By John Bartholomew N7JY
and David Bartholomew WB6WKB
This is an account and comments about my visit to the Trinity Site, in April 1987. Myself (John, then-WB6SAN and now N7JY) and my brother David (WB6WKB) visited the Trinity Site on one of the two days out of the year when they allow tourists to visit the site.
Trinity Site is where the first atomic bomb was tested, on the morning of July 16th 1945. It is located within the boundaries of the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, which is why it's such a restricted area even though it is a National Historic Site.
Below are some messages that we saved from a local BBS. They have been edited (extraneous off-topic junk removed which had little to do with Trinity or atomic testing etc).
Msg # 3324 Dated 05-06-87 00:20:50 From: JOHN BARTHOLOMEW Re: THE TRINITY SITE
I got a number of comments about coming back "glowing in the dark" which although intended to be humorous, are not based in fact. The radiation level is about ten times the background level, and in an hour visit (more than enough, not much to see) you will get about 0.5 to 1.0 milliroentgens. Compare that to the 3 to 5 mR. that you get in an airline trip to the East Coast from the West Coast.
At any rate, there were several hundred cars leaving from Alamogordo, and we were escorted to the base entrance by the New Mexico State Highway Patrol, and from there on by the MP's. We had to drive quite a ways north, skirt some of the sand dunes, and eventually ended up in the northern end of the range (about 80 miles from Alamogordo).
The Trinity site is fenced off, with a rather tall fence surrounding the outer blast area, which we skirted and were led to a parking area. You then walk about 1/2 mile into the ground zero area. There are/were vans for people who couldn't walk the distance, but there were not too many people using them. The weather was very cold and windy, with a late winter storm coming in, but the walk wasn't too bad. Inside, there is a circular fence surrounding the inner blast area, where the crater is. It isn't much of a crater, very shallow, although it definitely is a crater. The area was once covered with "Trinitite" which was sand that had melted, and then hardened again. It is sort of green in color.
Back in the early 50's the Trinitite was removed, and the area graded, and covered over to reduce the radiation hazard. They had some samples there for us to look at, and to be honest, it was interesting, but not all THAT interesting.
Mostly, the thing that seems to draw all the people is the fact that it is an historical site, and the fact that for all but two days out of the year, the government says that you can't come there. Nothing will make people want to go more than a reason like that!
The original atomic device was placed on top of a 100 foot tower, the footings of which are still there. A monument made of lava rock stands in the center of where the tower was, and tells of what occurred there at 5:29:45 AM Mountain War Time, on 16 July 1945. There are some other displays, photographs, and a crater shelter, which protects some of the original crater floor. There are windows so that you can look inside.
The other part of the tour consisted of a visit to the McDonald Ranch, which is where the final assembly of the plutonium and the initiator took place. It is located about 2 miles from ground zero, and the blast blew the windows out, and damaged the roof. For many years it deteriorated, but in 1982, the National Park Service did some restoration work on the ranch house, and has restored it to what it looked like in 1945. About the time that we left the McDonald Ranch, it was starting to rain, a very cold rain. The mud was very slippery, and the military bus that they had us in was really sliding around.
All told, I wasn't really sure what I would see there, but the visit was not a wasted one. The desert plants have grown back in, the crater, (really more of a small depression) isn't very noticable, and testing of missiles goes on as usual out there. They were very security conscious though, and were a little picky about just what you could take photographs of. Armed MP's everywhere.
To come, CARLSBAD CAVERNS! And perhaps some other comments about the trip.
73, John, WB6SAN.
Msg # 3382 Dated 05-13-87 23:18:14 From: JOHN BARTHOLOMEW
Msg # 3392 Dated 05-15-87 00:26:50 From: JOHN BARTHOLOMEW
Msg # 3403 Dated 05-16-87 00:29:13 From: JOHN BARTHOLOMEW
If you are ever close enough to a nuclear blast to get mixed up with the trinitite, you probably will end up burned, vaporized, crushed, or whatever. And what made me start to wonder, the Trinity test yield was about 20 Kilotons, and the H-Bombs that are in arsenals today use A-Bombs just to start things going! Like the blasting cap that sets the H.E. off.
The visit to Trinity site was more or less of historical interest, but it was the visit to Kirtland AFB (in Albuquerque) and the National Atomic Energy Museum, (with nearby Sandia Weapons Center) that really affected me. Admittedly, a lot of what they talked about was the peaceful (non-weapon) use of atomic energy, but after the exhibits on development, the Manhattan Project, and Trinity, the main thrust of the museum is the military use of atomic energy.
I'm not one to picket in front of the generating plants, or trespass at Yucca Flats, but it is enough to get you thinking. (And to think that all this started with comments about sand!)
Msg # 3477 Dated 05-20-87 23:08:54 From: DAVID BARTHOLOMEW
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Copyright © 1987, 1998 by John Bartholomew N7JY.