Monday, July 16, 2018

Trinity Site, New Mexico

For those who read this blog regularly, today's post is a departure from the usual theme park and World's Fair stuff. I found it to be super interesting, and decided that it was worth sharing. If it's not your thing, don't worry, we'll return to business as usual tomorrow.

GDB pal Warren Nielsen sent along some fascinating (and sobering) photos from a trip that he and his wife Kyle took 10 years ago. Besides providing an account of his visit to a historic landmark, Warren's story involves tremendous personal loss - I know I got a lump in my throat reading about it. I'm grateful that he provided an informative writeup to accompany the photos, so I'll let him tell the story:

About this time 10 years ago, Kyle and I were needing to take a break, get away, go somewhere, over her spring vacation time from school. We were desperate to go someplace, anyplace, where we had never visited as individuals, as a couple, or as a family. Someplace totally new and unfamiliar, with no memories attached to it. In reality, we were trying to escape. The previous 2 years had for the most part, sucked, and culminated in THIS (damn cancer) so somehow, we settled on New Mexico.

One of the places we visited was Trinity Site, where the first atomic explosive device was detonated in July of 1945. It is open 2 days a year for the public to visit, one day in the spring, and one day in the fall. It is located on the grounds of the White Sands Missile Range.

There are the usual radiation warning signs surrounding the area...

This is all that remains of the 100-foot-tall steel tower that suspended the bomb for detonation.

The obelisk and the plaque on the obelisk that stand directly below the where the bomb was suspended.

This is the remains of Jumbo, a large steel pressure vessel built by Babcock and Wilcox. The idea behind Jumbo was to place the nuclear bomb inside of it, and if the device did not work, Jumbo would contain the plutonium so it could be recovered and not contaminate acres of land with the core of the bomb. The scientists finally felt assured that the bomb would in fact detonate and Jumbo would not be needed. Jumbo was destroyed by conventional bombs after the war (8 bombs of 500 pounds each) Jumbo was about 25 feet long, had walls of up to 14 inches thick, and weighed about 250 tons. The wall thickness seen here is about 6 to 8 inches.

When the bomb was detonated, the heat and blast formed a wide shallow crater and also melted the surface into a layer a greenish-turquoise glass-like material. This layer was later bulldozed up, placed in barrels, and shipped off. However, if you start to dig around in the ground a little, small fragments of the material, called Trinitite, can still be found. It took about 5 minutes to find these pieces. I asked Kai to hold them while I took this picture. People nearby were curious about what we had found, came over and took their own pictures, so there are 4 or 5 more pictures out there somewhere of Kai’s hand and these fragments of history.

This is the McDonald ranch house. It is located about 2 miles from the blast site. It was used by scientists setting up the blast site and was where the actual guts of the bomb were assembled prior to being inserted into the body of the bomb, which was done at ground zero. The first room to the right as you step into the building is where this assembly took place. The building has been restored to how it appeared the day of the blast.

Trinity Site is awe-inspiring in the sense of contemplating what took place there, and how that event shaped the history of the Second World War, this country and the world. The nuclear age and the nuclear arms race were, in a sense, born here.

I hope all of you found this to be as thought-provoking as I did. I realize that it is quite a departure from the usual fun of amusement parks, but I love history too. Warren reminded me that today marks the 73rd anniversary of the detonation of the Trinity bomb.


K. Martinez said...

Major, I love variety, so a post like this is greatly appreciated. Not everything has to be about Disneyland,theme parks or world's fairs. It's refreshing to see something like this on your blog.

Warren, this is really an excellent post. You got to see something pretty amazing there in New Mexico. Also,am sorry to hear of your personal loss at that time

I like the Jumbo photos as well as the McDonald ranch house. To think of what took place back here in that moment in history. It's kind of mind blowing. It was that moment of no return as mankind entered the nuclear age.

Thank you for sharing this, Warren. I greatly enjoyed your article and photos and sharing bit of yourself with us.

Budblade said...

I agree. Pictures and stories of any cool stuff is welcome. And thank you Warren for sharing a small part of a of your life with us

TokyoMagic! said...

Warren, I'm also very sorry to hear about your loss. I have enjoyed all of your Disney-related posts and I enjoyed today's post as well. Thank you once again, for sharing with us.

Major, I think it's you and your commentary, the guest-posters, and all of the fellow readers' comments, that make the daily visits here all worthwhile.....more so than the subjects themselves. Keep mixing it up, and I'll still be right here each and every day.

Stefano said...

Warren, your story touches a personal chord -- how travel can help one deal with grief. The pictures and descriptions are fascinating, and indeed sobering.

