Wednesday, July 09, 2008

From Yellowstone to Boise, Idaho

Ethan and I raced out of West Yellowstone, which was a fine little tourist town I would have liked to peruse, but time and distance pulled at us strong. Besides, we were a bit "saturated" with tourism by that point and needed to feel the open road. Our objective was Idaho Falls, a looonngggg ways away at the 55-65 mph that most traffic was maintaining on the smaller highways. Nevertheless, we forged ahead and soon were pulling into town at dusk.

Since we were essentially traveling over the 4th of July holiday, a big objective was to see some of the hit movies along the way, one of them being Will Smith's "Hancock." And lo and behold! A theater loomed just off the highway, and soon we were hunkered down munching on popcorn enjoying the flick. I'd give the movie an overall 7.5 out of 10 (would have scored higher were it not for the confusing end).

We hadn't even bothered to find a motel prior to the movie because, as I'd come to learn on this trip, there really isn't any point. There is almost always extra capacity in the towns we were in, and you just come to accept the room rates for what they are - usually between $28-$50/night, although I did have to spend $70+ one night when I just couldn't soldier on to a campground.

The next morning I was committed to making it to Boise but had no idea what I was truly up against: two very cool National monuments that would consume most of our day! Ever cruised down the highway in the deep Southwest and seen the signs for "The Thing?" Been driven to near madness wondering what it was? Well... a similar fate attached its tentacles to Ethos and I in the form of the "EBR-1." What the H$#@*&ll was an EBR-1? Sign after bloody sign... poking us in the eyes, taunting us, unraveling our brains which were already starting to decompose after so many hot days on the road. Government cars and some sort of National Research Facility in the middle of bumf**k, Idaho only piqued my curiosity. Finally, we drew near. The sign pointed to the left, 2 miles further and hopefully answers aplenty.

EXPERIMENTAL BREEDER REACTOR - #1. OMG. This is the very first nuclear power plant to generate electricity (vs. blowing the crap out of things!). I was fascinated, and even Ethan was a bit excited as we pulled up to the otherwise nondescript brick building in the middle of nowhere. The heat was a blast furnace, but the horizon was punctuated by the large twin turbine-looking objects across the lot from where we parked (more on those later!).

EBR-1 was successful at making 4 light bulbs glow in 1951, followed the next day by powering the town of Arco, ID, about 30 miles to the West. The plant seemed largely how it must have operated in the late '40's and early '50's, complete with concrete floors, a warehouse-like feel and, oh yeah - an honest-to-gosh Control Room that had more dials, switches, and gauges than you could shake a stick at.

The dawn of Atomic Power, and we were standing in the middle of it. Holy cow!  My 3 favorite moments:
  1. The neon sign that says "All of the electricity now in use in this facility of Argonne National Laboratory is Atomic Power." Cool.
  2. The small push cart sporting a Teletubbies-like "Nunu" vacuum device with a small plaque that simply stated "Nuclear Measurement." Egads.
  3. The dead moth in the bottom of one of the dials in the Control Room. Huh?!! ;-)

Well... I would also be remiss if I didn't mention the "SCRAM" button for shutting down the entire joint in the event of a reactor emergency, or Etho playing with a fuel rod manipulator. Really, a cool danged place. Check out my Flickr album for additional photos of EBR-1 and those wicked turbine-looking things that turned out to be experimental nuclear-powered *aircraft engines.* Whoa!

Leaving the NukeStation(tm), we headed down the highway for Craters of the Moon. I had high hopes for this Nat'l Park, and wasn't disappointed. The place was strewn with chunky lava boulders and it could very well have passed for another planet (or moon as the case may be). Cost us $7 to take the 12-mile drive, but the hook was definitely the opportunity to do some mild spelunking. Yep, you read right: hiking through underground caves.

Fortunately, since we were camping boys, flashlights were readily at hand. And what Scout could pass up an opportunity to venture into a hole called "Boy Scout Cave." Warned that there might be ice at the bottom of the cave, Etho and I stepped lively and bravely ahead. And promptly fell on our asses! Hard to believe it was 95 degrees up top, but a cool 40 degrees or thereabouts in the interior, cool enough for the frozen sheet of floor ice to persist throughout the Summer. The footing was precarious enough, but the entrance also required some squirming through a narrow passageway before opening up. These so-called caves were actually "Lava Tubes" that had collapsed and afforded an entrance to their interior. The park signage was informative and we had a good time before departing.

As predicted (by me) earlier in the day, it was late middle afternoon before we once again stretched our legs on the highway heading towards Boise. A long day, but a rewarding one (did I mention we started at Denny's for breakfast?). Trouble was... it was a long day, and I was getting tired. My thought was to try and stake out a camp site before nightfall - which meant that we wouldn't make it all the way in to Boise. Etho was getting hungry, so we stopped by the side of the road and made some turkey sandwiches before proceeding to a town about an hour out of Boise called "Mountain Home."

The signs to a KOA campground beckoned and we followed like moths drawn to what I hoped would be a flat grassy space. When we got there it was still about an hour from sunset, plenty long enough for me to chat with a couple of R1200GS riders who were tent-camping next to the office. They were from Chicago and were just out for a general "rideabout" before heading Northward to the BMWMOA rally coming up in Gilette, WY. Nice folks with their heads screwed on straight.

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