Nuclear Tourist

He said…



Everyone has probably heard of this equation; but few probably understand it. In words, that equation says:

Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared.

That probably didn’t help you…  So I’ll break it down a little bit more.

If you take an atom – let’s use uranium (U-235 in my career) – and cause it to split into two parts, you’d find out something kind of interesting.  The mass of the two parts is less than the mass of the original atom.  So what happened to the missing mass?  It turned into energy.

If you do this with U-235 and do it SLOWLY, you can harness the power… this is how nuclear power plants work.  Do this with a different kind of uranium (U-239) or plutonium (Pu-239) and don’t slow it down and the result is explosive… this is how nuclear weapons work.

Okay then… where the heck am I going with all this information?  Well, I am and have been what I call a “nuclear tourist.”

Let’s go back a few decades… For those that don’t know, I’m a retired submariner whose job was as a nuclear operator (I operated the nuclear power plants that drove the submarine through the water). As it turns out, my first submarine (back when the cold war was still going on) was a “boomer” – the kind of submarine that carried nuclear missiles. So, for several years, I slept within a 100 yards of large number of nuclear warheads (my “commute” to work took me an arm’s length next to these missiles).  Kinda weird thinking about it now.

Jump ahead a few years… The third submarine I worked on was a “fast attack” stationed out of Pearl Harbor.  We got to do a lot more “interesting” things and pull into a variety of ports.  One of the ports was Yokosuka, Japan.  While there a friend and I took a vacation where we visited several of the cities of that country: Tokyo, Disneyland, Osaka, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki.

Yep, I can say… “I’ve been at ground zero at all locations where a nuclear weapon was used during war”.

It was a somber experience. The museum exhibits were scary. The parks that are now at each ground zero beautiful.

Jump ahead a couple decades… I happen to be from New Mexico, the state that many people consider the birth place of the nuclear weapon.  It was at Los Alamos where the scientists got together to develop the first atomic weapons and it was at White Sands where the first weapon was tested.  It is called the Trinity Site. Most of you probably know this story as the Manhattan Project.

Even though I lived just a few hours of this location, it’s not very convenient to visit the site.  The area is only open to visitors two days a year – the first Saturdays in April and October.

But I can say… “I’ve been to ground zero of the first three nuclear explosions.”

Pretty interesting if you’re into the historical aspect of the site – boring if you expect to see anything other than the monument that you can find anywhere on the Internet.

Within the same time period (plus or minus a few years)… I happened to find an interesting, to me, website: and learned that there were two nuclear tests performed in New Mexico under the Plowshare Program (the government’s supposed attempt at turning “swords into plows”).  So I started learning about them: Project Gnome and Project Gasbuggy.

I visited Project Gasbuggy first because it was within an hour of my hometown.  People I knew still remembered it happening.  It is within Carson National Forest.  Except for a plaque and a sign here or there… you’d never know there was an explosion underground there.

It was a couple years later that I visited Project Gnome which is down near Carlsbad Caverns.  This area is desert.  And, other than a plaque, there is no indication that a nuclear device exploded underneath our feet there.

Now I can say, “I’ve been to all ground zeroes of nuclear explosions in New Mexico.”

Once again – if you’re the nuclear tourist, it’s pretty interesting.  Other than that, boring as hell unless you like the scavenger hunt aspect of driving around looking for a plaque in the middle of the wilderness. You can see them here: Project Gnome and Project Gasbuggy.  There are also a variety of videos on Youtube concerning these projects.

Fast forward to today…  We just found out that there is actually a National Historic Park concerning the Manhattan Project. This “park” is actually in three locations.

While most people think of Los Alamos as the only location of the Manhattan Project, it is actually only one of three places.  The scientists were stationed in New Mexico… but they couldn’t do anything without the uranium or plutonium. The other two locations are Hanford, WA (made the plutonium) and Oakridge, TN (made the uranium).

The two bombs dropped on Japan were actually two different types of weapons. “Little Boy” was dropped on Hiroshima and used the uranium from Oakridge. “Fat Man” was dropped on Nagasaki and used the plutonium from Hanford.

Today, I will be able to say, “I’ve been to the place that made the plutonium.”

Check for pictures on Facebook later today.

In the future… I plan on making it to Los Alamos (been there before – but not to the National Historic Park) and to Oakridge.

Casting Seed

She said…

This morning Shannon and I attended the Methodist Church in Elgin, Oregon. We had driven past it while we were in town and Shannon looked it up on the Conference website. It is a small church, average attendance 11 people, led by two lay ministers. There are several other Methodist churches in neighboring towns, all about the same size. Since 2013, the churches in LaGrande, Cove, Elgin, North Powder and Union have joined together to form the North East Oregon Circuit.

