I’ll be honest with you: we had not intended to visit New Mexico. When we created our map of places we might visit we didn’t include the state (and lots of other states) as we didn’t think there would be time with everything else. But with Memorial Day Weekend coming up and knowing how busy some of the National Parks in Utah were likely to get, we decided to head away from it all and go somewhere that would mean we (hopefully) didn’t have to battle with the crowds.
And despite the fact that we hadn’t originally considered it, it was a very good few days and we both enjoyed what we experienced of New Mexico.
The bikes and the Very Large Array, New Mexico.
Our road trip in New Mexico started with 240 miles of very straight American highway. Very, very straight with nothing either side for miles and miles. I can’t get used to it; we just don’t get this at home. The interesting place names continued, too – Pie Town (no lie) was on our route. Sadly we had eaten our fill not long before and so couldn’t stop to taste what the “Pie Lady of Pie Town” had created – next time.
The Very Large Array
I am sure you’ll have seen the dishes of the Very Large Array before – they have been featured in several movies including Contact, music videos, television programmes and advertisements. The series of 27 radio antennas (dishes), each measuring 25 metres in diameter, are used to observe the sky way beyond the power of our telescopes. Astronomers use the data from the antennas, which when combined gives the resolution of an antenna 22 miles across, to further our understanding of our Universe and the worlds beyond our Galaxy. The Array can see things over 100 quintillion miles away that’s taken millions of years to reach the earth. Very cool sciencey stuff!
The Very Large Array (VLA) from the main road.
The VLA sits in a huge dry lake bed about 60 miles from Socorro in New Mexico and you can see them for several miles. It’s in the middle of nowhere so it doesn’t get interference from other radio signals, which are absolutely everywhere these days. You can get right up close to them, both on the main road to Socorro and by visiting the centre and museum. There are guided tours on certain Saturdays, but we were happy with the self-guided walking tour around the centre which meant we could get right up to one of the dishes and learn a lot about what they look at and why.
The dishes move on their axis surprisingly rapidly to look at different parts of the sky, and every four months the dishes are physically moved on train tracks into a series of different formations to change their focus. It can therefore take 12 months for a scientist to gather all the data they need for a study before they can start analysing it.
The Very Large Array in New Mexico.
LincsGeek was hoping to get eyes on the super computer that is used to collect and collate all the data from the dishes, but the closest we could get to that was a window showing the Faraday cage in which it is housed. Even without permission to see the computer, we had a good day at the VLA. The walking tour took a couple of hours and it cost $6 each to get in.
Quebradas Back Country Byway
Basing ourselves in Socorro meant we were close to the Quebradas Back Country Byway, a dirt road that goes through a couple of wildlife refuges and across the Rio Grande. Dirt roads like these are almost non-existent in the UK and so we have virtually no experience of riding them. Although our motorbikes are adventure-style, we both have the road-focused versions and tyres with a 90% pavement-bias, but the guide we picked up in the information centre said that a normal passenger vehicle can safely pass along this one carefully on a dry day so we thought we would give it a go.
The Quebradas Back Country Byway. Dusty.
The surface was a mixture of gravel and dirt, which gave a red dusty surface that was not too difficult to ride. LincsGeek had to turn down traction control on his Tiger Explorer to stop the bike’s traction control cutting the throttle at the slightest wheel spin – it’s better and smoother to allow a bit of spin. We soon discovered that it was much easier to control our bikes standing up, allowing the bikes to move underneath us without feeling (and therefore worrying about) every slip and slide. We quickly learned why people who ride dirt often fit wider pegs and wear very stiff soled boots; my standard road pegs dug into my feet and it hurt!
Along the 22-mile road were markers that corresponded to the guide; lots of information about the area, the geology and the history of what we could see. Actually LOADS of information, way too much to take in or remember, but I was more knowledgeable for about five minutes! Our route also took us across the Rio Grande River.
The Rio Grande River, New Mexico.
It was very interesting to get right into the countryside away from the very straight roads usually found in this area, and to see it from a different point of view. It was worth the ride out and provided us with confidence to ride more gravel and dirt roads during the rest of our road trip. Maybe my next bike should have spoked wheels?! I may add that we’ve already been looking at routes in Iceland and Africa…!
Four Corners Monument
Our last stop in New Mexico was to the Four Corners Monument, which sits at the point where Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico meet. It’s the only place in the USA where four states touch. On Navajo land, and so not included in the National Park Service annual pass (read about it here), it costs $5 per person to see the granite and brass markings set into the ground. The cost is a bit steep for a quick look and a photo, but I can’t blame them for using the site to make a few dollars.
It is remote and the location does have some controversy attached: some people say it’s not in the right place, but it is the official monument and has been designated as such properly. We decided to visit for no other reason than to say we had done so, and for that reason alone it is worth it. Don’t expect much in the way of a Visitor’s Centre or anything else – a few craft stalls and a hut selling street food, but that’s it. If you go just because you can (and to stand in line to take the obligatory photo) then you will be happy.
Stood in four States – New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado.
I know that spending just three or four days in New Mexico during our ten-week road trip cannot even be considered “scratching the surface”, but we did enjoy what we saw of this state and would love to return again to explore more.