Friday, May 4, 2007

Observatories, Solar and Lunar

We had a great day today.

One of the things we really enjoy about our style of camping is that we really get a feel for an area. Instead of just moving in for a few days, we usually stay three to four weeks, giving us a chance to talk with the locals and find all he hidden attractions in a particular area. Since we tow the Tracker, this gives us the best of both worlds, we get to stay in beautiful rural areas, yet we can scoot around and visit wherever we want.

Last night we decided that today, we would visit the National Solar Observatory up at Sacramento Peak.

The funny thing is that if you look at a map, the observatory looks to be about seven miles from where we're camped here at Oliver Lee; however to get there, we had to travel some forty plus miles, so off we went. It was a lovely day, blue skies, a few high puffy clouds. We drove up through Cloudcroft into the mountains, where there are numerous birch, pines and huge rolling open meadows. Quite different from the redwoods we're used to at home.

Finally, we reached the National Solar Observatory, located on Sacramento Peak in Sunspot, New Mexico. While they tell you it's located in Sunspot, there isn't actually a town there, just the observatory.

Our first introduction was this beautiful mosaic. I embarrassed to say I didn't get the information on the artist (and remember to click on the photo for an enlarged image).

We went into the visitor center and got the information for our self guided tour. It was a lovely day and the grounds are quite beautiful so we were happy to set off on foot.

Our first stop was the Evans Solar Facility. This building was completed in 1952 and is still in use.

We went inside and got to look at the telescope through a window, but no one was there, so we didn't spend a lot of time here.

This next imposing structure is the Dunn Solar Telescope. The building stands 136 feet high and situated in this serene setting, it makes quite an impression.

When you enter the lobby, there's a door that goes into the telescope room, which is quite beautiful. It's a huge domed area, lit by a series of white globes about six feet across. This design is so appropriate for an observatory, they look like planets floating in among the angles and corners. It all looks very futuristic and vintage at the same time, sort of like a combination of Metropolis and Blade Runner.

I'm including two pictures because I couldn't decide which one to post!

Off to one side is where all the work is done.

We were lucky enough to meet up with the gentleman who works the telescope and he spent a good amount of time explaining the whole layout to us. Unfortunately, the telescope had been operating up until about ten minutes before we arrived, at which time turbulence had moved into the upper atmosphere and the pictures were becoming cloudy.

This is a shot of a sun spot that we got to observe. While not sharp and clear, we still felt lucky to get such personal attention.

After the Dunn Solar Telescope, we were free to continue our walking tour, but there were no more building open to visitors.

We did get to go up on an observation lookout and get a stupendous view of the Tularosa Basin. The white line in the distance, while it looks like clouds is actually White Sands National Monument.

This is a shot of White Sands using my twelve times zoom. While not entirely clear, I just couldn't believe that this wasn't a picture of clouds.

As we continued on our tour, we saw this old Quonset hut. It looked to us like it had been here since the complex opened in 1947! We particularly liked the AstroTurf in the side yard. We could just imagine all the astronomers using this putting green!.

This last shot is of the Grain Bin Dome. It was the home of the first telescope at this facility. The building was ordered by mail from Sears Roebuck and retrofitted for a telescope. Pretty cool, huh?

At the end of the walking tour is a small museum, which we enjoyed immensely. Our favorite part was the infrared camera. We were having such a good time, I finally decided to go out to the car to get the tripod so we could take some pictures.

Here's a shot of Terry, who was wearing his glasses, which blocked the infrared rays and turned him into Joe Cool.

And here's a shot of both of us. It certainly can't be said that we aren't easily amused!

The hostess at the museum told us that we should make sure and visit the Apache Point Observatory. It's just a few miles up the road and even though it isn't officially open to the public, you can go and visit the grounds, She said we didn't want to miss the view, so off we went.

This is one more shot of the Tularosa Basin, taken from a height of 9,200 feet.

After taking in the sights, we saw this strange building. Upon further exploration, we realized that while the building hangs over the mountain, the building itself is on rollers and seems to move away from the edge of the mountain.

As we were looking, we heard a loud noise and were afraid that we were somewhere we shouldn't be, but it turned out to be a gentleman who works on the telescope was just leaving the building. This large moving building is actually the housing for the large telescope here at Apache Peak. The telescope itself was built on a huge concrete and steel column that was sunk into the mountain, then the building was built around it. The building never actually touches the telescope as the vibration would interfere with the use of the telescope. When they want to use the telescope, they push a button and the building slides back to reveal the telescope.

This gent was such a delight. He obviously loved his work and took a lot of time explaining everything to us.

We are so lucky, it seems that everywhere we go, we find people who are open and willing to share their stories and experiences with us. This is absolutely the most wonderful part of traveling as we do, the people are just the best.

Our life is good.


Call me Slovenian Gypsy said...

Hi, I came about your blog through your main homepage.... I love the upgrades you made throughout your RV! Also, whoever of you two shoots those photos: you're a great photographer!!

Kate & Terry said...

Thanks, I (Kate) take most of the photos. When I use any of Terrys' shots, I try to make sure and credit him.

And thanks for commenting, it's good to know someone is reading this thing!