A place that forever changed the world.

Lining up at 6:45 in the morning at the Tularosa High School for the 60 mile caravan, under military escort, to the Trinity Site.

There are only two days a year that Trinity Site in New Mexico  is open to the public and we were able to be there for one of them, October 5.  We had just arrived in the Alamogordo area for our volunteer gig at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park and were told about the bi-annual open house.  After investigating the details, we asked for the day off, and decided to go.  It was a powerful experience and we were both deeply moved by it.  This blog chronicles our experience.

The Trinity Site has been designated a National Historic Landmark for what occurred here at 5:29:45AM on July 16, 1945.  It was the day that has gone down in history, marking the first successful test of an atomic bomb which had been under development since 1942 at Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico.  In the words of Brig. Gen. Thomas Farrell, who witnessed the test, “the effects could well be called unprecedented, magnificent, beautiful, stupendous and terrifying”.  The test took place in a lava field on White Sands Missile Range in a secluded region named Jornada del Muerto – roughly translated as the “day of the dead”.

This photograph of the full wired plutonium bomb, atop the 100-foot tower, mesmerized me. I wondered who were those two men and what was going through their minds.

I didn’t know much about the actual test and the details surrounding it before we went, so this was an important trip.  We learned that the ultra-secret test included placing the assembled bomb on top of a 100-foot tower, designated as “Zero”.  The observation shelters where the observers were stationed were protected by concrete and earth and were 5.7 miles away from the test site.   The National Park Service material reports that “to most observers—watching through dark glasses—the brilliance of the light from the explosion overshadowed the shock wave and sound that arrived some seconds later. A multi-colored cloud surged 38,000 feet into the air within seven minutes. Where the tower had been was a crater one-half mile across and eight feet deep”.  The heat of the explosion vaporized the sand and the vapor rose in the mushroom cloud.  As the vapor cooled, it turned into liquid, raining onto the ground forming puddles of various sizes which then further cooled into a new mineral, pale green in color, which was named trinitite.

This time-lapse image of the detonated device is taken .1 seconds after the blast. Note the debris around the base of the globe-shaped sphere created by the explosion and how it immediately displaced the earth.

Along the one mile of fence that surrounds the site, we got to see some historic photographs which told the story without words.  Images revealed the denotation in time lapse at .006 seconds, .025 seconds, .053 seconds, .10 seconds, and the iconic mushroom cloud image from 15.0 seconds.  In addition, there were pictures of some of the team of army engineers who were there.  I wondered who they were, what their stories were, how they were affected by the history that was made that day.

Among those watching from miles away was Los Alamos project leader, J. Robert Oppenheimer, a complicated genius of a man.  In 1965, long after history noted the interim results of the second and third detonations at Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945 Oppenheimer was asked to reflect on the test.  Prophetically, he commented,  “We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another”.

A very modest tower of rock now marks Ground Zero.

I know somewhere along the line I had read his reference to the Bhagavad Gita and standing there on a breathtakingly beautiful day under the New Mexico sky, it haunted me. Here we were, a throng of hundreds and hundreds of people who were largely silent, milling around the exhibits and talking softly, as if in church.  Some parents brought their school age children, some grandparents came with three generations of family, and many active service members joined us.  We took turns patiently waiting for a moment to memorialize the visit at the tower that marks Ground Zero.  I am sure many said a prayer or two.  I know that I did.

In the end, there was the solemn recognition that in this place on this day 74 years ago, the world did change.  Oppenheimer was absolutely correct and what occurs to me now is what will we do with what we now know. May you find your own peace today.

Peter and Liz are continuing their life on the road, volunteering in Alamogordo, New Mexico until early December at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park.  T2 and Pig are loving the desert sunrise like the one shown above here in the Sacramento Mountains.

 

 

 

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First time camphosts in Sandwich, Massachusetts.

Our pet flamingos love our beautiful campsite here at Shawme Crowell State Forest in Sandwich, MA.

As many of you know, our life on the road has been largely unscripted. We tend to get an idea, do some research, talk to other full-timers, try something new, evaluate it, determine what we have learned and what we might want to do with the information, and then move on.

 

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Estero, Florida in the rear-view mirror.

This is Bonita Beach and our piece of heaven in Florida.

One of the most mysterious effects of being in one place for a long time is how time folds in on itself and neatly puts itself away.  We’ve been in Estero, Florida for nearly five months and in that time, Christmas and New Year’s have come and gone, we witnessed what south-Florida calls the seasons – winter (temperatures in the high 40s);  spring (temperatures in the mid-70s); and currently, summer (temperatures in the mid-80s).  We pulled together a wedding reception for two of our fellow volunteers here at the park, complete with a cake and champagne toasts.  We made a quick trip to the deep and frigid north for a wonderful family weekend, we celebrated a reunion dinner with Triangle X friends who winter here in Florida, met up with people we met on the road in Ann Arbor, and enjoyed a reunion with our first Airstream friends who met in the panhandle of Florida in 2015.  We continue to delight in the company of our Koreshan State Park fellow volunteers following our official fourth anniversary living full time on the road.

