Valley of Fire, NM (part 2)
VLA, or Very Large Array.
I’ve left the Three Rivers campground and as I was looking out across the vast desert valley literally from horizon to horizon, with those ever present low mountain ranges surrounding the valley, I saw miles, off in the distance, a train. Silently moving across the far side of the flat expanse of mesquite, prairie grass and cactus. Not a sound could be heard. The rail cars were mostly industrial black, with the occasional bright burnt orange car in between. Like a long pencil gliding across the land.
On my way across the southern end of New Mexico, I planned on stopping briefly to see the Valley of Fires Recreation Area. It’s an area that was created over 5,000 years ago from volcano vents in the earth, not an actual volcano. The lava flowed from these vents and now covers an area approx. 5 miles wide and 40 miles long. I don’t have much expectations and plan on only staying a short time.
After filling up the truck with that precious liquid gold (it’s now costing me well over $60 to fill my tank), and getting a good cup of coffee and yes a fresh cookie, I headed toward the valley only a couple more miles down the road.
The Valley of Fires was originally a small New Mexico State Park, which they finally dropped due to budget cuts. After letting it get completely run down, the BLM has taken it over and has made some major improvements. Campers will really appreciate the wonderful paved pull thru sites with water and electric. Each site has it’s own picnic table and shelter and awesome views. Ok, so I’m a little impressed.
Then, even though workers were rebuilding parts of the Nature Trail, I decided to see how far I could go. The BLM has begun paving the trail so that it’s wheel chair accessible and it flows (no pun intended) beautifully above the lava flows. Walking along this comfortable path, I began to see the most amazing sights. The black Lava flows with deep gashes, tubes and bubbles that have broken through and are now filled with exotic cactus, pinion pines and wild flowers hugging the craggily sides and cracks. The soft greens of the cactus and rich full symmetrical shapes of the bayonet plants and century plants seemed to be put there by some master artist. I don’t know why, but I’m completely captivated by this site. As harsh as it is, the beauty completely shines through. The black lava absorbing all light and the vegetation that seems to pop out at every turn just has to be seen in person. I was able to continue the loop trail on the raised compacted dirt that the workers were putting down to complete the path. Who would have believed that I could get excited about lava. But there you are.
A stop over in a small town called Magdalena NM (elevation 7,000 ft) has brought me closer to the VLA, or Very Large Array. Now doesn’t that sound like a silly title. These are the radio astronomy telescopes that were filmed in the movie “Contact” with Jodie Foster. They have a self guided tour and a film that are quiet good. I learned so much about astronomy at this site. And it really is an exciting field of exploration. Learning how all energy can be represented by waves, be they radio waves on the lower end up to light waves that are both visible and invisible. Rather than relying on just the optical viewers used in the past, we are now able to view outer space by “looking” at those various waves coming in from outer space. This site is expanding immensely due to the use of new optical fiber technology and major advances in computer technology and software. Expanding the amount of data that can be “seen” from space. Black holes, planets, galaxies, and exploding stars.
Little is talked about listening to outer space for alien radio waves or messages, but this too is a part of the research. Hundreds of Astronomers via for time on the telescopes for their research projects. As I was walking around the outdoor tour site, getting really close to the antenna’s, I heard a whirring sound. Looking up, I could see all of the antenna’s in the array moving in sync. Turning to a new destination in the sky. Searching for answers. Will we one day hear from other planets about life out there? ……
Oh, in Magdalena, I met an artist. A woman traveling on her own in an Airstream camper. She originally lived in Cape Cod for many years, then decided she needed to travel out west to invigorate her art work. She usually stays in a place for 6 months or more, then moves on. The minute I saw her come out of her camper with her gray cat, she reminded me of the movie “The Baghdad Café”. If you’ve never seen it, check it out… You’ll know what I mean.
Next stop, Truth or Consequences NM.