Arco, Idaho – Its Totally Nuclear, Man!


Anytime we pass through towns, we do a little Google search so we can perhaps, get a little more educated. We passed Atomic City and looked it up (when we got a signal…there is A WHOLE LOT OF NOTHING OUT THERE!!).  Surely though, reading did cause a bit of raised eyebrows.  We drove fast to get out of there…well, because they do a whole lot of ‘testing’ and we didn’t want to become specimens…er…’victims’.


Kidding aside, Atomic City has its own notoriety HERE with equal sense of humor by these writers.

So, not only enriching our minds by Googling these small passer-through towns, we just want to be prepared in case Jeopardy calls us to be contestants on their game show, we can REALLY look smart and know the winning question.

So…Alex Trebeck recites “the answer is the first city in the world to be lit by atomic power.”

Question:  “What is ARCO, IDAHO”

Alex: Correct!

…and here’s our proof!!  Because we all know, it didn’t happen unless there are pictures, right?  Yeah, WE took this picture!

As we made our way north up to Salmon River, Idaho, we did a couple overnights in the

small town of Arco, Idaho.  Arco…hmmmm…nuclear nerds know about Arco, everyone else…not so much.  Its a quirky little town; kind of ‘lost’ in time, ya know?  Kind of like the ones they do the population salute on that classic tv show “Hee Haw”.  Anyways, we stayed at the small KOA Craters of the Moon Campground so we could tour this notable town as well as go tour the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve.

BUT WAIT!!  There’s more!  See?

The Wikipedia Version:

Arco was the first community in the world ever to be lit by electricity generated solely by nuclear power. This occurred for about an hour on July 17, 1955, powered by Argonne National Laboratory’s BORAX-III reactor at the nearby National Reactor Testing Station (NRTS), which eventually became the site of the Idaho National Energy Laboratory, a predecessor of the current Idaho National Laboratory.[7] NRTS made further history on January 3, 1961, when the SL-1 reactor melted down, causing three deaths. It was the world’s first (and the U.S.’ only) fatal reactor accident.

So, after reading all this, we were sort of afraid to drink the water…and wouldn’t you know, when we got parked and hooked up to our utilities, we were told “DON’T DRINK THE WATER”; that the water had been shut off ‘town wide’.  Now geeze, there;s a scary coincidence!!  No, really, we can’t make this stuff up!  So we had to go to the Dollar General, because in population 995 there IS NO Walmart, to buy bottled water.  Why does this stuff always happen to us?  We finally did get the okay to hook the water up but still leary (aside from it being all nuclear…) about drinking it so we stuck with the bottled stuff.  (Note to selves…always have at least a third of a tank of water)

You can read more of the Wikipedia HERE

Since I’m a sunset picture taker, I begged Captain Dan to go find a good place to get our first Idaho sunset photos.  And we did…

Not even 5 miles outside of Arco, we found this beautiful landscape Kodak-perfect location.  A wheat farm with the mountains.  How perfect.

So, I played with my camera a little bit waiting for the perfect shot.  Oh wait, these ARE perfect!!


And while I was taking photos, I just had to snap one of the Captain staring into the eyes of the sun.

And then it happened!  Over the mountains, Mr. Sun went slowly to bid us goodbye for another day.



We head back to Liberty for a good night’s sleep.  It was the first time we were able to sleep with the windows open.  It got a bit chilly that night but who’s complaining after bearing the heat in Texas, Nevada and Arizona on the way up.

The next day, we meandered about the town.  We found an awesome Veteran’s Park (we try to visit them all!) but we were dismayed at one thing.

Take a moment to study this photo:

Let’s see now.  Hmmmmm,  There’s Old Glory, the POW/MIA flag (black), the state flag (blue), Army flag (white), Navy flag (navy), Marine Corps flag (red), Air Force flag (front and the wrong one but well anyways…) and a Support the Troops flag with those four branches.  But wait!  There’s FIVE branches of the military!!  I guess in Arco, Idaho, they’ve never heard of the Coast Guard…we shall change that.  We will have to write a letter (another one…AGAIN!).

So, after rolling our ‘whatever’ eyes, we made way over to this cool Submarine display.  Now how on earth, did they get a submarine in Arco, Idaho?  And really, the Navy couldn’t come up with a different number than 666? *gasp*



It was a well done park that saluted the Navy and their Submarine Nuclear notoriety.




After we were finished reading and honoring quietly, the men who served, we decided to walk across the street to get an ‘Atomic Burger’ at a diner called Pickles.  That didn’t end well though.  Captain Dan got sick not 20 minutes later and we had to head back to Liberty.  Poor guy! It was time to call it a day anyways, so we headed back to Liberty so I could “hold his hair”. (He’s going to kill me if he reads this!)

By morning he felt his spry and chipper self so we proceeded with our plans to day trip it to Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve.  On our way out of town, there’s this big hill that has all these numbers painted on it.  Intrigued, we Googled that too. We read that that hill is called Graduation Mountain aka “Numbers Hill” and that the numbers are actually painted by each graduating class from Arco.


Our two-night stay in Arco was actually quite cool.  Its more than just a map dot.  The town’s people are quite proud of their notoriety and we can see why.

If you enjoyed reading about Arco, Idaho, you may want to read about our experience at…

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve!  

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