The Manhattan Project National Historical Park has three sections in various stages of development. Overall the Manhattan Project tells the story of the development and deployment of the first nuclear weapon. The atomic bomb is credited with ending World War II, although that point is open for debate. The project was top secret and different parts were developed in different parts of the country. Last year we visited the Hanford site in Washington State. This year we stopped by Los Alamos in New Mexico.
The Los Alamos site is the least accessible of the three Manhattan Project sites. If you go to the website, it will tell you that there are three parts to the park.
- Gun Site Facilities: three bunkered buildings and a portable guard shack. These buildings were associated with the design of the “Little Boy” bomb.
- V-Site Assembly Building: used by laboratory personnel to assemble components of the Trinity device in July 1945.
- Pajarito Site was used during the war for plutonium chemistry research and later became the main site for critical assembly work at Los Alamos after the war.
Unfortunately all these buildings are on the highly-secured Department of Energy Lab grounds of Los Alamos. That means, unless you have another reason for being there, you cannot get to any of these buildings. They are being preserved, but are not accessible by the public.
So, instead of going to the actual sites where work was done in Los Alamos, we went to the tiny Visitors Center in downtown Los Alamos. It occupies half of a building owned by the city and the other half of the building has a juvenile detention facility. Interesting juxtaposition. But there was a ranger and a volunteer and a movie. I got my stamp and we watched the movie.
After that, however, we didn’t feel like we had done the site. So we took the historic walking tour of Los Alamos – you can see a pdf of the tour here. Before the Manhattan Project located here, the area was extremely remote with only one dirt road in. It was formerly a Ranch Academy for the sons of wealthy parents and the government took it over for the duration of the war. Los Alamos was considered a good location because it already had dorms, classrooms and some homes for the school.
We walked by the Oppenheimer and Groves statues and saw other historical sites. Los Alamos is a bustling little city. Most of the employment in town is reliant on the Department of Energy labs. Many of the volunteers we spoke with are retired DOE employees who came for the jobs but stayed because they like the location.
We finished up our visit by going through the Bradbury Science Museum, a free museum downtown. It is a nice museum especially for the size of the town. The museum has lots of pictures and history of the work at the labs during World War II and since. It was interesting to read about some of the work and research the Department of Energy is doing today.
We enjoyed our visit to the town of Los Alamos, although the Los Alamos Manhattan Project site needs more development. Perhaps they will eventually allow buses of people to tour the three buildings but I expect that is some time in the future.