Monday, April 17, 2017

Family in DC - Friends in ABQ

As I said in an earlier post, we decided to fly to Washington, DC to see Nanc's younger sister who was recently diagnosed with cancer. It was her birthday and her other siblings were also there. We had a great weekend getting caught up and are happy to report that Michelle is doing very well. We left Albuquerque at 6am on Delta and were fortunate to make it to Washington as it was the day Delta had cancelled nearly 3,000 flights.
Jim, Nanc, Keith, Dave, Michelle, Judy and Braedon out to dinner. We have not all been together for a couple years so there sure was a lot of reminiscing and story telling going on. 
My new friend Spartacus, Sparta for short. He is a labradoodle who is more of a lap dog than the warrior his names implies. He did enjoy having many people to throw the ball and Frisbee.  
We did a day trip to Old Town in Alexandria. The weather was beautiful and we walked along the river and just soaked up the sun. It was the weekend of the Cherry Blossom Festival so we stayed out of downtown Washington. 
The four Scott siblings Judy, Dave, Nanc and Michelle. Judy drove in from Ohio, Dave flew in from Seattle and Nanc and I flew from Albuquerque.
Dave's grandson, Braedon, has become his traveling partner. They have been on several trips together. He is a great kid even though he is a Seahawks fan.  He sure has changed since we last saw him in 2009. 
Another day we visited National Harbor. This is The Awakening, a very neat sculpture that used to be in East Potomac Park in the city. We always took the seventh graders there on the DC field trip. 
National Harbor is a newer, commercial development with a convention center, hotels, shops and restaurants. My favorite store is Peeps. Here is the link to the Washington City Paper winners of the diorama contest that uses "Peeple" to celebrate current events. The contest has been a favorite of ours for years and it was neat seeing some of the entries.
A few of the statues at National Harbor; Henry Ford, Churchill and FDR, Rosie the Riveter, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
Our yacht awaits. The Capital Wheel is 180 feet high and offers fantastic views of  the sites in nearby Washington. We opted to keep our feet on the ground.
The whole gang was on hand. We had a great time making Michelle's birthday a weekend long event. She has just started a new treatment and seems to be tolerating it much better than the chemo she had been undergoing. We were so happy that she is doing well and have already made plans to see her and Keith in North Carolina in July.
Family portrait Keith, Sparta and Michelle. We all had a fun time sharing stories and laughing about all the crazy things we have done over the years. They were great hosts putting up with all our foolishness. 
This was as close as we got to the city, taking off at National Airport. I love having a window seat to watch the world pass by and how the land changes as you fly over America.
I enjoy trying to pick out places I know. This is Snowshoe Ski Resort in West Virginia. Nanc's skiing days ended at the bottom of Cupp Run, the long slope on the right, when she went down and tore up her knee.
 Flying east to west the land changes from forest to farm to prairie with the big crop circles showing where the climate gets dry. I could see a lot of windmills even in the oil fields of West Texas.
During our first year on the road we contacted Larry Stone whom I worked with at my first teaching job. At that time it had been nearly 30 years since we had seen him. We got together with Larry and Amy and now try to see them every time we are in Albuquerque. Since we were here for an extended stay we invited them for dinner and really enjoyed spending a few hours relaxing and getting caught up on all that has been happening in our lives. As we always say, seeing friends and family while traveling has become the best thing about our RV lifestyle.  

We are leaving Albuquerque and have reservations in Canyon de Chelly, Monument Valley and Cortez, Colorado over the next couple of weeks. We will have limited Internet coverage at the first two stops this week but, hopefully, I won't get too far behind on the blog.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Trinity Site and the VLA

We left Deming at 9:00 am, early for us, because afternoon winds were expected to be bad. This is something one needs to be aware of when traveling in the West. We have seen many reports often times when we have been out here of big rigs being blown over. We only had 160 miles to travel to get to Socorro where we wanted to visit the Trinity Site and the VLA. 
The day we went to Mexico from Deming we had considered a trip to Hatch, the chile growing capital of America. After driving through Hatch on our way to Socorro it looks like a return visit is in order. This is one of many stands selling everything chiles. 
