Los Alamos, NM: The Gateway to 3 National Parks
Get a glimpse of Los Alamos' national parks, each offering a unique mix of history, culture and intrigue.
If you enjoy exploring the great outdoors and discovering historic attractions, you’re going to love Los Alamos. The city is a gateway to three national parks – Bandelier National Monument, the Valles Caldera National Preserve and the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park – and as a result, it’s drawing visitors who can’t wait to take in the area’s beautiful scenery while embarking on unforgettable adventures and learning about local and national history. Here’s what each park has to offer:
Bandelier National Monument
Covering more than 33,000 acres at the southern end of the Pajarito Plateau, Bandelier National Monument gives visitors a glimpse into the area’s past as it protects Ancestral Pueblo dwellings carved into rock cliffs, petroglyphs, standing masonry walls and other features created long ago. The destination also has more than 70 miles of hiking trails, and it’s a favorite place for activities like camping, picnicking and boating, as well as cross-country skiing during the winter months. In addition, Bandelier National Monument is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including mountain lions, mule deer and short-horned lizards. Plus, its many feathered creatures– like canyon towhees, turkey vultures and sandhill cranes – make it a top spot for birding.
Valles Caldera National Preserve
The Valles Caldera, a 13-mile-wide circular depression, is a “geologic gem” that was created by a volcanic eruption that took place approximately 1.25 million years ago. Today it’s a protected area that covers 89,000 acres and draws about 120,000 annual visitors looking to enjoy hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, camping and trout fishing, plus cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the wintertime. Located just 14 miles west of downtown Los Alamos, the Valles Caldera National Preserve is also a popular destination for elk and wild turkey hunting as it lays claim to the second-largest elk population in the state, and more than 400 turkeys live in the preserve from April through December. Other wildlife, such as prairie dogs, black bears and golden eagles, call the preserve home as well.
Manhattan Project National Historical Park
Los Alamos’ newest national park is the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, which focuses on the science, engineering, technology and events that led to the creation of the atomic bomb during World War II. The park comprises three non-contiguous sites across the U.S. – Oak Ridge, Tenn.; Hanford, Wash.; and Los Alamos – all significant players in developing the world’s first atomic weapons.
Los Alamos’ site, known as Project Y, includes five destinations managed by the Department of Energy: Pond Cabin, where plutonium chemistry research took place; Battleship Bunker, which supported diagnostic tests for the Fat Man bomb; Slotin Building, where criticality research was conducted; Gun Site, a testing site for gun-assembled weapon designs known as Thin Man and Little Boy; and V-Site, where assembly work related to the Fat Man weapon took place, and where the high-explosives sphere for the Trinity device (known as the gadget) was assembled. Project Y is not yet open to the public, but visitors can explore related sites throughout the community (like the Los Alamos History Museum and Bradbury Science Museum) in the interim.