Just 45 minutes away from the Inn on the Alameda is the birthplace of the atomic bomb. Located high on the Pajarito Plateau, Los Alamos is a secluded mountain town named after the Spanish word for cottonwood trees. But before the Spanish, the Pueblo Indians, and the Atomic Bomb made their mark, the area was inhabited by Anasazi Indians, a.k.a. “the ancient ones.” The Anasazi occupied the area in 1300 AD, but their restored cliff dwellings can still be seen from Bandalier National Monument.
Los Alamos’ transformation from ranch town to scientific hot spot began in 1917 with the creation of the Los Alamos Ranch School. The school was founded by one of Teddy Roosevelt’s famous Rough Riders, the volunteer cavalry who participated in the Cuban Invasion of the Spanish-American war. Nestled in the heart of the Jemez Mountains, the school was built to “toughen up” Easy Coast boys by exposing them to a vigorous, outdoor life-style.
22 years later, during the beginning of World War II, Albert Einstein learned of Germany’s efforts to build an atomic bomb. Encouraged by his fellow scientists, Einstein informed President Roosevelt of Germany’s intentions, and the Manhattan Project was born. With assistance from Britain and Canada, the US Department of War began work in various areas throughout the country, but when it came time to bring the research together, secrecy was of the utmost importance. As a boy, Robert Oppenheimer, the eventual director of the Manhattan Project, spent time in a family cabin on the Pajarito Plateau. Years later, Oppenheimer suggested Los Alamos for the creation of the atomic bomb, and in 1942, the US government purchased the Los Alamos Ranch School.
In 1943, scientists, families, and military personnel descended upon Los Alamos (a.k.a. “The Hill”) under the control of General Leslie Groves. While the scientists and their families originally occupied the school’s dormitories, they eventually moved into new army barracks. It’s said that when you arrived, you were told was where to hang up your coat and the time of the next meeting. The area shocked many wives and mothers who moved from university communities to a top-secret location in the Jemez Mountains complete with dirt streets. After arriving in Santa Fe, families were told to stop at a small office on Palace Avenue, whose only address was P.O. Box 1663. At the time, all Los Alamos mail was delivered to that address. The address was even listed as the birthplace of all Los Alamos children born during the War.
Los Alamos proved to be well suited for the construction of the first atomic bomb, or the “the gadget” to use its code name. It’s said that the secret of the Manhattan Project was so well kept that Harry Truman didn’t know about it when became President. Russian spies, however, were able to learn the secrets of the Manhattan Project. In 1955, the Rosenburgs were executed for passing atomic secrets to Russian agents. The Rosenburgs delivered their information underneath the bridge at Alameda and Delgado, 100 yards away from the Inn on the Alameda. Ironically, the US government mistakenly spent significant resources to prove that Oppenheimer was the spy.
On July 16th, 1945, the gadget was successfully tested at the Trinity Site near Alamogordo, NM. The explosion occurred in the early morning, and its light could be seen across many parts of the state. Awed at the results of the atomic bomb, Oppenheimer quoted the Bhagavad Vida. “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.“ Shortly thereafter, the US dropped its remaining atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and August 9th. Japan surrendered almost immediately thereafter. Los Alamos and its fascinating history was the beginning of our WWII victory in the Pacific as well as the subsequent arms race between the US and Russia.
To see all that Los Alamos has to offer, start your day trip after breakfast. After your midmorning arrival, we recommend a tour of Bandelier National Monument and the Anasazi Cliff Dwellings. Then after lunch, visit the Bradbury Museum of Science and the History Museum in Los Alamos. If you’re new to northern New Mexico, Los Alamos offers you a look at prehistoric dwellings as well as the birthplace of the atomic age.
- Rock dwelling by Christine Rondeau | taken from Flickr under Creative Commons 2.0
- No Railings Here by Dave Friedel | taken from Flickr under Creative Commons 2.0
- Manhattan Project Leaders by Ron Cogswell | taken from Flickr under Creative Commons 2.0