This circuit is similar to the circuits of old in that a single Elder will make the rounds of the congregations, providing preaching, sacraments and administration. But, instead of each congregation functioning as a lonely mission outpost, the five churches will provide worship, ministry and music in a partnership of laity, Lay Persons Assigned, Certified Lay Servants, a retired elder and an active elder in full connection.
–Oregon-Idaho Conference website

My initial impression (judgement) of this system was one of hospice for dying churches. There were 15 in attendance, and the Children’s message was renamed “Time with the Child in Us All.” Shannon was the youngest in attendance and I daresay I was close to the second youngest. I was thinking that by the time a congregation loses two generations, the party’s over. I don’t have any ideas for a fix, just being negative here.

This morning the church was pastored by Rev. Lisa Peyton, an Elder from the Methodist Church in Baker City, who supports the North East Oregon Circuit. The service was opened with Psalm 139, and Rev. Peyton spoke in the Children’s Message about the part of that psalm that we don’t usually talk about, and my thoughts diverted to how we parse the Bible, selectively quoting only those parts that support certain points of view. But that’s another blog.

Rev. Peyton’s sermon was based on the parable of the sower, Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23. I love it when I get a different take on a parable. First she spoke about how Jesus preached this parable from a boat a little way off shore, so that everyone in the huge crowd could see him and hear his message. (I had been talking to the lady sitting next to me about avoiding the total eclipse this summer because I hate big crowds. I would have totally missed hearing Jesus speak in person. What else am I missing?)

Then the parable itself, how when we hear this parable we think we are the gravel, the thorns, the hard path or the fertile soil that is the receiver of the seed. How are we receiving the news of the Kingdom of God? But here’s the deal. . .what if we are the farmers, and God wants us to cast the seed like God spreads his good news, his grace and his blessings, not in little tidy rows or five seeds to a hill, but generously, by the handful. What if God doesn’t care if the seed thrown on hard or rocky or thorny soil is wasted, there is so much seed that God wants us just to keep throwing it everywhere, to never stop. We have so much of God’s love and grace and blessings that He wants us to spread it around, not worry about wasting it, not judge the kind of soil we are planting in.

So, judgement. I’m really good at it. I have had a lot of practice. I struggle daily with judging the people God puts in front of me. But it is not for me to judge. Even though this church is small and the congregation is elderly, they are still actively involved in their community. Who am I to judge how God will use these servants to spread the news of His Kingdom?

This (the circuit) is not a last chance option for any of these churches. This is a next chance model for how to do church everywhere.
–Oregon-Idaho Conference website

Exploring the Wallowas

She said…

We are in a county park in Elgin, Oregon. From here we are positioned to explore the Wallowa Valley, former home of the Joseph Band of the Nez Perce and, because of its remoteness and inaccessibility, the last place in Oregon to be settled by people from the East, with the first settlers not arriving until 1886.

Elgin is a very small town, less than 2000 people, in Union County. Its economy was based in the timber industry, and like so many places that depend on energy production and the harvesting of resources, it seems to be struggling to reestablish its identity.

We are at Hu-Na-Ha RV Park, and while this place lacks some of the beauty and isolation of our last two locations (we are so spoiled), there are some good things about this place. We are right next to the Grande Ronde River, we have beautiful tress out our front windows, the park is clean and quiet (except for our neighbor who leaves, presumably for work, at 3:30 each morning), and the price is right; with our military discount, we have full hookups for less than $20/night. They have a laundry on site with $1 washers and $1 dryers and I feel like we have gone back in time! The spaces are very close together and there are a lot of people living here, but the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

I came to the Wallowa Valley once in the mid-seventies, and was impressed with the remoteness and the rugged beauty. I wanted to come back here to share this place with Shannon. Yesterday we drove the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway, which goes from Elgin through Wallowa, Enterprise and Joseph. We stopped in Joseph to walk the streets of this charming town and check out the museum. There is a foundry here and the whole of Main Street resembles a sculpture garden.

From Joseph we traveled to Hells Canyon Overlook.

Hells Canyon is a 10-mile (16 km) wide canyon located along the border of eastern Oregon, eastern Washington and western Idaho in the United States. It is part of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and is North America’s deepest river gorge[3] at 7,993 feet (2,436 m).[4]
The canyon was carved by the waters of the Snake River, which flows more than 1 mile (1.6 km) below the canyon’s west rim on the Oregon side and 7,400 feet (2,300 m) below the peaks of Idaho’s Seven Devils Mountains range to the east. Most of the area is inaccessible by road. —Wikipedia

Snake River at bottom of Hells Canyon – Wikipedia

There are three hydro-electric dams on the Snake River in Hells Canyon. By the time we reached the bottom of the canyon, the temperature was creeping over the 100-degree mark, and we decided to visit Oxbow, the closest and the middle dam in the complex, and forgo the Hells Canyon Dam, another 30 miles downstream. The campground at Oxbow looked like the nicest one we had seen in the area, although getting to it would have been challenging.

