#139f VLA

Fleeter Log #139f
VLA
2009 April 27


Day 13 - Monday
April 27, 2009
264 miles


I can't imagine that I was the only guest staying at the Super 8 in Socorro, NM overnight, but I didn't see any other travelers last night or this morning. Maybe it's a sign of the ailing economy or maybe everyone else arrived really late and got an extra early start this morning, but I doubt it. And I don't think it's a commentary on the hospitality of the Super 8. The hotel has been very hospitable during my stay. I have plans for an early lunch, but I feel guilty that I am not eating more of the breakfast that seems to be laid out just for me. I see no one else, other than the breakfast host. She is very attentive to my meager needs as I pour my coffee and select a rather tasty blueberry muffin. The host insists on bagging up several more muffins for me to pack along today in case I get hungry down the road. Of course, I accepted. I hate to think that so much food may go to waste. Besides, they are really good muffins.

While preparing the GS to roll, I chat a bit with the two housekeeping staff sitting on the bench taking a smoke break. Apparently, they are waiting for me to leave so they can get into my room to do their job. Since one of them has lived in Socorro her whole life and the other has been here for the last 20 years, I asked them of the origin of the name of their city. They were quick with the answer; Socorro is Spanish for the word 'help.' When I asked if the 'help' was being offered or asked for, they were at a loss for further information. However, I found the answer on a New Mexico history plaque on the edge of town. Seems that over 400 years ago the 'help' was being offered to Spanish settlers after they traveled across the desert arriving near here in 1598. The Piro Pueblo Indians offered the weary and ailing travelers food and water after they survived the Jornada del Muerto (Journey of the Dead), a particularly difficult 100 mile stretch of desert.
As I roll into the desert on the GS, I think of the blueberry muffins tucked into the GS topcase. The giving spirit is still alive and well in Socorro today.

Over 100 years ago these stockyards were the happening place in Magdalena, NM. Ranchers would drive their cattle and sheep up to 125 miles to the these shipping pens to be loaded onto railcars for delivery to the eastern markets. These shipping yards stayed in use until Santa Fe closed the rail line in 1971.
(click on any photo to enlarge)

History is still alive, at least in name, just outside of town. Cowboy Action Shootouts happen two times a month at high noon.

Anyone familiar with the 1997 movie, Contact, might already know about this next place between Magdalena and Datil, NM on US 60. This is where Jodie Foster's character received first contact from other world life forms.

The Very Large Array (VLA) is one of the world's foremost astronomical radio observatories.
(click on any photo to enlarge)

Each large radio antennae weighs over 200 tons and is moved using specially built rails. There are 27 antennae spread out over three arms forming a Y. Each arm of the Y is 13 miles long. Their configuration varies and is changed every 3 to 4 months. They are in the B configuration today. The largest configuration is Configuration A where the telescopes are stretched over the full length of each axis arm and simulates a single dish that is over 22 miles in diameter. The smallest is Configuration D when they are within .4 mile of the center in a tight pattern.

Anyone visiting might want to remember that this is the high desert. The temperature was a sunny 53 degrees during my visit--just right in my opinion, but possibly cool for some, especially if the sun isn't shining.

The VLA visitor center is open until sunset and has a very informative video to show those wanting to learn more about the big dishes of the desert.

Visitors are allowed to take a walk to get a close up view of the antennae. I took the walk. Each antenna is 82 feet in diameter. A baseball diamond could fit inside the dish.

While I was under the shade of the dish, I heard a hum and the gears started moving. How cool to be right under the antennae dish as it starts changing direction to tune in a different section of the sky.


The Continental Divide is always a significant landmark as one travels across the country from one coast to the opposite coast.
(click on any photo to enlarge)

All this talk of dishes is making me hungry . . . hungry for PIE. Good thing Pie Town is just down the road! Where else would one go to find the best pie? Pie Town, NM!

The Daily Pie Cafe in Pie Town, NM. But do you notice how empty the parking lot is? Seems that my plans are going afoul. The Daily Pie is closed on Mondays! But I have a backup plan as I turn back down the road and across the highway.

The other local competitor in Pie Town -- PIE-O-NEER. But criminey! They are closed too! What is this?! I ride all the way to Pie Town, NM for PIE, and there is no pie to be had in town? Shouldn't there be an economic law or something that says that one of the two pie places in Pie Town must remain open for travelers wanting pie? I would think it wouldn't be that hard to come up with a schedule where they alternate days off.

I feel the need to file a formal complaint, but there's no Mayor's office or any sort of city offices since Pie Town is unincorporated. So I head to the only official looking place in town. The Pie Town Post Office. The other option was the mechanic's garage.

I lodge my complaint with these local folks. They both agree with me about "there ought to be a rule," but shake their heads as they confirm what I had already concluded; no pie for me today in Pie Town.

Guess I'll have to come back another time to PIE TOWN. But not on a Monday.

The Narrows: Northbound on NM117 heading toward Grants, NM. The Narrows is so named because the road is squeezed through a narrow corridor between the black lava flows of El Malpais and the sandstone cliffs of the Cebollita Mesa.

La Ventana Trail leading to one of New Mexico's largest natural arches. I take a muffin, a bottle of water, and my camera from the topcase of the GS, then start my short hike for a better look.

Nice close-up views of the sandstone cliffs that I've been riding past as I travel through The Narrows on highway 117.
The natural arch carved out of the sandstone.

Before I left, a pickup pulled up and a conversation was struck up as often happens. This chance encounter lasted over 30 minutes and left me with a good feeling about people. I meet so many folks across the USA and some interactions are just more special than others. It's always energizing to meet folks that leave me with a positive energy even hours after the chance encounter. I'm sorry that I didn't think to snap a photo of Bruce and MJ before we parted ways in search of our own stories.

El Malpais National Monument
"El Malpais" means "the badlands" in Spanish and there's no doubt how the area got its name. You can see the ancient lava flow on the basin floor. The Park covers over 350,000 acres and much of it is covered with the lava flow making travel on the basin a very difficult venture.

Crossing the Continental Divide again. This time in Continental Divide, NM.

I finally arrive at my target stop for the night . . . The El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, NM. This hotel has a lot of history and is full of character. It is where the movie stars stayed back in the 1940s during the filming of the western movies in the area.

Tomorrow: I gain the protection of the Navajo ghost beads.

Copyright 2009 Fleeter Logs

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