I was out for an early walk to avoid the heat this morning, and noticed how dark it is at 5:29 at this time of year, not the deepest dark, but still a while before dawn. It was seventy years ago today that the bomb was tested about two hours’ drive north of here.
I decided this would be the year I go to visit Trinity site. A lot of others made the same decision. The first Saturday in April was Easter Saturday, a time when many people travel. The site is opened only once or twice a year, depending on government cutbacks. Reports afterward were that while there are usually about 3,500 visitors at these openings, this spring there were 5,500.
Trinity site is located on White Sands Missile Range. The army is good at managing crowds. They were set up to check four cars at a time going in the gate. When I got there the back up at the gate was three miles long; it took me 55 minutes to get in. After that there is a 17 mile drive to a large parking lot so people get spread out. From the parking lot it is a quarter-mile walk to ground zero.
The army is not so good at other aspects of hosting visitors. There was a large golf-cart type vehicle providing rides from the parking lot to the site for those who couldn’t walk it, but I noticed there were not enough chairs at either end of the run to accommodate people waiting for the ride.
Some friends discouraged me from going. There’s nothing there, they said. It’s true that the crater has been filled in, to cover the radioactive green glass called trinitite which was the result of the explosion and to prevent its being stolen. There is trinitite for sale at locations around the edge of the range; some of it may still be the real thing. A few small samples are displayed at a table where the path meets the oval which represents the crater. There is a piece of one base for the tower which held the bomb, and two containers which helped move and protect the device.
There are photographs hung on the enclosure fence, many of them of people responsible for the test, mostly white males looking pleased with themselves. If they felt any ambivalence about what they were doing, they kept it hidden from the camera.
It was once possible to view some of the trinitite on the crater floor. A structure was built with a window to look through. This is what it looks like now.
The army should have taken lessons from the National Park Service. “Years ago”? How many? And when was this sign installed? There’s no date given. “Years ago” sounds like the opening of a fable, or a tale of origins. It’s odd to find this in a place governed by scientific exactitude.
Outside the base, back at the road before the three mile backup, some people were protesting. They were not an anti-war group. They call themselves “Downwinders” and are asking for recognition and compensation for having been in the way of the radioactive fallout. No one warned them of danger. At the time of the bomb test no one had any idea what long range effects the radiation might have; though there had been accidents to show the immediate problems which high exposure caused.
The scientists acted as if they were testing in an empty space. No place on earth is that empty. I’ll let nature have the last word. This was along the path back to the parking lot.