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Most of us like to travel to learn about the world. If you have an interest in science and history, then Los Alamos should definitely be in your travel plans. The interesting sites are centrally located so seeing the little city on foot is fun and easy. Spring-fed Ashley Pond is the center of town. The original laboratory was located around the pond but it has transformed into a lovely park with commemorative plaques. The Laboratory is now located on the other side of a deep canyon. The Bradbury Science Museum is filled with facts on the development of the atomic bomb, and the subsequent impact on human history. Pick up a walking tour map of the city at the Historical Museum and stroll through history. The museum is next to Fuller Lodge, home of the original boy’s school, taken over by Dr. Oppenheimer when he wanted a secret location to develop the bomb. The bright yellow bus zipping around town is a tour of the city and the labs. Tickets can be purchased at the Otowi Bookstore next to the Bradbury Museum. The best value for the night is the North Road B&B. For the price of a regular hotel room, you’ll get a suite with a kitchen, plus a cooked breakfast. The restaurant scene contains a number of international cuisines as well as local fare; buffalo burgers, New Mexican enchiladas with red or green chile (say “Christmas” if you want both), and chiles rellenos. In the summer, local businesses sponsor the Gordon Concerts with excellent bands from around the country.
When people think of visiting New Mexico, the cities of Santa Fe, Taos, and Albuquerque quickly come to mind. But the most historically significant place in New Mexico is a little known town that permanently changed the world. Los Alamos is the birthplace of the atomic bomb. For years it was a closed city; a large military installation cloaked in secrecy. The major employer is still the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Groundbreaking physics continues, but so does cutting edge research in biology, astrophysics, and genetics. It's no longer all about bombs, but there are still plenty of secrets. Outside of Los Alamos, people may try to discourage you from visiting by telling you the water is radioactive or the people are crazed warmongers. The secret is – that’s not true. The city sits on five finger-mesas of the Pajarito Plateau, formed during the last eruption of the Jemez Volcano, 1.1 million years ago. To the east is the lush valley of the Rio Grande River. Surrounding the city is national forest land, Bandelier National Monument, and tribal lands belonging to San Ildefonso Pueblo. Thanks to the high altitude, summers are pleasant with cooling afternoon thunderstorms, and the area is populated with ponderosa forests full of wild flowers and boletus mushrooms. Los Alamos is the mountain biking capital of New Mexico, with hundreds of miles of hiking and biking trails, many of which become cross-country ski trails in the winter.
I’m not sure at what age humans develop the skill to stand still and appreciate scenery, but based on a scientific survey of kids who live in my house, it’s not age seven. On a trip to the Canadian Rockies, as my wife and I snapped photos of the relentlessly picturesque mountains, my son, Luke, investigated how quickly he could break his toy helicopter. Luke expects Mother Nature to be his playmate. At Bandelier National Monument, about an hour’s drive from Santa Fe, New Mexico, she is. The visitor center offers kids a booklet of activities that, when completed, earn them a Junior Ranger patch. (You could call it a bribe. We prefer the term incentive.) The scavenger hunt sent us off on the Main Loop Trail in search of birds, trees, and bugs, as well as the feature that sets Bandelier apart and makes it perfect for kids: cave dwellings. Ladders of salvaged wood lead to rooms that the Pueblo people carved out of the cliffs here over 800 years ago. “I don’t want to go up, Daddy,” Luke said. “It’s too steep.” “You’ve got this, buddy,” I said. “Just take it slow.” There were no lines of impatient parents pushing their children to race up the ladder. (We saw no more than 20 people on the trail.) Luke could climb the rungs at his own pace. He paused in triumph at the top, then set off to wander the caves. While Mom and Dad squatted—“Watch out for your bald head, Daddy”—Luke could explore without even hunching. After about 45 minutes, we were walking back toward the visitor center. We crossed a nearly dry creek by hopping hand in hand from one downed log to another and were back in time for lunch, before hunger, fatigue, or boredom could set in. It was a parent’s—and child’s—dream hike. Photo by Kevin Russ. This appeared in the August/September 2014 issue.
