Alpine, AZ to Amarillo, TX - 539 miles
Our routing for the day (Waypoints 17-19):
We started the day with a big breakfast at the Bear Wallow Cafe in Alpine, AZ. It’s a locally owned joint with lots of personality and great home style food. I would share some pics, but they have a “No Cell Phone or No Service” policy...and they mean it! You actually get to enjoy a meal with people just talking to each other!
We then headed to the feature of the day, the Very Large Array (VLA) located approximately 50 miles west of Socorro, NM. Completed in 1980, the VLA is the largest and most advanced radio telescope on Earth. Unlike light-based telescope observatories which only function in darkness, the VLA uses coordinated radio signals to “see” invisible radio wavelengths produced by objects 26,000 light years away - that's over 150 quadrillion miles! The radio telescopes are so sensitive to radio signals, one must turn-off all portable electronics when touring the grounds.
The facility is managed by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and is used to research the creation of new stars, galaxies, and black holes in deep space. There are 27 antenna dishes that make up the radio telescope (and one more in maintenance rotation), each standing 95’ tall and 82’ across. The antennas can be arranged in four different configurations, depending upon the level of focus required for a particular research endeavor.
Let me take you on our self-guided tour...
All configurations are in a “Y” shape, the spacing determining the range of focus. Each antenna weighs 230 tons and is moved around on train tracks using a special transport vehicle, similar to what is used to move the space shuttle to its launch pad. The maximum span of the dishes is 22 miles, so it is indeed, a very large telescope!
Several movies have used the VLA as a backdrop or set, one of the most popular being Contact, starring Jodie Foster. She also narrated a very informative overview film that is shown in the VLA Visitor Center. To view the 24 minute film, click here.
I warned you it was a geek tour! But very interesting, nonetheless.
The remainder of the day was spent chewing up miles on I-40 in hopes of reaching the Big Texan Steakhouse early enough to enjoy a good steak. Alas, by the time we arrived in Amarillo, our appetites had waned, so we just held Happy Hour and went to bed. Our last bed on the road for a while.