The American Southwest is a big place. One of my traveling companions said even though we live on the West Coast, we don’t live in the West. The other, who hails from Wisconsin, said we are Barbary Coast. That fits me.
The point is, distances here are vast. It takes a long time to reach a place, and so planning a trip involved roping in as many points of interest as possible within a geographic area. A missed turn on Day Two took us inadvertently to Shiprock, in the far northwest corner of New Mexico, when we meant to visit Los Alamos and Bandolier National Monument, sites where two different types of civilization came to an end. We visited instead on Day Three.
The facility known as the Los Alamos National Laboratory, or LANL, is still in operation. The Manhattan Project, which gave the world nuclear weapons, is now a name given to a restaurant in the town which still bears the name of Los Alamos. The (Norris) Bradbury Museum tells the story of Little Boy and Fat Man, the creation of LANL and the people who worked there. There is more information at the museum too, including the history of computing, the space race and nuclear weapon delivery systems – planes and subs. All in all a fascinating place and well worth the half-day you should spend to really take it all in. It is feature-rich as they say, with movies, interpretive exhibits, displays, and first-person stories from the men and women who worked there, at all levels.
And of course, there are full-size replicas of the bombs.
The story of when and why the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima is told here as well. I won’t repeat it – the place is worth going out of your way to visit, if you have any interest in science or history at all.
Los Alamos is also fairly well to-do in contrast to the surrounding communities. My friend from Wisconsin made the observation several times, surveying the communities along the road between there and Taos. These communities were mostly Indian reservations, the homes and other buildings telling the story of which were thriving and which were struggling.
We left to visit Bandolier, an area where ancestral Pueblo people lived in the cliffs high above a valley with a stream running through it. The land provided sustenance and shelter for thousands of years before they abandoned it for reasons still largely unknown, though the Pueblo people still inhabit other parts of the region.
Yet the land can also turn against them. The National Park Service took over the site after WWII, including the built-up valley floor. The folly of this became evident when a flash flood in 2011 crashed down the valley wiping out the day-use infrastructure. It all stands now in mute testimony to the destructive power of water.