The Trinity Site
Some history, along with photos from a recent visit
|Above are some photos
of the plaque, which is emplaced on the obelisk, and of the radiation warning
signs which flank the entrance to the Trinity Site itself.
The Trinity site is in southwestern New Mexico, within the White
Sands Missile Range. It features several historical exhibits, as well as
a marker, in the shape of a stone obelisk, which sits at the center (ground
zero) of the site of the world's first nuclear explosion. GPS Coordinates
for the obelisk are N33.40.636 W106.28.525. The site is open two days
a year, on the first saturday of April, and the first saturday of October.
There is no fee charged, the site is handicap accessible, and food, as
well as rest room facilities are available at the site. You must have a
picture I.D. to get inside of the missile range. Motorists should bring
proof of insurance, and of vehicle registration, as these may be requested
at the gate. I was not asked for mine. Firearms must be unloaded, and stored,
and must be declared at the gate. I had to declare mine. Though I did not
see it happen on my visit, automobiles are subject to search. The gate is
open from 8:00 AM, until 2:00 PM. Cameras are allowed at Trinity
Site; but their use is strictly prohibited anywhere else on White Sands
A View of The Trinity Site - October
| On July
16, 1945, at 5:29 AM, three years of research, experimentation, construction
and sacrifice, at an estimated expenditure of 2 billion dollars (26 billion
in today's dollars), culminated in the successful test operation of a single
device, called The Gadget. This was one of four devices, produced by what
has come to be known as The Manhattan Project. That single moment, and the
genius which had made it possible, changed forever the course of the world.
The test had initially been scheduled for July 4th, to coincide with the
American Independence Day; but complications in preparing "The Gadget" postponed
the test for nearly two weeks. Whatever your feelings about the aftermath
of what happened here, whether you consider nuclear weapons to be the savior
and servant of the west, through deterrence of aggressors, or whether you
see them as grim doomsday weapons, too powerful for the passions of the
humans through which they are created and controlled, there is no denying
that the events which occurred at this spot ushered in a new era.
The shock from the blast broke windows 120 miles
away and was felt at least 160 miles away. A flash was seen in far off towns,
and a green glow in the sky, like that of the auroras, was seen hundreds
of miles away. Military observers, more than ten miles from the site, reported
feeling heat from the blast. Rather than the quick flash and bang of a
conventional bomb, the "Gadget" took several seconds to complete it's detonation.
A half mile wide crater was pushed into the earth. The men at the site,
including the designers of the device, felt wonder, awe, and fear, as well
as a certain misgiving. This was power outside the range of human experience.
The four devices created, from five trigger assemblies produced, including
"The Gadget" would come to be known as atom bombs. Their progeny, numbering
into the tens of thousands, would be referred to as nuclear warheads. The
next two atom bombs to be detonated, would carry the names "Fat Man", and
"Little Boy". These devices would be detonated in the middle of urban areas
in Japan, and would bring the Second World War to an end. They would also
be the last atomic bombs to be distinguished by nick names. By the standards
of today, these were all rather small nuclear devices. War was about to be
Sixty three years after the event, background radiation
at the test site is still ten times normal. This despite grading, filling,
and the removal of much of the radioactive material. The boundaries of the
crater are difficult to discern; but the crater is still there, mostly filled
in by the military, and by drifting sand over the years. Local residents
recall that after the end of the war, the Trinity site was abandoned. Buildings,
barracks, the ranch house in which the bomb was assembled, unused military
vehicles, and even the crater itself, looking something like a gigantic
shallow bowl of green jade, stood empty, and unguarded, for years. In late
1945, the Manhattan Project was disbanded and became the Atomic Energy
Commission. The crater of green glass remained untouched until 1953, when
the AEC had the site cleaned up and the green glass buried several miles
south of the site. The crater, 2400 feet in diameter, and ten feet deep,
was then filled in and graded. A fence, today known as the outer perimeter
fence, was erected, and signs were posted restricting the site.
