Archive for the ‘los alamos’ Tag

Los Alamos, New Mexico’s first suburb

Los Alamos was secret for many years, especially during the Manhattan Project. Even though the town was opened to the public in 1957, today it remains an isolated community 45 minutes from Santa Fe. But for a town of less than 20,000 people, it’s got a worldwide reputation, mostly for the lab. The lab is off-limits to the public, but the town isn’t.

Los Alamos is definitely not known for its buildings, but for the most part, downtown and the early neighborhoods are a time capsule of postwar suburbia. This was the first modern suburb in New Mexico, starting with the housing in the former golf course and pasture that is now known as the Western Area. These structures were built in the late 1940s, to replace the temporary housing during the Manhattan Project, and also to give the area a sense of normalcy (right). It’s hard to tell today, but somehow these slightly ragged houses are the homes of millionaires. Los Alamos is a demographic bubble, one of the richest places in the United States, with one of the highest concentrations of PhDs in the country, and you would never guess it. There are very few chain stores, lots of churches, and few visual signs of prosperity. It’s a company town, whose fortunes go up and down with the government budgets. The surroundings are spectacularly beautiful, rich in archaeological sites, with the artistically vital, economically struggling pueblos of San Ildefonso and Santa Clara nearby.

I took a walk through the Western Area, and it’s got a variety of housing, most of it modified beyond recognition. Parts of it were burned in the Cerro Grande fire of 2000, which sizzled a good portion of the town and the lab. Obviously aesthetics are not part of scientists’ vocabularies, but there are a few examples of nifty stuff worth looking at.

The general house plans for the Western Area were flat-roofed houses, in a mix of duplexes and single family homes. Their distinguishing feature was the flat roof, and for the duplexes, two brick columns along the front that made for a bit of variety. The street plan yells planned development, with curvy streets interspersed with a few dead ends and a park in the center of the development. As I mentioned, it’s hard to find houses that look original, or nearly original. Many have been tastelessly redone, unfortunately.

Typical Western Area duplex

Typical Western Area duplex

 

Western Area 2 bedroom single

Western Area 2 bedroom single

And then there is a well-preserved neighborhood of houses from Denver Steel, modest dwellings made of steel, less than 900 square feet in size. They are plain, simple dwellings, and are located in what I would guess to be the wrong side of the tracks, for Los Alamos, anyways. Despite the rather ragged neighborhood, they seem to have survived without major changes.

Denver Steel home in need of restoration

Denver Steel home in need of restoration

Finally, there’s the Lustron houses, a short-lived prefabricated house built just after World War II. These are rather interesting houses, only about 1500 remain in the U.S., and five of them are in Los Alamos. They came in a rather bland color scheme, with these square porcelain-enameled steel panels, a signature squiggly column near the entrance, and a steel roof that also acted as a heating element. The steel roofs look brand new, 60+ years on, the sides of the buildings are a mixed bag. Chipping of the enamel sped up the rusting process very quickly. The New Mexico ones seem to have avoided the problem due to the very dry climate. And, these are funky houses, steel inside and out, so decorating the walls must have been a task! Cleaning them is theoretically easy, just a hose-down. They deserve to be on the National Register of Historic Places, and have a devoted following for retro aficionados.

Lustron, 3 bedroom home, Westchester style. Note the signature curved column

Lustron, 3 bedroom home, Westchester style. Note the signature curved column

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More fall pics

From October 20-22, 2010, around Flagstaff, Arizona, and Los Alamos, New Mexico. The colors were at their peak. Enjoy!

I started with a drive northwest of Flagstaff, and up a very muddy Hart Prairie Road. A series of thunderstorms had swept through the area a couple hours before, and the storms were just clearing out.

Hart Prairie Road, north of Flagstaff

Aspens, north of Flagstaff

Clearing storm, San Francisco Peaks

I drove 400 miles east to Los Alamos, New Mexico. The ski area above the town, Pajarito Mountain, had been badly burned by the 2000 Cerro Grande fire. The aspens are rapidly growing up where the pine trees used to be, and it made for a colorful scene of still-blackened pines against the golden aspens.

Bit of red showing up

Pajarito Mountain, Los Alamos

Colorado and New Mexico, March-April 2010, part 2

From Alamosa, Colorado, which is a somewhat grim town in the middle of the San Luis Valley, I drove west towards Durango, with a detour up the Rio Grande to Creede, CO. I saw a photograph taken about 70 years ago, during this color photographic survey of the U.S. during World War II, and decided to visit the town. It’s a tiny town of Victorian structures in a magnificent setting, shoved up against a deep canyon, and probably has changed little in the intervening years. The road to Creede, CO 149, is mostly flat, following the meander of the Rio Grande as it winds through a very colorful canyon before opening up further upstream.

Creede, CO, 1942, from the Library of Congress

Creede, CO, 2010

Abandoned church above Creede

I spent the night in Durango, which had grown quite a bit since my last visit in 2003. It’s on the verge of getting overdeveloped and has started to acquire that urban sprawl that shouldn’t belong in the Colorado mountains, but the downtown area is quite pretty, and the setting is also quite beautiful. The winds were ferocious, and it was awfully dusty, though.

Durango, CO

My destination was Santa Fe for the evening, via Chaco Canyon, formally Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a little-visited national park and UNESCO site that’s quite a ways off the paved, but not-so-beaten path. It’s just over two hours driving south of Durango. The landscape changes quickly, and becomes the familiar wide open land associated with New Mexico, blue skies, mesas, and ashy gray cottonwood trees.

