Sunday, June 7, 2015

Submarines In the Desert?

Arco, Idaho

The First City to be Lit by Atomic Power

There is quite a bit of history associated with this area. EBR1, Experimental Breeder Reactor #1 was built at the Idaho National Laboratory located just outside of town. Today the INL complex encompasses 900 square miles between Idaho Falls and Arco. This is where the first atomic reactors were built....a total of 52 altogether as they experimented with design. Today INL employs thousands of employees from local communities; even providing buses to transport them to their 'remote' location.

Conning Tower/Sail of
USS Hawkbill
This area was originally a Navy bombing range and chosen for development of nuclear reactors because of its remote location. Subsequently the 1st nuclear power plant for submarines was designed here. Work was started on a nuclear airplane, but it never got off the ground. There is a museum located on INL property and open to the public at the actual location where the 1st atomic reactor was built, EBR1. In the town of Arco there is a small museum and the 64-ton sail of a decommissioned nuclear sub. This sub was built to house the 1st nuclear power plant and made several trips under the polar ice caps. Joan's family research revealed she has a distant cousin that was a commander of this sub during one of its polar missions.

We've finished our 2nd week in Arco and it looks as though we have 1 week left in this area. The area between Idaho Falls and Arco is a large flat plain; with the exception of 3 large buttes. Last week we had opportunity to drive to the top of one of the buttes as part of our job. Big Southern Butte rises approximately 2500' above the plain. From some locations there are 360 degree views of the surrounding area.

Last weekend we took a short bike ride to the nearby town of Mackey for lunch. This weekend Joan wanted to drive back over to Mackey for their Farmer's Market. We took the jeep this time and while we were there we heard about a Mining Hill Tour. Mining began in this area back in the late 1800's when deposits of lead, zinc and copper were discovered near the top of an 8600' mountain peak. In 1902 a 36" railway line was built to transport ore 3 1/2 miles from the top of the mountain to a smelter/railway site located at the base of the mountain in Mackey.

Aerial Tramway Towers
32 towers were built to cover the 2600' descent
The railway started as an electric line, but a few years later a 30 ton coal fired engine was put into operation. The railway ran for 16 years before being replaced by an aerial tram line which reduced operational costs of moving ore to the base of the mountain by 80%. Production began to taper off in the 1920's and big time commercial operations ended during the depression.

This mine opening was on the Alberta level and extended over 4000' into the mountain connecting numerous shafts and levels within.

The drive up and around the mountain took us about
4 hours as we stopped to take pictures and view the various buildings, homes and mine sites, including the abandoned town of White Knob which had a population of over 1000 in the 1920's.

We decided to eat out at Pickle's Place one evening and just had to get a picture before we left.

The scenery up in the mountains west of Arco is spectacular. Enjoy the pics......

That's it for now. Stay Tuned. More to Come


  1. Nice post. That looks like a very cool area to explore. Just wondering though. At night does the whole place glow in the dark because of all the nuclear activity? Do you wear Geiger counters?

  2. Great to hear that you are getting out for some fun touring. The snow covered mountains are gorgeous. Love the photo of you and Joan at Pickle's Place:)

  3. Now I'm sorry I didn't stop in the area on my spring travels! I like your side posts of pictures year by year...I may steal that :-). We're meeting Dan and Jonell next Sunday at Yellowstone. Where to next??

    1. Looks like we'll be moving near Landers WY next week. Say hey to J&D for us

  4. Love the picture of the jeep on top of the butte! Who would think they would do testing for the Navy in the middle of the desert?

    You guys are sure seeing a lot of interesting country. Keep on routing!

  5. So glad you are having fun in the jeep! Way cool! Love those last two pictures of the mountains!

  6. Who knew Idaho had so many attractions?! Love the updates on your job. Safe travels to your next destination.