In 1965, the stone obelisk was constructed at ground
zero. In 1975, The Trinity Site was declared a national landmark, and included
51,500 acres of land around ground zero. The first public open house of
the area, other than those arranged for the press, military, or scientists,
was in September of 1953, and was attended by about 650 people. In 1967 the
inner oblong fence was added. In 1972 the corridor barbed wire fence which
connects the outer fence to the inner one was completed. Jumbo, a large
steel casing, which had withstood the blast from 800 yards downrange, was
moved to the parking lot in 1979. There have been regular yearly open houses
since at least 1980. Because of the increasing crowds showing up at the
annual open houses, the site was opened to the public twice a year, starting
in 1985. Visitation presently stands at around two to three thousand people
per open house. These numbers grow every year.
The events which led to this moment, were set in
motion by a letter, written to The President of the United States, by Leo
Szilard, and Albert Einstein. This was delivered October 11, 1939,
on the eve of what was to become the Second World War. The letter expressed
concern that there were great discoveries being made by German scientists,
and that nuclear fission had been achieved in that country. It was suggested
that, should Nazi Germany develop an atomic bomb, and be the only power so
armed, the rest of the world would be helpless before it's might. It was
further suggested that the United States make an effort towards developing
it's own atomic bomb, while there was still time. In point of fact, the letter
was ignored, and a couple of years passed before America, influenced by developments
in the United Kingdom, set about the task of developing nuclear weaponry.
The Manhattan Project really began on September 17,
1942, though the history books give it's official beginning as being June
1942. In September, General Groves was given, besides his promotion to Brigadier,
carte blanche to use whatever resources, and whatever methods he might determine
best, to develop nuclear weapons, and get them produced for use in the war.
This is a fascinating story, in it's own right, and volumes have been written
on the massive effort, resources, and power set to this task. The validation
of all of these efforts rested upon a single event, which lasted a few
seconds in the desert of New Mexico. "The Gadget" was not a bomb, in any
real sense of the word. It was a precision built nuclear device, hand made
by scientists and engineers. The three devices which were to be produced
after it, were built with equal attention to painstaking detail; but were
housed in bombshells, and designed to be dropped from airplanes.
"The Gadget" was a plutonium implosion bomb, similar
in design to the Fat Man bomb. It relied upon explosive lenses, surrounding
a hollow plutonium core, to compress the core to the point where it became
supercritical. This is the path of development taken by nuclear weapons designers,
and comprises the overwhelming majority of nuclear warheads, and nuclear
triggers in use today. Plutonium does not exist in nature, and is created
in reactors, by bombarding uranium with neutrons. Uranium based nuclear weapons
are very rare, though uranium is the preferred fuel for nuclear reactors.
The second atom bomb, Little Boy, was a uranium based nuclear weapon. A decade
latter, hydrogen fusion bombs, so called thermonuclear warheads, were developed,
which could be made well over a thousand times more powerful than the device
detonated at The Trinity Site. Indeed, these larger devices were tested on
remote islands in the Pacific Ocean. The highest yield U.S. nuclear warhead
was the 25 MT W-41. This is right around 2,000 times more powerful than the
Trinity, or Fat Man devices. The soviets developed a 50 MT bomb. In theory,
there is no limit to the potential yield of a thermonuclear weapon. Pure
fission devices have a limit of something like a half of a megaton.
The photo to the left was taken from the official archives of the Trinity
Site, and shows "The Gadget" as it was being prepared for ignition.
The photos running down the left hand side of the page are taken from
the same source, and show the device in various stages of detonation.
Twice a year, on the first Saturday of April,
and again on the first Saturday in October, the public is permitted to
visit what may ultimately turn out to be the most important historical
site in the
world. This is the Trinity site, a part of the White Sands Missile Range,
located in one of the most desolate parts of the country. The place doesn't
look like much. In point of fact, it doesn't look like anything at all. If
you are looking for the spectacular, the beautiful, or for a pristine work
of nature, you will be disappointed. Go to Yellowstone instead, or perhaps the
Grand Canyon. Trinity is for those
who are looking for something a bit different. Life is not made to feel
welcome here, and it exists, not on it's own terms, but only by making many
concessions to the environment.
