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On Walkabout On: The Trinity Site In New Mexico

Basic Information

  • Name: The Trinity Site
  • Where: White Sands Missile Range, NM
  • Cost: Free
  • Time: First Saturday In April or October
  • More Info: Atomic Tourist

Narrative

Today is the 67th anniversary of the first testing of the atomic bomb.  The use of this new and destructive weapon ultimately ended World War II and caused the world to enter the Atomic Age which was highlighted by the standoff between the US and the former Soviet Union during the Cold War.  Nuclear weapons continues to be a concern today as more and more countries develop nuclear weapons to include rogue states such as Iran and North Korea. This Atomic Age all began when the world’s first nuclear weapon was tested at the Trinity Site on White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico at 5:29:45 a.m. Mountain Time on July 16, 1945.  This site became a National Historic Landmark in 1975 and since then has been open to the public twice a year on the first Saturday in April or October.  The Trinity Site is located on the northern end of the 3,200-square-mile White Sands Missile Range, N.M., between the towns of Carrizozo and Socorro, N.M.:


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I drove to the Trinity Site with my family from El Paso by traveling up Highway 54 to Carrizozo before heading west on Highway 380 towards the Stallion Range Center entrance of White Sands Missile Range.   Here is a picture of Highway 380:

The turnoff to the entrance is 12 miles east of San Antonio, N.M. , and 53 miles west of Carrizozo, N.M. The Stallion gate will be open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Visitors arriving at the gate between those hours will be allowed to drive unescorted the 17 miles to the Trinity Site which has plenty of barriers and markers to ensure all visitors find the site.  Here is a picture of the turn off:

The terrain at the turn off is classic Chihuahuan Desert terrain which has an elevation of about 4,500 feet:

Much of the land in this area is used as grazing land for cattle:

When I drove into White Sands Missile Range I spotted these buildings up on the hill side that may have been where Robert Oppenheimer and the rest of the nuclear scientists watched that first atomic explosion from:

As I drove towards the Trinity Site I could see all the cars parked out in the desert as the base of the Oscura Mountains:

Eventually we arrived at the site and parked.  The place was packed with visitors and had a bit of a carnival atmosphere as there was many people with vending booths set up selling food and goods to visitors.  The area where the bomb was detonated is fenced off with a walkway leading to the site.  Near the entrance to the walkway was this huge chunk of metal:

This piece of metal was called “Jumbo” was a huge steel container built specifically for the atomic bomb test.  Jumbo was originally 25 feet long and weighed 214 tons.  The container was originally going to be used to detonate the nuclear explosion in but eventually scientists decided to use it to test the affects of the explosion instead.  Jumbo was placed 800 yards from ground zero and survived the blast intact.  The sides of Jumbo were later blown off when conventional bomb testing was done inside of Jumbo.

At the entrance to the pathway leading to Ground Zero they have a sign posted that shows just how far away major cities are from the site:

Along the pathway leading to Ground Zero I made sure to stop and take some pictures of the Oscura Mountains rising over 8600 feet to the east of the Trinity Site:

Once at the site there is a big sign informing people that stealing Trinitite is illegal:

Trinitite is the glass formed by the heated sand during the explosion.  Most of it was dug up by soldiers and put into canisters and buried.  At the time no one knew the affects of radiation on people thus many of these soldiers over time became sick and died.  At the actual ground zero area there has been a memorial established commemorating the test:

Since there is so many people who visit the site it takes on a bit of an amusement park atmosphere with everyone vying to take pictures of themselves by the memorial:

Since I don’t like arguing with people to take a photo I just went and checked out other things to see at the Trinity Site.  From the memorial I went and walked over to the fence line to check out the various historic photographs of the Trinity Site they had on display:

The old photographs of the site and the nuclear bomb test was quite interesting:

Here is a picture of one of the soldiers I mentioned earlier that were walking around the site with little awareness of the dangers of radiation exposure:

There are many more historic photos to look at that are one of the more interesting parts of touring the Trinity Site.  Also from the fence line it was a good way to escape the crowds around the memorial because apparently few people care about old photographs and are instead worried about getting themselves photographed at the memorial:

From the fence line where the historic pictures are posted, I then went to go and check out the shelter location where some Trinitite can still be seen:

Here is some small pieces of the glassy Trinitite that can still be seen today under the enclosure:

After checking out the Trinitite I then walked over to a mock up of the Fat Man bomb encasing that was used on the nuclear bomb that was dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki:

After checking out the bomb encasing I then proceeded to walk back to the parking lot.  As I began to walk back to the parking lot I noticed that the crowds had not thinned out at all around the memorial:

Once back at the parking lot I noticed the line to ride a bus to the McDonald ranch house:

Since I had been to the McDonald ranch house before on a prior visit to the Trinity Site, I did not feel like waiting in line to board the bus especially since my toddler was acting up and getting cranky.  Anyway here is a picture of the farmhouse from my prior visit where it was actually raining that day:

The MacDonald Ranch house is about 2 miles from the Trinity Site and it is where the nuclear bomb was assembled.  It also served as home to the scientists during the assembly phase of the nuclear bomb. When it came time to test the bomb the house was vacated, but some how the house survived the nuclear explosion.  What makes the house’s survival more amazing is that structures around the farmhouse were leveled by the bomb.  This same phenomenon of singular structures remaining while others were completely obliterated by the bomb would happen again the next month in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan.

Since I decided to not visit the ranch house I loaded up my family and began to drive out of the range.  On the way out we stopped and took a look at this old bunker that was used to house instrumentation for the nuclear test:

Conclusion

The visit to the Trinity Site takes a long day of driving if visiting from either El Paso or Albuquerque but I think it is definitely worth the drive to experience such a unique part of America’s history.  However, it is probably worth including a visit to the Trinity Site as part of a larger tour itinerary around the area to make it worth the effort to drive so far if you don’t live in the region like I do.  There is plenty of things to see and do in the region such as visiting Albuquerque or Las Cruces.  Those who are interested in visiting the Trinity Site would probably be interested in visiting the VLA which is located about an hour and a half away as well.  For those looking for a mountain escape Ruidoso and the beautiful White Mountains are located about an hour away as well.  So there is plenty of things to see and do in the region besides visiting the site, but I think the Trinity Site will definitely be the highlight of any trip.

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