Visitors flocked to the southern New Mexico site where the world’s first atomic bomb was detonated on Saturday. The event saw a record turnout, possibly influenced by the excitement surrounding Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster film, “Oppenheimer.”
The Trinity Site, normally closed to the public due to its proximity to missile impact zones, welcomed thousands of visitors on Saturday. This designated National Historic Landmark opens its gates to spectators twice a year, in April and October. However, the exact number of attendees is not immediately available. In a social media post, the missile range reported that vehicles were lined up for more than 2 miles at the site even before the tours began.
White Sands officials warned the public that wait times could be as long as two hours to enter the site. Within the window between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., it is expected that no more than 5,000 visitors will be able to tour the area.
Visitors have also been advised to come prepared as Trinity Site is located in a remote area with limited Wi-Fi, no cell service, and no restroom facilities.
“Oppenheimer” is a summer box office hit that retells the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s involvement in the top-secret Manhattan Project during World War II. The project was conducted in Los Alamos, a secret city established by scientists and military officials, while its testing occurred at the Trinity Site, approximately 200 miles away.
A contributing factor to the success of the film was the “Barbenheimer” phenomenon, where moviegoers would combine a trip to watch the “Barbie” movie and “Oppenheimer” in a double feature.
Although the atomic bomb has become part of pop culture, it was a painful reality for residents living downwind of Trinity Site. The Tularosa Basin Downwinders group plans to protest outside the site’s gates to raise awareness about a side of history they feel the movie failed to address.
The group claims that the U.S. government never warned residents about the testing and that radioactive ash contaminated the soil and water, leading to increased rates of infant mortality, cancer, and other illnesses. Advocates say that there are younger generations currently dealing with health issues linked to those past events.
The Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium has been working alongside the Union of Concerned Scientists and others for years to bring attention to the impact of the Manhattan Project. A new documentary by filmmaker Lois Lipman, titled “First We Bombed New Mexico,” premiered at the Santa Fe International Film Festival on Friday.
The town of Los Alamos, located over 200 miles north of the Tularosa Basin, has embraced the notoriety from “Oppenheimer.” Many of its residents, who are employees of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, acted as extras in the film. The city also hosted an Oppenheimer Festival in July.