Bandelier NM/ Los Alamos - Home of the Atomic Bomb

Trip Start Feb 09, 2013
Trip End Jun 30, 2013

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Flag of United States  , New Mexico
Thursday, May 30, 2013

Thursday- Sunday, May 30 – June 1    We left Santa Fe and headed northwest to Bandelier National Monument.  There is not much information on this park but it is a must stop.

    This is a 50 square mile monument on the Pajarito Plateau.  It is in rugged canyon country.  There is a new Visitor Center and RV Park on route 4 in White Rocks which I reviewed below.  This campground is right after the entrance to the park before descending to the canyon below.  It was great that they have started shuttle service from the Visitor Centers and campgrounds to the canyon below.

   We took the shuttle down to the canyon and were met by a ranger telling us what to see and do.  Many of the trails take off from the bottom which also had an Inn for years but now the buildings house the Park Administration buildings, gift shop, snack shop and museum.  Many of the items in the museums were missing because in 2011 there was a flash flood in the canyon with the water rising to over four feet.  Some of the items were destroyed at the museum.  They are just beginning to get all the services back from the damage the flood did.  You can still see the sandbags in place in case it happens again. 

   The main trail that we took was great.  We hiked by ruins, cave dwellings that you could walk to and climb ladders.  Alcove was a little to high for both of us but we got great pictures.  On Friday, we hiked down from the campground and took the Frey Trail (named after a woman that ran the Inns when they were at the bottom of the canyon, then when they closed the last Inn she stayed on as a ranger and eventually a volunteer).  She died recently in her late 90s.  This trail was the only way down into the valley before so everyone had to hike and supplies were hiked down also.  The CCC in built a road in the 30's and that is the only road down.

   Saturday, we headed west on 4 and then into Los Alamos where the atomic bomb (Manhattan Project) was developed.  There is so much history here.  This Mesa used to be the Los Alamos Ranch than Ashley Pond a Chicago business man and former Rough Rider bought it and turned it into a boys school.  There were a few other Indian homesteaders living on the Mesa.  J. Robert Oppenheimer was selected as head of the National Laboratory to work on fusion and General Leslie R. Groves was selected to head the Manhattan Project.  Oppenhimer has spent some time in New Mexico so he visited this school then a month later the government sent a letter to Ashley Pond that they were taking the land and the school had four months to shut down.  Homesteaders, Indians were also moved.

  The government bull dozed the whole Mesa and built housing, buildings etc for over 9,000 scientists and staff with the average age of 25.  They saved the lodge of the school and the homes on Bathtub Row were used for the directors and top scientists.  The Bradbury Science Museum  displays the exhibits about the history of Los Alamos National Laboratory and the ongoing research that science and research.  This was not even a town and when all these people were lured by train they disappeared to nowhere.  Their families did not know where they were, they were not allowed to leave, their mail was censored and the facilities for housing were terrible.  Mail was sent to Santa Fe and if one was born here a post office box number was given.  Since the average age was 25 there were parties at night and a huge population boom.  When the atomic bomb was dropped many just went back to their lives and left but many stayed.  There are over 11,000 working at the Lab now.

   Finally in 1957 land was sold to the public and the city of Los Alamos took off.  It is pretty and there are scenic byways, ski areas and all sorts of things to do here.  Some of the roads into the city are on the rim with switchbacks.  The city is clean and most buildings are modern.  We were there on a Saturday and some of the restaurants close down for the weekends when everyone is coming in to work at the National Laboratory.  Saturday is a great day to visit because you can find parking and the museums not that crowded but you just won’t find anything to eat except for Starbucks.

      The Los Alamos History Museum has exhibits about living in this town during the Manhattan Project, when the Indians lived here and also about the school that was here before their land was taken.

                Interesting city and worth a stop.  The exhibits gave both sides of the bombing of Japan and really made you think.  There was a notebook that visitors could write what the museum meant to them and some of the stories were heartbreaking.  People all over the world told about the cruelty of the war and how the atomic bomb saved their lives.  POW’s told how they were lucky to be alive since the Japanese were going to kill them before surrendering and the bomb stopped that.  The older man camping at the site next to us grew up in Germany than came to the states.  He said he was eight years old when missiles were dropped on Germany and those bombs threw out fire and destroyed everything in its path.  We had convinced him to visit the museums and he was glad he did but said he had to leave after awhile because it brought back to many bad memories but the exhibits were fascinating.  Of course there were people that said they wish their taxes went for a Department of Peace instead.   There are two sides of a story but it is the world we live in.

