...I live to get radical...

Dispatches from a dusty desert outpost called Utah.

The Owls Are Not What They Seem

On a recent trip to the PNW with Mike, we made it a point to drive a little further north and west than was actually needed in order to pay a visit to the North Bend/Fall City/Snoqualmie-area of Washington. We are both big David Lynch fans, and this is the area that serves as the setting for many of the iconic locations from arguably his greatest work, Twin Peaks. I found it as magical and moody as one might hope. Here are some pictures of what we found...

The location of the "Welcome to Twin Peaks" sign. Sadly, we can't have nice things and it has been removed.

"There are many stories in Twin Peaks..."

The bridge where they find Ronette Pulaski after her unfortunate night with folks from the Black Lodge.

"Sometimes we want to hide from ourselves — we do not want to be us — it is too difficult to be us."

The Roadhouse in Fall City. Sadly, there was no music in the air, or Black Yukon Sucker Punches on the bar menu.

"I have no idea where this will lead us. But I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange."

Snoqualmie Falls and the "Great Northern Hotel."

"We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives inside the dream."

The Double R Diner, home of a damn fine cup of coffee and cherry pie that is worth the stop (Diane).

"Fellas, don't drink that coffee! You'd never guess. There was a fish in the percolator!"

Jack Rabbit's Palace, which featured zero transdimensional access points (at least during our visit).

"I believe the Black Lodge is the source of what you've traditionally referred to here as the evil in the woods."

the Atomic West

Currently on a road trip, exploring the downwind communities and costly attempts at military-industrial cleanup at the Hanford Reach. In lieu of a blog post on this trip (which will come later), I will post something else from the vast personal archive of nuclear-related history I gathered as part of my graduate studies on the ill-fated MX Missile.

One of my hopes for this blog is that it can come to serve as a useful place for me to catalog and share some of my MX research, and maybe eventually kickstart it into something more than a graduate thesis. So, with that, behold the "MX Map" that illustrates how the Rube Goldberg machine of mutually assured destruction would have been constructed in the basin and range country of Utah and Nevada.

By way of a legend, those weirdly shaped things connected by squiggly lines are proposed bases for one of the largest missiles in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. This was problematic for so, SO many reasons. I promise to dig into in future posts.

Spoiler: this was a bad idea.

The Story of my Genes

For my birthday this year my mom gave me one of those Ancestry DNA testing kits. After spitting in a tube and dropping said spit in the mail, I waited several weeks before receiving word that the analysis of my DNA was complete and Ancestry now has me pegged in their evolving human genome database. To wit:

The Greek is strong with this one.

Gotta say that the results track pretty well with what I already know about my own family history. It's also a gentle reminder that I work in a profession where family history is a BIG DEAL. I really need to spend some time building out the weaker parts of mine...

That left (Greek) side of that fan chart is awfully weak.

Japanese Internment in Utah

Repurposed from a blog written in my role as an archivist at the Utah State Archives and Records Service



When Japanese forces attacked the U.S. naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941, a chain of events was set in motion that would permanently alter the directions of each country and its citizenry. Pearl Harbor led to direct U.S. involvement in World War II, drawing millions of U.S. soldiers and citizens into the war effort. Involvement on the war front had the dramatic effect of reorienting the American economy, which in turn set the stage for the industrial and commercial development that would help the United States achieve the level of global superpower in ensuing post-war decades. U.S. involvement in World War II would fuel the atomic fires of the Manhattan Project and result in the first (and only) use of nuclear weapons against Japanese citizens at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And for many Americans, the bombing of Pearl Harbor served as the catalyst for a cascade of executive actions that would pit the federal government in unfortunate opposition with a segment of its citizenry.


In the wake of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Presidential Proclamations 25252526, and 2527, which created the legal apparatus that U.S. government officials would utilize to forcibly register suspected alien enemies and eventually displace and intern 120,000 human beings by war’s end. Between 1942 and 1945, individuals of Japanese, German, and Italian descent faced the prospect of sitting before local alien resident hearing boards, forcible registration as alien enemies, and potential internment in far flung camps across the western landscape.


