This place, Trinity Site, is so important in our history yet few of us have gone there. I went there on October 2, 2010.

Trinity Sign

The first atomic bomb was tested at Trinity Site on July 16, 1945 at 5:29 a.m. It is open to the public for one day in April and October each year. The first open house was in September of 1953.

Trinity Site is in the northern part of White Sands Missile Range. There are two ways to reach the site: by escorted caravan or on your own through Stallion Gate in the north part of WSMR. I went on my own so I could avoid the crowd by arriving after the caravan leaves around noon. I went through Carrizozo then west on highway 380 to Stallion Gate, then south and east along WSMR roads. My travel was about 260 miles round trip.


Entering Carrizozo

North Of 380

Panorama. Click here and enlarge for full size. Pan with scroll bar.

Ranch land north of highway 380.

Bingham NM

I passed through a small town along highway 380. I thought this town was called Burgess but maps show it as Bingham. Just a few buildings and a few people far from any other town. Must be a good place. At the time of the test some people and equipment were stationed at Bingham as part of a plan to evacuate nearby towns if the test endangered them.

Instrument Bunker

Farther west on highway 380 I turned south to enter WSMR. The awesome beauty of this remote unpopulated place was always evident. I enjoyed the scenery though the whole drive and back and at the site. No photography was allowed except at Trinity.

There were people, signs, and barricades along the roads to ensure that visitors stayed on the correct roads. Still, the ease of access and travel on WSMR was surprising for a secure facility.

While I was driving along a range road one or two miles from Trinity I felt the magnitude of what happened here. That is when I understood that I would be in a place where something important happened. It was very different than reading or seeing photographs or television shows about it.

The first thing available to see was an instrument bunker. It was 800 yards from the blast. It is made of large wooden beams and concrete. The bunkers that were 10,000 yards away, where we see observers in old films, have been removed.

There was a large parking lot near the bunker and a cleared area with an information booth, a picnic table, Jumbo, a bus stop for the McDonald ranch bus, a booth for the Park Service, and portable toilets. A fenced path led from the information booth to ground zero. This all served as a counterpoint to my previous feeling of a momentous event. It seemed more like a tourist attraction although a subdued one.


There are no ceremonies or speakers and demonstrations are forbidden. The people there, about 30, were relaxed, enjoying the tourist aspects, information, and the beautiful day, while simultaneously solemnly contemplative as if understanding the significance of the place.

Jumbo is near the information booth. It was moved to this location in 1979. Originally, the scientists wanted to put the device, they called it "the gadget", in Jumbo to contain the plutonium if the conventional explosives detonated but the nuclear reaction did not occur. If the reaction did occur then Jumbo would be vaporized. The scientists became more confident that the gadget would work so Jumbo was placed in a tower near the test. It was not damaged by the test. Later, several large conventional bombs where detonated in Jumbo and that is why the ends are missing. A plaque presents photographs and information about it.

Jumbo Close Up

Jumbo Edge

Jumbo Sign

Jumbo Plaque


Sign Post Information Booth

Entrance Sign

The path from the information booth to ground zero was about one quarter mile long and is edged by barbed wire fences.

A little known event is that several tons of explosives were detonated east of the test site to calibrate the instruments that would record the test. A small amount of radioactive material was placed with the explosives to learn how it might spread in the test. That site is not open to the public.

Geiger Counters


Trinitite Sign

There were some tables under a tent roof at the entrance to ground zero. People there told about radiation and there were various radioactive items to see including a banana, imitation salt, a clock, a Fiestaware dish, a smoke alarm, and a box of trinitite. Trinitite is the green glass made when the gadget melted the surface.The people had Geiger counters to use on the items. The trinitite got some clicks from the Geiger counter and the Fiestaware really set it off. Fiestaware used uranium oxide to give it its color. On the way out they opened the trinitite box so I could get a better photo of it.

Ground Zero Plaque

Radiation Plaque

Ground zero is approximately 10 times as radioactive as the normal background here. A visitor receives from one-half to one millirems per hour. For comparison, flying coast to coast gives two millirems from cosmic rays, having a plutonium powered pacemaker gives 100 millirems per year, and a typical American receives twenty-six to ninety-six millirems per year from the sun.

A tall chain link fence enclosed the large area around ground zero which is open to visitors. It had been mowed. Things to see there were the ground zero monument, a bomb casing, tower footings, a building covering a trinitite surface, historical photographs, and a vast and wonderful vista.

Just inside the fence were two plaques. The plaque is not at ground zero. The lava rock monument is.

Ground Zero Obelisk

Obelisk Back

Obelisk Plaque

Obelisk Landmark Plaque

This obelisk is at ground zero. It was built 20 years after the test. It is made from lava rocks.

Tower Footing

A portion of a concrete footing of the tower was visible. Some metal rods are in it and it is protected by a railing. There was another object nearby that may be another footing but there was no railing or sign there.

