The Canyons of Los Alamos: Where Discoveries are Made

By Dr. Denise R. Ames

Los Alamos, New Mexico—home of the Atomic Bomb—also showcases a rugged terrain of deep canyons and soaring cliffs. Los Alamos’s city motto is “Where discoveries are made,” in which reference to the atomic bomb immediately comes to mind. But there are other discoveries to be made in Los Alamos, and I uncovered some of them during my recent visit.

Angel’s Casita

My partner, Jim, and I recently drove from our hometown of Albuquerque to Los Alamos to do some relaxing and hiking. We love to go to Los Alamos where we stay in our favorite Air B&B Casita that overlooks one of the deep canyons carving the city into sections. It feels like we are alone in the wilderness, even though we are just a mile or so from the downtown area and the labyrinth of national laboratories.

It is clear why Los Alamos was selected as the site of the secretive Manhattan Project during World War II—it is isolated by canyons making it difficult to approach the remote city from all angles. Winding our way along Route 502, as we approach the city from the east, the road narrows, hugging the mountains along blasted out sections from which the winding road snakes to its destination.

The canyons interlacing Los Alamos were the destinations of several of our hiking expeditions during our visit. They weren’t hard to access, we could practically walk out in back of our casita and a plethora of trails beckoned to be hiked. One that we particularly liked was in back of the Aquatic Center, where we accessed the trailhead.

This trail had particular historical significance. Some of the steep switchbacks and steps at the beginning/end of the trail were constructed by boys at the historic Los Alamos Ranch School. Founded in 1917, the private school for boys was later taken over by the federal government for the Manhattan Project. Although the school has never reopened, its legacy of trails has endured. We descended from the top of the mesa into the canyon, but found going down was easy, making our way back up strained our calves and leg muscles to the max.

A kind of hush came over me as I ambled down from the bustle of the city to the soft tranquil quiet of the forest sprouting from the canyon. Every turn-out revealed a panoramic view of the canyons and high mesas. Sky and soft clouds enveloped me in a comforting embrace, telling me it was alright to be a human.

The canyons emitted a sense of eternity, whispering to me that they would endure and continue long after I and my species disappeared. They seemed to say, “Just be kind to us while you are still around, we have more to give to you than you can imagine.”  To me this message is the real meaning of the city motto, “Where discoveries are made.”

I took their message to heart. I agree that kindness is a wonderful act, perhaps one of the most important things we can do as humans. But it is also one of the most difficult, especially to be kind to those who you don’t agree with. I thought of our contentious political/cultural divide, reaching a crescendo pitch as the election nears, and imagined what it would be like if protesters said kind words to the police and vice versa, our politicians (both sides) utter kinds word to those who they oppose, or Antifa and Proud Boys had a get-to-know-each-other picnic instead of spewing hatred.

It is ironic that the canyons whisper kindness to all, while the nearby Los Alamos National Laboratories emit a different message—one of power, control, violence, and strength. Although I realize that force is necessary at times, Hitler probably would not have received the same message from the canyon as I did, and needed to be stopped.

In this vitriolic atmosphere we are increasingly descending into, the canyons remind all of us that kindness to our fellow humans and to all of nature is indeed worth remembering and acting upon.       

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Ames’ varied life experiences— teaching, scholarly research, personal reflections, and extensive travels—have contributed to her balanced and thoughtful perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded the educational non-profit, Center for Global Awareness that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units, and conducted professional development workshops for the non-profit and its clients.

Dr. Ames is now developing her new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, and Reflection Nexus.  Turn encourages life-long learners to see things with new eyes, learn from the past, and understand the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five colliding worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel.

Divided: Five Colliding Worldviews and How to Navigate Them has just been released!

Divided, Dr. Ames’ latest book,addresses the question on the lips of every American: why can’t we get along? The cultural divide is threatening our democracy and destabilizing our country. Divided looks at the deep cultural divide through the lens of five colliding worldviews—indigenous, traditional, progressive, globalized, and transformative. This approach helps us make sense of our deep divisions and suggests ways of bridging them.

It is urgent that we understand and bridge the cultural divide. Bridging the divide is dependent upon first understanding it. Gaining an understanding of the five worldviews enhances our success of arriving at sensible solutions and increasing civil conversations. If not, rancor and intractability ensue.

Divided is one of nine books written by Dr. Ames and the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books 

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