Of course, Las Vegas is about entertainment. Celine! Loose slots! Viva Elvis! Bellagio! Aria! But when Ruth and I are there, we also head for Visitor Information across Paradise Road from the Convention Center to find out what’s new that isn’t Cirque du Soleil (there are now 7 of their productions in town)!
And this time we found 4 gems. We visited 2 of them, checked out the 3rd which hasn’t opened yet, and didn’t have time for #4.
#3 is the exciting Smith Center at 361 Symphony Park Avenue downtown that opens on March 10, 2012. A diverse performing arts center funded by both public and private money, The Smith provides a home for the Las Vegas Philharmonic and Nevada Ballet Theatre and stages for Broadway shows, jazz performances, and “special attractions”.
#1 was the Atomic Testing Museum at the Desert Research Institute, 755 East Flamingo Road (atomictestingmuseum.org). In association with the Smithsonian, the ATM opened in 2005 and has become one of those places that simply cannot be explored completely in just one visit.
Its brochure explains its mission–to reveal “the saga of the scientists, engineers, miners, and construction workers who unlocked the secrets of the atom in the Nevada desert”. This may sound rather dry and technical, and it is technical but never dry. In fact, it causes chills and disorientation.
Between 1951 and 1992, 928 nuclear weapons tests were conducted near Las Vegas at the Nevada Test Site. 928!
But this didn’t include the 1st nuclear test in the United States. That was Trinity, cutely nicknamed Gadget, which occurred at Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945. There was only one test here because the technical team experienced “radiological hazards”. The explosion could be seen 250 miles away and produced heat 4 times hotter than the sun. Hazards? Ya think?
The Nevada Test Site became the scene of 100 atmospheric and 828 underground tests, the first conducted in January, 1951. The atmospheric ones became tourist attractions (predawn spectacles!), and Las Vegas’ population almost tripled from 1950 to 1960.
But these weren’t the first nuclear tests by far. They were preceded by 23 “nuclear devices” at Bikini and 43 at Enewetak, both atolls in the Marshall Islands. There were also 39 “open ocean” tests.
This Museum has detailed coverage of duck and cover drills, The Manhattan Project, Little Boy and Fat Man, and the nuclear race with Russia. You can hear interviews with test-site workers, learn about waste disposal, and see films in small theaters like the Ground Zero. There are lots of touch screens, vintage TV footage opportunities, a very detailed time line, etc. One display of underground testing contains a photo showing the “subsidence craters” left on the surface by underground tests. I stared at it far too long.
One display of popular culture products inspired by testing includes a DC Superboy comic, original cost–12¢.
I was ready to explode myself when I read that in 1998 India conducted 5 nuclear tests. During the same time, Pakistan conducted 6. 6!
Just in case I hadn’t been impressed enough, the very last object by the exit was a sheet metal fragment from the World Trade Center. !