Major, I agree that these excursions are worthwhile, but this one is not so far off the usual GDB offerings. Disneyland was a product of the nuclear age, and I've thought of this contrast: in the "real world" nations were (and are) busy building rockets and submarines to deal out destruction, while Walt Disney was using those things to impart fantasy, humor, imagination, and childlike (not childish) optimism about the future.

stu29573 said...

Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds." J. Robert Oppenheimer

Not exactly as optimistic as Walt, but a needed contrast, perhaps. The world is all darkness and light, and we live in the shadows between.

JC Shannon said...

Warren, thank you for sharing your wonderful photos with us, and I am very sorry for your loss. I worked with nuclear weapons in the USAF for four years. It is sobering to see your first thermonuclear weapon, imagining the unimaginable destruction they are capable of producing. I never got to see White Sands and I enjoyed your tour and commentary. Stefano, you hit the nail on the head. Thanks to Major as well for this and all the GDB greatness.

Tom said...

Thank you Warren and Kyle for sharing the photos and your story. I can only imagine the pain of your loss. I am grateful that you both stuck together and took this trip together. The meaningfulness of the site you chose to visit seems very apt.

Thanks, Major for putting these up! As much as I love Disneyland and World's Fairs, this was particularly interesting to see.

Anonymous said...

Warren, thanks for sharing your travel photos with the blog. May the memories of your loved one be a blessing and comfort to you in years to come.

This is a sober place to visit, and a sober story. A good topic to visit now and again to remember how fragile we have managed to make the world.

I hope you got to visit some of the other beautiful places in New Mexico, on this or another trip.

Thanks Major, for hosting the session. For my part, topics like this are a sensible break from the usual fare. This one fits right in with the historic views of old cities and similar Americana, and I enjoyed it very much.


Alonzo P Hawk said...

Thank you to Warren and Kyle for sharing these photos, your story and the painful reason for the trip. It seems to be universal that "excursions can be diversions" in times of loss/grieving. I can only imagine how sobering this site must be to see firsthand.

Major, thanks for the "pause" from the norm in posting these. We all love your site and it's usual daily content. Keep in mind that by looking at it everyday we (GDBr's) are all a little unusual so a side trip now and then is always welcome. You keep us interested and informed. We all look for something a bit different by visiting this site or we would be like the sheeple staring at what our fb friends had for dinner our went on vacation.

Chuck said...

"Concur all" with the above. Having spent some time at the other end of the chain of employment of "the Gadget's" descendants, I can confirm with J.C. that it is indeed sobering to think about the destructive potential of the system that you find yourself a part of, and I guarantee that everyone with a soul who finds themselves a part of that system spends time thinking about it.

When I was in junior high, my mother was a volunteer tour guide at what was then known as the Air Force Museum (today's National Museum of the United States Air Force) at Wright-Patterson AFB near Dayton, OH. Once or twice a year, they would open up several normally-closed airplanes to give guides an opportunity to see the interior and better prepare them to answer visitors' questions. My mom pulled me out of school a couple of times so I could participate.

One year, they had the Museum's B-29 open, and I climbed up into the mostly-stripped cockpit with several others. I decided to check out the tail gunner's position, which can be reached either by crawling through a pressurized tunnel along the top of the aircraft or by walking a catwalk through the bomb bay. I decided to take the catwalk, remembering a scene in a favorite childhood book, Sabre Jet Ace, which had the hero walking through a B-24's open bomb bay to release a stuck munition.

I was about halfway through the bomb bay, shining my flashlight around and thinking how cool it was to be inside the bomb bay of a B-29 in the middle of a school day, when I realized this wasn't just a B-29 - it was Bock's Car>, the plane that dropped "Fat Man" on Nagasaki, and I was right next to where that weapon had been loaded until release. That changed the whole experience for me.

I appreciate each and every personal photo that any reader contributes, and it means more when there's a personal story attached. Thank you, Warren, for being willing to share this story with us.

Nanook said...


This post confirms, again, the diversity of interests here among the GDB faithful. And in a thoughtful way, reminds us of the beauty of life and how fragile it is.

Thank you Warren (& Kai) for sharing these personal memories with us all.

Clyde Hughes said...

Thanks for sharing - you always post great content!
I'm so sorry to hear of your loss - lost one of my best friends last week.
Very interesting and informative, and I'm always amazed by the White Sands area. The fact that the welds in 'Jumbo' survived says alot for the work that went into that.

Warren Nielsen said...

First off, thank you Major for posting this. I know that this and some of the other stuff I have forwarded on to you are not the usual fare on GDB, and to be honest, I wasn't sure if it was suitable to post or how it would be received if it was. So, thanks.

Everyone, thank you all for your kind words.

Ken Martinez, there is more information and much better photos at And there are several others besides that have more info and history of Trinity, Jumbo and the MacDonald House.

