Arco – Idaho

Arco – Idaho, a place we’d certainly never heard of before but a town we would soon learn held a place in American history.

As we drove through the desert landscape of Idaho, great areas of nothingness stretched for miles and miles each side of the road.

The only thing we did see was a regular stream of coaches with the letters INL written on them and glimpses of some buildings far into the desert.

Had we happened upon some secret government project or a military operation of some kind, were there aliens involved?

Arco - Idaho

After driving several hours through the desert landscape, the tiny town of Arco – Idaho appeared.

On the surface, there didn’t seem much to this tiny settlement but on closer examination Arco it turned out had a rich history.

The long straight road stretches both ways into the distance with only the sporadic vehicle driving through town.

Many shops and businesses looked like they had shut down with boarded up windows and doors.

There only seemed to be two or three motels in town so we checked in to the simple DK Motel.

Arco - Idaho - DK Motel

The DK Motel In Arco

Talking to the motel owner we started to get a picture of Arco and it’s history.

She told us that her father had worked for the Navy on their submarine programme based near to Arco.

Wait a minute, submarines in the desert?

Arco - Idaho - USS Hawkbill

The USS Hawkbill Submarine


Remember all those INL buses we saw out in the desert.

Well, we were a little disappointed to find out that rather than some alien cover-up, MIB sort of thing going on, it was, in fact, the INL.

The Idaho National Laboratory has several nuclear installations including The Advanced Test Reactor, Hot Cell Facility and The Safety and Tritium Applied Research Facility built out on an 890 square mile area in the desert.

As you drive through the desert you can see huge buildings far off in the distance, along restricted access roads.

Before it became the INL the nuclear test facility worked with the Navy to test nuclear power sources for their submarines.

This led to the close links the area has with the US Navy.

We still think there may be aliens involved though 🙂

Arco - Idaho - INL Installation

One Of The Many INL Nuclear Facilities ( not our picture)

Arco, The Nuclear Powered Town

On July 17th 1955, Arco – Idaho became the worlds first town to be lit by electricity generated solely from nuclear power.

The nearby Borax-111 reactor powered the town for just an hour on that day.

In 1961 there was also another worlds first nearby when the SL-1 reactor was destroyed in a steam explosion, killing three personnel at the site.

It was the worlds first and the United States only nuclear reactor accident.

Arco – Idaho has strong links with the nuclear industry even though these days most of the INL’s staff live in the Idaho Falls area and are driven by bus to and from the nuclear facilities.

The Hawkbill Devil Boat

Standing proudly in the centre of Arco is the sail of the USS Hawkbill SSN-666 nuclear-powered attack submarine.

Launched in 1969 and nicknamed the Devil Boat because of its 666 hull number the submarine was decommissioned and scrapped in 2000 but it’s sail bought to Arco for display.

You can see the sail as well as other memorabilia at the commemorative area on the small green as you enter town from the South East on Highway 20.

Arco - Idaho - The Devil Boat

The USS HawkBill Or Devil Boat As It Was Nicknamed

Arco - Idaho - The Devil Boat

A Torpedo From The USS Hawkbill

The Arco Number Hill

One of the first things we noticed when we walked along the main road in Arco – Idaho was the huge hillside near town with lots of numbers randomly painted in white all over it.

Was it some kind of bizarre art piece, was it as some people like to tease, where the flood waters of the Big Lost River have reached up to?

The answer is neither of those.

In fact, the numbers have been painted high up on the hillside by the corresponding graduating classes from Butte County High School.

Since 1920 each graduating class has climbed Graduation Hill to paint their graduation year number in huge white numbers.

Arco - Idaho - Graduation Hill

Graduation Hill And The Numbers Of The Graduating Classes Painted On It

Craters Of The Moon National Monument

18 Miles West of Arco – Idaho, Craters of the Moon National Monument is an area scared by volcanic activity.

Huge lava fields, spatter cones, lava tube caves and massive cinder cones are linked up by a seven-mile loop drive.

It’s an amazing landscape to explore and learn about from the knowledgeable park rangers.

You can read all about Craters of the Moon and our visit here.

Arco - Idaho - Craters Of The Moon National Monument

Craters Of The Moon National Monument

Our Thoughts

We only stopped at Arco – Idaho for somewhere to stay that was near to Craters of the Moon National Monument for a visit.

But Arco turned out to be a fascinating destination in its own right.

Yes, there’s not much there and the town seems to be one of those places that are decreasing in population year by year with businesses closing down.

But there’s more history than meets the eye out here, seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

Don’t expect lots of facilities and you won’t be disappointed.

Arco - Idaho - USS Hawkbill

The USS Hawkbill Nuclear Powered Submarine

The Nitty Gritty

Arco – Idaho is located on highway 20, 70 miles West of Idaho Falls.

The town is small, very small and has a population of under 1000.

Where To Stay

We stayed at the DK Motel but there a couple more motels in town to choose from.

The DK Motel was OK but don’t expect too much.

Where To Eat

A very short walk from the DK Motel is Pickle’s Place.

It’s bright green simple exterior doesn’t look promising but it was surprisingly good.

The staff are friendly and the food was reasonable.

We had an evening meal and breakfast there and enjoyed both.

Arco - Idaho - Pickle's Place Cafe

Outside Pickle’s Place Cafe