Kanab, Utah

Kanab, Utah

With no reservations or idea where we would stop, we left Zion on October 9, 2017, taking Highway 89 south from Mt. Carmel Junction. Kanab looked like a nice little city as we drove into town, and it would be a good jumping off point for North Rim Grand Canyon. All we had to do was find a place to set up the fifth wheel.

The first park we tried was booked solid for the month. Back toward town, we passed Hitch-N-Post. Although a sign on the street said they had no RV sites, we stopped and asked anyway. Good luck was shining on us that day. A cancellation had come through a few minutes before.

 Coral Pink Sand Dunes

After situating the rig beside one of the cabins, a short drive to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park was in order. The Dunes became a state park in 1963 providing off-road enthusiasts a place to play. On the look out for the dunes, we drove through areas where juniper, pinyon pine, and Gambel oak were rooted in a soil of beige to pink sand. At an elevation of nearly 6,000 feet, even ponderosa pines are found within the park boundaries.

Pink Coral Dunes

The dunes, formed by wind carrying away eroded Navajo sandstone, are believed to be 10,000 to 15,000 years old. The grains of sand have to be the right size to travel the distance from the mountains or plateaus, not too large and not too small.

We walked out onto the observation boardwalk near the visitor center and watched hikers trekking across the ridge and ATVs roaming around with their whip flags flying. It looked like fun, if not a bit dangerous. I would sure hate to see an ATV crest a dune ridge and encounter one of the hikers.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes
Footsteps Across Ripples

The park includes a campground with 22 spaces, each with a loop drive to provide plenty of parking for RVs and trailers loaded with off-highway vehicles (OHVs). With the convenience of trails leading from the campsites to the dunes and restrooms and showers for the campers to rinse sand off after a day of riding, this campground has it all for avid off-road adventurers.

North Rim – Grand Canyon

The next day we drove 80 miles south of Kanab to North Rim Grand Canyon National Park. We were lucky to have arrived when we did because the lodge and campground were set to close for the winter in four days.

We drove through beautiful forests and meadows noting the aspen had already lost their leaves.

One of the Meadows on the Drive to North Rim

Although North Rim is advertised as the quieter side of the canyon, a campground-full sign sat outside the check-in kiosk and the visitor center and the lodge was teeming with tourists.

We walked around the visitor center and lodge gawking at the view through the panes of glass. On the patio, visitors gathered around a ranger who gave a talk about the Grand Canyon geology.

Grand Canyon Lodge Patio
Dining Room at the Lodge
Lobby Area

Then we ventured out along Bright Angel Point Trail for some spectacular views.

Are you coming?

I squinted to see if I could make out any of the facilities along the south rim. Even with my 300 mm zoom lens, I could not see anything. I guess the 11.5-mile distance from rim to rim was too far to see such details.

The skies were clear enough, however, to see the San Francisco Peaks popping their heads up across the canyon 64 miles away.

Looking South Toward San Francisco Peaks

Sitting on the ledge with feet dangling seemed to be a favorite pastime for some visitors. I guess they wanted some alone time.

Couple on a Ledge
Canyon Foothills
Southwest View
View Toward the East from Bright Angel Point

It seemed as though I could see the depth of the canyon better from the north vantage point. The views from the South Rim are also spectacular, but I think I like the views from the North rim better. They seemed more dramatic somehow. Perhaps the angle of the light created a sense of depth that I never experienced from the perspective of the South Rim.

The North Rim is a place I would like to return to someday to spend more time, assuming we could manage to obtain a reservation.  I’d like to hike down into the canyon on the North Kaibab Trail.

On our way back to Kanab, the Vermillion Cliffs came into view. Another place we will need to return to. There are several photos on the internet of swirling rock formations at the monument I’d love to see in person.

Vermillion Cliffs

Join us next week as we hang out in Flagstaff, Arizona, for a few days.

Safe Travels

Zion National Park

Day 13 of our fall tour, October 6, 2017, time to pack up, hook up, and move on down the road. Around lunchtime, we pulled into Hi-Road Campground, formerly Zion RV Campground, in Mt. Carmel, Utah, for a three-night stay. Trees dressed in yellow, gold, and orange, signaled fall’s arrival on the east side of Zion National Park, Utah’s First National Park.

