Hanford B Reactor Tour

I can’t believe it’s taken me months to get around to blogging about this trip! When I decided to go to Washington to tackle the project at Mom’s house, I realized that I had a big stretch of time to try to get tickets to the Hanford B Reactor tour. Tours have been offered at the reactor since 2009 and in 2015 it was officially added to Manhattan Project National Historic Park. I tossed out the idea on Facebook and Kamel, the husband of my long-time internet friend Lauren, agreed to make the trek to the TriCities.

I picked up Kamel, who I had never actually met, and we headed out for a three hour roadtrip to the tour site. The drive was great! I totally morphed into my Tour Guide Barbie persona and pointed out lots of landmarks to Kamel who had never been further east on I-90 than Snoqualmie Pass! (Tour Guide Barbie is a moniker that I was given in high school both as a tongue-in-cheek Barbie reference and very honest commentary on my perhaps annoying propensity to spout historic, geological, and other random facts while driving.)

Once we arrived at the visitor center, Kamel and I both entered full nerd mode as we checked out the introductory exhibits. There was a short introductory talk about what the village of Hanford was like at the time it was chosen for the reactor site. By the time we got on the bus for the ride to the reactor, we were positively giddy. On the bus out to the reactor site, we got some more history and orientation to the area.

If you haven’t heard the story of the B-reactor, it’s actually pretty nuts. In just 11 months, the reactor went from a plan to producing the plutonium that was used in the Trinity Test and in Fat Man, the bomb dropped in Nagasaki. The tour is really informative about how DuPont and the Army built the plant and how ambitious the project actually was.

The first look at the reactor face is so incredible. Sitting in front of this massive piece of engineering, we had another short explanation of how the reactor actually worked and then, basically, we were allowed to wander around the reactor.

It was really surreal.

There were lots of really great vintage signs.

The access to the whole reactor complex is really impressive. While there were some areas clearly marked with radiation warnings that were off limits, we really got to wander around lots of nooks and crannys.

Kamel brought along his medium format camera to make some photos (although he told me he was too distracted by the building and its history to make good photos, I would beg to differ).

It had started to drizzle when we arrived and there seemed to be a little break in the rain so we went outside to check out the reactor area from outside.

This tour is free (did you hear me, FREE?) and it is fantastic.

Small Town Nevada

I decided that there were too many question marks for my liking so Sprocket and I headed out for a nice training hike around the historic town of Belmont.

We summited a few minor peaks around town before dropping down to check out Belmont Courthouse. Unfortunately, I was not there when the Friends of Belmont Courthouse were doing tours, but the work they’ve done to make the building stand for another hundred years was impressive.

After leaving Belmont, we headed north enjoying the scenery. When I reached Kingston, I saw a sign advertising Jack’s Lucky Spur Saloon. Stopping to check it out was an excellent decision: they had Icky and I made some awesome friends who invited me and Sprocket to their house for dinner! Traveling solo(ish) is fantastic sometimes.

Mountain Meadows Massacre Site

While re-reading Under The Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer last fall, I really found myself attracted to the subtitle of the book: A Story of Violent Faith. In support of this Krakauer discusses the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857. This historical event has come up in many many accounts of early western history and I feel like I’d always sort of skimmed over the event until that re-reading.

Mountain Meadows was a part of the old Spanish Trail and later part of the California Trail. In 1857, a group of emigrants from Arkansas was attacked by the Mormon militia leading to the murder of 120 emigrants.

When I decided to make my trek to Washington through western Utah, one of the first non-hikes to make it onto my itinerary was a stop at Mountain Meadows (a National Historic Landmark, as of 2015).

Sprocket and I made our way to Mountain Meadows from Cedar City and walked around the cairn monument and then around the field to the west of the monument. My understanding of the event was still sort of superficial but it was still really sobering to be in a spot where over a 100 people had lost their lives.

I didn’t think to order a book focused on the massacre until too close to my departure date so I had Massacre at Mountain Meadows by Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley, and Glen M. Leonard delivered to my mom’s house. I was really glad to delve into a more complete description of the events of the day than I’d had previously so I found the read worthwhile.


But.

All three authors of this account are part of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) church. The book admittedly leaves an account of the aftermath of the attack, and what some would call a coverup, “to another day.” It also seems quick to acquit Brigham Young and other church leaders in Salt Lake City.

While I tried to put my finger on what was such a let down about this book, I read through some Goodreads reviews and had to nod heartily when someone suggested that having a single non-Mormon author would have helped address the culpability of the church as a whole.

