Trails and trials in Los Alamos, New Mexico

When you mention Los Alamos, New Mexico, to most outsiders they think of the Manhattan Project and the atomic bomb, or Los Alamos National Laboratory, the world-class international science community it’s home to now.

I wasn’t born yet during World War II, but short of J. Robert Oppenheimer rising from the dead I was in Los Alamos for the second most newsworthy time in its history: the 2000 Cerro Grande Fire.

I was an editor/reporter for the town’s local paper and evacuated with the residents.

I also covered the Wen Ho Lee trial and the murders of two teens from Los Alamos High School who were gunned down during a Good Friday pilgrimage.  

These events happened within a few short months in sleepy Los Alamos, better known for its outdoorsy vibe than cultural stimulation like artsy Santa Fe.

What most people don’t know is, “Lost Almost” is a heck of a trail runner’s town.

It’s the launching point into the Jemez Mountains. (I hiked in them the day before my daughter was born.)
And it’s also where you find Bandelier National Monument, home to ancient Indian ruins and cave dwellings. If you know where to go you can run the trails into the back side of the park. (I did it a few times with friends and LOVED it.)

It’s a good thing you can do so much outdoors in Los Alamos because there’s not much indoors.

It has a few restaurants and hotels, its own science museum, and a single movie theater. And, yes, the locals dry up what excitement they can.

Truly you could watch paint dry in Los Alamos — except for that one eventful year I worked there as journalist.


Fire, alleged espionage, the slain teens (they were the first violent deaths reported there in decades) — who knew  “the Hill”  (as locals called) could handle so much?

That year didn’t leave me much time for trail running. When I worked in Los Alamos a few years earlier as a technical editor for a lab contractor I did.

I often ran on trails across the street from where some lab employees had a gym facility. The area was lush and wooded, and I saw a lot of deer there.

I never went back to that trail head to see how it faired after the fire.

I saw enough, however, in my everyday work at the paper.

When residents returned after the blaze the ponderosa pines that covered most of the hillsides looked like razor stubble. (See below.)

About 48,000 acres and 250 homes were burned.

In some neighborhoods houses stood untouched while those next door were gone.

One of my coworkers, who had lived there most of her life, lost everything.

Some people like her moved away. Others rebuilt.

It’s now been 10 years since all that happened.

From what I can tell the community has risen from the ashes. Luckily that includes all the great recreation. 

Los Alamos is still a stunningly beautiful place to visit, even with the scars. It will take decades for new growth to cover the fire’s evidence but eventually it will.

If you are ever there at the right time of  year and love trail races you might consider The Pajarito Trail Fest  or the Valle Caldera Marathon.  (This race takes place within the pristine Valle Caldera Preserve and has only been open for a public run the last few years.)

I never got to do those races while I was there, but they are on the bucket list.

I’m glad I got to the people and places of “Lost Almost” when I did.  It’s full of history and trails to explore.

Aging is inevitable, but growing old is a choice. Lace up your shoes, and let’s go.

Mileage today: 12; Denver to Boston miles logged: 897; Miles left to go: 873.

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