October 3, 2018 – Socorro, New Mexico to Sun City, Arizona
I was on the road shortly after 7 this morning. I took US 60 from Socorro. If you ever have the chance to make this drive, you absolutely should take it. It passes the Very Large Array bout 50 miles west of Socorro and goes through the Salt River Canyon in the White Mountains west of Globe, Arizona. I started out driving across the High Plains with a straight road with nary a curve for many miles. After Globe, you have entered into the White Mountains, and the scenery is spectacular. Since this is an older, 2 lane road, it is fun to drive through the mountains. There are quite a few 35 mph curves not to mention some 25 mph ones. I had a great time!
The Very Large Array (VLA) is also known as the Radio Astronomy Observing Program. It is the result of collaboration between the Astronomical League and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory with support from Associated Universities Inc. Most observing programs are designed to encourage and promote looking at the heavens in the visible light part of the electromagnetic spectrum to which we are most accustomed to observing. There are, however, many other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum to which our eyes are not able to observe. With a different type of sensor, we can observe in an entirely different realm – that of the radio spectrum which is what the Very Large Array uses.
This program is designed to introduce and encourage the building of, and observing with, radio telescopes or other detectors. There are 5 types of observing that can be done with various radio equipment: Space Weather, the Sun, Planets, Meteors and Galactic objects. There are several different methods of instruments you can observe with: the Itty Bitty Radio Telescope, Radio Jove, FM radio, SID or Super Sid, and Radio Telescope Dish Antennas. Although these are well-established instruments, applicants are not prohibited from designing and building their own original equipment to observe in the radio spectrum.
The VLA is one of the world’s premier astronomical radio observatories. It consists of 27 radio antennas in a Y-shaped configuration on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, New Mexico. Each antenna is 82’ in diameter. The data from the antennas is combined electronically to give the resolution of an antenna 22 miles across, with the sensitivity of a dish 422’ in diameter. It was approved by Congress in 1972 and construction began in 1973. In September 1975, the 1st antenna was put in place. The formal dedication was in 1980. The total cost was $78,578,000 (in 1972 dollars) or roughly $1 per taxpayer at the time. The project was completed nearly 1 year early and within the allotted budget.
The VLA is an interferometer; this means that it operates by multiplying the data from each pair of telescopes together to form interference patterns. The structure of those interference patterns, and how they change with time as the earth rotates, reflect the structure of radio sources on the sky: we can take these patterns and use a mathematical technique called the Fourier transform to make maps.
The VLA is used primarily by astronomers from around the world. It's also occasionally used for atmospheric/weather studies, satellite tracking and other miscellaneous science.
Each antenna is 82’ in diameter and weighs 230 tons. The array: there are four configurations: A array, with a maximum antenna separation of 36 km; B array -- 10 km; C array -- 3.6 km; and D array -- 1 km. The telescopes are switched between these configurations every four months or so. Each antenna is mounted on railroad tracks so that it can be moved to its location depending on which configuration is being used. The VLA is so large that it can be seen from space.
Each year proposals are accepted from scientists who wish to use the telescopes for research. The best proposals are accepted, and for the coming year the VLA will be configured to capture the data from deep space which is needed for the research for that year.
The pop culture image impression is that the giant antennas in the Very Large Array are part of SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence). In fact, they aren't. Officially the dishes only listen to intergalactic noisemakers such as black holes and pulsars, although if someone from another planet said hello it would probably be picked up here pretty quickly.
For something so hi-tech, the Very Large Array is surprisingly accessible. You can visit every day until sunset, walking from the small Visitor Center along a self-guided tour trail that takes you to the base of the second dish. Signs warn visitors to watch for snakes, but I didn’t see any. I spent about an hour there, and it was well worth the time. The Visitors Center has a 10 minute or so film which explains how the antennas work. There are also displays of some of the deep space galaxies, as well as the center of the Milky Way, which have been mapped by these antennas. This is a site which is well worth visiting.
