ID-WY Day 6 – The Wasteland

Motel 8 breakfast consists of overcooked eggs & sausage, a small container of yogurt, and watching a woman from the English Midlands scream at the hotel kitchen staff “to do their fucking job” upon being unable to get coffee out of a carafe. After she storms out, Terry turns to the small woman who had just gotten yelled at and tells her he thought she was doing a great job.

Our destination this morning is the Idaho National Laboratory, home of the Experimental Breeder Reactor and many other, wonderful nuclear-research things. We drive into the wastes of Idaho to visit the INL and discover that not only is it located in an impressive expanse of nothingness, its staff have done a poor job maintaining the visitor information on their website and the facility is closed to visitors until next summer.

Fortunately, another visit on our list is nearby – Atomic City.

If you ever come across an article or blog post recommending that you visit Atomic City, drive to the author’s house and punch them in the face. What was promised to be a “neat slice of Americana and the Atomic Age” turns out to be a ghost town full of mobile homes. The road leading away from Atomic City is more interesting than the town itself.

So far, the morning has been a complete bust. We drive on to Craters of the Moon National Monument with drastically re-calibrated expectations.

“What lives here?” is the thought that fills my mind as we approach the park’s entrance. The surrounding area is a special kind of desolate, a black lava field that extends into the horizon. We discover the answer via a park ranger – mostly bats and some ungulates that wander through as part of their migration. The bats are at risk of some sort of fungal infection and we are asked to help protect them by signing a statement declaring that our clothing hasn’t been in any other cave system in the past ten years.

After our morning of disappointment, the park turns out to be rather interesting. There are lots of strange rock formations created by the lava flows, spires and sponges. It does feel a little other worldly and the name makes sense. Several caves have been created by collapsed lava tunnels and we descend into a few of them, enjoying the significant change in temperature. It is in the 90s on the surface, below ground we find frost and ice.

We have headlamps, but turn them off in a few of the caves to experience what could only be described as “true” dark. After several failed attempts to take pictures of the frost and ice, I made my first attempt at light painting.

We enjoy a PB&J-based picnic as a late lunch and leave the wastelands of Idaho for the slightly less desolate vistas of Boise. It turns out that Boise-proper is actually a decent city. The downtown is walkable and we find ourselves in the middle of a Basque festival, which seems to fit with Boise’s nonsensical ethnic make-up – Hawaiians and Basques are both big groups there apparently.

We eat dinner and watch Terry consume the least manly cocktails ever devised, then walk to a bar full of video game consoles and pinball machines. I discover that the concept of arcade games appeals to me more than the actual games. I think I dislike them even more in this environment as I tend to appreciate the social aspect of bars and the level of concentration required to play an old-school platformer rules out any socializing.

After an hour of burning through quarters a group of Furries walks in and settles that this is not the place for me. I watch Terry and Matt play a few more games before leading the trek back to the car.

The night is an appropriate bookend for what is becoming a yearly adventure trip. We started our journey with Idahoan-Hawaiian food and raptors and ended it watching an anthropomorphic fox mash buttons on Street Fighter.