10/19/2007: Day 10: Los Alamos to Alamosa via hot springs
Last night, Karen found us a room at the Best Western in Los Alamos. It set a new record high price for a night on this trip at $81. But, it was a typical Best Western; really nice. After unloading, Karen went out for Chinese. This was to be my first real meal since the unpleasantness in Flagstaff. I wasn't feeling strong enough to go out. When she returned, I carefully ate a cup of egg drop soup (fearing my usual preference of hot-sour) and picked at the veggies and meats from Karen's well-loaded and varied buffet take-out box.
While Karen was at the restaurant, she talked to a woman who'd just retired from 35 years of working in the lab director's office. Everywhere she goes, Karen meets people.
Up to today: Karen and I go at different speeds. I was ready to check out at 9 while Karen had not yet gotten up and around. The buffet (including Belgian waffles) was supposed to go till 10, but I pushed her to go up sooner. A good thing that I did, too. They were starting to clean up at 9:30. The desk clerk last night had her times wrong!
Our plan had been to get up and out early, see the town, spend time at a few other scenic areas, and get across the mountains to Colorado Springs before dark. I was getting impatient, so Karen dropped me at the Bradbury Museum at 10:20 and went back to resume her getting-ready-to-check-out routines. I saw an interesting variety of displays, mostly about atomics and the war effort. There was some explicitly slanted propaganda trying to justify Hiroshima and Nagasaki that I didn't think belonged in a science museum. They also showed the short movie "The Town that Never Was", an overview of the conversion of a small boy's school in the mountains into the most secret city in the world.
Karen joined me at about 11:30. We looked at a few more things, watched a film about how to test the reliability of the nuclear stockpile without actually testing it. They used several metaphors, but I still like the one I saw at Sandia Labs a few years ago:
Imagine designing a high performance race car that has to be ready to put on the starting line at 5 minutes notice at some arbitrary time in the future by non-mechanics. Now imagine that it was built 30 years ago, and has been in mothballs the whole time. How do you know that it will start immediately and finish the race if you are not allowed to turn over the engine? Anyone who has started a gasoline lawn mower after it has been sitting for a few months can appreciate some of the problems.
After the Bradbury, we walked up Central Avenue (one of the few streets not named in an atomic or numerical manner) to the Historical Museum situated in the Grand Lodge that is still standing from the Range School days. Here, they covered the history and experience of the school, and the experience of the Secret Years, and some displays of artifacts from the glorious atomic age (1940's-50's) and the deadly atomic age (1960s'-80's).
I was getting very tired. My fever had taken a lot out of me, and probably the lack of food did, too. We walked back to the car, and Karen reminded me that we needed a few groceries, and a new headlight bulb. Last night she noticed that the right one was out.
Conveniently, there was an Auto Zone next to a grocery store on the east end of town. Karen did comestibles, and I bought vacuum-packed tungsten filaments. I couldn't figure out how to get the old bulb out, but they were happy to help out at this store.
Then we enjoyed more winding roads. But as the route from Santa Fe to Los Alamos is the main one, most of the curves and slopes are more gentle. But you can still see remnants of the old roads that were said to cause mothers of students at the Range School to swoon.
We stopped at Ojo Caliente, the hot spring Karen had hoped to soak in yesterday afternoon. We had a picnic lunch on the motel parking lot (nicer than it sounds), and then got a tour of the hot springs.
This is the most aggressively New Age hot spring we've visited. The edge was taken off because everything but the pools was going through major renovation: Bulldozers, backhoes, concrete and stucco, all somewhat concealed behind big privacy panels. But I could imagine what it would be like in a year or so.
So 2 hours there, and back on the road across the San Luis Valley with the Sangre de Cristo mountains on our right. Because I wanted to cross the mountains in daylight (for the views), we stopped at dusk in Alamosa. The air is thin up there. After a week of over a mile above sea level, 7,500 feet still seemed like a weak brew to my lungs.
Alamosa is having a highway transplant. The east-west corridor is being split into one road east and another west. This led us away from a Days Inn that was on our way, and left us at a Super 8 at the far end of town. There we were greeted by this little ball of white fluff dog. Karen made another friend.