View of Canyon from Campsite

Although Zion’s visitors’ center was only twenty miles from our site, it took at least an hour to make it to the canyon bottom by way of a twisty-turny road with slow speed limits, hairpin curves, and a delay to enter one of the tunnels.

Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

The scenery along the way was the silver lining, however, consisting of sandstone slickrock, Checkerboard Mesa, and cliffs that towered 2,000 feet from the valley floor.

Sandstone Slick Rock
Checkerboard Mesa
Red Cliffs of Zion

We stopped in at the visitors’ center, picked up pamphlets and information, and then drove out of the west entrance and into the town of Springdale, which looked nothing like we remembered from twenty years ago when we last visited.Construction of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway and one-mile tunnel, which took two years and ten months to complete, was dedicated and opened on July 3, 1930. The highway was the last link in the Grand Circle Tour of Zion, Bryce, and Grand Canyon National Parks.

The construction crew blasted gallery windows into the cliff face above Pine Creek Canyon to gain access to the interior of the mountain so the crew could carve out space to create the tunnel. The windows were also used to remove the rock debris and supplied ventilation and lighting. In 1937, the entire tunnel was lined with concrete.

One of the Tunnel Gallery Windows

One-way traffic control is required for large vehicles traveling through the tunnel. The park charges $15.00 for a permit in addition to the park entrance fee for vehicles 7 feet 10 inches in width and/or 11 feet 4 inches in height, or larger.

We remembered driving our truck to all the sights along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive in the 1990s. Now a shuttle is the only way to get around unless you’re staying at Zion Lodge. During peak hours the shuttles fill up with standing room only, so it is wise to arrive at the visitors’ center before 9:00 am, even in the offseason. There is also parking in Springdale, but when we drove through, everything looked pretty parked up.

The next day, we rode the shuttle to Zion Lodge in search of a cup of coffee only to find a long line. “How about the dining room?” We arrived about a half hour before the buffet ended and noted only a few people seated at tables. “This shouldn’t take too long.” We decided to go ahead and order breakfast with our coffee since we planned on taking a hike. We waited for our food as we sipped our steaming cups of coffee. Then we waited, and waited, and waited some more. Oh well, we had a nice view of a park-like grassy area with large trees. When our eggs benedict arrived my eggs were overcooked and Jon’s were undercooked. The long wait and the mix of cook on our eggs must have been a sign that the concessionaire reduced the employee headcount after the peak season.

With our bellies full, we walked across the road to the trailheads for the Lower and Upper Emerald Pools. Most of the trails were easy going except for the large boulders we had to navigate and the slippery rocks near the Upper Pools.

Bridge Over River
Towering Cliffs
Hanging Garden
Falls at Hanging Garden
Trail Narrowed in Spots
Lower Pools
Upper Pools
Typical View from Lower and Upper Pools

We connected with the Kayenta Trail, which took us along the river toward the Grotto where picnic tables huddled under large trees and restrooms were a welcome sight.

Kayenta Trail Along Virgin River
Virgin River

Then we continued on to the lodge where we picked up the shuttle for the ride to the Zion Human History Museum. We sat on the back patio eating our lunch of tuna sandwiches and apples and enjoyed the views while we waited to listen to the geological ranger talk.

View from Museum Patio
View from Museum Patio
View from Museum Patio
More Views

Zion is part of the Colorado Plateau and the second step of the Grand Staircase with geological layers at the top of Zion consisting of the layers we saw at the bottom of Bryce: Carmel Formation, Navajo Sandstone, Kayenta Formation, and Kaibab Formations. It was interesting to learn that rain flows through the porous Navajo sandstone until it reaches the Kaibab Formation of limestone and siltstone, which is not porous and blocks the water so that it seeps through the sides of the cliffs. This sounded similar to how water seeps through the basalt in Idaho to find its way to the Snake River.

On Sunday, we woke up early again and rode the shuttle to the Temple of Sinawava to take the Riverside Walk. It didn’t look anything like what I remembered from when we were there before. Perhaps this was because of flash floods that had occurred during that time.