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Two snowbirds roost in south Florida.

This is our campsite, decorated with Christmas lights and pots of chrysanthemums.  We are facing east and the morning light is lovely.

Returning to Koreshan State Park in Estero, Florida on November 2 felt like a homecoming.  There was much that has changed since we left the park in April (more on that later) but somehow time compresses itself in the familiar and it seems like merely weeks since we were last here.

First, news about where we are living.  Our new site this year in the Volunteer Village is our favorite of all three years here.  We are up against the fence which means we are closest to the very busy Tamiami Trail but the huge advantage is we have a really lovely “front yard”, a place to securely store our bicycles and no neighbors on our front door side.  Plus, we are removed from the center of the very busy Village, the bathhouse, and the Rec Hall.  The morning sun streams in the kitchen windows and the afternoon sun hits the back of T2, keeping things much cooler than last year when we faced straight into the afternoon sun.  We are next door to some friends from last year who are easy to be around.  It’s all good.

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Amana, Nauvoo and then Paris (Tennessee)

Our lucky charm, handmade with love by a dear friend, continues to grace T2.

Life on the road is full of unexpected occurrences.  There are the happy ones, like discovering the creamiest and richest peanut butter ice cream we’ve ever had (more on that later), or the warm hospitality of strangers (we’ll cover this below), to the stamina-building mechanical breakdowns like the one we experienced upon pulling into Paris, Tennessee.  Yes, gentle readers, we had an “event” and we continue to see how blessed we are.

 

 

 

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Long gazing through Wyoming.

Cheyenne Mountain State Park was a welcoming and restful stop in Colorado Springs.

The morning of September 6 broke hard, clear, and cold as we headed north from Colorado Springs on the final leg of our trip to Wyoming.  Pikes Peak was dusted in snow from a brief encounter with winter, a prelude of things  to come.  At Fort Collins, we were at 5,000′ elevation but our ascent would continue as we headed north.  As I learned from John McPhee’s Rising from the Plains, southeast Wyoming is a tipping point of geological wonder, higher in elevation than the plains of Colorado to the immediate south and higher than the northern part of Wyoming. Continue reading

Enchanting New Mexico

We have had a love affair with New Mexico since we first came here thirty years ago, and crossing the border this time felt just as remarkable.  There were specific things we had on our itinerary and first was a trip to the town of Las Vegas, in the northeastern corner of the state where we were in search of a very special building.

The original “Big Cowgirl”oil painting  lived in our home in Keene for many years.

The story is that years ago, in our life back in New Hampshire, we had purchased a large oil painting by a Massachusetts realist painter named Randall Deihl.  For a decade, “Big Cowgirl” hung on the wall of our high-ceilinged condominium in Keene, reminding us of all things about the west that we loved.  There were lots of stories about the painting that had developed over time, but what we did know is that it was painted when the artist lived in Santa Fe in the 1990s, because he was inspired by a mural on a building in Las Vegas, New Mexico and we were on a quest to see if we could locate it. Continue reading

Adventures in paradise and various utopias. Part 1.

A visit to our friend Mark’s tiki bar which he constructed completely of repurposed materials. Wonderful!

On Sunday, we spent a glorious, lazy summer day with our friend Mark at his tiki bar, The Sunset Grill, on the shore of a lovely little lake in Brown County, Indiana.  The tiki bar is dedicated to a sense of escape from the ordinary and humdrum into a paradise that those of us of a certain age have populated with common, even if distinct, memories.  The tiki bars of our younger days often included a soundtrack of Jimmy Buffet songs, and a kitschy decor of fishnets and buoys and mermaids and drinks with paper parasols.  The paradise of the tiki bar is unrelated to anything historically accurate and more like an island nirvana straight out of the imagination. Continue reading

The end of the road.

I am an incurable romantic and quite capable of being brought to tears by the most improbable of situations.  Today was one of those days where I have been reduced to a melancholy and teary reflection based on a decision that had to be made.  Today,  I parted company with Big Red, my well traveled, reliable suitcase.  Big Red was huge and clunky compared to the standards of today’s suitcases with over 6,400 cubic inches of carrying space.  His wheels were worn out, his retractable handle long ago succumbed to the indignity of duct tape and his zipper, twice replaced, had seen better days.   His ballistic nylon fabric, once deep red, had faded and he had actually suffered a mysterious burn somewhere and his sides were deeply worn along the edges.  After one long flight, he limped off the baggage carousel with a puncture and tear caused by some errant fork lift.  It couldn’t be repaired. Continue reading

New England around the 4th of July.

The Ashuelot River runs along the border of our campsite in Swanzey, New Hampshire. The summer season is an especially glorious time to be here.

When it comes to the most beautiful places we have seen in our travels, there is little that can compare to an early July morning in verdant New Hampshire.  It was one of the things I loved most about my decades living in the Granite State and it is shear indulgence to be able to selectively return when the climate here outdoes itself feeding the soul.  We had booked a full four weeks at Ashuelot River Campground for our summer address and under the caring attention of Chuck and Laura, we are thoroughly enjoying our seasonal home. Continue reading