Touring the Southwest Terrain of Twin Peaks: The Return

With Mark Frost’s The Secret History of Twin Peaks, Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier, and The Return, the narrative world surrounding the death of Laura Palmer expanded beyond the fictional town of Twin Peaks to include, show-wise: the fictional town of Buckhorn, South Dakota, then the very real locations of the Trinity Test Site & Los Alamos, NM, and, Odessa, TX. Three are in the Southwest United States, while the fictional other is near halfway across the country. The year of 2015 marked the 70th anniversary of the Trinity Test, which was the first test of mankind using an atomic weapon. What they saw shocked them all and later bewildered us as we watched Frost and Lynch’s recreation in the now famous Part 8 of The Return.

In years previous to Twin Peaks: The Return, fans could customize their tours to include Snoqualmie’s famous falls, diner, and the Salish Lodge. They could go straight to Los Angeles to visit set locations and take in Mulholland Drive. I believe many of these traditional locations will be highlighted in the Blue Rose Magazine’s Volume 1, Issue 6 which you can pre-order at: Now fans can also choose to expand their journeys to better understand the significance of the series in relation to the Southwest. This article is meant to reveal the possibilities of such a venture. I wrote extensively on Odessa as I was traveling through it back in November 2017. Previous to that and shortly after the finale of The Return, my wife and I took our annual weekend trip to Ruidoso for my birthday in October. I’ll get back to why it might be the perfect place for your stay if attempting this tour.

Trinity test

So, what exactly would you be seeing and why? We should look at the infamous Trinity Testing Site at White Sands Missile Range, the close-by San Antonio (NM), Roswell, and then have another quick take on Odessa, TX. Mark Frost tells us in Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier that Sarah Judith Novack Palmer’s father moved her and her family to Los Alamos, NM in 1943, where he had become employed as a subcontractor for the Manhattan Project. This would have made him a part of the Manhattan Project’s Project Y, which occurred at the Los Alamos Laboratory, just northwest of Santa Fe. This situates their location closer to 200 miles north of the Trinity Test Site of 1945. Let’s look at that:

But eleven years later, on August 6, 1956, there was a curious incident that I found reported in the local newspaper. That night, about fifteen miles outside of the town where the Novacks lived, an AM radio station was viciously and mysteriously attacked … During this period, many local residents reported severe disturbances among their pets or livestock. A number of others—although only a few are named in the reporting—claimed that members of their family blacked out when they heard these transmissions. When the sounds stopped, just as abruptly as they’d started, and the station went to dead air—which, when they were unable to raise anyone there on the phone, prompted police to head to the station—all of these people immediately regained consciousness, with no memory of the event. Two of the people named in that account lived in the Novacks’ neighborhood. Sarah Novack was one of them: According to her parents, they found Sarah unconscious and unresponsive in her upstairs bedroom … This may not mean anything, either, but all of this took place a few hours away from the air base at Roswell, where, as we know from the dossier, a young army officer named Doug Milford allegedly witnessed the mysterious “UFO” crash nine years earlier.[1]

For perspective, depending on your route, Roswell is no less than 220 miles from Los Alamos. Now, there are some curious connections to note when discussing the Trinity Test and Roswell as well as the appearance of the “Black Lodge Woodsmen,” as IMDB would have it. I touched on this briefly in my coverage of UFOS and the conspiracy players as outlined in The Secret History of Twin Peaks pages 86-123. One needs to look at the work of Dr. Edgar Mitchell. “The aliens that crashed at Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947, Mitchell said, had been observing American atomic testing at nearby White Sands.”[2] Frost noted another significant event that occurred in the year between in Jack Parsons’s and L. Ron Hubbard’s Babylon Working rituals, which were performed from January to March, 1946, specifically February 28, 1946. Those sex magic rituals were not performed in New Mexico but rather at Devil’s Gate Dam in California’s Arroyo Seco. To quote from the Roads and Kingdoms blog site, “The site of the Babalon Working ritual is disputed. Parsons’ biographers place it in the Mojave Desert, yet occultist forums, desirous of synchronicities, suggest it happened on the site of what is now Area 51.”[3] Still, between the suggestion of good-willed extraterrestrial observation, mankind’s forced experimentation with the atom, and a rocket scientist’s powerful, occult recklessness, the results of Twin Peaks: The Return in Part 8 are of no great surprise. It only makes the location of the Trinity Site that much more fertile for the Twin Peaks theorists.

