It was eerie arriving atop the mesa on which Los Alamos sits. An abandoned guard tower was on my left, a replica of the main gate to the “secret city” on my right. During World War II, Los Alamos did not exist even though 6,000 scientists toiled here creating the atomic bomb. The town is still full of physicists and mathematicians but now welcomes visitors interested in the mighty weapon that helped to win the war. The tab for two, excluding transportation: $99 for a room at Pueblo Canyon Inn, $45 for dinner at Pajarito Brewpub & Grill and $50 for the Atomic City van tour.
Pueblo Canyon Inn offers a warm welcome just outside town. I was impressed by its expansive library, game room and other upscale touches, as well as a cozy deck where guests can unwind amid towering pines. Barbecue grills and a putting green are just steps away. The $99 rate, which includes homemade granola for breakfast, is set by the federal government for visiting scientists, but it’s offered to everyone.
Pajarito Brewpub & Grill is named after one of the wartime research sites. True to its New Mexican roots, the restaurant features green chiles in its 8-ounce Pajarito Pub Burger ($16, sides are extra). Vegetarians will relish the white bean salad ($12) with gigante beans, preserved lemon, arugula and toasted almonds tossed with citrus dressing.
Native Georgia Strickfaden, born when Los Alamos was a closed city, is a fount of knowledge and shares it during her Atomic City Tours. She told me about her relatives from Santa Fe having to be vetted by the government before making the 40-mile drive for Thanksgiving dinner. Among the historic sites visited is the street named Bathtub Row, where physicist Robert Oppenheimer had a house with an indoor bathroom, a luxury at the time. Tours depart from Bradbury Science Museum, which traces the work of the Los Alamos National Laboratory from wartime to the present.
THE LESSON LEARNED
It is possible to drive through the 13-acre lab complex if you have a driver’s license or other government-issued photo ID. Visitors must stay on the main road but can stop for coffee and a bite to eat at Hot Rocks Java Cafe.
Pueblo Canyon Inn
199 San Ildefonso Road, Los Alamos, N.M.; (505) 695-0883. One room is not wheelchair accessible.
Pajarito Brewpub & Grill
614 Trinity Drive, Los Alamos, N.M.; (505) 662-8877. Wheelchair accessible.
Atomic City Tours
(505) 662-2547. Van not wheelchair accessible. $25 for adults, $10 for children.
Bradbury Science Museum
1350 Central Ave., Los Alamos, N.M.; (505) 667-4444. Wheelchair accessible. Free.
Hot Rocks Java Cafe, 4200 W. Jemez Road, Los Alamos, N.M.; (505) 663-5282