Los Alamos, New Mexico was today's stop on our trail, a place made famous as the home of The Manhattan Project and the birthplace of atomic weaponry.
I visited Los Alamos a couple of years ago during a terribly bad time and was curious to see if going there again would change my feelings for the place. Unfortunately, despite the drive through the mountains and their beautiful scenery, when we pulled up in the car park opposite the Bradbury Science Museum my sense of foreboding about Los Alamos returned.
Our first stop was the Bradbury Science Museum, itself named after the Los Alamos National Laboratory's second director (after J. Robert Oppenheimer), Norris E. Bradbury. The museum is small, with various nuclear research, weapons and related exhibits including life-size replicas of Fat Man and Little Boy, the two nuclear devices inflicted on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War Two. There are also two theaters, one showing an interesting short film about the growth of Los Alamos and The Manhattan Project.
While the museum tries hard not to glorify the achievements (sic) of the project, its matter-of-fact explanation of a project that lead to the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocents was chilling to the core. In fact I found the museum and the whole town and its atmosphere deeply disturbing.
Now perhaps I was being paranoid, perhaps I was remembering sadder times, but walking around Los Alamos felt almost like playing a bit part in Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, where everyone else seemed to be sharing a secret. For the first time on this journey I felt terribly out of place and either my paranoia was infectious or there really is a sinister feel to the area because Sue and Alex felt it too. We left Los Alamos early and headed back to Santa Fe, our mood immediately lifting as we hit the highway south.
When I was packing to leave for this trip I made a list of things to bring with me: iPod, MacBook, camera (all of them harmless gadgets), toothbrush, all the usual traveler's essentials. I tried really hard to leave my preconceptions behind, particularly those that relate to politics, the military and US foreign policy.
Most of the music that has been pumping through our RV's speakers has been up-beat and non-political too (something that rarely happens at home). But today, after feeling my blood boil with rage and then be chilled to sub-zero temperatures by what I see as a town whose major export is (or was) death on an horrific scale, there was only one song to play; Billy Bragg's Help Save The Youth Of America.
They're already shipping the body bags down by the Rio Grande But you can fight for democracy at home and not in some foreign land And the cities of Europe have burned before and they may yet burn again And if they do I hope you understand that Washington will burn with them Omaha will burn with them Los Alamos will burn with them
(Normal, cheerful commentary will resume tomorrow.)