A few years ago I met local writer Pat Camalliere at Sand Ridge Nature Center’s Settlers Day. I bought her first two books and this year read The Mystery at Sag Bridge. This passage caught my eye:
In the center of the clearing was a large stone slab, a cube of about four feet. Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, in miniature. The rock appeared to be a monument, and the clearing man-made. Fascinated, she approached the granite monolith and read the words carved on it: CAUTION—DO NOT DIG. BURIED IN THIS AREA IS RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL FROM NUCLEAR RESEARCH CONDUCTED HERE IN 1943–1949.
A memory of something she read, somewhere, sometime: Cora put it together. The old road led to Argonne Laboratory, a large national research facility that was hidden in the woods in these Forest Preserves during the Manhattan Project. It was an ideal location, for then, as now, one could walk for miles in these woods and remain unseen. She pictured Enrico Fermi and Albert Einstein walking this very ground, although she was only guessing.
This, then, was the secret hidden behind the trees that Cora had come looking for. She had no idea anything was left of the Manhattan Project and was surprised the waste was buried near the old site, as the present location of Argonne was across the valley two miles away—in fact, she would have been able to see it, were it not for the trees. She felt the same sense of history and being in another time and place as she had when she visited Saint James, just a short distance from here.The Mystery at Sag Bridge by Pat Camalliere
Because other places Camalliere uses are real, for example, St. James at Sag Bridge Catholic Church, I assumed there may be a marker over buried radioactive waste in the forest preserves. On Sunday, J. and I went to Sagawau Canyon to watch the birds. Afterward, we had a little time, so I did some quick research and found what’s known as “Site A/Plot M” located at Red Gate Woods, just a few minutes away.
When we arrived at Red Gate Woods, I knew we were headed in the right direction when I saw this sign by a rough trailhead.
The point where we started is densely wooded, with an eroded trail marked by bike tire tracks and horseshoe prints. Soon it opened up onto what may have been a paved road at one time. I had to follow my location on Google Maps because there were several branch trails and a few splits in the paved road.
it was quiet along the way, with little traffic noise except for the occasional motorcycle or truck engine being revved.
Google Maps says this trail is “mostly flat”; my eyeballs and legs say it’s mostly uphill. We saw some bikers in the woods and on the paved road, along with a few people walking.
After another sign . . .
. . . and a few bends in the road we came to the Site A marker. The text wasn’t what Camalliere quoted in her book. Later I found out she quoted the Plot M marker, where nuclear waste is buried (“DO NOT DIG”). Site A is where the two nuclear piles (reactors), part of the Manhattan Project, are buried (I wouldn’t dig there, either). According to the Forest Preserves of Cook County website, “The area surrounding Site A and Plot M continue [sic] to undergo annual monitoring and remain [sic] safe by all measurements.”
Here’s I hoping I can make it someday to Plot M. Assuming I can find it.
Time for another look at Doctor Atomic.
Added June 5, 2022: PDF from the Department of Energy about Plot A/Site M.