Going to visit the VLA has long been on my list. I left the rainy Datil Well Campground around 9:30am thinking I should get to town to check the weather report since I had no connectivity out there. I went to the one gas station in Datil and talked with the fellow working. He said that snow was forecast, so I decided to skedaddle south and east. No checking the dice for this one – I wanted away from this storm system.
I thought I’d missed the turn-off for the VLA, and because it was so overcast and wet I’d resigned myself to having to go back another time. However, the Visitor’s Center entrance sign popped up and so I made the turn off and went to see the VLA!
I felt like a little kid while I did the walking tour. Albeit, a cold one… Brrrr. Totally worth it!
The nice lady at the Visitor’s Center told me that there are four different arrangements of the array and that “A” is the one where the dishes are closest together, and that they are currently in “D” – the most spread out configuration.
Even the tiles in the bathroom were spacy!
There is a sculpture on the property that “represents the three tracks of the VLA and the floating, three-dimensional natures of the objects the VLA studies.” I couldn’t help but think of my aquatic dream from a few nights ago about how sea creatures must have such wholly different perceptions of space and time than we do because of their moving through three dimensions in a way that we don’t. I wonder if my subconscious was anticipating this visit.
The clouds were heavy and not going away, so I continued south and east. The weather was so oppressive that I got kind of tunnel-vision and my instinct was “get out of this storm system.” I called my mom and she looked up radar and told me it was a storm traveling northeast covering a giant swatch of New Mexico.
One of the folks on the campering forum I like, Wander the West (shameless plug) sent me a message a few days ago offering a meal and a warm guest room near Alamogordo, NM. I sent “highz” a reply asking if short-notice today or tomorrow would be good to meet? I got a reply quickly and set out to meet my new online friend in Alamogordo.
We met up on the side of the highway – easy to spot other Four Wheel Camper folks. It was a brief chat in the rain, then up highway 82 to Cloudcroft. We drove the steep, twisty, rainy road up… and up… and up! Cloudcroft is over 8000′ high in the … clouds.
Pugsly took that photo.
It was still raining when we arrived at the cozy mountain home, and I wondered if I’d get snowbound, but decided not to worry about it. C’est la vie, eh?
It stopped raining sometime during the night, and I woke up a lovely morning!
Two happy campers!
We took a drive up to the Sloan Foundation Telescope (SDSS) where “highz” recently retired from working as an Astronomer! Neat!
From the view up there, the 2.5 meter telescope enclosure and then in the second pic, can see White Sands far below in the Tularosa Basin (the basin is about the size of small eastern US state!)
We next went to the National Solar Observatory – 9250′ elevation! I got to play with stuff in the Visitor’s Center! Scienceing! Yay!
As we were leaving “highz” told me that the highway number up there – 6563 – was chosen by the Observatory.
6563 is the wavelength (in Angstroms) that is emitted when the electron in a hydrogen atom jumps from the 2nd excited state to the 1st excited state. It is often used to study the photosphere of the sun. This transition is also called “H-alpha”, hence the highway is called the “H-alpha highway” to those in the know.
Geek inside jokes! This place is great!