First Time Seeing the Very Large Array

We left Roswell and headed across New Mexico towards the Very Large Array on HWY 380.  Highway 380 is also known as Billy the Kid highway and traverses Lincoln County which is the territory of Billy the Kid.  It also passes through Lincoln, New Mexico which is an extremely old town that he was captured, taken to, and escaped from.  Neither one of us was that interested but the town was super old and there were numerous historical locations that people stopped at.  We were interested in the lava fields though.  Crossing route 380 is a huge lava flow that the land is slowly reclaiming,  There was a scenic view and we pulled over and walked out on the rocks a bit.  Neither one of us had ever seen anything quite like it, as it looks like a giant black river frozen in place.  I would have loved to explore a bit more, but you have to watch your time on these side trips or you end up pulling into your campground at night.

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Loved these rippled rocks

Loved these rippled rocks

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Another thing on the drive we were interested in was the Smokey the Bear Historical Park!  I was a Smokey the Bear fan as a small child (I mean really, who wasn’t?) and thought if possible it would be a fun stop.  This desire was heightened when we stopped at a small rest area for lunch and saw the place where Smokey was found.

Capitan Gap (in the background) is where a a small bear cub was rescued during a major forest fire

Capitan Gap (in the background) is where a a small bear cub was rescued during a major forest fire

Smokey did exist as a cartoon character created during WWII to help the war effort preserve timber.  In the early 50’s though the cartoon character became a real bear when the bear cub was rescued.  He was flown to Washington D.C., met the president, and was installed in the National Zoo where he lived a 26 year long bear life.  The neat part of the story is when he died he was sent back to the town of Capitan who created the burial site and historic park for him.  The whole small town now has a Smokey The Bear theme, but for $2 we thought we couldn’t go wrong seeing the park.  Actually it was pretty cool, with a nice 10 minute movie and lots of old posters and memorabilia.  The outside park itself was small and could use some updating, but I did like the grave site.  Finally we went next door and saw the gift shop, where unfortunately things were crazy expensive.  Still glad we did it and it only took 45 minutes or so to see it, which was more than a fair trade.

The historical park. We parked in parallel out front btw as it was a slow day

The historical park. We parked in parallel out front btw as it was a slow day

Smokey as a cub and grown bear

Smokey as a cub and grown bear

My favorite childhood poster

My favorite childhood poster

Lee's favorite childhood poster

Lee’s favorite childhood poster

Didn't know this but many other countries picked up the Smokey idea and have their own programs. Australia uses the Koala

Didn’t know this, but many other countries picked up the Smokey idea and have their own programs. Australia uses the Koala

The gravesite, which was built at 3am so the body wouldn't be stolen. Weird for the 70's but apparently that was a real concern

The gravesite, which was dug at 3am so the body wouldn’t be stolen. Weird for the 70’s but apparently that was a real concern

Next we hit the town of Socorro, which is over 400 years old and was a Spanish missionary city.  Again, not a lot of interest on our part, but if you are interested in old Spanish Missions this is probably a place you would want to check out.  It was starting to get a little late but we were excited to see The Very Large Array (VLA) along our path. Knowing we were spending Friday there we didn’t stop, but I did take a couple of quick shots from the window.  We were a little awestruck by the huge white dishes in the middle of nowhere.  I won’t get into to much detail at this point, but here’s a sneak peek with the view we saw.

Looks smaller from the road than in the movies

Looks smaller from the road than in the movies, but still pretty amazing

Many more miles down the road we finally arrived at Jackson Field our free campsite in Pie Town.  As you probably know by now, Lee loves pie, so when searching for a campsite near the VLA we decided to try this place out.  There aren’t lots of options close by, and free plus pie equals sold for us.  The dirt road leading back to the sites was very soft (absolutely would not try this in a big rig if rain was expected) and the sites themselves were not clearly marked.  Luckily a very nice man who was living there helped us find a spot and it turned out to be OK.  We had no ATT and only 1 sliver of 3G Verizon, but the fields were full of deer and other animals we saw tracks for but didn’t see.  Lee loved it for the wildness, I was a little nervous about animal activity but for a couple of free nights wasn’t bad.  I will say if we went back to the area though I would definitely stay at Datil Wells BLM campground which was $5 a night and much better kept.  The biggest disappointment was the Pie-O-Neer store in Pie Town.  It was a beautiful little store with a great story, but the pies were $29.95 each!! Even Lee wouldn’t spend that kind of money on a regularly sized pie and shame on them for charging such a ridiculous amount of money for a pie.

