Craters of the Moon National Monument

We visit Craters of the Moon and stayed in nearby Arco, Idaho – the first city (more of a small town actually 😏) powered by Nuclear Power!

Getting there

We left Vernal and drove through the mountains to end up outside of Salt Lake City. The drive was quite scenic – especially the high mountain lakes and the steep decent into Salt Lake. The winds were quite high on the drive and that combined with rabid Truckers driving like maniacs on I-80 (speed limit = 80mph) made for a fun ride to my stop that night.

I stayed in a KOA outside of Brigham City, UT. A very quite area – the stay was pleasant and uneventful. We headed out the next morning for Arco and the Craters.

Backstory

This stop, like the previous stop in Alamogordo, is part of my story.

Back in 1978 I was finishing a degree in Mechanical Engineering. I intended to go to graduate school to get a Masters in Nuclear Engineering but I also interviewed with the Nuclear Navy. They told me that I would be sent to Idaho to learn how to run a submarine’s nuclear reactor if I joined. Once I started graduate school I visited this area with my thesis advisor.

This area is home to Idaho National Laboratory – when I visited it was called Idaho National Engineering Laboratory (INEL). My graduate work was funded by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and was linked to one of the labs at INEL called LOFT (Loss of Flow Transient) which studied what happened when a reactor lost it’s water coolant. My professor Dr. Albrecht and I flew in his private plane and visited the lab at one point shortly after I started my research.

At that time I distinctly remember flying into Idaho Falls. In the morning everyone who worked at the lab got on a bus for the hour trip to the various laboratories. I also remember that everyone I met was a Mormon. I remember driving for miles seeing nothing but desert and tumbleweeds until you could see some huge facility all by itself in the distance. I guess the idea was if there was an accident it would be in the middle of nowhere!

Arco Idaho

Just outside of Arco is Atomic City. It is home to the Experimental Breeder Reactor I – the first nuclear power station to generate enough electricity to power the light bulbs in the building the reactor was housed in. Arco, the town where Jake and I stayed, was the first city to new completely powered by another reactor in the area in 1955 – the year I was born.

Although the Experimental Breeder Reactor is now a museum, it is not currently open due to COVID. It was very cool to more or less stumble into this history while coming to visit the Craters!

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

Craters of the Moon is a lava field or what is known as a flood basalt area. Although I could not hike with Jake to see some of the more unique features we drove the loop as were able to hike one paved trail. The Park Service does not allow dogs partially because of prior experiences with the lave rock damaging a dog’s paws – apparently the dog of the original explorer to the area had to be carried out!

We did get so see a lot of the features of this weird landscape and learning about it’s unique habitats.

We headed back to Arco and explored the local area. Next stop Yellowstone!

Dinosaur National Monument

Photos and experiences visiting Vernal Utah and nearby Dinosaur National Monument

We left our friends and headed north to Vernal Utah and Dinosaur National Monument. I did what was so far the oddest overnight in some god-forsaken town in the Utah desert. I called and was told a woman would meet me and show me to the site.

She was there – dressed in a house dress that reminded me of a Mennonite. She proceeded to show me to what passed there as a site (in a Mormon hayfield I figured) and talked to me the whole time I was setting up (more like sort of told me what to do 😖). I asked her if she was a Mormon and she told me no – she quit the Mormons and now believe it is a cult 😂. She told me I needed to be a Baptist and then proceeded to tell me how to identify polygamous housewives at the local market. Bizarre but oddly fit right in as another somewhat weird excellent adventure ğŸ˜ŽğŸ¶.

Vernal

Vernal is the Utah gateway to Dinosaur National Monument. The Monument spans both Utah and Colorado. Like Kanab it caters to a variety of outdoor experiences for the visitor. We setup camp and did some resupply later the day of our arrival.

We spent the next day exploring the Monument

River Trail

Based on our earlier experiences I knew I needed to take Jake out early if we were going to do any hiking. The only trail open to dogs goes along the Green River between two campsites. It was a really nice trail – we went about halfway from the Split Mountain campground before turning back. The campground was full of cars and trucks pulling trailers for rafting.

Visitor Center and Fossil Gallery

We headed back to the Adventure for lunch. Jake has gotten really good about staying in the trailer so that afternoon I headed back for a tour of the visitor center and fossil gallery. I found out the day before you needed to have a ticket – I got one on line easily before the visit.

