Ground Zero

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I’m intrigued by the mix of people. Some seem clueless, as if they might be at Disney World. But others have a serious, inquisitive look. Vladimir Shapovalov, a fifty-year-old Ukrainian scientist and professor of metallurgy, has wanted to see Trinity since childhood.

“I know about this place,” he says. “It is important because nobody knew if Germany would make atomic bombs first. That would have been very bad for all the world, Russia included.” Asked if he feels any irony standing with Americans here, after years of the nuclear arms buildup, Shapovalov flatly says no. “It was only political.” He smiles. “People are the same everywhere, I think.”

Trinity is not commercially exploited like, say, Roswell, of UFO fame. The few souvenirs available—some hats, T-shirts, a mug or two—can be purchased at cost from three small military trucks in the Trinity parking lot. There’s very little advertising for the open houses either; most visitors find out through word of mouth. Still, Blevins, the radiation specialist, says turnout has more than doubled since she started working here in 1987—from nine hundred visitors to around two thousand. “People are beginning to understand the historic significance of this place,” she says.

Overall I find Trinity a moving experience. And however you feel about tampering with the atom, I suspect you might too.

My most significant memory comes as I’m leaving, around noon, to return to Alamogordo with the caravan. To the right of the black monument, in a part of the fenced-in circle where nobody else has wandered, I spy a lone purple wildflower growing out of the sand. I bend down to inspect it, and there, on the desert floor six inches away, are two little pieces of Trinitite, undisturbed and sparkling green in the sun.

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