Real Estate and Life in Colorado and Beyond

Lost in Idaho, Lived to Tell

It was 1982.  I was a newspaper reporter in Idaho.  As a one-man bureau in the center of the state, I would often drive 50 miles or more from my home in Challis (population about 1,000) to cover some sort of event.

The paper’s main office was in the big city, Idaho Falls, 140 miles away.  Occasionally I’d drive down there on a Friday to check in with my superiors, then spend the weekend with a friend and fellow reporter, sleeping on his couch.

A city council meeting in the tiny town Arco, 80 miles from my home, was sometimes a big enough deal for me to attend.  I forget what was going on, but one time I hopped in the car on a cold winter evening.  I got there, did my journalistic job, and headed back home.

Arco was the nation’s first nuclear powered city. They say its grid was set up in 1955.  It is on the outskirts of the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory (INEL), a national nuclear research facility with a $1 billion annual budget. The land encompasses some 890 square miles.

So I was driving home on Highway 93, as I’d done many times.  A little-used highway at its best, it is downright desolate at 10 pm on a Monday night in January.  Somewhere, I took a wrong turn.

Now, I surmised, I was cruising on the grounds of INEL. There were no street signs, for the speed limit or anything else.  No rest stops, no gas stations, nothing.  Just arrow-straight, unlit highway.  I was unsure what direction I was driving.

My little Chevette had less than a quarter tank of gas.  I was good for maybe another 100 miles.

What to do?  If I continued on, I might run out of gas.  In the middle of the night, in winter, with no assurance of even seeing a passing vehicle.  This was long before cell phones, of course.  Freezing to death seemed like a real possiblity.

So I made an executiye decision.  I hightailed around and made my way back to familiar territory—State Highway 93.  Then I backtracked all the way back to Arco, where I knew a gas station would be open. In all, I added about three hours to my trip home.  But I did make it home that night, feeling foolish.

And lived to tell about it.  So here I am.

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