On the heels of his December, 1941, Presidential Proclamations on Alien Enemies, Franklin Roosevelt took a decisive step, when on February 19, 1942, he issued Executive Order 9066. This order called for the immediate evacuation from the West Coast of individuals who had been deemed an immediate threat to national security. Over the following six months over 100,000 individuals of Japanese descent were forcibly removed from their homes in Washington, Oregon, and California and relocated to hastily constructed internment camps scattered throughout California, Idaho, Montana, Utah, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas.


The Topaz War Relocation was formally closed on October 31, 1945, and its inhabitants allowed to return to their homes. In the ensuing post-war decades, the treatment suffered by camp detainees became an increasingly difficult matter for the federal government to reconcile. This would eventually lead to the passage of the Civil Liberties Act that was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on August 10, 1988. In addition to issuing a formal apology to innocent individuals who had faced detainment, the bill also provided a means for those who had suffered the indignities of internment to apply for monetary compensation from the federal government.


Often internment in a relocation camp was based on contentious hearings before local alien registration boards, where local prejudices and weak (often unsubstantiated) evidence and accusations might be leveled at the accused. A common occurrence often entailed an older, non-U.S. citizen alien being relocated and voluntarily joined in their internment by family members who did hold valid U.S. citizenship. This dark moment also put the onus squarely on Japanese-Americans to demonstrate their citizenship and loyalty to a country that had become deeply suspicious of them. Evidence of this exists in the form of records held by the Utah State Archives that were created by the Davis County Sheriff.


In order to obtain this second registration, Justice Department officials often relied on local law enforcement officers to obtain registration data on suspected aliens, as well as forward along suspicions to members of the federal intelligence community. The records found in series 22990 contain the registration data collected by the Davis County Sheriff, as well as periodic correspondence from the sheriff to federal authorities. Most often the data captured in these registration forms includes the name of the individual being registered, information on family members living within one residence, and an inventory of all guns and ammunition owned by the registrant.

The Alien Enemy Registration Forms from Davis County reveal one level of the war effort that has gone largely forgotten. In addition to providing valuable genealogical information on residents of Davis County during the World War II era, these records help illuminate the pervasive contours of one of the darker moments in U.S. history, serving as a powerful reminder that blind fear and paranoia are antithetical to quality governance.


Beckwith, J. (n.d.). Topaz Relocation Center. Retrieved December 16, 2014, from http://historytogo.utah.gov/utah_chapters/from_war_to_war/topazrelocationcenter.html

Brief Overview of the World War II Enemy Alien Control Program. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from http://www.archives.gov/research/immigration/enemy-aliens-overview.html

Utah State Archives and Records Service. Davis County Sheriff. Alien Enemy Registration Forms. Series 22990.

Metropolis, Nevada

Last weekend the wife, kiddo, and I hauled our dogs out to the East Humboldt Range near Wells, Nevada. Much like their next door neighbor, the Rubies, the East Humboldt are stupidly beautiful mountains that belie the myth that Nevada is a dusty desert hellhole. This trip was ill-fated from the start, however, as hazy skies, scorching temps (even at 8,500 feet, wtf!?), and our rude dogs (who have zero campsite chill) all combined to drive us home a day earlier than planned. On our way out, Sarah suggested that we make the brief 12 mile drive out of Wells and visit the nearby ghost town of Metropolis, Nevada. 

The bleak aerial view of Metropolis from Google Earth.

I am a big fan of ghost towns and make it a point to explore them whenever an opportunity presents itself. Utah and Nevada are littered with them. The vast majority are eerie reminders of the brief mining booms that bombarded the western U.S. in the 19th and 20th centuries. Metropolis doesn't fit this pattern, however, and is all the more interesting for it.

All that remains of the Metropolis Hotel. It burned down...

The two interpretive markers at the former townsite allude to Metropolis' bizzaro history, but it took some digging (see what I did there!?) after we got home to unearth the full story. First off, Metropolis had a fairly recent founding with the first residents putting down roots in dusty soil in 1910. They came as part of a planned agriculture community settlement under the direction of the Pacific Reclamation Company of New York. "Pac Rec" established a field office in Salt Lake, so Metropolis had a strong Mormon contingent from its beginning.

