Visiting Dr. Atomic

Prior to the Second World War, there was nothing much to Los Alamos except for a private boarding school for rich Eastern boys and a few homesteaders. When the government decided that Los Alamos was just the place to try to develop an atomic bomb in complete secrecy, the boys and homesteaders were given the heave-ho. Many of the school buildings were repurposed and scads of quick-to-build but not-to-last facilities were added.

In came the military headed by General Leslie Groves and the scientists, led by Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer.

Oppenheimer and Groves

Los Alamos is today the site of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The facility is no longer in the center of town, but in a larger, fenced and heavily guarded area on the outskirts. Lord knows what they’re up to out there.

The crown jewel of tourist attractions is the Bradbury Science Museum where over 50 interactive exhibits trace the history of the Manhattan Project and describe the National Lab’s defense and technology research projects. It was closed due to COVID-19.

Denied a visit, we decided instead to take a self-guided walking tour of the town. We began at Ashley Pond, dug by students and staff of the Los Alamos Ranch School and named for their founder – wait for it – Ashley Pond.

We found this interesting display on the grass by the pond. The panels represent various aspects of life in Los Alamos.

Next up was the Fuller Lodge built in 1926 as the school dining hall. The building later hosted community activities for lab employees. The dining hall brings Hogwarts to mind.

The architect picked each individual tree to be used for the main support structure.
The upstairs corridor
A typical school student’s room.

We strolled down the curiously-named Bathtub Row, a short street with the four nicest individual homes in town. They were built by the Los Alamos Ranch School and later used as private homes for the highest ranking scientists. The street got its name because these houses were the only ones in town with bathtubs. All the later accommodation had only showers. The reason, so I’m told, is because tubs in those days were made of cast iron and iron was dedicated to the war effort.

Two of the four houses are now private residences. I was able to take a photo of the former home of Hans Bethe.

Lamp beside Bethe’s front door.

Behind Bathtub Row lie the remains of an ancient settlement estimated to date to the thirteenth century. The folks at the Los Alamos Ranch School pillaged stones to build a shed.

An old settler’s cabin has been moved to a spot next to the ruins.

Our walking tour ended at the former Women’s Army Corp (WAC) dormitory. It is set at a distance from the single mens’ housing. I wonder why?

Finally, a few photos I couldn’t resist.

A bobcat.
Scary bug and snake left on a fence post.
House-lined cliffs on the other side of the canyon that divides Los Alamos.

Let me return to the unexplained bird in the cement. These were used as route markers for a previous version of the walking tour. They had a darker resonance with me. They reminded me of the “shadows” burned into the cement when citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were instantly incinerated.

Comments

  1. Joe

    We visited the Bradbury museum eleven or twelve years ago. Among the displays were replicas of “Little Boy and “Fat Man” the bombs that were dropped on Japan. It was an eerie experience that I found nauseating, and have trouble shaking today when I think about it. I think the smaller one was something like 15kilotons, a toy compared to the power of today’s nukes 50meagtons.

  2. Miriam Williams

    Fuller Lodge reminds me of Timberline Lodge (Mt Hood?) that you took us to many years ago. I love the Arts and Crafts style of architecture. Is that bird supposed to be a peace dove? Ha Ha

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