Friday, November 17, 2017

Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array

Back in September when we had to change our travel planning. And the new route was going to take us down to New Mexico. I knew we had to make plans to visit the National Radio Astronomy Observatory site. Also called the "Very Large Array" (VLA).

If you have seen or remember the movie "Contact" with Jodi Foster. That movie was filmed on-location at the VLA. 

The VLA is located about 50 miles west of Socorro, NM off of US-60. The site has a total of 27 dish antennas. Each antenna is 82 feet in diameter, standing about 90 feet high, and it weights 230 tons.

They sit in a wide-open section/area of land around open farm land in this Y-shaped configuration when in it's maximum spacing it is 22 miles long. Which make the 27 antennas one of the single powerful telescopes in the world.

The scientists & staff at the VLA adjust or moved the antennas to change the science capabilities every four months. So they can see and observe items out in space day & night 365 days each year. And this all begin back in 1980. 

To move the dish antennas specially-trained employees board a special transporter unit to carefully lift and then relocate the 230-ton dish to one of 72 new positions along the Y-shaped railroad tracks. The array area has over 82 miles of railroad track at the site.

If you enjoy astronomy or outer space and are in this area of New Mexico. Then this is a must-see place to visit and explore.

For more information visit the VLA website : 

Very Large Array Visitor Center
Old Highway 60
Socorro, New Mexico

Monday, November 13, 2017

Images from the Past

Petroglyph at Boca Negra Canyon
On the outskirts of Albuquerque, just beyond a residential housing development, you can find messages left from an older civilization. Here in the high desert there are hundreds of petroglyphs left by ancestors of the native people that live here today.

This desert lizard is pretty easy to identify but why is it holding a paddle?
This land was formed by volcanic lava flows that have eroded over time. Five cinder cones dominate the landscape which is covered with boulders broken off from the lava caprock. The basalt boulders are covered in desert varnish, a thin dark coating of oxidized iron and other minerals deposited over time. This layer varies in color from orange to black and is only about 1 micrometer in depth..
Petroglyphs were created by chipping away that desert varnish layer to reveal the stone’s natural gray color. The work was done with primitive stone tools. Large areas of images were made by striking the boulder with a stone in a hammer-like manner. Finer lines and detailed portions of the petroglyph were made by using 2 stones similar to a hammer and chisel. It took planning,  time and patience to produce a lasting image.

There is a story here but I can't decipher it.
Some of the figures are easy to identify. Snakes, dragonflies and lizards appear frequently. Other images such as geometric designs are not so easy to interpret. Even the native people that consider this a sacred area are not sure of the meanings.

Archeologists have determined that some of the images may be as much as 3000 years old. Most were created between 400-700 years ago.

In addition to petroglyphs carved by native people you can see pictures of crosses and cattle brands that were left by Hispanic sheep and cattle herders.

There is evidence of vandalism here. Images have been scratched over and used for target practice. The petroglyphs have lasted a long time but they are fragile. Once damaged there is no way to restore them.

There were many perfect spirals pictured.

New Mexico created a State Park at Boca Negra Canyon to protect the images in the 1970’s. The Petroglyph area was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986 and by 1990 Petroglyph National Monument was created.

We stopped at the Visitor Center to get an overview of the Monument, watched a short film and spoke for a while with the Ranger and volunteers that manned the information desk. The national park service area covers 17 miles of escarpment and the 5 volcanoes. There are 3 established trails that allow you access to the petroglyphs. We chose Boca Negra Canyon where a series of paved trails and one rustic uphill climb allowed us get up close to the images. Petroglyph National Monument has been high on my list of desired places to see since we started our journey and I wanted to get as close as possible to the images.

We climbed to the top of the escarpment first on a narrow steep path more suited to mountain goats than humans. There were petroglyphs on so many surfaces. We soon realized that most of them were on smooth vertical rocks facing South. Knowing where to look made them easier to spot.
The view from the top out over the city was pretty spectacular.

The high desert environment is still foreign to us. The sharp rocks and wide open spaces devoid of trees and shrubbery are a constant source of wonder. We are enjoying getting out into it every chance we get.

Petroglyph National Monument
Unser Blvd NW
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Monday, November 6, 2017

Longmire Country

Fort Union remnants of officers quarters
Las Vegas, New Mexico
October 25, 2017

Today we drove north to Las Vegas New Mexico to meet up with a member of my Facebook Group Awesome Breastforms. I have been a volunteer with the group for a little over 2 years but this was the first opportunity to meet one of my fellow volunteers in person. Jan suggested a coffee shop on the plaza in Las Vegas which was a great choice for us coffee hounds. We spent a wonderful hour or so visiting and getting to know one another in person.

Jan and I outside the yarn shop in Las Vegas
When Jan heard Fred talking about being a fan of the TV show Longmire she walked us down the block to the Sheriff’s Department door that is used for filming the series.

