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Chapter #367: Planned Desecration of The Book Cliffs - June 3, 2019


The Spirit of the Ancients Rise up in opposition to the Hydrocarbon Highway planned for their ancient rock art sanctuary - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)

Utah, the BLM and Uintah County Plan to Desecrate Sego or East Canyon, Utah

The ancient site known as Sego Canyon is an easy day trip from Moab, Utah. The name "Sego Canyon Petroglyphs" is a bit confusing because the main panels of petroglyphs and pictographs are actually located in Thompson Canyon. From Thompson Springs, Utah, take Utah Highway 94 North, which becomes BLM 159 (Thompson Canyon Road). Accessible with any automobile, the gravel road will lead you to the unpaved parking area adjacent to the “Sego Canyon Rock Art” site, as Google Maps identifies it. You may access the main panels from the parking area at 39°01'05.3"N 109°42'37.2"W.

Thompson Springs, Utah lies at the base of the Book Cliffs and is the portal to the Sego Canyon Rock Art Site - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)Sego Canyon itself begins north of Thompson Springs as a fork of Thompson Canyon. Unless you prepare ahead for off-road recovery and dry camping in the wilderness, do not drive any farther up Sego Canyon. In many places, it either crosses the streambed or utilizes the streambed as its roadway. There are no fresh water sources and the road is subject to flash flooding. The trail dead-ends at a defunct mining site, along the southern border of the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation.

In the year 2014, the sanctity and solitude of Sego Canyon faced imminent demise. For eleven thousand years or more, most early human visitors either painted or carved their visions into the walls of Sego Canyon. The result was a series of interesting and illustrative panels unsurpassed in all of the American West. Undaunted by its sacred and serene beauty, the Grand County Council planned to put a stop to all of that.

Although called the Sego Canyon Petroglyphs, the ancient and sacred site is actually in Thompson Canyon - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)At that time, all three options in the long-term usage plan for Grand County Public Lands called for a fifteen mile long, one or two mile wide transportation corridor straight up Sego Canyon. Commonly called the “Hydrocarbon Highway”, this newly paved and widened road would serve a Mecca of tar sands mines planned on property controlled by State of Utah School and Institutional Lands Commission (SITLA). Unless SITLA and Grand County agreed upon this blatant industrialization of the desert, they would have no access to the tar sand deposits that lay beyond the rim of the Book Cliffs.

Public outcry, both in this blog and throughout the country shamed the Grand County Council into abandoning their reckless plan. Even so, less than five years later, the Grand County Council has revived its draconian plan. After the embarrassment engendered by their callous and uncaring plan finally receded in local memory, several agencies charged with protecting our ancient heritage sites again wish to desecrate them. As the price of crude oil continues to rise, tar sands will become ever more competitive in the marketplace. As prices now rise in 2019, even the local Native American tribe hopes to make the Hydrocarbon Highway plan a reality.

In 2014, natural gas exploration wells were drilled within site of the Book Cliffs, near Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)Under the current administration, former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke laid waste to nearby Bears Ears National Monument. At its inception in 2016, Bears Ears consisted of 1.35 million acres. After Zinke had his way with it, only 201,876 acres remained under full federal protection. After disgraceful manipulation of both federal lands, and the budget of his agency, in January 2019, “Slinky Zinke” slithered away into a hoped for obscurity.

Yet, like The Terminator, of movie fame, Zinke reemerged from his lair in April 2019. This time, he was a newly minted executive and board member of Nevada based U.S. Gold Corp. Their tag line is, “World-Class Projects in Mining Friendly, U.S. Jurisdictions”. Zinke's compensation package included salary and stock valued at more than $100,000 and “expenses” of $120,000 per year. After draining his federal budget to support a lavish and questionable jet-setting lifestyle, Zinke can now spend at a similar rate in the private sector. Although forbidden from lobbying his former agency, U.S. Gold Corp. CEO Edward Karr cited Zinke’s “excellent relationship” and “in-depth knowledge of the governmental regulatory and permitting process for mining and exploration companies”. These relationships and knowledge with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Interior Department were included as justifications for his hiring.