Pretty sure that this monument is the highest thing in the basin until you hit those distant mountains.

By all accounts the early, heady days of Metropolis were pretty exciting. The Southern Pacific Railroad built a railroad spur from Wells and the town folk took bricks from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and built a 100 foot dam  at nearby Bishop Creek (a tributary of the Humboldt River) to satisfy all of their thirsty needs. They apparently also failed to look into western water law, and were quickly sued by downstream residents of Lovelock who claimed that the denizens of Metropolis' were hoarding an unfair and illegal share of Nevada's scant water supply. In the end a court settlement significantly cut Metropolis' water allocation, reducing the number of planned acres for irrigated agriculture down from 40,000 to 4,000. Oops!

Sorry, kiddo, school's out forever.

Because the townsite was apparently cursed the residents who decided to stick it out after Watergate (sorry, not sorry) were subsequently visited by some brutal years of hardscrabble living that included a scourge of crop devouring jackrabbits, a scourge of crop (and house!?) devouring Mormon crickets, the death of the Pacific Reclamation Company, and an abandonment of the railroad spur by the Southern Pacific Railroad. The Metropolis Hotel burned down in 1936, the post office terminated service in 1942, and the town school shut its doors in 1947. Presumably anyone left had the good sense to get out after that (or eventually became the bad guys in the Hills Have Eyes).

I will refrain making a ham-fisted argument about how the history of Metropolis must be heeded, less we be doomed to repeat it (though recent news suggests that human beings are really bad at things like history, evidence, and basic logic). Instead, I'll end by endorsing a visit to the nearest ghost town the next time you happen to be near one. Better yet, do it with a four year old in tow! You can have a blast explaining that ghost towns aren't really full of ghosts...unless they're bad and make the ghosts come out and haunt them! As my daughter said more than once during our visit..."SPOOKY!!!"


McFarlane. 2014. The Metropolis That Wasn't. http://nevadamagazine.com/home/inside-the-magazine/history/the-metropolis-that-wasnt/. March/April 2014.

Moreno. 2018. The Rise and Fall of Metropolis, Nevada. https://www.nevadaappeal.com/news/lahontan-valley/the-rise-and-fall-of-metropolis-nevada/. May 24, 2018.

Travel Nevada. Metropolis Ghost Town. https://travelnevada.com/discover/30469/metropolis-ghost-town. Undated.

Holding Out For A Hero

Recently, Sarah and I took the plunge into the world of vinyl record collecting. There are no shortage of explanations as to why seemingly obsolete formats like vinyl are making a resurgence in our digitally dominated world. The takeaway seems to be that human beings have a deep love for "things" that they can actually feel and interact with.

Sweet, sweet molded polyvinyl chloride...

Sweet, sweet molded polyvinyl chloride...

For my part, I have (re)discovered a deep joy of music (and music discovery) with vinyl that is pretty much impossible to replicate in the digital sphere. I love the look, feel, and sound of vinyl. I love the album packaging that supports it. I love the fact that when I put on a record I have committed to listening to that album (through all of its inevitable ups and downs). And, I love the joy of discovery that comes with unearthing some lost vinyl gem at the record store.

While some of these elements translates in the digital realm, none do so with the force of vinyl. Generally, when I I am stumbling around Spotify (which is my preferred digital music/podcast platform), I still find myself paralyzed by the sheer volume of options offered. This is important because it reaffirms that the binary language of 1's and 0's doesn't really align itself well with the glorious messiness of being a human being.

Recently, we went vinyl shopping at Graywhale and came across Bonnie Tyler's, Faster Than the Speed of Night on pressed plastic. It was criminally underpriced at $3.99 so we scooped it up. I write all of this because I feel it is my civic duty to educate anyone reading this on the song-writing prowess of one of Bonnie Tyler's principle patrons, Jim Steinman.

Bow down to your Queen.

Bow down to your Queen.

