We’ve been avoiding interstates as much as possible on this trip, but our handy GPS told us it would be ten hours to Tucson (from Albuquerque) on back roads verses six or so on the interstate.  We’re obviously not about getting from one point to another as quickly as possible, but four extra hours was too much.

That was, at least, until we passed a sign for the VLA outside Socorro, New Mexico.  I’m a bit of a closeted astronomy nerd so I couldn’t pass up the chance to see the Very Large Array – a cluster of 27 ginormous radio satellites used to study stars, galaxies, supernovas, pulsars and other miscellaneous astronomical wonders.

It was a crazy drive.  The VLA is at 6,970 feet, so we gradually climbed up in the mountains.  We passed one town – Magdalena – which was very tiny.  The rest of the hour-long drive we barely saw a soul.  We were high enough that the clouds seemed to touch the ground.

The entrance is four miles off the “main” highway.  The cows grazing alongside the road were not concerned by the humans stopping to take pictures of them.

We pulled up to the facility and found the visitors’ entrance and watched a short film about radio astronomy.  We still hadn’t seen a soul!  The walking tour started with a few small exhibits before taking us outside.

The satellite's dish is the size of a baseball diamond!

After about ten minutes outside, the wind picked up.

By the time we ran out to inspect a satellite up close, we were getting hit with little pieces of ice.  The wind was so strong they hit us rather hard and we ran (literally) back inside.

We weren’t there very long, but we didn’t regret making the trip – it was really cool to see.  Sean took several great pictures of the VLA as well as the skies as we were coming / going.

Because we were an hour from the interstate, we did end up taking back roads into Arizona.  As Sean mentioned in his last post, we went through several different climates.  I feel like we spent the entire time with our faces pressed against the windows.  Here’s the route we ended up taking from Albuquerque to Tucson:

We arrived in Tucson around 8:45 at night (almost three hours later than planned), but it was worth it to see such pretty country.