Geology Daze

August 4 and 5, 2015

We had considered staying two nights in Grand Teton National Park, but (a) it was rainy and (b) we were itching to get to California and get started on the next volume (phase and chapter both seem inadequate to describe this shift) of this adventure.

So, we packed up camp and headed out of Gros Ventre Campground and into Jackson, Wyoming. We stopped at McDonald’s in Jackson because we knew that they would have free wifi and inexpensive (yet hopefully drinkable) coffee. The wifi was good, the coffee OK. We stayed long enough to book a camping reservation for that night at a KOA in Jerome, Idaho. The drive out of Jackson was beautiful. We took route 22 out and up over Teton Pass. I recommend it as a scenic drive. However, places to stop for lunch (even if you have your own food) are limited. We finally stopped at BLM recreation area and ate in the parking lot. While there, we met a young woman from Bakersfield who had moved to New York, but was now on her way back home before embarking on an extended trip to Nicaraugua. Just another one of those encounters that make traveling so awesome…

We opted to take a slight detour on this day to see Craters of the Moon National Monument. Who knows when we’ll pass through this way again, so why not make the most of it?

On the way to Craters of the Moon, we drove past Idaho National Laboratory. I think I knew that one of the most important U.S. nuclear research facilities was in Idaho, but I didn’t know the scope of its role in the development of nuclear energy. The 890 square mile site (yes, it’s huge) once contained a Naval Proving Ground, testing ordnance that originated in Pocatello. In 1949, the National Reactor Testing Station was added, with a mission of developing peaceful uses for nuclear energy. The Experimental Breeder Reactor No. 1 (EBR-1) in 1951 became the first nuclear reactor to produce a useable quantity of energy by powering four light bulbs. Sadly, our schedule (and our dog) did not allow for a visit to the EBR-1 site. Over the years, 52 (!) nuclear reactors were built on the INL site, three of which remain active. Unfortunately (and not as well publicized), the only fatal nuclear reactor incident in the U.S. also occurred on this site in 1961.

I can’t quite imagine what it must be like for the scientists and engineers (and their families) who work at INL. We saw busses, so we know some transportation is available on the site, but it wasn’t clear whether housing was onsite or in the (small) surrounding towns. In either case, it is unwelcoming terrain. This also made me think a lot about emigrants traveling the Oregon Trail, hundreds of whom crossed this desolate area to shorten their journey and try to avoid conflict with Native Americans. We saw many signs for Goodale’s Cutoff along our route and I shudder a bit when I think about how they would have experienced this land.

As we passed into Arco, ID, I noticed this hill with interesting geologic layers.

  
I’m pretty sure this is the front side of the hill known as Number Hill, on which every graduating class in Arco since 1920 has painted its number.

Many miles of desolate scenery later, we reached Craters of the Moon. You can see in these pictures how it gets its name.

  
  
  
In fact, the features we see today were formed by eruptions along fissures in Earth’s crust. This Great Rift is part of the same volcanic system that underlies Yellowstone National Park and created it’s fantastic features.

We ended this day in Jerome, Idaho at a KOA kampground. The weather guessers were predicting thunderstorms, so we upgraded to a Kabin. No such storms appeared, but we were pretty happy not to set up and tear down the tent and cots.

 

Sunset at Jerome KOA

 
The next morning, we packed up and headed for Twin Falls. We knew we wanted to swing by Costco for gas, but we otherwise did not have objectives for Twin Falls. We were in for a surprise. Twin Falls has a big canyon right in town!

   
   
After crossing the bridge over the canyon (and the Snake River), we pulled into the new Twin Falls Visitor Center to check out the views. We walked a bit on the nice bike path along the rim of the canyon and noticed some folks prepping parachutes. In the Visitor Center, we learned that the Perrine bridge that we had crossed is the only place in the U.S. where it is permissible to BASE (that’s Building, Antenna, Span, and Earth for the 4 types of structures they jump from) jump without a permit. Thus jumpers flock to the spot to learn to jump and practice their skills and tricks. We saw several people jump, some of whom added a backflip or somersault to their launch from the bridge. It’s hard to capture, even with the camera on sport mode, but here are some of our shots.

  
   
We were headed for Winnemucca, NV to visit my (geologist) goddaughter Angela, so after the Twin Falls stop, we just plugged away at the drive through the desert. We arrived in Winnemucca mid-afternoon and were pleased with our choice of hotel, the Holiday Motel. We made plans with Angela to meet at Chihuahua’s Mexican restaurant, where we could sit outside with Rebbe. We walked to the restaurant about 3/4 mile away and had a lovely dinner (and some margaritas 🍹) with Angela before calling it a night. Sadly, our visit did not coincide with her day off, so we did not get a tour of the mine where she works.  

Next up, California!

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