I stopped first at Aztec Ruins National Monument, which is located in the not-so-Aztec styled town of Aztec, New Mexico. The ruins were the termination of one of the ‘roads’ that led to Chaco Canyon, while the town itself is cute in a Victorian, wild West sort of way.

The road into the park defines the kind of place it is, quite isolated, with one recommended route into the park, which involves more then 20 miles of driving, most of it on dirt and gravel roads. So with the difficulty of access, none of my friends based in New Mexico have actually visited, and on this weekday, there were perhaps 20-30 people total in the park.

Chaco Canyon is an unlikely place for a large human settlement. The ruins are extensive, the landscape not so spectacular as much as it is forbidding and unforgiving. Temperatures that day were in the 40’s, with a stiff wind and plenty of dust, and this place is known for temperature extremes, from 102 F to -38 F. The source of water on the canyon floor was dried up. I’d say that it’s not visually beautiful, but atmospheric in the odd shapes and geometry of the ruins, and geologically fascinating as well. This used to be prime beachfront property tens of millions of years ago, so the rocks are filled with fossils of everything from shrimp burrows to shellfish.

Chaco Canyon, we're not in Kansas anymore

I took a tour of the large Pueblo Bonito ruins, then hiked up to the top of the canyon for a 6 mile loop that gave me a birds-eye view of the various houses and ruins along the way. The layout of the large ‘houses’ are difficult to grasp from ground level. The trail up to the canyon rim is quite interesting, squeezing in through a very narrow cut in the rock, in places barely 2 feet wide, and after about 300 feet of climbing, you reach the top of the canyon. The vistas are not one of overwhelming beauty, for a state of superlatives, this is relatively drab. But for an already sparsely populated state, this is a remote, silent, isolated place.

Pueblo Bonito, the rockfall on the right happened in the 1940s

Pueblo Alto

Pueblo Bonito from above, note the D shape, the numerous kivas, and the rockslide that took out a good chunk of the ruins

And finally, one of my personal favorite vistas, from White Rock Overlook in Los Alamos. The view extends from Sandia Crest to Taos.

White Rock Overlook, looking northeast

Colorado and New Mexico, December 2009

The start of a new season on the snow, Day 1-4. Here’s the lowdown:

13 December 2009, Eldora, Colorado. Never been here before, but as I was staying with my friend Mike and his family in the north suburbs of Denver, we figured that this was the best option. There was a full schedule planned for that Sunday, so we were out early, finished by around 2:30 PM or so, and then headed down to Denver for the Avalanche / Flames hockey game. The conditions were overall fine, with overcast skies, not-so-cold temperatures, and still early season coverage. So no tree stuff, limited runs were open, but the ski area is fun, a telemark magnet, and a short scenic drive up the canyon from Boulder. Mostly, it was bombing the pistes, and I got the chance to take a run on Mike’s new Lib Tech Skate Banana board. Having not ridden a new board in nearly 7 years, this was quite an experience, it felt initially less stable, but was very easy to maneuver and held an edge very well. No doubt, the reverse camber and the Magnetraction had something to do with it. But as I continue to look into a replacement board, I’ll certainly consider this board carefully.

Mike, first day of the season stoke

14 December 2009, Winter Park, Colorado. Now for some big resort action. Again, this was my first trip to Winter Park, and it involved a very slow drive over a snowed-in Berthoud Pass, with all the visibility issues, slick roads, and Denver rush hour traffic. So the 90 mile drive took nearly 2.5 hours to negotiate. I hooked up with WP local Jeff Harper of Adrenaline Garage Productions, who took a break from his busy filming schedule to show me around. Now it was a legitimate powder day, with a good 8 inches or so of snow, and still early season conditions. The runs were pretty bumped up, and being a novice to this place, it’s less-than-ideal for snowboards in places, with plenty of traverses that required me to unstrap and hike/skate to. But I got a good flavor of the area, and hopefully will return.

WP local Jeff of Adrenaline Garage Productions

Continental Divide from Tabernash, CO

North view from Berthoud Pass

Then it was down to New Mexico for business, but I managed to squeeze a couple of days in there.

18 December 2009, Taos, New Mexico. I wrote about Taos in the early life of this blog, and returned for a day trip. It was a more leisurely day than my usual, the slopes were a bit icy from the lack of recent snow, but we got in a good number of runs off of what was open, and also took in a quick trip to Bavaria during lunch. Yes, we had lunch at the Bavarian, an alpine-style house serving you guessed it, German Bavarian specialties. So I indulged in a beer at lunch, soaked in the warm sun, and had a typical sausage and potatoes lunch, under a Freistaat Bayern sign. No green chile sauce in this part of New Mexico, but the smell of pinyon smoke is an instant giveaway that it’s not Bavaria. The ski area is famous for its steep stuff, dry powder, and its long-standing ban on snowboards, lifted in 2008. It looks like the number of snowboarders has increased over last season, which is good news.

Beer, sausage, sauerkraut, and potatoes at the Bavarian, Taos, NM

23 December 2009, Pajarito Mountain, New Mexico. This is the local Los Alamos hill, owned by the lab, and what a nice surprise. The slopes are steep, and coverage was still spotty in places, so I took a few rock shots to my board, and found myself plowing through weeds, small trees, and random bushes, but there was a good helping of fresh dry New Mexico snow. In contrast to the 2005-2006 season, where the mountain didn’t even open due to poor snowfall, the season’s off to an excellent start. It’s about 20 minutes from downtown Los Alamos, so I was able to get a late-ish start, pick up a coffee at Starbucks, and then go through the security checkpoint en route to the base area.

More on the non-snow related stuff in another post.

My new food court gangster steeze

Jemez Mountains and Rio Grande Valley from Pajarito

SERIOUS business