A quick note on the appearance of the Woodsmen and the hatching of the amphibious, insectoid anti-fairy that sought Sarah Novack. Their appearance and the incident of the radio broadcast was on August 6th, 1956. The Albuquerque Journal issue for August 6, 1956 curiously reports on the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki eleven years earlier, on August 6th. The article’s title is “Small Lethal Package: Eleven Years Ago Today Thriving City of Hiroshima Met Death by Atomic Bomb.” I have little to note on that now but will further investigate.

Albuquerque Journal, August 6, 1956, (, 2018), Accessed April 10, 2018,

Trinity Site/White Sands, NM

Now, the tour portion. If you as a Twin Peaks enthusiast wish to visit the emotionally potent, historically infamous, and narrative origin point for evil in the Palmer family and Cooper’s lives, you will want to know a few key details. Most important, the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range is only open for visitation two days a year—one day in October and one day in April. That is it. The window of opportunity is extremely tight. The finale of Twin Peaks: The Return aired September 3rd, 2017. The mini-series’ most talked about episode, as it were, was Part 8, which aired June 25th, 2017. The first chance enthusiasts would have to plan a trip was October 7th. The missile range is always open the first Saturday of October and April of any given year. I am writing this now having just gotten back from the site visitation for April 7th, 2018. Also, remember that you will be visiting a desert landscape, not a busy metropolitan area. While nothing is terribly far, it can’t hurt to have water packed and a mostly full tank of gas.

Over the years, going back to 2011, I was given advice twice on how to approach the Trinity Test Site visitation. The first was by a colleague who had visited previously with her husband, the advice was to get there at 6:30 a.m. to get into the line of cars. This would ensure that I got in early, before the crowds and got to enjoy the desert site in the cool of the morning. (The gates open at 8:00 a.m. no matter how early you get there.) The second was only back in February by an employee at The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque, which I’ll discuss shortly. Her advice was to get there as early as 5:30 a.m. Now, I’ll give you my advice based on the experience I just had. The early morning was nice, the wake-up alarm was as welcome as any morning alarm is, meaning it wasn’t. Still, we left Ruidoso at close to 6:00 a.m. The gates open at 8:00 a.m. and close at 3:30 p.m. The ride from Ruidoso on NM-37 through Carrizozo onto US-380 W was dark and winding for the first thirty minutes but soon showed the New Mexico scenery you hope to see, all desert landscape under a mostly purple and pink-hued sky as the sun crept upward. There is a reason New Mexico carries its slogan, “The Land of Enchantment.” The turn off for the Trinity Site is at mile marker 13, counted out from San Antonio, NM.


Another suggestion is once leaving your lodging for the site, check your locations for a restroom stop. We arrived at the US-380 W mile 13 turn off around 7:20-7:30 a.m. The line of cars we met with was about two and a half miles backed up. It would be easy to make a Cooper-needing-to-urinate entrance with nowhere to go but the great outdoors … in clear sight of the vehicles, at the entrance of a missile range. I turned on the Twin Peaks (Limited Event Series) soundtrack. Everyone parked got out of their vehicles and took pictures of the sunrise. It was on the brink of turning from morning cold to simply cool. Some wore jackets, some did not. Once the gates were opened, the first movement in the line of cars we noticed was at 8:15. I believe we got into the park around fifteen to twenty minutes later. You are expected to have a credible picture ID and proof of car insurance on hand before being allowed onto the grounds. It is an Army base, after all. Driving in, the highest speed limit is about 50 miles per hour. You see signs referring to antelope crossings. As stated in the promotional handout “Drivers on and around White Sands Missile Range should be aware of the driving hazard of presented by wildlife and, in particular, the African antelope known as the Oryx. Oryx are the most prevalent wildlife hazard to motorists traveling through the range.”[4] These are imported wildlife. You are not allowed to take pictures on the way in, only at the site. We saw one sign reading “Norma Site.” The following is a few extra notes on what to expect at the site. Once there, apparently very disorganized soldiers—I mean, they’re only tour guides two days a year—guide you to a parking space in the limited but accommodating space. Once walking, there are portable restrooms available at a distance. There is a table selling burritos. I did not attempt to buy anything, but I might take cash. We had zero phone service at the location. I cannot speak to successful credit card transactions. There were also merchandise booths. Anyhow, you walk to the site of the explosion. There is a table to exhibit trinitite but none remains on the ground. There are strict rules about picking up samples. Know that there will be hundreds of people visiting, and it is very difficult to get a picture of oneself or significant ones by themselves at the monument. Everyone wants one. The weather could be nice, extremely windy, raining, or snowing (the latter options are more likely in October).