This is a rather unusual attraction, hardly the
kind of place that you think would draw thousands of visitors, on each
of the two days a year that it is open. Unlike the more conventional national
parks, civil war battlefields, nature preserves, and national monuments,
this most unconventional tourist attraction, seems to attract a most
unconventional type of tourist. It is not a place for a casual visit.
In addition to only being open two days of the year, the site is in the
middle of a military preserve, far from any other points of interest,
and so far off of the beaten path, that not only is it difficult to find;
but you will need to make certain that you have a full tank of gas before
embarking. During the popular 170 mile round trip from Alamogordo, there
are no services, gas stations, restaurants, or anything else.
What you see here is a piece of desert, like countless
other pieces of desert. It is hot, most of the time, barren all of the
time, featureless, flat, and actually kind of dull, at least based upon
superficial appearances. In order to get a feel for the real importance
of the place, you have to look a bit more closely. There is the Obelisk,
of course. It stands right at the center of ground zero, where the detonation
actually took place. The peaked top seems to point to the location of the
original atomic bomb, which was detonated 100 feet overhead, suspended from
a gantry. The obelisk was erected by White Sands Missile Range in 1965 and
is made from lava from the west boundary of the range. Though the heat of
the nuclear explosion created Trinitite, the famous green glass of the nuclear
age, rather than lava, the choice of materials seems quite appropriate.
The desolation of the place is no accident. The
Army didn't want people around. Decades latter, two days of the year not
withstanding, it still doesn't. One of the best ways to make certain
that there are no people around, is to go someplace where they are already
absent. This describes the desert of southern New Mexico pretty well.
In addition, the place is well watched, well guarded, and it's boundaries
are prominently marked with warning signs. Scorpions and other creatures
of the desert take no note; but humans need to keep out, except for the semi
annual open houses.
In my own case, I left early from the little town
of Carizozo, NM. The town is located at the crossing of highways 380, and
54, in south central New Mexico. I had been considering a trip out here,
for at least five years, ever since I had first read that the Trinity Site
was open to the public. I had made this discovery, while researching what
was to be a trip to the Minuteman Missile NHS. This,
in turn, was discovered, while browsing the National Park Service website,
in preparation for a summer vacation. I had assumed, correctly, that the Trinity
site was restricted, and not open to the public. What I learned on the web
was that the White Sands range opens the site, twice a year.
So at 5:40 in the morning, I was up, and hitting the
shower. Dressing, and packing up my motel room, I noted that it was just
after 6:00 AM. I poked my head out of the door, and took a picture of the
intersection of highways 380, and 54. It was still pretty dark out, and I
fought the urge to crawl back into bed. I had been up pretty late the night
before, not having fallen asleep until midnight or so. The motel room was
large, comfortable, had cable, and a refrigerator as well as a microwave.
I had checked in very early, around 1 PM, and spent the day lazing around.
Cable was showing a series of westerns, including Pale Rider, ElDorado, and
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Being in the Southwest, I felt a particular
urge to watch all of these; but worse was to come. In the evening, the movie
"Them" was shown. For those who are unfamiliar with the old fifties science
fiction movies, the movie was set in southern New Mexico, and the plot revolved
around a nest of gigantic ants, which were given their great size by being
located too close to ground zero at the Trinity Site, the very place to which
I was going.
Around 6:30, I was finally ready, had microwaved myself
a little breakfast, and had everything packed into my van. It was time to
go. There was just a hint of light, in the cloudy sky, and the air was cooler
than you would expect for New Mexico. All along the drive, I saw few cars,
and no signs of what we like to call civilization, other than the road itself.
I also saw no giant ants, no oversized grasshoppers, and no titanic tarantulas.
