In the history of dark tourism, New Mexico’s Trinity Test Site is unparalleled. The US Army opens the site to visitors - but only twice a year (see below for full details).
The Atomic Age began at Ground Zero in the vast emptiness south of Los Alamos, New Mexico, where an ominous bomb known as ‘Gadget’ once sat atop a 100-foot-tall steel tower at the Manhattan Project’s Trinity Test Site.
The detonation of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s first nuclear weapon was codenamed Trinity, a reference to two of John Donne’s profound poems: Holy Sonnets and Hymn to God, My God, In My Sickness. Yet, there is no poetic resonance, no solace in the haunting echoes of destruction. A visit to the site is a journey into a paradox - one where the boundless potential for scientific achievement is entwined with somber reflection on the consequences of wielding such power.
Oppenheimer’s Day of the Dead
At 05:29:45 am (Mountain War Time) on July 16, 1945, Gadget's nuclear embrace engulfed the world. It released 18.6 kilotons of power, instantly vaporizing the tower. A multi-colored cloud surged 38,000 feet obscuring the tower's remnants. In its place, a crater bore witness to the birth of trinitite - a glass-like substance. Seconds after the explosion, the blast sent searing heat across the desert, knocking observers to the ground.
A forest ranger 150 miles west of Ground Zero - on the plains of the Alamogordo Bombing Range known as the Jornada del Muerto (Day of the Dead) - reported a flash of fire, an explosion, and black smoke.
The cockpit of a Navy pilot flying at 10,000 feet near Albuquerque lit up like the sun rising in the south. When he radioed in asking for an explanation, Albuquerque Air Traffic Control simply said, “Don’t fly south.”
“No one who saw it could forget it. A foul and awesome display” - Kenneth Bainbridge, a Trinity Test eyewitness.
“It was seen to last forever. You would wish it would stop; altogether it lasted about two seconds. Finally, it was over, diminishing, and we looked toward the place where the bomb had been; there was an enormous ball of fire which grew and grew and it rolled as it grew; it went up into the air, in yellow flashes and into scarlet and green,” Trinity Test eyewitness Isidor I. Rabi said. “A new thing had just been born; a new control; a new understanding of man, which man had acquired over nature.”
Visiting the Trinity Site
The Trinity Site located on White Sands Missile Range is open to the public on two dates each year: the first Saturday in April and the third Saturday in October.The open house is free. No reservations are required but visitors after the first 5,000 may not gain access. The simplest way to get to Trinity Site is to enter White Sands Missile Range through its Stallion Range Center gate between 8 am and 2 pm then drive unescorted for 17 miles to the Trinity site. Visitors can then take a quarter-mile walk to Ground Zero. The site closes at 3:30 pm sharp.