In 2014, wildcat tar sands mines were spotted near the Book Cliffs and Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)Succeeding Zinke in April of 2019, David Bernhardt joined the current administration as its new Secretary of the Interior. After working within the Department of Interior for many years, Bernhardt had more recently served as a lobbyist for the extraction industries. During his tenure as a lobbyist, Bernhardt's clients included Halliburton, Cobalt International Energy, Samson Resources, and the Independent Petroleum Association of America.
In other words, Bernhardt is fully in the pocket of Old Energy, as represented by oil, gas and most of all, the “Clean Coal” industry. Get ready for Mr. Bernhardt to push for full-scale development of tar sands in the State of Utah. Although Zinke cannot lobby his former federal agency, there are no restrictions on his lobbying the State of Utah School and Institutional Lands Commission (SITLA).

A young couple visiting the Sego Canyon Petroglyph Site mimics the pose of the ancient couple to the left, in this image - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)SITLA owns thousands of acres of potential tar sand mining claims just north of Sego Canyon. If Bernhardt and the likes of Zinke find a way to collaborate tacitly on the extraction of “black gold” from the Sego Canyon tar sands, you can bet that they will. The residents of Grand County, Uintah County and the public at large must remain vigilant. If not, the priceless artifacts and ancient artwork within the Sego Canyon Rock Art site could be defiled.

The rock art images that look down from the walls of Thompson Canyon predate the construction of the Notre Dame Cathedral, which recently burned in Paris. With scientists’ inability to date the earliest pictographs at Sego Canyon, those drawings may predate all human history, including the pyramids of Egypt. No one knows for sure. Anyone who has stood and marveled at the unique beauty of Sego Canyon knows that a paved tar sands haul road would forever alter and destroy this ancient and sacred site.

A high speed haul road similar to the one pictured could be built adjacent to Sego Canyon, the oldest and most sacred of rock art sites in the Southwest (https://jamesmcgillis.com)Who are the people or spirits represented in Sego Canyon? Over the millennia, several types of rock art appeared on the canyon walls, each representing a successive human culture. Some experts claim evidence of human habitation in Sego Canyon dating back to the Archaic Period (6,000 – 2,000 BC). Elsewhere, at the Calico Early Man Site, near Yermo, California, human made material extracted from beneath 100,000-year-old alluvial deposits include a "rock ring". The ring dates back to 135,000 years by thermoluminescence (TL), about 200,000 years by uranium-series analysis, and about 197,000 years by surface beryllium-10 dating. Since there are no adequate ways to use carbon or other dating methods on the earliest Sego Canyon pictographs, their age is indeterminate. For human safety and protection from vandalism, the BLM recently closed Calico Early Man Site to the public. Until adequate funding magically appears, the site will remain off limits to all.

Beginning in an undetermined and ancient age, what we call Barrier Canyon Style rock art panels appeared in Sego Canyon. The Barrier Canyon Style included both pictographs (painted) and petroglyphs (pecked) into the rock surface. Some appear faded and darkened with age, while others have a fresher look and appear similar to red ochre paintings of more recent vintage. The dark, faded and therefore most ancient pictographs often have subtle facial expressions and the appearance of clothing or robes.

Perhaps one of the oldest rock art pictographs in the world, The Black Knight may represent an Anunnaki God giving birth to a robed human figure, who walks out from his dark cloaks - Click for larger image (htts://jamesmcgillis.com)In one image, on the far left side of a larger panel is a dark figure, emerging from a grass field. Much like an ancient Sumerian Anunnaki (436,000 BC – 3,700 BC), he wears a dark robe and a spiked or pointed helmet. Obscured by age and weathering, his shoulders and countenance depict him moving forward and to his right. Although small in scale, he represents an apparently giant figure. Scanning down to where his arms might be, he appears to have his hands resting on the shoulders of a much smaller and more humanlike figure.

The smaller figure, superimposed on the lower half of this “Anunnaki Warrior” appears to be walking straight out and into the foreground. He has dark, curly hair and wears a biblical-style flowing robe. Some writings reference the “black headed ones” whom the Anunnaki once ruled. Legend has it that the Anunnaki ruled Gaia, our Mother Earth throughout prehistory. Tired of laboring for the scant amount of gold available on Earth, the Anunnaki developed a slave class, later known as humankind. As gods on Earth, they may have experimented with genetic engineering, including the recombination of their own DNA with that of “Early Man”.

In this enhanced photo, Mother Nature and Yahweh hold each other in reverence and shelter the ancient petroglyphs of Sego Canyon, below - Click for larger, unenhanced image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)So here, on the walls of Sego Canyon, we have a pictographic suggestion of an Anunnaki god “birthing” Adam into the Garden of Eden. Above the very panel depicting this immaculate birth, are two huge portraits, carved in the stone of the canyon wall. On the left, in profile, is Mother Nature, as represented by a Nubian woman. To her right, intertwined and looking into her face is the classical, white bearded Yahweh, or the “Face of God”. Here, the contrast of a dark and a white face mimics the Anunnaki “Black Knight” and his progeny Adam, a white man with black hair.

