Monday, June 18, 2018

New Mexico

We're in Colorado now but the memories of our visit to New Mexico stay with us. 

The cliff dwellings, petroglyphs, and fascinating history of the Pueblo Indians left us feeling like strangers in someone else’s land. For tens of thousands of years, they have called this area home. 

Exploring the cliff dwellings at Bandelier National Monument

We loved Santa Fe for its quirky charm. Such a mixed bag of cultures and interests combine to make it one of our favorite stops. 

We had the chance to enjoy the EAT fundraiser for the arts which led us through dozens of galleries over two evenings. Each gallery was open and inviting, featuring food from local restaurants making it a true feast for the senses. 

Robin at the Globe Gallery on Canyon Rd

Los Alamos was a must stop since we’re both major geeks. We loved learning about the history of the Manhattan project. 
Wherever you stand on nuclear weapons, it's an important part of American history.

Standing with Oppenheimer and Groves at Historic Los Alamos

The Manhattan Project came to Los Alamos in late 1943 with a group of about 200 people. Oppenheimer knew of the area because of the Los Alamos Ranch School. a "boys only" prep school to toughen up boys from back East. The existing buildings would give them a head start and the location on a thin mesa above two canyons made it easy to secure. General Groves agreed and the school was quickly shut down. 

Many scientists brought their families and over the span of one year over 50 babies were born in the small community. Evidently, the scientists did not just work 24/7 on the bomb. With super security clearance, no one outside the community knew what was going on up on the hill. Everyone even had the same mailing address: P.O. Box 1663. When Sears (think pre-Amazon) started getting dozens of catalog requests they thought it was a hoax and would only send one. That catalog got shared a lot.

In a little over a year, scientists had designed and were ready to test the first bomb. Oppenheimer chose the area around White Sands, NM and in July 1945 they had the first successful test of a nuclear weapon. A month later, US forces would drop bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki three days apart, ending the war in the Pacific.

This of course started the arms race with the Soviet Union with help from leaked information provided by a member of the British contingent of Manhattan Project. Since he was a member of our allied forces the US did not do a thorough security screening on him, assuming that the British had cleared him.

Today Los Alamos has a population of 12000 people and over 8000 work in the scientific fields there. It also has the highest density of PHDs and millionaires in the country. 

While north of Santa Fe we also took a drive out to see the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The 89000-acre park encompasses one of the 3  dormant supervolcanoes in the US (the others being Yellowstone in Wyoming and Long Valley in California’s. Erupting 1.2 million years ago, it scattered thousands of feet of volcanic tuff all over the New Mexico and Colorado and sent ash as far as Iowa. The eruption was hundreds of times more powerful than Mt St Helens. 
The preserve, operating since 2013, has hot springs, streams, fumaroles, and natural gas seeps. Volcanic domes dot the caldera floor, with a variety of igneous stone, from pumice to obsidian, bearing witness to a variety of volcanic activity in the past. The highest point in the caldera is Redondo Peak at 11,253-feet (3,430 m). It is a resurgent lava dome located entirely within the caldera. The preserve encompasses vast grasslands, supporting an abundance of wildlife, including 17 rare species and one of New Mexico’s largest elk herds at about 2500. 

While at the visitor center located inside the Caldera, we watched crew filming for an upcoming Nat Geo series "Prairie Dog Home Companion". They were documenting the research of biologist John Hoogland, an expert in the field of Prairie dogs.

Research and filming area at Valles Calderas

Taos was a perfect last stop for us - even more laid back than Santa Fe. We caught a live performance in the Taos Plaza the first night and took many nice strolls around town. We had our first "high altitude" hike to Williams Lake (10,000+ feet) and enjoyed a cold beer afterward at Taos Ski Valley. 

We made it to Williams Lake 10,000+ feet!

After two weeks around Santa Fe and Taos, we said goodbye and drove out along highway 64. Luckily for us, this road was just opened after a large fire. We saw ash everywhere and could still smell smoke in the air. 

We loved NE New Mexico but it's getting really hot and there is so much more too see. Check out more photos here in our FLICKR album.  Follow us on Fcebook and Instagram to see where we're at now!

Next stop Canon (pronounced canyon) City, Colorado.

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