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The First Ground Zero (New Mexico)

Author: wellfm (More Trip Reviews by wellfm)
Date of Trip: April 2003

A return trip to New Mexico to see some of the things I’d missed the first time: The Very Large Array, the Kodak Annual Balloon Festival, and Trinity Site, where the world’s first atomic bomb was tested in 1945.

“Now, we are all sons of bitches.” Dr. Kenneth Bainbridge, Director of the Trinity Test, made that statement following the successful detonation of the world’s first nuclear device on July 16, 1945. If you want to stand at “Ground Zero,” the exact spot where the A-bomb was first exploded, you have two chances. The Army opens Trinity Site, New Mexico to the public on the first Saturday in April and October. You may enter this part of the White Sands Missile Range under minimal security from the north off U.S. 380, or caravan from various points as far away as El Paso. Since disclaimers warn women to “remove lipstick,” you might want to have your “rads” checked by the pleasant lady who conducts genuine Geiger Counter tests.

In this remote area of the New Mexico desert, against the backdrop of the Oscuro Mountains, you’ll feel the past at Ground Zero, marked only by a stark black lava obelisk. For it was here the Manhattan Project succeeded, effectively ending WWII as the Unites States bombed Hiroshima, Japan 21 days later.

Try to imagine the concussion equivalent to 18,000 tons of dynamite, or a light so intense as to blind a horse 120 miles away.

Not much remains of the crater since that first nuclear blast vaporized the site. A stubby piece of one “leg” of the 100-foot tower remains in the ground. Go on, touch it. It’s probably okay. It’s said that the heat of the blast fused the desert sand, creating the new chemical element, Trinitite, but fortunately, most of it has blown away over the decades.

Also on display are fascinating pictures of the preparation for and the detonation of “the gadget,” as it was euphamistically called; the McDonald House which was used as a nearby lab; and a replica of “Fat Man,” the plutonium bomb subsequently dropped on Nagasaki, Japan.

Spend an hour at this sobering place and you’ll understand why Dr. Robert Oppenheimer said, as they passed around the congratulatory bottle, “I am Become Death, Shatterer of Worlds.”

Quick Tips/Suggestions:
Trinity Site is not a place you’ll want to stay for more than an hour, so plan on incorporating your trip with a visit to nearby Las Cruces, White Sands, the Very Large Array, or Alamogordo.

Best Way to Get Around:
Other than the caravan, you must get to Trinity Site by car. From Albuquerque, take I-25 south about 75 miles to the Socorro exits. Continue 11 miles south on I-25, to east on U.S. 380. Proceed about 30 dreary miles to the North Gate on the right where you’ll enter through security, especially if you’ve pre-registered. You’ll be guided the final 8 miles to Trinity Site entrance. There is ample parking in this huge desert. Eat in The Outpost in Carrizozzo if you enjoy solitude and have a good sense of humor.

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