The Los Alamos Daily Post is launching a continuing series of columns concerning Pajarito Plateau history written by Dorothy Hoard, Judy Machen, Heather McClenahan, Janie O’Rourke, Georgia Strickfaden and Sharon Snyder – collectively known as the “History Nuts.”
To be labeled a “nut” is not generally a compliment, but these six local historians take pride in being affectionately called nuts because in this case the term carries respect for their research and publishing efforts related to Los Alamos.
The group came together informally in 2003 to meet and share research. Though each person had a specific area of historical interest concerning Los Alamos and its surroundings, phases of the research done by each overlapped with that of the others.
By sharing in open discussions, these historians found that their overall knowledge of the Pajarito Plateau expanded and that they could help each other with answers to questions or at least with suggestions of where to find the answers. It has been a tremendously successful effort, and friendships have developed along the way.
Dorothy Hoard has long been recognized for her knowledge of trails on the Pajarito Plateau as well as the lore associated with these sometimes prehistoric byways—the early travelers of the paths, nearby plants and petroglyphs, the surrounding geology, and associated historical references. She has done research into the homestead era and recently gave support to the Los Alamos National Laboratory project documenting the homesteads and inhabitants who were uprooted by the Manhattan Project. Born in Carmel, California, Hoard’s love of wild mountains came from wandering the Big Sur country. From a young age, she followed “disappearing old roads to abandoned homestead fields and orchards.” She and husband Donald moved to Los Alamos in 1963, and with a degree in biochemistry from the University of California at Berkeley, Hoard signed on with LASL in analytical chemistry once her children were in high school. She has authored A Guide to Bandelier National Monument and Historic Roads of Los Alamos and is co-author of a guide to plants with Teralene Foxx and Sentinels on Stone, a photographic book on petroglyphs, with Betty Lilienthal. She has been successful also with nominations of homestead roads and a portion of White Rock Canyon to the National Register of Historic Places. Hoard sees the unifying theme of her research endeavors to be the discovery of “the historic remnants of human labors still imprinted on wild landscapes.”
Judy Machen also is a transplanted Californian with a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley and a master’s in liberal arts from the University of Oklahoma. Her emphasis in museum studies and the history of science has served her well in working with the communications group at Los Alamos National Laboratory as a writer/editor since 1984. Machen has enjoyed doing historical research for the Lab, most recently working on the Homestead Era project. She also has developed historical and science exhibits for the Bradbury Science Museum. Currently, Machen is working on an article about the history of the Romero Cabin that will be published by Bathtub Row Press, the publishing imprint of the Los Alamos Historical Society.
Heather McClenahan is executive director of the Los Alamos Historical Society and a native New Mexican ” with a passion for history.” She earned a bachelor’s degree with a double major in journalism and political science from Drake University and a master’s in 20th century United States history from the University of South Florida. After fourteen years “in exile” to attend college and to experience living in another part of the country, McClenahan and her family moved in 1999 to Los Alamos, the home town of husband Bob McClenahan. She volunteered for several years on the Fuller Lodge/Historic Districts Advisory Board before beginning work with the historical society, which she considers “the world’s greatest job.” McClenahan loves working with the “world-changing history of Los Alamos” and has been active in promoting the pending formation of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. She is co-author, with Craig Martin, of the book Of Logs and Stone: The Buildings of the Los Alamos Ranch School and Bathtub Row and will author the first column in the History Nuts series on the county’s new Homesteading Tour, which debuts later this month.
Janie O’Rourke graduated from Los Alamos High School and earned a degree at the University of New Mexico before returning to marry longtime Los Alamos resident Peter O’Rourke and raise a family. As an avid runner, she became interested in the old trails and roads of the Pajarito Plateau and how the “bits and pieces of historic paths could be linked to form a system of trials.” O’Rourke founded the Los Alamos Pathways Association and was instrumental in the adoption in 1994 of Los Alamos County’s Trails Management Plan. Ultimately, she went back to school to earn her master’s degree in Community and Regional Planning, and in her thesis she explored ideas for developing a pathway system within the Los Alamos Historic District that would “allow visitors to visualize the successive layers of past cultures on the Pajarito Plateau.” Following a passionate interest, O’Rourke and her husband have hiked mile after mile of the Jemez Mountains to trace and document the old U.S. Forest Service phone line, and as a result, she wrote a publication for LANL in 2006 entitled, “Jemez Forest Telephone Line: A Historic Communication Network Constructed by the U.S. Forest Service as a Key Strategy in their Fight Against Fire, 1906-1947.”
Georgia Strickfaden was, as she states it, “born and raised in nuclear age Los Alamos.” She bonded with the Pajarito Plateau at an early age while riding her horse through its beautiful scenery, something she has continued to do throughout her life. Strickfaden earned a degree at Eastern New Mexico University and taught in Colorado and Arizona before marrying another native, Gerry Strickfaden, and returning to Los Alamos. In 1985, she launched Buffalo Tours. A “Tour of the Nuclear West” is one of her latest offerings, an excursion of several days that provides an opportunity to share her knowledge of the Manhattan Project era. Strickfaden has long been interested in history and has served as a docent at the Los Alamos Historical Museum, specializing in the Outreach Program, and on the board of directors of the Los Alamos Historical Society. Strickfaden also is an instructor for Road Scholar, telling the story of Los Alamos in the Manhattan Project days.
Sharon Snyder graduated from Los Alamos High School in 1965 and earned degrees from the University of New Mexico and New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. She taught geology and chemistry at Sandia High School for 26 years before retiring to write and do historical research. In 2002, while working on that research in the Los Alamos Historical Museum archives, Snyder became involved with the historical society and has served on the board of directors since that time, traveling back and forth from Rio Rancho to attend meetings and events. Her specialty is Los Alamos Ranch School history, and she has recently published At Home on the Slopes of Mountains: The Story of Peggy Pond Church (Los Alamos Historical Society Publications, 2011.) She also is a co-author of Los Alamos and the Pajarito Plateau, along with Toni Michnovicz Gibson and the Los Alamos Historical Society. The book is a part of the Arcadia Press series Images of America.
Editor’s Note: The first column in the History Nuts Series will be published in the Los Alamos Daily Post next week.