Looks like an innocuous little rain cloud in the distance doesn’t it but, in fact, it’s November 1951 and it’s a developing mushroom cloud following the detonation of the first above-ground nuclear bomb. You and the Vegas inhabitants and visitors who lined the rooftops, can see it so clearly because it was set off less than 100 miles from Downtown Vegas.

The Nevada Test Site, now known as the Nevada National Security Site, lies northwest of Las Vegas and was once home to hundreds of atomic blasts in the 1950s and ’60s. Difficult to imagine such testing taking place now so close to a large population centre and in open sight.

Elsewhere on this site I recounted my trips up to the periphery of Area 51 in the much more recent past where, at night, you could catch glimpses of the latest aircraft-mounted laser weaponry as they tested it in the desert night shooting rocks with bright green bursts of light. Not quite the same as watching it from your hotel rooftop though!

How about some more fun facts relating to Vegas, Nevada and the bomb?

The first one was codenamed Able and was detonated on 27th January 1951.

By 1963 the USA had detonated more than 100 such above-ground devices in Nevada.

Underground testing locally continued until 1992.

A town was specially built to house test site workers. It’s called Mercury, it is still managed by the Department of Energy and, sadly, you can’t take an excursion to see it as it’s closed to the public. It sits at the junction of Jackass Flats Road (that’s an address I’d love to have) and Mercury Highway just North of Desert Rock Airport between Indian Springs and where US 95 meets local route 160. An interesting area indeed – Indian Springs being host to Creech Airforce Base and the drone programme.

A craze developed for everything nuclear and it wasn’t long before you could drink an Atomic Cocktail comprising brandy, vodka, champagne and sherry (ugh) which you can still order in some of the more (or should that be less) discerning bars around town.

You may have heard of Yucca Flats, about 40 miles North up the Mercury Highway from Mercury. That was the scene of a test that went badly wrong when the wind direction suddenly changed sending toxic clouds into Eastern Nevada and South Western Utah and leading to the death of many sheep and other livestock.

That’s your lot for now but it’s hardly surprising that Area 51 still retains the lure it does. Read more about it by following this link. Why not combine a tour to Rachel and Area 51 with a trip to Mercury or to its perimeter fence at least?

Also, if you try to look it up on Google Maps see what happens if you try to drop the little yellow man anywhere near the site. For the lazier among you he turns into a flying saucer! Well done Google.

Written by eilv