2014 Great Circle Tour travel blog

Today's route

Another donkey in Carrizozo

Car parts sculpture - "Crash Recovery"

Some flowers in the garden around the Car parts sculpture

Lava flows at the Valley of Fires

Vanishing point along US 380

Phantom sign in Soccoro, NM

Tiny church near Soccoro

Mural in Magdalena, NM

Lunch stop along the Magdalena Livestock Driveway

Seems like everybody is not happy with oil drilling activities

Antelope on the grounds of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory

Scenes from the NRAO Very Large Array Visitors Center

Some of the antenna making up the VLA

A fire in the mountains

Pie Town, NM and the DanCyn Windmill Museum


The Very Large Array at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory can be seen in each of the movies.

The VLA is a radio astronomy observatory located on the Plains of San Agustin, between the towns of Magdalena and Datil, NM. The observatory consists of 27 independent antennae, each of which has a dish diameter of 82 feet and weighs 230 tons. They are arrayed in a Y shape with each arm about 13 miles long. Each dish can be repositioned using a railroad track and specially designed lifting locomotive ("Hein's Trein"). The VLA is a multi-purpose instrument designed to allow investigations of things like radio galaxies, quasars, pulsars, supernova remnants, gamma ray bursts, radio-emitting stars, the sun and planets, astrophysical masers, black holes, and the hydrogen gas that constitutes a large portion of the Milky Way galaxy as well as external galaxies. We stopped at the Visitors Center for a movie and brief walking tour of the area around the center of the Y. The displays were interesting, but much of it was above my head.

The VLA is located on US 60. The section of the highway from Magdalena to Springerville, AZ is called the Magdalena Livestock Highway or Magdalena Trail. In the old days ranchers would use cattle drives to get their cattle to market. They would trail the herd on one of the famous trails, like the Magdalena Trail. I had never heard of it before today. Apparently it was just as important as the old Chisum Trail, only it was in use until about 1970. The trail got started in January of 1885 when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe built a rail spur to Magdalena. You can still see the remnants of the spur along US 60. The ranchers from all over western New Mexico and eastern Arizona trailed their herds of cattle and sheep there for shipping. They started getting a little edgy in the early 1900’s and were afraid that homesteaders might start fencing off the Trail. They asked the Secretary of the Interior to have those lands set aside as a stock driveway and the Magdalena Stock Driveway was designated in 1918. The Civilian Conservation Corps played a part in developing the “highway”, putting in fences and wells along the way between 1935 and 1942. The wells were spaced about 10 miles apart, which was considered a one-day’s journey for cows and two for sheep. The highway was used throughout WWII even though some ranchers had begun using trucks to move cattle. It was considered patriotic to drive cattle along the highway and save gas. The drives ended in about 1970.

Not too far west of the VLA is Pie Town, NM. How did the town get its name? The story goes that in the early 1920's Mr. Clyde Norman, a tall Texan and WW1 veteran, broke down on the side of the road. He liked to bake and he began making dried apple pies at his business on a piece of ground that lay along the "Coast to Coast Highway" which later became U.S. 60. Word got around that the best pies anywhere were to be found at "Pie Town" and the name stuck. Unfortunately, we didn’t know any of this before we passed through town and it was getting late in the day so we didn’t stop for pies at the Good Pie Café. They do have a Pie Festival in September which might not be a bad time to come back.

We crossed the Continental Divide along US 60 just east of Pie Town and ended the day in Springerville, AZ to spend the night. Time to go to sleep.

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