Rediscovering America – Days 24-25…Balancing Our Delicate Past and Future

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Leaving the gorgeous, artistic splendor that is Santa Fe, we headed into a region of New Mexico that has two of the most disparate creation histories of almost anyplace in the country.

While Santa Fe claims the world’s oldest home, the pueblos and cave dwellings at Bandelier National Monument go back to pre-1100.  Again…Donald and his ancestors are lucky that these folks didn’t build a wall when his people were immigrating from Europe. As I have heard said by native Texans and New Mexicans, “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us!” But, that’s another post…

It is a gorgeous place, with a fairly easy 2 mile loop that takes you back close to a thousand years.

From there, we went to the place that may have all but guaranteed that humanity may not make it another 1,000 years…the birthplace of the Atomic Bomb…Los Alamos.

But let’s start with the ancient, and work our way up to the “will we make it?” stage of humanity.

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Bandelier National Monument is just, plain, amazing. It is a beautiful area of cliffs, sandstone, and canyons that are stunning by any measure…once you get there. To protect what must have been an insane amount of traffic to and from the cave sites, they have for the most part restricted traffic in, by making you take a shuttle from the relatively nearby town of White Rock. It is not a very long trip…but it is curvey, and if you standing up the whole way (I am a gentleman to the end), when crowded, it will feel longer than it is…especially if the lady in front of you is “extremely motion sick.” Bandelier-1

At the bottom of the trail, before going up into the cave area, is the Pueblo…which is kind of like the “town square” or “farmer’s market” for the village. It is a huge, circular area, and it was covered completely, with the only entrances being from openings in the roof.

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The scope of the caves is immense…the red dots near the middle of the shot above, are people. Like I said. It’s huge. Bandelier-5b

You are allowed to go into a select number of caves…but I am not happy that you can, as some of these ancient artifacts of early civilization, were turned into playgrounds or protracted “Selfie Stations” that detracted from the amazing reality of where we were.

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Carvings from more than 1,000 years ago, are plentiful…and thankfully, off limits.

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Evidence of recent flash flooding that virtually filled the valley floor with rushing water.

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This is a recreation of what the caves and family dwellings looked like when in use. Protection from the elements…the sun…and difficult for varmints of any larger variety to enter.

This is an area of the country that took hundreds of years to come to fruition. It started with basic cave dwellings and grew into a vibrant community, at the center of agriculture and technology of its era. It was left behind, when the people moved to the more fertile areas along the Rio Grande.

A town that literally sprang up out of nothing…and wasn’t on any maps for almost a decade, may in fact be the birthplace to the eventual annihilation of mankind.

Yes. That is a bit heavy-handed…as most of the scientists who worked to develop the original Atomic Bombs at Los Alamos during WWII, later implored the government to abandon the technology for the fear that proliferation of these weapons would doom mankind.

I continue to hope they are wrong. But, have my suspicions that the “Genie is out of the bottle” never to return.

That said, the story of Los Alamos, and the thousands of people who worked there in secret, is intriguing and astounding. There is little doubt that the use of the two bombs at Nagasaki and Hiroshima shortened the war in the Pacific by years, saving millions of lives. But, the horror of the these weapons (which are a fraction of the power of the weapons in place today), along with the untold story of how we likely gave radiation poisoning that increased cancer in much of the country “downwind”from the test sites, is sobering.

From a huge parcel of farm and ranch land…to one of the most important “cities” in the world…in just a few months.  Welcome to Los Alamos.

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The original Project Gate, along with some guard towers, still stands at the original site today. Los Alamos is still in operation, and is restricted. The picture below shows what it looked like shortly after being pressed into service. The most amazing thing, is that the entire city rose out of ranch land, in just a few months.

Displays at the amazing Bradbury Science Museum (which is free), lay out the history of the project. Watch the video on the site for a history of the building of the “Town that Never Was.”

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The maps showing the fallout range from extended testing at White Sands. We know several people whose parents died early cancer deaths, that were in the “black out” zone on the lower map.

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A modern guided rocket delivery system…with a warhead several times more powerful than the original bombs used to end WWII.

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The infamous “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” bombs (replicas) that were used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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You can take a driving tour of Los Alamos, which shows historic buildings that are still in use, including many of the homes that housed the original scientists, the recreation hall, and several of the municipal buildings. Amazing…kinda creepy…and yet a very clear vision of the geniuses that were at work to “solve a problem” and ended up pushing the envelope of common sense and reason.

From Los Alamos (and the worst hamburger ever at the “Atomic Cafe”), we headed toward our next dot on the big map, The Great Sand Dunes National Preserve in southern Colorado.

By now, a mere 4.5 hour leg was child’s play…but just before crossing the border, we came across a tiny general store in the town of Tres Piedras (three stones). I never saw the actual three stones, but we were shocked to find the “new store” was actually a restaurant and B&B, called “Chile Line Station” that had amazing food, and even more amazing entertainment, in the form of one, J. Michael Combs (aka Busker Joe…which is what the J must stand for).

Named after the original “Chile Line” which was part of the now abandoned Denver and Rio Grande narrow gauge railroad, the restaurant served the kind of homemade food, that was worth the wait.

This guy was a hoot!!  And what started as a stop to fill the ice in our cooler and get a drink, turned into an hour and a half of laughing, clapping and singing along, as J. Michael played and sang from his huge stash of instruments from fiddle, accordion, to mandoline.

I’ll post video of this in another post…but suffice it to say, that once again, when we got off of the “main highways,” the best in food, entertainment, and community were found.

GO HERE next time you are in Northern New Mexico…

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The original store sits just across the highway from the New Store…and restaurant.

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J. Michael has been a regular along most of the Southwest for decades, and even did a short stint in Eugene (by his telling). Hilarious…talented…and worth the $20 tip we gave him.

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Checking our watches, we were panicked to realize that we had most likely made our arrival at Great Sand Dunes far later than originally anticipated. When I called Patti, who runs the Great Sand Dunes Oasis, she told us, “no worries” but you may miss the Ice Cream Social if you don’t get here by 8:30.

With that motivation, we bid Tres Piedras a fond “Adiós” and headed up the two-lane highway to Colorado.

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About crankyoldguy067

I'm a very complex person...no...really I am. It may seem like I only golf, watch TV, and listen to Randy Newman, Tom Waits and Little Feat...but I am a deep, deep thinker...so deep that at times I just have to lay down. I love my family. I love my wife for putting up with me. I have held more jobs than a Pakastani immigrant...and have had three complete career cycles. 1. In my first life (rymes with first wife) I did almost every blue-collar job you can imagine...all with alarming ineptetude. 2. In my second cycle, I owned an ad agency, was an award winning music producer, and recording artist. And now, since the advent of the Internet... 3.I have been pretty much locked into providing services and marketing support to radio stations across 160 markets...while dablling with writing...continuing to write music...managing several blog sites, the country club web site, and being a grandpa...while working to pay for the weddings of my last three daughters. I will be working until I am 70...or 75...or 80. My advice to anyone who wants to emulate my life... DON"T!!!!! Stay in college. Have a good, long career in something with a decent retirement program and good benefits. You can't pay for your gallbladder operation with an Emmy Award. Really. I've asked.
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