From there our road turned toward the charming little town of Halfway, although it was never clear between what and what, and on to Richardson and Baker City, where we were in time to visit the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.

These people, the early pioneers who we visited with in Scotts Bluff, Nebraska, and Guernsey, Wyoming, had finally made it to the Oregon Territory. The ones who had survived were out of resources, and were depending on the kindness of the native peoples to make it over one more mountain range to the Willamette Valley. The interpretive center was enormously interesting, and I was sorry that we couldn’t spend more time.

The last legs of our journey were on the Interstate from Baker City to LaGrande, and to close the loop, on State Hwy 82 back to Elgin. It was another long day, but a wonderful one, where we got to see more beautiful places and learn more about the history of this place and the people who lived here.


Where’s Shannon?

He said…

I seem to have dropped off of the blogging world… And, while that is true, I’ve not dropped off of the real world nor the virtual world.

I’m sure you’ve been keeping up with our travels via Mariel’s posts; and, since she does such a great job, I see no reason to repeat her.

I’ve also decided to stop posting negative blogs (about the troubles or problems we’ve gone through with the lifestyle/motorhome).

Mostly now, all I’m doing is keeping family and friends up to date on our Facebook page. These Facebook posts are also automatically sent to our Twitter account.

So, if you wanna keep up with what I’m thinking or doing that’s where you’ll find me.

And, if you are reading our blogs from the Facebook or Twitter interface… this post is redundant!

Nez Perce Homelands: Missionary Zeal

She said…

For the last two nights in Moscow and the next five in Elgin we are camped in what was at one time the tribal homelands of the Nez Perce. On Tuesday we took a road trip to Lewiston and explored the visitor center and museum at the Nez Perce National Historical Park, on what is now the Nez Perce Reservation, a tract of land one-tenth the size of the original homeland.

We have always been here. The land unites us with our ancestors across time, keeping our culture alive . . . We live in the place our ancestors called home before the great pyramids of Egypt were built.
—Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee

The Nez Perce have hunted, fished and foraged the streams and woodlands, prairies and plateaus of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana for thousands of years. They traded with other tribes as far away as the Crow and Cheyenne on the Great Plains. As with all the native peoples of this country they are connected to the land in ways that we who have come lately will never understand.

The way we were taught is that we are part of Mother Earth. We’re brothers and sisters to the animals, we’re living in harmony with them. From the birds to the fish to the smallest insect.
—Herman Reuben

Allow me to wax political. I find myself sounding pretty liberal here, which is not my usual point of view, and I know how easy it is to look back on our history and find fault with our actions and methods. But if we can’t take a lesson from our past, we will continue to blunder through our future. There may be a better way to do things, and by seeking that way, we may find some common ground. And here’s a message for liberals and conservatives alike. . .we all need to find better ways to deal with people who are not like us.

In 1805 Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery came through the Nez Perce homeland and things changed forever. By the middle of the century the explorers had been followed by trappers, miners, missionaries and settlers. The Nez Perce were anxious to avoid conflict and so entered into treaty negotiations. They were allowed to stay on their land until the discovery of gold in 1863, and then all bets were off. A new treaty was forced on the Nez Perce people and many of them were removed from their land and relocated to reservations in other parts of the country. The ones who were allowed to stay were given 160 acres per individual in hopes that the ownership of land would more easily assimilate these nomadic people into American life. Unallotted or unclaimed land was sold at auction, and soon over 90% of the original reservation was in white ownership.

I never said the land was mine to do with as I choose. The one who has the right to dispose of it is the one who has created it.
—Chief Joseph

It is a natural thing for humans to challenge other people for territory and riches. All races and cultures have been doing it since the beginning of our time. Maybe the end result would have been the same if our advanced forces had just come in and taken over. But here’s where I think it should be different. Jesus told us to go into every corner of the world and preach the gospel. Nowhere in the scriptures are we told to obliterate languages and cultures, to rip children away from their families and to twist people into our image. Our arrogance and our belief in our own superiority has blinded us to the possibility that there are things of beauty in all cultures, that we can all learn from each other, that we all have valuable information to contribute, and that we are all leaving a legacy by our actions. A quote often attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel daily, and when necessary, use words.” Our actions have consequences, both positive and negative.

The Nez Perce are still scattered, but their culture has survived, they are teaching their language to their children and they are active stewards of the land.