Part 7: Clark Fork, ID to Craters of the Moon, ID


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The Trip

We left Norm's ranch in Clark Fork and headed south along ID-200.  This was a beautiful drive that provided some great scenery.  Our initial destination was a camp site on the Salmon River.  From Cottonwood Camp on the Salmon River we followed the Salmon River south and west to Stanley.  From Stanley we traversed Lost Trail Pass and then traveled south to Craters of the Moon.

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

South of Clark Fork we came to an overlook for Noxon Rapids Dam.  Small by the standards of the "high dams of the west" (i.e. Hoover, Glen Canyon and Flaming Gorge) this dam is a private dam and produces 488 MW of hydroelectric power.  Visible in the photo above are the spillways on the left of the dam; the turbine house at the bottom right and the penstock control towers at the upper right.

The power company built a set of osprey nesting platforms.  Every one was occupied.  This osprey was looking at Thor and wondering "WTF is that?"

Further south we came to Thomson Falls.  There were a set of dams there.  This is the smaller of the two.

The larger dam was wide but not very tall.

Traveling south we passed these vertically-upturned beds overlooking the river valley.

We crossed the border into Montana and south of Lolo we came upon a significant forest fire producing huge amounts of smoke.

There were several helicopters working the fire.  This Chinook was hauling a water dipper bag en-route to a hot spot.

Our destination for the night was a new ranch owned by our Unimog friends Chas and Vanessa.  Their place is near the mouth of the canyon.

After a pleasant night in Victor, MT we continued south and came to this ski area on Lost Trail Pass.

On the south side of the pass we started following the Salmon River.

We stopped for the night at a nice place called Cottonwood Camp right on the Salmon.  The photo above is from our campsite looking upstream.

This is the view looking downstream from our camp.

We took the fork in the road that took us to Stanley, ID and then continued south to the crest of a 8,000 foot pass that gave us a great view of the Sawtooth Range in the distance.

The south side of the pass provided nice views as well.

We continued south through Sun Valley and then turned south-east toward Arco.  Near Craters of the Moon, we got our first view of the lava fields.

From the main road we got a nice view of the lava fields and craters beyond.

We stupidly thought that at 7pm we could get a camping site at a National Monument next to a major road.  Ha!  The campground was (not surprisingly) full, so we backtracked west to Fish Creek Reservoir.  This was on the BLM map and it had precisely ONE camp site.  Due to the dirt road and a few ruts, we had the entire place to ourselves, so we set out the chairs and enjoyed the view.

I stitched together a 10-shot panorama of the view from our camp.  There is one ranch in the canyon on the far right of the photo above.  Other than that, nada.

The reservoir was very low, but we later found out why.

The dam at the reservoir was trashed.  I did not get the story on whether it was intentionally demolished or was the result of flood damage.

After a pleasant night at the reservoir we returned to Craters of the Moon to see what was there.  This bit of lava rock caught my attention due to the texture of the rock.

Lava rock has plenty of dissolved gasses in it and the gas leaves cavities in the rock.  The varying chemical structure of the lava results in the different textures.

From Craters of the Moon we traveled to Arco where we saw "Number Hill" where the local high school classes paint their graduation year on the rock cliffs.  This looks like a dangerous process requiring technical climbing gear and a spotter to control the outline of the numbers.

In the distance out on the Snake River Plain we could see another large volcanic cinder cone.

Our path took us east toward Idaho Falls.  We passed the Idaho National Laboratory and we passed a sign for the EBR-1 so we decided to check it out.  EBR stands for Experimental Breeder Reactor.  The large piece of equipment in the photo above was a test of using nuclear energy to power a jet engine.  Two experimental versions were produced.  The photo above is the first unit.

This is the second unit.  Both versions were successful, but in the end the entire program was canceled due to overall safety concerns of flying a nuclear reactor over populated areas.  That was a good call, in my opinion.  About a billion bucks were expended on this effort back in the day when a buck was a buck.

I was rather surprised that the area was open to visitors as it is likely still "hot" (i.e. radioactive).  The signs suggest that some portions of the area adjacent to the museum are indeed hot.

Several of the areas inside the museum had these signs.  The EBR used liquid metal (sodium and potassium) as coolant for the reactor for a variety of reasons.  Sadly, both sodium and potassium react violently when they come in contact with water so very special methods of handling were needed, particularly in case of fire.

From the upper floor we could see the "rod farm" and fuel storage area.  The used rods were stored in the red and yellow area.  Note the huge lead door that must be hoisted to access the other portion of the storage area.  The rods were transported in a special device and then lowered into one of the compartments in the floor.  The rods were tracked via a simple chalk board on the left.  Note the vault door at the lower right.  This controlled access to the new fuel rods which were not yet radioactive.

One of the many specialized control machines.  This machine was not listed in the tour materials.

In the basement was this large 4-cylinder Buda diesel that provided backup power for the facility.  The generator is at the left.

This is a section of the spent fuel transport cask that was used for "crash testing".  Note the damage on the left side of the cask.  The fuel rods were placed in the center section of the hexagon.

In the parking lot is a rather odd diesel locomotive.  The left section is the operator's compartment and the motor is in the right compartment. 

For whatever reason my camera did not fully focus for the shot above, but it is clear enough to tell the story.  The circular port hole is the window for the train operator.  It is 39" of leaded glass and mineral oil (radiation moderators) and it allowed the operator to see to operate the train while remaining shielded.  The circular outside is lead and concrete to provide lateral shielding.

The really spooky part was on the engine-side of the compartment.  The window is a plug that is pneumatically operated and runs on a rail assembly.  The plug is pulled, the operators get inside and then the plug is reinstalled.  Not a job for a person with claustrophobia.

Between INL and Idaho Falls the road points directly at two more large cinder cones.  The left one hosts a variety of radio towers that support INL.

We did a quick re-supply in Idaho Falls and then continued east to a camp on the Snake River.  We have not yet  decided, but we may stay at this location for the eclipse.  The photo above is a view from our camp of the Snake.

This section of the trip spanned several days and many hundreds of scenic miles.  ID-200/US-200 is a great highway to travel as the road was in good shape and it was very scenic.  Next up: the eclipse.

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