On July 16, 1945, a nuclear bomb was tested at the Trinity Site in southern New Mexico.
The test forever changed the landscape of the area.
Residuals – such as trinitite – were seen for the first time. The glassy residue, also known as Alamogordo glass, can be found at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum, where a small amount is on display.
This is one of the many wonders housed at the 47-acre interactive museum in Las Cruces.
The museum helps bring to life the more than 4,000-year history of farming and ranching in New Mexico.
For many visitors, it’s a lifestyle not too well known outside of the farm and ranch communities.
Leah Tookey, curator of history, and Holly Radke, curator of collections, pored through the museum’s permanent collection and found five hidden gems with cultural significance that visitors may overlook.
The first is trinitite, which is mildly radioactive but safe to handle.
“When the atomic bomb was exploded at Trinity Site on July 16, 1945, desert sand, steel, and other materials were turned to a liquid mist in the bomb’s fireball and then rained down on the crater floor,” the pair say. “It pooled and hardened forming a coating of green glass called trinitite. These large examples of trinitite show both the shiny glass topside as well as the sand that was left intact on the bottom.”
In the exhibit space at the museum, Tookey and Radke pinpointed items that were necessary to live.
On display is a grain chest, or harinero, from 1830 to 1850.
In colonial New Mexico, grain and flour were stored in large chests on legs, which help protect the items from rodent infestation.
“It was an important possession and was typically the largest piece of furniture in the New Mexican home,” the pair says. “Surviving a long winter was dependent upon stored grain and other food items. The harinero (grain chest) was kept outside under a protective portal (porch) that encircled the central courtyard of the traditional home. The harinero displayed here is made of pine wood with iron hardware and was used in northern New Mexico.”
As technology began to evolve, travel was still difficult in around the turn of the 20th century.
The museum has a foot warmer from around 1900 that is plated with a floral motif and has a hinged lid.
Tookey and Radke explain that foot warmers solved the problem of cold feet during that time, either at home or while traveling by stagecoach or buggy.
“Some warmers held charcoal or hot stones, and others held hot water,” the pair say. “Pottery, tin and soapstone were the favored materials to conduct the heat. This very heavy metal foot warmer on display was probably filled with hot charcoal.”
Today, farmers and ranchers have expensive machines to help them with crops. But the museum’s tree digger and root puller from 1925 was a state-of-the-art machine at that time.
It weighs more than seven tons and was custom built using cast-off items a farmer might have had on hand in a junkyard.
“Powered by a Ford V-8 engine, it was used to uproot and pull tree stumps in pecan orchards in the Mesilla Valley,” the pair say. “The two water heater tanks on either side of the engine were filled with dirt, serving as ballast to help stabilize the machine when pulling a stump. Cables were attached to a separate U-shaped piece that was used to do the actual digging and cutting.”
Of course, farmers and ranchers have always been concerned with protecting crops and livestock – a concern that still exists today.
Early ranchers in the Tularosa Basin and surrounding areas needed to protect their livestock from wild animals that lived in the harsh desert and mountain landscapes, so there were bear traps.
“A rancher had to be handy with a gun and be able to set a trap to catch predators common to the area like black bear, wildcat, wolf and coyote,” the pair say. “This large bear trap was used on the Cox Ranch in the Organ Mountains.”