I also took the opportunity to really drive the X6 for the first time on the windy backroads from Vernal to the Monument entrance. A little excellent bonus fun!

Once at the visitor center I waited for the shuttle to the Fossil Gallery. I took the opportunity to learn how the area was a river bed at one time. It is believed that a global, cataclysmic event caused a drought that killed huge numbers of dinosaurs whose final resting place because this Monument. A cautionary tale, perhaps.

View from Fossil Gallery at ⁨Dinosaur National Monument⁩
View from Fossil Gallery at ⁨Dinosaur National Monument⁩

The gallery is literally the side of a mountain excavated to show a cacophony (I have always wanted to use that word!) of fossils from the animals piled on top of each other over millions of years.

As I touched a fossil resting in the stone, I was left breathless imagining what it must have been like 100 million years ago – a mere sliver of time in the earth’s 5 billion years. It was an electrifying and deeply moving experience. A most excellent experience – and adventure – for sure!

Touching the Past at ⁨Dinosaur National Monument⁩
Touching the Past at ⁨Dinosaur National Monument⁩

Kanab area

Kanab is a great place to explore southern Utah and northern Arizona

Signpost at Grand Plateau RV Park outside of Kanab
Signpost at Grand Plateau RV Park outside of Kanab

Central to most of the major sights in the area and has everything a happy camper and his pupper need to help make it an excellent adventure! There is a great store that sells natural rock art and some great places to eat including the Rocking V Cafe where I had a killer Bison tenderloin.

Jake on a walk at the Grand Plateau RV Park outside of Kanab
Jake on a walk at the Grand Plateau RV Park outside of Kanab

The RV park where we stayed was (so far) the nicest park Jake and I have stayed at. There is some great places to take Jake for a walk and a killer hot tub with strong jets like mine back home. The views from the park were most excellent!

View from Grand Plateau RV Park outside of Kanab
View from Grand Plateau RV Park outside of Kanab

One of the close by places to explore were the Coral Pink Sand Dunes state park. It is a favorite of many that come to the area to ride dune buggies. These have evolved from the homemade VW powered buggies to newer ones built by the same companies that build snowmobiles. I also saw some cool Porsche 911 Rally cars in the area.

We ended up going there twice – the first time to see the dunes and the second time in a nearby area to see to Petroglyphs. Unfortunately both were too damn hot for Jake’s paws so we chilled in the shade and enjoyed the views!

⁨Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park⁩
⁨Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park⁩
Road to Petroglyphs
Road to Petroglyphs
Views from Petroglyphs
Views from Petroglyphs

Toroweap Overlook

Toroweap Overlook is a rustic North Rim scenic area, reached by dirt road, perched 3,000 ft. above the Colorado River

We left later in the day to be there for the late day sun. The access closes at sunset so we left about one hour ahead of time.

The dirt road was very long – the round trip was over 6 hours but well worth it for the stunning views.

Toroweap Selfie
Toroweap Selfie

The cliffs were not for the faint of heart and I made sure I had Jake on the lead whenever we were close to the edge on any of the hikes we take.

We spent several hours there, had dinner and admired the views as the sun sunk ever lower in the west. Towards the end the sun came out in all it’s glory to give us some beautiful views.

We ended getting back close to midnight. Thanks to Dan for the driving! A fantastic day for the excellent adventures of Jake & Eddie ğŸ˜ŽğŸ¶!

Zion

The forces of Mother Nature on display for us mere mortals to look at in wonder

When I took my trips to the southwest in the 1990s I never made it to Zion. It too was high on my bucket list of places to visit along with the North Rim and Glacier.

Zion National Park
Zion National Park

As with the North Rim – I was not disappointed! The forces of Mother Nature on display for us mere mortals to look at in wonder. I tried to imagine the pressure and changes over the millennia that formed the landscape. Amazing!

Zion Panorama
Zion Panorama

It was very crowded which forced us to park away from the visitors center at the campground. On the way over Jake got in the stream for a quick cool-down. Bad move on my part as the streams were known to contain a neurotoxin from a type of algae. Dogs were particularly susceptible!

A Ranger at the visitor center alerted me and two of them helped me rinse Jake off. I was scared but when I read about it I was not too concerned that he was exposed. However, I truly thanked those Rangers for helping me out.