This book did, however, make me wish I had taken the time to visit the Women & Children’s Memorial Site and the Men’s Memorial Site. When I drove by, I found the separation distasteful but when I finished Massacre at Mountain Meadows, I learned that the separation was historical in nature.

In an attempt to remedy my uneasiness with Massacre at Mountain Meadows,  I ordered a copy of Juanita Brooks’s seminal 1950 book The Mountain Meadows Massacre. Juanita Brooks was also part of the LDS church, however after the publication of her book about the massacre she was estranged from the church (yet not excommunicated).

Brooks’s book feels less readable to me but also feels less willing to simply let LDS leadership off the hook and pin responsibility for the Massacre on those in the southern part of Utah. Brooks does an excellent job in sharing the source material for her research (my copy is a 4th edition) so readers can better draw their own conclusions.

The Mountain Meadows Massacre is a weird chapter in American history. It seems abundantly clear, no matter which account you read, that white people belonging to the LDS church, tried to pin the attack on Native Americans and that innocent victims (who may or may not have poked a stick at the Mormon settlements but definitely didn’t deserve what they got).

Thanksgiving 2017: Montezuma Castle National Monument

This is a continuation of my adventures from Thanksgiving last year. I got distracted with moving into my house sooooo not much got blogged from the trip. 

After having visited Casa Grande National Monument, I gave into the prehistory ruins compulsion and visited Montezuma Castle National Monument in Camp Verde. By this time, I’d decided to just pay for my national parks pass and get on with it.

Montezuma Castle actually allows dogs on the trail! There is just a single paved path that goes along the base of the cliff with the structure but because it is just the one path and because of the extreme temperatures, they allow dogs! It was a touch hot for Sprocket to wait so I was super excited.

The visitors center was smaller than the one at Casa Grande and I was left with a lot of questions about just how the people further north on the Verde were related to the people who had been to their north (ancient Puebloans) and south (ancient Sonorans). This bookstore didn’t have anything I could impulse buy to bolster my knowledge of the Sinagua people so I’m currently accepting suggestions for books about ancient cultures in central Arizona.

It was a super short walk out to the Castle; the toughest part was dodging people on the trail! Apparently it’s part of the post Thanksgiving trek to the Grand Canyon.

We wandered down to Castle A. Apparently, Castle A was even larger than Montezuma Castle during its occupation. The vigas that supported beams to the rock are still visible. However, this castle’s upper floors collapsed and the structure suffered a fire after the end of its occupation.

The National Monument has a second unit at Montezuma Well but I decided to continue north because I had a breakfast date in Moab the next day and I had another few stops in mind.

Thanksgiving 2017: Casa Grande Ruins

So upon perusal of photos uploaded to this site but not attached to posts, I realized that I hadn’t finished blogging about Thanksgiving. (Something about moving into a house?) Thinking way back to my exploration of Bisbee and Tombstone and hike of Chihuahua Peak… 

After a quick stop in Tucson, I headed north towards Phoenix. Along the way I saw a sign for Casa Grande Ruins. I have no idea how many times I’ve gone past the exit near the I-10 and I-17 interchange but this time I was actually wasn’t only not on a schedule but I had some time to kill. I pulled into the visitor center parking lot with the late afternoon sunlight bathing the ruins outside.

My curiosity about these ruins was sort of piqued by having learned more about the history of Native Americans in the southwest (and in the US more generally) over the past year. I basically knew nothing about the ancient Sonoran people and their culture and it seemed like the right time to check it out.

I had a good time chatting with the Ranger inside the visitors center. He’d worked at Bent’s Fort and I’d learned a fair amount about Bent’s Old Fort when I read Blood And Thunder. It’s definitely on my “to visit” list. I spent a chunk of time in the visitors center.

I’ve spent enough time in the greater Phoenix area that maps of the Gila canals and other Hohokam sites really grabbed my attention.

Outside, I walked around the plaza surrounding the Great House and took a look at it from several angles. (The Great House is not open to the public.) Casa Grande was the first prehistoric and cultural reserve set aside in the US (it was established in 1892 by Benjamin Harrison). The Great House seems like an improbably large structure to have survived for over 600 years.

Never one to just be content with a “sort of” understanding, I meandered my way back to the visitors center to make a stop in the bookstore. I picked up some “light” reading to connect what little I knew about ancestral Puebloan people to the ancient Sonoran people.

In my last days in the shed, I read this pretty raptly considering its all academic papers from a conference about ancient cultures in the Southwest. I’m sure a lot of the information is a little bit dated as far as current archaeological info goes but I learned a lot and developed a rather burning desire to make it down to Aztec Ruins and Chaco Canyon in the very near future.

