In the Valley of the Shadow

Surrounded by a staggering array of hazardous waste, toxic emissions, chemical pollutants, and lethal military experimentation, the Goshute tribe of Utah decided to do the logical thing and offer up its reservation as a dump for 40,000 metric tons of highly radioactive nuclear fuel. The neighbors are very upset.

May 1, 2000
Outside Magazine

Listen to writer Kevin Fedarko discuss the Skull Valley situation on Living on Earth.

A few months ago, I spent a night camping in Skull Valley. I drove out to White Rocks, where 4,000 of the nerve-gassed sheep were buried in 1968, figuring that if I took the time and thought hard enough about their fate, maybe I'd come to a better understanding of what the Goshutes should be doing with their land. What I realized as dusk faded to dark was that Skull is a place of austere beauty, so remote that its wild birds behave in a manner that seems almost tame—a place full of such profound silence that sometimes the only sound you seem to hear is the throb of your own blood pulsing through the arteries in your neck. I leaned back, stared up at a great bowl of stars, and listened to the droning of the crickets and the barking of a distant pack of coyotes. I started to forget about the dangers that surround the valley and got lost in the towering stillness.

And then the explosions started.






I scrambled to my feet and scanned the sky over the Cedars, which still bore vague traces of the disappeared day. I wouldn't have spotted anything if those last rays of light hadn't reflected off the silver skin of a plane cruising high above the desert floor, far, far out over the landscape. About once every minute, something would drop from its belly trailing a wisp of vapor that would curl and loop against the sky. The vapor threads disappeared behind the ridgeline, and after 30 seconds or so, another detonation would resound.


I watched until the plane disappeared and the silence returned, then rolled into my sleeping bag and tried to drift off.

A few weeks later, I called the press office at Hill Air Force Base and asked what I'd seen that night. "Oh, that was probably a B-1 bomber," the spokesperson said. "They come up and train all the time. They drop some pretty heavy ordnance out there."

They certainly do.   

A former staff writer for Time, Kevin Fedarko has been a senior editor at Outside since 1998.

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