Our nuclear family — father, mother, brother and I — moved from Marlboro, Massachusetts to Las Vegas, Nevada in July 1954. We looked and sounded like odd ducks to the folks living in our new neighborhood on the edge of Southern Nevada’s vast desert. Today our old neighborhood is part of the center of the city, but in those days, people rode horseback in our backyard, Red Rock Canyon provided a spectacular view and an occasional white flash, brighter than the sunrise over Frenchman’s Mountain, aka Sunrise Mountain, captured our attention to the northwest in the desert chill of a morning before the sun came up.
Long before the stories of nuclear weapons experiments at the Nevada Test Site, now the National Nuclear Security Site, came to public attention, our family watched the above-ground atomic blasts and called Nevada our home. After becoming a journalist who worked for both the Las Vegas Review Journal and Las Vegas Sun, where I would spend 34 years covering the Cold War, visiting every corner of the nuclear weapons proving ground, traveling to Moscow when the former Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain remained firmly in place, and witnessing anti-nuclear protesters as well as the men and women who worked at the Test Site, I can say that Nevada has a unique place in history, beyond the neon lights of the Las Vegas Strip, or the “Biggest Little City” of Reno. As part of the defense efforts of the United States, Nevada played a major role for decades and few of us remember when remote desert valleys harnessed the power of a thousand suns.