When the top-secret Manhattan Project sprang to life in 1943, it turned the sleepy mesa-top village of Los Alamos into a busy laboratory of secluded brainiacs. Here, in the 'town that didn't exist,' the atomic bomb was developed in almost total secrecy. Humanity can trace some of its greatest achievements and darkest fears directly to this little town. Los Alamos National Laboratory still develops weapons, but it's also at the cutting edge of other scientific discoveries, including mapping the human genome and making mind-boggling supercomputing advances.
Los Alamos remains a place unto itself, where the Lab dominates everything; it has the highest concentration of PhDs per capita in the US, along with the highest per-capita income in New Mexico. In principle, the setting is beautiful, amid the national forest, but successive disastrous fires, including the colossal Las Conchas blaze of 2011, have left the surrounding hillsides eerily barren.