May 15 2009 by Sam Lowe
My primary reason for a trip to Los Alamos, N.M., was curiosity. Like many senior travelers, I have some vivid memories of World War II, so I wanted to see the Los Alamos National Laboratory where the first atomic bomb was developed. I didn't get the close look I wanted, but I did manage to tour a Black Hole and eat breakfast in a chapel.
Visitors don't get to see much at the laboratory because they're not allowed inside, but the Bradbury Science Museum at 15th Street and Central downtown presents interactive exhibits and displays about the Manhattan Project and its role in the creation of the first A-bomb. Operated by the lab, it also explores current research and technology being conducted in the facility. And, as a bonus, it's free.
The Black Hole is a combination antique store, curio shop, surplus outlet, anti-nuclear site and art gallery. It was started by the late Ed Grothus, a former employee of the National Laboratory. He left the lab in 1969 and dedicated the rest of his life waging a campaign to end the manufacture of nuclear weapons. He also converted armaments into art forms; some are still on display at the one-of-a-kind establishment, located at 4015 Arkansas Street.
My tour took longer than expected so I had to seek lodging for the night and found it at the Best Western Hilltop House Hotel at 400 Trinity Drive. While checking in, the desk clerk recommended that I have breakfast in the La Vista Restaurant on the third floor so I did. The food was good, the history of the restaurant was even better.
When owner Robert Waterman built the hotel in the 1990s, he also bought a chapel from a military base in Lubbock, Tex., and had it taken apart, piece by piece. His crews marked each individual board, then trucked them to Los Alamos where they were reassembled as part of the hotel. Now the former chapel seats 90 and features floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows that face east and cast a spectacular light show when the sun rises overy the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
And you don't have to say grace before eating your meal. But, considering the way things are these days, it probably wouldn't hurt.