Author Craig Martin
Trinity Drive. Peggy Sue Bridge. Bathtub Row. The history of Los Alamos is written it the names given to locations around town.
The origins of those names and many more are discussed in the long-awaited second edition of Place Names of Los Alamos by local author Craig Martin.
“The first edition has been out of print since 2002 and I’ve been promising the Los Alamos Historical Society an update since 2005, so it’s about time,” Martin said.
The book chronicles the stories behind about 500 names, and the second edition includes two dozen new places that have acquired names in the 15 years since the book was first published. And the names of a few places have taken on greater meaning over the years.
“Cerro Grande was just ‘big hill’ in 1998, but of course now the name is strongly associated with the fire of 2000,” Martin said. “Las Conchas, the mountain to the west, wasn’t mentioned before because it is in Sandoval County, but now the name is deeply associated with Los Alamos.”
Basic names are simply descriptive, but in New Mexico can come in English, Spanish, or Native American tongues. Other names come from a variety of sources ranging from governmental decree to naming contests to personal memorials.
Martin explained that the main thoroughfares in Los Alamos—Trinity, Central, and Canyon—acquired names from a naming contest sponsored by the town’s first newspaper. The winner of the popular vote, Oppenheimer, was rejected by the town’s Post Commander because naming streets for people was against Army regulations.
Martin says he’s torn by naming locations for people. He accepts that it is common practice, and sees it the job of a keeper of place names to ensure that the people who are memorialized are not forgotten. He cites Sullivan Field as an example. Not many people in town remember Earle Sullivan, but he was an early supporter of youth athletics in town and made important contributions to recreation planning in the late 1940s. The field at Los Alamos High School is rightly named for him.
Some mysteries remain. After thorough document searches, extensive interviews, and lively Facebook discussions, Martin is still uncertain about from where “Cave of the Winds” comes. There is no perceptible air flow in or around the small cave.
“Ranch School records don’t mention it, but kids from the Western Area played in the there in the early 1950s, and they remember it by this name,” Martin said. “They probably christened it after one of them visited one of the several larger caverns with this name in other states.”
Los Alamos Place Names was published by Bathtub Row Press under the auspices of the Los Alamos Historical Society. It is available at the Historical Museum gift shop. Martin will be signing copies from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 8 at the Fuller Lodge Open House.