Jon de Vos: What stays in Vegas, happened in Vegas
May 9, 2008
Sometime around 1990, Las Vegas made a tactical marketing error by attempting to open their advertising arms to include families. It was like they were trying to lower the bar, the one that says, “You must be this tall to enter.”
Casinos added “fun centers” for children to entertain them while mommy managed the family savings at the craps table. The fun centers themselves were little gambling training camps with easily won tokens traded for stuffed fuzzy companions to remind kids how great things were before the bank got the house back.
The experiment in Sin City’s wholesome fare lasted only about a decade. It was as if the gambling fraternity collectively woke up and realized kids had no money, while taking up the same amount of space as an oil sheikh. Not only that, and not me of course, but I’ve heard that there are those who prefer sin over thumping the Good Book. For shame. What better place to collect those desperate lost souls but Las Vegas where they can be turned into pillars of salt in one fell swoop?
From the Freemont Experience to the top of the Stratosphere, Las Vegas is a blast. And for more than a decade it was a blast, literally.
The first atomic bomb exploded at the Nevada Proving Grounds in January 1951, a scant 65 miles from this gambling Mecca. For the next 12 years, there was an average of one nuclear detonation every three weeks.
In the Horatio Algiers example of lemons to lemonade, Las Vegas capitalized on the thermonuclear displays, quickly dubbing itself the “Atomic City.” The mushroom cloud adorned everything from the neon signs to the backs of cards and all the while cleverly fooling visitors into not thinking past the spectacle itself ” a magician’s trick in the culture of the Cold War. Miss Atomic Bomb, clad in only a puffy mushroom cloud, helped alleviate the Russian threat, softening the consciousness of air raids and bomb shelters. Rooms were booked weeks in advance of an announced test and it was generally agreed that the best viewing spot was the bar in the Sky Room at the Desert Inn with it’s wide expanses of glass facing the stage, er, the only above-ground test site in America. Flashes from the explosions were routinely seen as far away as Montana.
Closer to home, there have been four nuclear devices exploded in Colorado, each of them several times larger than the bomb that leveled Hiroshima. The first one, Project Rulison, was a 43-kiloton device detonated in the spring of 1969 about eight miles from the town of Parachute and about a mile and a half below the surface. It was a combined effort of Operation Plowshare, which was researching peacetime uses of the bomb, and Operation Mandrel, researching wartime uses of the bomb. They determined that the wartime use was to blow the hell out of everything, while the peacetime use was to blow the hell out of oil shale ” extracting natural gas and at the same time creating a huge underground storage tank to keep it in.
It worked, too, but the whole doggone experiment was ruined when Homer Simpson walked in and announced, “Duh-Oh! What if the natural gas gets radioactive?”
The sad thing is I’m not kidding.
To this day, there is still a buffer zone around the area to keep people away from stray plutonium lingering around the blast site. Surely it’s no coincidence that old-timers say there’s an area just a hitch outside of Grand Junction where the Columbines grow ten feet tall and chase coyotes by the light of the moon.
By 1974, scientists had decided that the problem with Project Rulison was that the blast wasn’t big enough. No, seriously. They set up Project Rio Blanco which provided the simultaneous underground explosion of three 33-kiloton bombs at a spot 32 miles from Grand Junction. One rancher who, in protest, refused to vacate the area for the day as requested by the army, lay on the ground five miles from the epicenter. He said he was hurled into the air when the bombs went off and admitted later that he, “probably shouldn’t have stayed.” Scientists claimed at first that the harmful effects dissipated and there was no harm to humans but growing numbers of sick and dying pets and livestock living downwind from the test site, led to the Limited Test Ban of 1963, ending Las Vegas’ fascination with a booming economy.
The bombs that leveled vast portions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, by comparison to the Colorado bombs, were 13 and 20-kilotons in size. Rio Blanco also produced natural gas, but in lower-than-hoped-for quantities, and again, too radioactive to use until the year 2525.
If man is still alive.
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