What turned the white sands to green | PostIndependent.com

What turned the white sands to green

Bill Kight

It’s a beautiful morning as we wait at the north entrance, called the Stallion gate, to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.My daughter Amber and I are on a road trip with a mission. We want to learn firsthand about the Trinity site where the world’s first atomic bomb was exploded.That hot day in the desert, July 16, 1945, would change the world forever, a world that I would be brought into some 13 months and 26 days later.We wait in a long line of cars for the gate to open at 8 a.m. A ray of sun breaks through the clouds and lights up the 8,000 foot Oscura Mountains on the eastern horizon.The lure of the landscape is truly enchanting. Amber echoes the same feeling when she mentions the deep blue of the sky, piercing through the clouds off to the west.Finally the security guards let us into one of the largest military installation on U.S. soil, some 2 million acres – equal in size to Rhode Island and Delaware combined.The last time I had been allowed into this secretive place was in March 1982 to help prepare a public viewing area for the third landing of the Space Shuttle Columbia.It was the only time a space shuttle would use the missile range’s Northrup Strip as a backup landing site.The public is allowed into the Trinity site only twice a year, the first Saturday in April and October.The car convoy we are part of makes its way into the parking lot near where the atomic bomb exploded, which is surrounded with a high chain link fence topped with barbed wire.I grab a breakfast burrito from one of the vendors, and we walk the last hundred yards to ground zero.Before approaching the lava-rock obelisk that marks the location of the bomb tower we stop under a small canopy and examine small pieces of Trinitite.Trinitite resulted from the blast turning the desert sand into a light green material that is almost pure melted silica along with minerals like Olivine and Feldspar.Most of the Trinitite has been removed from the blast site. Any that remains is illegal to remove because the area is on the National Register of Historic Places.We wait for the crowd around the black obelisk to thin out so I can snap a picture of Amber standing at ground zero.After reading all the interpretive signs along the perimeter fence, we catch a shuttle for the McDonald Ranch where the bomb was assembled.Back at the parking lot we buy a few souvenirs and head back to Socorro some 30 miles to the north. But on the way we are too hungry to pass up a world famous hamburger from the Owl Bar and Café in San Antonio.From Socorro we drive to Mountainair to see relatives.Amber and I are in our own world of private thoughts about what man has leashed upon the world.With more than 25 years of experience in federal land management agencies, Bill Kight, of Glenwood Springs, shares his stories with readers every other week.

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