Trail to Temple of Sinawava

Ferns and other plant life clung to the red cliffs and trees grew near the river. We watched people prepare for the walk across the icy water. Some of them wore rented water tennis shoes and long pants that swished with each step. Other people only wore shorts, t-shirts, and normal walking shoes. I remembered years ago when we crossed the river in water socks on a sunny day with our children in tow. Bundled up in jackets, Jon and I weren’t about to venture into the rush of water this time.

The Makings of a Future Arch
Ferns Cling to Rock Cliffs
The Crossing

Our next stop was Weeping Rock. This was a short steep hike with lots of trees, shrubs, ferns and a few remaining wildflowers. Water oozed from the overhang and gently dripped like rain on us.

Along Weeping Rock Trail
Late Blooming Wildflower
View from Weeping Rock
Plants Cling to Sandstone Cliff

These climbers came into view while we waited for the shuttle at Weeping Rock.

Climbers on the Rock Cliffs

We thought we had been transported to Disneyland when we returned to the visitors’ center. Crammed under a shade structure, the line for the shuttle snaked back and forth through ropes and continued around the buildings toward the parking lot.

Wait. What. Is this Disneyland?
Coming and Going

We were glad we were on our way out of the park rather than arriving.

If we make it back to Zion, we will plan ahead and find a spot for our trailer on the west side of the park to avoid driving the hour on the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway each day. The prospect of catching the shuttle in Springdale would also be a benefit.

The next day we headed south with no reservations, taking our chances that somewhere an RV site with our name on it would appear. Stay tuned to see where we hung our hats.

Discover Dinosaur Tracks and Parowan Gap Petroglyphs

The promise of dinosaur tracks, petroglyphs, lower elevation and, best of all, warmer weather within an hour from Panguitch was a welcome surprise after the freezing temperatures of Cedar Breaks.


Dinosaur Tracks

We headed east from Interstate 15 on Gap Road through ranches and farms, and then passed Little Salt Lake until we came to Highway 130 where we turned right. A few miles later, the road veered left toward the Red Hills and we came to a parking lot with interpretive panels and interesting rock formations. Metal markers like the one in the photo below marked the spots where the footprints could be found.


Hadrosaurs, or duck-billed dinosaurs, left the tracks some 65 to 75 million years ago when they stepped in mud. Pebbles and sand filled the footprints left by the dinos and later turned into rock. Erosion over millions of years revealed the tracks for us to see today.

Dinosaur Print
Dinosaur Print

This area is strewn with a number of different types of rocks such as river rock, volcanic ash, and large boulders, which looked like someone had rolled a bunch of smaller rocks and cement together like a giant snowball.

A River Ran Through Here
Wind Swept Boulder
Bear Boulder
Rock Encrusted Snowball Boulder
Nooks and Crannies
Robot Dinosaur?

Parowan Gap offers climbers up to 26 different climbing routes to follow. Looking around at all the fallen rock, I sure wouldn’t want to hang from a rope and trust that the cliff would not give way. But rock climbing is something I’ve never done, so who am I to say what’s safe or not?

Parowan Gap Petroglyphs

Continuing on Highway 130 a short distance we found a nicer parking area with pavement, shade structures, picnic tables, and pit toilets. The cliffs at Parowan Gap display a great number of petroglyphs that tell stories of the early people who inhabited or traveled through the area. If we only had a translator app on our phones to decipher the figures.

Parowan Gap Petroglyphs

Included on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969, it is a wonder that the figures created a thousand years ago or more have survived destruction by people of more recent generations. I could have stood for hours gazing up at the etchings on the cliff walls trying to decipher their meaning.

Parowan Gap Petroglyphs

Did the Fremont and Southern Paiute cultures leave them as works of art, religious significance, or tales of bravery and danger?

Parowan Gap Petroglyphs

Some people may even suggest the figures depict alien beings that visited earth before modern times.

Parowan Gap Petroglyphs

Do they represent family history, hunting and gathering trips, sources of water, travel routes?

