Day 19 – Craters of the Moon

As hoped with the adjusted schedule from yesterday, I was able to get rolling just after 7 this morning which got me to Craters of the Moon National Monument just after 9 in the morning which was at least two hours earlier than if I had camped in Mountain home as planned.

Craters of the Moon is an area of the Snake River Rift valley.  This region was formed as the continental crust drifted over a hot spot in the mantle.  Yellowstone is currently over this hot spot, hence all of the geological and geothermal activity there.

The entire region is covered with cinder cone volcanoes of various ages and sizes and lava, lots of lava.  Everywhere you look there is lava of one sort or another.  There are even lava tubes that have opened up and are now caves.  A few of which you can get into and explore.  I just went through the biggest (and quickest) as I didn’t want to spend the whole day here – though I easily could have.  All in all it’s a pretty interesting place.

As this was really just a travel day and CotM happened to be along the way I wanted to stop.  But after three hours it was noon and I had seen most of the highlights of the park, so it was time to roll again.

I got back on the road headed for West Yellowstone and my campground, but after only about 45 minutes I came across a sign advertising EBR-1 Historic site and since I had just entered an area designated as the Idaho National Laboratory, I was intrigued.  I followed the sign down the road, only a mile out of my way, and found myself at EBR-1. That’s Experimental Breeder Reactor #1, the world’s first nuclear power reactor.

It first went online in 1951 and was decommisisoned in ’64 and is now a national historic site and you can tour the place.  So I did.  Pretty interesting stuff.  The best factoid is that the word scram – as in to shut something (a nuclear reactor for instance) OFF quickly is an acronym.  Seems the Manhatten project reactor had a sophisticated emergency system – a guy with an axe would cut a rope which would release a control rod into the nulear pile.  Hence; Safety Control Rod Axe Man – or SCRAM.

I’m always amazed at what sort of things our government and military were willing to consider during the Cold War – especially the early years.  Turns out there was serious investigation into developing nuclear powered…

wait for it…


They actually went so far as to build actual test engines.  The idea never went too far, they realized advancements in conventional jet engines were surpassing their experiment.  Not to mention the safety concerns about nuclear reactors flying around and possibly crashing or being shot down.  Of course they did crash one or blow it up or something to prove that it would be safe.  I feel safe, don’t you?

After about an hour there, I saw all there was to see and headed off for some lunch and the rest of my day’s drive.  I made to West Yellowstone and one of the nicest KOA campgrounds yet.  It would be perfect if the WiFi worked at my actual campsite, but that’s the only complaint.  Not too bad since I’m supposed to be camping!

Day 2

Day two began early – I was awake at 5 a.m. in anticipation of the shuttle landing, thinking it was at about 5:30.  Turns out it wasn’t until 7:15. Oh well, t was a beautiful morning.  The landing was exciting as usual.  Didn’t sleep well anyway as it was still about 90 degrees when I crawled into the tent and then the wind blew all night long, though it didn’t seem to cool things off any.

I rolled out of the campground about 9 o’clock and discovered that the Badlands entrance was just a few miles from my scheduled stop at the Minuteman site.  Since my tour wasn’t schedule until 1:30, it was the perfect way to spend the morning.  I took a leisurely drive through the Badlands park, stopping to take some pictures.  It’s an amazing landscape.  I can’t image being one of those early pioneers running into that mess in a covered wagon.

The Bandlands loop drive (westbound) ends up at Wall, SD.  I stopped at Wall Drug, but it was pretty much as I remembered, so I don’t think I spent 5 minutes there.  From there it was a bit of a backtrack, only 20 miles, to the Missile Site.  It was pretty interesting, but I think it’s clear what spending 24 hours at a time locked in a box prepared to destroy the world does to a person.  One of the Park Service Rangers who led the tour was a former Missileer, and he was just a bit odd.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

I pulled into the Mt. Rushmore campground about 6 and have my campsite set up, so I’m going to grab a bite to eat and then think I’ll head over to Mt. Rushmore – I think they still light it up at night.