As depicted, Yahweh and Mother Nature are in love both with each other and with All that Is. The Anunnaki god, depicted beneath the divine couple, appears to release Adam into what we now know as our own world. After genetic manipulation and creation of humans as a slave class, the Anunnaki lost their final battle in the Pleiadian or the Orion Wars, around 2,000 BC. Upon banishment from Earth, the Anunnaki absconded with Earth’s available gold and returned to their place of origin at Niburu, a brown dwarf planet (or star system) with a highly elliptical orbit around our Sun.

Where some might see a Native American Tipi, others might see a rocket ship. complete with metal armor blasting off from the surface of the Earth - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)Niburu, also known as “Planet X”, “Planet Nine” or “Nemesis” continues to threaten Earth, as we know it. Niburu has a periodicity that is still in question. Depending on your preferred information source, Niburu returns for a near-Earth dash every 3,600 or 11,000 years. As pictured by scientists and mystics alike, Niburu exists as a huge dark ball of superheated tar. Periodically, as it passes close to the Earth, Niburu is prone to ejecting great swaths of semi-molten petroleum. Old Testament Biblical accounts of fire and brimstone raining from the sky attest to this phenomenon.

As children, we learned a myth about the origins of terrestrial petroleum deposits. Although that myth is widely believed, the petroleum deposits in our Earth did not come from dinosaurs grazing in ancient swampland. Eleven thousand years ago, or at some multiple of that time span, Niburu spewed untold amounts of boiling tar on to the upper reaches of Sego Canyon. As happened in the Bible Lands, so too did the Sego Canyon "Lake of Fire" cool and mix with the desert sands, solidifying and becoming the tar sands, oil and natural gas Author Zecheria Sitchin first decoded and wrote about the Anunnaki and their place in the creation of humankind - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)deposits that we know today. The original "Moabites" were a West-Semitic culture, which flourished in the Ninth Century BCE, or about 11,000 years ago. That time span would coincide with three 3,600 year circuits of Niburu or one major circuit at around 10,800 years.

Remember, the Anunnaki sought to enslave humankind and extract gold for their wealth and pleasure. Old Energy mavens such as Ryan Zinke, David Bernhardt, Edward Karr and the Uintah County Council have their sights set on places like Sego Canyon or East Canyon. Our current day “Anunnaki Wannabes” seek the black gold locked in the tar sands of Sego Canyon. If their self-serving ways prevail, they will build their “Hydrocarbon Highway” straight through Sego Canyon. If so, the ancient depictions of Mother Nature, Yahweh and the Spirit of the Ancients found there and nowhere else shall vanish from the Earth.

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By James McGillis at 04:28 PM | | Comments (0) | Link


Chapter #366: Thompson Springs, Utah - History - February 19, 2019


Now abandoned, this wood frame house in Thompson Springs, Utah had a rail car addition tacked on at one time - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Bob Robertson's Boyhood Memories of Thompson Springs, Utah

Some say, “History repeats itself”. In Thompson Springs, Utah, it simply vanishes.

Exiting Interstate I-70 at “Thompson”, as the locals call it, is like entering a time warp. Approaching the town on a desolate two-lane road, it feels like you are entering Thompson in the 1890's. In those days “Old Man Thompson” still ran the lumber mill. These days, there are no more trees to fell. There are no
All the storefronts in Downtown Thompson Springs, Utah now stand abandoned to the weather - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)more Thompson's listed in the phone book. No more steam trains linger at the railroad depot, taking on passengers, coal or water. The nearest passenger station is now miles away, at Green River.

In the past ten years, I have written nine blog articles that mention Thompson or Thompson Springs. I physically revisit the place every year or two. For some reason, Thompson, as a place resonates with me. In 2018, I heard from Mr. Bob Robertson, who was once a resident of Thompson. Since then, Bob has shared with me many details about the history of “Thompson”, as many call the place. Therefore, the rest of this article is in the words of Bob Robertson and his mother, Dorothy (known as Tods).

Bob Robertson (left) and his older sister Maurine pose near their home in Thompson Springs, Utah, circa 1940 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)“Your blog prompted many memories and thoughts about the area I’d like to share, so bear with me as an old man reflects (while he is still able)!