Parowan Gap Petroglyphs and Newer Initials

People in the 1800s and 1900s also recorded their passage through the gap. I wonder who H.S.H. or Hyatt and Leo Rosko were, where they came from, and where they were going in 1882 and 1947. Did  D. C. fancy himself a pirate or maybe the design refers to an early motorcycle gang?

H.S.H 1882 and D. C. 1938, or is it 1939?
Leo Rosko Markings

Red Canyon Visitor Center USDA Forest Service

Our last day in the area was a short jaunt to the red cliffs and hoodoos at the Red Canyon Visitor Center off Highway 12, the route to Bryce Canyon National Park.


Red Canyon Visitor Center


With picnic tables, plenty of parking, and several miles of hikes, the visitor center was a great place to spend an afternoon getting up close and personal with the hoodoos and totems as well as the Ponderosa, bristlecone, and limber pines.


Cabin Once Used by Rangers


We managed to get a good work out in and gaze out at some awesome views by connecting the Pink Ledges (an interpretive trail), Hoodoo, and Birdseye trails with a portion of the 8.6-mile non-motorized Red Canyon Bicycle path, which parallels Route 12 through the canyon.


Grab a Pamphlet at the Visitor’s Center
Do You See a Ninja Turtle?
Fairy Castles
Totem Hoodoos
Butterfly on Mitten Thumb or Heart?


Biscuit with a Bumper Boat on Top?

At about our halfway mark, we took advantage of a bench to take in the spectacular views of the valley below.


Red Canyon Hike Resting Bench
View from Resting Bench
View of Red Cliffs and Pine Trees
How’d that Camel Get Down There?
Highway 12 and Bike Path Through Red Canyon


Hoodoos Reaching for the Sky

Just as the traffic below had receded into white noise, this drone succeeded in drowning out the chattering birds, scurrying squirrels, and windblown leaves and pine needles. It flew around for about ten minutes and left, a little too long for my comfort level. Too bad the pilot could not have taken the time to enjoy the wonders of Red Canyon in person. To experience a place in person is so much better than watching it fly by on an LCD screen.




Annoying Drone

The Red Canyon hills were just as magnificent from across the road as they were when we walked along the trail.


Red Canyon Hills


Although we could have stayed for another week, our time in Bryce Canyon and Panguitch had come to a close and Zion or bust became our mantra on October 6, 2017. Stay tuned for more adventure.

Safe Travels




Kodachrome Basin State Park

Kodachrome Basin State Park

We noticed Kodachrome Basin State Park on our area map and decided to drive out to take a look. After visiting Bryce, it was difficult to imagine anything as spectacular. Boy, were we wrong. Just driving along the road was evidence enough that we were entering a special place.


Kodachrome Basin State Park


Kodachrome became a state park in 1963. At an elevation of 5,800 feet, it is an easier place to visit for people who cannot tolerate the higher altitudes of Bryce Canyon.

The layered sandstone hills and sedimentary pipes that range from six to 170 feet in height reveal the geological formations that began 180 million years ago.


The Carmel Formation, noted by the white striations in the red colored cliffs at lower levels, forms the base. The red sandstone, along with gypsum, shale, quartz, and clay, makes up the Entrada Formation. The white to tan portions of the cliffs are from the Henrieville Sandstone deposited toward the end of the Jurassic Period.


The Dakota and Tropic Shale Formations top the previous layers. A sea that covered much of the interior of North America deposited this layer 95 million years ago. Geologists haven’t quite yet agreed on how the spires were formed, but there are three theories that attempt to explain their creation. You can be read about them here on Wikipedia if your interest is piqued.

Another Sandstone Hill

Since then, wind, rain, and earthquakes have left their marks on the cliffs and monolith shapes we see today.

Indigenous Woman Wrapped in a Shawl
The Priest

There are several trails in the park ranging from easy to strenuous. We only had time for the 0.5-mile nature trail, which included informational panels on the plants, animals, and geology. This trail is also ADA accessible.


Red Sandstone and Snag
View from Kodachrome Basin State Park


The state park would be a good place to spend a few nights so we could explore more. I have a feeling, though, that reservations are difficult to obtain.

A few miles from the park’s entrance, we came across an alternative to the Kodachrome campgrounds.

