Oracle Park, Home of the San Francisco Giants, Wednesday, July 10, 2024.

Oracle Park, Home of the San Francisco Giants, Wednesday, July 10, 2024.
Oracle Park, Home of the San Francisco Giants, Wednesday, July 10, 2024.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The VLA (Very Large Array) - Part 2 of Wed., May 30

We continued our journey to the VLA worried about the lack of contact with Security at the casino, but there was no cell coverage. Both of us thought that there should be internet or cell coverage at the VLA site since they have supercomputers, etc. 

We saw this on the drive up to the Visitor Center.

As we pulled up to the VLA Visitor Center, one of the first signs we saw said:
"Please have all electronic devices (cell phones, tablets, or anything else with an "On/Off" switch) in airplane mode and powered off. If you plan to use your electronic device to take photographs, you may briefly turn them on (while in airplane mode) to take pictures, and then power the device off again once you've done so. Please turn off all WiFi and Bluetooth devices including GPS, back-up cameras, wireless headphones, fitbits, etc. Use of drones is strictly prohibited!"
So much for the idea of contacting Security at the Inn of the Mountain Gods while we're here. 

The reason the VLA is on my bucket list may be the same as many other people's reasons for wanting to visit: They saw the movie "Contact" with Jodie Foster in which she worked at the VLA. Other movies filmed here include: 2010 Odyssey; Armageddon; Independence Day; Terminator: Salvation; Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

Time to enjoy learning about the telescope(s). And there's a lot to learn.(Information about the VLA is taken from multiple articles we picked up at the Visitor Center and the VLA Walking Tour brochure.)

First, the VLA is a powerful telescope that observes the Universe, night and day. The 27 dish-shaped antennas at this location's array are tuned to a kind of light that eyes cannot see--radio waves.

Radio waves reveal previously unseen activities of stars, galaxies, and planets and map the chemical workings of the gas and dust clouds that create them. Optical telescopes cannot see into these places, because those same clouds block their view.

Unhindered, radio waves can travel for billions of years across the vastness of space. They provide the VLA with data to help them construct a timeline of the Universe--from its ancient past to its possible future. The special telescopes are tuned to detect a full range of once-invisible light types across the cosmos:

  • Weak radio waves
  • Microwaves
  • Infrared
  • Ultraviolet
  • X-rays
  • High-energy Gamma-rays
VLA History: In the early 1960s, a "very large array" of radio antennas was planned that would function as one giant telescope. The United States Congress authorized this "VLA" project in 1972, and site work began on the Plains of San Augustine in New Mexico two years later. In 1975, the first VLA antenna was assembled on site, inside the Antenna Assembly Building. 

With only two antennas, the VLA began observing the radio skies in 1976. The VLA became a full-time telescope in 1977 when six antennas were operational. By January 1981, all 27 antennas of the new array (plus its spare 28th) were completed. 

In 2012, after decades of planning and retrofitting, the VLA was transformed by a new suite of receivers, a supercomputer, and the replacement of its old wiring with nearly 3,000 miles of fiber optics. It was rededicated in honor of the father of radio astronomy, Karl G. Jansky.

VLA Antenna Specs: Each of the 27 antennas in the array weighs over 230 tons, is 82 feet across, and over 90 feet high! Each dish is made from smooth aluminum panels fitted carefully onto a steel basket. 

Motorized drives steer these 100-ton dishes around, dip them up and down, and keep them pointed exactly on the cosmic radio source for several hours at a time to collect enough radio waves from each object they observe. 

The radio waves are funneled onto supersensitive, cryogenically cooled receivers. The faint, natural radio waves travel through distant space from objects such as galaxies, black holes, and baby stars.

The views from each of the 27 active antennas in the array are sent down fiber optic cables to a supercomputer. The supercomputer mathematically merges the 27 views, uniting the array into a single, powerful telescope.

The distances between the antennas along the "Y"-shaped rail tracks (more on this later) can be changed which will change the level of detail the VLA can see. Each of its Y-shaped arms is 13 miles long! At its widest antenna separation, the merged observations of the VLA have the qualities of a giant telescope with an eye 22 miles across.

Our visit: Once in the Visitor Center, we went to the gift shop to pay our admission (and shop). I paid for everything since Susan didn't have her credit cards. (This was payback for the day I forgot my purse at home and Susan paid for my lunch at Macaroni Grill. LOL. Are we getting forgetful?)

We wanted to see the movie in the Visitor Center about the VLA which is narrated by Jodie Foster. That was our logical first choice of what to do here. In it, they show how an antenna is moved. There are railroad tracks laid out in a Y pattern on the plains. An antenna is moved by a special train car that attaches to the antenna and moves it along the tracks at 5 mph. Once the antenna is in place, the puller can be rotated to slide sideways onto the track up to the piers that will hold the antenna. The movie is worth seeing. 

