Seeing the industrial and political landscape of the southwest
September 30, 2007 4:25 PM   Subscribe

I'm taking a road trip through the southwest, and I'd like to see places with an interesting backstory or that show you "behind the scenes." I'm interested in places with political, economic, environmental, or industrial significance. Can you recommend some?

Here's the route: Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Taos, Moab, Phoenix. I have 11 days. I've done most of this as a tourist before, so I'm interested in seeing some of the more hidden sights.

As I said, I'm interested in the politics, economics, history, environmental, and industrial factors behind the landscape. I'm still modifying the route so I can check out interesting places. Here are the kind of places I'm talking about:

- power infrastructure (Black Mesa, the Glen Canyon Dam)
- water infrastructure (aqueducts, river diversions?)
- the nuclear program (I'm missing the Trinity Test Site visitor day by a week! Should I still go to Alamogordo? Where to go near Los Alamos?)
- mining booms and busts, related pollution (Moab's uranium tailings pile; oil, gas, and coalbed methane development)
- industrial-scale production of anything from cattle to computer chips
- Native American history (the Cochise stronghold)
- prisons, military bases, and other nearly-blank spaces on the map (obviously, I can't enter, but I would like to know they're there)
- anything else related to political, economic, or cultural geographies (I really like Jake Kosek's stuff)
- wildlife protection or environmental restoration areas, current environmental disputes

I'm interested in current or upcoming issues, not just history, and I have just started trying to get up to speed about some of the work going on now. If you have anything interesting you'd like to share but would need kept fairly quiet, my email is in my profile. (I work for an environmental nonprofit, so I understand that certain information is sensitive and needs to stay fairly confidential to keep sites from being defaced or overrun with visitors, or to protect ongoing acquisitions, negotiations, or investigations.) Thank you!
posted by salvia to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If you're going to Taos, visit the pueblo.

To the West of Albuquerque, you can visit Acoma. They have a visitor's center and you can tour the pueblo at the top of a mesa where there is no water and no power. The walking tour of the pueblo is pretty interesting. The guides, all Acoma residents, will tell you the history of the area. The land is amazingly beautiful.

To the South and West of Albuquerque, you can visit the National Radio Astronomy Observatory Very Large Array (VLA). It is very cool. We took our 6 yr old son to both Acoma and the VLA on two consecutive days this summer. He declared Acoma the worst day of his life. We declared the VLA trip one of the best.

If you're willing to go further South in New Mexico, Alamogordo has the New Mexico Museum of Space History. It's pretty cool. The drive to Alamogordo is very pretty and it is easy to reach White Sands National Monument and Carlsbad from there.

26 miles outside of Carlsbad, NM is the WIPP site for long term storage of radioactive waste. They provide tours to the public.
posted by onhazier at 5:42 PM on September 30, 2007

There seem to be a bunch of mine tours but I have no experence with those near where you will be.

I have done the Mollie Kathelene gold mine tour in Colorado and it was pretty cool.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 5:49 PM on September 30, 2007

I feel like I've posted this on AskMeFi before, but where you need to be is the Titan II Missle Museum, a decommissioned nuclear silo in Green Valley, AZ.
posted by escabeche at 6:12 PM on September 30, 2007

You are looking for the website of the Center for Land Use Interpretation.

posted by billtron at 8:09 PM on September 30, 2007

There are some very large copper strip mines in Southern AZ.
posted by Brian B. at 9:00 PM on September 30, 2007

I would recommend the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson (who runs the Titan II Museum posted above) and get the AMARC tour. They take you through Davis-Monthan Air Force Base's massive aircraft boneyard. Quite a sight to see.
posted by azpenguin at 11:24 PM on September 30, 2007

Alamagordo does have a spaceflight museum (which I missed when I visited). And White Sands National Monument, while not fitting your agenda, is pretty cool.

It's a ways off your path, but if you can make it to a star party at the McDonald Observatory, I suspect you might enjoy that.
posted by adamrice at 6:48 AM on October 1, 2007

In Los Alamos, you might consider the Bradbury Science Museum, which is run by Los Alamos National Lab.

If you want the true Los Alamos experience, though, you'll check out Ed's Black Hole, which is a massive museum/store of "stuff" purchased at surplus from LANL by Ed Grothus, a former LANL employee and all-around interesting guy. Apparently, a film has been made about "Atomic Ed and the Black Hole."
posted by JMOZ at 7:11 AM on October 1, 2007

In Albquerque, there's the National Atomic Museum . Even if you are missing Trinity Site, you can still drive through White Sands Missile Range on US 380, although the road is sometimes closed if they are actually using the Northern part of the range. Definitely a nearly blank space on the map. You will pass much closer than you would visiting Alamogordo.

There is an Intel plant in Albuquerque.

From Taos to Moab you will be passing through the 4 corners area, which has a ton of oil and gas development. Pollution of cattle ranching areas has turned up in recent news stories. You can probably cover a lot of things on your list here.

There is a bird preserve area about 80 or 90 miles south of Albuquerque (just south of the freeway exit for 380), the Bosque Del Apache. Continuing north to Albuquerque along I-25, you pass by the prison in Los Lunas, which can be seen from the freeway to your right.

As far as water infrastructure, you might be interested in the acequia system of irrigation in the Rio Grande Valley. Some of the old ditches date back to before Europeans came to the area, and are currently maintained in a way that may differ from other irrigation systems you are familiar with.
posted by yohko at 11:03 AM on October 2, 2007

« Older Help me find this shoe!   |   Moving from Advertising to Web Development. What... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.