The city atop the mesa is no longer a secret, of course, but it does contain some hidden gems that make a visit a worthwhile endeavor.
The Los Alamos County Historical Museum, losalamoshistory.org/museum, is a great place to delve into the history of the area, which, contrary to popular belief, did not begin with the scientists.
“It takes you through the Pueblo days, through the history of the boys ranch school up until the Manhattan Project,” said Melanie Peña, manager of the Los Alamos Meeting and Visitor’s Bureau.
The museum, housed in the guest cottage of the Los Alamos Ranch School that was a favorite place of Gen. Leslie Groves during The Manhattan Project, includes exhibits detailing the eruption of the Jemez Volcano 1.4 million years ago to the creation of a man-made eruption that included the assembly of the atomic bomb, Peña said.
The area actually has been occupied for more than 700 years and one exhibit allows visitors to grind corn the way Native Americans did.
Another exhibit details the early settlement days of the Pajarito Plateau, including dry-land farming, as well as the development of the elite boys school that was founded in 1917 by Ashley Pond.
Finally, check out the actual gate that of The Manhattan Project’s Santa Fe headquarters.
The Manhattan Project spurred the development of Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Bradbury Museum of Science, lanl.gov/museum, chronicles the rise of technology in the city, said Linda Deck, museum director.
“We have 40 interactive exhibits on everything from taking a quiz and testing knowledge to what do you know about different scientific topics to using an app that simulates how we did computers back during the Manhattan Project to discovering about the owls and bats that live on laboratory property,” Deck said.
The museum is either updating existing exhibits or in the process of creating new ones that should be available by November, she said.
The Stockpile Stewardship Exhibit is being updated to “reflect the current U.S. nuclear arsenal and how the nation’s nuclear deterrent is used every day to reassure U.S. allies across the globe and deter potential adversaries,” said Jessica Privette, museum marketing and special projects manager.
“Climate Prisms: The Arctic” is a new, interactive exhibit that “reinvents the way the public processes climate change data by using a deep, multi-option interface built of art, poetry, imagery, videos and scientific presentations,” she said.
Another good way to get a feel for the history of Los Alamos is the walking tour of the city, losalamoshistory.org/walking_tour_guide_2014, Peña said.
The self-guided excursion includes the Fuller Lodge, which was the grand hall of the boys’ school; an ancestral Pueblo dwelling; and Bathtub Row, so called because it was where the Manhattan Project scientists lived and where the homes included bathtubs, she said.
The city recently completed construction of the $4.3 million Los Alamos Nature Center that includes an aquarium, planetarium and numerous hands-on exhibits geared toward children.
For instance, a mud kitchen is a playful area where children build mud creations and the kids’ discovery room is an area where children can play with models of native animals on a diorama of the Pajarito Plateau, or just sit themselves down to work on a drawing or read a book.
When it comes to the nature, it’s hard to beat the nearby Valles Caldera National Preserve, vallescaldera.gov, and the upcoming Jemez Mountain Elk Festival.
“It’s in the middle of the elk rut,” Kimberly DeVall, director of visitor’s service, said of the Sept. 26 event. “We have different activities and booths for people to learn about elk.”
The preserve also has opened up a larger portion of its back-country to vehicle travel, creating greater access to the more remote areas, she said. The road provides access about 12 miles in, just below the north rim of the preserve.
“If you’re able to hike to the rim, you get some amazing views,” DeVall said of the 3.5-mile La Garita Trail that climbs about 1,000 feet. “You can look south across the whole caldera.”
And finally, a trip to Los Alamos isn’t complete without a stop at the Bandelier National Monument, nps.gov/band. The Main Loop Trail winds through several dwellings on the canyon floor, as well as leads to several examples of cliff dwellings that entice children and adults alike with the adventure of climbing ladders and scrambling through the human-carved alcoves called cavates.
The more adventurous also may be interested in the 3-mile round trip excursion on Falls Trail to Upper Falls.
Visitors are required to take a shuttle bus from the White Rock visitors center to the main visited areas of Bandelier between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Shuttles run every 30 minutes on weekdays and every 20 minutes on weekends.