03-Aug-2005 -- The confluence of 37N and 116W is perhaps one of the hardest to document, not because of the terrain, but because it lies on restricted government property known as the Nevada Test Site. Over the last several months, there have been numerous requests to gain permission to this location, but I have an inside track, I work there. My apologies to those who presented compelling cases seeking permission to gain access to photograph the site, but due to our security requirements, this was not possible.
As a Public Affairs Officer with the National Nuclear Security Administration, Nevada Site Office, I often escort public tours and media to the NTS. Looking at the coordinates on a map, I realized that our typical tours do not come very close to the confluence location. So, I decided to make a special trip to support the confluence project and document the site for all to see.
The entrance to the Nevada Test Site is 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada. The confluence location is 30 miles north of the entrance. The NTS is about 1,375 square miles, or about the size of the state of Rhode Island. Historically, the NTS was the United States’ primary continental location for testing of nuclear weapons. In total, 928 nuclear tests were conducted on the NTS, 100 of these in the atmosphere (think big mushroom clouds in the sky) and the remaining 828 underground. These underground tests would typically create a “subsidence crater.” This is caused by earth and soil filling the void created deep underground when the detonation of a nuclear test would literally vaporize the surrounding soil. Why so much on the history… you will see in one of the photos the confluence point is just meters away from the location of one such underground test.
Gaining access to the exact location was not that difficult. If one were to view this general area from the air, it looks much like a lunar landscape with subsidence craters resembling meteor pock marks on the moon. While grown over with vegetation, many of the old access roads remain.
Looking north from the confluence, less than 10 meters away is a barbed-wire fence. This fence circles a subsidence crater. In one of the photos I took looking north, you can see some crumpled up concrete that used to be the surface ground zero for a nuclear test. It is hard to tell from this camera angle, but I would estimate that the depth of this crater is about 10-15 below the general topography. This is small compared to some which have left craters big enough to drive a bus into (and in fact we do that for some of our public tours).
Reading the history of the confluence project, the question posed by Alex Jarrett: Would other people have recognized this as a unique spot? You be the judge.
Today the NTS is used for physics experiments and other high hazard research projects. In the photo looking to the West, one can barely make out several buildings and facilities where some of this work is conducted.
Just to set the record straight, contrary to popular culture there are no three-eyed fish, giant ants (as referenced in Them, the 1954 Sci-Fi thriller) or mutated wildlife at the NTS. As I was walking back to my car, two antelope were casually walking down the road. For more information on the Nevada Test Site, go to www.nv.doe.gov.