Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Across Nevada! - May 2016 - Part One

please remember you can click on a photo to see a larger version

Wapiti at breakfast and searching for glow in the dark jackrabbits.

I ordered the fish tacos and the Lady ordered a Portobello mushroom sandwich. We were back at Lee Vining's Whoa Nellie Deli and this was our store bought supper for Friday night. The Lady's school year ended Thursday evening and we attended our 34th eighth grade graduation ceremony - the Lady has already informed next year's graduating class that she's graduating with them. This Memorial Day Weekend was the beginning of the Lady's last summer break and she asked if we could add a couple of extra days. There was a place she wanted to visit in far eastern Nevada. A place with such a seductive name, you are destined to dream of it constantly once you hear the name.

I agreed to take a couple of days off to lengthen the weekend. I cannot say no to the Lady and besides, I had also heard that seductive name.

We pulled onto a narrow two track road along the east side of the Mono Craters, surprised and pleased we had the whole place to ourselves at the beginning of this holiday weekend. 

A thunderstorm was moving in from the east.

The wind and rain was a "Thank you jesus!" event as it put down the hordes of no-see-ums that in only a few moments during setup had harvested enough blood from me to assure a robust future generation of the little bastards.

Why did we camp here for the night? We had a little adventure planned for Saturday morning, an opportunity to stretch the legs a little. We would climb to the top of Crater Mountain, the Mono Craters' highest summit.

Rain fell on the roof overnight. The morning was glorious. We started out bright and early, before the no-see-ums' wake up call.  The craters are steep piles of pumice and climbing takes determination to continue, step after step after step. 

The Lady most always takes the direct approach.

The military had an air show for us. The Lady heard the roar first and I saw her head quickly move across the skies above us. I followed suit as the ground started to shake. We could not find the source. Our problem? They were below us, coming in from the south, just above the trees, two large four engine jets in very close formation. By the time I got the camera on them, they were in a banking turn to the east, gaining altitude to clear Sagehen Summit, possibly heading to either Hawthorne or Fallon, Nevada.

I am not good with identifying larger jets so if a kind reader could provide an id, we'd appreciate it.
edit: thank you to readers and friends Steve and Bob for providing the identification - Boeing C-17 Globemaster III

Once at the top of Crater Mountain, we found ourselves in one of the most spectacular and wondrous places we have visited.

Here is a panorama shot of the summit crater.

With the clean, storm washed air, the views were outstanding. We had to stage a summit shot.

Mono Lake was to the north.

The crest of the Sierra Nevada was to the west.

The Lady disappeared as I was shooting photos to stitch together for the panoramas. I soon spotted her, off exploring every nook and cranny.

On an outcropping in the center we found a walled shelter.

The guardian up here at 9000 feet, was a White-tailed Jackrabbit.

It was quite calm and content just to watch us, different than the usual skiddish behavior of jackrabbits.

We circled and explored the summit crater. At one high point I found a spectacular spot to sit. It even had a comfortable backrest. As I sat and took in the phenomenal view, I noticed the ground was littered with obsidian flakes. Others, a long time ago, also thought this was a spectacular place to sit and work at making stone points.

The remaining Mono Craters stretched out to the south with the backdrop of the classic eastern Sierra Nevada.

This is indeed a very special place.

It was only mid morning but the weather was already changing. Behind us, to the south, clouds were building and approaching. Although still in sunshine with blue sky above, we were hit with raindrops as we reached our exit point from the crater. It was time to get down. What was coming had wind and power. Thunder rattled the sky as we reached the trees. The temperature plummeted. We knew what was  next and ducked under a dense stand of jeffery pines anchored on the steep slope. We pulled on our rain gear, I stashed the camera away in my pack, and our pack flies went on as the hail started. This is why we left the camper popped up, so we'd have a warm easy refuge to return to. The smell of storm was a delight. The rat-a-tat of hail stones against our hats and hoods and bodies did not hurry us as we descended and returned to our camp.

This was our first exploration in the Mono Craters, a truly amazing place. The Lady is asking when we can return.

It was time to turn east. It was time to go to Nevada!

Searching For Glow In The Dark Jackrabbits

"It has been said that the Trinity test let the nuclear genie out of the bottle, but it learned to dance on the deserts of Nevada." Michon Mackedon

I believe one the biggest contributors to the misconception that Nevada is a worthless, barren landscape, devoid of life is its history as a testing ground for nuclear devices. It is a place so unimportant that it's perfectly logical to explode atomic bombs here. This is perhaps the precise message the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and the Department of Energy (DOE) seeded in our minds to enable test after test after test (930 total in Nevada prior to the halt of nuclear testing in 1992).