When we visited Alamogordo in April 2009 we just missed the chance to visit the Trinity Site which is only open to the public the first Saturday of April and September. The Trinity Site is where the first atomic bomb was tested on July 16, 1945. The entrance to the site is about twenty miles from Socorro and as you can see there was, as we expected, a wait. We were in line about two miles from the entrance when the gate opened at 8:00 am. It took about an hour to get to the gate and it was then a few more miles to the site on the White Sands Missile Range
Ground zero is fenced and has a maximum radiation level only ten times greater than natural background radiation. Many places on Earth have higher levels. An hour visit gives you less exposure than a cross country flight. The development of the bomb was the goal of the Manhattan Project that started in June 1942 in Oak Ridge, TN; Hanford, WA and Los Alamos, NM. 
Here I am inside what is left of Jumbo, a twenty foot long, 10 foot diameter bomb weighing 214 tons that was originally designed to contain the plutonium if the bomb failed to explode. As they gained confidence that the bomb would work, Jumbo was not used. It was place under a steel tower 800 yards from ground zero. Jumbo survived, the tower did not. In 1946 the Army used eight 500 pound bombs to blow the ends off.
Even the glow of radiation was not enough to keep Nanc warm as she used the Geiger Counter to check the radiation levels of several objects on display.
Trinitite, also known as atomsite or Alamogordo glass, was formed at the site when the heat of the explosion melted the sand, turning it to glass. It has a very low level of radiation and can be bought at local rock shops. It is illegal to take any from ground zero.
Nanc at ground zero. While there was higher levels of radiation after the bomb exploded the site was "cleaned up" in the early '50s and the soil was buried.
Jim at ground zero. All that happened here was after WWII had ended in Europe and the Allies had already started preparation for the invasion of Japan. Success by the scientists here would mean that invasion, where thousands of Americans would have lost their lives, would not be needed. Since my father was back from Europe and training for that invasion I always felt I may not be here if the bomb had not been developed.
We arrived early so the crowd was not that big. Over 4,600 people visited the site this day. Many drive in from Socorro like we did, but you can also come in from Alamogordo, 85 miles to the south. Those coming from the south must meet and travel with an escorted convoy across the missile range.
The George McDonald ranch house two miles from ground zero is where the bomb core of plutonium was assembled in the master bedroom that had been turned into a clean room. After it was assembled the scientists loaded it into the back of a Chrysler Plymouth and drove it to the site.
The assembled bomb atop the 100 foot tower. The wires were connected to three bunkers 10,000 yards away where all the instruments to measure its yield were located. No one really knew what the explosion would be like.  Some predicted failure while others thought it would set off a chain reaction and destroy the world. Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, head of the Los Alamos National Lab, had the most accurate prediction of  the 19-kiloton explosion.
The bomb exploding from .006 second (top left), to .100 second (bottom left). Bottom right is the classic mushroom cloud 15 seconds into the explosion. A military policeman 10 miles away said the heat was like opening an oven. One of the scientists said it was like the heat of the sun on your face, then after a few minutes the real sunrise followed so they had two sunrises that day. The explosion was felt 160 miles away, breaking windows 120 miles from ground zero. The Army's cover story was a huge stockpile of munitions had exploded.
Just three weeks after this test at Trinity the first of two bombs was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6th. Three days later Fat Man (above) was dropped on Nagasaki. While these bombs caused greater damage than any previous explosion, much of the radiation blew away because they were detonated at 2000 feet above the cities. On August 15th the Japanese surrendered, V-J Day, followed by the formal surrender on board the USS Missouri on September 2nd, bringing an end to a war that had started in Europe on September 1, 1939.
As we were leaving these protesters were at the entrance. They are down-winders, who were in the range of radioactive fallout from the explosion. Those who lived near Trinity and others who lived down wind from later tests in Arizona, Nevada and Utah have suffered increased rates of cancer. 
For anyone who grew up during the time of duck and cover drills like I did, a visit to the Trinity Site will be very interesting. 