Our campsite at Jackson Field

Our campsite at Jackson Field.  Lots of free firewood lying around

A big piece of bone near our fire ring

A big piece of bone near our fire ring

The overgrown baseball field we were up against

The overgrown baseball field we were up against

The Pi-O-Neer

The Pie-O-Neer

Inside was super cool

Inside was super cool

Such a shame that they only make pies now and charge so much for them because the place has style

Such a shame that they only make pies now and charge so much for them because the place has style

Pie aside though we were more than ready to see the VLA.  I haven’t seen Lee this excited in a while so we got up bright and early and headed that way.  It’s a little confusing how you actually get back there, but follow the signs and about 4 miles off the road there you are.  It only cost $6 per person to get in and that includes a really good 20 minute movie (narrated by Jodie Foster), some informational material, and an outside self guided tour.  It’s really all about seeing the antennas close up though and in that case it did not disappoint. Oh and did I mention that we saw Elk along the way?  Since we got up so early we saw tons of them including a buck with a large rack that I unfortunately did not get a picture of.

Elk in the wild

Beautiful Elk

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The beginning of the walking tour

The beginning of the walking tour

This sundial was pretty neat

This sundial was pretty neat

The time was right

The time was right

Lee was obviously having a good time

Lee was obviously having a good time

This sign shows how big the dishes are. Two school buses could fit across their width

This sign shows how big the dishes are. Two school buses could fit across their width

This givesy ou a feel for size as the cars below are RR box cars

This gives you a feel for size as the cars below are RR box cars

You get to walk right up to this one

We were able to walk right up to this one

Amazing

Amazing

Underside

Underside.  See the stairs?  Guys walk up there and using harnesses work inside them

And one of the neatest things is that they move them by pulling them with this big machine along RR tracks

And one of the neatest things is that they move them by pulling them with this big machine along RR tracks

There is almost always one out of rotation for maintenance in this huge bay

There is almost always one out of rotation for maintenance in this huge bay

They are currently in a tightly clustered formation, but they can also be moved into a loose configuration and be very far from each other

They are currently in a tightly clustered formation, but they can also be moved into a loose configuration and be very far from each other

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They collect radio waves (which tell jus a lot about black holes) and are located in no where New Mexico because there is minimal earth noise to wade through.

This really helps you see how they are all parts of one very big machine

This really helps you see how they are all parts of one very big machine.  You can see the RR track running beside them

And we both loved the cows that graze freely on the land. They've even lined up like the dishes for us (Lee's pic)

And we both loved the cows that graze freely on the land. They’ve even lined up like the dishes for us (Lee’s pic)

It was a really terrific experience and I highly recommend making a side trip to spend part of a day here.  It doesn’t look like the movie Contact (which was digitally enhanced to add extra antennas), but it is awesome in its own right. Next up, Santa Fe!!

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12 thoughts on “First Time Seeing the Very Large Array

  1. Love this post about the VLA, Tracy. We have a friend who lives out near Pie Town and he’s been bugging us to stop by and this may be just the added incentive. We love Santa Fe and the surrounding area. If you get time to check out Chimayo, the old mission church there is amazing and worth a visit. Also, Trujillo’s Weave Shop is full of gorgeous handwoven items. Happy travels!

  2. Everything sounds amazing, all but the $29.00 for a pie. WOW. I love my desserts and pie but I would never spend $29.00 on a pie – at least I don’t think I would. I can’t wait to hear about Santa Fe. That is a place I would love to go to.

  3. I love you telling about this. I had never heard of VLA. Very interesting. I like the photos. no, I would never buy a Pie at that price. Looking forward to Santa Fe adventures. do not take you big trailer up to TAOS. the road is to narrow and curvy.. Keep a eye out for snakes in NM. God be with you both. A side note, Do you have to have a pass port to go to Alaska?

  4. Really enjoyed this post and your travels in NM. I’ve been to these places many times so loved reading about them through your eyes. I will have to check out the Smokey the Bear place. That is crazy expensive for the pie! Was there maybe 4 yrs ago and go one slice. I have some land near the town Magdalena that you passed by.

    I don’t comment all the time but really want to thank you for the time you put in to these posts. I like that you are real with the ups and down. 🙂

    Take care!

    Tina

  5. Sorry Lee didn’t get a pie, but I agree the prices were ridiculous! I can’t imagine what they do to them or put in them to justify that! What an interesting place the VLA is! Bill would have loved it!
    Can’t wait to hear about your time in Sante Fe!

    Miss you!

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