Actually, of all the things we’ve seen in New Mexico, one of our favorites is a T-shirt at the Buckhorn Tavern in San Antonio (NM) that we really wanted to buy. They only had one and it was a woman’s small that we couldn’t use. But we liked the words: NEW MEXICO – Not really new and not really Mexican. We feel that way ourselves. New Mexico is unique, even though most people pass right through it on their way to Texas or Arizona and California. Just a warning……you’re missing a lot of big things, folks. We’ve made a few short trips around the central part of the state since we’ve been here. We’ve seen a lot of New Mexico on previous trips as well but it all seems new this time. In the central and north part of the state, the Native American culture prevails. We’re planning to go to an internationally known Native American arts and crafts festival in Santa Fe in about two weeks. It’s a big deal and draws thousands of visitors.
Spectacular Weather. Just in the last two weeks we’ve twice seen double 180 degree rainbows (going from horizon to horizon) and what I call reverse sunsets. As the sun starts to go down below the western horizon, the edges of the clouds in the western sky begin to turn dark while the western sky is still very bright. So it’s almost all just blacks and whites. Overhead, the cloudy sky is gray and turning darker. When you turn around though, the clouds in the far eastern sky are turning beautiful shades of yellow, gold and red. What? Not something I’ve ever seen before.
Much of the time there isn’t enough pollution and dust in the New Mexico air to cause really red sunsets. In Los Angeles, they’ve fixed that.
A Really Big Refuge. Our last location was at Santa Ana NWR, with a total of 2000 acres of “wilderness”. Bosque del Apache has 57,000 acres (although only 7000 are accessible by the public). There’s always a lot of work to do here. Earth movers, backhoes and other heavy equipment and vehicles are always coming and going. Some hunting and fishing is allowed on the refuge and a popular public sport here is getting a permit to bring your chainsaw and cut up as much firewood as you can carry off. All the invasive salt cedar that is constantly being cleared out of the refuge ends up in a big pile and the local population can take as much as they want. Other volunteers tell us that during the Festival of the Cranes, 500 to 1000 visitors come through our visitor center every day. There will be nearly 30 volunteers working to support the excited visitors. People coming to the Bosque can enjoy close up views of two hummingbird feeders through a big picture window in the visitor center. I’ve seen as many as 25 or so hummers at one time. The feeders also attract other birds such as orioles (Bullocks), black-headed grosbeaks, and various sparrows and finches. The little feeder area attracts mosquitos. One of my duties in the morning is to record weather readings, including high/low temperature and the rain gage behind the main building. The rain gage area is Mosquito World Headquarters.
By the way, Arlyne and I both successfully passed the Government Defensive Driving course and soon we’ll go out on the refuge to assist and guide visitors. We’ll probably have encounters like we had a couple of days ago. We were driving on the refuge after hours and two Asian women in another car stopped us. One asked where they could see the big clouds of birds they had heard about. I told them I was sorry I didn’t have good news because the thousands of birds don’t come until November. “Where are you from?”, I asked them. Mainland China, one of them said. Damn, they should have done a bit more research and I hoped they had other things to see. We did see a few elk on the south loop of the refuge.
Really Big Clouds. We made a trip to Albuquerque a week ago. Coming back in the early evening, there were a few huge, HUGE puffy white clouds in the east. These were giant, enormous clouds with smaller acolyte clouds nearby, paying homage to these beasts. We think we’re the center of our universe, but I think one of these clouds is really it. All of these effects are mostly the result of such flat and mostly wide open spaces. Most of us think of rain as a local condition that gets us wet. Here, you can see four or five separate, independent rainstorms, some with internal lightning every half minute or so, all around us. One storm is raining on a mountain with the rain slanting to the left and another is over the highway and moving north, with rain falling straight down. I told Arlyne that one particular rain storm looked like an H-bomb, with a giant mushroom-shaped cloud high up and a column of dark rain coming down vertically to the ground.
Really Big Antenna Array. Fifty miles from us, in east central New Mexico, sits the EVLA facility. Not a very clever name. It stands for Extended Very Large Array. There are 27 large radio telescope antennas clustered in a flat area on the Plains of San Agustin. (more about the Plains later) The antennas each weigh 230 tons and can be moved around on railroad tracks for different projects. For many studies, the antennas can be moved up to 24 miles apart! This facility is just one part of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. One piece is located in northern Chile and one in West Virginia. Another section is comprised of ten antennas located from the Virgin Islands to Hawaii, all synchronized together.
The nice thing about EVLA is that you can tour the big antennas yourself and go on a free guided tour inside the main building (and other buildings) to watch operators run these big boys through their paces. This is what we did. We even saw a pair of beautiful lazuli buntings flying around one of the antennas.
The Big Plains of San Agustin. These plains are quite large, they take up a significant portion of the state. They’re located at 7000 feet. The nearest towns of Datil and Magdalena are quite small, with only a few hundred residents. Many EVLA staff live in Magdalena. I bring up the plains for two reasons. One, we saw blackbuck antelope, an exotic species that has taken up residence on the plains. Brought into the US for hunting, they have established themselves in the western states and are probably another life form that we will live next to for years. You probably saw a close up of this animal in an earlier blog. There are oryx antelopes in this area as well.
The second reason is my recollection of when I was a student at New Mexico State University and working part-time at White Sands Missile Range (WSMR). In the early 60’s I participated in a truly unprecedented and historic event. For the first time in WSMR history, a missile was to be fired from OFF THE RANGE to impact back within range boundaries. The missile was a tactical surface-to-surface Sargent rocket. We traveled up to Datil (where I bought a big ‘ol cowboy hat) and out onto the plains of San Agustin, with a large contingent of soldiers, various civilians, safety officers and other functionaries. I worked for Missile Flight Surveillance Office and was responsible for installing and checking out the safety receiver, detonator block and shaped explosive charge. As sort of an odd man out, I was not allowed to sleep overnight with any of the soldiers or even the civilians so I was given a canvas cot, a mummy sleeping bag and assigned entirely by myself to a 40-man Army tent. Every rancher and farmer between the launch site and the predicted point of impact was evacuated and several roads were closed.
Early the next morning, I had breakfast Army-style, lined up with a lot of soldiers chowing down on dozens and dozens of eggs, countless biscuits, gobs of butter and jam and several pounds of bacon all being cooked outside and kept warm in 55-gallon steel drums. Believe me, in my twenties, I could eat with the best of these guys. It was an adventure for me. The missile firing went off without a hitch and we didn’t have to blow it up. It hit on the range right where it was supposed to.
Train Ride. In a few days, we’re taking a train from the town of Belen, an hour north of us, all the way to Santa Fe. We’ve reserved a bed and breakfast and plan to visit with our long-time friends, Karol and Jerry Ryan. I plan to take pictures of the trip.
Birds. We’re still looking for the elusive common black hawks that are supposed to be here. We always see something cool on the refuge but haven’t spotted these guys yet.
Hope everybody is doing well,
Bob and Arlyne