The Nevada National Security Site might not ring a bell right away, most people will know it better by its previous name: the Nevada Test Site.
There was a time when that empty desert was shut down primarily for nuclear tests. More than 1,000 nuclear devices were tested there. The mushroom clouds that could be easily seen from the Las Vegas Strip quickly became featured tourist attractions. If you weren’t lucky enough to catch one from a window, the effects of the explosions could be felt as well. Tests often shook the ground under Las Vegans and guests.
Alan Gegax is too young to remember all this. Nevertheless, the Test Site caught his attention long ago. But the regular bus tour open for the public wasn’t enough. He wanted more. He wanted a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the portions of the Site that have been restricted.
“That starts all the way back at the Atomic Testing Museum,” Alan Gegax recalls. “I went to check out if there might be a story about the museum. At the end, I was wandering through the gift shop and saw these press releases and one of them really caught my eye. It was a press release about an effort being made to restore some of these destroyed areas.”
Soon after, Gegax contacted a NNSS public officer and was invited to see the Test Site.
He was accompanied by several scientists, one NNSS public officer and one member of the Southern Paiutes Tribe. He learned that only 10 percent of the Test Site was used for the actual nuclear tests, and that 10 percent brought him right back to the Cold War Era.
“The town of Mercury at the base's entrance is ripped right out of 1950s,” Gegax says. “Every building is concrete and cinderblock; every angle is a right angle. It’s all grays and pastels. You can easily imagine Russian bombers flying over it, and I’m sure that’s what they had in mind when the area was put together.”
What’s on the other 90 percent of the Test Site’s surface? Gegax says it’s just a pristine desert with all its rich wildlife.
Gegax admitted the undisturbed part, the one that looks like “just undisturbed desert” was the most fascinating thing he’d ever seen, because it was preserved the way it had been for thousands of years.
He says it doesn’t have the footprints of modern life. Ancient artifacts like arrowheads, pieces of baskets and ancient tools were right under his feet.
Gegax says his walk through the Test Site brought him a better understanding of the Cold War and he noticed that the era can be seen in every aspect of the Site’s layout.
The sheer size of the Site was stunning to the long-time hiker, along with how natural and untouched the Test Site is and how resilient local plants and animals are.
Alan Gegax, outdoor writer, Desert Companion
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