Saturday, March 5, 2016

Centuries of Human Advancement in One Day

When we head out Thursday morning I know where we're going, and what we hope to see. I don't however, think about the incredible extremes we are going to experience.

Once again, our drive is beautiful. Heading northwest from Santa Fe takes us through more wide open spaces and multi-colored canyon walls.

Hwy 4 off Hwy 502
Our first destination is Bandelier National Monument. I've never been here and Bill has vague memories of a camping trip with his parents and his cousin Jeni - it rained and they slept in the car :-)  Today the sun is shining, not a cloud in the sky. And we'll be sleeping in our own bed tonight.

Bandelier National Monument from the view point 
While stopped at the view point I change my camera battery and find that the "fresh" one is dead as well. Fortunately I have my IPhone as back up, but I'm not happy :-(

Our inter-agency pass gets us in for free and we check out the visitor center. It's Friday and the parking lot is full. 

We care.
Behind the visitors' center.
It's not a thick forest, but the pines are tall.
Not far onto the main trail I can already hear people talking and laughing loudly. I'm sure they're excited, the canyon probably magnifies the sound, but I don't want to experience this place with all that noise.

Instead, I take the trail along Frijoles Creek where the sound of the water allows me to be alone with the spirit of this ancestral place. Signs of recent flood damage make the formation of this canyon by water very real.

Small, but fast, the sound of Frijoles Creek is calming
Large areas of the park are closed due to flood damage, including huge trees felled across the trail
Coming out of the trees, the trail faces the cliff dwellings. The steps have a line of people, and I really don't want to visit these 1000 year-old homes with all this noise and chaos. Instead, I find a large log to sit on and enjoy the breeze in the surprisingly hot mid-day sun. 

If not for the railings and the loud tourists, the ruins would be completely hidden, even from this close. These were very defensible homes, carved from the soft tufts of the canyon walls. From those heights, they could see for miles in both directions, in a canyon that can only be accessed in two directions. Entrances and windows blend in with the natural caves and pockets. Engineering and strategy are evident.

The canyon walls are full of deep divots 
Storage buildings were built lower, and are more visible from the bottom of the canyon
but the dwellings are high up in the cliffs - see them?
See the window? From there you can see
up the canyon
and down the canyon.
At the bottom, the ruins of small summer housing close to the water as well as large circular structures complete the remains of this once active community of hunters and farmers. 

Small rooms in the canyon floor
From the monument we turn left for Los Alamos. Physics, big laboratories, and nuclear bombs, this place is a big part of our history. Other than curiosity about all of this, I have no clue what we're going to see here.

It's a town with a security gate entrance. The guard checks our ID and we drive "in". Lots of buildings with tall electric fences line the highway, and then suddenly we're in a small town with houses and stores and banks and lots of apartment buildings. 

We find the Bradley Science Museum to learn the history and the relevance of nuclear weapons. The amount of information is overwhelming. Literally. To read every word offered, to view every exhibit displayed, to watch every video, and see both films - it would take days.

Layers of information - time line, photos, documents
Exhibit of nuclear detonator - how do they know what all those wires do?
This small compartment tests nuclear explosions without exposing the environment
The only DARHT testing in the world - Google it, it's very cool
In the race to zero nuclear weapons is Los Alamos still necessary? Does the work being done here today really keep us safe?

We watch a 20 minute film that attempts to answer these and other similar questions. It is well done. It is convincing. One cannot argue with the fact that no other world-wide conflicts have occurred since the bombs dropped. 

But Los Alamos labs are working on more than weapons stewardship and safety. The information on other studies is fascinating and encouraging.

Preventing disease and death
Understanding environmental changes
Growing fuel rather than extracting it
The road leading southeast from Los Alamos follows a ridge between two large canyons. Really large canyons. Again no place to stop and capture photos, so you have to come see it for yourself.

The extremes of what we've experienced in this one day are not lost on us. Seeing the advancement of the human race from communities carved in canyon walls, to technology that can test the viability of a nuclear explosion inside a small pod, is a LOT to absorb. 

We are far from perfect, but we humans are incredible.


  1. We visited Bandolier and Los Alamos years ago when Steve was thinking of working at the lab there. But it never panned out. I find the museum interesting and it was there where I learned about the cause of traffic on the highway. Wonder if the demonstration about it is still there.

    1. It's a beautiful area - I could see looking at living there :-) I missed that demo if it's still there. After years of L.A. traffic I would have appreciated that one!!

  2. More places to check out. It always amazes me how far our technology has come in our lifetime...they put men on the moon with computers less powerful than my Iphone...crazy. Then to visit an ancient civilization on the same day...what a juxtaposition day.

    1. It really was so much to think about! I can't even imagine how much more "advanced" we can become :-)

  3. We just returned from a road trip through the parks and monuments of SW Colorado/SE Utah and I was also struck by how noisy everyone is. It is awe inspiring country but hard to be awed when you only see it through a camera lens while chattering to your friends.

    1. Especially in sacred spaces it is so strange to me to hear all the yammering :-( I was fortunate to find a place to see and feel without having to listen.

  4. Extremes, indeed! We've been to Bandelier a couple of times (many years ago), but never to Los Alamos. Looks like it's definitely worth a visit. I'm not sure I could do both in one day!

    1. In hindsight, seeing them on separate days makes more sense. I was completely surprised by all the deep gorges around Los Alamos - definitely worth a whole day visit on its own.

  5. That really is a an experiential whip lash. Your feelings at Bandelier are so familiar to me, wanting to have quiet and solitude in a spiritual place. I wonder when one could go there to experience that? These days probably only in middle of the night. I'm glad to hear Los Alamos is doing something other than warfare. I wonder how it feels to live in such a closely guarded town.

    1. You're probably right since it was busy on a winter weekday - although if it were colder there might have been less. It only takes a couple loud ones to mar the experience though. I imagine there are cameras everywhere too. People did seem happy and friendly so they probably get used to it.

  6. We visited Los Alamos many years ago on a motorcycle trip. A very interesting place. But the TV show a year ago The Manhattan Project really helped my understanding of what it was like to be part of the project and how unpleasant it was to live there... basically in a prison.

    I am looking forward to visiting Bandelier on day. Hopefully, we can go on an uncrowded day. The housing is really lost in the people:)

    Yes, you certainly did go from one extreme to another!

    1. I should have thought to see the movie again before we went - there isn't much at all about living in the town, at least at that museum. Probably more at the history museum which we didn't have time for. I was surprised how many other facilities there were throughout the country working on the project. Lots of hiking in that wonderful canyon - and there are additional ruins farther up that are likely less crowded.

  7. Looks absolutely amazing. There are so many wonderful places to visit and explore. And, to think, you're just beginning. You have so much to look forward too!

    Great times ahead.

    1. So true! Every time we see something new and wonderful, we get excited about what we still get to see in the future :-)))

  8. This is great as I've never been to Bandelier but much like you I don't like the crowds. Glad they're working on other things besides nuclear weapons.

    1. It was fascinating to see all they have been doing since the cold war. Beautiful area, you'd love it.