Las Vegas is an oasis in the desert where no one sleeps, and every vice you can imagine is available—for the right price. But debauchery and hedonism are the lighter side of a more ominous history.
The isolation of Sin City was not only the perfect place to escape and act out fantasies, it was also an ideal place to do a whole bunch of nuclear testing. Starting in 1951, the Nevada Test Site was a very busy place, and most of the iconic images and photos from what we think of as the nuclear era come from NTS. The testing spot, now called the Nevada National Security Site, is about 65 miles northwest of the sparkling streets of Las Vegas proper.
While most tourists that visit the Capital of Second Chances are interested in the city’s rich gangster-soaked history of mobsters and indulgent celebrities or the unbelievable architecture of the casinos, those who take an interest in the Atomic Age are smack in the middle of the place where so much of it happened, and the Atomic Museum (previously known as the National Atomic Testing Museum) is the place to start.
Housing over 12,000 artifacts, the sobering museum showcases not only the history of the Nevada Test Site, but tells the story of the nation’s nuclear program and its impact on Las Vegas and the surrounding communities. During the ’50s and ’60s, the population in Las Vegas doubled and then tripled with people who wanted to be close to the exciting scientific happenings and watch the mushroom clouds billow against the sunset. The museum, affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, is not just Geiger counters and old black-and-white photos – it also highlights the pop culture and the sociological trends of what is arguably one of the most controversial periods in American history.
Know Before You Go
The museum is located just east of the Las Vegas Strip, on East Flamingo Road near the the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.