Friday, August 22, 2014

Very Large Array (VLA)

I am really behind on posts. Oops! A few weeks ago it was supposed to be rainy in the Jemez Mountains which was our original hiking plan. Since we have been getting caught in hailstorms and lightening we opted to head south toward Socorro instead. It was a little over 2 hours to get to the VLA (Very Large Array). This seemed like a good destination with the main intent to drive around and see different parts of the state! We drove toward Albuquerque and soon left it behind. Albuquerque is nice because it is big enough...but small enough to never have traffic, for you to know your way around (look for the mountain), and for you to leave when you want to get away from people. LOTS of space here for that! So we drove out of Albuquerque and were soon on small roads (all maintained) in the middle of nowhere. Nothing but fields/prairies all around. We drove through a few small towns and it was very scenic. When we got within 100 miles of the place we started to see signs for it...all they said was VLA. That's it. No other reason to go out in that direction unless you were going there so I guess the sign VLA was enough. (should have gotten a picture) You drive and drive and then they just sort of appear out of nowhere as an organized little blip in a field. As you get closer you realize how HUGE these things are. It just doesn't seem real.

You keep driving toward them for a bunch more miles. The array is in a Y shape with each leg of the Y extending 13 miles! On these railroad track like rails there are 27 radio antennas that weigh around 230 tons each. The dish diameter for each is 82 feet across. They are HUGE. We went in and went on the tour (which is free). Jeff enjoyed the tour and the interpretive-type museum center. I just wanted to see the big things before it rained so I could photograph them. I was impressed by the structures themselves and what they do doesn't really matter to me (illiterate, I know). Finally we head down from the control room. Unfortunately you can only stand around the base of one of them so there isn't much you can do photographically but oh well, some things are meant mainly just to see! We looked at them, at the weather rolling in, and at a small and colorful group of birds. The antennae were like hats all tipped at the same direction (except a couple broken ones) posing in some obscure dance no one knows about. You kind of keep looking at them expecting them to move (behind your back). I had asked earlier about that and they weren't gonna move for another 8 hours or so. Bummer. We spent some time looking and then it was back in the car to head home.

We drove a ways away to try to fit the whole scene in a photograph but it is just too large. I want to go back when there is the more typical harsh bright light - I want to photograph all the shadows these things must make. I think it would be even more impressive! They had a display that would cast neat shadows - Here's my selfie reflected in the ball. At night there must be a zillion stars out. I wonder if the things make a humming noise or anything? We drove into town for coffee and a dessert. Unfortunately we didn't continue on to PieTown which we hear has excellent...wait for it...pies. Instead we went to the mineral museum located in a few rooms of a University of New Mexico campus way out there in no man's land. There was a very impressive collection of minerals there. You kind of have to know about it though and we did because Jeff had gone there before (but somehow skipped the VLA). Another stop on the way back was a nature preserve. Since it was wet we couldn't drive on the "two-track" road which is another way of saying a dirt road for miles and miles with nothing around, washboard, ruts, puddles, arroyo crossings, sand and other trap-your-car dangers. Should have gotten a 4 wheel drive vehicle (except I LOVE my car). Finally we did head home after a pretty full day. Definitely somewhere we will go again!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Wild Horses of Placitas

Wild Horses have been a part of Placitas for many many years. There are a lot of issues surrounding their presence that have yet to be resolved. This first horse post is to show some of the MAGIC! I have to say I have never been around horses and have never cared about them before. When you look out your window and see these magical beasts standing, grazing, or tearing out over the landscape it is really a sight! Late a night, once the lights have gone off, you can sometimes hear super quiet hooves move past the window. How they manage to be so quiet when they are so large is a mystery to me. These are a few photos of some of the still free and roaming horses of Placitas and also some of the once-were-free but then were caught by the livestock board or BLM and then bought back by resident Gary Miles who now owns them. Some of these horses won't ever be free-roaming again but at least they won't be dead.

This baby is only a couple days old and was premature. Watching it learn to stand and walk around is exciting - it is ALL LEGS! It's head looks like a moose head, kind of. Kind of misproportioned.

This huge male saw another free-roaming solo male wandering onto his territory near his mare and baby. After this position a fight ensued and the two huge beasts were up on their hind legs snorting and yelling at each other and hoofing. Scary and interesting all at the same time. The grey one got chased off.

I am so happy to involved in protecting amazing creatures like this. It is unfortunate there are crappy people who want to eradicate wild horses from the landscape in New Mexico, Wyoming and all around the United States. What is wrong with people? Get involved.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Paliza Canyon Goblin Colony

Jeff and I headed out to the Jemez Mountain area near Ponderosa to check out the Paliza Goblin Colony. We were getting a late start, weather has been iffy in the afternoons, and it just sounded like a cool place to visit! This spot is 45 minutes or so from the house so we figured...why not take a quick hike? There is a newly renovated campground in the area after a dirt road drive along a creek. We followed directions from one of the trail books we have and got right to the parking area. If you didn't have the book I don't think you could really find this strange outcropping of rock formations. You probably wouldn't even find the trail that leads to them! We encountered a couple walking a dog who didn't go far enough to even look for the grouping and a couple on horses getting a REALLY late start - they started as we came down which was right about thunder time. The hike is a pleasant, non-taxing walk fairly flat along a creek until you reach the formations. We heard water (an exciting thing here in the desert) and investigated a creek. We saw fields of purple flowers blushing the hillside near the Ponderosa Forest. We stopped to watch a strange living thing zipping around the blossoms like a hummingbird but not looking quite right. Turned out to be a hummingbird moth which has got to be one of the coolest things ever.

The book told us the hike was around 4 miles round trip - we did around 5 miles. As you cross arroyos and walk the trail you keep looking to the left for rocks. Out of nowhere the little colony appears! This is where the hike becomes more of a scramble up very steep and slippery sand. We had read that this part of the hike was "difficult" but didn't believe it. The angle of the hillside was very steep and hard to stand on and there isn't any respite. The rocks have peculiar holes and things but you really have to struggle to find "faces" in them. I had been hoping for a little more interest photographically although just seeing the stuff was fascinating. A weird little rock group with nothing else like it nearby. Strange. This would be a good full-moon hike but could be kind of treacherous. We walked the entire colony and found that the area to the right didn't have any clear way to go down (big drops). We headed back the way we came in zigzagging down to keep our footing. Thunder started up. Then lightening. We headed out like we've done for the previous few weekends only this time we escaped hail. It is REALLY nice having so many diverse spots to hike that are so close to home. There is a huge variety of really interesting rock formations here. Every hike we go on has new surprises even when it is close to somewhere we've already been. Maybe on Halloween we'll go back with lights to illuminate our strange new friends in the forest! I like the giant "Tiki" head exhaling big puffs of clouds...