This was another one of those special days where I was glad that we left time in our schedule to add a city in that maybe we hadn’t planned on seeing… this is the highway to Los Alamos, and the numerous laboratories which spawned the Manhattan Project, (the likes of which we hopefully won’t see again) the atomic bomb. Tucked way back up past the hills on a few flat mesas 60 miles from Santa Fe, this highway used to be a dangerous two lane dirt road. Heavily guarded after the military moved in, before that it was a ranch which housed an outdoor boys school that was modeled on the Boys Scouts. The school was the lifelong dream of Detroit businessman Ashley Pond II, it was taken over by the military in November of 1942 after the head of the Manhatten project, J. Robert Oppenheimer suggested it because he had been camping and hunting in the area. They wanted somewhere remote and secure, and he liked the area. Pond gave it up as a matter of national pride, and it was never used as a school again.
We walked around for awhile and found it to be a charming little town that entertains thousands of visitors like us every year and is home to laboratories that still employ 11,000 people. There was a kids science camp on the main lawn, and Eliza and I both wanted to join so we could pet the burros. We visited the museum inside the old school house, saw “bathtub row”, the row of houses for the scientists famous because they had the only bathtubs in town, and then headed to the museum for our daily dose of history. It’s free (thank you, our taxes) and so full of facts, games and information that we could have spent a week. Dan and I learned more about the Manhatten Project than we ever had in school, and the kids got a glimpse of what life was like in the 1940’s when our country was worried about what all the other countries were up to, and we couldn’t Google it every morning.
On the walls there were stories about employees who had worked on the project and many of them mentioned the secrecy that was involved. Even though they worked there, many didn’t know exactly what they were working on. When it came time to test the atomic bomb, 3 men hiked to a mesa 230 miles away from the test site, not knowing exactly what was to happen, but wanting to “see it” nonetheless. They all 3 lived to regret that day.
It was sad to read about the build-up to the dropping of the actual bombs and the aftermath from those affected. I cannot imagine a world where the US had to take such a drastic action, and I hope and pray that it’s never used again. But there are 11,000 people who continue to work on our nuclear capabilities here – some uses that they mentioned, such as storage, and I’m sure, many that a regular citizen like me will never know about. Maybe it’s best that I don’t know so I can sleep at night. I’m still glad that we added a trip to Los Alamos to our adventure.