Indeed, I saw no indications of mutants of any kind, unless they were mutated
into invisibility. What I did see were incredibly deep indigo skies, and
gold colored ground. These are not colors the way that they appear in my
home state of Wisconsin. We tend to have more greens and browns, with a bit
lighter shade of blue to our skies.
Reaching the turn onto highway 525, after an hour
of driving, I drove on a few miles, and saw my first indication that anything
special was going on. An MP stood in the road, with an M-16 rifle. His truck
was pulled to the side of the road, and there were some cones in place. He
was quite friendly, and asked if I was going to the open house. He then explained
that I should have my picture I.D. ready at the gate, and that I would need
to declare any firearms that I had with me. Along the way, I saw numerous
armed men. All were friendly, and seemed more like guides than guards. Still,
guards they were. It was their job to insure that no one went into any areas
of the range, other than the Trinity Site. I easily resisted the impulse
to take their photographs. There are some things that you just don't do.
I was about ten minutes early, at Stallion Gate, and
there was a line of about twenty cars ahead of me, waiting for the gate to
open at 8:00. We were met at the gate by MP's, and by volunteers, who passed
out leaflets, and brochures. I was asked for my I.D. and if I had any firearms.
When I admitted that there were two 45 automatics in a case, in the back
of my van, I was ushered to the side of the road, where my license plate
number was recorded. The MP then told me that there was no problem, and that
I was welcome to pass through, but that I needed to leave the guns cased,
and unloaded. The only thing close to a problem I had was when he saw me
raise my camera to take a picture of the gate. He shook his head, and warned
that photographs taken within the range, other than at the Trinity Site itself,
would be cause for confiscation of my camera, and detainment. The military
is pretty serious about this. There are still secret tests, and weapons development
being carried on out here, and it is a rather touchy thing, allowing numbers
of civilians onto a working missile range. Even if I mean no harm, you never
know where a picture might end up, who might see it, or what might be learned
from it's display. Needless to say, I put my camera in it's bag, and latched
it shut. I did not come all this way, to spend a day sitting at a table explaining
to a range officer why I took pictures of things that were not to be photographed.
There is a 17 mile drive, through the missile range,
to the Trinity Site. This is along a narrow two lane road, which winds it's
way through hills, and desert. There are occasional intersecting roads, which
were all coned off. From time to time I would see an MP, security guard,
or military vehicle. Still, there seemed to be little overt military presence,
though I have no doubt that the visitation was being monitored. Upon reaching
the site itself, the first thing I saw was a large parking lot, with chalk
lines marked out along it's length. We were directed to parking spots, and
helped to line up our vehicles. Once I was properly parked, I loaded up
my camera, and headed for the perimeter fence.
There are two fences surrounding the Trinity Site.
The outer fence is about a half mile in diameter, and is approximately at
the boundary of the crater. The inner fence is much smaller, and encloses
ground zero, the obelisk, a shed which opens to the original crater floor,
some photographic exhibits, and what is left of the tower legs. There are
also some other displays, including an early fat Man style atomic bomb casing.
Between the two fences is a fenced in walkway. When you reach the site,
you are walking on about ten feet of sand and soil, which covers the original
crater floor. Approaching the inner fence, you pass a tent which houses
a radiation exhibit, and is staffed by some of the radiation safety personnel
of the range.
Around the outer fence, is an information booth, "Jumbo"
a huge steel cylinder which was 800 yards from the blast, a stop for a pair
of buses which run visitors out to the McDonald ranch, and a food concession.
The food was pretty good, and was not real expensive either. In the old days,
visitors were not allowed to eat, smoke, or even to apply makeup at the
site. This was due to fear of ingestion of any radioactive dust that might
have been blowing around. After sixty years, though, any radioactive dust
that is going to blow around has probably already blown away, or lost it's
radioactivity. So now you can get yourself a nice hot dog, hamburger, bag
of chips, and soft drink, before going into the inner perimeter.