For the uninitiated, Jim Steinman is the poet/rocker who penned some of the most quintessential of 80's rock including "Making Love Out of Nothing At All," "Total Eclipse of the Heart," and "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)." Yes, all of these songs were made famous by other artists (like Air Supply, Bonnie Tyler, and Meat Loaf) but it was the creative and fertile mind of Steinman that brought such righteous music into existence.

FYI: Steinman wrote most of this.

FYI: Steinman wrote most of this.

Steinman even found his way to scoring movie music, with the best songs on Streets of Fire offering up the distinctive Steinman sounds that are a hallmark of the 80's and early 90's. You know that his music (and the corresponding culture associated with it) is cool when it gets a huge stylistic head-nod from the Protomen.

Seek out both of these albums, RIGHT NOW!

Seek out both of these albums, RIGHT NOW!

At this point it is worth asking why Jim Steinman never took matters into his own hands. Why didn't he create an album of such mesmerizing awesomeness that listeners have no choice but to bow down to its indisputable and unrelenting rock and roll glory? Well...he, did...sort of. Unfortunately, the album looks like this...

Dungeons and Dragons, anyone?

Dungeons and Dragons, anyone?

Sadly, in addition to looking like a bad Boris Vallejo knockoff, the album also features Jim Steinman on vocals. This...isn't great. I'm a HUGE fan, but on the majority of his songs Steinman ends up sounding like Fozzie Bear. This, combined with his look probably explains why he has made a career out of turning over his best work to vocalists with the pipes and charisma needed to deliver the majesty his superior lyrics deserve.

And, speaking of lyrics, get a load of some of these lines!

"I want to wrap myself around you like a winter skin."
"I wasn't built for comfort I was built for speed."
"We gotta be fast, we were born out of time."
"You were only killing time and it'll kill you right back."

From one Jim to another, thank you Steinman for making this part of the world a more awesome and interesting place. \m/

Downwind in Utah

Repurposed from a blog written in my role as an archivist at the Utah State Archives and Records Service.



The spring of 1953 brought with it unusually large losses in sheep herds that had spent that winter grazing in the mountains of southern Nevada and southern Utah. The winter and spring of 1952/1953 had been unusually dry, and most livestock owners had provided their herds with supplemental feed and water to make it through to summer. Of the approximately 11,710 sheep that had wintered within 40 miles north and 160 miles east of the Nevada Test Site (NTS) in 1953, 1420 lambing ewes and 2970 new lambs would ultimately succumb to a painful and mysterious death in the ensuing year.

In addition to the disturbing number of deaths, sheep owners also observed that many of their animals appeared to suffer from unusual burns on their faces and bodies. These burns were reminiscent of those documented in cattle that had been near the  in New Mexico, when the world’s first atomic weapon was detonated on July 16, 1945. The burns were also similar to the beta burns found on horses living near the NTS, where above-ground nuclear testing had been taking place since 1951. Speculation quickly focused on two NTS nuclear test series, Operation Tumbler-Snapper conducted in 1952 and Operation Upshot-Knothole conducted in 1953, as the source of death and injury witnessed among the Cedar City sheep herds.



The first veterinarians outside of the Cedar City region to investigate the mysterious sheep deaths were John Curtis and F.H. Melvin, who were assisted by the Bureau of Animal Industry (under the Department of Agriculture). Both men were concerned with the possibility that radiation had played a primary role in the sheep deaths, and what that could mean for the human populations of southern Nevada and Utah. After their investigation, Curtis and Melvin returned to Salt Lake City and voiced their concerns to the director of the Utah Department of Health, Dr. George A. Spendlove. Based on that report, Spendlove immediately requested epidemic aid from the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) for further study.

In early June the USPHS sent three of their own investigators to Cedar City. These representatives included Monroe A. Holmes (a veterinarian for the Public Health Service Communicable Disease Center), Arthur H. Wolff (a veterinary radiologist at the Environmental Health Center), and William G. Hadlow (a veterinary pathologist at the Public Health Service Rocky Mountain Lab). When the USPHS representatives arrived in Cedar City they were joined by two investigators from the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), the agency responsible for administering nuclear tests at the NTS. These AEC representatives included Major R.J. Veenstra (an Army veterinarian attached to the Naval Radiological Defense Lab in San Francisco), and R.E. Thompsett (a veterinarian on contract with the AEC who ran a private practice in Los Alamos, New Mexico).

