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San Juan College Chautauqua focuses on nuclear tourism in New Mexico
Author, professor M. Jimmie Killingsworth to speak Friday
FARMINGTON — Tourism may be one of New Mexico's strongest and fastest-growing industries, but one facet of it that remains virtually unknown will be the focus of a presentation Friday at San Juan College.
The boundaries of what constitutes tourism have expanded in recent years, with thriving markets being developed for such untraditional areas as agritourism and adventure tourism. New Mexico has tried to capitalize on that trend with its entry into space tourism through the Spaceport America project near Truth or Consequences and even a tourism industry built around the locations featured in the critically acclaimed AMC series "Breaking Bad," which was shot primarily in Albuquerque.
But author and college professor M. Jimmie Killingsworth says New Mexico also is home to another, lesser-known form of tourism — nuclear tourism — and he plans on providing local residents with an introduction to that field in his Chautauqua presentation "Nuclear New Mexico: The Tour" at 7 p.m. Friday in the Little Theatre on the San Juan College campus, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington.
Killingsworth, a professor emeritus at Texas A&M University and the author of 11 books, developed the idea for the presentation and an accompanying book five years ago. His field of study focused on environmental attitudes, and Killingsworth said he began to think about the relationship between nuclear power and atomic weapons, and modern environmentalism, noting the two came into being side by side.
Killingsworth had lived in New Mexico until the 1980s and moved back here in 2012, and the state's crucial role in the development of the atomic bomb prompted his exploration of the subject. He and his wife, co-author Jacqueline Palmer, began visiting the well-known sites around the state that are associated with development of the bomb, such as the Trinity Site southeast of Socorro and Los Alamos National Laboratory.
But Killingsworth said he and his wife quickly learned about the existence of other sites around the state that are connected to the subject, including the Grants Mining District, and they'll focus on those locations in their Chautauqua.
"There are historic sites, and there are shadow sites," he said. "Some sites reveal information about nuclear history and some conceal the history of it. That's one of the main themes we work through."
Killingsworth said the presentation, which has been delivered around the state under the auspices of the New Mexico Humanities Council, is tailored to focus on areas that are of interest to local residents.
"We're going to talk in particular about what's happened in the Four Corners," he said, referring to the region's history of uranium mining.
The Chautauqua is accompanied by the photography of James Frost.
The book Killingsworth and his wife are writing will include a dozen sites, but he said their Chautauqua presentations are limited to eight to 10 sites. The presentation sometimes veers into territory that isn't strictly related to nuclear history, he said, explaining that he likes to include information on alleged alien landing sites near Roswell and Aztec because belief in those incidents reflects the secrecy that surrounded the development of the atomic bomb.
"To us, that suggests a growing sense of distrust (in the government) and also a growing sense of what's possible (through nuclear technology)," he said.
Killingsworth and his wife have delivered the presentation several times, most recently in Texas, and they were surprised at how little the young undergraduate students they spoke to there knew about America's nuclear history.
"This was our big shock. … They knew virtually nothing about the Trinity Site and Robert Oppenheimer," he said. "That's an example of how much history has faded. For somebody my age, it's inconceivable we would forget these things."
Killingsworth expects his Four Corners audience to be better informed on the subject.
"We have reminders of it," he said. "It's part of our heritage and culture."
Nuclear tourism isn't limited to New Mexico, of course, and Killingsworth noted that several books besides the one he has planned have been devoted to the subject.
But he said Los Alamos and the Trinity Site, where the first atomic bomb was detonated in July 1945, are perhaps the two most obvious and popular destinations. He said that the open house event held at the Trinity Site each year is now held twice annually to meet demand, and people from around the world travel there.
The subject of his presentation is also very timely, given the rising tensions between the U.S. and North Korea over the latter's rapidly growing nuclear weapons program, Killingsworth said.
"Right now seems like an appropriate time to explore the meaning of nuclear arms and how this relates to us directly," he said.
Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.