The Lone Star State

TexasIn the early 80th I worked several times for a few weeks in Houston, TX when I was still living in Germany. During one of these stays I took a few days off and drove from Houston to the Big Bend National Park taking my newly acquired Mountain Bike with me. Firstly, Mountain Bikes in the early 80th where a pretty new thing and secondly, I realized that I had absolutely no idea how big Texas really is (hard to believe, but there were no GPS or Google Maps at that time). Thirdly, I had never been in a desert before. What I saw in West Texas blew my mind away.

Once I moved permanently to the USA I took a week of vacation in the early 90th and traveled to West Texas again to enjoy the Big Bend National Park. I camped, visited some landmarks, hiked in the park and had a good time. However the impressions were not as intense as they were during my first visit.

Well, here I am again in West Texas. This time not in the Big Bend National Park but very close to it. I do love the West Texas landscape. It is rugged and beautiful and so are the people living in it. In order to survive in West Texas one will have to put in an honest day of work. There is no room for slackers around here.

We spent a few days in Marfa, a small community that has attracted an interesting mixture of individuals. Minimalistic arts have established roots in Marfa and lovers of that art form have followed. With the art came a modest amount of tourists and independent young people that have re-vitalized Marfa. The inflow of new blood has possibly saved Marfa from over-aging and decline like so many other small West Texas communities.

The 450 miles stretch from Marfa to San Antonio represented a major transition. Moving from an elevation of 4700ft to 650ft, from empty and harsh desert landscape to the lush and rolling hills of central Texas. Suddenly there was green grass and trees. Gone was the dry and cool air of the desert and now we are in the warm, sticky and humid air characteristic for states bordering the Gulf of Mexico. There are almost daily rain showers and thunderstorms. During the days large numbers of squirrels are doing their business and in the evenings there are lightning bugs. It is a very different world. The dogs were visibly confused.

In San Antonio we visited The Alamo and took a walk along the river.

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The I-35 corridor from San Antonio to Austin is essentially a 70 miles long strip-mall stretched out between the two cities. I remember there used to be open fields and rolling hills in the early 80th. Who needs all this stuff? What are we doing to this country and to ourselves?

In Austin we enjoyed a nice variety of good Texas BBQ at “la Barbecue”, visited the Capitol and enjoyed the marvelous Redbud Dog Park.

At the moment we are boon docking at a public beach near Port Lavaca approximately 30ft/10m from the waterline of the Gulf of Mexico. This location will probably be the southernmost point of our 2017 travels.

A one-week stay near Galveston will mark our final destination in Texas. After that, we will move east to Louisiana. Soon we will have to turn left to escape the summer heat in the southern US.

Not bad hmm? In my book that kind of stuff easily beats a day in the office. As they say, it’s not over until the fat lady sings, so you better stay tuned.

Gadsden Territory

In 1853 the USA paid Mexico the amount of $10 Million for the acquisition of land south of Gadsden_Purchase_Cities_ZPthe Gila River and west of the Rio Grand River. Then US ambassador to Mexico, James Gadsden, managed the purchase. The main purpose for the transaction was the construction of a southern transcontinental railway connection. How ambassador James Gadsden got connected to the Gadsden Flag and subsequently to the tea-party I don’t know. Hmmm, it may be worthwhile to dig a little bit deeper.

We spent one week in the central southern New Mexico city of Las Cruces, on the southeastern edge of the territory purchased about 160 years ago. Las Cruces is located on the Rio Grande River in the foothills of the Organpipe National Monument and is only about 40 miles from El Paso. One can practically smell Texan BBQ here.

To be honest, we didn’t do much while we were here because it was a little bit on the warm side (for folks and dogs from northern California). However, we visited La Mesilla, hiked several times in the Organpipe National Monument and took a scenic drive through the White Sands National Monument.

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Las Cruces was our last stop in New Mexico for this season. Tomorrow we will travel to the quirky little town of Marfa in the vast and empty landscape of West-Texas. Stay tuned.

Canyons, Boulders and Radio Waves

After an uneventful three-hour drive from Santa Fe to Socorro we parked the motorhome, relaxed, had lunch, checked what damage “The Donald” had done while we were moving and headed out into the great unknown. Alltrails pointed to the “Box Canyon Trail” about 8 miles west of Socorro along highway 60. We parked the car on a BLM parking lot, walked a few miles through a canyon and amongst boulders that are used by local climbing enthusiasts. The dogs and I, as always, had a very good time.

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However, the purpose of the stopover in Socorro was to visit the Very Large Array. A visit to this world-famous radio astronomy observatory has been on my bucket list for a long time.

Named after Karl G. Jansky, the inventor of radio astronomy, the facility is located in the high, treeless and dry desert of the San Agustin Plains approximately 50 miles/ 80 km west of Socorro. The VLA is one of the leading edge radio astronomy facilities in the world. What makes it unique is that it consists of 27 radio antennas arranged in one of four configurations along a Y shaped track system. In it’s A configuration the antennas on each axis are spread out over 13 miles/ 21 km. In it’s D configuration the antennas are only spread out over 1 mile/ 1.6 km. The configuration of the antennas has a significant impact on the resolution of the device. If interested in that kind of stuff start reading at VLA and go from there.

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At a time of “Fake News” and science deniers in high places it is good to see a facility that is dedicated to the establishment of facts. Given that the clowns in Washington propose to significantly cut the EPA and NIH budget, it is just a question of time when money for this kind of basic research will dry up as well. If we can’t agree to protect the planet we are living on, why would we care about galaxies billions of light-years away?

It was exciting to be at the VLA and feel the presence of eternity around us. We are all just a dot in space & time and we shouldn’t take ourselves so dam serious. Stay tuned; there is more to come.

Land of Enchantment

We spent the last two weeks in “La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís”, aka Santa Fe, NM. The original name given by the Spaniards in 1610 proofed to be somewhat incompatible with the pace of life.

With a population of approximately 80k, Santa Fe is the capitol of New Mexico and also one of the oldest cities in the USA. It is located at an altitude of 7200 ft / 2200 m in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. I was surprised to learn that the highest point of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is Blanca Peak with an elevation of 14350 ft / 4374 m.

Historic weather records predict for the month of March average high/low temperatures of 56F/13C and 27F/-3C, respectively. The weather we experienced fell right into the predicted temperature range. This was definitely no t-shirt weather. However, aside from a few rainy and/or snowy days we enjoyed most the time puffy clouds at day and starry nights.

We walked the city to visit the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, sipped a coffee at the Plaza and enjoyed the local art displayed on Canyon Road. Not to forget, we spent a good chunk of time in the marvelous Frank Ortiz Dog Park right next to downtown. After traveling for almost one year we have visited all kinds of dog parks. This one is by far the best dog park we came across yet.

An enjoyable 60 miles/100 km trip from Santa Fe north leads to the little town of Taos with it charming old town and plaza. Continuing the northern movement beyond Taos on highway 64 brings the traveler within a few miles to the very impressive Rio Grande Gorge, a deep and completely unexpected crack in the ground.

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A few miles pass the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge one can visit the beautiful and extensive Taos Earthship Biotecture (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earthship). The earthships and the landscape they are settled in are pretty cool.

To complete our stay in Santa Fe we visited Albuquerque for a short afternoon walk in the old town.

Tomorrow morning we will move our residence from Santa Fe to Las Cruces, with a two-night stopover in Socorro. Not only is Socorro right at the midpoint of the 300 miles / 480 km stretch between Santa Fe and Las Cruces, it is also the closest city to the VLA, the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array. More about the VLA in the next blog. Stay tuned.