Travel Tips & Adventures

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Where the Bomb Was Born – Travel to Los Alamos

Last week, I began a three part series on what to do when you’re not invited to the same seminar as your wife in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Hopping in the car with a bag of chips and an assortment of “beverages of my choice,” I headed north out of the city on US 285/84 until reaching NM 502 and then west to NM 4.

The first stop was the cliffside dwellings of Bandelier National Monument. This week, I am leaving Bandelier for a short drive to Los Alamos. As you pull out of the park entrance, a left will put you west on NM 4, then north on NM 501 will put you at the west end of the town of Los Alamos.

(PARANOIA ALERT!)During the entire drive, you probably have been watched by hidden cameras on the passenger side of your car as you have been skirting the edge of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

As you drive into the less touristy part of town, the first thing you will notice is that this place looks like a college campus, but with a lot more security!

With street names such as Trinity Drive, Manhattan Loop, and Oppenheimer Drive, you begin to think that this place sounds familiar.

Well, yeah!

In 1942, a private boarding school sitting on top of the mesa, The Los Alamos Ranch School, was bought up by the government under the name of the Manhattan Engineering District. It was isolated, had water access and pre-existing buildings for housing. Most of the land surrounding the area was already under government ownership, so security would be relatively simple.

Originally called simply, “Site Y,” a brilliant group of scientists gathered at this out- of-the-way location to create what would be the first Atomic Bomb!

Today the facility has grown to a size that, even if you are supposed to be there, good luck finding your building! There are more than 1,800 buildings within a 43-square mile area.

Fortunately, or unfortunately for some, it is impossible to visit any of the lab facilities as a tourist. The next best thing is the museum downtown. And, yes, there is a downtown area that looks like just about any other small (pop. approx.12,000) town, just with some very secretive neighbors.

With the scientific talent working at LANL, it is no wonder that the town of Los Alamos is touted as New Mexico’s best-educated community and a pretty hefty median household income for its residents.


Although it sounds appropriate for an almost science fiction or, at least, X-Files-like atmosphere surrounding the town, the museum is not named after Ray Bradbury, the science fiction writer.

Instead, the museum’s name honors Norris Bradbury, LANL director from 1945-1970. The current museum at 15th and Central Avenue is not the original, nor even the second location. As crowds grew and security surrounding the Manhattan Project became more de-classified, larger spaces were needed to display documents, photos and even working models of unclassified research projects.

There are three galleries housing over 40 interactive exhibits focusing on current and historic LANL research, including the Manhattan Project:

History Gallery
Defense Gallery
Research Gallery

Don’t miss the film that tells the history of the Manhattan Project, which runs throughout the day, everyday.

If you are in the area, stop by, as this museum hosts nearly 100,000 visitors a year. And best of all – my favorite word – FREE admission!

Tu-Sat 10-5
Su-Mo 1-5
Open: Federal Holidays
Closed: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day

If you’re interested in how a town is laid out on top of several mesas, check out the town map at:

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