Bryce Luxury Camping Near Kodachrome Basin State Park

How about a luxury tent complete with chairs, table, barbecue, and fire pit? Select a site with neighbors close by.


Luxury Tent Camping


Or opt for one with a bit more privacy.


Great Views from Luxury Campsite


Cannonville, Utah

On our way back to the trailer, we stopped off at the visitor center in Cannonville, Utah. Although they were not open, we wandered around outside where they have interpretive panels and displays.


Cannonville, Utah,  Visitor Center Farming Display




This fence looked rickety to me, but apparently, a ripgut (interlocking) fence is said to be one the strongest for corraling livestock without the use of nails or baling wire.

Ripgut Fence

A Little More of Bryce Canyon


Before we left Bryce, we attended a ranger talk at Rainbow Point. We drove into the park early to grab a parking spot before the lot filled. Thank goodness it was warmer than the first day we came out on our tour. The ranger talked about the geology and taught us how to distinguish among the white fir, bristlecone, limber, and ponderosa pine trees. I’m afraid I’ve forgotten this skill already.


Snags are Left to Provide Shelter for Insects, Rodents, and Birds


He encouraged us to take a whiff of the cinnamon-colored bark of the mature ponderosa trees. They smelled like vanilla.


Bark of a Ponderosa


This little squirrel was so busy munching on the pine cone that she, or he, ignored the group of people listening to the ranger impart tidbits about the green leaf manzanita.


We stopped at a couple more overlooks on our way out of the park. This amphitheater reminded us of terracotta warriors.


Terracotta Warriors



Temple Cliff


After six nights at Ruby’s Inn and Campground, it was time to move on. But not too far away.  There was plenty more to see in the area.

Safe Travels

Tri-Cities Wrap Up and On to Oregon

Sacajawea State Park

Our last visit in the Tri-Cities area was the Sacajawea Historical State Park and the Sacajawea Interpretive Center along the Columbia River.


Sacajawea Interpretive Center


The museum tells the story of Sacagawea, her husband, and the Lewis and Clark expedition near the site where the party made camp for two nights at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers while traveling to the Pacific Ocean. Other displays include the stories of the Native Americans who resided in the area.


Sacajawea Interpretive Center

Why the different spelling of the Shoshoni woman? Recent research and study of the original journals indicate the proper spelling and pronunciation with a hard ‘g’ not a ‘j.’ The name of the state park kept the original spelling.



Sacajawea State Park

Besides the Sacajawea Center, the 257-acre day-use park includes two boat ramps, fishing, swimming, boating, and 1.2 miles of hiking trails.



View of Rail Bridge from Sacajawea State Park

We made one more visit to the Ice Harbor before we left the area. This time we opted for the Clover Island Marina location, which is an upscale version that includes a more inviting building, more food selections, and the same great beer.



Ice Harbor Brewing Company at the Marina
Cable Bridge 

The American Empress came into view near the harbor so I managed to snap this photo between the trees. I wish I could have gotten the paddle wheel. The steamboat vessel cruises the Columbia and Snake Rivers along the Lewis and Clark trail.

Glimpse of American Empress 


After spending the past couple of weeks in noisy locations near or on major highways and freeways, we craved a quiet place. We made reservations at Crooked River Ranch RV Park near Redmond, Oregon and crossed our fingers that it would satisfy our craving.

On to Oregon

 On Sunday, July 23, 2017, we followed the Columbia River through golden cliffs, rivers the width of small lakes, windmills on top of cliffs, a few farms, of course, and Mount Rainier poking his snowcapped peak above the terrain. In Washington, the air had a smoke haze look to it, but cleared as we entered Oregon. At one point, we could see the snowcapped peaks of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, and the Three Sisters. What a sight.

When we arrived at Crooked River Ranch RV Park, we were pleased to find that for at least three nights we would be far from any major roads.


Sunset View of Cliffs from Crooked River Ranch


Newberry National Volcanic Memorial Park

The next day we visited the Newberry National Volcanic Memorial Park. We arrived just in time to hear a ranger talk on the geology of the park. Afterward, we took a hike with him partially up Lava Butte, a cinder cone, where he pointed out examples of what he had discussed on the patio.


