, sits 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas
, next to nowhere in the broad Nye County
desert. For decades, it was a booming “company town,” with some 10,000 people, a first-run movie theater, a lending library, a dry cleaner, a health center, and an interfaith chapel. Its eight-lane bowling alley was busy on most weeknights and packed them in on weekends. The cafeteria seated 800; the Mercury Steakhouse offered more elegant dining for special occasions. And the Olympic-size community swimming pool drew big crowds when temps frequently topped a hundred degrees.
But today, a lot of that’s been bulldozed in Mercury. The place turned ghost town after October 1992, when the U.S. government ended 41 years of nuclear testing at the adjacent Nevada Test Site (NTS).
Oh, there’s still some activity at the test site. Just not enough to sustain a bustling settlement like Mercury once was. The Department of Energy (DOE) now markets NTS resources to private sector customers for hazardous chemical testing, environmental remediation development, and continued defense-related support.
And one day a month, the site opens its gate to nosey visitors like me who wonder what an expanse the size of Rhode Island looks like after a hammering by 928 nukes.
“What in blazes do you expect to see out there — giant ants?” a drinking buddy asked me.
“Not sure,” I confessed. But a childhood of “duck and cover” civil defense films and an eccentric interest in historic awfulness had me primed for a daytrip to America’s former atomic proving ground.
So one morning last week, I was “badged” in Las Vegas by the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration Nevada Site Office. Then I joined two friends and several dozen other tourists on a long, hot bus ride up dusty Highway 95 to what’s left of Mercury, the gateway to The Most Bombed Place on Earth.
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