Places to go and things to see by Gypsy Bev

Posts tagged ‘Idaho’

Hell’s Half Acre Doorway to Nuclear Testing Facility

Nothing here but rocks! Hell’s Half Acre is a lava field several thousand years old where lava just oozed out of the ground over two hundred plus acres.  Early in the 1800’s on the Snake River Plain in southeastern Idaho, fur traders looking for passage through the Rocky Mountains stumbled upon this rugged land and named it Hell’s Half Acre.  That term was commonly used at that time to describe rough land.

There was some plant growth in this desolate region, and it was pretty amazing to walk over an old lava field. Caution had to be used as there were deep fissures to avoid, as well as frequent rattlesnakes. This uninhabited plain looks barren except for a few wild horses, and is the perfect place for the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory. Since 1949, more nuclear reactors, over fifty of them, have been built on this plain than anywhere else in the world. The first nuclear power plant was located here just south of Arco, Idaho.

Arco was the first city in the world to be lit by atomic energy way back in 1955. The power was generated by the Experimental Breeder Reactor No. 1 to a reactor close by, known as the Borax III, located on the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory. This was only a temporary solution to their power situation, however, as the reactor suffered a partial meltdown – another world’s first!

Be sure to visit the Experimental Breeder Reactor No. 1 – Atomic Museum on US 20/26. Here in this block building, EBR-1 became the first power plant to generate electricity from atomic energy. They actually made plutonium-239 in the block building where the museum is now located. Inside you could see four nuclear reactors, remote handling devices for radioactive material, and lots more.

Outside you could view the Heat Transfer Reactor Equipment, which was the engine used to transfer nuclear power to a conventional program. Plans were being considered in 1947 for nuclear power to be used as fuel for planes. Since the runway for take-off needed to be about 15,000 feet, the empty plains nearby seemed the perfect place to locate this facility.  But due to advances in conventional aircraft engine design plus public concerns about nuclear reactors flying over their homeland, this project was shelved in 1960.

If interested in the history of nuclear energy, this is an educational stop. The museum is open each Summer and you can either take a self-guided tour or have one of the tour guides fill you in on the importance of EBR-1.   Experiments here paved the path for nuclear energy for the entire world and consequently, it is now a National Historic Landmark. See how it all began!

To reach Hell’s Half Acre in Idaho take I-15 to the Blackfoot Rest Area exit 93, which is southwest of Idaho Falls and just five miles east of Blackfoot.  Here there is a parking area on both sides of the interstate where you have easy access to two walking trails. You can choose a 1 1/2 mile loop or a longer 4 1/2 mile loop. Both are a little on the rough side though partially paved. The Atomic Museum is located west of here on the south side of U S Highway 26. Arco is just a few miles northwest on U S 20/26. Have an explosive experience!

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Go To Hells Canyon

Come discover a place where time stands still as you descend into Hells Canyon carved by the great Snake River. As you drive down into the canyon, quiet and beauty surround you. Here is the deepest river gorge in North America with heights of up to 9000 feet surrounding you. It can be approached from either the Idaho or Oregon side, but this day the approach was from Idaho Highway 86.  You will eventually find yourself driving on the famous Canyon Scenic Byway, “Devil’s Tail”, also known as National Forest Road #454, leading to Hells Canyon Dam at the end of the road.

Scenery was awesome and it seemed impossible to capture the towering feeling that surrounded you as you drove along the Snake River in the bottom of the canyon. This canyon separates Idaho from Oregon in a most spectacular way.

The forest road along the top of Hells Canyon was a one-lane dirt road, which was rugged and steep and took several hours to ascend.  Towards the top, the road was covered with a light coat of snow. The last 350 yards had to be traveled on foot in order to arrive at Heavens Gate where the altitude was 8,690 feet and the scent of pine hung thick in the mountain air. The foot path was rough, but the view from the top was breathtaking, my favorite view of the canyon.

From this point, you could see the snow covered Seven Devils Range and the Snake River. There are actually twenty peaks in this range with He Devil and She Devil being the highest, both at about 9400′. At one angle you could see four states: Idaho, Oregon, Montana, and Wyoming.

Back in 1955. Idaho Power Company began construction of a three dam project in Hells Canyon. First a road had to be constructed and even then couldn’t bring in all the needed supplies. Helicopters were used to bring in tools and equipment as well as help with erecting the transmission towers that carry the power out of the canyon to the Oregon side. Finally, we reach the end of the 22 mile road and cross over the dam to the Oregon side where the Visitors Center is located.

On close observation, the rugged rock walls of the canyon are like a museum with pictographs and petroglyphs left over from the time when Chief Joseph’s band of Nez Perce Indians lived there.  Some say part of the petroglyphs date back possibly 15,000 years. Nez Perce Indians  enjoyed the mild winters here as well as the lush foliage and plentiful wildlife. The Snake River provided abundant fish as well as goods they would be able to trade.

Later, in 1895,a cargo ship captain, named Haller, met with rapids more dangerous than expected. Either because of people discussing his adventure in Haller’s Canyon, or perhaps what the captain said when he got in this dangerous situation, the name Hells Canyon stuck. The precipitous mountain sides and the wild rapids seem to reinforce the idea that the name chosen was very fitting.

There is only one way back out of the canyon from the dam, and that is back the same 22 mile road that was originally used to enter. But now it is dusk and the drive out will be a careful one, driving slowly because of the sharp curves and always being aware of dodging fallen rocks either in the air or on the rugged highway. Be sure to keep your eyes on the road and stop when you want to really enjoy the scenery.

Today this magical place is great for whitewater rafting, jet boating as well as fishing excursions. Just being here makes you look at the world with a different perspective. Great spot to relax and leave your worries behind. See you in Hell’s Canyon!

Hells Canyon can be reached from I 84 in Idaho at Exit 304 Hells Canyon/Weiser Road. Follow the signs for the Canyon Scenic Byway and enjoy the adventure.

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