Note the short drop-off of the blue marking at the north end. That is the Trinity Site. Then, note Los Alamos toward the upper end of the state.


A closer view. White Sands National Monument is closer to the Alamogordo point of the blue marking versus the White Sand Missile Range.

Back to the logistics. A point to further note here: There are two main ways to get to the Trinity Site, perhaps a few more in chartered bus rides. One of these would be the tour bus from The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque, but it will still enter through the Stallion Gate Entrance. Regardless, one can drive oneself to the north entrance known none other than as the Stallion Gate Entrance. My excursion was to this location. The second is the bus caravan from Alamogordo. In this instance, one would meet the caravan at the Alamogordo High School parking lot and follow the caravan in through the south entrance. Being with the caravan is the only way to be granted entrance and exit through the south entrance, but you will be on their schedule. This is also a good place to point out some confusion. There is an important distinction between the White Sands National Monument in Alamogordo, where one would get to frolic and take pictures in the “white sands”—it’s gypsum, actually, hence its texture and pure coloration—and the White Sands Missile Range, where the Trinity Site exists at its most northern tip. Notice on the map image I’m including just how large of an area the missile range covers. You cannot drive through or onto it but through these entrances. Otherwise, one must drive around the missile range, one reason for my encouragement to stay in Ruidoso, if not Albuquerque. In Twin Peaks The Return Part 8, we are introduced to the atomic explosion with the heading “July 16, 1945, White Sands, New Mexico, 5:29 AM (MWT).” The site was indeed at a secret location on the Army’s missile range, but I believe the confusion is clear. The closest you will land on a basic phone GPS to the Trinity Site is in San Antonio, NM, which is only about 12-13 miles away. The Woodsmen and Sarah’s story remains outside of Los Alamos, an estimated 252 miles from Alamogordo in an unspecified desert. The episode titles that portion of the chapter “1956 August 5, New Mexico Desert.” This would be northwest of Santa Fe and North of Albuquerque.

Texas Company, Issuing Body, and Rand McNally Company, Lithographer. East Texas – Oklahoma with New Mexico – West Texas : Texaco. Southwest Collection Map Collection. Rand McNally & Company, 1947. Courtesy Texas Tech University Southwest Collection/Special Collection Library Note the White Sands National Monument.
Map from July 1947. Trinity Test Site would be close to directly below the marking for Carthage, NM.

San Antonio, NM

David Lynch and Mark Frost began working on the script for Twin Peaks’ continuation in 2014. I point this out to suggest only a wild and unconfirmed possibility—more, to look at happy coincidence. I actually visited San Antonio back in late October, unable to make the Trinity Site date. It feels like more of a pit stop than a town. Prominently there are only three locations that would matter to you traveling through. There is a gas station, which sells fresh fudge, a nice treat for the sweet-toothed traveler, and out that way, a gas station is always a welcomed sight. So what I’m trying to imagine before I bring up the other two locations of interest is either David Lynch or Mark Frost becoming interested in seeing the Trinity Test Site and stopping by San Antonio for a break before or after visiting it. I’m leaning toward Mark Frost in this scenario. Follow me. Across the street from the gas station is one of two options for a bite and a beverage named Buckhorn Tavern, now known as Buckhorn Burgers since winning against Bobby Flay with their now famous Green Chile Cheeseburger. Buckhorn Tavern? Buckhorn, SD? The other location boasts this fascinating history:

When Frank Chavez came home to San Antonio, New Mexico, in 1945, after serving in the US Navy during the “Big War,” he and his wife, Dee, opened a little bar in the grocery store operated by Dee’s father, JE Miera … Soon after the Owl Bar opened, it became the hangout of a handful of so-called prospectors who had moved into the tiny community. These “prospectors” were actually atomic scientists who would later activate the famous Trinity Site explosion, the first test of the atom bomb used to end the war with its devastation of two Japanese cities.[5]

