Monday, March 29, 2010

The truth is out there... (27,28-Mar-2010)

I arrived in New Mexico Friday evening and the weather was great! The skies started clearing and the landscape was arid with sparse vegetation. It was beautiful:

The next day, I went to the railyard the check out their freight line. Growing up, our Christmas train set was always a "Santa Fe" model and ever since then, I've been fascinated with the beauty of southwestern freight trains...

Next on the agenda was the VLA "Very Large Array" of satellite dishes 50 miles west of Socorro. This place is 3.5 hours south of Santa Fe and took the entire rest of the day. Here is an image of the drive so that you can get a sense of the remoteness:

It was so worth it:

Here is a description which does a better job of explaining the VLA than I can:

I went on a self-guided walking tour outside and found this sign kinda funny:

Well, it's funny now knowing that I didn't encounter any snakes on the tour ;)

I was able to take some great photos on the tour:

The 27 satellite dishes are set-up in a "Y" formation on top of these railroad ties:

This enables them to move the dishes around so they could be close-together or really far apart. This area in the desert is so large and remote that the dishes at their farthest expansion are the size of Washington, D.C. I can't recall the specifics, but having multiple satellite dishes arranged closely as in the VLA mimics what a much larger satellite dish can do (collect data on larger objects, farther away) and is much less expensive and more practical.

I met a group of radio astronomers from Stanford here. They are trying to save a couple of satellite dishes that Stanford is looking to get rid of and bring them to the VLA here in New Mexico. They were very kind, informative and took this photo for me:

Do I look cold? It was very cold on this day!

If you've seen the movie Contact starring Jodie Foster, part of that movie was filmed here:

However, the VLA also noted the many technical inaccuracies in the film. The famous scene where Jodie Foster's character first makes "contact" while listening on the headphones is the most telling as radio-astronomers do not "listen" to anything; all of their data is visual. I do still love that movie though!

On the ride back I was able to take this photo of downtown Albuquerque, NM. I didn't spend any time there, but would love to experience it someday:

After a long day at the VLA, I arrived back in Santa Fe in the evening. I decided to head to historic downtown Santa Fe for some dinner and took these shots:

I had a great meal of steak fajitas at a local spot :) This town is beautiful and the architecture is breathtaking. I liked it so much that I went downtown the next morning as well. Not knowing parking was free on Sundays, I accidentally gave the city of Santa Fe a little donation to their meters, woops:

This old church was quite beautiful. I completely forgot it was Palm Sunday and decided to attend mass. The inside of the church was very pretty too, but I didn't want to interrupt mass with photos:

After having some peach crepes at a local French bakery, I was on the road to Sedona, AZ (and yes the crepes were delicious!)

I was able to capture this desert freight train moving across the desert as I drove westward. I love desert trains:

Stay tuned for some great Sedona adventures coming soon!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Rocky Mountain High! (25,26-Mar-2010)

I arrived in Colorado amid a forecast of dangerously snowy conditions on I-70 into Denver. They received almost 10 inches in some places, but luckily the sun came out just as I was crossing the Kansas/Colorado border and the temperature rose clearing the roadways. The plow trucks were out in full-force too.

Colorado is very much like Kansas until you reach Denver. There is no sign of mountains and the great plains continue to roll on:

My hotel stay was in Boulder and a very short ride to downtown:

Downtown is very beautiful, safe, and upscale. Since Boulder is a university town, there are a lot of young people which gives the town an energetic, hip vibe. It was a ton of fun and the views of the mountains were breathtaking.

I decided to take a ride to Golden, CO as I have heard it's a beautiful town as well with a more "western" feel. My drive took me deeper into the mountains:

The roads in the mountains were filled with tunnels:

And the views continued to be an inspiration:

Unfortunately, I got lost on my way to Golden. I think I was too distracted with the views and taking photos, because when the road turned to dirt, something just didn't seem right:

I tried asking the locals for directions, but they weren't very helpful or responsive:

Fortunately, I stopped at a gas station and a helpful guy there pointed me in the right direction and I finally found historic downtown Golden:

You are just surrounded by natural beauty here:

And of course, Golden is the headquarters of Coors Brewing Company:

I continued to walk around downtown and explore this interesting town and accidentally came across The American Mountaineering Center. I've never heard of this place before, but they are also the headquarters of Colorado's Outward Bound program:

The museum inside was really cool and had information about rock climbing all around the world:

I love rock climbing, unfortunately I've only done it a couple of times in my life (and all but one of those times were in rock gyms which can be expensive!) From what I learned at this museum, Colorado offers some of the most diverse climbing conditions in the world. Modern climbing is beginning to shift its focus from height to unique challenges such as free climbing (climbing with minimal safety gear to only be used to catch you if you fall!) Luckily, the ropes used today are made with nylon and are able to "give" a bit if you fall; hemp rope was the old standard and it wasn't very strong. I read that while steel cables are extremely strong, they are not used for climbing as they do not give at all and if you fall, the cable will snap your spine! Yikes!

Colorado is certainly the place to be for climbing with 54 mountains in the state over 14,000 feet high! (the Fourteeners)

With a long day of exploring behind me, last night I went to check out Downtown Denver. I also saw Alice in Wonderland in the Regal downtown. It was pretty good and sooo Tim Burton:

Needless to say, I was very tired last night! Fortunately, I got a very good night's sleep last night and was ready for the drive south to Colorado Springs today:

Garden of the Gods came highly recommended so I made a trip:

This place is a geological park that was promised by its founder to be free to the public forever:

It was very cold and the snow began to fall as I walked some of paths in the park but I was too enthralled to notice or care. The rock formations were incredible and of several varieties/colors:

This one is called Balanced Rock and has a great view from its base:

After a short visit to Garden of the Gods, it was time to continue south to Santa Fe. There were even more snow-capped mountains to see:

And the sky began to clear:

There is so much to see and do in Colorado! My only regret is not having enough time to experience it all. I was lucky that my visit occurred between two big snowstorms and that driving through the mountains was safe. I definitely want to come back in the summertime to take full advantage of the outdoor activities and the less-fickle weather; I had a hot-air balloon ride scheduled that had to be canceled due to the windy conditions.

Even with my short taste of this amazing state, I now understand its appeal. The natural beauty and endless recreation are simply too good to pass up.

I guess he'd rather be in Colorado,
He'd rather play his banjo in the morning when the moon is scarcely gone...
In the dawn the subways comin', in the dawn I hear him hummin'
Some old song he wrote of love in Boulder Canyon...
~ J. Denver