Over the weekend, visited a variety of places. Friday night, right after work, I picked up and headed out to the NRAO Very Large Array in Socorro, NM (PICS). I’d wanted to check this place out for years, as well as eventually wanting to travel to Puerto Rico see the enormous reflector array at the Arecibo Observatory. At least that’s one crossed off my list. I Arrived at the Array with plenty of sunlight to spare, which was what I was hoping for – access to the facility closes after sundown. On the highway in, the dishes look like little dots on the horizon that slowly get larger as you get closer to the array itself. Pulled in to the Visitor’s center, then took the walking trail out to the antennas.
There were two other guys taking pictures as well – with actual professional looking camera/tripod rigs while I walked around snapping pics with my 4s. One of the guys was over from London – a ‘professional enthusiast’, he explained. He’d gotten there much later than he’d wanted to, and was irritated that he didn’t have more light time available. Both were friendly, but understandably focused on getting their shots. I chatted briefly on and off with them as we all moved around the site, trying to get the best shots we could. I was pleased to find that I was able to get so close to one of the antennas, and was excited beyind measure when the dishes actually moved. Full of glee, I was. I wasn’t expecting to be able to witness that, and apparently neither were the other guys. The dishes in the array moved about five times while I walked around – each time, too quickly to catch on video, unfortunately. Still – mighty geek squee moment. 🙂
The drive itself is magnificent – all sandy rolling hills dotted with scrub bushes and other deserty plants. Driving through the Cibola National Forest, I found myself thinking, “This ain’t a forest. It’s a large collection of overly sized, round-ish shrubs.” I’m more used to the Blue Ridge mountains, the Smokeys and the mountains and trees of Northern Pennsylvania. Still, it’s gorgeous countryside. Listening to Bolero on the way back as the light faded and the stars came out capped off the night perfectly. There’s something about listening to classical music as one drives under the stars. It makes the heart sigh.
Headed back to ‘home base’ in Albuquerque, then headed out the next morning around 8 to hit the Petroglyph National Monument (PICS) on the west side of town. On a clear day, I can see the outlines of the tops of the ‘Three Sisters’ volcanoes throughout the site from the back deck, as well as the ribbon of dark slate color that threads along the base. I stayed along the volcanic rock flows, taking pictures as I went. To the right; the rise of the volcanic hills, large rocks with tufts of hearty grasses and small desert flowers, poking almost stubbornly through the sand and ash. To the left; a desert plain, wide and open between the hills. I captured a video of a rabbit as it scampered off, surprising me as it scrambled right up the rock to conceal itself – which it did poorly. It stayed still long enough for me to get a picture of it after changing from video to still image. Cool move, bunny. Thanks. 🙂
The trails were easily passable – at least the ones I ventured onto. In my haste to get to the site early enough to keep from overheating, I’d forgotten to eat breakfast, so I wasn’t able to walk around as much as I would have liked. When my energy finally started flagging, I headed back to the car and finally fed myself.
Once I was on more of an even keel, I then headed over to the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History (PICS). Was very pleased about the colorful periodic table of elements imprinted in the marble tiles as you first walk in the door. It’s my intention to drive down to the Trinity test site this coming weekend, so I was gleeful to see a mockup of The Gadget, the implosion-design plutonium device set off on back in 1945 at the White Sands Missile Range near Alamogordo, NM.
The museum is really well thought out and put together. I’d had a chance to see the Enola Gay on exhibit out at the Udvar-Hazy branch of the National Air and Space Museum in Dulles, VA, and it was somewhat chilling to see reproductions here of Little Boy and Fat Man, considering how much destruction both caused. Once through the military applications of Nuclear technology, I headed outside to the planes and the Atomic Cannon.
Yep. That’s a big ass gun. I grinned like a little kid as I walked over to it and snapped a quick shot of myself.
I also spotted what looked like the tops of a couple military submarines, and am wondering if the museum is going to have an exhibit featuring an old decommissioned nuclear submarine or two. It’d be a great addition. There’s a hands on learning section for kids, as well as a small portion devoted to nuclear medicine. All in all, great museum.
Then, it was off to the Bandera Volcano (separate post here), before finally heading back home and crashing for the night, exhausted.
Sunday morning, I was out the door a little after 8am again – this time, determined to spend the lion’s share of the day at the Bandelier National Monument (PICS) up north around Los Alamos. My jaw literally dropped at several points along the drive on route 4. I’d never seen boulders or cliff faces that looked like swiss cheese before. It was also the first time I’d ever driven along the edges of canyons that large before. The scenery was stunning. On the way to Bandelier, the highway goes to the top of the canyon edge and winds around before sloping back down. I poked my way around one of the pull off points at the top and snapped a couple of pictures, engaging in a brief conversation with a very friendly guy about a lake that I simply HAD to visit when I found myself in Arizona (Lake Powell) before heading back to the car.
Route 4 threads through the strangely pockmarked mountains until you finally reach the Vistor’s Center in Frijoles Canyon. Behind the collection of buildings lay the background of the cliffs themselves. I took time to purchase a heinously beige floppy hat (egads) at the Gift Shop. I’d gotten so sunburned the other day that I didn’t want to chance it, and knew I’d be in direct sunlight much longer this time than my hike to the Volcano. I may just have to bedazzle the thing or draw on it to take the beige ‘bite’ out of it.
It took me about two hours to do the entire loop. For the first leg of the loop, I walked through the remains of what might loosely be termed a prehistoric apartment complex, as well as several other buildings that nature was slowly reclaiming. The trail then began winding up towards the cliffs themselves and I could see people walking up and down the steps along the cliff, examining the dwellings carved into the stone itself. I spent quite a bit of time getting pictures and climbing into the remaining houses that had ladder access. There was something almost serene about sitting in a place so organic and cool. It was getting fairly hot out, and it was nice to be in the cool shade, made cooler still by it being an effective man made cave.
At one point, I climbed up into a great Kiva that had apparently been restored. This one had holes in the floor and makeshift hooks in the ceiling that would hold thread, creating a large indoor loom. I then headed to the Long House part of the main loop trail, before realizing that my energy was flagging. I’d started conversing with a nice couple along the trail talking with them about my trip so far, and all the places I wanted to go. They were a lovely, friendly couple, and it was really wonderful to spend the rest of the walk back through the Ponderosa Pine forest at the canyon bottom back towards the visitor’s center. The conversation was very enjoyable; it also kept me from concentrating too much on how much my legs were shaking and my feet aching. If you guys are reading this, hi! *waves* I hope you guys made it back OK! 🙂
Throughout the walk, I could swear that I kept hearing running water, but kept telling myself that it was just the wind in the trees. Turns out that the Rito de los Frijoles winds through the bottom of the canyon. We had to cross it on the loop back. Apparently the old walkway had been washed out, and the park staff were building a small bridge across the stream.
I had a quick meal then got back on the road I drove around Los Alamos a little, happy that all those scientists had somewhere to work with really gorgeous scenery. I tried to visit The Black Hole: Atomic Surplus Store, but it was closed, so that was kind of a bummer – but all in all, another fantastic weekend. 🙂