dark miracle – a trip to trinity

The Trinity Test Site , where Robert Oppenheimer famously became "Death, destroyer of worlds" is open to the public only twice a year, so it’s pretty tough to get a first-hand look at this rather important historical location.

Enter Joshua Ellis, an independent journalist who went to Trinity this year to compile a story on the site, the people, and its history. Josh’s trip was funded by small donations from various people, and he promised to publish an in-depth story with a ton of pictures, and video if he was able.

Josh’s story Dark Miracle is live today, and boy is it amazing:

When I told my friends where I was going, a few of them blinked at me. "Be careful," they said. "That’s, like, The Hills Have Eyes territory." I promised to pack at least a machete, somewhere in the car.

[. . .]

Many of the houses date from the original Manhattan Project –
prefab duplexes and quad-plexes that have been extensively retrofitted
by various owners over the years. It is easy, looking at some of these
houses, to imagine physicists such as Oppenheimer and Hans Bethe or
Edward Teller or Leo Szilard sitting on their porches, discussing
different approaches to building the Gadget, as they called it.

It is an odd little place — beautiful, to be sure, but it
seems devoid of the sort of small-town closeness that other small
American cities like it possess, where everybody knows everybody else.
There seem to be a lot of strangers living next to one another in Los
Alamos.

It is part history lesson and part travelogue; Josh paints vivid pictures that put the reader right next to him on every step of the journey, whether it’s talking to Ed Grothus, the excentric owner of the Black Hole Museum of Nuclear Waste, driving up to the test site, or looking at what’s left of ground zero. There are pictures and video, as well as entries in his blog that give additional details and perspective to his story. It is really a remarkable project.

As a reader, I count myself lucky that I got to read this piece; as a writer, I am absolutely thrilled at the idea of freelancing stories that are funded through small contributions from many different people. Josh brilliantly released his story under a creative commons license, so more people can see the benefits of distributed journalism.

(via boingboing)

11 thoughts on “dark miracle – a trip to trinity”

  1. Prefabs. I grew up in Richland, WA which was also a town built for the Manhattan project and when my husband and I bought our first house (a 3 bdrm prefab) we actually walked around the neighborhood looking around at what other owners had done. You know, sort of shopping around to see what we wanted to do. I also visited Oak Ridge, TN (the 3rd city involved) and found it incredibly interesting that all the houses I had grown up with could have been plunked right down upon such a different landscape. There was my grandma’s duplex with green rolling hills behind it. Very strange.

  2. Glad you liked it, man.
    For what it’s worth, one of my favorite bits of online writing ever was the thing you wrote when you found out you weren’t going to be appearing in the Star Trek movie, and how your family and your life now was more important to you. I showed it to my friends.
    Keep up the good work. And thanks for the shout-out; next time you’re in Vegas, shoot me an e-mail and I’ll buy you a beer or something. :-)

  3. As a scifi geek, I did some reading about this when I wondered why a Stargate Atlantis episode this season was titled “Trinity”. Thanks for pointing this out to us, Wil.

  4. Interesting indeed! I grew up in Los Alamos (code name Lost Almost). It was late 70s during my time. The Manhattan era was past, but the cold war was still vivid. You would have to live there to understand the feeling of growing up knowing your home town is a prime target should all of humanity get really stupid.
    I have to disagree with Josh’s take on it lacking in community and neighborliness – like all small towns you could not beat trouble home. But certainly to outsiders it is very much a standoffish community with inherent distrust. Think about it: any one working for the Lab has a secret, so talking about your job is not a great conversation starter.
    About 6 years ago there was a huge fire that burned through much of the west part of Los Alamos where many of the Gov’t built Quads and Duplexes and even coming close to burning down Ed’s palace. The house my parents last lived burned – leaving only ash and not even the ever prevalent cement chunks of the foundation. I was lost when I attempted to find it. Every landmark was gone and even the profile of the land had changed. Obliterated with the houses and hillocks – the 90 foot tall Ponderosa pine trees that stood tall for decades longer than I have breathed were absolutely consumed- only holes where their roots stretched deep into the ground. Steel beams melted and bent at + 2000°F to slump between heaps and slumps of charred earth that had been basement casings. Even concrete returns to ash and dust.
    Ironic isn’t it? That the remnants of Trinity site, ground zero of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the remnants of many homes in that town where the atomic bomb was gestated were so similar. I wept. Los Alamos – here I had felt safe. I grew up happy. I had carved my name in tree trunks, climbed through ruins and run wild and free on mesa tops. And in the aftermath of fire – my past is/was erased to exist only in my memory. And I am an outsider now.
    Which is a long way of saying it’s nice to touch base with a piece of memory via the marvel of the internet. Thanks Wil, Josh and company for bearing me company in a memory.
    - M

  5. This was a very cool read. Thanks for pointing it out!
    FWIW, we did the Trinity Site trip a few years ago in October. We grew up in Colorado and for years we ranged around Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona on various trips. It’s not as strange as everyone seems to think — the desert has its own beauty and spirits.
    Here’s a link to our new mexico sojourn, including the trip to Trinity Site: New Mexico
    For those who cannot imagine living in such wide-open spaces, I cannot imagine NOT having them. We live on the East Coast now, and there are days when I’d gladly move to the west for its open skies and spirit.
    Good work!

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this link with us! I may just have to take a trip out there. I grew up in Illinois and remember those stupid drills where the siren would go off and we filed into the halls to curl up and put our hands over the back of our necks. I remember thinking, if a bomb is coming, what good is covering my neck?
    Good times, good times.
    -Cheri

  7. The only justification for the amount of time I spend on the internet is that it makes my world bigger. I think reading that article helped my world expand a little more – thank you for posting.

  8. This reminds me of a site I found after trying to get more information about Chernobyl after reading ‘Voices from Chernobyl’. While the book was written about 10 years ago, it was only recently translated into English so I was wondering what the area looked like now.
    I found the website of this woman ‘Elena’ from Kiev who regularly rides her motorcycle into the Chernobyl area and has taken many, many pictures. Way more eerie then Trinity.
    http://www.kiddofspeed.com/default.htm

  9. I really hate wikipedia… Know why? Because I’ll start reading one article, then I’ll find a key word in it I need to know something about to understand the rest of the original article. In the subsequent article, I will find yet another key word which I need to know something about. It takes me all day to get back to the original article! :-P
    I’ve just started reading some of this stuff and it fascinates me to no end. Thanks for posting it!

  10. It’s really great to read something and say, “THAT is what I hope to be doing someday.” Then it’s sad when I realize he and I are the same age.

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