Part 11: Cody, WY to Richland, WA


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The Trip

We departed Cody, WY and headed north towards Billings, MT but took the westward cutoff before Billings to save a few miles.  We were now "on the clock".  Sadly, some of our friends had real jobs and therefore we had to work around their work resulting in a speed-run over extended distances.  This segment was surely rushed, but, it was all good in the end.  We traveled I-90 west to Helena, MT and spent a night with my fraternity brother Paul and his wife Colleen before again rolling west.  Our destination was Spokane, WA to visit our friends Craig and Stephanie before she had to jet off on business travel.  

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

We finally arrived in the Spokane area after focused all-day drive from Helena.  Craig and Stephanie had moved from San Diego to this area some years back and were anxious to show us their house and neighborhood.  Their lot boarders a small creek and its (currently) placid flow was a nice experience.

We parked Thor in the empty lot next to Craig and Stephanie's place making logistics easy for everyone.

Their house was in a new, developed neighborhood and was large and very nice.

Craig and Steph took us on a mini road trip in the area to show us Mt. Spokane.  The road goes directly to the crest of the peak where I found this USCGS benchmark.

The view from the top of the peak was nice although the visibility was somewhat occluded due to moisture in the air.

Like most mountain peaks in civilized areas, the peak hosted a set of communication towers.

Mt. Spokane also had a ski area which was somewhat unexpected.

I was surprised by the amount of debris on the actual slopes.  This level of debris would require a significant amount of snow to cover it before opening day for skiing.

The summit house for the ski area was old and made of hand-chosen, stacked-and-mortared stone.

Steph had to actually work (it is good; someone has to do it...) so we left Spokane and headed to our next destination Richland, WA to visit another fraternity brother Mike and his wife Rachel.  During our stay in Richland, Mike took us to the LIGO facility on the Hanford Reservation.  LIGO is an acronym for Laser Inferometric Gravity Observatory.  The U.S. has 2 observing sites, this one in Hanford, WA and another in Louisana.  These 2 sites are connected to data coming from 2 other sites, owned by other countries/consortiums and the aggregate data stream is used to both detect gravity waves coming from cosmic events (such as black hole mergers) and to direction-find the source of the signal to direct telescopes to allow acquisition of information from the X-Ray, Gamma Ray, infrared and optical wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum.  The hope is that correlation of gravimetric data with electromagnetic data will support improved theories on the origin of our universe and the nature of the matter within it.

Hanford, as you may recall, played an huge part in building the nuclear arsenal used to end WW2 and carry us through the cold war.  Due to the overall flatness of area, the Hanford site was used to host the first LIGO gravity wave detector.  I was wanting a tour, but as it turns out, tours are open to the public only a few days a month and the next tour was weeks away so we had to settle for the visitor center.  The biggest challenges for LIGO is separating signal from noise and the vast majority of the physical equipment and signal processing infrastructure is focused on reducing ambient noise and separating signal from noise.  The photo above shows one of the four-bar pendulum isolation devices to separate the reflecting mirror from movement in the earth.

I immediately recognized this cool bench configuration to be a physical representation of a gravity wave.  Very creative, but uncomfortable to sit upon.

The visitor's center had a feed that was showing real-time signals from the LIGO system.  A poor photograph, to be sure, but an interesting display showing critical parameters of the system.

One of the earlier pendulums used in (failed) gravity wave detection.  The experiment failed because the signal was about a million times more faint than the detectors at the time could sense.


Some other mechanic isolation hardware.  Masses on sets of springs help damp out ambient vibration that would make detection of the extremely faint gravity waves impossible.

We found this interesting sign when seeking the restroom.  This was a "gang" restroom with a shared clean-up area but private toilet rooms.

On our egress from the visitor's center, we spotted some samples of the line-of-sight tubes used as part of LIGO.  These were precision stainless steel pipes with beefy flanges.  Pipes are bolted together to form the 2 orthogonal optical paths for LIGO.

One of the gate valves that allow isolation of segments of the optical path for repairs and upgrades.

Precise and expensive.

When we finished at Hanford, Mike drove us to the landing ramp at the Columbia River.  Hanford, due to its legacy of contamination, is used for the entombment of used Naval reactor cores from decommissioned submarines and surface ships.  These cores are shipped on barges from the decommissioning site, up the Columbia River to Hanford (Richland, WA).  These cores are very massive and require a tremendous amount of specialized equipment to offload and transport the cores to the burial site.  Above, Kathleen inspects one of the smaller vehicles.

Here are two of the prime movers used for core transport.

Another view of the "small" truck.

Looking underneath: check out that spring stack!!

A huge suspension system with hydraulic pistons to perform steering.

The trailer used to carry the cores.  At the time, I was so in-awe of the size of the trailer that I forgot to ask if it was radioactive.

The math:  24 wheels wide, 23 axles = 522 tires, excluding spares.

The smallest of the trucks was still huge.

Nearby was a monument to the only nuclear sub built with 2 reactors.  The sub was the first to circumnavigate the globe underwater.

Tomorrow, we head north toward Writing Rock.

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