Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

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Nevada Outback Trip, Part 1: Atomic Tour

Lisa and I have been getting increasingly antsy and wanting to get out of the house and go see things, but with no sign of a vaccine being available for us mere under-65s, we wanted something that would be away from other people and was close enough to be able to get back home the same day. So we decided to go see the site of the atomic test in our backyard.

Project Shoal Monument

I'm not kidding. Project Shoal was an underground nuclear test that took place on October 26, 1963 (a little short of two years before I was born) in the Sand Springs Mountains east of Fallon. It was about 90 km / 56 mi southeast of our house as the desert raven flies, or about 110 km / 68 mi by road. The site is open to the public, but you have to figure out how to get there yourself, as there are no road signs. If it hadn't been for Google Maps, we might never have found it.

The first part of the trip is easy enough. We headed east on US-50A, then US-50 through Fallon, then continued east to NV-839, then turned south about 8 km / 5 mi to an otherwise unmarked dirt road.

Shoal Road

Here's what we've called "Shoal Road" but that has no signs or other markings. We scouted this trip out on Google Maps before we started, so we were mostly prepared for this. If you try this route, ignore references to NV-31 in Google Maps. That is an obsolete reference to a Nevada state highway from the pre-1976 network.


What appears to be a military equipment "boneyard" on the left as we headed south on NV-839 was a hard-to-miss landmark.

Shoal Road Cows

We took the Astro, which is not an off-road vehicle. There were a number of free-range cows wandering around the road, but this was not a problem.

Shoal Road

We decided that as long as the road looked passable, we would give it a try.

Shoal Monument Turnoff

I'm skipping ahead in the chronology in case anyone wants to try and use this as a guide to go see the monument. The branch to the right and up a short rise is the actual road leading up to the monument, but it's not in great condition, and because nothing is marked, we initially missed it and went straight ahead.

Monitoring Shaft

There are several other unmarked dirt roads here, so you need to watch out for where you're going. This one led to one of the monitoring shafts surrounding the test site.

End of the Line

Continuing up the road, we came to a dead end with this interesting view, which is from just past a turn-around loop. One certainly wouldn't want to come charging up here at high speed, as it's a pretty nasty drop.

Turn Back Now

After stopping to admire the view, we turned around and slowly made our way back down the road.

Searching for Shoal

We spotted this from the road and went to investigate.

Monitoring Shaft

This turned out to be another monitoring shaft.

Corner Marker

Near what looks like a large spoil pile, we found a concrete pad and this remnant of what we postulate was an anchor for monitoring equipment.


This piece of old cable came right up out of the ground. It could possibly have been part of the test monitoring equipment. Stuff lasts a long time out in the desert.

Project Shoal Monument

To my surprise, my mobile phone was able to get a signal and showed us that we were within 500 m of the monument. We spotted it in the distance, worked our way back down the "main road," and turned up the branch to where the monument is located.

Spoiling for a Test

Standing in front of the minivan parked near the monument, Lisa took this picture facing west toward what we postulate is the spoil pile from the 369 meter deep shaft driven about 300 m east of the Project Shoal test site. This spoil pile is near the concrete slab, rusted metal support, and old cable pictured above.

Project Shoal Monument

Kuma Bear posted for his close-up with the monument.

Project Shoal Monument

Then both me and Kuma posed for a picture.

Test Site Marker

This small marker is located about 1 m behind the stone monument.

Lisa took a panoramic video by standing in place and pivoting with the camera.

Snow at Shoal

Lisa walked down to the "main road," where there were still pockets of snow in sheltered places, even though the air temperature was probably around 10-12°C.

Retrieving the Van

I gingerly eased the van down the partially-washed-out side road from the monument. If you have a low-clearance vehicle, I would suggest parking at the foot of this branch and walking up.

Shoal Road Cows

We headed back east and down, passing several slightly mangy-looking cows like this one.

Shoal Road

Aside from the bit near the monument itself, this was a passable road over which I had no difficulty driving.

We found this a very interesting trip. If it weren't for the monument and the monitoring shafts, you'd never know that anything had ever happened here, let alone a 12-kiloton nuclear detonation 300 meters below our feet. Now while as one news story said, you wouldn't want to eat the dirt here (probably because it's naturally contaminated with stuff like arsenic), this area is not "hot" and we were not concerned for our safety. After nearly sixty years, it would probably be difficult to even detect anything above normal background radiation here.

I know it's unlikely that anyone else will come visit this spot, but if somehow your travels take you across "The Loneliest Road," you might consider a relatively short side trip to one of the few atomic bomb test sites you can visit on your own.

Our original plan was to retrace our steps and go home, but when we got back to NV-839, we had a different idea. More about that tomorrow when I feel up to writing about it and get the photographs and video cataloged and uploaded.
Tags: atomic bomb, kuma bear, lisa, nevada

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