In 1945 I remember seeing a full-page photo on the cover of the Chicago Times. It showed a giant mushroom cloud. The photo was of the first atom bomb explosion released by Uncle to the public. Ever since then, I have had a secret wish to visit the site where they tested the first A-bomb. I learned on an earlier trip to New Mexico that a group of physicists designed and built the bomb at a place called Los Alamos. The government built the lab as a top-secret project under the code name “Manhattan Project.” Under that moniker, Uncle secretly bought thousands of acres of land in New Mexico for building the atomic bomb.
There are volumes of books written about the development, and one can visit the Los Alamos Lab to see real life-size models of Fat Boy and Little Man, the two bombs they developed and eventually dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.
The first tests took place on a site two hundred miles south of Los Alamos, in the White Sand desert. It became a missile test site and remains so today.
Our visit to Alamogordo, New Mexico was to see the White Sands National Monument. White Sands Monument is not where the bomb first blew up, but is directly south of it by about a hundred miles. The terrain and the color of the sand is the same in both places.
We approached the monument from Alamogordo on highway US 70 and passed by Holloman Air Force base on the way. I read that this road is sometimes closed when Uncle tests missiles. I guess blowing up civilians passing through on the way to work is a possibility. Sure enough, I saw a sign along the way warning that road closures occur during missile tests. I also read that one should visit the monument in the evening at sunset to get the greatest visual impact. We did that. Seeing the sun set over these magnificently white sand dunes was spectacular. A line of cars clogged the gate. There were hundreds of people coming to watch the show. Many visitors, we learned, came to picnic at one of the many shaded tables provided
It is hard to describe the beauty of the place. The road reminded me of driving in winter when there is deep snow and it is blowing and drifting all around. The difference being that we had the air conditioner set at seventy degrees in evening air that was still ninety degrees. Peggy and I stopped at several spots and got out to walk around. She was not up to dune climbing. I didn’t think the dunes were as high or as tough as the Sleeping Bear Dune in Michigan, but we enjoyed the views from the road. The sun was down and the light began getting dim, yet not many people were leaving.
The following morning we revisited the Monument to get the feel of bright sun, heat, and the whiteness. The many people of last evening were gone, and the dunes seemed lonely. My point and shoot camera with the digital display was useless in the brightness. I was literally pointing and shooting to take pictures without seeing what I had framed. Peggy stayed in the car because the heat was too intense as was the sun. The whiteness of the sand hurt my eyes even while wearing polarized sun glasses.
Later that evening, I discovered that Peggy had mistakenly double medicated herself in the morning and was not very much into the experience. Thank God I was not aware of it during the day.
We stayed for a couple of hours, I left the car running with the air for Peggy, and took photos from many points of interest, they all looked the same, white. I actually left the car in some of the pictures just to give some perspective. As we left, we made one more stop and toured the visitors center.
The miles driven, and the gas burned to see White Sands Monument was well worth it. I rationalized that I was close enough to the A-bomb test sight to satisfy my secret wish and we left town by another route.
The story will continue.
In the meantime, please enjoy the photos.
Filed under: Biography, family, Travel Tagged: | Alamogordo New Mexico, Chicago Times, giant mushroom cloud, Hiroshima, Los Alamos, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Manhattan Project, Nagasaki, New Mexico, Nuclear weapon, White Sands National Monument