Again, these seem to be happy coincidences, but who is to say one of the writers did not go out for a tour of the Trinity Test Site and find themselves inspired by the rich and devastating history. The owls not being what they seem, and Buckhorn, SD becoming an imagined location? Who knows, but make it a part of your stop. If I were spending my money, I’d grab my drinks at the Owl Bar and see if you can’t work in a treat at Buckhorn’s. Depending on where you are staying, you might head back to your place to get out of the sun after all of this is done. Then, if we are to believe Edgar Mitchell, some very curious E.T.’s were hovering above these scientists wondering what humankind meant to do with its new-found science. And if your chosen lodge is in Ruidoso, you are only an hour or so away from Roswell, where you can visit the Alien Museum for a clearer understanding into Douglas Milford’s origins as a suggested Man in Black.


Roswell, NM

If you are up for the experience, one absolutely must make the quick jaunt to the International UFO Museum and Research Center. It is five dollars a person and takes no longer than twenty minutes to peruse. It could certainly take longer if you were dedicated to the entirety of the exhibit text. Mock-up scenarios decorate the room with separated exhibit panels. The gift shop is about what you would expect, but don’t miss their for-sale facsimile of Project Blue Book’s Special Report no. 14 (Analysis of Reports of Unidentified Aerial Objects) from May 5, 1955. For more on Doug Milford’s Roswell experience, please see 25YL’s series on The Secret History of Twin Peaks for in-depth analysis.


Albuquerque, NM

Albuquerque might be another excellent place to stay on this excursion. It is the home of The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History and only a one and a half hour drive to the Trinity Site. You might have seen it in another popular television series, Breaking Bad, where Walter White has meetings with his distribution cronies next to the recreation of the Little Fat Man bomb casing. I have personally visited the museum twice and find it a cannot-miss experience. The exhibits recreate the labs of Oppenheimer and the scientists on the Trinity Test. Speaking of Breaking Bad, for those of you travelling from a long distance, this would be one way to turn this experience into a double-down on television history. You could have a Breaking Bad tour in your time with the city, and while I could speak to that experience, I will refrain.


Odessa, TX

Odessa, traveling to it … You know, unless you are simply driving through it to another destination, I suggest my write up as sufficient, “Odessa, West Texas: Scorched Oil, Judy’s, and Murder.”

In closing, I hope this write-up gives you an honest perspective on how to approach the venture and that you could have a full experience making it. This feels like a good starting guide in my estimation. Now, Twin Peaks fans, here is another last piece of advice. You may have no phone service in this area. So first, if you are worried about being disrespectful at the site, in the way of meeting with a group of Twin Peaks fans, I would not. I wondered that myself, but the many people there for so many different reasons would not leave a group feeling awkward. Now secondly, if you want to have a Peaks gathering, I would coordinate it ahead of time and have the group all decide if they were staying in Albuquerque, Ruidoso, or Alamogordo. You would almost need to all caravan to the site together, granting phone service and the possible inability to contact each other while at the site. So, get a crew together, maybe all pitch in on a cabin in Ruidoso, and choose your own adventure. Until next time, safe travels.

Keep Out sign near Trinity Site


[1] Frost, Mark. Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier, (New York: Flatiron Books, 2017), p. 136.

[2] Hogan, David J. UFO FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About Roswell, Aliens, Whirling Discs, and Flying Saucers, (Milwaukee, WI: Backbeat Books, 2016), loc. 667.

[3] Owens, Jay. “Atomic California,” (Roads & Kingdoms, October 19, 2015), Accessed April 09, 2018,

[4] U.S. Army. White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, 2017 Post Guide (San Diego, CA: MARCOA Publishing, 2017), 6.

[5] MisWisWorks. Owl Bar & Café (San Antonio, NM: Owl Bar & Café, 2015), Accessed 04/10/2018,

Written by Rob E. King

I am a librarian, writer, and proud member of Twin Peaks and Robert E. Howard fandom. I've also somehow become the go-to writer for MTV's 90s animation series.

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