The Afterlife of a Nuclear Test Site

Gerard DeGroot investigates the effects of the ‘peace dividend’ on the Nevada desert.

In Chaparral, Nevada, the end of the Cold War was no cause for celebration. For over forty years, testing atomic bombs had brought billions of dollars into the state’s coffers. The Bomb gave literal meaning to the term ‘boomtown’. Chaparral, which once supplied prostitutes for workers at the Nevada Test Site, understandably went into steep decline when the NTS officially ceased operation in 1998. Like the mining towns of Nevada’s past, it seemed destined to become a ghost town. But, as its website currently boasts, ‘Chaparral refused to wither and die’. Kitty Storm, owner of the Pigeon Ranch brothel, was elected mayor on a promise to revive the town and its main industry. She launched the High Desert Film Festival (no prizes for guessing what type of films) to attract a new crop of visitors. At the height of the Cold War, the town’s slogan had been ‘Chaparral: You’ll come for the whores, You’ll stay for the whores.’ But the Army didn’t stay. Now the town promises: ‘We’ll leave the red light on for you’.

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