner, and kept driving late into the night until we got to our hotel in John Day OR at about 1am.

I left Idaho a huge fan, and not because the potatoes were good or the people were friendly. It was because it’s a strange place, with lots of interesting and often overlooked qualities.

Hopefully I’ll be back someday!

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