The road to Trinity runs through what is now the White Sands Missile Range. Traveling as part of the caravan sponsored by the Alamogordo Chamber of Commerce, it takes about two hours to cover the 85 miles through the desert to the site. I know, it seems long. If we were running by ourselves we would have made it in less than an hour, but that's not the way it works.
It's a stark kind of landscape that makes up the Tularosa Basin, mountain ranges run on both sides, east and west. The desert is usually very brown, with dull olive colors. But, since we got unseasonably late rains this year, it was quite colorful. Vibrant greens, yellow and lavender wildflowers, and patches of pale red carpeted the ground on either side of the road. Wildlife was plentiful, I saw a badger, several oryx, and quite a few of the wild horses that make their homes on the protected ground of the range.
As you travel further north toward the site, signs of civilization become more and more scarce. There are buildings from time to time, but they are few and far between. The terrain gets duller and dustier, and you feel very alone. The ground rises, and the road tops a ridgeline, dropping down into a bowl shaped depression. There are mountains on three sides now, off to the east is the forbidding range of the Malpais, the Bad Lands, so named by the Spanish settlers traveling north along the Jornada del Muerto, the Journey of Death.
The road runs straight as an arrow down into the plain, takes a couple of turns, and then heads straight toward Ground Zero. Off to the right, if you look for it, you can see the roof of the McDonald Ranch house and the top of the windmill tower. The windmill itself has fallen, but the tower still stands. The first really obvious indication that you've arrived, however, is the remains of Jumbo, the 25 foot long, 214 ton steel jug that hung from a tower 800 yards from the blast.
Nice polite Military Police personnel direct you to a parking place on a wide dirt field. Off to the left you can see the fence that surrounds the site, but not much else. The blast scooped out a shallow crater, which was graded after the blast to remove much of the radioactive Trinitite which coated the desert floor afterwards. If you look hard, you can see the top of the black lava rock monument that stands at the precise spot of Ground Zero.
From the parking lot you have to hoof it, about 1/4 of a mile down a dirt track to the site itself. It's a circular depression perhaps a half mile across. From the entrance, you look down to your right you can see the monument, which stands a little over twice my height, call it 15 feet or so. About eight feet from that is the remains of the northwest tower footing. It is all that is left of the 100 foot tower, which was vaporized by the blast. Directly west of the monument stands a low building that protects an original portion of the crater, a large amount of Trinitite is visible through the doors in the roof, that the Army opens twice a year for viewing. You can see why they chose this spot, the Malpais screen the site to the east, and the nearest human habitation that isn't screened by mountains is well over 100 miles to the north.
It's a strange place to visit. You almost expect there to be something more there, but it's only a bit of desert, not much different from that which surrounds it. It was cool that morning, and the wind blowing from the south made me glad I'd brought my jacket. Dust kept swirling around the people who came to the place, people from all over the country. In the parking lot I saw license plates from Ohio, Washington, Colorado, Texas, and California. Is it really such a draw that people come just to visit the site? I can't imagine. I guess it's a desire to touch history in some way, to visit the room in the McDonald Ranch House where the plutonium for the first atomic bomb ever was assembled, and the place where humanity unleashed the devastating power of the atom on the earth, changing the face of the planet for all time.
For me I suppose it's sort of a nuclear pilgrimage. I've been to Hiroshima, and I've walked Trinity, and I had my picture taken alongside Bock's Car, the Boeing B-29 that carried Fat Man to Nagasaki. One of these days I'll have my pictures of the Bomb Dome in Hiroshima, the monument at Trinity, and Bock's Car digitized so I can display them here.
The last thing I noticed, as I drove away from the site that afternoon, was the fact that you can see distinctly where it is. They have photographs, mounted on boards and laminated down, that are mounted on the fence that surrounds the site. One of them, taken 28 hours after the blast, is an aerial view of the site that shows very clearly the crater, and the blast pattern radiating out from Ground Zero. I looked back, on the way out, and you can see the site clearly. The desert flora that has moved back in is mostly of the grass variety, wildflowers and so on, and it is distinctly lighter in color than the usual flora. So, if you look, you'll see a wide, lightly colored circle surrounded by dark. Most people want to do something that leaves a mark on the racial memory, so they won't be forgotten. Those men who made Trinity a reality not only made a mark on history, they made a mark on the earth itself.