From 1950 until all U.S. testing ceased in 1992, the nts was the major proving ground for nuclear weapons, carrying out 928 of 1,054 detonations. Scientists also studied the effects of radiation on people, animals and plants.
The museum, a Smithsonian Institution affiliate that opened in 2005, displays such nts artifacts as devices that monitored blasts and measured radiation levels; part of an underground testing tunnel; even a grain silo used for cattle-feed tests. Films and interactive videos address the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There is a copy of a letter Albert Einstein wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt urging him to build the nuclear bomb. A piece of the Berlin Wall represents the end of cold war tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union.
"From stone tools to the present, the nuclear age stands out," says William Johnson, director of the museum. "It was a key turning point in human history." Though most Americans supported atomic power right after World War II, it had become controversial by the 1960s. A film chronicles the anti-nuclear movement from the 1960s through the '80s. "The Atom Bomb in Pop Culture" exhibition documents a seemingly more naive time, when kids retrieved atomic rings from cereal boxes and their parents quaffed atomic cocktails. —Sonya Padgett
When Hawaii Had A King
Honolulu—On a wide lawn punctuated with palms and an enormous banyan tree sits the only royal palace in the United States: the Iolani Palace, completed in 1882 for Hawaiian king David Kalakaua.
February marks the 125th anniversary of Kalakaua's coronation, which followed on the heels of his world tour. "He had gotten a taste of the pomp and circumstance of European monarchy," curator Stuart Ching says, adding that the king ordered two jewel-encrusted crowns from England. Kalakaua filled his rooms with vases and statuary from England, France, India and Japan. Portraits of European monarchs hang alongside those of Hawaiian royalty. The king also installed the latest innovations, such as telephones and indoor plumbing. The palace had electric lighting in 1887, before the White House.
Among the objects on view is a centuries-old royal Hawaiian cloak made of more than 450,000 yellow and scarlet feathers from two indigenous birds, the mamo and the iiwi. One of the most touching artifacts is a crazy quilt stitched by Kalakaua's sister and successor, Liliuokalani, during her eight-month house arrest at the residence in 1895. The imprisonment followed the overthrow of the monarchy two years earlier in a coup backed by the U.S. military. Liliuokalani never regained her palace. It came under the control of the provisional government, was later used as the capitol house and, falling into disrepair, was vacated in 1969. Since its restoration, completed in 1978, the palace has served as a symbol of native Hawaiians' cultural legacy.— Constance Hale
At Least There's No Lift Line
Steamboat Springs, Colorado—Cabin fever finds curious expression in this cowboy ski town, home to 69 winter sports Olympians over the decades: every February residents strap on skis or snowboards, harness themselves to horses and career down the town's snow-covered main street. Centuries ago skijoring (or "ski-driving" in Norwegian) was a means of transportation in Scandinavian countries, but here it's a giddy equestrian display, with mounted riders galloping their steeds to the finish line, breathless skiers in tow. The sport highlights Steamboat's annual Winter Carnival, founded in 1914 by Carl Howelsen, a Norwegian skier and circus performer dubbed the "Flying Norseman" by Barnum & Bailey. This year's carnival, February 6-10, features ski-racing, snow sculpture contests and the no-holds-barred Geländesprung, or ski-jumping, in which contestants sometimes soar the length of a football field. Skijoring itself has many variations. In one event, dogs (usually a family Labrador or golden retriever) pull kids in sleds, while in the "dad dash" fathers get down on all fours to tow the little ones. The festival ends with a parade in which costumed locals on skis hitch themselves to horses, trucks and vintage snowplows and slide through the center of town. Leading the way, as it has since 1935, will be the Steamboat Springs High School marching band. On skis, of course.—Michelle Nijhuis