Sunday, August 17, 2008

Road Trip 2: New Mexico (Part 2)

OK, so I know I've fallen a bit behind on updating the blog. I've been settling in Knoxville and internet access has been sparse. BUT, I'm going to try and catch up before my classes start on Wednesday.

So, we return to New Mexico. On the free day from the Glen Workshop, I went with my parents to Bandelier National Monument, which is about forty minutes outside Santa Fe. It is the site of Pueblo cliff dwellings and petroglyphs (pictures carved into rocks). The cliffs were formed from soft volcanic rock, which has lots of air pockets, that make it look sort of like swiss cheese. Still, though, all of the dwellings were carved by hand with stone tools, after which, the residents would smoke the ceilings of the dwellings to keep them from crumbling.

We hiked a trail for about a mile before ascending four ladders that allowed us to reach the alcove cliff dwelling. The image above is of the alcove cliff dwelling and kiva, or circular room used mainly for religious ceremonies. There was a ladder going down into the kiva, and inside the temperature was surprisingly cooler.

This was the only way up.

This is what the sky looked like from the alcove cliff dwelling.

Me, coming out of a smaller, carved-out dwelling. My guess is that the average cliff-dweller wasn't as big as I am.

Bandelier only took up most of the morning, so I suggested heading over to the city of Los Alamos, which was only a few minutes away. While I was at USC, I took a class on 1950s American Lit. and Film, and one of the documentaries that we watch was Atomic Cafe, which, although disturbing, is a movie that I highly recommend.
Los Alamos was the secret site of the Manhattan Project, but today the town is still the center of much of the government's high-level research, nuclear and otherwise. The entrance to the town is still managed by a guard tower that requires visitors to stop (similar to a border crossing). It was clear, upon entering the city, that most of the people that live there are either employed by the US government or related to someone who is. One of the streets was named "Bikini Atoll," which was a Micronesian island used as a test site for multiple H-bombs, and is highlighted in Atomic Cafe. I thought this was creepy, and in poor taste, since the natives of the island were forced to move (debatably against their will) and exposed to unhealthy levels of radiation as "an experiment." A local store also sold t-shirts with a giant, red-and-orange mushroom cloud on them, which declares: Los Alamos, the Atomic City.

There are two main museums in Los Alamos, one operated by the US Department of Energy, and the other by the city historical society, and they choose to focus on very different vantage points. Predictably, the science museum depicts patriotism (everyone gladly gave up their land for the Manhattan Project), the necessity of developing the A-bomb, and stresses all of the scientific advances made in Los Alamos since then. The historical museum, on the other hand, shows the elite ranch school for toughening up rich boys (attended by Gore Vidal, among others), that was forced to close when the government bought the land. In those days, Los Alamos was a secret city, all mail was sent to a P.O. Box in Santa Fe, and new scientists and staff were not even given directions to the site until they arrived in Santa Fe, went to a particular phone booth, and called a mysterious number. It was all very cloak and dagger. No relatives, except for spouses and children, were allowed to live in Los Alamos.

A model of "Little Boy," the first A-bomb, dropped on Hiroshima, on display at the Los Alamos science museum.

1 comment:

Murnen said...

Dear Sir,

I recently visited North Carolina near your college. It looks nothing like the arid region pictured in this article.

I am confused. How much are you renting that stone apartment for? Was the snazzy ladder included or was that extra. Tennessessians really that small. Perhaps you are doing the peeking out of hole wrong.

Vaguely Sincere,