In an almost surreal piece of irony the battleship USS Nevada, that survived the attack on Pearl Harbor and the battle of Iwo Jima, was painted bright orange and used as the ground zero target in the first U.S. atomic bomb test at Bikini Atol in the South Pacific.

The vast majority of atomic bomb detonations took place at the Nevada Test Site (NTS) north of Las Vegas - 100 above ground tests and 828 underground. Two atomic bombs were exploded outside the borders of the NTS, Project Shoal near Fallon and Project Faultless in central Nevada's Hot Creek Valley (another bit of irony).

We had recently visited the site of Project Shoal. We turned north off of Highway 6 and headed up into Hot Creek Valley to find the Project Faultless site.

There are warning signs everywhere concerning petroleum contamination due to the massive amount of drilling involved in placing a 1 megaton nuclear bomb 3200 feet underground. Except for the plaque on the emplacement shaft, there is no mention of anything atomic bomb related. I especially like the name "Office of Legacy Management", we'd all have to work quite hard to come up with a more nebulous title than that.

Why explode a 1 megaton atomic bomb here, outside the Nevada Test Site? Simple answer is Las Vegas tourism. Bombs were getting bigger, the ground was shaking more, tourists and gamblers (Nevada's real bread and butter) were getting nervous, casino windows were breaking. The search was on for a replacement site where the big ones could be tested. Central Nevada and its residents had already been affected by radioactive fallout from the above ground tests, now large atomic bombs were going to be exploded underneath them.

By compassion, Project Shoal was a little pip squeak (energy equivalent of 12,000 tons of TNT) to Project Faultless' yield of 1 megaton (energy equivalent of 1 million tons of TNT).

January 19, 1968 was the big day.

Project Faultless could not have been more poorly named. The ground broke around the site along faults in the earth. Almost 50 years after the detonation, these breaks are still readily apparent.

Windows were broken in the White Pine School in downtown Ely, 87 miles away. The Atomic Energy Commission packed their bags and abandoned this area for future testing.

The steel emplacement shaft that once was at ground level now is elevated above the surrounding area by nine feet. The most poignant graffiti on the shaft is human outlines, calling to mind the shadows of Hiroshima

I recommend reading an well written article I found online by Michon Mackedon -

This article led me to Ms. Mackedon's book - Bombast, Spinning Atoms in the Desert that I'm currently reading and recommend. I am enjoying the author's tone, style, and insight.

We spent Saturday night about four miles north of Project Faultless.

Thunderstorms built all around us during the day but we only received rain overnight.

So confident were the officials involved in moving nuclear bomb testing to the Hot Creek Valley site that three other test sites were drilled and prepared before the sobering failure of Project Faultless. Our camping spot was the site of UC-4. A three to four megaton devise was in the works for detonation here, 3 to 4 times more powerful than the bomb that was exploded in Project Faultless. 

Up against the Hot Creek Range to the west, this is a sublimely beautiful place.

We had done a lot this day, climbed Crater Mountain in the morning, got pelted with hail on the descent, drove half way across Nevada, and visited scary reminders of the past and future. We did not stay up much past dark. We did not see any jackrabbits glowing in the dark. We dropped into restful sleep as soon our heads hit our pillows. We didn't even play "Tease A Geezer".

I took a video of the site the next morning at dawn

Evening Primrose bloomed profusely around the site overnight and amid all this cold war atomic bomb history, I could not rid my mind of the reminder of the folk song from the past -  "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?"

Postscript: I did not include photos in this post but there has been much work completed in the last couple of years at the Project Faultless site, just as we found at Project Shoal. Numerous new ground water monitoring wells have been installed all around the area. Legacy management?

Sunday morning and it was time for a change in direction for our trip across Nevada. Near Moore's Station is a well known petroglyph site. A small canyon cut into volcanic tuft is lined with art work from the past.

This is a beautiful place, especially on this early spring morning with rain washed skies.

I wondered about the meaning of the bird tracks climbing the rock.

I also found this petroglyph intriguing as it used the form of the rock and possibly depicts a shelter or home.

Above it, around a corner,  was a depiction of a white man's dwelling.

As I said, this was a beautiful, peaceful morning here.

Besides the petroglyphs, we had an array of incredible wildflowers to admire as we climbed to the top of Petroglyph Butte.

It was time to climb into the truck, head south, and once again intersect with highway 6. We had more of "across Nevada!" to explore.

Our adventure continues in Part Two - Please Click Here.

1 comment:

  1. I will have to check out the books you mentioned - thanks Monte