Zion Panorama
Zion Panorama

Because the crowds we so large we did not get to take the tour. Never the less, we enjoyed the views and took our time driving and getting a closer look at the fantastic scenery!

Zion Panorama
Zion Panorama

John had visited the park in the Winter and talked about how it looked with snow added to the mix. Sounds like I just might have to come back and see for myself one day and take in more of this magical place!

North Rim of the Grand Canyon

One of the first places to visit on my bucket list

I first visited the south rim of the Grand Canyon in the 90s while living in Colorado. I had always heard the North Rim was quite a bit different than the South and wanted to visit. It was one of the first pins I dropped on my bucket list of places to visit.

Brite Angel Point - North Rim Grand Canyon
Brite Angel Point – North Rim Grand Canyon

It has been over 25 years now and I was not disappointed! Given that the region is in a serious drought I found it to be very green and more in your face than I remember the south rim. We visited the main Visitor Center and hiked the trail out to Bright Angel Point.

North Rim - Grand Canyon National Park
North Rim – Grand Canyon National Park
⁨Bright Angel Point⁩ Panorama
⁨Bright Angel Point⁩ Panorama
⁨Grand Canyon National Park Panorama
⁨Grand Canyon National Park Panorama

We thoroughly enjoyed the visit – Jake did great given he heat and the crowds!

New Mexico to Arizona

We drove two days from Alamogordo, New Mexico to Kanab, Utah.

The trip started with a good ‘Oh Fuck’ early as we climbed a summit in New Mexico. As I reached the summit I saw a pickup come over the rise pulling a single axle trailer swinging wildly back and forth in a classic case of Terminal Trailer Fuckery. Obviously the trailer was loaded and equipped improperly (or the driver was just a giant sack of shit). Anyway – as soon as I saw it (in slow motion dis-belief) it was gone. Hope the SOB didn’t take someone less fortunate than I out 😖.

Valley of Fires

Back to reality. We first saw this aberration in the landscape on the navigation display. Curious as to what a giant, irregular, black shape could be we soon discovered it was the Valley of Fires (Carrizozo Malpais) outside Carrizozo, New Mexico.

⁨Valley of Fires⁩ ~ Nogal⁩, ⁨New Mexico⁩
⁨Valley of Fires⁩ ~ Nogal⁩, ⁨New Mexico⁩

The black rock seen everywhere is a lava flow. The flow is estimated to be around 5,000 years old. The site is 20 miles northwest of the Trinity site and White Sands.

⁨Valley of Fires⁩ ~ Nogal⁩, ⁨New Mexico⁩
⁨Valley of Fires⁩ ~ Nogal⁩, ⁨New Mexico⁩
⁨Valley of Fires⁩ ~ Nogal⁩, ⁨New Mexico⁩
⁨Valley of Fires⁩ ~ Nogal⁩, ⁨New Mexico⁩

Very Large Array

This was a pleasant surprise for a SciFi nut like me ğŸ˜Ž. I saw the road signs calling out the ‘VLA’ and had a pretty good idea what it was. I was not at all surprised when I saw it as I have seen it many times before in various SciFi movies.

Very Large Array - Socorro, New Mexico
Very Large Array – Socorro, New Mexico

Greer, Arizona

We stopped on the overnight right over the border in Greer, Arizona. Situated in the  Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in the White Mountains of Arizona. A beautiful if not a bit out of the way campground.

Heaslett's Circle B Cabins & RV Park
Heaslett’s Circle B Cabins & RV Park

We were treated the next morning to temperatures in the 40s and a killer sunrise at 5AM (Arizona never adopted daylight savings time so the sunrises very early indeed!).

Greer AZ
Greer AZ

Flagstaff AZ

We drove out of the mountains the next morning to Flagstaff. We stayed that night at a large KOA and explored famous Route 66!

Famous Route 66 in Flagstaff
Famous Route 66 in Flagstaff

Horseshoe Bend – Paige, Arizona

The next morning we did our final leg through Arizona on our way to Kanab. Just outside of Paige is the well known Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado River. Jake and I did the hike with throngs of other people to see the views. Breathtaking!

We arrived later that afternoon in Kanab, met up with our friends Dan, Maggie and John and began our week exploring southern Utah!

