Record-Setting Attendance at New Mexico’s Trinity Site Spurred by ‘Oppenheimer’ Movie Hype

by Ethan Kim
Trinity Site Attendance

This past Saturday, crowds thronged the Trinity Site in southern New Mexico, the location where the first atomic bomb was detonated. Officials suggest that this could be an unprecedented level of attendance, stimulated in part by the widespread publicity for Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed film, “Oppenheimer.”

The Trinity Site, officially recognized as a National Historic Landmark, is generally off-limits to the public due to its location near the impact areas for missiles launched at the White Sands Missile Range. However, the site becomes accessible to the public twice a year, in the months of April and October. Although exact attendance figures for this weekend were not available as of midnight Saturday, a social media update from the missile range reported a line of vehicles extending over two miles in anticipation of the day’s tours.

Officials from White Sands took to online platforms to caution potential visitors that entry wait times might extend up to two hours. The expectation is that no more than 5,000 people will be able to visit the site during the six-hour window from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Further advisories urged visitors to arrive well-prepared as the Trinity Site is situated in a remote area with limited Wi-Fi, absent cell service, and no restroom facilities.

The film “Oppenheimer,” which dramatizes the life and work of J. Robert Oppenheimer and the secretive Manhattan Project during World War II, enjoyed blockbuster status at the summer box office. The Manhattan Project was chiefly operational in a clandestine city in Los Alamos during the 1940s and conducted tests at the Trinity Site, located some 200 miles away.

An unexpected element contributing to the film’s success has been the “Barbenheimer” phenomenon, where audiences watched “Oppenheimer” back-to-back with the “Barbie” movie. While the story of the atomic bomb has been integrated into popular culture, it serves as a grim historical chapter for those who resided downwind of the Trinity Site. Advocacy group, the Tularosa Basin Downwinders, intends to stage protests outside the site to highlight historical elements they claim the film neglected to cover.

The group contends that local populations were never alerted by the U.S. government about the atomic testing. The aftermath resulted in the contamination of soil and water by radioactive ash, leading to a rise in rates of infant mortality, cancer, and other health conditions. Ongoing issues continue to affect younger generations, say the advocates.

In addition to other initiatives, the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium has collaborated with organizations such as the Union of Concerned Scientists to raise awareness about the Manhattan Project’s adverse impacts. A new documentary, “First We Bombed New Mexico,” by filmmaker Lois Lipman premiered on Friday at the Santa Fe International Film Festival.

In contrast, the town of Los Alamos, situated more than 200 miles north of the Tularosa Basin, has welcomed the attention generated by “Oppenheimer.” Approximately 200 local residents, many of whom are employees of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, participated as extras in the film. Additionally, the town celebrated an Oppenheimer Festival in the month of July.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Trinity Site Attendance

What led to the likely record attendance at New Mexico’s Trinity Site?

The likely record turnout at the Trinity Site in southern New Mexico is attributed in part to the widespread attention garnered by Christopher Nolan’s film, “Oppenheimer.” The movie has spurred public interest in the historical site where the first atomic bomb was detonated.

Is the Trinity Site usually open to the public?

No, the Trinity Site is typically closed to the public because it is situated near the impact zones for missiles launched at the White Sands Missile Range. However, it opens twice a year, in April and October, for public visitation.

What are officials advising visitors to the Trinity Site?

Officials are advising that the wait time to enter the gates of the Trinity Site could be as long as two hours. Furthermore, the site is in a remote area with limited Wi-Fi and no cell service or restrooms, so visitors are advised to come prepared.

What is the “Barbenheimer” phenomenon?

The “Barbenheimer” phenomenon refers to the practice of audiences watching the “Oppenheimer” film back-to-back with the “Barbie” movie. This unexpected trend has contributed to the success of “Oppenheimer” at the box office.

Who are the Tularosa Basin Downwinders, and what is their concern?

The Tularosa Basin Downwinders are an advocacy group that plans to protest outside the gates of the Trinity Site. They aim to bring attention to the negative health impacts suffered by residents who lived downwind of the site during the atomic tests. They claim that the U.S. government did not warn the local populations, leading to soil and water contamination and increased rates of various health conditions.

What initiatives are being taken to highlight the Manhattan Project’s adverse effects?

The Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium has worked with organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists to raise awareness. A new documentary, “First We Bombed New Mexico,” by filmmaker Lois Lipman, also premiered recently at the Santa Fe International Film Festival to bring attention to this issue.

How has the town of Los Alamos responded to the film “Oppenheimer”?

Los Alamos has embraced the attention from the film. About 200 local residents, many of whom work at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, were extras in the film. The town also hosted an Oppenheimer Festival in July to celebrate the movie and its historical context.

More about Trinity Site Attendance

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Rachel Simmons October 21, 2023 - 11:41 pm

The Downwinders have a point. We should also focus on the real life consequences and not just the Hollywood version of things.

John Smith October 22, 2023 - 3:06 am

Wow, didn’t know Oppenheimer had such an impact on Trinity Site attendance. That’s some powerful storytelling!

Tom Wright October 22, 2023 - 7:45 am

Very informative article, lots of good points. Didn’t know about the Barbenheimer phenomenon but it sounds hilarious lol.

Mike Johnson October 22, 2023 - 1:20 pm

Surprised by how Los Alamos is embracing the film, considering the dark history and all. But I guess any publicity is good publicity?

Alex Carter October 22, 2023 - 5:15 pm

i was at the site last year and it was much quieter. Guess Hollywood really does shape reality huh.

Karen Davis October 22, 2023 - 9:18 pm

Two hours wait? No thanks, but I guess its a good thing that people wanna learn more bout history.

Emily Thompson October 22, 2023 - 9:51 pm

Its crazy how a movie can suddenly make people interested in history. Should have been paying attention in school folks.


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