Fat Man Bomb Casing

A MK III atomic bomb casing on loan from the Department of Energy was displayed. MK III bombs were built after World War II. MK III casings were based on the Fat Man casing. This item can be seen at the WSMR museum and is taken to Trinity for the open houses.

Trinitite Building Sign

Some of the original crater floor was preserved. There is a building covering it and skylight or window in the roof used to provide a view of the trinitite surface. The surface is covered with dust now and is no longer visible.

Historic Photographs

Several historical photographs with informative text were placed along the fence surrounding ground zero.

Trinitite Pieces Rocks

This unexplained stack of rocks stood southeast of the obelisk. There were several pieces of rock that looked like trinitite on top. I think that people who find one put it on the rocks. Most of the trinitite was removed and the area covered with dirt, except in the building, but there is still some there.

Ground Zero Pano

Panorama. 360 degrees. Click here and enlarge for full size. Pan with scroll bar.

Here is a full circle panorama of the area. The dark part might be a cloud shadow or might be where the camera adjusted to the sun. If you look closely you can see that some people are shown twice. It must be because they moved between taking photos.

Ranch House Side

Ranch House


Landmark Sign

After seeing the test area I rode a bus to the George McDonald ranch house. It is two miles from the parking lot but you are not allowed to walk there. This house is where the plutonium core of the bomb was assembled. There were displays in the house with information and photographs.

The house was built in 1913 by Franz Schmidt. The Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range took over the house and land in 1942. It was empty until 1982 and deteriorated. In 1984 the Park Service completed restoration of the house to appear as it did on July 12, 1945. A low stone wall surrounds the ranch house. Nearby are a windmill tower, the windmill vanes on the ground, a barn, a bunk house, and a concrete water tank. There was an underground ice house, off limits, and a water cistern which held runoff from the roof. The adobe house survived the blast well. The barn’s roof caved in from the blast.

Visitors could go close to the barn and bunk house but are not allowed to go in since they aren't stable.

Windmill Tower

Windmill Vanes

Water Tank

The windmill tower is still there. The vanes are on the ground nearby. The water tank is next to the windmill.

Wall Decoration



Assembly Room 1

Assembly Room 2

I went into the house. There was no furniture except shelves and stands for displays. The first room had a display about Franz Schmidt and the McDonalds, the house, and how much the McDonalds were paid for their ranch. This room had an interesting design around the top of the walls. Several more rooms led to the assembly room. A view with several doors visible from one place seemed symbolic of the many decisions that lead to the test.

The room where the bomb's core was assembled was kept sealed and clean to avoid dust getting into the core. The house has two front doors. One leads into the room with the wall decoration and one into the assembly room. Writing on the door, "Please use other doors – keep this room clean", was restored along with the rest of the house. There were historical photographs and information in the assembly room. After assembly, the core was taken to the test site and put into the bomb.

The scientists had a special tool kit made for assembling the core. Other tool kits like it and the parts of the two other bombs were already on their way to the island of Tinian.

The plutonium was produced in reactors at Hanford, WA and refined there using uranium refined in Oak Ridge, TN. The plutonium core weighed around 13.6 pounds and was 3.5 inches in diameter. The Manhattan Project cost about two billion dollars in 1945 money. About twenty-five billion in 2010 money.

I found a piece of history regarding the delivery of the core to the site interesting. The two hemispheres of the core were taken to the ranch house and Brig. Gen. Thomas Farrell was asked to sign a receipt. Gen. Farrell said, "I recall that I asked them if I was going to sign for it shouldn't I take it and handle it. So I took this heavy ball in my hand and I felt it growing warm, I got a certain sense of its hidden power. It wasn't a cold piece of metal, but it was really a piece of metal that seemed to be working inside. Then maybe for the first time I began to believe some of the fantastic tales the scientists had told about this nuclear power."

Few people know about the Dave McDonald ranch house. It is about ten miles southwest of the test site and is also part of the Trinity Site National Historic Landmark. Dave McDonald was George McDonald's brother and also had to leave his ranch. The people of the Manhattan Project set up their base camp there. Now it is deteriorated and is not open to the public.

 Carrizzo Pano

Panorama. Click here and enlarge for full size. Pan with scroll bar.

A beautiful view of rain and sun near Carrizozo on the way back. Since my windshield wipers didn't work I had to pull over and wait for some rain to pass. I took this photo from El Malpais lava field. I was going to stop at the park there but there is an entry fee. The rocks in the foreground are lava and you can see some cracks on the right.

Sunrays Pano

Panorama. Click here and enlarge for full size. Pan with scroll bar.

Sunbeams and rain.


This text is a combination of my original blog post from October 5, 2010 and a June 2011 article I wrote for an online magazine I ran then. It includes information from research done for that article. I'll use the posting date of October 5, 2010 from the original.


USE OF TRINITY SITE IMAGES AND TEXT: Splododyne retains full copyright on the images and text in this article, Trinity Site. Contact Splododyne to negotiate a license to use this material.


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