Thompson Springs began its life in 1883 as a station stop on the D&RGW Railroad. A post office was established in 1890, under the name “Thompson’s," named after E.W. Thompson, who lived near the springs and operated a saw mill, to the north, near the Book Cliffs. The town became a community center for the small number of farmers and ranchers who lived in the inhospitable region, and it was a prominent shipping point for cattle that ran in the Book Cliffs area.

The town gained importance with the development of coal mines in Sego Canyon, a few miles north of town. Entrepreneurs built a railroad there in 1911 to connect the mines with the Denver & Rio Grande Western railroad at Thompson. The spur line operated until about 1950.

This abandoned miner's rock home used a railroad track for its doorway header - Click for larger image (http://jaqmesmcgillis.com)One added aspect of interest is the actual community of Sego, where the mines were functioning through the 1940s. I remember as a kid in school in Moab, there was a carload of kids driven from Sego to Moab daily to go to school. Education was Grand County's responsibility, until the mines closed around 1948 or 1949. The internet tells of how the community included specific ethnic groups, housed in separate locations in the canyon, which was typical of the times. There was a Japanese section, different European sections, etc. There is very little indication of old home sites now, but there is a cemetery.

It was much like Bingham Canyon Mine in northern Utah, where my wife was born in 1940. Her dad and his brother worked in the mine there during the The Thompson Springs passenger railroad depot was abandoned in 1997 and torn down in 2016 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Second World War, but the uncle was an accountant and her dad drove heavy machinery. Therefore, they had to live in different locations within the canyon.

Construction of Interstate I-70, two miles south of Thompson, drew traffic away from the town, since the former Old Cisco Highway (US-6 & US-50) was no longer maintained. In 1997, the passenger train station closed and moved to Green River, twenty-five miles to the west. The loss of railroad passenger service led to further economic hardship for Thompson Springs.

My Dad (Maury Robertson) ran a gas station in Thompson Springs, beginning in 1935. He lived in a tent with Mom and sister Maurine until they moved the abandoned small one-room Valley City schoolhouse to Thompson, which became their bedroom on their house next to the service station.

A 1935 image of the Robertson Service Station in Thompson Springs featured UTOCO Oil Products beer for sale, inside - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)I was born in 1937. Later, my Mom made the following comments for my own son about my arrival:
“Dear Dan, Your Dad was born when we lived in Thompson. We hadn’t planned to have more children, for Maury was afraid there would be problems of health because of Maurine (Bob’s sister). In addition, we were very poor and living conditions were bad in Thompson. During pregnancy, I got big & miserable with hay fever & also the gnats landed & mixed with my hay fever drink. At that time, Maury had the hired man drive me to Moab two weeks early. The nights in Moab were so hot I about melted – the nights on the desert in Thompson were cool.

Dorothy and Maury Robertson (parents of Maurine and Bob Robertson) sit for a portrait in 1942 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)When Bob was born, my Dad (Cap Maxwell) drove out to Thompson to tell Maury & he was so tickled with a boy that he told the truth. Maury thought it was a girl all the way to Moab, for he did not think Dad would tell the truth. Cap was a great tease. We argued about what to name the boy. I wanted Vincent Clark & Maury wanted Jim after his father. We already had one Jim in the family. Maurine came to the hospital & said let us name him Bobby & so that was it.

He had a rough upbringing with the hired men that we had at the station in Thompson. Collin Loveridge used to throw him in the air so high I’d nearly flip & Albert Brown, who was a big “roughy” used to get him up in the morning & feed him & let me sleep in. When Bob would not eat his toast for me Albert said, “Oh, I put sugar & Jelly on it, he likes it.”


This abandoned storefront once served as a grocery store in Thompson Springs, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)My Uncle Curt (Dad's brother and business partner in Moab tacked that old schoolhouse onto a storefront that old Doc Williams bought. It became living quarters for my folks, moving Mom & Dad and sister Maurine out of the tent. That was where I got my start. The two-pump service station has the name labeled on the front "Robertson Service," It’s kind of hard to make out in the picture. The brand was Utoco (Utah Oil Co.). Dad also drove the gas truck servicing the towns in the area, Cisco, Moab, Monticello, Blanding, and Bluff).”

Since I-70 became the main east/west route across Utah, lost are locations and memories of road trips from Moab to Grand Junction, Colorado or Price, Utah. Crescent Junction became the first stop after the interstate opened. Then as kids, going west, there was the thrill of the cold-water geyser at Woodside. Traveling east, after Thompson came Cisco, Harley Dome, and then Fruita.