The team of USPHS and AEC investigators observed sick lambs in Cedar City and initially concluded that radiation and malnutrition were the most likely candidates for problems afflicting the herds. Melvin A. Holmes drafted a report that brought together the investigative work from the seven different agencies initially involved with analyzing the sheep losses in Cedar City. In addition to the main report, individual reports were filed by Wolff, Veenstra, and Thompsett, each of which mentioned radiation more prominently than Holmes as the likely cause of the sheep deaths. These reports were immediately classified by the AEC and not provided to Cedar City sheep owners or local Iron County authorities.




The AEC was loathe to compensate for livestock losses based on harmful radiation due to the precedent it would have set for future claims of loss from exposure to fallout from tests at the NTS. This led to the AEC organizing a second investigation of the sheep herd losses in Cedar City in the summer of 1953. The investigators used in the second investigation had much closer ties to the AEC than those members of the first investigation team. They included Dr. Paul B. Pearson (chief of the AEC Division of Biology and Medicine), Lieutenant Colonel Bernard F. Trum (an Army veterinarian assigned tot he AEC agricultural research program at Oak Ridge, Tennessee), and Lieutenant Colonel John Rust (also of the AEC agricultural research program at Oak Ridge). This second investigatory group focused exclusively on malnutrition as the primary cause of sheep herd loss, and maintained zero contact with members from the first investigation. In a later court case, Iron County extension agent, Stephen Brower recalled a conversation with Paul Pearson in which the latter claimed that the AEC couldn’t expose itself to the risks of setting a precedent in paying sheep owners for their losses. Instead he suggested that the AEC might help fund a range study, again reinforcing the malnutrition narrative as the sole reason for losses and damages to the sheep herds around Cedar City. The AEC did subsequently provide $25,000 for a range study in the Cedar City and Nevada areas used by the sheepmen.



In August of 1953 all participants from the first and second sheep death investigations met in Salt Lake City to review the evidence from both studies. At this meeting there was concerted effort placed on the first group of investigators to abandon their position that radiation was a primary contributing cause to the sheep deaths.

On August 9, 1953, Paul Pearson met with livestock owners in Cedar City to discuss the second group of investigators findings. At that time malnutrition and disease in the herd were cited as the likely culprits. It was also at this time that AEC officials began advancing the premise that radiation levels from the NTS tests were too low to cause radiation poisoning in the sheep herds. In order to validate this claim separate radiation studies were conducted on sheep herds living near heavily irradiated sites in Los Alamos, New Mexico and Hanford, Washington. Sheep in these studies were exposed to varying levels of radiation and the effects were documented.

On October 27, 1953 members of both studies and AEC officials met in Los Alamos to again review evidence from the studies, as well as the evidence from the sheep radiation tests from Los Alamos and Hanford. The secretary for the meeting was AEC official Charles Dunning, who subsequently drafted a short report stating that the expert opinion held that there was a preponderance of evidence against fallout as a contributing cause in the sheep deaths. This report was signed by those in attendance, but the strong dissenting opinions from outside the AEC (primarily from Veenstra, Holmes, and Thompsett) remained.



With the resumption of atmospheric atomic tests as part of the Operation Teapot test series at the NTS in 1955, Cedar City sheep owners who had suffered heavy losses in 1953 filed suit against the AEC for $177,000 in damages. This led to AEC and Justice Department lawyers placing heavy pressure on members of the first investigation to officially change their position that radiation had served as a primary cause of the Cedar City sheep deaths (in order for the government to put up a unified front as defendant).

R.E. Thompsett (of the first investigation team) was heavily dependent on AEC money to fund a private animal hospital in Los Alamos, and eventually went on the record as abandoning his belief that radiation was a contributing cause. At the same time both Monroe A. Holmes and R.J. Veenstra (also of the first investigation team) agreed to disqualify themselves as expert witnesses if called upon to testify.