The weather we had in Socorro was less than ideal with high winds, rain and even some snow at higher elevations. We did manage to squeeze in both the things we wanted to do without getting wet and the snow capped high plains and mountains were beautiful from afar.
The other thing on our to do list was a tour of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Very Large Array (VLA). The array is 50 miles west of Socorro on the high plains at 7000 feet. From a distance they don't really look like much.
The Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array is 27 radio telescopes arranged in three groups which are turned on the same point in the universe together giving them more gathering ability. They can be moved to four different locations along these rails. When we were there they were at configuration D with all of them within a half mile of the center. At their furthest they are 11 miles from the center or 22 miles apart. 
The array was built between 1973 and 1980 and in addition to its scientific use has been used in TV shows and movies. They were featured in Carl Sagan's Cosmos and several movies including Contact staring Jodie Foster, who narrates the visitors center video.
They don't look big sitting on the plains with nothing else nearby but when you get up close they are huge. At 82 feet across and weighing over 200 tons it dwarfs Nanc standing under it.  
The dishes are moved to new locations every three or four months, using two specially built carriers that move on the double set of rails. Each move takes about three weeks depending on which configuration they are moving to. 
The sculpture reflects the three paths that the dishes move along. 
The results of some of the observatory's work. It is used to investigate galaxies, quasars, pulsars, supernovas, stars, suns, planets, and black holes. It was used to communicate with Voyager 2 in 1989 as it moved beyond Neptune. A very impressive array of work.  
The barn where the dishes are updated and the extra dish that is on stand by if there is a problem with one of them. In 2011 a major update was completed on all the dishes increasing there power to over 8,000 times better than the original 1970's technology.
WOW, we got to see them move!!! While we were there all the dishes moved to a new position. It was like watching a synchronized dance as they changed direction together. Very Neat!!!   
The VLA is a great stop in the New Mexico high desert. If you are there on the first Saturday of the month they have special guided and behind the scenes tours. The self-guided tour was very informative with an easy to follow guide.
The VLA is on open range so watch out for the cows. How cool it is, these dishes looking 26,000 light years, 150 quadrillion miles into the universe under the gaze of these cows. Socorro was a great little town with a couple good restaurants and I was able to scratch two things off my to do list.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Tucson Mission, Deming Museum and Mexico

After everything from the Escapade was packed away, we had a laid back Saturday planned which included having lunch with George and Nan, a tour of Mission San Xavier and dinner with Duane, Jean, John and Lora, before hitting the road on Sunday. Unfortunately, Nan was not feeling well so we missed spending time with them. We did have a very enjoyable dinner with Duane, Jean, John and Lora at El Charro in old town, a great Mexican restaurant not to be missed.  We had such a good time we totally forgot to get a picture.  On Sunday we hit the road at the crack of 10:00, heading to Deming for four days to relax and get caught up after more than a week of putting in long hours.  
Mission San Xavier dates back to 1692 when it was established by Father Kino, the same Jesuit missionary who started the mission at Tumacacori I wrote about last month. Construction of this church was started in 1783.  
The altar has several carved statues including four of the twelve apostles. The remaining apostle's statues are in small alcoves located around the side altars. The one for Judas has been left empty. 
The carved wooden reclining figure is San Francisco Xavier, the patron saint of the church. Catholics genuflect at the statue and often leave mementos pinned to his shroud asking for cures to illnesses.  
Statue of Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be declared a saint by the church. She was a Mohawk who lived from 1656 to 1680. She was scarred by smallpox as a child and became know as the Lily of the Mohawks after it was said her scares vanished within minutes of her death.
The plaza behind the church. The flags of four nations have flown over the mission. First it was Spain and then Mexico after its independence. In 1854 it became part of the United States as part of the Gadsden Purchase and today the flag of the Tohono O'odham Nation Reservation flies over the mission. 
The mission is still a working church and includes a K-8 school that dates back to 1873. Starting in 1978 the entire mission's interior and exterior have undergone an extensive renovation. It is one of the finest examples of old Spanish Mission style in the country.