Fred at the Durant Sheriff's Department, in Las Vegas New Mexico.
Longmire is filmed in this part of New Mexico even though it is set in the fictional town of Durant, Wyoming. Jan gave us a few pointers for finding other film locales and we hugged and said our goodbyes before heading off to Fort Union for the afternoon.

Fort Union was established in 1851 and was active for 40 years although the fort itself was built 3 times. The National Monument that we visit today is the last of those established areas. The remnants of the fort cover a large area that included the military post of Fort Union and the Fort Union Quartermaster Depot side by side. Shipments arrived via the Santa Fe trail to be warehoused in Fort Union before distribution to other western forts.

Santa Fe Trail ruts
Today you can see the exterior walls of the adobe buildings connected by stone sidewalks and laid out in square blocks like a small city. Residential buildings surrounded the parade ground with the laundry, guardhouse and corrals behind them. Offices and storehouses formed another block and the hospital was separate.

Fort Union Jail
The hospital at Fort Union was considered the best on the western frontier. It’s 6 wards could care for up to 60 patients at a time. Military personal were treated at no cost, civilians paid 50 cents a day. The fort became obsolete by 1979 when the Santa Fe railroad reached Las Vegas and became the commerce route. It was abandoned by 1891.

Valles Caldera National Preserve
Bandolier National Monument
October 26, 2017

We left Santa Fe early to arrive at the Visitor Center at Valle Caldera by 10. This remote rustic preserve limits backcountry passes to 35/day and we didn’t want to be excluded. The drive was a little peculiar. We thought we had made a wrong turn when we came upon a security checkpoint and had to provide ID to drive through Los Alamos to get there. The views driving up the mountain were spectacular. The roads were narrow with tight switchback turns that made us glad we were driving the Jeep.

Valles Caldera
With our backcountry permit secured we drove into Longmire Country.
Valle Caldera is an amazing geologic formation. The preserve is a result of the eruption of a supervolcano 1.25 million years ago. It is a dormant volcanic caldera and remains an active geothermal area with evidence of hot springs and mud pots. The valley that was left when the domes lava flowed away is 13 miles in diameter. It a beautiful landscape of mountain meadows and small recurrent volcanic domes that is home to a large herd of elk. There is a tiny meadow stream that is prized for its brown trout. We saw several fly casters trying their luck in the gently flowing water. The grassland where the herd of elk graze used to be a ranch.
The ranch buildings have been maintained as part of the preserve.

Longmire House
One of those ranch houses is used to portray Walt Longmire’s home in the TV series. The open grassy areas you see in the background of so many of the Longmire episodes are located in the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Fred was in heaven. He walked up onto Walt’s porch and sat on the steps, then crossed the road to look at the old barn that appears in background in the TV series.
The back country permit allowed us access to 22 miles of pothole filled washboarded gravel roads. It was amazing to drive them seeing hillsides of volcanic ash and huge boulders of pumice and obsidian.

Hills of volcanic ash.
Driving the caldera was a great way to spend the morning, made even sweeter because it seemed so familiar.

Pumice boulders
The volcanic eruption that formed the Valle Caldera was also responsible for creation of the tuff that makes up the Pajarito Plateau and Frijoles Canyon. Tuff is the rock that is left when hot ash cools. Tuff is porous and soft.

It allowed Ancestral Pueblo People to carve into it with hand tools creating cavities in the rock face for shelter. Tuff was also carved into brick shapes used as building blocks for dwellings in front of the cliff face. Bandelier National Monument preserves some of these cliff dwellings that are located on the outer slope of the caldera. The cliff dwellings at Bandelier were occupied between the mid 1200’s to the 1500’s. It is amazing that concrete evidence of their occupation remains recognizable today.

Cliff dwelling
We enjoyed walking the Main Loop and Nature trails, climbing ladders to look into the tiny cavattes and spotting petroglyphs carved high on the rocks.

Window carved out of the tuff.

Petroglyphs. Art or ancient graffitti?
Those petroglyphs had us considering the graffiti and tagging of our era.
Were Ancestral Pueblo parents annoyed at the defacement of their homes or were the drawings considered art in their own time?
Were the drawings and carvings used to tell a story?
Are they a means of communication with future generations or the bored doodles of an idle teenager?

Bandelier National Monument does a great job of preserving these dwellings and the artifacts that have been found near them.

