After 35 years of sharing Los Alamos history, stories and sites with visitors, Atomic City Tours owner Georgia Strickfaden has decided to retire.
The fact that her canary-yellow tour bus will no longer be spotted around town has caught the entire County’s attention. Los Alamos County Council paid its respects to Strickfaden Tuesday night by declaring Wednesday, Jan. 8, Georgia Strickfaden Day.
The proclamation states:
Strickfaden told Council that it was humbling to be recognized as an individual business by the County, adding, “It has been a really good ride; it has been neat to have tourism come to forefront.”
Showing off Los Alamos has been something Strickfaden has done even before starting her touring company in 1985. She said she worked as a casual public liaison for Los Alamos National Laboratory. Strickfaden explained that in that role she gave tours of the town to perspective LANL employees.
In providing tours to Lab employees as well as working as a docent at the Los Alamos History Museum, Strickfaden said she saw first-hand that newcomers and visitors didn’t know that much about Los Alamos.
Strickfaden said people would come to the history museum asking, “Where is Los Alamos?” This, she said, made her want to drive them around the County and show them.
As a result, Strickfaden founded Buffalo Tours, which eventally became Atomic City Tours.
“My original dream was to do tours in Los Alamos, White Rock, Bandelier … I had to sell Los Alamos to a larger market,” she said.
This was no easy task because at the time, Strickfaden pointed out that tour companies were not only rare in Los Alamos but outside of the County, too. She said there was only one touring company in Santa Fe.
So, she said she had to develop an expertise outside of Los Alamos. Strickfaden read newspapers, history books and biographies.
“My intent was to get people to Los Alamos,” Strickfaden said.
When the Bradbury Science Museum moved to its current location, that helped Strickfaden with her business goal.
“There was my market,” she said.
Another positive factor was Strickfaden’s former business partner, Lucy Wallace. Strickfaden said Wallace was a “big asset”, in fact, Strickfaden said her long-range plan was for Wallace to take over the business. However, Wallace had to move out of state due to family obligations.
Additionally, Strickfaden said with the Manhattan National Historical Park established, more people are finding their way to Los Alamos’ historic areas including the history museum and Fuller Lodge. The local tourism industry also received a boost when the County implemented a tourism strategic plan.
There is still work to be done, Strickfaden said.
“I’m really pleased Los Alamos finally recognizes we have tourism … but we’ve got to get more lodging,” she said.
Strickfaden said she is slowly retiring. Her business is up for sale and she offers some advice to the next owner.
“I have learned that I need to stick with it … you really have to put a lot of time and effort in it,” she said.
There have been many rewards with owning a local tour company. Strickfaden said she is happy when she gets visitors to go up the street and experience more of Los Alamos than just the Bradbury Science Museum.
She added one of her favorite spots to take visitors is past the ice rink, on the road toward the ski hill. The views there are spectacular, Strickfaden said.
Plus, “I’ve gotten to meet an awful lot of really neat people,” she said, noting everyone from celebrities to Nobel laureates have taken her tours. This includes Dr. George Raines, whose father, Fred Reines won a Nobel Prize; as well as Neils Bohr’s great-granddaughter, Barbara Bohr from Denmark. Additionally, Robert “Christy Pit” Christy and his family have taken Atomic City Tours along with Krik Krikorian’s family and friends.
It also helps that Los Alamos is a great community with a lot of people who are active in helping it thrive, she said.
“Los Alamos is a really good place to run a business,” Strickfaden said. “We have such a dynamic group of people running things.”
Although Strickfaden is stepping away from her business, her work in promoting tourism and history in Los Alamos is not stopping. She said she hopes to develop a reference for self-guided tours as well as a reference for planning hikes, using Atomic City Transit.