I stopped at Pie Town, New Mexico for a piece of pie. I had the dark chocolate cherry pie. I don’t remember all the flavors, but some of them were peach/pear, white chocolate cherry and regular cherry. I bought a peach/blueberry pie to bring to Sue and her mother, Alice.
In Springerville, Arizona there is a man who makes sculptures from junk. There were several horses, a motorcycle riding man, a lion, various kinds of birds and other fun sculptures. They are in a field across from his house and everyone is welcome to wander through and see what he has made out of the junk.
The Madonna of the Trail in Springerville is one of 12 identical monuments which have been mounted along the National Road from Maryland to California tracing a historic travel route from covered wagon days. They recognize the contributions of “Pioneer Mothers from the Covered Wagon Days. The statue is the Madonna of the Trail is a tribute to the pioneer mothers who traveled west with their crazy husbands.” I have seen 2 others – the ones in Lexington, Missouri and in Council Grove, Kansas.
The Madonna of the Trail is an 18’ tall pinkish, stony-faced pioneer Mom, in long dress and bonnet, strutting westward clutching a rifle with one hand, an infant with the other, with another little cruncher grasping Mom's skirt.
The Madonnas of the Trail were a project of the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution. They were erected in 1928-29, strung along the National Old Trails Road -- the trail of the Conestoga wagons -- now mostly US 40. The sites were chosen with the help of the president of the National Old Trails Road Association, a then-little-known Missouri Justice of the Peace named Harry S Truman. He attended each dedication.
Artist August Leimbach created the design in only three days, according to his grandson, and was paid $1,000 for each statue. Ten years later he was banished to Germany by the Americans, and later thrown in prison by the Russians.
The poured algonite stone sculptures -- a mixture of crushed marble, Missouri granite, stone, cement and lead ore -- are identical. The historical information on the base of each varies from locale to locale.
Nearly all of the five-ton pioneer moms face west, although subsequent construction projects have repositioned some statues in other directions.
I stopped in Globe for gas and then continued on to Show Low. This was the spectacular drive through the Salt River Canyon I’ve already mentioned. It is sometimes described as a mini-Grand Canyon, and I would say that the scenery certainly deserves that description. Some of the grades on the drive are up to 7%. The road goes all the way to the bottom of the canyon before ascending on the other side not long before you get to Show Low. As I said before, this is well worth doing.
The town of Show Low’s name was determined by a card game. Two cowboys jointly owned a ranch. Neither had the means to buy the other one out, but the ranch wasn’t big enough to support 2 families. So Marion Clark and Corydon Cooley decided to play Seven Up to see who would get the ranch and remain. During the game (which I don’t know so can’t explain), Clark asked Cooley to “show low” whereupon, Cooley turned up the two of clubs from the deck. He won the game and renamed the ranch the Show Low. The main street of town is named Deuce of Clubs.
In Superior, I stopped at the “World’s Smallest Museum”. It is basically a storage shed with a couple of exhibits. It was closed when I got there so I only have a picture of it. I can’t say that I’ve actually been in it.
The last stop of the day before I arrived at Sue’s was in Apache Junction where I saw the Lost Dutchman Monument. Jacob Waltz was a German immigrant “Dutchman”. He had spent 20 fruitless years prospecting the desert when he reportedly found a fabulous gold mine somewhere in the Superstition Mountains. Unfortunately, he died in 1891 without revealing its location. It is probably one of the most sought after “fortunes” along with Blackbeard’s treasure.
I came in on the east side of Phoenix and had to get to the northwest side where Sun City is located. I hit rush hour traffic, and one 4 mile stretch took me 45 minutes to drive. It was almost 7 p.m. Mountain Standard time which I finally got to her house. It was good to get out of the car and just stretch a bit. Sue had cooked supper (I had called her from Superior to let her know what time I’d be in). After visiting for a while, we had supper and visited some more before I gave out. We did talk about what I wanted to see while I was here and made some tentative plans. Sue has a commitment for tomorrow to represent the library at the local Farmers Market so I’m going to go off on my own. Then on Friday, Sue, Alice and I will go together to do some sightseeing.
There is a 2 hours’ time difference between Arizona and Kansas so it is definitely my bedtime.