The locals from the reservation sell native food outside the church as they have always done throughout history. San Xavier is not to be missed if you are in the Tucson area.
On the drive to Deming a lot of the desert was in bloom with beautiful yellow flowers. We have been to Deming a couple of times but there were still things that remained on our to do list in this little town.
One thing we love about New Mexico is the food and some of the off the beaten path restaurants. We put out a call to friends on Facebook for places to dine in Deming and the Adobe Deli was recommended by a couple people. This little place really is off the beaten path, ten miles East of Deming and then at the end of a side road. In addition to a great meal, we loved the eclectic decor and were impressed by the huge selection of liquor behind the bar.
Deming has one of the best small town museums we have been to since going on the road ten years ago. The Luna Mimbres Museum has a great selection of the local history of ranch life, mining, railroads and early Native Americans. 
This old chuck wagon, a field kitchen, was used on cattle drives in the area until 1923 when ranchers were turning to motorized vehicles. It carried all the food and cooking utensils needed in the field.
The museum has one of the greatest collections of minerals we have ever seen outside of larger museums. This exhibit shows the official state mineral for each of the fifty states.
Check out the size of this tooth. It is a mammoth tooth that was found near Deming.
I have always been fascinated by geodes and would love to find one. On an earlier visit to Deming we went to Rock Hound State Park where we looked but did not find a geode. The museum has seven huge cabinets filled with geodes in its collection. 
Being an Easterner I have never really thought about how many different cowboy hats there are to choose from. This collection does not name the style, but has the name of the person who donated their hat to the museum, truly showing local pride.
The transportation exhibit displayed a 1907 REO and an old American Lafrance firetruck. There are also displays about the railroad including a couple model trains.
These two exhibits are collections that locals gave to the museum. This one is beer steins.........
......and this one is liquor decanters. The one in the foreground is a complete decanter chess set.
The military room honors all the armed services and has an extensive exhibit about the Mexican Border Service. The banner is part of the display about the raid by Poncho Villa on the town of Columbus south of Deming. Here is the link to an earlier blog post about the battle. 
There is a great collection of baskets from the Mexican Pueblo Indians who lived in this area in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Mimbres Indians who lived along the nearby Mimbre River a thousand years ago created beautiful pottery. The museum's collection rivals anything we have seen in the Smithsonian. 
More of the extensive Mimbre pottery collection. If you have any interest in Native American culture this museum must be on your to do list.
The Hispanic Room celebrates the culture of the Mexican people. This part of New Mexico and all of Southern Arizona where part of Mexico until the Gadsden Purchase in 1854.
Another example of the eclectic collection at the museum is this exhibit of nut dishes and various tools used to crack nuts. I remember my parents having these.  This is just a small sample of all the various exhibits to be seen at the museum.
Any time we are in Deming we make the trip to Las Palomas. Top left is the US Border Patrol stop 12 miles north of the border. Top right is the checkpoint at the border. Bottom left is the barrier wall and right is Nanc in Mexico while I stood in the US and took the picture. We parked the car and walked into Mexico. There is an interesting tie between the people of Las Palomas, Mexico and the schools of Luna County. Here is a link to a story about that connection in the Washington Post.  
Las Polamas, like the other border towns we have visited, caters to American and Canadian visitors with shops, street vendors, pharmacies, and dentists, but on a much smaller scale. Our visit always includes a stop at the Pink Store.
We had a great lunch and a couple margaritas. They loosened up our wallets enough that we spent a few pesos on a number of things from the store. 
We were even entertained during lunch. We have always found the Mexican people to be very open and friendly. In light of the current administration, they are very welcoming and happy to see Americans.

As usual I am a bit behind with the blog. Since leaving Deming we spent four interesting days in Socorro (next post) and are now settled in Albuquerque for two weeks. We will be flying to Washington, DC to visit Nanc's sister Michelle who just learned this winter she has lung cancer.  She is otherwise in great health and her prognosis is very positive so we are very hopeful.   Nanc's other sister Judy and her brother Dave are also going to be there to celebrate Michelle's birthday.  Please keep Michelle and our family in your thoughts at this difficult time.