Kanab UT
Kanab UT

Kanab (prelude)

It’s all happening in Kanab! Seriously – this place is home to so much incredible scenery and adventure it’s mind boggling!

Grand Platea RV Park
Grand Platea RV Park

The Jakester and I arrived on Monday as did our old friends Dan & Maggie Matheson and Dan’s brother John. He’s a summary of the activities so far:

North Rim Grand Canyon

Brite Angel Point - North rim Grand Canyon
Brite Angel Point – North rim Grand Canyon

More intimate than the more majestic South Rim

Zion

Zion National Park
Zion National Park

Simply stunning – beyond belief. Glad I finally made it here and glad it was worth the wait (and then some!)

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

⁨Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park⁩ – Kanab⁩, ⁨Utah⁩,

The ‘other side’ meaning adventure. Like White Sands you can ‘sandboard’ the dunes. Unlike White Sands you can also explore by dune buggy or ATV. Looked like a lot of fun. The Jakester could not take the heat the sand!

Toroweap Overlook

Toroweap Overlook
Toroweap Overlook

A long drive along a dirt and rocky road (thanks Dan!) reveals fantastic views of the canyon. We went late in the afternoon to catch the sunset – incredible!

Indian Canyon Pictograph Trail

Indian Canyon Pictograph Trail

Near Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Dan drove a soft sand road to a trail head for photos of thousand year old pictographs. Unfortunately, the Jakester’s paws could not take the 90º+ temperatures and we had to stay at the trail head.

Today we start our continuing excellent adventure heading for Dinosaur. We had a great time with Dan, Maggie and John and really fell in love with the Kanab area. We will be back I am sure!

Alamogordo

I explore the town I was born in and close-by White Sands National Park

Or second destination in the Adventure is my ‘original’ home town of Alamogordo, New Mexico. I was born here in 1955 exactly one year and one week after my parents were married. Mom was pregnant with me when she flew out here to meet Dad who drove out earlier.

Greetings from Alamogordo
Greetings from Alamogordo

We did not live here long before moving to San Diego, California where brother Rick was born 18 months later. I returned once – albeit briefly – on a cross country trip in 1978.

My brief visit in 1978

There are two significant aspects about this area that have been part of my life. The space program, which has played a huge part in out family, and the Manhattan project – specifically the Trinity Test site – from the 1940s which played such a huge part in our recent past. This occurred here because of what is now White Sands National Monument. I was interested in learning about both.

Jake and I drove from Lovecraft on Wednesday. The scenery changed dramatically as we dropped down out of the Lincoln National Forrest into the Tularosa Basin of the Chihuahuan Desert. Alamogordo was founded in the late 1800s to support the expansion of the railroad. It is an early example of a planned community laid out on a grid whose streets are named after the states. Interestingly enough we lived on Florida Street which is now one of the main drags through town. The old part of town was rather run-down looking but there were a lot of examples of growth. Seems like it is still a one-horse town supporting Holloman Air Force Base.

Exploring Alamogordo

Thursday I put the Jakester in Doggie Day Care at a somewhat sketchy but ultimately perfectly fine facility just outside of town. I had forgotten this is the big memorial day weekend and the closer facilities were booked.

I visited downtown and the Alamogordo Museum of History which had some fascinating displays of the local area, White Sands and especially the Trinity site. I had goose-bumps when I noticed a very early instrument used to measure nuclear activity which was a precursor to the instrumentation I used as a graduate in Nuclear Engineering at the University of Washington. There are also several monuments for notable people form local history and for the military. An old water tower erected during the railroad still stands guard on the entrance to downtown!

Later that afternoon I paid a visit to the New Mexico Museum of Space History just east of town set in the foothills. I was very impressed with the museum – they had a great collection of artifacts from the activities that Holloman has supported or been involved with.

Inside where five floors of exhibits that widely varied in nature. They are busy adding more attractions too. In particular these caught my eye.

A display of artist Chrystal Jackson’s work on the early space program. She was one of several artists commissioned by NASA in the early 1960s to capture the space race from and artists perspective. Some very cool paintings of live in Cocoa Beach and surrounding areas in the ’60s.

A display on the impact of inertial navigation and the space program. This was of significant importance to successfully launch and navigate. It was also my Dad’s area of expertise that carried on through his work on Apollo and the Space Shuttle.