Lava Butte Kind of Looks Like a Dinosaur Back



Path Around the Lava Flow

A shuttle bus took us to the top of Lava Butte where there were magnificent views of the valley below and peaks to the west. The lava flow reminded us of Craters of the Moon in Idaho.



Lava Butte
View From Atop Lava Butte


Lava Butte erupted 7,000 years ago creating a 9 square mile lava flow. Besides Lava Butte, visitors can see Lava River Cave, Big Obsidian Flow, and Paulina Falls and Paulina Peak, which rises 7,984 feet. Hikers, horse riders, and bicyclists can enjoy the many trails within the park that range from easy to difficult. Several tent campsites are available in the Newberry Caldera and East Lake has one RV campground with 45 sites, all of which are reservable, while the tent sites have some first-come-first-served sites.

Sisters Oregon

We also visited Sisters, Oregon, a small town of less than 2 square miles and a population of 2,038 as of the 2010 census. We found Sisters a quaint little town with plenty of stores to keep any shopper busy, restaurants to satisfy hunger, and places to rest at night.


Sisters Market
Baskets of Petunias Hang from Lightposts
Loved the Restored Buildings
For Cooking Equipment and Utensils, Stop in at The Cook’s Nook
It was Too Early in the Day to Grab a Cold One at Sisters Saloon


A small park with a couple picnic tables was the perfect place for us to eat our packed lunch before heading to the Whychus Creek Overlook Trail.


View from Whychus Creek Overlook Trail



Whychus Creek Overlook


Continuing down the road, we came across a burned out area giving way to views of the peaks.


Peaks Rise Above a Burned Out Area
Naked Trees Against Blue Skies and Clouds
Signs of Forest Rebirth

On our way back to Crooked Ranch, we drove by alpaca grazing in a field.



Alpaca Grazing in a Field

There are a total of four alpaca farms in the Bend, Oregon, area. We come across a lot of cows and cattle in our travels, but this was the first time we saw alpacas.


Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint

We stopped in at the Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint in Terrebonne, Oregon. The viewpoint includes views of basalt cliffs, river, and peaks along with the closed Rex T. Barber Veterans Memorial Bridge. Several signs warn visitors to watch children at all times and leave pets in the car.

Keep Children and Dogs Safe



Rex T. Barber Veterans Memorial Bridge U.S. Highway 97
Detail of Cliffs at Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint
View From Top of Cliff Down to River
Crooked River High Bridge Built in 1926 Now Closed to Traffic
Trunk Railroad Bridge
Canyon Below Trunk Railroad Bridge

The night before leaving Crooked River Ranch, smoke drifted into the valley creating a spectacular sunset view of the hills and sky beyond the bridge.



Rex T. Barber Veterans Memorial Bridge U.S. Highway 97



Next up we continue searching for out of way places and Jon redeems a Christmas gift.

Safe Travels


Tri-Cities Washington – Hanford B Reactor and the Manhattan Project

On July 19, 2017, we made our way to Pasco, Washington. We stopped in Easton at Turtle RV Town for breakfast. The only waitress provided great service for the customers. The food, on the other hand, was a bit mixed. Great pancakes, over-cooked ham, yucky eggs, and okay decaf coffee. After passing through mountainous areas, farms and vineyards, desert, and lava rock hills and canyons, disappointment set in when we arrived at the Pasco KOA. The campground sat right next to a freeway. And I thought the traffic in Poulsbo, Washington, was bad. At least semis didn’t drive by all hours of the night.

The Hanford Reach Interpretive Center was our first stop in the Tri-Cities.


Hanford Reach Interpretive Center


The museum includes exhibits on geology and formation of the Columbia River, flora and fauna, Native American artifacts, Manhattan Project and towns of Hanford and White Bluffs, atomic era and the secret weapons project, and the post-cold war activities.


Display at Interpretive Center
Display at Interpretive Center

Before houses were built, workers lived in trailers. Although they looked comfortable, I’m thankful my modern fifth wheel contains at least a bathroom. Twenty trailers in Hanford had to share the restroom facilities


Photo of Trailers Where Workers Lived
One of the Trailers Where Workers Lived
Galley and Bedroom Portion of the Trailer
Living Area of Trailer

Hanford, along with Los Alamos in New Mexico and Oak Ridge in Tennessee, was designated as part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park in November 2015. Hanford’s part of the project was the production of plutonium.

