During the National Park Service (NPS) centennial in 2016, a new, ambitious park was established linking three far-flung sites in the states of Washington, New Mexico, and Tennessee. The purpose is to tell the story of the “Manhattan Project,” the military code name during World War II for the secret undertaking to create the world’s first atomic weapon.
Bradbury Science Museum (NM), American Museum of Science and Energy (TN), Hanford Reach National Monument (WA)
In 1942, hundreds of eastern Tennessee families were displaced in order to construct Oak Ridge National Laboratory where experimental nuclear reactors produced plutonium and enriched uranium. More than 75,000 people hurriedly built and operated this brand new industrial complex, which continues to be used as a Department of Energy research facility to this day. Due to security and safety concerns, visitors can only enter on a 3-hour bus tour that leaves from the American Museum of Science and Energy. The tour is well worth your time, as it is currently the only way to see Y-12, X-10, and K-25 and learn more about what those code names really mean.
The Hanford Reach is one of the last free-flowing sections of the Columbia River in eastern Washington and is an important site for salmon spawning. The area is ecologically pristine, mostly untouched by development since it became the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in 1943. It is home to the world’s first full-scale nuclear reactor that produced the plutonium used by Los Alamos National Laboratories for its scientific breakthroughs in 1945. Since 2000, Hanford Reach National Monument has been managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and much of the area is off limits. Other than boating on the river, the best place to get a feel for the area is to walk around the Ringold Fish Hatchery.
The free Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos, New Mexico offers tourists a closer look at the original and ongoing research conducted at Los Alamos National Laboratories (LANL), including a scale model of the “Fat Man” plutonium bomb built here in 1945. Nearby, the Los Alamos Historical Museum is located in a cabin on historic Bathtub Row, so named because when the government took over the Ranch School in 1943 these were the only dwellings equipped with that luxury.
Open year round, but summer is best at the high elevations of Los Alamos, New Mexico.
$5 per adult for the American Museum of Science and Energy and a 3-hour tour (11:30-2:30, reservations recommended) of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
All roads paved except around Hanford Reach National Monument
Dispersed camping is allowed in Santa Fe National Forest surrounding Los Alamos and it is not far to the campground in Bandelier National Monument.
Explore More – What was the job of the “Calutron Girls” in Oak Ridge during World War II?