Arco, Idaho

07/29/2019 to 07/31/2019

Craters of the Moon

Monday 7/29/2019     We arrived at a smaller KOA in Arco, Idaho. It’s truly out in the middle of nowhere. The drive there wasn’t very scenic, mostly just grassland. It did seem to become a greener landscape though once we left Utah. Arco’s claim to fame is that they were the first city to experiment with using nuclear power energy back in 1955. The town appears to be dying a slow death. There’s not much here except a few public buildings, gas stations, and questionable little diners. The KOA campground is okay, nothing exceptional. The trailers don’t have too much room between them but we do have shade. The temperature is cooler here, only about 80 and there’s a breeze. For the first time in a long time, we have our air conditioning off and the windows open! They have a cafe where you can order from a small menu to have delivered to your trailer. We haven’t tried it yet, because they are only opened from 5 to 8 pm and we couldn’t wait that long to eat. So, we just cooked something in the trailer and then drove into the small town for fuel and to get our propane tank refilled then returned to the park. The KOA had a little ice cream social at 6:30 so we walked over and had a couple of scoops of ice cream for $ 2.00 each. And that was our first day in Arco.

Tuesday 7/30/2019     The Crater’s of the Moon National Monument and Preserve was about a 30-minute drive from our campground. It’s a 750,000-acre area that is a vast ocean of lava flows with scattered islands of cinder cones and caves. Thousands of years ago volcanic action caused lava to flow over the earth and when it hardened created the sharp, jagged, black rock that we hiked and scrambled over today. We pulled into the visitor’s center around 9:45 to inquire about the park. We needed to get a bat stamp on our park guide that allows us to enter the caves on the grounds and we watched a 15-minute movie explaining the park. Our first stop was just a short hike to the Cinder Cone Fragments. They were just tall, large lava boulders that enabled the lava to shoot out. There were other large boulders formed by the lava nearby also. We drove past an area called the Cinder Gardens where miraculously flowers bloom by the thousands. The next stop was called the Inferno Cone. It was a long, uphill hike over a huge pile of hardened cinders. It felt like we were walking up a hill made out of hardened charcoal chips. If you made it all the way to the top, you are rewarded by a lone tree that has somehow managed to survive in this climate.

We continued on our drive to the next stop – The Buffalo Cave. It was about a mile walk to the cave and there were many interesting sites to view along the way. The lava formations are amazing and are something we've never seen before. I crawled into two of the Buffalo Caves which seemed more like large slits in the ground. I didn’t go very far into them as they were dark and my flashlight didn’t shine brightly enough and I didn’t want to crawl a long way.

We continued our drive to the next section, The Caves Trail where we wanted to walk through the Indian Tunnel. I felt that this was the nicest part of the Crater’s of the Moon. We began at the parking lot and walked on a paved path to the entrance of the Indian Tunnel. We descended on the metal steps into a huge, semi-dark tunnel. We only had to use our flashlights for a short bit because there was enough light shining in through the entrance and a couple of holes where the ceiling collapsed. We had to walk along a partly dirt path with large, sharp rocks. The tunnel was kept in its natural state, there were no paved paths or man-made improvements. We made our way to the opposite end of the tunnel, less than a quarter-mile walk, and emerged out into the daylight through a tiny opening. We continued on a pretty neat overland walk back to the cave’s entrance. There is another section to the Caves Trail which leads you to the Boy Scout and Beauty Caves. The Boy Scout Cave was tricky. You had to slide on your butt through a small downhill entrance to where it opened up enough that you could stand hunched over. We could have gone further but it was a very long stretch of an area that you had to belly crawl through. We weren’t prepared to do that so we shimmied our way back out of the small entrance and walked to the Beauty Cave. This was a much larger entrance but you had to carefully go down large, sharp stones. It had a very high ceiling and there was enough light at the beginning but we needed our flashlights to keep walking. We couldn’t go very far, as they had a barrier up not allowing you to continue any further. So, we left the Beauty Cave and the Caves Trail and headed to our last stop.

Our last stop was The Devil’s Orchard Trail. It was a nice half-mile, paved walk – more of a nature trail with informational signs along the way. We were tired by this point, having walked, hiked, scrambled up rocks and crawled our way through the park for about five hours. It was a fun day. I wouldn’t say the sites were beautiful but they were very unusual and interesting.

On our way back to the campground, we stopped for a photo with the park sign and we both smelled a heavy, burnt rubber smell. I wasn’t sure if it was us or the semi-truck that just zoomed passed us. But after starting the truck, we discovered that the air-conditioning was again not working. So, I guess it was us. There’s no place in the town of Arco or nearby to get it repaired, so I called ahead to Butte, Montana and will be stopping at a shop on Thursday afternoon to hopefully fix it for the third time. Until then, it’ll be a pretty hot and noisy road trip.

Wednesday 7/31/2019    Earlier I mentioned that the town we are staying in - Arco, Idaho was the first town in the world that was powered by electricity generated by nuclear power.  The nuclear power plant that generated this power is 18 miles away from our RV park and as luck would have it, they offer tours - and they're free!  The plant was officially decommissioned in 1964 but the building and most of its inside technology are on display in a well organized, numbered self-guided tour.  There are a few hands-on displays but mostly it's just informational posters explaining the equipment and gauges, etc. you are seeing.  We went through the building which consists of three floors in about an hour and then returned to the trailer.  I wouldn't say it was an extremely exciting experience as most of the information was above our heads, but it was interesting.  We would rate it above the open-pit copper mine we visited a few days ago.

Thursday 8/01/2019     Today we packed up and are headed to Butte, Montanna.

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