Sunday, July 29, 2012

Visit Los Alamos


When people think of visiting New Mexico, the cities of Santa Fe, Taos, and Albuquerque quickly come to mind, usually in that order. But the most historically significant place in New Mexico is a little known town that permanently changed the world.

Los Alamos is the birthplace of the atomic bomb. For years it was a closed city; a large military installation cloaked in secrecy. The major employer is still the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Groundbreaking physics continues, but so does cutting edge research in biology, astrophysics, and genetics. It's no longer all about bombs, but there are still plenty of secrets.

Outside of Los Alamos, people may try to discourage you from visiting by telling you the water is radioactive or the people are crazed warmongers. The secret is – that’s not true.

The Pajarito Plateau
The city sits on five finger-mesas of the Pajarito Plateau, formed during the last eruption of the Jemez Volcano, 1.1 million years ago. To the east is the lush valley of the Rio Grande River. Surrounding the city is national forest land, Bandelier National Monument, and tribal lands belonging to San Ildefonso Pueblo. Thanks to the high altitude, summers are pleasant with cooling afternoon thunderstorms, and the area is populated with ponderosa forests full of wild flowers and boletus mushrooms. Consequently, Los Alamos is the mountain biking capital of New Mexico, with hundreds of miles of hiking and biking trails, many of which become cross-country ski trails in the winter.

Ashley Pond and Fuller Lodge

Most of us like to travel to learn about the world. If you have an interest in science and history, then Los Alamos should definitely be in your travel plans. The interesting sites are centrally located so seeing the little city on foot is fun and easy. Spring-fed Ashley Pond is the center of town. The original laboratory was located around the pond but it has transformed into a lovely park with commemorative plaques. The Laboratory is now located on the other side of a deep canyon.

The Bradbury Science Museum is filled with facts on the development of the atomic bomb, and the subsequent impact on human history. The library, designed by famed architect Anton Predock, is excellent and a cool stop on a hot summer day. A local non-profit, the Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC) provides hands-on programs for adults and children year round. Pick up a walking tour map of the city at the Historical Museum and stroll through history. The museum is next to famous Fuller Lodge, home of the original boy’s school, taken over by Dr. Oppenheimer when he conceived of a secret location to develop the bomb.

Beautiful scenery nearby,
this is the Capilla de la
Familia Sagrada at the base of
Black Mesa.
The bright yellow bus zipping around town is a tour of the city and the labs. Georgia Strickfadden is an excellent guide with an encyclopedic mind for history. Tickets can be purchased at the Otowi Bookstore next to the Bradbury Museum. Bandelier National Monument, an interesting pre-historic town occupied by Pueblo people was abandoned 800 years ago. It is accessible only by taking free buses leaving nearby White Rock at regular intervals. In Los Alamos, a car isn’t essential. On weekdays, buses run frequently around town including White Rock, and they’re free.

The best value for the night is the North Road B&B. For the price of a regular hotel room, you’ll get a suite with a kitchen, plus a cooked breakfast. The restaurant scene contains a number of international cuisines as well as local fare; buffalo burgers, New Mexican enchiladas with red or green chile (say “Christmas” if you want both), sopaipillas, and chiles rellenos. And for music all summer long, the local businesses sponsor the Gordon Concerts on Friday evenings, a giant free street-party with excellent bands (like the Red Elvises) from around the country.