Next, we read the exhibits in the Visitor Center, and from there we headed out the back door to start our VLA Walking Tour. First stop: solar radio telescope.

Solar Radio Telescope
Here is how the solar radio telescope works: This giant horn funnels radio light on to devices that turn it into electrical signals. The signals are detected with the voltmeter at the bottom of the scope.

Just to the north of the Solar Radio Telescope is the Bracewell Radio Sundial. The instructions on how the sundial work went over my head, although I do have a four-page handout explaining it.

The Bracewell Radio Sundial
Just to prove the sundial is, indeed, over my head!
And my feet are firmly planted on the ground.
Bracewell Radio Sundial
You try to figure it out.

Susan and I played around with another exhibit: whisper dishes. Two satellite dishes were placed about 50' apart facing each other. If you whisper into the small tube in the middle of the dish, the person at the other dish can hear you loud and clear. This demonstrates how sound waves are collected and amplified.

As I mentioned in the specs section above, the VLA antenna is 82 feet across. That is the length of two large school buses parked end-to-end.

Two large school buses parked end-to-end
show the width of the antenna.
Also fascinating is the new type of radio telescope called the Long Wavelength Array (LWA). The LWA works in conjunction with the VLA. Using them together will greatly expand the knowledge base of the energetics and properties of many cosmic objects and events, the sun, and the ionosphere. Take a look at the two photos below.

Susan was way ahead of me on the walking tour by now. I hurried to catch up but never did. I was most interested in getting up close and personal to an antenna.
Getting closer to a VLA antenna
VLA antenna
VLA antenna showing base on piers
Railroad delivery system, piers, and the VLA
I finished the walk admiring "Shiva: Shiwana," by John Barlow Hudson, a sculpture depicting the three tracks of the VLA and the floating, three-dimensional natures of the objects the VLA studies.

"Shiva: Shiwana"
VLA antennas on one of the tracks
It was time to head back to Ruidoso and find out the fate of Susan's purse. Once we cleared the buildings, she was able to reach Security at the casino. They had her purse which was found in the buffet restaurant. She made arrangements for us to stop by the casino on our way home. Their security is open 24/7, so it didn't matter what time we got there. She gave them our best guess-timate that we would arrive there between 7:30-8:00 p.m.

On our way back to Ruidoso, we decided to stop at Valley of Fires Visitor Center. Imagine our amazement and surprise driving through the high desert in the middle-of-nowhere New Mexico when we saw an old, huge lava flow. We spent a about 15 minutes there at the overlook. The Visitor Center was closed by the time we arrived.
It was too late to walk the Nature Trail
and we were very tired anyway.
Close up of the pahoehoe lava.
This lava flow did not come from a mountain erupting. This lava flow came out of vents in the earth. I had never heard of this place before. There's even a little campground with far-reaching views on top of the ridge here.

Malpais Nature Trail from the overlook
Malpais Nature Trail from the overlook
Beautiful cactus in bloom
We finally made it to the casino by 8:10 p.m. Susan went in, found Security, and retrieved her purse. Everything was in it. She was very relieved.

As we drove back to La Quinta in the fading light, we saw two cow elk at the edge of Hwy. 70. We're glad they weren't in the road!

The day was long and very interesting. We're glad it had a happy outcome.

Tomorrow, Susan and I will be marking the Cloudcroft Rails to Trails Volksmarch. Thanks for reading. 

Everything Changed Today! (Part 1) - Wed., May 30, 2018

Wow, today was totally different than what we had planned as of yesterday. We did not mark the Cloudcroft Rails-to-Trails walk. Seems Susan was a day off on her schedule and we will mark it tomorrow. So, what to do today?

Inn of the Mountain Gods Casino, Ruidoso, NM
We opted to walk and mark the 10k Mescalero Fitness Path (AKA Carrizo Walking Path) on the Mescalero Apache Reservation. The day couldn't have been any prettier and our walk was a workout. Multiple hills of varying difficulty provided just enough challenge at the 7,000' elevation.

The path started across the street from the Inn of the Mountain Gods Casino. There is a large parking lot on the hillside with easy access to the paved path. Not much marking was required on this walk because it is an out-and-back on a fitness path. No other trails deviate off of it.

Intro area for the Fit Trail
This fitness trail was in much better condition than the one at Cedar Creek. I admit the only fitness activities I did on this trail (besides the walk), were the stretches at the very first station.

Indian paintbrush in bloom
Susan marked the 5k turn-around
Disclaimer about the ADA.
Grades are 8-13%.
Mescalero Fitness Path trail
Heed the elk warning signs!
Windy! We're almost back to Susan's van.
Great view of Apache Mountain!
You can see how big Apache Mountain is. Apache Mountain was considered for one of the Volkswalks this weekend but they chose not to do it. I'm glad we don't have to mark that one!

