Friday, October 4, 2013

New Mexico Part 2: White Sands and Very Large Array

After spending the first night of our vacation in Marfa, Texas, we crossed into New Mexico. My first visit to this neighboring state started at White Sands National Monument, outside Alamogordo.

We really lucked out. The temperature had been in the mid-90's but, as we approached the visitor center, it started to rain. And then, as we ran inside the visitor center for cover, it started pouring. We nervously wondered if this afternoon storm meant we had to leave, but we were told, don't worry, this will pass in ten minutes. So we looked around in the gift shop and sure enough, the rain passed. And when we stepped back outside, the temperature had dropped by at least ten degrees. It was overcast, still sprinkling rain, as we headed out to the dunes.

The rain allowed us to stay out there much longer than we probably would've been able to otherwise. The white sand reflects the sun, so when it heats up, it really heats up. We took our time exploring. Jackson and Olivia loved running up the dunes, then sliding down, running up, sliding down...after an eternity in the car, this was the perfect opportunity for them to burn off all that energy.

Sometimes I would get to the top of a dune and look around, and see no other signs of humanity in any direction. 

Although the area feels vast, only a small portion of the dunes are open for hiking. Another part is reserved for missile testing. 

My friend told me there are foxes and bunnies, but this was the only sign of animal life we saw...

I learned the sand is white because it is made from gypsum, rather than quartz.

On our way to Socorro to spend the night, we had to make a U-turn when we passed this beauty. It's the World's Largest Pistachio, standing proudly in front of McGinn's Pistachio Tree Ranch. We love pistachios!

That night we grabbed some Taco Bell for dinner and crashed hard. In the morning, we drove out to the Very Large Array, about 50 miles outside Socorro. New Mexico seems to be full of secretive government doings out in the middle of nowhere. Well, granted, the Very Large Array can't be too secretive since it has a visitor center.

But I found the radio antennas mysterious. They tilt and move of their own accord, picking up the sounds of outer space. What are they hearing out there?

There are 27 antennas, each 82 feet in diameter.

You're free to take a self-guided tour around the facility, but you can't get all up on the antennas. They have a job to do, whatever it is!

Next we drove back into Socorro for lunch at the Socorro Springs Brewery.  One thing we observed during our first meal in New Mexico, and which proved true over the course of our visit: New Mexicans like their salsa spicy! Texans may think they know hot salsa, but on average the salsas we tried in New Mexico were hotter than the ones we're served in Austin. This did not stop Jackson, of course.

Wood-fired margherita pizza for the kids...

Spinach salad with tomato, red onion, roasted red pepper, almonds and bleu cheese for me.

Tomorrow: See you in Albuquerque.

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