Visitors to the site were a varied lot. I heard a
few foreign languages, but for the most part, visitors were American. I
saw one girl who was obviously Japanese, though hardly old enough to have
witnessed the nuclear detonations in her own country. I saw a large portion
of older people at the site, and very few really young people. Most tended
to range from middle age to elderly. I also noted several veterans groups,
which is pretty understandable. At least one of these groups appeared to
have been old enough to have served in W.W.II. People were very friendly,
and very outgoing. I noticed little of the solemnity which I had half expected.
Visitors were enthusiastic about the radiation exhibit, very entertained
by Jumbo, and seemed entranced by the obelisk itself. Everyone seemed to want
to touch it's rough lava surface. I saw people leaning up against it, and
pushing at it, rubbing their hands across it. Eventually a line formed, of
those who wished to have their photo taken next to the obelisk. The whole
picture taking thing seemed a bit pretentious to me, sort of like getting
the picture of aunt Mary, and uncle Bill standing in front of Old Faithful,
or the Grand Canyon. So I didn't join in. Now I wish I would have.
After spending some time with the radiation ladies,
and their Geiger counters, I wandered back outside the outer fence, and looked
at Jumbo, before hopping one of the buses, for the McDonald ranch house.
This was the place where the bomb was actually assembled, and has been restored
to it's approximate condition, during the test. The ranch is a comfortable
looking stone structure, and was probably a pretty nice home, before the
area was evacuated for the military. I gawked a bit, looked at all of the
photographs, and wandered around the house. As with the obelisk, many visitors
wanted to have their photos taken in front of the house. Though the house
is completely restored, it is not furnished, and contains a few chairs, and
the tables holding the displays. After about half hour or so, I took a bus
back to the main site.
Returning to the main area, I took one last stroll
around the site, snapped a few more photos, and grabbed myself something
to eat. I had spent about three hours here, total, and the place was now
starting to fill up. The convoy had arrived from Alamogordo, as well as
at least two buses, probably from Albuquerque. It was time to go. Picnic
tables were set up, so that I could relax, and enjoy my meal, as I watched
the people go to and around the site. A few seemed to feel the weight of
what had happened here; but most were excited, happy, and very curious.
I noticed that a large proportion of the men had hats, ties, jackets, or
pins indicating former or current military service. Many of these men were
older , and walked with the aid of canes, walkers, or simply used the shoulders
of friends to lean upon. It made me wonder which wars they had served in,
and what connection, if any, they might feel with the weapons which were
proven here. Too much introspection is a certain indicator that it is time
The gate in the outer fence is flanked by radiation warning signs. It
also displays the mileage to nearby cities, and is home to an information
In case it feels as if you are in the middle of nowhere (you are), and
you are wondering where in the world this place is, this sign, posted just
to the left of the outer fence gate, will tell you.
|If you are wondering about anything else,
or just need directions, this is the place to go, flanking the right side
of the gate in the outer perimeter fence.
Another good source of information, and of brochures, and hand outs, is
the information booth, right at the gate of the outer fence.
The walk form the outer fence, to the inner fence, is about a quarter
mile. The ground upon which the path runs is fill over the actual crater.
A motorized transport is available to take those who are unable to make
the walk, to the inner area.
Approaching the inner fence. The tent to the right of the photo, houses
the radiation safety exhibit.
|At the inner fence, a sign plainly sets
out the official policy regarding the collection of trinitite.
Click on this photo for a larger view
This is the obelisk. It has become the icon of the Trinity Site, and
is set exactly at ground zero. It is constructed of Lava, taken from a lava
field in the western section of the missile range. It was erected in 1965.
The black plaque, at the "Front" of the obelisk commemorates the Trinity test.
The gold plaque below signifies the date that the area became a nation landmark
This is my favorite photo of the obelisk. The man in the photo came with
one of several veterans groups who visited the site. I don't know if this
man is a W.W.II vet or not; but it certainly feels as if he was. I wanted
to speak to him; but something very personal seemed to be going on here,
and I didn't want to interrupt. It is claimed that as many as one million
American lives were saved by the dropping of the nuclear bombs on Japan.