For the last hour of our fitness walk, my stomach was growling like crazy. When Susan suggested we eat lunch at the buffet, I was convinced that would be the best place for lunch today.

The first welcome to Inn at the Mountain Gods Casino...

Entry circle for hotel registration
Art in a hallway
We arrived a little early for lunch because they didn't open until 11:30 a.m. That gave me time to go outside to get photos of the "Sacred Crown Dancers" (or "Mountain God Spirits" if you read the Dallas Morning News article by John Lumpkin) sculpture by Frederick Peso, grandson of an Apache chief. The glass in the center looks like Chihuly, but I couldn't confirm that.

"Sacred Crown Dancers" or "Mountain God Spirits"?
"Mountain God Spirits" sculpture
The "Gathering of Nations Buffet" opened and we joined the line. Most people had 50% off coupons that they paid $5 for at a machine.  The buffet was $10.99, so I don't see what the big deal was. We just paid the $10.99.

Line for the lunch buffet at the casino
Buffet restaurant interior
Lunch was excellent. There was Asian food, Mexican food, American comfort food, an amazing dessert line, and more. We had plenty to eat. The turkey with cranberry sauce was a big hit for my tummy and the Chinese beef broccoli from Chow Chow was about the best I've had. The steamed mushrooms and cabbage were also quite good.

The dessert presentations were like something out of a 5-star restaurant. I swooned over the Strawberry Cake. It had layers of sponge cake, one layer of chocolate mousse, and whipped cream topping. It was soooo good! The Eclair looked amazing, but I only ate half of it. It was just okay.

After lunch, we looked around the casino. It is gorgeous. The view from the two-story atrium is jaw-dropping 

View of lake & Apache Mountain from two-story atrium.
Fountain that looks like a woven basket in the atrium.
Lobby overlooking the lake.
Fireplace in the lobby
Lori Belin Marin painting from 1997
When we finished exploring the casino interior, we did something spontaneous. With the rest of the day available, Susan suggested we go see the VLA (Very Large Array) west of Magdelena, NM (two hours away). Well, the VLA has been on my bucket list for a very long time (since the movie "Contact" with Jodie Fisher). I said, "Yeah, let's do it."  

That was a long drive through, as Bob likes to say, "a lot of nothin' to get to somethin'." When we were about 40 miles from the VLA, Susan's phone started ringing. She didn't want to answer it because she didn't recognize the number.  They called twice and she let the call go to voicemail. Then a call came in from the AVA Headquarters. They wanted to let her know Security from Inn at the Mountain Gods Casino called. She had left her purse with driver's license and all her credit cards in the buffet dining room. Yikes! 

She tried calling Security back and, as she was talking to them, she lost the signal on her phone. Not much we could do about it at this point. 

To be continued in Part 2...

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Cedar Creek and Fitness Trails in Ruidoso, New Mexico - Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Starting Thursday evening, the Sun Country Striders Volkssport Club (of Las Cruces, NM) hosts a walking weekend with four traditional event walks and three year-round events. It's not too late to join us! You can start walking the Cedar Creek Recreation Trails as early as tomorrow, Wednesday, May 30. 

Today, Susan Medlin and I marked the trails. Here is a preview of what you can expect, as well as a bonus 5k walk around Ruidoso's shops and a neighborhood, complete with elk and deer!

After breakfast this morning, we headed to Smokey Bear Ranger District office where Susan Medlin spoke with the rangers to okay placement of our trail marking signs. It was confirmed that our trail markers could be used.

Sculpture of Smokey Bear as a cub
Click photo to enlarge
I snooped around in the Smokey Bear visitor center and found the five rules for campfires, bird identification display cases, and retail items such as T-shirts and caps.

Our next stop was the trailhead for Cedar Creek Recreation Trail. We loaded up our backpacks with the markings: laminated arrows, AVA streamers on clothespins (to attach to branches or bushes), shrink wrap, heavy-duty tape, and wire stakes. Then we set off. I marked the 5k route with pink markers, Susan Medlin marked the 11k route with orange markers.

I wore long jeans today because I thought the morning temperature would be cool enough. Wrong! Shortly after Susan and I split up to mark the different trail lengths, I was sweating and very hot. The trail was only partially in shade. Even though the temperature was 64 degrees, the sunny portions of the trail felt much warmer. 
I wish all trails had a "Muddy Meter"!
Pink arrows for 5k, orange for 11k
Cedar Creek 5k trail
I love mountain views!
Beautiful day with long-range vistas
Cacti at 7,500' or so
I believe this is lamb's ear.
By the time I finished 1.4 miles, I was ready a short break. At the car, I refilled my water bottle and had a snack-size bag of Chili Cheese Fritos. Then I was ready for the cool ranger station. I walked about 1/8 mile back to use the facilities and hang out in the air-conditioned room before I marked the Fitness portion of the walk.

