4WD or high clearance desired
  Project Shoal

39° 12' 00"N, 118° 22' 49"W

DIRECTIONS Take U.S. 50 east out of Fallon for 32 miles; turn right (South) on SR 839 for 7.7 miles; turn right (West) on local graded road for 4.5 miles.

Not much except Gote Flat, until the government decided this would make a nice place to test an atomic bomb just to, uh, well, just to see if it would, well, OK, how about this- just to see if it would jiggle our meters like an earthquake does. Yeah, that's it. Officially, this is the story, from the U.S. Department of Energy:

The Project Shoal underground nuclear test was part of the Vela Uniform program sponsored jointly by the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), a predecessor agency of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Vela Uniform was a research and development program directed toward locating, detecting, and identifying underground detonations. The objective of Project Shoal was to detonate a nuclear device underground, in an active seismic area, to improve the United States’ ability to detect, identify, and locate underground nuclear detonations. Performed on October 26, 1963, the Project Shoal test consisted of detonating a nuclear device in granitic rock at a depth of 1,211 feet. The device was emplaced through a shaft approximately 1,000 feet west of Surface Ground Zero. The shaft was mined to a depth of 1,315 feet below ground surface. At that depth, a drift (a nearly horizontal tunnel) was mined approximately 300 feet west and 1,050 feet east, ending in a 30-foot vertical “buttonhook” where the nuclear device was emplaced. Re-entry drilling directly over the blast cavity indicated that the Shoal device detonated as predicted. No radiation escaped to the surface during the underground nuclear test, and no further underground nuclear testing was conducted at the site.

Michon Mackedon's Project Shoal and Yucca Mountain: Selling Safety, and Project Shoal: Anatomy of a Nuclear Event. cover the incident quite nicely-- if you can find them, as they no longer seem to be available online.

About a year before, the Feds announced that they would be detonating a nuclear device underground east of Fallon.

The Atomic Energy Commission will establish its Churchill County underground test site on a rolling plateau 28 miles southeast of Fallon, it was announced today. The project, termed "Project Shoal," is part of the Velve Uniform [actually "Vela"] a seismic research program designed to improve methods of detecting, locating, and identifying underground nuclear explosions. The site was chosen becuase it is an area with a history of frequent natural earthquakes. This allows a seismic record of an underground atomic explosion to be compared with one of a natural earth shock of the same magnitude. Public safety during the series is assured, says the AEC.
-Reno Evening Gazette, October 20, 1962

Stop by any time for coffee and a chat!

AEC Project officer Theodore Toren set up his office at the Lariat Motel in Fallon.
-Reno Evening Gazette, January 29, 1962

Well, here we go in 3... 2.... 1.....

Observers Jarred
Project Shoal Test Site
The underground atomic blast held jointly by the Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of Defense went off exactly on schedule at 10 a.m. this morning at this location in the Sand Springs Mountains some 28 miles southeast of Fallon. A bright magnesium flash marked the moment a 12 kiloton stomic device was detonated 1,200 feet below ground level. A split second later observers at the control center some 4,000 feet away were jarred by a severe ground shock. About four seconds later, a load roar filled the air and a dust cloud a thousand feet long begann to rise directly above ground zero. Several mild aftershocks were felt by observers but there was no indication of damage anywhere in the area. Experts from the Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of Defense said the nuclear blast should have melted a chamber some 150 feet in diameter in solid granite. The granite was expected to fracture for 300 feet around the chamber, leaving almost 1,000 feet of ground and solid rock above the radioactive chamber.
-Reno Evening Gazette, October 26, 1963

From the article...

At dead center of ground zero, an immense cavity--a hot, very hot, bubble--grew in the granite, trapping most of the billions of released radioactive particles under the earth's surface. Project Shoal was declared a success. New plans were put into effect for drilling the cavity, decontaminating the soil, and dismantling the equipment. By February 11, 1964, the AEC had closed down the site and terminated its lease on project offices. Mr. John Tudor of Reynolds Electric Company, an AEC subcontractor with offices in Fallon during the project, reported to the Fallon Chamber of Commerce that his company "had been very happy in their dealings with the community.... The cooperation had been excellent" (Fallon Eagle-Standard, January 17 and February 11, 1964).
-Project Shoal: Anatomy of a Nuclear Event, MICHON MACKEDON

They weren't quite done playing out there, though.

Drilling Proceeds On Cavity at Project Shoal
Drilling towards the cavity left in granite by the Project Shoal nuclear detonation October 26 is proceeding, and it is anticipated that the drill will reach the top of the cavity abot November 30, the AEC reported today. Scientists believe by the time the cavity is reached, pressures insid it will have dropped to a low level and that most of the radioactivty products of the explosion will have decayed to a considerable degree. However, it is believed temperatures in the cavity will be high.
-Reno Evening Gazette, November 21, 1963


Not much is left here to suggest anything extraordinary took place- certainly not the detonation of a 12-kiloton nuclear "device ." Still, there is evidence that something happened here, and if you know the history you can say you stood 1,000 feet from where an atom bomb was detonated. Of course, you could say that even if you didn't come here, and it wouldn't bother me one bit.

Even today, the area requires monitoring.

The DOE Office of Legacy Management assumed responsibility for long-term surveillance and maintenance at the Shoal Site in 2008. The Shoal site (Nevada Offsite) requires routine inspection and maintenance, records-related activities, and stakeholder support.

Most of what you will see here is left over from Federal atempts to monitor and "clean" the area after they were done using it. As far as I know, wells in the area are still monitored. Don't mind the two-headed jack rabbits- they're actually quite friendly.



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