Bandolier National Monument
13 Entrance Rd
Los Alamos, New Mexico

Valles Caldera National Preserve

39201 Highway 4
Jemez Springs, New Mexico

Fort Union National Monument

3115 New mexico 161
Watrous, New Mexico

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Bound for Santa Fe

Santuario de Guadalupe
October 21, 2017
Santa Fe, New Mexico

We have traveled north to Santa Fe. What a beautiful city. We can’t get enough of looking at the adobe architecture with its soft lines and earthy colors. Downtown Santa Fe is very walkable and has a great deal to offer. We started our day at the Railroad Station Farmers Market where we found a wide variety of fresh ingredients for our weeks cooking. My favorite vendors had chiles roasting in a rolling metal cage over blistering heat. They made the market smell so good. I was also impressed with the number of different dried beans and we were thrilled to find watermelon radishes for the first time since we left New York.
We stowed our lovely veggies in the Jeep and took a walking tour of historic Santa Fe.
This city is full of beautiful churches.

The first one we came to was Santuario de Guadalupe on  Guadalupe Street.  Established in the 1770’s on the banks of the Santa Fe River it is the oldest shrine in the United States. The beautiful adobe chapel is a museum that celebrates the  history of the New Mexican santos and houses the art collection of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

Downtown Santa Fe La Fonda on the Plaza
We continued our journey to the historic downtown where we found the Plaza, the park at the center of Santa Fe. The Palace of the Governors forms one side of the Plaza and today being Saturday the Native American Market was busy with vendors of silver jewelry, pottery and wood carving. The market was doing a brisk business on this beautiful day.

we loved the adobe architecture.
The Palace of the Governors is adjacent to the New Mexico History Museum. Admission to the museum includes entrance to the palace itself. We enjoyed the museum and learning about New Mexico’s development as a tourist destination by Fred Harvey as the railroad moved west. Harvey’s hotels provided clean and comfortable accommodations and prided themselves on customer service. The hotels offered tours to the region’s cultural, geological and archeological sites making them attractions that drew tourists from all over the world.
We left the museum and continued along the Plaza passing the La Fonda Hotel with its famous bell tower.

Cathedral basilica of St Francis of Assisi
We came upon the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi and around the corner Loretto Chapel and its miraculous staircase.  Spanish missionary influence is very apparent in Santa Fe.

We stopped for lunch at a lovely coffee shop and tired but happy walked back to the train station to pick up the Jeep.

October 22, 2017
Taos, New Mexico

Today we decided to take a drive up to Taos to see the Indian Pueblo that at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. We drove the high road enjoying expansive mountain views, tiny towns and beautiful adobe architecture.

Beautiful views of the Sangre de Cristo mountains from the High Road
Taos Pueblo is an active native American community that has been continuously inhabited for more than 1000 years.
Two of the large adobe houses date from that time. The adobe on the exterior is replenished as necessary and the interior walls are whitewashed with a naturally pigmented mixture. We learned that the buildings as originally built did not have doors or windows. The large ladders that are present on the pueblo buildings were used to access the dwelling through the roof. This design provided protection to the original inhabitants. Living in the pueblo means embracing a traditional way of life without the conveniences of electricity or running water. There are about 150 people that live full time in the community. Pueblo homes are owned by specific families who have passed them down for generations. Homes are heated with wood stoves or traditional adobe fireplaces. Water is collected from a stream that flows from Blue Lake which is on restricted native land.

Taos Pueblo
Many of the homes have shops and studios in them. We visited a bakery where Fred enjoyed his first experience of pinion coffee. Tourism and the trade of traditional crafts is the main source of income for the pueblo. We enjoyed seeing heavy silver and gemstone jewelry, drum and rattles made of hides and a unique shiny form of pottery made from micaceous clay.  
We enjoyed the tour given by a local high school senior who explained some of the culture of the pueblo. Members of the community are multilingual speaking a combination of English, Spanish and Tiwa, the native language.  
Taos Pueblo culture is thought to have originated with the Anasazi. There is evidence of Spanish and Anglo American influence in the history of the pueblo which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Santuario de Guadalupe
100 Guadalupe St.
Santa Fe, New Mexico

New Mexico History Museum and Palace of the Governors
113 Lincoln Ave
Santa Fe, New Mexico

La Fonda Hotel
100 East San Francisco St
Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Cathedral Basilica of St Francis of Assisi
131 Cathedral Pl
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Loretto Chapel
207 Old Santa Fe Trail
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Taos Pueblo
120 Veterans Highway

Taos, New Mexico

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Southern New Mexico: Sunshine, Bat Caves and Aliens

There were lovely sunsets almost every night at the ranch.
October 13, 2017
Lakewood, New Mexico

Southern New Mexico’s Chihuahuan Desert is a desolate landscape. We thought that we were prepared for wilderness having spent the last couple of months in North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming but this is different.  Harsh and sunbaked with nothing for miles and miles except for oil derricks, sage and the occasional wiff of methane. We were beginning to wonder what we had gotten ourselves into when we pulled up to the SKP Ranch in Lakewood. The Ranch is part of the Escapee’s system and the park is like an oasis. The people there are very friendly. Everyone we saw greeted us and welcomed us to their part of New Mexico.  They set us at ease and answered our questions about where to find local services like groceries fuel and a Post Office.

