Los Alamos

Los Alamos is a small town in northern New Mexico, about an hour northwest of Santa Fe. Its claim to fame is the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), where Oppenheimer and other physicists created the world's first atomic bomb during World War II. Many of Los Alamos's 12,000 residents work at the laboratory. White Rock, with about 6,000, is formally a part of Los Alamos, but is separated from the main town by LANL. Nearly all of LANL is closed to the public, but the town itself has a couple of museums which are good places to learn about the history of the town.

Get in

By car

From US 285 north of Santa Fe, take NM 502 west, which leads directly to the town. This is a highly scenic drive, with photo opportunities from the Clinton P. Anderson Scenic Overlook outside of town. From NM 502 a side road, NM 4, leads to White Rock and Bandelier National Monument.

You can rent a car or passenger van from Hertz elsewhere and return it in Los Alamos, or rent it in Los Alamos and return it elsewhere, without paying a drop-off fee (if you rent by calling the Los Alamos office, 505 662-8907). Residents and visitors alike find this convenient and inexpensive for getting to and from airports. The Los Alamos office is inside the tiny main building at the Los Alamos County airport on NM 502 just east of town. (Prior to June 2008, this car rental office was operated by Budget.)

Crossing LANL property (e.g. when entering town from the west) requires passing a security checkpoint; procedures vary but under most conditions require no more than slowing down or a brief stop.

By bus

Los Alamos is served by public commuter bus and commercial shuttle from several other cities in northern New Mexico.

New Mexico Park & Ride has direct bus service to Los Alamos from both Espanola and Santa Fe. This is popular with commuters and occasional travelers alike. The Los Alamos terminus is a bus shelter on Central Avenue between 19th St and 20th St. It is in front of Mesa Public Library and a skate park and tot lot, in sight of the Reel Deal movie theater, and one block from the Aquatic Center. The nearest public toilets are in the library lobby. The Santa Fe bus can be used to make connections via Santa Fe to the Albuquerque airport (ABQ) using the Rail Runner train or the Sandia Shuttle Express. Connections can also be made in Pojoaque with shuttle services that run between Albuquerque and Taos.

By appointment, Roadrunner Shuttle and Charter (+1 505 424-3367) will take you from Santa Fe (airport SAF or downtown), Lamy (Amtrak train station) or Albuquerque airport to Los Alamos. Los Alamos tour company Buffalo Tours and some Los Alamos bed-and-breakfasts may also be available to pick you up.

By bike

If you don't want to make the 2000 foot climb from the Rio Grande up the "big hill", you can hitch a ride on the commuter coach buses that serve Los Alamos. They have front racks and luggage compartments.

By horse

Horse friendly trails abound in and around Los Alamos. Travel through Santa Clara Pueblo requires a permit; the permit is easy to obtain but must be obtained in advance. Travel through Valles Caldera also requires advance permission, and may be iffy to obtain. Travel around Valles Caldera, via its rim, is largely feasible although a consolidated rim trail is in the proposal stage.

By plane

Los Alamos has a municipal airport, with daily service to Albuqerque via Boutique Air. The single runway is adequate for a large commercial jet, and its approach is extremely scenic: cross the Rio Grande Valley to perch on top of a narrow mesa with canyons on either side. Hertz rental car agency operates out of the airport terminal. Atomic Transit bus stops at the airport entrance on East Drive.

The Santa Fe airport (SAF, 40 minutes away by car) has very limited commercial service. Albuquerque (ABQ, 2 hours away by car) is served by most major airlines and is the airport of choice for most travelers to and from Los Alamos.

Get around

The downtown area is compact, and the museums and most restaurants are within easy walking distance of the main hotels and many of the B&Bs. Public transportation by Atomic City Transit is free and includes both fixed routes and an on-demand service.

Many Los Alamos residents bicycle to work and around town. Cycling is feasible for visitors as well, but be aware that the town is at an elevation of about 7320 feet (2231 meters) and quite hilly. Puffing up the hills before you've acclimated to the altitude can be a surprisingly exhausting experience.

Road cycling is popular here, and some competitive road bicycle racers come here to train. Popular routes include NM 502 between Los Alamos and Pojoaque, and Camp May Road up to Pajarito Mountain Ski Area. White Rock is nearly a thousand feet lower and about 10 miles (16 km) away by road; riding to it on a bike can be a thrill, but oh, that hill coming back! From White Rock you can take a bus back to townsite: Atomic City Transit buses are equipped with bike racks.

Los Alamos County has an extensive trails network that is open to mountain bikes. The network is especially well developed around townsite, and connects to trails in Santa Fe National Forest and Pajarito Mountain Ski Area. In summer and fall the ski area offers lift-served mountain biking: ride the lift up and bike down easy sideslope trails or bomb down very challenging trails designed specifically for mountain biking. The ski area also has a mountain biking terrain park.