Perhaps his was one of them.
|These little nibs sticking out of the ground
are all that is left, of the hundred foot steel tower from which the "Gadget"
was suspended during detonation. The rest of the tower was vaporized, not
just blown to bits, but actually turned into gas.
|In the middle of this stark landscape,
the obelisk draws visitors like a magnet. It would be an imposing structure
in any setting; but here it is particularly striking.
|A girl stands to have her photo taken next
to the obelisk. She is just one of many. Everyone wants to be photographed
next to the ground zero marker.
|A couple have come to the site together,
and are photographed standing to either side of the obelisk. A line is forming
for those who wish to have their pictures taken next to the marker.
|People continue to line up, and congregate
near the obelisk. Everyone is taking pictures, and people are taking turns
standing next to the marker.
|A look from behind the obelisk, towards
the entrance to the inner fence. It is probably about 9:30, and the group
from Alamogordo has yet to arrive. By noon, this whole area will be filled
with people.. These events generally draw 2000 to 3000 people.
|The perimeter fence is adorned with plaques,
photographs, and historical facts, on placards. These visitors are going
up to inspect them. The slope of the land is pretty evident, looking towards
|This is the shed. This whole area was originally
a blast crater, which measured ten feet deep by 2400 feet in diameter. It
was lined with radioactive trinitite, which is the green glass formed by
the heat of the explosion acting upon the sand of the desert floor. Most of
the trinitite was scraped up, and removed from the site. The crater was then
filled in and graded. The shed is buried up to it's roof line, and sits on
the actual floor of the crater. A door in the roof allows viewing of the small
section of crater floor within the shed.
|I call these representatives of the range
radiation safety team, the radiation ladies. They were housed in a small
tent, just outside of the entry to the inner fence. It was a pretty interesting
display. Geiger counters measured radiation from an assortment of objects,
including some trinitite retrieved from the site. Visible in this photo are
some old clocks with radium markings, and a smoke detector which uses a
bit of radioactive material to interact with a sensor. In truth, smoke detectors
are actually radiation detectors. When smoke passes between the radiation
source, and the detector, it reduces the radiation hitting the detector face,
and sets off the smoke alarm.
|The clear box with the radiation warning
label holds a variety of trinitite specimens. These evoked a satisfying
series of clicks from the Geiger counters. The marbles in the jar, as well
as the juicer, and some other articles, were produced decades ago, when uranium
was used as a glazing and coloring agent in pottery and glassware. At one
time, back before the nuclear age began, uranium glass was quite a popular
item. Also found to be radioactive are cigarettes, and some food items.
|Just outside the outer perimeter fence, stands
the food service.
This is Jumbo. Jumbo was designed and built in Ohio. Originally it
was 25 feet long, 10 feet in diameter and weighed 214 tons. The ends are
missing because, in 1946, the Army placed eight 500 pound bombs inside
of it, and detonated them. Too bad, really, because it would have been
rather reassuring to have seen something which had survived a nuclear blast.
Of course, when visitors see it, most assume that it was the Trinity detonation
which blew the ends off, and left the scars on the metal.
|Jumbo seems to hold a real fascination for
visitors, second only to the spell cast by the obelisk itself. The big piece
of metal was crawling with people, who wanted to get inside of it, walk
around, bang on the walls, and feel it's edges. It took me a moment, but
then I realized where I had seen such behavior before. When my little brother
was much younger, he had a bunch of gerbils. This was the exact way that
they would act, when presented with a cardboard or plastic tube.
Jumbo lies close to the area where the cars are parked, and is
off a bit, from the entrance of the outer fence. A piece of the "Jumbo"
bomb casing was given to Socorro, which was unveiled on the Socorro Plaza
by the Chamber of Commerce as part of the "Free State of Socorro" celebrations.