We enjoyed the rest of the afternoon walking around the park and admiring all of the desert themed landscaping. There were a lot of small rabbits hopping around. I was happy to spot a Roadrunner on a couple of occasions. A large covey of Scaled Quail have made the park their home. We were warned of snakes and were happy not to have spotted any.

October 15, 2017
Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

Our primary reason for coming to this part of New Mexico was a trip to Carlsbad Caverns. We enjoy caves, especially the magnificent formations in wet caves and have had Carlsbad on our list for a long time.

Carlsbad has both a natural entrance and an elevator that allow you access to the Big Room where you enjoy a self guided tour along the cave trail.
Both methods of arrival lead you to the cafeteria where you can enjoy a light lunch at tables lit only by tiny lanterns. It was a great way to start the cave experience.

This was our first cave experience where we were allowed to roam freely. It was a very pleasant difference. We didn’t hear any cave stories or explanations of geologic formations but the tradeoff was a quiet walk 750 feet below the surface through a wonderland of creatively lit speleothems.

There is something about being in a cave and breathing in the clean, slightly damp air. We both love getting dripped on by water that should have been building some kind of flowstone. Maybe it’s all the negative ions and maybe it’s the wondrous sight of formations that took thousands of years to form but a cave tour always puts me in a good mood.

October 17, 2018
Roswell, New Mexico

Our trip to southern New Mexico would not have seemed complete without a trip to Roswell. We love to celebrate the unusual and weird and Roswell’s 1947 UFO story is a good example.
Roswell embraces its history. We spotted a lot of little green men outside of local businesses and many stores, like Stellar Coffee, have otherworldly sounding names.

We enjoyed a visit to the International UFO Museum and Research Center and had a good time reading newspaper accounts of the event and sworn statements from local witnesses. There was an interesting display of crop circles and the mysteries that surround them as well as photographs paintings and other artwork of ancient peoples that seem to picture technology not available in those times.

Some see an interstellar traveller in a spaceship, others a reclining man playing a lyre with his foot.
We found some fun books for the boys in the gift shop and then walked around Main Street for a bit. Stellar Coffee Co had a nice coffee house atmosphere and good wifi.
We had lunch at Big D’s Downtown Dive at the recommendation of a museum employee and were very pleasantly surprised. More than a sandwich shop Big D’s offers great food made from fresh ingredients and served with pride.
Roswell has the area’s only bike shop called, wait for it, Outlaw Alien Bike Shop.  Fred was happy to be able to get the tire of his Rad Bike fixed. These sharp New Mexico rocks on not good for the fat tires but the fellow that was working did a good fix while we were enjoying lunch.

October 18, 2017
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

South of Carlsbad Caverns is a marine fossil reef called El Capitan that formed the Guadalupe Mountains of West Texas. This is the highest point in Texas at 8749 feet above current sea level.
They are remote and wild and fantastically beautiful with a diverse ecosystem.  The mountain range is surrounded by the high Chihuahuan Desert that was once home to the Mescalero Apache who discovered mountain springs that supported their community. By the mid 1800’s those water sources were valued by explorers and the United States Army who drove the Apache from their mountain home. The mountains surround deep canyons that are protected from the desert wind and direct sunlight all day. Here you will find willow trees, walnut trees and Ponderosa pines, sheltering elk and deer. McKittrick Canyon has a mountain fed stream that supports oak and ash and maple trees whose Fall color changes rival those of northern Vermont.

We stopped at the Visitor Center to pick up a map and chose the Smith Spring trail. The trail is only 2.3 miles in length and gained only 400 feet in elevation so we felt comfortable with it at this elevation.

The first mile of the hike was through the desert landscape punctuated with Yucca, Prickly Pear cactus and sage. We spotted a lot of birds and a tiny lizard but no other wildlife.

The terrain started to climb as we got closer to the mountains. We were walking up rocky paths and around large boulders that were marine coral. It was so odd to see them so far away from the sea. The terrain leveled out and we started to see trees and bushes mixed among the desert plants.

Before long we heard the sound of running water. We had arrived at Smith Spring a tiny grotto of ferns and mossy rocks and water gently trickling from the bottom of a steep rock face. The water flowed in a tiny stream for about 20 feet before disappearring back into the rocks. That little bit of water is enough to create its own micro system here in the Chihuahuan desert. The return loop gave us expansive views out across the desert to the mountains beyond. It was a very satisfying hike.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park
727 Carlsbad Caverns Highway
Carlsbad Caverns, National Park, New Mexico

Guadalupe Mountains National Park
400 Pine Canyon Dr
Salt Flat, Texas

International UFO Museum and Research Center
114 N Main St
Roswell, New Mexico