As I left, the nice ranger reminded me that if I bought an America the Beautiful pass in the next month that they’d apply my entry fee and I thanked him before heading west to find In-N-Out and a place to get some sleep.

 

Ute Indian Museum

Way back in January, I visited the recently renovated Ute Indian Museum. With my recent readings about exploration of the Western Slope (and the rest of the West) by Europeans and later Americans, I decided it was time to check out the history of the people that they’d displaced. The museum was renovated over the winter of 2016-2107 with what I understand to be extensive input from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Southern Ute Tribe, and the Ute Tribe of the Unitah and Ouray Reservation. The Ute Indian Museum is part of the History Colorado museum network. The museum is located near the site of Ouray and Chipeta’s ranch just south of Montrose.

The museum isn’t particularly large but it does contain a lot of information and the new exhibits are really well done. I learned a lot as the museum moved from how the Ute tribe interacted with the physical environment and more about their historic range to artifacts of the tribe. In these early sections of the museum I was really struck by the use of “we” and “our” in the text to accompany exhibits. It served to really emphasize to me how a whole people was affected by the arrival of explorers in the area.

Seeing some of the historical artifacts was really exciting. The museum has several pieces of clothing worn by Ouray and Chipeta which I found really cool. That sinking sober feeling I’d gotten earlier, really struck home when I got to the section of the museum highlighting how the reservations of the Ute bands were splintered and made smaller over the years. I was familiar with the history from Ouray: Chief of the Utes and other books that I’ve read but seeing it laid out in graphic form was really striking.

The final section of the museum featured contemporary exhibits from the various Ute tribal groups. They were very positive in nature and talked about traditions that are preserved by the tribe.

After a quick pit stop in the gift shop, I headed out to the grounds of the museum. Chipeta, had been buried in Utah where she had died on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation but in 1924, her remains were moved to the museum grounds. (Chief Ouray’s remains are buried near Ignatio, Colorado.) I also checked out the interpretive signs about the Domniguez-Escalante expedition of 1776 down closer to the river.

I’m really glad that I visited the museum. I live on land that used to belong to the Utes and was glad to learn more about the tribes, especially their current situations. I’ve been in Colorado for five years now (and delightedly, all out on the Western Slope) and deepening my understanding of history here is always something I value.

As of this writing, the museum is $6 for adults (but if you’re a member of History Colorado it’s included) and well worth the visit!

On The Page: Juan Rivera’s Colorado, 1765

Last summer when my mom came to visit, she bought me a present: Juan Rivera’s Colorado, 1765. Fresh off my trip to OKC where my Spanish colonial history obsession was kindled by stops in Santa Fe and at the Pecos pueblo I had stopped in at Ouray’s Buckskin Bookseller to find a copy of the journals of the Dominguez-Escalate expedition. The owner pointed out this new release from Western Reflections Publishing (yes, I’m still slowly purchasing their entire catalog).

Steven Baker scrupulously traces Rivera’s expeditions to southwestern Colorado. Apparently there was some controversy about whether Rivera had gone to Moab or to Delta. I loved the detailed tracing of his route. I’m a map and geography nerd and the territory traveled by Rivera is my home ground. He passed by Chimney Rock then, on his fall expedition, up through the Dolores River canyon to what is now the west end of Montrose County and then over the Uncompaghre Plateau to Delta.  I find myself just astounded by what they were able to accomplish with such limited information!

This beautiful hard cover wasn’t cheap (thanks Mom!) but it is filled will gorgeous maps drawn by Gail Sargent of each section of the journey as well as photographs of many locations with notations of trails traversed by the expedition.

I’m so glad that this book has joined my library. I think it’s incredibly important to know the history of the area where you live and I learned so much (and added a few hikes to my list and … bonus! they’ll be spring accessible!).

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own.

On The Page: Blood and Thunder

Sometimes when people tell you that they know of a book you should read you just nod and say that your list is really long because their suggestion just isn’t your style. This latest book, Blood and Thunder, wasn’t one of these books. I was sitting around telling my friend Chris about immersing myself in a whole bunch of books about The West this summer and he immediately suggested that I read it. Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West by Hampton Sides was simply fantastic.

I didn’t know anything about Kit Carson. I didn’t know anything about ho he fit in with the Mexican War, New Mexico’s history, and the Navajo Long Walk. He was just a name that was famous in the west not one that had been involved with a huge swath of the southwest becoming American soil.

