The Armed Forces Special Weapons Command constucted two operational sites after World War II. One was known as Site Able, located in the foothills of the Manzano Mountains, just east of Sandia Base. The other base was Site Baker near Kileen, Texas. Construction on Site Able started in 1946, with the first operational facilities activated on 04 April 1950. Although activated in 1950, construction on the major facilities wasn't finished until 1961. On 22 February 1952, Site Able was renamed Manzano Base, and operated by the Air Force, while Site Baker was renamed Kileen Base and turned over to the US Army.
Portions of America's nuclear stockpile was stored in Manzano (the Spanish word for apple) Mountain for 40 years, and nuclear weapons are now secured in a modern underground complex at Kirtland Air Force Base. A presidential emergency relocation center was built deep inside Manzano Mountain as a command post for President Eisenhower. It retained this function until the advent of thermonuclear weapons, by which time it was no longer regarded as a survivable site.
In the early 1700s explorers visiting a small village on the eastern edge of these mountains discovered very old manzanos (apple trees), a tree not native to this country. No one knows where these trees came from, but the name stayed with the region.
Construction began in June 1947, and the facility became operational in April 1950. Under the top-secret project designated Operation Water Supply, construction crews carved out tunnels and blast-proof underground steel vaults to protect the small stockpile of atomic weapons. The first weapons stored at Manzano were the Mark 5, a first-generation atomic device which required assembly. The weapons were stored without plutonium, in reinforced concrete and steel bunkers throughout Manzano. Inside the complex, steel gates protected a hallway containing four chambers guarded with heavy safe door. Each vault stored a protective container called a birdcage, each of which enclosed enough plutonium for a single atomic warhead.
On 11 April 1950 a B-29 aircraft departed from Kirtland Air Force Base [Albuquerque, NM] at 9:38 PM and crashed into a mountain on Manzano Base approximately three minutes later killing the crew of thirteen. Detonators were installed in the bomb on board the aircraft. The bomb case was demolished ans some high explosive (HE) material burned in the gasoline fire. Other pieces of unburned HE were scattered throughout the wreckage. Four spare detonators in their carrying case were recovered undamaged. There were no contamination or recovery problems. The recovered components of the weapon were returned to the Atomic Energy Commission. Both the weapon and the capsule of nuclear material were on board the aircraft but the capsule was not inserted for safety reasons.
The Manzano Nuclear Weapons Storage Area was surrounded by a barbed double-fenceline (one of which was electrified) beyond which the concrete bunker entrances which span the base of the mountain range are visible.
The Manzano Weapons Storage Area [Manzano WSA] at KAFB consists of 4 plants inside Manzano Mountain (used primarily for research activities) and 122 magazines, of which 81 are earth covered and 41 are tunneled into the mountainside. Type D facilities are tunneled into the mountainside, which provides significant earth overburden protection from penetrating aircraft. As many as 35 magazines have overburden greater than 9 meters (30 feet) and are potentially available for pit storage.
Type D facilities are tunneled into the mountainside, which provides significant earth overburden protection. As many as 35 magazines have overburden greater than 9 meters (30 feet). Type D magazines have access tunnels that vary in length from 20 meters to over 30 meters (65 feet to over 100 feet). The main chambers are approximately 19 meters (61 feet) long. In addition, the main chambers are protected by two vault-like steel doors at both ends of the access tunnel.
In June 1992, the Manzano WSA was deactivated, including deactivation of the Perimeter Intrusion Detection and Alarm System, and Phillips Laboratory assumed responsibility for its maintenance. SNL continues to provide minimum security, although the Perimeter Intrusion Detection and Alarm System was deactivated with the termination of the main mission in 1992. Some of the old tunnels and vaults in the Manzanos still serve as storage. The Manzano WSA is currently being used in part for storage of a variety of items such as furniture and document boxes.
The Manzano Mountains provide 70% of the water recharge for the Estancia Basin. Dense forest thickets in the mountains inhibit the recharge of groundwater used by farmers and communities nearly 100 miles to the east. The plant community on the west side of the Manzano Mountains is a mixture of trees, shrubs, and understory plants. Oneseed Juniper (Juniperus monosperma) is common and gives the plant community an evergreen woodland aspect. Oakbrush (Quercus spp.) is dominant among the abundant shrub plants.
Over the last 50 years, well records indicate the depth of the water table has declined by several hundred feet, with total depletion of the aquifer within 120 years, considering the current rate of development, which is expected to accelerate, the aquifer could deplete in as little as 40 years affecting tens of thousand of land owners within an area the size of some small eastern states. Appropriate forestry activities will improve the Manzano watershed, while providing economic opportunities for nearby impoverished, under-served rural communities.
For centuries, people in the Manzano Mountains have relied on the nearby forests as a supply of food, water, medicinal herbs and wood products. Today much of this resource is managed by federal agencies, however, good relationships with these entities allow local people to restore and utilize forest resources. The residual resources may then be used for traditional purposes like heating, cooking and construction, or sold in urban markets to generate income for the community. Access to the forest resources creates development opportunities for the community, but the benefits are broader than economic improvement. Providing traditional forest-related jobs strengthens local cultures, reduces domestic violence and substance abuse by giving people pride in their past, and hope for their future.
The Manzano Mountain Wilderness area is located in the Cibola National Forest in New Mexico. The wilderness contains 36,970 acres and was established by Congress in the Endangered American Wilderness Act of 1978. Occupying mainly the west slope of the Manzano Mountain range, this wilderness ranges from pinion- juniper woodland at 5,000 feet to ponderosa pine and aspen at the 10,000-foot crest. Terrain is steep and rugged, cut with canyons and rock outcrops. A wel1-developed trail system is little used, though road access to trailheads is good, since camping is limited by a lack of reliable water sources. In 1999 the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance proposed adding 1,000 acres to the north end of the Manzano Mountain Wilderness. The land is mostly managed by the Bureau of Land Management and is not the typical high-altitude rock and ice associated with most wilderness areas.
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