See

Fuller Lodge

Ashley Pond, or is it Ashley Pond Pond?

One of the downtown landmarks dating to ranch-school days is a little puddle, fed by runoff from the mountains, called Ashley Pond. The visitor might surmise that this lakelet was named for someone significant in the ranch school named Ashley, but would be only half right: the founder of Los Alamos Ranch School was named Ashley Pond. Punning students attached Pond's name in toto to the body of water, which should perhaps be called "Ashley Pond Pond" or "Pond Pond," but history and wit trump accuracy. Whatever you call it, Ashley Pond has undergone a transformation from its muddy stock-tank origins to a pleasant and well-kept little park just south of Fuller Lodge that's a nice place for picnics in the warmer part of the year. Tend small children carefully, as the pond has no constructed barriers to keep them from getting into the water.

Do

Clubs and organizations

There are a surprising number of club and organizations in Los Alamos, something for everyone. Here are just a few to connect with (in no particular order).

Buy

Eat

Los Alamos used to have a well-deserved reputation as a culinary wasteland, but things have improved considerably in recent years. As with many communities in New Mexico, it makes sense to categorize restaurants as "New Mexican" (specializing in enchiladas, stuffed sopaipillas, etc., with the usual "red or green?" choice of chile—red is usually hotter, green more flavorful, but inquire) or otherwise. Area code for all restaurants is 505. One thing to note: most of the restaurants cater to the community more than to the tourist, and consequently, many are closed on Sunday and some even on Saturday(!). Check on open days and hours before deciding where to eat.

New Mexican

Budget

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

Los Alamos contains more churches than bars, which is a probably sufficient commentary on the night life. Some of the restaurants occasionally offer live entertainment on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Sleep

A caution: accommodations can be hard to find during the second week of October, when Albuquerque, 90 miles away, hosts the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. If you're visiting at that time and planning to stay in a hotel or B&B, reserve well in advance.

Lodging

There are curiously few hotels/motels in town, given the number of travelers (mainly professional) who pass through the area. The following list is complete as of December 2005, and is presented without recommendations; all are adequate, none outstanding. There are also several bed and breakfasts in Los Alamos and one or two in White Rock. All phone numbers are area code 505.

Camping

Stay safe

Violent crime is almost unknown in Los Alamos; it is one of the safest communities you'll ever visit. The biggest lawbreaking threat to life and limb is drunk drivers. Northern New Mexico has an unfortunate and well-deserved reputation for DUI problems. Until recently Los Alamos was an exception to this, but not any more. Be alert when driving on the arterial roads after 10PM or so, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights. Another driving hazard is wildlife, particularly deer and elk. Mule deer can be seen around town all year long, day and night. Herds of elk come down from the Jemez Mountains during the winter and often congregate around the roads. If your car hits an elk at highway speed, the elk may lose, but you will most assuredly not win. Again, be careful driving after sundown during the winter months.

Believe it or not, one of the most important types of fatal accident sustained by townspeople is falling off a cliff—sometimes a cliff literally in the victim's back yard. The sheer canyon walls that give the area much of its natural beauty also pose traps for the unwary recreational hiker. If you're out enjoying the many hiking trails around town, stay on the trail when around a cliff unless you're doing roped climbing.

In most other regards Los Alamos itself is an almost absurdly safe place. When in the forest camping, hiking, etc., take the usual precautions, with maybe a little extra attention to fire safety; several of the disastrous forest fires the area experienced over the last 30 years resulted from poorly constructed campfires that were not well put out and thus smoldered, eventually starting up again and igniting tinder. If the national forest is closed to camping owing to fire hazard (as often happens in early summer) or forbids open fires (which can happen almost any time from May until August), please comply and seek your accommodations somewhere else. One final note: bubonic plague is endemic to northern New Mexico, and plague-bearing fleas and rodents have been trapped from within the city limits. As cautioned in the article on Bandelier National Monument, if you see a distressed or dead rodent or other small animal, leave it alone; buzzards are immune to plague, you are not.

Medical care

Los Alamos Medical Center is a small municipal primary care hospital. Serious injuries are sent on to larger hospitals in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and more distant points by ambulance. Fixed and rotary wing air ambulances are available, the hospital has a helipad, and the municipal airport is barely two miles away.

Los Alamos Urgent Care is a popular choice for residents and visitors alike who need urgent but not emergency medical care.

Los Alamos is served by two mobile large animal veterinarians, High Desert Equine (+1 505 455-1001, based 15 minutes east of town) and Oso Mobile Veterinary Services (+1 505 695-0052, based in town). The nearest large animal clinic is Valley Veterinary Clinic (+1 505 455-2228‎) on 85/284 just north of Pojoaque. The nearest colic surgery is Thal Equine south of Santa Fe.

For small animals there is Animal Clinic of Los Alamos and Ridgeview Veterinary Hospital, both on East Road (NM 502).

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