Monday, September 15
Seems like we’ve been running either neck and neck or just in front of storms. For a state in a drought, they seem to be making up for lost time in a hurry. The hurricane’s that have been pounding Mexico lately, have been throwing lots of moisture up into the southern half of New Mexico, and we’ve been experiencing almost daily thunder and lightning storms. So we keep heading north – but so do the storms.
Our latest foray was to drive 60 miles north to Glenwood, where we stayed at a forest service campground called Bighorn. This was a bare bones 10 site kind of campground, with only a pit toilet. We found a nice site with partial shade, and at the price (free), we just couldn’t go wrong. The site was backed up against a pretty deep drainage ditch and there were no other campers around. Once again, the new portable solar came in handy. Not only was it compensating for the shadow cast by some trees over the roof-top panels, it was collecting additional power on these consistently cloudy days.
We were here to hike the Catwalk trail located just a short drive from the campground. We’d heard a lot about this trail and were looking forward to walking the elevated catwalk that ran through the canyon in places. We arrived at the campground in mid-afternoon and because it was pretty hot, decided we would do the hike in the morning. After setting up, Mary went to the nearby forest service office to ask about the trail. She came back with the news that the trail was only 2/3 open due to last years floods. Oh well, partial was better than nothing.
By mealtime, the beautiful puffy clouds had congealed and started dumping their loads over the mountains around us. Each time a crash of lightning exploded, the rain increased, absolutely pounding us. This continued for several hours until it finally tapered off into an all night light but steady rain. I was a little worried about the ditch behind us, but it wasn’t until bedtime that I ever even saw any water in it, and that was just a trickle.
In the morning, it was still cloudy and kind of rainy. We waited it out for a while until it seemed to be clearing. Just after lunch, we decided to attempt the hike. At the turnoff to the trail about a 1/4 mile from the campground, the sign pointing to the Catwalk trailhead had an addition to it: Temporarily Closed. Well, maybe we could at least drive up there to check things out. There were numerous large puddles and muddy strips crossing the road – evidence of the night before – and just a mile up, another sign: Road Closed. So much for that.
We decided to just hang out for the day before driving up to Socorro, about 150 miles north. It never really cleared up the rest of the day, and in fact started raining again soon after. No thunder and lightning, but lots continuous and hard rain. This time, the culvert at our rear started rising. Just a few inches at first, but a couple of hours later, it was really rushing. This was a worry and we seriously considered moving away from the spot. The heavy rains would ebb, then resume – all the time, we kept an eye on the water. It rose maybe 2 feet at it’s highest and had maybe 10 feet more to go before I felt it was a danger, but by 10 PM, the rain had lightened to a drizzle so we stayed put. I did, however, disconnect the portable solar panel and satellite dish just in case we woke to a dangerous situation. But it turned out not to be an issue.Wednesday, September 17
Today we did the drive north to Socorro. It was a pleasant drive with only occasional rain showers along the way. We stopped at the Very Large Array along the way for an hour or so. We’ve been here before, but it’s a pretty interesting spot, and with the great clouds all around us, we thought we’d walk around the grounds again. The VLA is a group of huge (ok, very large) radio antenna’s pointed into space. The antenna’s can be reconfigured into various positions by moving them over railroad tracks. It’s kind of a way of focusing them. It’s quite an interesting set-up and the place has a nice little visitor center to orient ones self. Since our last time here, they’ve made several improvements geared toward a more interesting visitor experience. The addition of the Rod Bracewell Radio Sundial is the highlight. This is the first and only radio sundial in the world.The radio sundial at the VLA was constructed using 10 of the concrete pillars that held the Heliopolis antenna dishes. (The array was dismantled several years ago.)
In addition to aligning with markers that tell the time of day, the shadow cast by the Bracewell Sundial’s gnomon – the center object of the sundial – will also indicate the approximate time of year. It will also fall on markers that point to important dates in the history of radio astronomy and to solar noon at other observatories.
And, unlike any other sundial in the world, it will also allow visitors to locate the approximate position in the sky of three celestial objects that played important roles in radio astronomy – two distant galaxies and the remains of an exploded star in the Milky Way.
I tried kicking it a few times, but I couldn’t seem to make it work…We continued on to Socorro RV Park in Socorro. It is basically a gravel yard, but there aren’t a lot of rigs here, so it is quiet and not near any rushing water. Pretty much the whole bottom 1/3 of New Mexico is under flood alert, so this place will do for the night. Tomorrow we head for Albuquerque to visit friends for a couple of days. Not as much rain is predicted for the area. Perhaps we’ve finally outrun it…