A small city in south-central New Mexico, about 70 miles east of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Founded in 1898 as a stop on the El Paso and Northwestern Railroad, its name comes from the Spanish term for the Cottonwood trees found in the town -- "alamo" is "cottonwood" and "gordo" is "fat" so the name is literally "Fat cottonwoods".

Modern Alamogordo is a military-oriented city, as it is the location of Holloman AFB (home of the F-117 stealth fighter) and is within easy drives of White Sands Missile Range near Las Cruces, and Fort Bliss in El Paso. Besides being home of the the stealth fighter, Alamogordo is noteworthy for being one of the few places where foreign troops are based on US soil. The German Fliegerisches Ausbildungszentrum der Luftwaffe (German Air Force Flight Training Center) has been housed at Holloman since 1996, and F-4s and Tornadoes are occasionally visible in the skies over town. In fact, the unit's insignia is the German Maltese cross sharing a yellow field with the New Mexican Zia sun-sign. To make their guests feel at home, Alamogordo now has an Oktoberfest every year.

Beyond its military significance, Alamogordo is the closest city to White Sands National Monument, a vast plain of gypsum sand eroded from the nearby mountains and washed down into the Tularosa basin. The monument lies west of town on Highway 70. The city is bounded on the eastern side by the Sacramento Mountains. It is the county seat of Otero County, New Mexico and is the home of the Alamogordo Space Center, a decent space museum complete with an IMAX theater. (In case you don't know, southern New Mexico is crazy about space, ever since the first captured V-2 was launched at WSMR, not to mention Robert Goddard's work in Roswell.) Alamogordo also hosts a miniature railroad in a park alongside the real one, and New Mexico's oldest zoo.

For me, Alamogordo was a man-made oasis on my various travels, usually serving as a fill-up station for trips between NMSU and the Apache Point Observatory at Sunspot. It's also a pit stop for Las Crucens and El-Pasoans on their way to doing some skiing in Ruidoso, New Mexico. It's a dry, desert city, with only ten inches of rain a year. Unlike Las Cruces (a desert city in its own right), Alamogordo doesn't have the Rio Grande as a source of water, so the agriculture is limited without lots of precious well water. Still, they manage to raise cattle, and pull a few decent crops out of the ground, including pistachios. (When you see a sign for fresh pistachios on Highway 54 north of town, by all means, STOP. Buy the ones roasted in green chile powder.) Nearby Tularosa, graced with a bit more water, boasts some decent vineyards, and apples are a great autumn treat from Cloudcroft and Carrizozo. But mostly, what they grow is dust, by the megaton, whipped up by winds blowing across White Sands. I remember coming down the mountains from Cloudcroft once, and seeing no fewer than six dust devils dancing across the open desert northwest of town. And these were real monsters, hundreds of feet high, visible for miles.

However, one thing that isn't in Alamogordo is the Trinity Site. While escorted access to the site meets at the Otero County fairgrounds (the other "Stallion gate" entrance is on Highway 380, a dozen miles east of I-25), the actual site of the explosion is more than 70 miles northwest of town, in the northern extension of the Missile Range. Though I don't doubt that many people in Alamogordo were startled awake on July 16, 1945, ground zero was in the Jornado del Muerte - the journey of death - along the ancient Camino Real between Mexico City and Santa Fe.

Cobbled together from the Alamogordo chamber of commerce, Southern New Mexico Online, www.holloman.af.mil, and fading memory.

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