Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Not All Who Wander Are Lost
June, 2019 - Mount Denali, Alaska

Sunday, April 3, 2011

VLA and Unwelcome Excitement

While researching New Mexico attractions, I came across some information regarding the VLA located about 60 miles from Socorro.  I also discovered that they have a special open house twice a year on the first Saturday in April and October.  Since we were staying near Socorro and it was the first Saturday in April, I decided we had to go.

Now you’re thinking to yourself, what in the world is a VLA.  Even after reading about it, I wasn’t sure what it was, but it sounded interesting.  It stands for Very Large Array (I know, that still doesn’t tell you anything).  It’s basically a huge telescope created by placing 27 large satellite antenna in the shape of a Y out in the desert. 

VLA Collage

Each of these antenna are 100 feet tall, 85 feet in diameter and weighs 230 tons.  Radio waves from space are captured by the antenna and sent to a 20 million dollar super computer using fiber optic cables.  The computer analyzes the data and somehow through all of this process, outer space images are produced.  You can get an idea of the size of one of the antenna by looking at the people and van at the base of it.


An engineer named Steve led our tour.  He tried hard to explain in terms a non-scientist could understand, but a lot of it went right over my head.  What I do know is that there are some very smart people working at this place, and all of it is truly amazing.

One of the people on the tour asked Steve how anything done here could benefit us in our daily lives.  Steve said there are two main areas.  First the scientists and astronomers are studying the expanding universe which can help in understanding our environment, planet, etc.  The other is they are developing math systems.  He said they expect these math systems they are developing to help lead to the knowledge of how exactly a human cell is created and help to develop new cells to cure disease. Cool !! Who knew math was that important :)

The antenna are moved every 4 months.  There are railroad tracks that run along each arm of the array.  This orange machine is used to move them along the tracks.  The antenna are placed in 4 patterns throughout the year ranging from a distance of 13 miles apart up to 1 mile apart.  The patterns act kind of like a zoom lens.  They move them in and out and that way get a broader or narrower view of the universe.  It takes one to two weeks to make the move each time.


The facility was built in the 1970s and upgraded about 10 years ago.  It’s been featured in several movies and even a Bon Jovi music video.  I would definitely recommend a visit. Even if you don’t go on a tour, there is a walking tour and a nice visitor’s center with an informative movie. Kevin’s brother has a PhD in Math and a Master’s in Computer Science.  I think this place would be right up his alley!

As we headed home we made a little detour to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.  Their website said they are one of the most spectacular wildlife refuges in the country.

I’ve dragged Kevin to three refuges since we left Wisconsin.  The first one was in Colorado in October and we were too early to see the migrating birds.  The next one was in Nevada where we saw the endangered pupfish, and now this one in New Mexico.  We’re too late to see the tens of thousands of sand hill cranes and snow geese that come through here. Apparently, they’re only here from late November to mid-February.  This is high desert and it’s cold at that time of year.  I guess we’ll have to see the migrating birds elsewhere.

We drove along the wildlife drive and took a walk on the boardwalk.  We saw many turtles sunning themselves.

Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge Turtles

There were lots of American Coots and ducks in all of the ponds.


P1010792I believe this guy is a Cormorant.  That’s all we saw.  Nothing too exciting.   No massive flocks of migrating birds.  Maybe next winter.  On the way home, we saw some smoke in the distance.  New Mexico is extremely dry and there are high fire hazard warnings everywhere.  As we got closer to home, the smoke plume got bigger.  Hmm, that’s not looking very good.  I can’t imagine anyone would have set such a large fire on purpose.

As we got to our freeway exit, we could see the fire was about 4 or 5 miles across the interstate from our campground. Yikes!!!


Lots of the people at the campground were out looking at the fire.  Below is what it looked like from the end of our campground row. The sun was beginning to go down, and it did create some very pretty colors in the smoke.  But still, this is way too close for comfort.  The campground owner assured us that she had witnessed many wildfires in that same area, and she had never been evacuated.  The wind always blows it in the opposite direction.  Since we were leaving the next day anyway, we just got everything ready for a quick escape.


As the evening progressed, the firefighters worked miracles and the smoke plume got much smaller.  Still, this is what we saw after dark.


We left at 9:30 this morning to beat the high winds that were predicted for today.  We could still see lots of smoldering as we pulled onto the highway.  The news said over 1,000 acres had burned.


We made it to The Enchanted Trails RV Park in Albuquerque about an hour later.  The winds are fierce this afternoon, sustained winds of 30 to 40 mph.  The sand sounds like hail hitting the camper.  There may not be any paint left on it by tomorrow.

This campground seems pretty nice.  We really haven’t had a chance to look around much.  I’m not going out there!!!  Tomorrow we’re going to Taos to visit a former co-worker of mine.  I’m excited to see her.

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!