We left Mancos, Colorado and drove five hours to White Rock, New Mexico just outside of Los Alamos. There is plenty of nothing between Mancos and White Rock in the way of towns, but the scenery was beautiful. Southwest Colorado looks very much like New Mexico. The snow capped Jemez Mountains provided a gorgeous backdrop to the towering red rock formations in northern New Mexico.
We arrived at the White Rock RV Park which is located next to the White Rock Visitors Center. The park only provides electrical hookups, but since we had originally planned on dry camping in the area and the nights were cold, we were very thankful for the electricity.
We had two main reasons for visiting this area. One reason was to visit Bandelier National Monument. Established in 1916, this park is one of the National Park Service’s oldest sites. Evidence of Ancestral Pueblo people is shown by petroglyphs, multi-story adobe dwellings and dwellings in the rock cliffs going back over 11,000 years. The park is made up of over 33,000 acres of canyons and mesas. The Rio Grande River, a mere trickle now, flowed nearby. To reach the park entrance you have to drive up an elevation change of 1,000 feet and then down 800 feet to the visitor center.
We first stopped by the Visitors Center in Frijoles Canyon to see a movie about the park. They had a large area of exhibits about the Pueblo people. We noticed on the time lines they had BCE or CE after the dates. I walked over and asked one of the rangers about the initials. He told us the initials BCE stood for Before Common Era and CE stood for Common Era and those initials now took the place of BC and AD. Bill and I both found that troubling and will make a point from now on to see what appears on other park displays around the country.
We walked the main loop trail that took us past the remains of ancient homes called the Tyuonyi Village. Starting in approximately 1150 AD, the Ancestral Pueblo people began to build homes in this area, the Pajarito Plateau. The interesting walk included walking up and down stone steps through narrow passages which led us to cliff homes built into the rock face. We could climb ladders into the homes like the Pueblo did thousands of years ago. By the mid 1500’s the Ancestral Pueblo deserted these homes and moved further south along the Rio Grande. One thing we especially noticed was the pumice appearance of the rocks in the cliff face.
By the way, the park is named for Adolph Bandelier, an anthropologist who studied and explored much of the southwest.
Our second reason for visiting the area was to learn more about the Manhattan Project. It was in Los Alamos that some top scientists and engineers, led by J. Robert Oppenheimer, perfected new nuclear technologies in World War II that led to the world’s first atomic bombs.
Formerly the Los Alamos Ranch School, established in 1917 and closed in 1943, the buildings and roads from the school were just the right remote location for the United States Government’s Project Y of the top secret Manhattan Project. “One way the Los Alamos school differed from other health schools at the time was its integration with Boy Scouts. Boys in the school belonged to Los Alamos Troop 22, the first mounted scout troop in the country and now one of the nation’s oldest continuous troops.” see History of the Los Alamos Ranch School
We made the short drive from our campsite at White Rock up another 1,000 feet in elevation to the mesas of Los Alamos and first toured the Los Alamos Historical Museum with several rooms of exhibits and artifacts of Los Alamos from the times of the Ancestral Pueblo to the Manhattan Project, with emphasis on the latter. We then drove to the nearby Bradbury Science Museum, a magnificent and impressive museum with movies and over 40 interactive exhibits on the Manhattan Project and the ongoing science and research of Los Alamos National Laboratory. There were three main galleries focusing on Defense, Research and History. In the Defense gallery they had models of Little Boy and Fat Man, the first nuclear bombs dropped on Japan that ended World War II. A movie told us about the Los Alamos National Laboratory and its current mission to maintain the country’s aging weapons without nuclear testing. In the History section of the museum we saw an excellent movie about the Manhattan Project and Los Alamos from 1942 to 1945 that showed us what life was like back then.
We have visited many museums over the years and almost all of them have charged an admission. Both the Los Alamos Historical Museum and the Bradbury Science Museum were free of charge. The Bradbury Science Museum is funded by the Department of Energy, so I guess we are paying admission in a round about way!
Located today in Los Alamos is the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The facility is called one of the premier scientific institutions in the world. It has an annual budget exceeding $2 billion, has 2,100 individual facilities across 38 square miles of Los Alamos, and employs 11,000 people. The Lab is operated for the U.S. Department of Energy by Los Alamos National Security. The core mission of the Laboratory is national security in regard to ensuring the safety and reliability of nuclear deterrent, reduce the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and to counter terrorism.
There are no tours of the Laboratory and security around the facility is tight. When we were driving from Bandelier National Monument back to our campsite the road took us through land owned by the Lab. As we were exiting the area we had to go through a checkpoint where Bill had to show his driver’s license and explain where we were going. The guard then said, “Do you vouch?” Bill said, “What?????” The guard then said, “Do you vouch for your passenger?” Strange. Why didn’t he just ask for my driver’s license too!
We enjoyed our time in the White Rock/Los Alamos area. We found the drivers to be especially courteous and the people friendly. We loved our campsite where we could look out the windows at snow capped mountains. The weather was chilly during the day and cold at night. During our time there we had some very heavy rain and a few thunderstorms, one of which presented us with a gorgeous rainbow.
Thanks for sending this to me. I would love to visit Los Alamos and thise museums. The shot with the rainbow was amazing. You and Bill need to piblish some of those great pictures!