Energy Output of Uranium Pellets Compared to Other Sources

The next day, we headed out in search for the Manhattan National Historic Park. We drove around an area where a map indicated it was located only to find an abandoned building and then the Columbia Generating Station. Maybe we could get directions there.

We drove down the drive headed toward the guard shack, the road split into three lanes. I saw a sign directing all drivers without a badge to the far right lane. Jon missed the sign and headed straight toward the armed guard in military garb. The guard signaled to stop and gave us a threatening stare. He signaled us to pull forward and covered his sidearm with his right hand, as we approached. I prayed he wasn’t a shoot-first-ask-questions-later type of guy.

Jon rolled down his window with a chuckle and said, “Uh, obviously we’re lost.” The guard relaxed his tense posture and scolded us for not following the sign directions. He didn’t know about the park but thought we needed to take a tour. We made a U-turn; I’m sure to the relief of the guard. I pictured him telling his buddies about the crazy tourists who drove their GMC pickup on site with a generator and a 5-gallon gas container strapped to the front rack of their truck.

Next, we stumbled across LIGO Hanford Observatory. LIGO stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory detectors. Their website says, “LIGO is a sophisticated physics experiment designed to detect gravitational waves from some of the most violent and energetic events in the Universe. By making gravitational-wave detections, LIGO will provide physicists with the means to answer key scientific questions.”

LIGO Hanford Observatory Sign
LIGO Visitor Center and Administration Building
Equipment Used to Measure Gravitational Waves

No one was on site to give us a tour and explain in layman’s terms what the displays meant, so we wandered around trying to make sense of the exhibits that far exceeded the level of our undergraduate physics courses. LIGO founders Barry C. Barrish and Kip S. Thorne from Caltech and Rainer Weiss from MIT were awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics. Visit LIGO if you’re interested in the measurement of gravitational waves and the benefits made to science.

On our way out, the woman who greeted us when we came in handed us directions to where we could arrange to take the tour. Finally, someone who knew what to do.

We headed back to town, made reservations for the next day to take the B Reactor tour, and stopped at the Ice Harbor for a beer. The building is not much to look at, but they have good food and beer.

Ice Harbor Brewing Company

The next day, we met the tour group at the National Park office, watched a short movie, and then climbed aboard the shuttle bus for the B Reactor. This is where the government produced plutonium for the first atomic bomb used during WWII and for bombs during the Cold War. The plant was decommissioned in February 1968.

National Park Service and Department of Energy Office

All that remains of the 30 buildings and 20 service facilities of B Reactor operations is the reactor building, main exhaust stack, and the river pump house, which is used for current site activities, which consist of a cleanup project.

Entrance to B Reactor
Back Side of Reactor Building

Inside the building, docents gave a presentation explaining the workings of the reactor. Then we had plenty of time to roam around and look at other areas and listen to more detailed presentations of the control room and the valve pit.


Workroom Showing Front Face of Charging Tubes in Pile


Close up of the Charging Tubes
Model of Reactor Core
A Portion of the Control Room through Enrico Fermi’s Office

Seven hydraulic accumulators served as an additional safety measure in the event of a power outage or other event that threatened the pile. The accumulators would pump oil to insert shim rods to shut down the reactor.


Accumulators Used as Safety Measure

Adjacent to the workroom room was the valve pit where the main connections and valves controlled the process water lines from the pump house to the pile.



Closeup of the Valve Pit
Valve Pit



Reactor Operation
B Reactor Cross-Section

A few more photos from the B Reactor Tour.

Supply Cabinet
Workers’ Locker Room

The safe housed classified papers.


The Safe Was Used Only for the Most Important Papers

We enjoyed learning about the B Reactor, but the tour guide and the docents threw out so many terms, facts, and information it was difficult to remember everything that was said. Fortunately, there is a virtual tour and plenty of other information available online to learn more about Hanford and the B Reactor. A Google search of Hanford, B Reactor, and Manhattan Project will give a student of any age plenty of meaty data, history, and other information to dig into.

