Los Alamos, New Mexico, gained prominence during World War II as the birthplace of the atomic bomb. Surprisingly, this community, situated on four mesas—Barranca Mesa, North Mesa, Los Alamos Mesa, and South Mesa—was once a testing ground for the destructive potential of nuclear weapons.

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Today, Los Alamos beckons travelers seeking to explore some of the state’s best yet relatively undiscovered national parks and sites. Within a 30-minute drive from downtown Los Alamos—or in some cases, just a five-minute walk—lie three remarkable destinations: Bandelier National Monument, Valles Caldera National Preserve, and the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. To celebrate National Park Week from April 22 to April 30, access to all three parks is free on Saturday, April 22.

Kelly Stewart, a spokesperson from Los Alamos County’s Economic Development Division, highlights the accessibility of these parks, stating, “Our three national parks are within a five-minute walk to a 30-minute drive from downtown Los Alamos. Each park represents a different era, culture, and place in time and all include outdoor recreation opportunities, from fishing in a sleeping super volcano to exploring Ancient Puebloan cavates to touring the downtown historic district. When you return to town, there are award-winning eateries, breweries, and attractions to explore.”

The Manhattan Project National Historical Park, closest to downtown Los Alamos, commemorates the groundbreaking work of scientists and Nobel Prize winners in envisioning and constructing the atomic bomb. Visitors can delve into the Los Alamos History Museum or explore the Bradbury Science Museum, housing replicas of the Little Boy and Fat Man atomic bombs. Film enthusiasts should plan their visit before the release of “Oppenheimer,” a film by Christopher Nolan, featuring Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon, and others, in July 2023.

Nature enthusiasts seeking solitude can head west to the Valles Caldera National Preserve, an 89,000-acre expanse protecting one of the world’s seven super volcanoes. The preserve offers trails for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders, along with fishing and camping opportunities. Lucky visitors might spot elk or golden eagles, while those staying after dark are treated to dark, starry skies.

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To the south of Los Alamos lies the Bandelier National Monument, an ancient Puebloan historical site featuring cliff dwellings and petroglyphs. Notably, visitors can climb ladders and physically enter the homes of ancient Puebloans, enjoying expansive views from their cliff perches. Bandelier National Monument also boasts an extensive trail network.

Entrance fees to all three parks are waived on Saturday, April 22, marking the start of National Park Week. There is never a fee to visit the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. Conveniently located just over a 30-minute drive from Santa Fe and an hour-and-a-half from Albuquerque, Los Alamos invites exploration into its rich historical and natural wonders.


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