The trial took place in federal court in September of 1956 and lasted fourteen days. The government was represented by John Finn of the Justice Department’s Torts section, while the sheep owners were represented by Dan S. Bushnell. The judge presiding over the case was A. Sherman Christensen. The government’s defense (backed by expert witnesses and unclassified records) maintained that fallout levels from the Upshot-Knothole Test Series were too low to cause the sheep deaths, and that the timing between the atomic tests and subsequent sheep deaths was purely a coincidence. Judge Christensen sided with the expert testimony provided by the AEC, stating that the government was negligent in not warning sheep owners of potential fallout in the area, but nothing more.



In 1979 a second case was brought to federal court, this time arguing that fallout from the Nevada Test Site was responsible for the death and suffering of human inhabitants of the downwind area south and east of the NTS. At this time records that had formerly been classified became public and the extent of the AEC cover-up with the 1952-1953 sheep case came to light.

Original records from the sheep studies revealed that the radiation dose levels in the thyroids of the affected Cedar City sheep were nearly 1000 times the permissible dose for humans. Records also revealed the extent to which AEC officials went to get members of the first investigation team to change their opinion of radiation as a primary cause in the sheep herd losses.

In February of 1981 six of the original plaintiffs from the 1955 lawsuit brought a new suit to federal court asking for a new trial. They claimed that fraud had been committed upon the court by AEC and Justice Department officials. Judge A. Sherman Christensen heard the case again and the plaintiffs were again represented by Dan S. Bushnell. A settlement offer was extended to the government of three million dollars for damages, but government representatives refused the offer. Evidence was heard over four days in May of 1982 and Christensen delivered his decision in August, ruling that at the time of the sheep radiation studies the AEC held monopoly on information and that government experts and attorneys had deliberately acted to withhold certain pieces of that information from the court.

Judge Christensen ordered that a new trial was to be held, but that decision was overturned on appeal by the Tenth Circuit Appeals Court in Denver. Eventually the case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court where the Tenth Circuit decision was sustained by a 5-3 vote in January of 1986. Chief Justice Warren Burger (who had served as head of the Justice Departments Civil Division at the time of the original sheep case in 1955) disqualified himself from making a formal decision in the case.

Another court case was brought against the U.S. government in the early 1980’s and included residents from Iron County. The suit sought damages from the federal government, and was initially successful on a ruling from Judge Bruce Jenkins that awarded some damages to downwind cancer victims, and their families. However, the case was appealed, and the decision was also overturned by the federal Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

To date, the most tangible action taken to address the legacy of atmospheric nuclear testing in Nevada, and the impact it had on nearby populations, was passage of the 1990 federal Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, which created a trust-fund to award individuals who suffered from radiation-related injuries that occurred before adequate safety warnings were given, or safety protocols enacted in an effected area.


The story of the 1953 sheep deaths in Cedar City can be traced through sheep radiation study records created by the Utah Department of Health, and now maintained by the Utah State Archives and Records Service.

Other related records include radiological surveillance reports and radiation study reports from the Utah Department of Health, administrative records and occupational health hazard records from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, and Environmental Coordinating Committee minutes and agendas from the Utah Division of Environmental Health.

A final valuable resource held by the Utah State Archives is various radiation study records gathered by the office of Utah Governor Scott Matheson. This collection, in particular, pulls together a variety of materials from a broad range of state and federal government agencies regarding tests conducted at the Nevada Test Site and their impacts on local southern Utah communities. These records once served as the backbone for policy decisions and stances on the issue of downwinder recompensation made by Governor Matheson, who himself grew up in the southern Utah town of Parowan during the era of above-ground atmospheric testing, and would later pass away from a rare multiple myloma cancer in 1990.


Fradkin, Philip L. Fallout: An American Nuclear Tragedy. Boulder: Johnson Books, 2004.

Fuller, John G. The Day We Bombed Utah: America’s Most Lethal Secret. New York: New American Library, 1984.