TokyoMagic, it's always a kick to see what the Major posts, and then the knowledge shared by everyone else is astounding. Facts, trivia, dates, reasons and other tidbits like that make this blog a 'check several times a day' stop for me.

JC Shannon, I was involved with the DOD (Navy) for over 40 years, not dealing with stuff like you did, but overhauling carriers, cruisers and submarines that could, or would, deliver those missiles and bombs if needed. That is a bit sobering too.

Tom, the whole issue of dealing with Bjorn's illness, and other things going on in the extended family, drew us even closer together and strengthened our love for each other more than anything else had ever done. Lousy way to get there, but very good.

Anonymous, New Mexico is gorgeous in its own way, and we saw some very interesting places and things. Even a Civil War re-enactment. We had no idea that there had been battles fought there.

Alonzo P Hawk, I think you summed up quite well what I said above about coming to this blog. People's comments and input are interesting and varied. This blog is a do not miss place to see.

Chuck, I would love to just see a B-29 in person. When our boys were playing youth soccer, one of Bjorn's teammate's father was a captain of a Trident missile sub. He invited the whole team and families out to get a tour of the boat, but surprisingly only 2 families took him up on the offer. Somewhere I have a pic of Bjorn sitting in Weapons Control pushing a red button as the missile launch drill was completing. Like JC Shannon said, it is sobering.

I think I am talking too much. Thank you all, and thanks again Major.

Melissa said...

Too many thoughts and feelings to condense down into a coherent comment, so I'll just say thank you to Warren and the Major for sharing these great pictures and the sobering and sweet stories behind them.

(I've commented here before about
Zeppo Marx and the Marman Clamp, haven't I?)

DrGoat said...

Warren, I'll reiterate thanks for sharing these. So sorry for your loss, lost both my parents to cancer in 2001. Know the feeling.
I have a few shards of Trinitite I gathered a long time ago at the Trinity site. Also visited White Sands..always kind of attracted to that place for one reason or another. Thanks again.

Major Pepperidge said...

I’m glad people found today’s post to be as interesting as I did! Warren gets all the credit, I only set it up for publishing on Blogger.

Nanook, I thought it was interesting that they only opened the Trinity site to visitors two days out of the year. I wonder what the reason for that would be?

Budblade, thanks for the positive feedback.

TokyoMagic! with your encouraging words, I will now be sharing my obsession with Beanie Babies. They are really quite fascinating! ;-)

Stefano, I still remember watching “Our Friend the Atom” on a 16mm film reel at school, and loving it - another wonderful example of a Disney program that educated and entertained.

stu29573, sometimes I feel like there is a little too much darkness out there, which is why I generally try to keep things light on GDB - but it is nice to mix it up on occasion.

Jonathan, I suppose that being around nuclear weapons is something that you get used to, but just the thought of it makes me uneasy. My dad used to take us on to his ships when he was in the Navy, and I would see those gigantic guns and knew that they actually fired those things. It was hard to imagine.

Tom, I wouldn’t mind posting more historical subjects if I had anything to share that was relevant - I’m mostly limited to my boxes of the kind of things you have seen for 12 years.

JG, I agree, as interesting as the Trinity site surely was, I hope Warren and Kyle visited some of New Mexico’s beautiful natural wonders too. For me, being in the great outdoors, even for a few hours, can be amazingly restorative. My dad loved to fish, and while I wasn’t as passionate about it as he was, I loved being out on beautiful lakes, seeing moose and bald eagles, and seeing the incredible stars at night.

Alonzo, I figured that even if the response to today’s post was lukewarm (which it wasn’t!), it was only one day out of 365. As for diversions, they are the reason I started doing my “Anything Goes Saturdays” - one day a week I can get away from Disney and tackle any subject I want. Sometimes those are the most fun to do, and they generate the best responses.

Chuck, I have a real fascination with military airplanes of all kinds (oh to someday get to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia! I look at photos on Google and dream of going. They have the Enola Gay, among many other notable aircraft. Your story of walking through the B-29 is very moving. And I think I remember Sabre Jet Ace! On a sort of different note, my mother went to college at the University of Colorado Boulder, and she told me that she remembers seeing the early-morning flashes in the sky when they would do tests of atomic bombs all the way in Nevada - some 780 miles away! Scary to think about, somehow.

Nanook, I couldn’t have said it better.

Clyde Hughes, thank you for the nice words.

Warren, they liked it! Thanks to you for your contributions.

Melissa, yes, you have mentioned Zeppo Marx and the Marman Clamp, what an interesting story. It’s like learning about what a genius Hedy Lamarr was - who would have ever imagined?

DrGoat, apparently Trinitite is now very collectible - and since it is no longer legal to remove it from the Trinity site, unscrupulous people make fake Trinitite!