December 2, 2018

White Sands National Monument is full of monsters

by Erin Gould
White Sands
October 29, 2018

White Sands is a very strange place. It is stunning. And it is terrifying. They tell you not to pick up objects you see half buried in the sands because it could be an unexploded bomb.

I have a hard time reckoning the landscape that I see before me as the place that the first atomic bomb was detonated just 73 years ago.

Did you know that the term "fizzle" refers to a nuclear detonation that "grossly fails to meet its expected yield," i.e. a nuclear explosion that does not explode correctly and likely spreads radioactive material throughout the environment. When they were preparing for the Trinity test, they constructed a 214 ton steel vessel to protect against any fizzle. They named the 14 inch thick walled sphere "Jumbo." They didn't end up using it.

Major General Thomas Ferrell, the second-in-command of the Manhattan Project, described that first detonation in an official report:

         "The lighting effects beggared description. The whole country was lighted by a searing light with the intensity many times that of the midday sun. It was golden, purple, violet, gray, and blue. It lighted every peak, crevasse and ridge of the nearby mountain range with a clarity and beauty that cannot be described but must be seen to be imagined ..."

This bomb, the one that "must be seen to be imagined," was of the same design as that dropped on Nagasaki a few months later, resulting in the deaths of some an estimated 60,000-80,000 people. 

Did you know that the White Sands Missile Range, which entirely contains the National Monument and at 3,200 square miles, is the largest military installation within the United States. 

There are ghosts in White Sands National Monument. There are monsters. There are histories that I cannot even comprehend.

These things may sound antithetical, but I spent a good portion of my time at White Sands National Monument playin at being a monster.

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