           Nice drive back to our campground and tomorrow we head to Taos after a Wal-Mart Stop now that we were able to defrost our refrigerator.

I do want to say that from our campsite we could see in the distance especially before sunset a set fire in Pecos.  It was not near us but the sky was filled with smoke and the sun bright red.  At times we could even smell smoke.  The rangers had checked with everyone about this and it was not a problem.  There was another fire to our north where the Puye Cliff Swellings and Canyon were that was not a set fire and the rangers were very worried about this fire.  This Canyon has not had a fire for almost twenty years, so it is very hard to control.  We will drive by the entrance when we are heading north tomorrow.

Also, there is just so much to see and do in this area especially heading north.  There is the San Ildefonso Pueblo where visitors are welcome but you must pay a permit and camera fees.  Nambe Pueblo with the beautiful Nambe Falls hike and then the quaint town of Chimayo with the famus Santuario de Chimayo church where thousands of people make the annual pilgrimage to on Good Friday.   This town is on the high road to Taos which is difficult to drive with switchbacks and steep climbs.  Since so many men from New Mexico fought in WW2 from this area and since they could speak Spanish the troops were sent to the Pacific.  The majority of the men were captured and walked the death march to Bataan, but during the march these men prayed for the church and they think it kept them alive.  So on Good Friday hundreds of old and young people march from all over northern New Mexico to this church.  Chimayo is also home to several famous weaving families, shops and galleries.  Our friend camping next to us said it was a tourist trap!

     On the high road the town of Truchas has an adobe church made famous by an O’Keeffe painting and it was a breathtaking location where Robert Redford filmed "The Milagro Beanfield War"?  Never heard of it!   The Santa Clara Pueblo is also near  and it is famous for its polished black and red pottery.  The Puye Cliff Dwellings are also located here right off route 30 on the way to Espanola but we can’t stop because of the fire.

May 30 – June 2/ Thursday –Sunday

Bandelier National Monument, Juniper Campground.  This is a first come campground with no hookups for $12 a night and $6 if you have a pass..  The campground is right after the entrance to the park.  There are three loops with picnic tables and fireplaces.  Not many of the sites are level and loop C has more sites for RV’s up to 30ft and more shade.  It is a beautiful place to camp.  We were planning on one night and decided to stay three nights.  After May 24, the shuttles are running so you can pick one up from the campground and head down to the Valley Visitor Center.  In the canyon there is the Valley Visitor Center, gift shop, snack bar, administrative offices, ranger stations and many of the hikes begin from here.  The Main Trail has some of the best cliff dwellings that you can see and climb into using ladders and paths.  Frey Trail (2 miles) which was the old way of getting supplies and visitors into the valley starts from the campground and ends at the Long House Cliff Dwellings and it is all downhill – take the shuttle back.  The Alcove trail goes to a dwelling inside a cave that one can access by climbing three long ladders.  The campground always has a nice breeze during the day and at night.  We were there for a weekend and it was not full on any night.  There is a new Visitor Center on route 4 in White Rocks that opened in the fall and it has 16 slots with hookups for RV’s in the parking lot.  It was free but now that they have a self check booth just like Juniper CG, It costs $10 but once campers find out about it the price might change.  The shuttles come to this visitor center so if you have an oversized RV you might want to stay here.  Juniper Cg is about 8 miles away from visiting Los Alamos driving 4 west than 501 – one of the best ways to get into the city.  You will have to go through security to get to the downtown because you are driving through the LA National Laboratory where the Manhattan Project was born.  Driving in they searched our RV (our choice we didn’t want to take the longer way with more curves) and driving back we were escorted.  Two great museums in town (all museums free), the Bradbury Science Museum and the Los Alamos History Museum.  The history of the town is fascinating and Juniper Cg is a great place to camp while you are touring the area.
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Linda on

Another interesting place--I have been wanting to learn more about the atomic bomb and all that took place out there--hope you grabbed some brochures, etc.

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