If you had asked me five days ago, if I lived out in the country… back of beyond, I would have said yes. We who live in Westcliffe do, after all, live a good hour’s drive from Canon City, Salida, or Pueblo. But after driving only back roads in Nebraska, Idaho, and Oregon (no Interstate travel for us!), the scales have fallen from my eyes. How provincial I have been! How silly to think that I was living a remote lifestyle. Remote is not one hour from civilization. Remote is driving a hundred miles to reach a dying town smaller than Westcliffe.
Highway 2 in Nebraska and Highway 20 in Idaho and Oregon are wonderful, but the scale of the farms and the landscape (where every ranch is the size of or larger than Wolf Springs Ranch west of Highway 69 in Huerfano County) has put me in my place. And ‘my place’ is Front Range Colorado bordering on urban.
I highly recommend driving Highways 2 and 20. For the most part, you are driving 75/80 MPH and yours is the only car within sight. We saw cars through a rain spattered windshield in the Tetons, but other than that… well, there was Arco, Idaho.
On our approach to Arco, we had seen hundreds of cars and buses taking employees? home? from work? (and where the heck was work?), but until we saw the sign in Arco, we didn’t put two and two together. Ah… the nuclear research site 18-miles southeast of Arco was still up and running.
President Kennedy closed the nuclear powered aircraft project in March of 1961 writing, “15 years and about 1 billion have been devoted to the attempted development of a nuclear powered aircraft, but the possibility of achieving a militarily useful aircraft in the foreseeable future is very remote.” Despite a number of setbacks, Atoms for Peace is apparently alive and well. Talking to locals, the word was that the facility is working on nuclear medicine; however, an Internet search did not mention current projects.
If you are interested in reading more about the facility, you can read a U.S Atomic Energy Press Release, dated August 11, 1955. See: https://todayinsci.com/Events/NuclearPowerArco1955-PressRelease.htm.
One of our stops today was at Craters of the Moon. The lava stretches for miles, and undeterred, tourists in tents and RVs nestle in amongst the boulders and lava flows. Robert Limbert explored and promoted the Great Rift in 1920 and was instrumental in bringing the site to the attention of President Coolidge who proclaimed Craters of the Moon a National Monument in 1924 saying the site was “a weird and scenic landscape, peculiar to itself.”
Of particular interest to me were the journal entries made by those trudging west on the Goodale Cutoff north of the main Oregon Trail. In the mid-1800s, many of the migrants – hoping to avoid conflicts with the Shoshone along the main route – skirted the northern edge of the lava lands. Their journal entries are telling.
Looking at the brutal lava fields, I tried to imagine the emigrants who dying of thirst, walked on blistered feet under a scorching sun. I can only think “They don’t make them like that any more.” It was Tim Goodale who led the world’s largest wagon train along the northern edge of the lava field. The train numbered 1,095 people, 338 wagons, and 2,900 head of stock.
It was a large scale operation.