Highway signs were erected declaring Socorro as "Home of the Trinity Site."
This was done primarily to counteract Alamogordo's claims
The official aerial photographs of the site as it appeared right after
the test, and as it appears today.
|The McDonald Ranch House is where the bomb
was actually assembled, before it was hoisted up the tower, and detonated.
The site has several buses, which spend the day shuttling visitors back
and forth, the two mile trip between the ranch house, and the main site.
|My first look at the McDonald ranch. It
sits on a small rise, with as much vegetation as can be found in these parts.
To the left is the tower atop which the old water tower stood. To the right
is the tower which had held the windmill. During the days when this site
was being prepared for the Trinity shot, the water tower was used as a swimming
|Inside of the house, displays, and exhibits
try to explain just what happened here. The house is about two miles from
the site. This is where the bomb was actually assembled. In point of fact,
the room in which this photo was taken was the bomb assembly room.
|Feeling a bit like house hunters, we wander
from room to empty room. Though all of the windows were blown out, and some
damage was done by the nuclear explosion, two miles away, the stone house
remained structurally sound. Years of neglect, and a leaky roof put the
house in serious disrepair. Eventually the National Park Service was provided
with funds to fix the house up, and restore it to it's approximate condition
at the time of the Trinity shot.
|A look out towards the mountains, from
the front porch. The water tower platform stands in the midground. visitors
mill around everywhere, exploring the grounds. The house and grounds were
taken over by the Army, after the entire area was purchased and evacuated
for use as a test site.
So was it worth the trip? Absolutely! There is
a sudden realization that comes, after milling about the place for a while,
of what actually happened here, and of what has happened in the decades
since, because of what happened here. So would I go back? Probably not,
at least not by myself. It is the kind of place that I would take children,
grandchildren, or interested friends; but not the kind of place that I need
to see again for myself. Once you have seen the site, you have seen it
While the Trinity site is not hidden or secret,
there is restricted entry, and the the whole area is rather secluded. The
nearest town, that of Socorro, is 43 miles away, over two lane roads which
twist through mountains and desert. The city of Alamogordo, which is considered
by most to be the gateway to Trinity, is 85 miles away. For those who worry
about being lost, or about mechanical breakdowns, a caravan leaves Alamogordo
at 8:00 A.M., from the fairgrounds. There are also buses going out from several
locations. I have listed the bus tours offered, and prices in the table
below; but please contact the groups to make certain, since things are always
subject to change. There are, doubtless, other tours being offered; but
these are the ones of which I am aware. Most tours offer other stops, lunches,
movies, etc. Please call contacts to get details.
|National Atomic Museum
|Call (505) 242-6083
|Sigma Pi Sigma (U.N.M.)
|Call (301) 209-3007
|Chamber of Commerce
|Chamber of Commerce
Taking the Caravan
A group meets at Alamogordo, NM, for a caravan drive
out to the Trinity Site. The group forms at the Otero County Fairgrounds
parking lot on U.S. 54/70 in Alamogordo. This is probably the most popular
way to get there. The Alamogordo Chamber of Commerce sponsors the convoy.
Line up begins at 7:15, and the convoy leaves at 8AM.. Visitors entering
this way will travel as an escorted group to and from Trinity Site. The
drive is 170 miles round-trip and there are no service station facilities
on the missile range, so you will want to tank up before leaving. This tour
will enter through the Tularosa Gate at 8:30AM, and arrive at Trinity Site
The convoy is scheduled to leave Trinity Site at
12:30 or 1 PM., depending upon its size, for the return to Alamogordo.
The convoy may leave later if there are a large number of vehicles returning
to Alamogordo. Visitors wishing to stay a bit longer may do so; but will
need to exit through the Stallion gate, as the Tularosa gate is only open
to the convoy. For information, call 505-437-6120 or 800-826-0294.