We finish up our visit to the Tri-Cities in next week’s blog post.

Safe Travels



Wilbur, Washington – Grand Coulee Dam

Wilbur, Washington, was our first stop back in the states on July 16, 2017, where we checked in at Country Lane RV Park.

Our Site at Country Lane RV Park

Our main objective, besides getting forty winks, was to visit the Grand Coulee Dam. We dropped the trailer and drove the 23 miles to the visitor center in time to catch the last tour of the day.

The volcanic rock terrain reminded us of Craters of the Moon, only several thousand years later after the rock had broken down and soil had covered the surface allowing trees and bushes to grow. Farmers made use of the land by arranging their fields around the larger rock formations.

Grand Coulee Dam

The visitor center tells the story of the dam, and the guided tour gives an up-close view of the generators, the pumps, and top of the dam. The tour starts here, not at the visitor’s center, but they provide directions.


Location of Guided Grand Coulee Dam Tour. The Only Way to See the Dam Up Close


A concrete gravity dam, Grand Coulee Dam contains 421 billion cubic feet of concrete, enough concrete to build a highway across the United States. Operated by the Bureau of Reclamation, it is the largest producer of hydroelectric power in the United States and the third largest hydroelectric facility in the world.


Grand Coulee Dam


The dam’s twenty-eight generators within four power plants can produce up to 6,809 megawatts annually and are the primary source of electricity to many Northwest states.

Power Plant Seen on Guided Tour of Grand Coulee Dam

In addition to the power plants, the dam also provides irrigation water through the Pump-Generator Plant located on the east bank of the Columbia River. Twelve pumps lift water up the hillside to a canal that flows into Banks Lake, the 27-mile-long reservoir for the Columbia Basin Project.


Water Pumped Uphill for Irrigation


Top of Grand Coulee Dam




Columbia River


I asked the guide a couple of questions that went unanswered, like what is the purpose of that Honeywell gizmo down there? The tour guide said he either could not tell me or did not know the answer due to security measures. However, he did not prevent me from taking a picture.


What Does This Gizmo Do?


We drove through the Town of Coulee Dam—The Green Oasis at the Foot of Grand Coulee Dam—which was populated with quaint cottages, plenty of trees, green grass, and flowers.


Town of Coulee Dam


I would love to see these trees ablaze with yellows, reds, and oranges during the fall.

The town, founded in 1933 by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, served as headquarters for construction of the Grand Coulee Dam.  One part of the town, known as Mason City, housed the lead contractor. The other part was known as Engineers Town and owned by the government.  In 1948, Mason City was incorporated in Coulee Dam, and by 1959, the government had completed its process of selling the town to the public.

A Short Jaunt to Poulsbo, Washington

We left Wilbur, Washington, the next day for a six-night stay at Cedar Glen RV Park in Poulsbo, Washington to visit friends. As we decided on what to do in our spare time while near Seattle, miles and miles of wheat fields and other grains mesmerized us. We would crest a hill, and all we could see in a 360-degree radius were fields of wheat and other grains. No cities, no buildings, not even an out building in sight. Some of the fields had recently been cut, others newly plowed, while others still contained stalks standing tall. About every ten or fifteen miles, clumps of trees, shimmering silos, and barns, would appear in the distance. The acres of agribusiness was a side of the Washington State I had never seen before and was as amazing as its coastline and waterways.

About two hours before we arrived, the RV Park manager called. Oops! Our six-night stay was now only two nights, so much for seeing a couple of sights. At least we had a good visit with our friends in Silverdale.

It was probably a good thing we only had two nights. I didn’t think I could take the road noise another night. The large evergreen barrier that separated our space from the main road did little to muffle the roar of nonstop traffic to and from the naval base and ferry in Bremerton and other populated areas.

One more word about the State of Washington: The state grows the friendliest toll takers we have ever encountered. The woman who took our money smiled at us and wished us a good day. After fighting the traffic to get to the bridge, her attitude made the rest of our daily journey pleasant.

Next up: The Tri-Cities Area of the State of Washington along the Columbia River.

Safe Travels