This vintage bumper tag once advertised the now defunct cold-water Roadside Geyser in Woodside, Utah - Click for larger image (htp://jamesmcgillis.com)Valley City was home to enough people at some point to warrant a small schoolhouse (that became our home in Thompson Springs, as mentioned earlier). This is where we would drive from Moab in the winter to ice skate on the Valley City reservoir. It was not much of a spot for skating, but to us kids, it was great.

At age 21, Maurine Robertson (1930-1953) was named Grand County, Utah Queen of the Rodeo - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Sis (Maurine Robertson), who was born with a congenital heart defect, died in 1953, during my sophomore year in high school. She had lived twenty-three good years and had brought much joy and happiness to all who knew her. Two years earlier, she had been crowned Rodeo Queen and received much deserved recognition for the beautiful person she was.”


In 1955, Bob Robertson went on to graduate from Grand County High School in Moab. In 1961, after earning a BS Electrical Engineering at the University Of Utah, he joined the “U.S. Space Program” before it even had a name. After
active military time at White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico and Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, Bob launched a distinguished career in electronics and Author Bob Robertson and his sister, Maurine in 1952 - Click for full Robertson family portrait (http://jamesmcgillis.com)engineering.

While working for such premier corporations as Intel, Fairchild, AC Spark Plug, Astrodata, Standard Microsystems, Mini-circuits and Motorola, Bob and his family lived in Singapore, Indonesia and Russia. After a later stint teaching at Great Basin College, in Elko, Nevada, Bob moved to Boise, Idaho, where he retired working for Micron Technology. He and his wife (grandparents of twenty-two) now live comfortably in northern Idaho.

Although he has not visited Thompson recently, Bob Robertson's recollections of bygone locations and events in the old ranching and railroad town are as sharp as ever. Thank you, Bob Robertson for sharing your personal history with us all.

This is Part 2 of the Thompson Springs Story. To read Part 1, “Thompson Springs, Utah - From Boom Town to Ghost Town”, please click “Here”. To read Part 3, "Sego Canyon - Land of the Ancients", please click "Here".

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By James McGillis at 03:23 PM | Travel | Comments (0) | Link


Chapter #365: Visit Historic Thompson Springs, Utah - January 18, 2019


Along old Highway 6 & 50, an abandoned home stands in Thompson Springs, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Thompson Springs, Utah - From Boom Town to Ghost Town

In May 2008, when I made my first visit to Thompson Springs, Utah, I had no idea what to expect. Before that, I had never heard of the place. While in Moab that year, someone had suggested that I visit the old Indian Rock Art panels in nearby Sego Canyon. After wending my way from Moab, north on U.S. Highway 191, I referred to my Utah Atlas & Gazetteer. By following a few simple turns, I soon connected to an unpaved strip of dirt named Valley City Road. According to my map, that road ran on a diagonal, straight to Thompson Springs.

Old U.S. Highway 6 & 50 is no longer maintained through Thompson Springs, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)On that dusty track, I thought about the name, originally called “Thompson”. Someone later added the word “Springs” to the official place name. The 1961 book, “Five Hundred Utah Place Names”, has no mention of either Thompson or Thompson Springs. Although almost every source now labels it as Thompson Springs, the locals in Grand County have shortened the moniker to “Thompson”. For the sake of brevity, I shall henceforth call the place Thompson.

Indeed, Thompson had once been a thriving town, located on old Highway U.S. 6 & 50. In the first half of the twentieth century, the town featured a hotel, a motel, a diner, a grocery store, several filling stations and a passenger railroad depot. Up past the ancient rock art in Sego Canyon ran a standard gauge railroad, which serviced a low-grade coalmine at its terminus. In the days of steam locomotives, the fresh water springs at Thompson created a In the early 20th century, Thompson Springs was a mandatory water stop for the steam locomotives of the time - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)mandatory stopping place for all trains traveling along the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad mainline. By the 1970s, diesel-electric locomotives had replaced steam power, making a water-stop in Thompson irrelevant.

Simultaneously, the newly completed Interstate I-70 bypassed Thompson entirely. The old Highway 6 & 50, while skirting the southern edge of the Book Cliffs, had bisected Thompson. On its stretch between Green River and Cisco, the new route for I-70 lay several miles to the south. The widowed owner of the Crescent Junction service station had lobbied hard to have the new highway to pass adjacent to her business. In deference to her desires, the chief highway engineer at the time changed the final I-70 route to suit her needs. That Crescent Junction gas station still stands today, now known as Papa Joe’s Stop & Go.