Just like an episode of the X- Files, you can't actually visit the Los Alamos National Laboratory (shhhh, The Truth is Out There). However, the next best thing is the Bradbury Science Museum, a great spot for history and science buffs interested in Los Alamos and the Manhattan Project - which produced the atomic bomb. There's ample display of declassified experiments from the laboratory, artifacts and documents from the World War II along with life-size replicas of "Fat Man" and :Little Boy: the atomic bombs dropped on Japan. Photo courtesy of Bradbury Science Museum
Climb up into one of the cliff-dwellings in Frijoles Canyon; imagine the view in the 1100's, when these were excavated in northern New Mexico. Bandelier National Monument, about an hour NW of Santa Fe, is full of these 'cavates'--chambers carved from the volcanic tuff in these cliff walls--and kivas, built by the Ancestral Puebloan peoples. ('Anasazi' is now officially frowned upon.) During the summer, come as early in the day as you can; hiking is less than ideal in the afternoons, when the temperature rises, along with the threat of flash floods from afternoon thunderstorms. Nearby, in the Pueblos of Cochiti, San Felipe, San Ildefonso, Santa Clara, and Santo Domingo, the descendants of these ancient architects and farmers still call the Valley of the Rio Grande home.
During my first visit to New Mexico, I was blown away by how old the state is: Pueblo history truly lives here. Anyone in love with Native American culture needs to visit Bandelier National Monument, which is 33,000 acres of rugged but beautiful canyon that dates back well over 11,000 years. You'll find petroglyphs carved into the soft rock cliffs and other relics from the ancestral Pueblo people, who lived here from 1150 CE to 1550 CE. It's a magical place, and an experience as close as the U.S. will get to Jordan's Petra.
La Capilla de la Familia Sagrada sits at the base of Black Mesa, a sacred mountain on the San Ildefonso Pueblo reservation. It is one of the most photographed buildings in New Mexico. The little adobe chapel, against the backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, is dramatic in every season of the year. It can be seen from the road between Espanola and Los Alamos, but cannot be visited without permission from the Pueblo.
For those who love hiking, there is no better feeling than hitting the trail and never seeing another soul. At Valles Caldera National Preserve, you can easily do just that. The preserve encompasses a 12-mile volcanic caldera caused by the simultaneous eruption of several prehistoric volcanoes, which ring the preserve's magnificent grassy valleys. There are trails that take you up along the rim of the caldera with breathtaking views of the expansive caldera below, as well as lower elevation trails that allow you to explore the lush valleys. Black bears, coyotes, elk, and prairie dogs all call the preserve home and are often easily spotted thanks to the limited number of visitors on any given day. Valles Caldera is an "experiment" in federal land management and the preserve limits the number of visitors who can hike on most of the trails in any given day. This allows the preserve to remain in pristine condition and gives hikers an amazing backcountry day hiking experience. With advance reservations and a $10 per person fee, the Valles Caldera shuttle will drop you off and pick you up at a remote trailhead. You can also fly fish for trout on your own reserved section of one of the preserve's streams. The preserve is still very much under the radar, and the park staff told us that on many days, the preserve remains well under capacity. So while advance reservations are recommended, you may still be able to sneak onto a shuttle if you show up the same day.
Just 12 miles north of Santa Fe, this picturesque spot is perfect for table-side, made-to-order guacamole and a cold margarita (or two) on a spacious, relaxed scenic patio full of flowers and stunning high-desert mountain views. You might not want to leave. Photo courtesy: Gabriel's
Situated just 24 miles outside of Santa Fe, this old school, dimly-lit rustic eatery is big on house favories like menudo (a traditional Mexican soup made with beef stomach (tripe), the rich posole, and the carne asada tampiquena. All signs are good when tortillas are made in-house. A series of notable guests have passed by from Robert F. Kennedy and Robert Redford (as seen thru various hung photos). Note the 100 year cottontree growing up through the roof of the bar as you sip your margarita. In a rush? Grab something to go from the parking lot taco-stand and be on your way. Photo Courtesy of El Paragua Restaurant
A ten minute drive from Santa Fe to the new Arroyo Vino is a treat. The space functions as a sleek, well-stocked wine shop and a delicious gourmet dining spot from chef Mark Connell. Expect a rotating menu of seasonal items. For now, the lobster bisque warms the soul and the housemade pappardelle with lamb bolognese is a perfect bowl of goodness. Larger appetites will appreciate the plates of lamb top sirloin and seared duck breast. Wine lovers will take delight in the menu or shopping the store for their table's bottle. Photo courtesy: Arroyo Vino
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