Ever since we moved to Utah, I have been determined to make it to Idaho. Part of this is related to my goal to visit all 50 states, and part of it is because of Craters of the Moon National Monument. It took two years, but last Autumn we finally got around to making our way up to Idaho for what turned out to be one incredible road trip.
I was at work daydreaming about taking a trip soon, when I got a text from Bo about Atomic City, Idaho. We both love ghost towns, odd attractions, and historical places. The more I read about Atomic City, the more convinced I was that this was a road trip that needed to happen.
I started finding stops along the way using my Roadtrippers app and finally came up with what I knew was going to be an incredible adventure. We woke up early in the morning, packed some snacks, jumped in the car, turned on the ultimate road trip playlist, and hit the road.
Something that I always tell people when they are planning road trips is to leave time for unexpected stops. I’m a stopper. It is not uncommon for me to see something and decide that stopping has to happen. And wouldn’t you know it, that is exactly what happened on this trip.
An hour into the journey, we saw a sign that said “Devil’s Creek Reservoir” ahead. Both of our eyes lit up and we looked at each other, saying “we have to go” without actually saying a word. We love oddly named things, I told you. And I will say, Devil’s Creek Reservoir was way more gorgeous than the name would have led me to believe.
We piled back into the car and headed to Pocatello, Idaho. Pocatello is full of gorgeous trees that I THINK might be Cottonwoods, but I’m no botanist. Whatever they are, they sure do turn an incredible bright yellow color in Autumn. We had to pull over and walk around and take it all in.
We also made a stop at McKee’s Pet, Garden, and Feed Center so I could pal around with an adorable baby goat. They also had sheep, pigs, emus, chickens, and other animals. But this little sweetie stole my attention.
Once we were back on the road it was straight on to Atomic City. It was pretty weird to be strolling through a once bustling town that now boasts 25 people at most. It was eerily quiet and provided some great photo ops. The town has a few houses and trailers, a bar, and a gas station that no longer has gas due to laws that prohibit them from placing the tanks underground.
We also saw several deer far more up close than we are used to. We thought about grabbing a drink at the local watering hole, but decided to head on to Experimental Breeder Reactor #1 instead.
Head on to what?!
That’s right. Arco, Idaho was the first city in the world to be lit by atomic power. It was also the first city in the world to suffer from a nuclear meltdown, but they don’t talk about that one as much. There is a museum at the site of the first plant that offers self guided tours Memorial Day through Labor Day. We missed this time frame but still had fun checking out the outside of the building and the outdoor displays, reading the site markers, and listening to You Dropped A Bomb on Me by The Gap Band a ridiculous number of times.
Then it was time to head to the highlight of our trip, Craters of the Moon National Monument. Craters of the Moon is made up of lava flows, cinder cones, and sagebrush. It definitely doesn’t look like anything else that I have ever seen. The visitor center near the entrance has a nice educational exhibit that gave us some interesting information that we used to identify different types of lava flows while he hiked the trails through the park. We were a little pressed for time since we wanted to make so many stops, so we decided to pick three trails to give us a good feel for the area.
We opted to walk the North Crater Flow, a small trail that was less than half a mile. This easy walking trail had a variety of formations and lots of educational signage, so it was a great way to start our tour.
Our next stop was Inferno Cone. While this trail is only .5 mile long, it’s all uphill. Seriously. It’s steep. But the views were beyond worth it.
Our last stop was a trek to the lava tubes. We definitely wanted to be sure to check out one of the caves before leaving. There are five explorable caves at Craters of the Moon, and four of them can be accessed from the Caves Trail. We opted for Indian Tunnel, since it has openings and we would not need a flashlight to explore it.
Indian Tunnel is a lava tube, the most common form of cave found at Craters of the Moon. Lava tubes form when the supply of lava stops at the end of an eruption and lava in the tube system drains downslope and leaves partially empty openings beneath the ground. You need to get a permit to explore the caves here, but you can get a free one at the Visitor Center when you enter the park.
After all of our exploring, we realized that we had worked up quite the appetite. On our way to Craters of the Moon, we had seen signs for a place that bragged to be “Home of the Atomic Burger” and that pretty much settled the decision about where to eat before we headed back home. Before we popped into Pickle’s Place, we made a stop across the street to see USS Hawkbill (SSN-666), aka “The Devil Boat.” No…you read that right. There’s a submarine in the middle of Idaho on the side of the highway, and it is marked by the number of the beast. What is it with the devil/hell/inferno references on this trip?!
We ate dinner, swapped photos, and tried to decide what our favorite moments of our day trip had been. It was definitely hard to decide. Bo had the atomic burger, and I am happy to say that he isn’t glowing. At least not yet, anyway. We grabbed a butterscotch milkshake to go and headed home as the sun set.
It definitely wasn’t your traditional trip, but the oddity and uniqueness of every experience was beyond perfect. Where are some of the weirdest places that you’ve visited?