Questions of major importance for subsurface contaminant transport at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) include (i) travel times to the aquifer, both average or typical values and the range of values to be expected, and (ii) modes of contaminant transport, especially sorption processes. The hydraulic and geochemical framework within which these questions are addressed is dominated by extreme heterogeneity in a vadose zone and aquifer consisting of interbedded basalts and sediments. Hydraulically, major issues include diverse possible types of flow pathways, extreme anisotropy, preferential flow, combined vertical and horizontal flow, and temporary saturation or perching. Geochemically, major issues include contaminant mobility as influenced by redox conditions, the concentration of organic and inorganic complexing solutes and other local variables, the interaction with infiltrating waters and with the contaminant source environment, and the aqueous speciation of contaminants such as actinides. Another major issue is the possibility of colloid transport, which inverts some of the traditional concepts of mobility, as sorbed contaminants on mobile colloids may be transported with ease compared with contaminants that are not sorbed. With respect to the goal of minimizing aquifer concentrations of contaminants, some characteristics of the vadose zone are essentially completely favorable. Examples include the great thickness (200 m) of the vadose zone, and the presence of substantial quantities of fine sediments that can retard contaminant transport both hydraulically and chemically. Most characteristics, however, have both favorable and unfavorable aspects. For example, preferential flow, as promoted by several notable features of the vadose zone at the INEEL, can provide fast, minimally sorbing pathways for contaminants to reach the aquifer easily, but it also leads to a wide dispersal of contaminants in a large volume of subsurface material, thus increasing the opportunity for dilution and sorption.