For the first half of the 20th century a railroad was used to transfer coal from Sego Canyon, in the Book Cliffs to Thompson Springs, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)The realigning of I-70 that far north necessitated a major road-cut just west of Crescent Junction. Eastbound from Crescent Junction, highway engineers saw no way to include Thompson in their plans. As was the story with many towns built along earlier highways and rail lines, running the interstate through Thompson would have destroyed the place. Instead, they skirted Thompson, thus creating an eastbound route with an unexpected descending curve. The softhearted chief engineer had foregone a more logical and less difficult route in deference to the owner of one small business in Crescent Junction.

After the complete bypass of Thompson, only a single new service station was visible from the interstate highway. Although a highway interchange allowed By 2018, the closed Silver Grill at Thompson Springs displayed broken windows and other signs of vandalism - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)access to Thompson from both eastbound and westbound I-70, few travelers visited the town. For almost forty years, from around 1970 until the Moab tourism boom beginning in 2010, Thompson continued to wither and die.

In recent years, the Desert Moon Hotel and RV Park and the Ballard RV Park and Cabins have sprung back to life. The Ballard RV Park stands on a site that housed hundreds of trailer homes during the construction of the interstate highway. Recently refurbished, the Ballard now houses many seasonal workers recently “priced out” of Moab, thirty-eight miles away. As the new working class suburb for Moab, the Ballard rarely has a seasonal vacancy for overnight travelers.

The road north from Thompson Springs to Sego Canyon first crosses Old Highway 6 & 50, and then the Union Pacific Railroad before entering the canyon - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Despite the success of the Desert Moon and the Ballard, by 2015 no other publically identified businesses functioned in Thompson. The Thompson Motel, The old brick-front Silver Grill and the railroad depot had all shut down for good. One of the few functioning landmarks was the namesake Thompson Springs waterworks. There, local residents and trucks from the nearby Utah Department of Transportation yard could fill their water tanks. Other than the gas station and minimart located near I-70, there were few signs of economic vitality.

By 2018, after extensive damage by vandals, the Union Pacific Railroad had torn down its defunct passenger rail depot. One after another, as abandoned homes or businesses became a danger to the public, they disappeared, An old Lake Powell pontoon boat serves as a dwelling in Thompson Springs, Utah. Note the stovepipe and water slide - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)seemingly without a trace. Within the town, the last census indicates that thirty-nine hardy souls dwell in the alternating heat and cold of the desert. Other sources claim up to ninety-three people reside in Thompson.

Recently, a landlocked pontoon boat somehow made its way from Lake Powell to Thompson, where it sits up on blocks. With its waterslide still intact and a stovepipe running up the side of the cabin, I wondered if it was a remote retreat or someone’s permanent home. Could this be the beginning of a new housing boom in Thompson?

Despite sporadic signs of life, Thompson appears to be transitioning to ghost town status. In the past decade, many former landmarks have disappeared. Each time I visit Thompson, I try to take pictures of the remaining structures.
When local residents spot a visitor in Thompson Springs, Utah, they come running - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Upon my next visit, there will surely be fewer of them still standing.

This is Part 1 of the Thompson Springs Story. In Part Two, Bob Robertson, a native of the area born in 1937 reminisces about his childhood in Thompson and Grand County, Utah.

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By James McGillis at 02:47 PM | Travel | Comments (0) | Link


Chapter #364: Santa Susana Field Lab Contamination - November 18, 2018


Sixty Years After a Nuclear Core Meltdown, Half a Million Residents Are Still At Risk

In California, the hills are alive, but not with the sound of music. On Thursday, November 8, 2018, a small fire started near the top of Woolsey Canyon Road, in the Simi Hills. The location was on the grounds of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL). Both famous and infamous, the facility once owned by the Rocketdyne Corporation, was used for development and testing of liquid fueled rocket motors from 1949 to 2006.

This pyrocumulus cloud arose from the Santa Susana Field Laboratory near Simi Valley, California on November 9, 2018 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)The Atomics International division of North American Aviation once used a separate and dedicated portion of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory to build and operate the first commercial nuclear power plant in the United States. The Sodium Reactor Experiment (SRE) was an experimental nuclear reactor that operated at the site from 1957 to 1964. It was the first commercial power plant in the world to experience a core meltdown. The reactors located on the grounds of SSFL had no containment structures. During a series of events, thousands of pounds of radioactive nucleotides dispersed into the ground and air.