Furthermore, Sides weaves Carson’s story with that of John C. Frémont, Steven Watts Kearny, the governors of New Mexico, Navajo leaders, and more. All the stories are carefully woven together and create a wonderful picture of New Mexico and Arizona in the mid 1800s.

While I enjoyed The Earth Is Weeping, it wasn’t wasn’t as readable as Blood and ThunderI started this book just before going to Washington and given some uninterrupted reading time on planes from Montrose to Seattle, I devoured the book and finished it just as my plane landed back in Denver. (I didn’t have any time to read while I was in the Pacific Northwest.)

A sign of an excellent book about history is that it leaves you feeling like you got a pretty complete picture of the topic at hand while also adding to your list of books to read because it raised other ideas and questions that were tangential to the topic. Sides’s Blood and Thunder more than met the standard. In this case, I was quite happy that the next book on my shelf is a biography of Frémont!

 

On The Page: The Earth Is Weeping

I continued my foray into understanding more about how the American West came to be settled by diving into Peter Cozzens’s The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West. I’d picked this up shortly after it’s publication at a bookstore in the midst of my bookbuying freeze of 2016 (that has long since ended, perhaps problematically for my bank account). After having learned about the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, returning to this book seemed like the right thing to do.

Clocking in at a hefty 450+ pages (plus notes and index) Cozzens delves into a generation of fighting between the army and the tribes of the West. Cozzens explicitly tries to show both the Native American and the white perspectives on the events of the 1860s through 1891. I found this perspective really interesting. While Cozzens is certainly sympathetic to the tribes, looking at the motivations of the army officers was absolutely fascinating.

My main quibble with this book was that some of the descriptions of skirmishes and battles between the tribes and the army were dense. The book does include some maps of the battlegrounds but I still had trouble getting the visualization right (and I find detailed descriptions of military movements kind of boring, I just want the summary).

Another thing I really appreciated about this book is how it put many of the battles and people that you may have heard of (Little Bighorn, Geronimo, Sitting Bull, etc.) into context with each other. It was interesting to see army officers move throughout the country facing different tribes.

This book is definitely not just casual reading and probably won’t appeal to most people but if you’re happy to nerd out with a pretty balanced look at some sad history, its a pretty solid read.

On The Page: Wilderness Wanderers

After I’d finished reading about Bernardo de Miera y Pacheco and the Pueblo Revolt, I wanted to know more about Dominguez and Escalante and their explorations that had been the basis for my favorite Miera y Pacheco map. I knew that Western Reflections Publishing had a couple of books about the expedition so I headed to my local bookstore to pick one up. Turns out the book I was picturing was the actual journals (which they didn’t have) so I ended up with Wilderness Wanderers: The 1776 Expedition of Dominguez and Escalante by Ken Rehyr.

I ate up this slim volume.

Dominguez and Escalante were both Franciscan friars charged with finding a more northerly land route to the Californian settlements (essentially avoiding the el Camino del Diablo, I think?). They also set out to convert as many of the Native Americans along the way as they could (while recognizing that this would be a first contact and that more missionaries would be needed for more long term conversion efforts later).

As it turns out, Dominguez and Escalante’s route remarkably overlaps with my home range. They traveled from Santa Fe up to Durango, then north through Dolores, Egnar, and Nucla before following a Ute guide over the Uncompahgre Plateau to Montrose. They continued over Grand Mesa from Hotchkiss to Battlement Mesa (all these places I know!) before turning west down the Colorado. They headed north through the Book Cliffs to what is now the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation. They continued on to Utah Lake, near what is now Provo.

Leaving Utah Lake, they headed down what is today the I-15 corridor. Along the way, near Delta, the missionaries decided that they needed to head south to Santa Fe instead of trying to find their way to California. The weather was turning cold and they were not prepared.

They struggled their way across the Northern Arizona deserts finally finding a crossing of the Grand Canyon at Crossing of the Fathers (submerged under Lake Powell). Once across the Colorado, they managed their way across northeastern Arizona reaching the Oraybi pueblo on Third Mesa where they obtained enough supplies to reach the western most Spanish missions.

I found the story of Dominguez and Escalante incredibly inspiring. Lewis and Clark seemed to have much more of an idea of what to expect than these earlier missionaries. I can’t wait to dive into their journals … but I should probably put a pause on my book buying binge.

I recommend checking out this book while meandering around the greater Four Corners region, especially if you’re not overly familiar with the area. I really enjoyed my visual imagery of each of the places they passed through. I was also super inspired by how the author of the book had visited and rode his horse on much (all?) of the friars route. How cool is that?