At the ranger station, I had a conversation with the ranger that went something like this:

Me: "Could you identify the tree in this photo on my phone? The bark looks like an alligator." [I showed her the photo below.]

Ranger Claudia: "Oh, that's an alligator juniper."

Me: "Well, that makes sense." [We had a good laugh.]

Alligator juniper bark
New pine cone formation
After the ranger station, I walked back to do the Fitness Trail portion of the 5k. The Fitness Trail had an outer and an inner loop and I was stumped when I started marking the trail as to how to make it clear to people which way to go first. The written instructions said to do the outer loop first, so that's how I marked it. I made it real clear where they should go to start the walk. When I finished up on the outer loop, I had them make a U-turn and walk the inner loop in the reverse direction. Hopefully, it is not confusing to anyone. (By the way, it's called the Fitness Loop because the inner loop has some exercise stations; however, the stations are in varying degrees of decay and I would not recommend anyone work out at those stations!)

The Fitness Loop walk...

The Fitness Loop walk was quite easy.
Mostly flat trail
"I found a peanut just now."
Was anyone in scouts? I used to be a Cub Scout den mother and trainer of leaders. Do you remember a song about finding a peanut? When I saw a couple of peanuts on the trail, that song just came flooding back into my head after 30 years of not even thinking about that song. 

Some uphill, but not much
Towering pines and a very blue sky
With my trail marking duties complete, I went back to the car. As soon as I took off my backpack, my cell phone rang. It was my brother calling from Oregon to chat. He told me he and his wife, Gina, went to visit Mom at her apartment, but she wasn't there. They found her in the activity room where they were having bunny therapy. The staff have people bring in bunny rabbits and let the residents cuddle with them. Nice!

I made another trip to the ranger station since those were the closest restrooms. When I returned to the car, Susan was there waiting to get in. For lunch, we ate at La Hacienda Restaurant. We both had chicken avocado burrito lunch plates with beans and rice. Derrill, the organizer of the Ruidoso walking weekend, joined us for lunch. Our meals were so big we had to take half of our burritos back to the room. Thankfully, our rooms have a refrigerator and microwave. 

After lunch, Susan and I went back to our rooms to shower and put on fresh clothes, and then we met Derrill at the movie theater to see "Solo: A Star Wars Story." Susan and I enjoyed it again as we had seen it before. Derrill was so-so on the movie.

But, our day wasn't over yet. Susan and I wanted to do the 5k Ruidoso city walk this evening. We went back to the motel to change into walking attire. 

Susan Medlin with the La Quinta bear
At 6:15 p.m., after eating freshly baked chocolate chip cookies in the La Quinta lobby, we went to do the walk. The walk box is located at the Ruidoso Chamber of Commerce. We signed in and picked up our directions. There was a short drive to the start point at Wingfield Park.

Carving outside Chamber of Commerce
The stream behind the chamber of commerce building

Oh, hello, what have we here? As I looked up into the park, there were two female elk!

This one may be pregnant.
From the park, we walked down the hill and onto the main street in Ruidoso. It was fun to look at the different businesses and window shop. Here are my impressions of downtown Ruidoso...

The "school" bus in the photo below is deceptive. We walked past it. It seems to be called The Smoking Bus, as in smoking allowed on this bus. It also seems to take people to bars. It was still parked there when we walked by on that side of the street.
View of downtown Ruidoso
Handmade soap store sign
Love this door!
Unique flowers. I don't know what they are.
We then came to a carving store. It was fun to look at all the wood carvings. Here are my favorites.
Owl family
Raccoon family
A more formal type of yard art
Some interesting things in here.
From the downtown main drag, we hiked up Center Street past the park where we started. It was deer- and elk-o'clock. We saw a number of elk in the neighborhood. Seems some people feed them in their front yards.

Hi there. We gave them some room. 
Ruidoso mural
The temperature in late afternoon/early evening was 78 degrees with a slight breeze. After the sun went down, it was so pleasant outside! Our walk finished up back at Wingfield Park.

After a short detour to Walmart for Off! Deep Woods and some Moscato wine, we headed back to the motel to have our left-overs. Susan ate her pizza from last night and I had the other half of my burrito from lunch. We each had a plastic cup of Moscato with some Boom-Chick-A-Pop popcorn for dessert. It was a busy, fun, lovely day. 

I even had time to blog but must get to sleep now for an early start tomorrow. We will be driving to Cloudcroft to mark the trails there. I will mark the 5k and Susan Medlin will mark the 14k. Susan said there are some steep portions toward the end of the 5k. It will be at 8,500' feet elevation. I'll be taking it slow and easy as I was huffing and puffing on trails at 7,500' elevation today.  

Evening sky from Walmart parking lot
 Good night, all.