In 1996, The Boeing Company became the primary owner and operator of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, which it later closed. Today, more than 150,000 people live within 5 miles (8 km) of the facility, and at least half a million people live within 10 miles (16 km). As of 2018, the Boeing remains as Smoke rises over the closed Highway 118 in Simi Valley as hills near the Santa Susana Field Laboratory during the Peak Fire, November 11, 2018 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)the site owner, with NASA and the Department of Energy (DOE) liable for several parcels within the larger facility. On August 2, 2005, Pratt & Whitney purchased Boeing's Rocketdyne division, but declined to acquire SSFL as part of the sale.

In 2005, wildfires swept through northern Los Angeles County and parts of Ventura County. The fires consumed most of the dry brush throughout the Simi Hills where the SSFL is located. Since that fire, allegations have emerged that vast quantities of on-site nuclear and chemical contamination vaporized into the air. More recently, Los Angeles County firefighters assigned to SSFL during that fire received medical testing to see if they ingested or inhaled any harmful doses while protecting the facility.

As seen from the corner of Cochran Street and 1st Street in Simi Valley the Simi Hills were ablaze on November 9, 2018 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)The small fire that broke out at the SSFL in the afternoon of November 8, 2018 was sadly reminiscent of the 1959 meltdown and the 2005 wildfire. Ground crews from Los Angeles City and County raced up the long and winding Woolsey Canyon. Upon arrival, they found a scorched and inoperable Southern California Edison (SCE) electrical transformer near the point of origin. The resulting brushfire had raced off the property to the south and west.
The Alpha, Bravo and possibly the Coca rocket test stands received substantial damage during the recent Woolsey Fire.

On the first afternoon of the fire, the ridges of the Simi Hills, including areas near the former nuclear reactor sites were fully involved in flames. The Los Angeles County Fire Department dispatched its two “Super Scooper” firefighting airplanes. After dropping their 1,600 gallons of water, the pair of “flying boat amphibious aircraft” headed for Castaic Lake, near Santa Clarita. There, at airspeeds approaching 100 mph, each plane took only twelve seconds to scoop up a new load of water and The Canadian "Super Scooper" firefighting aircraft can drop 1,650 gallons of water on a wildfire - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)return to the fire scene. At least six times, before darkness curtailed their activities, the two airplanes attempted to douse the spreading wildfire. With Santa Ana Winds gusting to 70 mph, it was a valiant, yet futile endeavor.

By Friday, November 10, 2018, the flames had swept through portions of Thousand Oaks, Westlake, Agoura Hills, Calabasas and Bell Canyon. most of that territory was downwind of the SSFL. By nightfall on that second night, the flames had reached Malibou Lake and the City of Malibu. Only the Pacific Ocean stopped the further spread of flames.

Over the next few days, the unexplained small fire at SSFL had grown to almost 100,000 acres and burned almost 500 homes. At 98,000 acres and still climbing, the Woolsey Fire had consumed well over eighty percent of the Santa Monica National Recreation Area. On two separate parcels of private property near Agoura Hills, three lives were lost during the fire. From our vantage Vast areas within the Santa Susana Field Laboratory near Simi Valley, California burned for up to three days in November 2018 (http://jamesmcgillis.com)point, on the north side of Simi Valley, we observed two nights of active flames. On the third day, we could still see wispy smoke emanating from near the fire’s point of origin. With Santa Ana winds still gusting to 60 mph, the smoke plume traveled south and east, away from our home.

On Sunday, November 11, 2018, we watched on local television as a DC-10 air tanker and numerous helicopters dropped water and fire retardant on the slopes above Malibu Canyon. Since spot fires can occur up to half a mile from active flames, we had stationed our travel trailer at our home in Simi Valley. Although there had been no active fire near our storage yard in Simi Valley, if one coach were to catch fire at that yard, hundreds of recreational vehicles could have burned.

A Los Angeles County Firehawk helicopter descends for a water pickup in Simi Valley, California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)As of that afternoon, hundreds of thousands of residents downwind of the SSFL remained evacuated or had returned to scenes of destruction and despair. Other than some mental stress watching fires spread live on TV, we remained safe at home. Our hearts go out to those who lost friends, pets, homes and property. Although not every home that burned was a mansion or a faux Tuscan villa and vineyard, a mobile home in a canyon setting can be just as dear. Many of the lower priced dwellings had no fire insurance.

