SAN ANTONIO, N.M. (KRQE) - It was July 16, 1945, when a spot in the middle of the New Mexico desert near San Antonio became known as “Trinity.”
The site of the world’s first nuclear detonation has become one of the state’s top tourist destinations. However, because it is located entirely within the boundaries of White Sands Missile Range, it is only open two days a year – the first Saturdays in April and October.
And while it was open this spring, the Trinity site will be closed this month because the missile range doesn’t have the money to open it. That’s thanks to the sequester, a budget-cutting deal passed this spring by Congress, which is different from the current government shutdown.
“We had to make some really hard decisions,” said Monte Marlin, public affairs officer for White Sands, who has handled the tours for decades. “There are people from across the country, and maybe other countries, that are planning vacations, so this kind of messes up their plans.”
Each time the site opens, it costs between $20,000 and $30,000 to rent buses, hire drivers and security guards and provide bathrooms and water, she said.
The Trinity tours began in 1964, and White Sands has only canceled the event once since then – the October after 9/11, Marlin said. White Sands halts all weapons operations at the 3,200-square-mile facility during Trinity tours.
The Trinity tours have created a twice-a-year cottage industry in the area with businesses in San Antonio, Socorro, Alamogordo and other nearby towns planning events to attract the roughly 3,000 Trinity tourists.
For example, Bob Olguin slings thousands of green chile cheeseburgers during Trinity openings at his Buckhorn Tavern in San Antonio about a dozen miles from the gateway to Trinity.
“Oh my gosh,” Olguin said. “People (come) from all over the world.”
He said he’s anticipating a significant drop-off in business.
“It will affect us,” Olguin said. “There’s no doubt. It’s going to affect everybody.”
Phoebe Wood, owner of San Antonio’s Casa Blanca Bed and Breakfast, said she is usually booked solid for Trinity. But not this year.
“I don’t have anybody here Friday and Saturday night,” she said.
Marlin said White Sands remains committed to opening the Trinity site and will do so again once funding becomes available.
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