A great display of Star Trek memorabilia!

I also spoke with the staff about visiting the Trinity Site. Tours are arranged twice a year for people to visit and the next availability is not until April 2022! They also had some very small and expensive samples of trinitite. This was the mineral formed during the blast. My Dad had a box of the stuff when we were kids that would have been worth thousands if it had not turned to dust over the years!

Eddie and the Giant Pistachio
Eddie and the Giant Pistachio

On the way to pick up Jake I made a stop at a well-advertised local tourist trap McGinn’s PistachioLand! The featured attraction is the world’s largest pistachio and hosted tours of the pistachio orchards.

Jake survived the day just fine and we headed back to the Excellent Adventure.

White Sands

On Friday Jake and I visited White Sands National Park. First, however, we towed the Excellent Adventure to repair shop in the area to fix the air conditioner!

White Sands National Park Panorama
White Sands National Park Panorama

White Sands is the world’s largest gypsum dunefield. It was formed by gypsum runoff from nearby mountains then ‘worked’ by the wind over the millennia to produce a very fine white sand (and dust). It is full of both plant and animal life – the most striking plants were the beautiful soap tree yucca.

The park had a lot of visitors – especially a lot of families with young children riding the dunes on sleds. We enjoyed the drive and hiking the nature trails and boardwalk over the dunes. While it was not a hot day, the blazing sun really took it out of you! The sand was cool too touch partially because it is so white it reflects most of the light. Jake and I both sucked down the water!

Jake & X6 at White Sands
Jake & X6 at White Sands

We enjoyed the drive and then headed back to pickup Adventure and bask in air conditioning once again!

Jake & Eddie's Excellent Adventure at White Sands
Jake & Eddie’s Excellent Adventure at White Sands

Tomorrow we head west again and leave New Mexico – this time to the mountains in Greer, Arizona. I had fun discovering my ‘roots’ and look forward to meeting my friends Dan, Maggie and John at the Grand Canyon on Monday.

Cross Country

The dreaded crossing of Texas!

The trip across Texas was largely uneventful albeit exciting none the less!

The first day was spent driving through the rage’n Cajun country! Miles of trestle bridges over the low country until I got to Shreveport Louisiana for the evening stop. The KOA there was very nice and we headed towards Dallas the next day.

The next day proved to be more exciting as we finally crossed the dreaded LA/TX border. I immediately noticed two things:

  1. Every thing took on a redish hue 😏 (but fortunately I did not bump into Ted Cruz)
  2. There are apparently no speed limits especially if you are a semi-truck!

Yes – welcome to the United States crappiest highways and fastest fucking drivers! The speed limit suggestion (if you can find a sign) is 75 mph and it seems regardless if it is an Interstate or a two lane road through bum-fuck.

Then it started raining. Raining hard. As I got closer to Fort Worth the rain got harder. Did that slow the trucks down? No fucking way! In the space of ten miles I saw three major accidents all involving jack knives semi’s. What fun this is 😖.

Well – needless to say we made it through that evening to Eastland Texas for our only overnight. The park I stayed that night seemed to cater to long term residents especially work crews. Fortunately it was dry – at least when I got there! By morning it all turned to shit and I got to do my first tear down in the rain! I donned my raincoat, rain pants and hiking boots and got ‘er done!

The next day was our final day through Texas. It rained hard through mid-morning – so hard I had to pull over for a while. IOt finally cleared up to reveal a pretty country-side with rolling hills and Mesquite trees. A lot of oil wells and then something unexpected – miles of wind farms!

West Texas Wind Farm 1
Wind farm on I-20 in West Texas

Pretty soon I came across some very large solar farms too. So all three forms of energy generation were there – oil, wind and sun! I also started to understand why the RV Parks were full of workers! Looks like the wild, wild, west is back!

Wind farm on I-20 in West Texas
Old and new – side by side!

By the end of the day we had reached our goal! My ‘original’ home state of New Mexico!

Land of Enchantment
Leaving Texas!
Jake & Eddie enter the Land of Enchantment
Jake & Eddie enter the Land of Enchantment

We ended staying in cheap no-frills RV park that night with a half a dozen other trailers that looked like they had not moved in a while.

Tomorrow our second stop in my ‘original’ home town of Alamogordo!