Trinity Test Site and White Sands Missile Range

En route to the Trinity Test Site

Shortly after I arrived in Albuquerque, I started talking to my dad about all the places he recommended visiting. During this discussion, I was made aware of the very fortunate fact that I was going to be in town for one of the only two days out of the year that the White Sands Missile Range open up their gates to welcome visitors to the Trinity Test site. I’d wanted to swing down that way to check out the NRAO Very Large Array as well as White Sands and Spaceport America down near Las Cruzas. After actually looking at everything on a map, I came to the realization that there was no way that I’d be able to hit Trinity, White Sands National Monument, Carlsbad Caverns, Roswell AND the spaceport, so I had to drop the spaceport off the weekend roster. I’ll have to hit it when I’m swinging back through New Mexico at some point.

I made my plans, strapped mom’s ashes into the passenger seat and headed out. I’d visted the Very Large Array the week previously, so I jumped in the car around 8am saturday morning and headed for the WSMR Stallion Gate down south. There are two entrances open during the days that the Trinity Test site is open to the public; the Stallion gate is for those coming down from the north. For the second entry point, a caravan assembles at the Otero County Fairgrounds and is escorted by WSMR vehicles to Trinity Site. The caravan leaves at 8:00am.
For the Stallion gate, you need government issued ID to gain entrance, then just follow the signs in to parking for Trinity. The base personnel is very friendly, efficient and helpful. The memorial itself is a collection of rough, pockmarked lava rocks assembled into a dark, almost ominous obelisk marking ground zero for the detonation. The event at Trinity involved two explosions. The primary detonation involved TNT, and then a fraction of a second later, the Gadget was to release the nuclear explosion, if the chain reaction was maintained. If the chain reaction failed, the TNT would then scatter the plutonium all over the countryside.

Trinity Test Site – the remains of Jumbo

In order to try to keep that from becoming a reality, an enormous 214 ton steel jug named Jumbo (originally 25ft long, 10ft in diameter) was constructed, to be placed around the Gadget to contain the TNT explosion. However, they scrapped the idea of using it for the test. Even so, the remains of Jumbo stand at the entrance to ground zero, and you can walk through it. The damage seen on Jumbo is due to eight 500lb bombs that the army decided to detonate inside it. There’s something about being able to put your hands on something that’s survived that much destructive force.

Just outside the ground zero gates is a collection of radioactive items; pottery, marbles, a banana and other sundry items. The event staff would pass a geiger counter over the items to show you how much radiation emanated from them. Off in the corner were a collection of some fairly large chips of Trinitite.
Inside the gate itself stands the obelisk. Such a small marker for such an enormous event. Still, it feels momentous to stand beside it – to place a hand upon it. A crowd of people gather around the marker taking pictures, darting in to get their pictures taken standing beside it, one after another. Looking straight ahead from the gate entrance are a collection of images attached to the chain link fence surrounding the ground zero area. Most of them show images of what the base camp looked like back in the day, as well as shots of the bunker, the McDonald ranch where they assembled the weapon, and a picture of the Gadget itself – as well as a newspaper headline and pictures of several of the key personnel involved in the test.

The Obelisk at the Trinity Test site

The ranch is equally interesting – walking through each room and seeing part of the process of how everything came together. It’s a short, bumpy bus ride, and provided a great collection of pictures. (PICS)

At the McDonald ranch house – White Sands Missile Range

From there, it was onward towards Alamogordo, out and around the missle range. On the way I found a rock shop that advertised ‘real trinitite’. Yeah, $30 an ounce. Too rich for my blood. Actually, everything in that shop seemed pretty overpriced. I bought a small piece of petrified wood, then got back on the road. It occured to me that if I had left with the convoy that it would have taken half the time for me to actually get to White Sands National Monument, but hey – I’m here to see it all, right? Detours are my bread and butter.

White Sands National Monument

Made it out to the monument about an hour from sunset and drove through the path through the dunes, watching as families and kids ran up, over and around the dunes. (PICS) Lots of people slid down them in these plastic discs you usually see kids using in winter to power down snow drifts. It was like an enormous beach tailgate party, only without the ocean. A very surreal drive, that. If it hadn’t been Easter weekend, I could’ve stayed overnight at the backpacker’s camp area and caught amazing sunset/sunrise shots, but alas, it was not to be. And, I was on a schedule. I needed to get to Carlsbad before I decided to pass out for the night. I wanted to wake up and head right out to the Caverns, so I drove back to Alamogordo to get some dinner, then got back on the road.

White Sands National Monument

The straightest shot from Alamogordo over to Carlsbad is route 82, the first part of which traverses the Lincoln National Forest (PICS) and eventually dumps you off in a place called Artesia that smells like petroleum farts. Unsurprising since the largest refinery in New Mexico is located there, as well as several other large oil and gas businesses. It really does smell appalling. I drove through as quickly as the speed limit would allow.

The trip along 82 is about two hours, and at night, there are no open restroom facilities along the way. It was at this point in the trip that I realized that, for certain points along empty highways, that I should really invest in a Female Urination Device – ALA Go Girl, for those times that I can’t wait any longer and have to pull over to the side of the road and defile the asphalt with liquid. At least it was a temperate night out, and I didn’t literally freeze my ass off. 🙂 The road that winds through the forest is gorgeous, however – well, what I could see of it initially. The sun fell pretty quickly. Trees seemed to tower over me as I drove along, making me yearn to get out to the northern forests a great deal sooner than planned. I’d love to have seen it in the daytime, but again – schedule to keep.
Arrived in Carlsbad at a shabby hotel at around 11pm, exhausted. Woke up at 7am and got back on the highway, on the way to Carlsbad Caverns, the trip report of which can be seen before this one.

One thought on “Trinity Test Site and White Sands Missile Range

  1. Pingback: TRAVELOG: Trinity Test Site and White Sands Missile Range | Jhada Addams - Superhero at Large

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