Driving by Yourself
The Trinity Site is located within the White Sands
Missile Range, 22 miles off of Highway 380. This is a different entrance
from the one used by the Alamogordo caravan. Though I was a bit concerned
about the possibility of getting lost or stranded, this did not turn
out to be a problem. Mapquest could not find the Trinity site, nor the
Stallion gate; neither could the GPS mapping system (Microsoft Streets and
Maps) installed on my laptop. In addition to this, the location is marked
on the New Mexico state map; but the roads and paths were not shown at all.
I have included a scan, to the right, of this area of the official highway
map, for the state of New Mexico. As can be seen, the map is just a big blank,
once you get off of Highway 380. Using the GPS coordinates, I Was able to
get the location to show up in my mapping program; but it could still not
find the roads, nor map me a route. With a certain amount of trepidation,
I left my motel room, at 6:30 AM, and started on what I hoped was the way
I need not have worried. The route was easy, and
direct. Simply stay on highway 380, until it meets New Mexico 525 South.
And then take 525 to the Stallion Gate. The turnoff point is located about
12 miles east of San Antonio, NM, and 50 west of Carizozo, NM. It is clearly
marked, on the road if not on the maps, and is nearly impossible to miss.
So don't worry about it; just go. It is five miles down NM 525, from highway
380, to the Stallion gate. From stallion, it is another 17 miles to Trinity.
Once you are within the missile range, there will be signs and the roads
will be blocked off, except for the road to Trinity. The military does not
want visitors getting lost on the range any more than the visitors do themselves.
Though the drive turned out to be pretty simple, I have posted photos and
directions anyway, in part because the way is so scenic.
Driving to Trinity
|If you don't believe in magic, try taking
Highway 380 through New Mexico at 6:30 in the morning. This was the start
of a 75 mile, hour and a half drive from Carizozo to Trinity.
|This is the desert, though it has it's
own abundance of specially adapted flora and fauna. In contrast to many
of the movies with which I grew up, there were no giant insects, or flying
saucers out here. Even so, a hundred or so miles from here, Rosewell, NM
claims to be the UFO capitol of the world.
|Rolling down into a great bowl of a valley,
as the sun rises. The direct light turns the parched ground gold.
|I can not say how relieved I was to see
this sign. Judging from my maps, I was certain that I would pass the turn
off, and end up having to come back down from San Antonio.
|A historic marker, and adjacent pull
out, both across the road from the sign pictured above, serve notice that
you are at the access point for the Trinity Site, and commemorate the events
that occurred there.
|Now on 525 South. Five miles down this
road, is the Stallion gate, and entry into the White Sands Missile Range.
|If the local highways were a bit empty,
the roads through the missile range were desolate. Sitting atop the
hill in the center of the photo is a radar dome. I saw many such things,
along with antenna arrays, telemetry systems, bunkers, and blockhouses. I
have photos of none of them. The men at the gate were quite adamant about
the fact that were I to be seen taking photos outside of the Trinity area,
my camera would be taken, and I would be held. This photo was taken from just
outside the range.
|It is about ten minutes before 8:00 AM
here, and some people are already lined up at Stallion gate awaiting the
8:00 AM opening. I counted about 20 cars ahead of me.
|The gates have just opened, and are visible
just ahead. This is the last photo that I will be allowed to take, until
I reach the Trinity Site.
Needless to say the Trinity site, The Manhattan Project, and the whole subject
of nuclear weapons, physics, and atomic energy are fascinating subjects, and
have generated numerous books, movies, and websites. Below are a few that
I visit, and some that I have used in researching for my trip, and for this
page. Particularly fascinating is the High Energy Weapons Archive, listed
below, which has history, descriptions, and photographs of just about every
nuclear weapon ever deployed. It also contains a great section explaining
the different types of devices, how they work, and how the various materials
which go into their construction are produced. In addition to this, it contains
a number of photographs, and movies, of actual nuclear explosions. One other
great source of nuclear information, and photographs, is the book 100 Suns,
by Michael Light.