To an eyewitness, it is disconcerting to see how quickly everything you own could go up in flames. As humans, we are at the mercy of wind, weather and nature. Some politicians and some who lost homes blamed land managers or first responders for the scope of destruction. Others recognized that there is risk associated with living adjacent to wildlands. With high winds and embers aloft, there was no way to protect every home. First responders had to change priorities, electing to save as many lives as possible.

This DC-10 tanker aircraft can deliver 12,000 gallons of fire retardant on each pass over the flames - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In Butte County, near Chico, California, almost the entire town of Paradise recently disappeared from the map. Prior to outbreak of the “Camp Fire”, around 27,000 people lived in that area. Almost nothing of the built environment in Paradise or nearby Concow withstood the flames. Over 10,000 structures burned, including homes, schools and the entire downtown district. Scores of people died in their homes, or while trying to escape on foot or in vehicles. As of this writing, nearly one thousand people remain missing.

The scope of these tragedies is hard to comprehend. Where will 27,000 homeless people go? Over twenty-five percent of those displaced were senior citizens, living on fixed or minimal incomes. With cold and rainy weather expected soon, a tent encampment in a Chico, California Walmart parking lot will not provide sufficient shelter. Here in Ventura County, less than one year ago, we lost almost 1000 homes to the Thomas Fire. In late 2017, an The only portion of Leo Carrillo State Beach that was left untouched by fire was the beach itself - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)additional 2,900 homes burned in Santa Rosa, California. As a result, tens of thousands of California residents are now actively seeking shelter.

Over the past ten years, Carrie McCoy and I have visited Malibu many times. One of our favorite restaurants overlooks Zuma Beach and Point Dume. During the Woolsey Fire, many homes near that seaside restaurant burned to the ground. While returning from our various trips to Malibu, we would often traverse Decker Canyon, Encinal Canyon, Mulholland Highway and Kanan Road. Those interconnected roadways snake through myriad canyons and rise over windswept ridgetops. Amidst the huge swaths of chaparral, are homes both lowly and grand. Many of those dwellings now consist of little more than a roadside gate or a mailbox. Our next visit to Malibu will likely include views of destruction not seen for decades, if ever before.

During the Peak Fire in Simi Valley on November 12, 2018, it looked like "business as usual" as firefighters rushed to the wildfire - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In 1980, I lived in Agoura Hills, near the intersection of Kanan Road and U.S. Highway 101. One afternoon, from my hilltop home, I saw a fire ignite on the south side of the freeway. Within minutes, it swept westward along Kanan Road. By nightfall, it reached the same stretches of Malibu that burned again in the Woolsey Fire. That day, almost forty years ago, I learned firsthand that it is not safe to live anywhere in the windswept canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains.

By the early 1990s, the Kanan/Malibu fire had faded into distant memory. The allure of living large, with nature all around was too great. What followed was a population boom in the canyons of the Santa Monica Mountain. When the Woolsey Fire struck, most of those residents had never seen active fire in their area. Living in the Santa Monica Mountains is a speculative investment. If one can afford to take the risk to both property and personal safety, then building
The Erickson Skycrane dumped thousands of gallons of water on the Peak Fire, near the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, Simi Valley, California in November 2018 (http://jamesmcgillis.com)or buying there should be a personal choice. Since no property in that area is immune to destructive wildfires, self-insurance and private fire protection should be the rule, not the exception.

Returning to the origins of this most recent and destructive wildfire, the SSFL is now an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) superfund site. To this day, Boeing Company, NASA and the DOE administrate various parts of the property. Although there has been some minor cleanup, there has never been a complete remediation of the nuclear and chemical contamination caused during the second half of the twentieth century. With "scorching" of the remaining rocket test stands in the Woolsey Fire, it remains to be seen if any of that infrastructure is salvageable.

The public never heard a definitive answer regarding the firefighters' exposed to possible contamination during the 2005 wildfire at SSFL. After the Woolsey Fire, the California Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) claimed, “There was no discernible radiation in the tested area.” As one of the 500,000
Pretty as a picture, eighty-five percent of the Santa Monica National Recreation Area was burned in November 2018 - Click for large image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)people who reside within ten miles of the radiological and chemical nightmare known as the SSFL, I believe that everyone in the area has the right to know exactly what our environmental exposure was and continues to be.

After the Woolsey Fire, Los Angeles County banned the removal of any fire rubble until completion of toxicity surveys of each affected property. Neither Ventura County nor Los Angeles County has plans to test beyond the SSFL for possible radioactive contamination. It is time for the public and our elected officials to demand nothing less than full testing, cleanup and remediation of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory.

Email James McGillis
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