Yesterday we set off early to the Los Alamos area, an interesting mix of old and new. We stopped in Los Alamos town and visited the History Museum that told the stories of the Ranch School, set up to educate underprivileged boys to academic excellence and toughen them up through outdoor exercise and activities. The museum also includes exhibits from 1945, when a secret scientific complex was built for Oppenheimer and his scientists to split the atom and create the first atomic bomb. The secret complex was known as ‘The Hill’ and since then has been the testing place for nuclear weapons during the ‘Cold War’ and is now a massive town with County status. It is currently used for most of the nuclear experiments and research for the whole of the US Nuclear programme. There is a Science Museum dedicated to explaining/justifying its existence but we chose to miss that one and travelled to White Rock and the Bandelier National Monument.
White Rock is so vast it can be seen from outer space and Bandelier is home to ancient pueblo homes and cave dwellings. Here we walked round the ruins of Tyuoni, on the floor of Fijoles Canyon, and climbed up to the talus houses built on rock debris (talus) slopes on the sunny sides of canyons and mesas. To access the caves you have to climb ladders made from wooden branches secured by hide or ‘rope’ from creepers. We were 5,000 ft up in the baking sun and before long, despite drinking lots of water, I felt light-headed and faint. We stopped in any shade we could find and took it really slowly, marvelling in the petroglyphs (drawings carved into rock) and the complexity of the caves. However, when we got back to our hotel I was so wiped out that I slept for the next 12 hours.
Feeling refreshed and revitalized this morning we drove towards Albuquerque and took the cable car to the top of Sandia Peak. It was well over 10,000 ft up and there was a strong breeze that made it very comfortable to walk in. There are lots of hiking trails but after our experience yesterday we just walked a nature trail, took lots of photos and had lunch before riding the cable car back down. On the way down there were 3 young women, 2 with babies in back packs, who had taken 5 hours to climb up the mountain. One baby was only 7 weeks old and the other was 11 weeks, so my admiration for these young mums was immense. No wonder they had regained their wonderful figures!
Back at the bottom of the mountain the heat was quite intense -89F- so we were glad we’d set off early. We’re now esconsced in our hotel – The Hard Rock Cafe – in the middle of the desert outside Albuquerque. It’s on a casino complex on tribal lands and we learnt in St Louis that you are not allowed to build a casino or other gambling place on American soil. There was a loophole in the law that didn’t prohibit them from gambling on the river, and that’s how the paddle steamers came to be used for saloons and gambling. There is a part of St Louis where there is a casino on land but they got round the law by running water underneath it. Tribal lands/reservations do not come under the same legislation; the police and law enforcement is all handled by First Nation Americans and they don’t need any permission to build on their own land, which is why the casinos are mainly in the desert.
We’ve been on a recce in the hotel and apart from all the memorabilia there’s a spa and huge pool where you can swim both inside and out, a big fitness room and lots of bars and eating places. From what we could see before we left (smoking is allowed in there so I beat a hasty retreat) the casino is mainly slot machines and I still don’t understand the attraction of sitting feeding a machine with money and watching lights and numbers whiz around. But hey, who am I to criticize. I’m daft enough to go walking in the midday sun…