Los Alamos is where Robert Oppenheimer convened the team of scientists that first developed and tested the atomic bomb. In the years since, the town has become the center of the nation's nuclear-arms program. Today, the Los Alamos National Laboratory maintains the country's only fully operational plutonium plant, and weapons research continues. The National Laboratory's Bradbury Science Museum traces the development of the bomb, which was as political as it was scientific. We found the museum to be highly political, too: One interactive exhibit, for instance, makes it clear that scientists, and no one else, should decide how to store spent nuclear fuel.
If living in the nuclear age makes you nervous, we recommend a visit to nearby Bandelier National Monument, where you'll find the ruins of an Ancestral Puebloan community from the 1000s (including petroglyphs and cliff dwellings). Start at the visitors center, which has a brief slide show on the national monument. Then follow the easy walking trail past some of the cliff dwellings and petroglyphs. If you're up for the climb, be sure to see the kiva at Ceremonial Cave (you reach it by a series of four ladders—those with a fear of heights should skip it). There's also an extensive system of trails—we favor the one leading to the mysterious Shrine of the Stone Lions. There's another section of the monument at Tsankawi, about 11 mi/18 km north of the main entrance. It's a prehistoric village at the top of a mesa with a great view of the countryside. You'll have to follow a sometimes-precarious clifftop trail and negotiate more ladders to get there. Outdoor lovers can enjoy extensive backcountry hiking opportunities in the park.
Los Alamos is also the beginning of a nice daylong loop along Highways 4 and 44 (you can end the trip in Albuquerque or Santa Fe, if you wish). It passes the giant caldera of the Valles Caldera National Preserve (with its ancient volcanic formations) and the Spanish mission, pueblo ruins and hot springs at Jemez Springs. Jemez Pueblo is 12 mi/20 km south of Jemez Springs. Another option is to take Highway 126 off Highway 4. It crosses some beautiful but rugged terrain along dirt roads and eventually emerges at the town of Cuba. This route is best accomplished in a vehicle with high ground clearance, but don't attempt it in any kind of vehicle if rain is threatening: The road turns into a quagmire when wet. Los Alamos is 55 mi/90 km north of Albuquerque.
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