The Atomic City and Sensational Santa Fe

Near Bandelier National Monument is the small town of Los Alamos, New Mexico. Driving into the town from Bandelier requires a security check-stop where IDs were required. Los Alamos is the home of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. With an estimated population of ~18,000 people, it is considered the smartest and wealthiest town in America. According to Wiki, Los Alamos has ‘the highest millionaire concentration of any US city’. There are 0% homeless. The median age is 41 years old and the population has the highest concentration of Ph.Ds per capita in the country, and reputedly, the world.

Bradbury Science Museum operated by the Department of Energy, is dedicated to providing the public with the historical and future signicifance of the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Bradbury Science Museum operated by the Department of Energy, is dedicated to providing the public with the historical and future signicifance of the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Now nicknamed the Atomic City, it was originally nicknamed ‘the Secret City’ because it is here that the super-secret Manhattan Project was conducted… it’s the place where the atomic bomb was developed. We visited the Bradbury Science Museum, a venue dedicated to providing the history and the purpose of the National Laboratory whose mission is ‘to solve national security challenges through scientific excellence.’ Today’s Lab not only works to maintain world stability, but is doing cutting-edge research into HIV and pandemic-type viruses, biofuels and worldwide nuclear monitoring. I must admit I was saddened to see the model of Fat Man, the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki to end WWII. Though I understand the decision, war and its ramifications horrify me. Despite all this, Los Alamos is quite the place! Take a look.

We strolled around this pleasant little town, dotted with reminders of its purposeful heritage. The tiny Manhattan Project National Historic Park Visitor Center provided a walking tour of the town and some perspective on the initial Lab site which was rustic and crude versus the current, modern town that’s built up around the Lab. A statue of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Labs’ first director and ‘father of the atomic bomb’ and General Leslie Groves, who directed the construction of the Pentagon and oversaw the Manhattan Project, graced a small park. There was more to see, but the day was waning and we opted to return to our campsite.

A short distance southeast of Los Alamos is Santa Fe. We’d visited this enchanting city decades ago, but it’s the kind of city that deserves a return visit. Beyond it’s historical significance and its charm, we’d also heard lots about Meow Wolf – The House of Eternal Return, a rather unusual ‘museum’ that was a ‘must-see’. The New York times describes it as ‘The house that art, fantasy and mystery built’. How could we pass it up? We headed to Meow Wolf first.

Housed in an old, vacant bowling alley, the parking lot was a harbinger of the surprises to come . Meow Wolf has quickly become Santa Fe’s #1 tourist attraction… which meant, of course, it was crazy crowded, but we endured it. It’s a place that beckons people to explore, to touch, to interact, to be delighted and surprised and entertained. The admission is a bit pricey ($25/person) and the lines can be long, but the experience is winsome and fun.

Where else can you crawl through a fireplace into another room or exit through a refrigerator door or an ice machine? It’s a sensory experience of color and sound, a setting for the unexpected, the absurd and the bizarre. In other words, we liked it. It reminded us a bit of MONA in Tasmania, one of our favorite museums in the world.

Sensory overload complete, we drove to Santa Fe’s Old Town and parked at the Visitor’s Center. A walking guide took us along the old Santa Fe Trail past the oldest buildings in town. Founded in 1610 by Spanish colonists on the site of old Pueblo villages at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. According to Santa Fe, “Santa Fe (Spanish for Holy Faith) is the oldest capital city and the second-oldest surviving city founded by European colonists on land that later became part of the United States.”

The churches and streets were crowded during the midweek due to the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque. We passed up the churches and the tours and headed to the traditional Spanish plaza. The plaza is surrounded by arcades where local artists sit in the shade of the arcade porticoes selling their wares. Silver jewelry and turquoise were the most interesting offerings, though pottery, weaving, artwork and dream catchers were also on offer. The town is a mecca for artists and galleries are everywhere. It was a beautiful day and we enjoyed popping in and out of the different galleries and just taking in the day and the feel of this attractive city.

All too soon, it was time to head back to Albuquerque. Beyond the Balloon Fiesta, we hadn’t explored much of the city and wanted the opportunity to do so. Check out our next blog for a quick tour of some of ABQ’s more notable sights.