Los Alamos is an off the radar town in south western USA that should not be overlooked by visitors. Stunningly located at 2000 metres altitude it offers an inviting mix of breathtaking scenery and fascinating history. Friendly locals in this thriving community are eager to tell their stories of Los Alamos from ancestral pueblo times to the development of this town during World War Two as a secret place of scientific endeavour that would eventually lead to the controversial development of the atom bomb.
Driving into Los Alamos through the Jemez Mountains in New Mexico is like ascending into another planet of rugged landforms with open blue skies. Only a one hour drive from the sophisticated city of Santa Fe, the small scenic town of Los Alamos is perched on top of five mesas with views to plunging canyons. A stopover here places you in the heart of spectacular mountain scenery perfect for hiking and skiing as well as innovative and carefully curated museums to appeal to history buffs. It is also within easy reach of such cultural icons as the Santa Fe Opera and Georgia O’Keefe’s Ghost Ranch. Add to this a proximity to some of the best examples of New Mexican cuisine and you have a perfect base for exploring unique country.
HIGHLIGHTS of LOS ALAMOS
The History Museum is best explored with a guided walking tour featuring the original Boys Ranch School converted into living quarters during the war, Hispanic homestead cabins and homes of scientists on Bathtub Row. The museum uses old documents, photos, films, diary extracts and artefacts to demonstrate the tough existence of the 6,000 men and women who lived in the secret town from ’43 – ’45. Fascinating details can be discovered about the leading scientists, a number escaping from German occupied European countries. The Cold War museum building features details on the spies of the time including the German born phycisist Fuchs who spied for the Soviets. Fascinating and riveting material.
The Bradbury Science Museum is a free Museum about the history and science behind the atom bomb and the more recent scientific discoveries from this famous Los Alamos Laboratory that has produced 12 Nobel Prize winners. Documents and artefacts from ’43 – ’45 offer an enthralling insight into the intense pressure under which Oppenheimer and scientists worked and then their devastating realisation of the horror they had unleashed. The museum also demonstrates how the bringing together of such a concentration of brilliant scientists to work on a Defence mission resulted in the longer term scientific discoveries across multiple areas from medicine to the environment.
Mesa Hiking Trails More than twenty well marked walking trails wind along the rims and down into the canyons of the five mesas that make up the town of Los Alamos. Short, popular walks like the Acid Canyon walk are only a mile long while spectacular walks on Barranca Mesa and Deer Trap Mesa will be 3 or 4 miles long.The Bayo Pueblo Canyons loop at 11 miles will be a more demanding and time consuming walk. Wherever you walk you will have an opportunity to observe at close hand the astonishing geography of the mesas and marvel at the amazing homes that have been constructed on these narrow strips of land.
Bandalier National Monument This national historic landmark features preserved homes of ancestral puebloans who lived in cliff dwellings from about 1150 to 1600. A free bus takes visitors at regular intervals to this popular park where a ranger will introduce visitors to the major features of the Park. You can complete the short, popular self guided tour to view dwellings, kivas, rock paintings and other relics of the era. Sometimes you need to ascend ladders to look inside the cave dwellings. There are also short and long day walking trails that will take you to other parts of Bandalier featuring pueblo relics along with breathtaking scenery.
Overlook Park White Rock A 15 minute drive from Los Alamos takes you to the impressive vista of Overlook Park where views over the Rio Grande Valley and Jemez Mountains span almost a complete circle. Take in the outlook from the overlook point or embark on the red dot or blue dot trails for half day walks around the rim or down into the canyon.
INSIDER TIP Ski Pajarito Mountain in winter. Only 15 minutes from Los Alamos it is a cheaper and less crowded alternative to the nearby ski resorts in Taos and Santa Fe.