Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Los Alamos

Today's weather was cool and windy, but we decided to go day tripping despite the weather. Today's destination was an hour or so northwest of our park, in the scenic Jemez Mountains.

Los Alamos is known locally as simply "The Hill". As home to Los Alamos National Laboratory, it's a scenic and particularly "brainy" town. With a staff of nearly 10,000 physicists, engineers, chemists, materials scientists, students and support personnel, LANL is the largest employer in Northern New Mexico. The massive lab, which focuses on national security, covers nearly 40 square miles. Banners around town proclaim Los Alamos as a place "where discoveries are made."

Needless to say, neither of us has proper security clearance to visit the lab. So, we settled on a visit to the Bradbury Science Museum. This free museum displays exhibits about the history of LANL and its ongoing science and research.

We started our tour with a viewing of a short film, The Town That Never Was, which tells the story of the Manhattan Project and Los Alamos from 1942 to 1945. What a fascinating story! The museum's defense gallery spotlights replicas of the history-changing weapons that were the products of the famous project. "Little Boy", in the foreground, was the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. The yellow "Fat Man" was dropped on Nagasaki three days later.

After a tasty lunch in Los Alamos, we drove across town - and through part of the LANL complex - to Bandelier National Monument. Along the way, we both commented how wonderful it was to see green trees. Perhaps we've been in the desert a bit too long!

Bandelier National Monument sits in the gorgeous Frijoles Canyon. This 33,000-acre spread preserves and protects this ancestral home of the Pueblo people. We followed the Main Loop Trail for a hike into history. The canyon floor is home to the remains of the Tyuonyi Pueblo. In 1400 A.D., this 400-room one and two-story building was buzzing with 100 residents.

The south-facing canyon cliffs contain remains of ancient homes. This talus house was reconstructed in 1920. Once upon a time many talus houses, built from rock debris, stood at the bottom of the cliff. At its peak, it is estimated that Bandelier was home to some 500 residents.

At Long House, the Pueblo people built several multi-storied dwellings along the the cliff base. To the left of the entrance to this home is an ancient pictograph that was once part of the back wall of a second-story dwelling.

These cave rooms, or cavatas, were dug out of the soft tuff in the canyon face. Ladders were used for entry to the higher rooms.

These cave rooms made our 40-foot moose seem most spacious!

Did we climb up and look? But, of course!

Above the top row of holes in this cave room is one of many petroglyphs carved into the tuff.

From Long House we left the Main Loop Trail and headed toward Alcove House. The late afternoon sun gave us some dramatic views of the canyon walls.

By the time we reached the first of several ladders to make the 140-foot climb to Alcove House, the afternoon was getting late. We opted for this quick shot of the multi-level dwelling from its base. We'll save that climb for next time.

As we headed back toward the main trail, we spotted two bear cubs playing near Frijoles Creek. This is one of the cute little pair digging around just 30 yards or so off the trail. I didn't take much time to frame the shot, as we figured "mom" was close by and we had yet to spot her.

There she is! Mama was just a few yards past her babies, munching on some grass. She raised her head and looked us straight in the eye. Suddenly, she looked much bigger! I missed getting that shot as instinct kicked in and my feet were moving slowly but surely down the trail in an instant.

Back on the trail, we enjoyed the last of the late afternoon sunshine on a day that, despite some chilly temperatures and a bit of wind, turned out to be a wonderful day.


Jim and Sandie said...

That is way too close to mama bear for my comfort zone. Glad she figured you guys weren't a danger to her cubs. Sure looks like you're having a great time.

E Squared and Mui said...

You guys have been interesting some interesting places in NM ... having never been to the state, I'm enjoying the virtual tours. And a bear sighting to finish off your day ... smart to be careful and not stick around and raise mum's ire.