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  • J.F. Rowan

From Cold to Nuclear

My response to my thermostat at 3AM. "Oh F&$% Off Already!"

We left what we thought was a published national forest campground, (but it sure looked like a parking lot) at the Aspen Mountain ski area about 18 miles north of Santa Fe New Mexico. We headed down the mountain at about 4 AM to seek warmer temperatures and fuel. Mr. Cheap had waited too long to refuel and in the process, let the fuel level get lower than the fuel pick-up line for the already-has-some-issues diesel fired furnace. And since I hadn’t counted on the temperatures falling below freezing, I hadn’t fired the hot water heater in the trailer. So, it was time to "beat feet!"

Our spot at Bandalier National Monument, Coyote Loop. Notice bear box.

We made it to town and gained about 12 degrees in our outside temperature in the process. We even found a filling station and by god, at that point, I think I would have paid $4 per gallon for fuel! It was early naturally, so we had a little breakfast, took advantage of our now present (but weak) cell service, did some shopping and planned our next move. As it turned out, Yvette already had something in mind, Bandalier National Monument, about 45 minutes south west of Santa Fe. I for one was up to seeing some thousand year old condos, why not?

Apartment hunting. "This one looks nice."

Looking down into the canyon at Bandelier National Monument. Cottonwoods are just leafing out watered by the Rio Grande. Most structures date back between 1150 to 1600 AD. Look close and you can see some of the ruins.

Reconstruction of a thousand year old pueblo.

You can see the roof lines of multiple stories. Smaller holes accomadated the ends of the roof rafters.

For those of you that don't know, this particular national monument is situated near (...and I mean really near) The Los Alamos National Laboratory. Now, if there are any of you out there that need a little brush up on your history or you're not quite sure about the signifigance of this particular lab, here is a link that should get you caught up in a hurry. Here is the Wiki version. And here is the version of the lab's actual website. As it would turn out, Bandalier was a win/win. First of all it was a great park with lots of things to see from a historic persepective both in the park and throughout the surrounding area. And the campground itself was clean and relitively quiet. Though, I think I could have written an entire blog post on one poor lady that tried to do a three point turn in the middle of the campground with a 40' Class "A" Motorhome. In short, she hit everything but the lottery. Thank god no one was hurt.

Los Alamos National Lab. (Google Photo) If you think this is big, this doesnt even include all of the "Tech" areas.

But there is something else here. Yvette doesn’t sense it, but I do. Perhaps it’s my latent conspiracy theorist hiding in my subconscious. Perhaps its the extra helping of curiosity lurking in my gene pool. Whatever the reason, I am fully aware of the Los Alamos facility who’s property border is just across the street. “Tech Areas” who's entrances we passed while coming here, are numbered in the double digits. Areas that look like small laboratories, housed each in areas that have their own gates, and security. Or if that didn’t get your curiosity simmering, there are the fence lines along the public roads. “No Trespassing/High Explosives” Hmmm. What are you hiding, what do you REALLY do here? Even as I type this, (I’m writing this while we are in the park) if I walk about 5 minutes from our camp spot, I can see a very, very large radio telescope pointing straight up. That too is off limits to the public. But in a demonstration of the ultimate subconscious self-sabotage (yes, I made that up) I would become very aware of what it would be like if I tried to enter one of largest energy labs, and certainly one of the most secure energy labs in the world.

One of the gates at Los Alamos National Lab. "No badge, no entrance."

On Friday, we had decided to take a little road trip to the Valles Caldera Wildlife Preserve, just 35 miles west on RT 4, the same road that brought is to Bandelier. The preserve was gorgeous, a giant meadow that would surely test our ability to judge distance as we glassed the area only to find that what initially seemed like tiny dots, were hundreds of elk basking in the New Mexican sunshine. And, being fairly attentive fans of the “Longmire” TV series, found that the lead characters fictional home was in fact, a ranch hands house located within the confines of this great scenic wonder. Yvette also got a little “right seat” time through some mountainous terrain without having the trailer behind us to complicate things. And after exploring some campsite possibilities near the preserve, decided that it might be a good time to head back to camp. Before heading back, we thought about going into the town of Los Alamos for a few items and to see if we could find a laundromat.

Valles Caldera Preserve. If you're a "Longmire" fan, some of this may look familier.

Valles Caldera Preserve. We were told the Elk don't work weekends.

View from the back of our campsite. Made for some great after-dinner walks.

On the way home, we saw a sign the said “Los Alamos 10 Miles.” We followed this sign and others that would direct us supposedly to the TOWN of Los Alamos. Wait, what? Before we knew it, there we were sitting at one of the main security gates to the Los Alamos Main Lab, asking a security guard where we made a wrong turn. And of course as sometimes happens when I’m not entirely in charge of what comes out of my mouth I ask, “So, anyway we can get a tour of the place?” (I love science, so sue me.) The guard who was very polite and professional responded in his slightly latin accent, “Do you have badges? You can't get through without the proper badges.” I swear, I didn't make that part up. We turned the truck around and found the right turnoff that would take us quickly in the town of Los Alamos where we did a few errands and returned back to camp. I would like to note at this point that from the time we turned around at one of the main gates of the Los Alamos Lab, until the time we arrived back to camp, we have seen the same white Chevy Tahoe (with all of the windows tinted) at least 4 times, the last time it followed us until we turned off at the main gate into camp. This morning when we awoke, there was a message on my phone from the Massachusetts Department of Military Affairs asking me to call them on Monday, and an email popped up all by itself (We have no service here) about government jobs in the New Mexico area. That in itself wouldn’t have been an issue except for the photo they used in the email was the same radio telescope that’s sitting less than a mile from here. To top it all off, all of our clocks (Computers, FitBits, Truck, Cell Phone) are off by exactly 8 hours. When I asked Yvette if she thought it had anything to do with Los Alamos gate encounter, it turns out she doesn’t remember anything that happened the day before from the time we left the animal preserve up to the time we went to bed yesterday, not even what we had for dinner. Coincidence, I think not.

Museum Day! Reminds me of being in elementry school and going on a field trip.

Yvette taking notes. "Hey honey, stick your hand in here..."

Lightweight, compact and portable. Just what you need in a low yield nuclear device.

Side note. As I have mentioned before, the blogs are somewhat delayed due to several factors. The largest factor is access to the internet. One of my Facebook friends suggested I try something called “SkyRoam” to see if it would help with access while we’re in areas that have little or no service. Frankly, I don’t see how it will help especially since it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with a satellite feed, which would be the only available access when we are in even semi-remote places. But, what the heck, might as well try. Also, instead of the blogs being based on subject, I am going to try and base them on time, a week at a time to be exact. I’m hoping this will allow the reader to feel more in touch with where we are and when things happen.

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