Monday, November 28, 2005

Trip report...

The Friday before last, Andrea was on the phone with her mother talking about what we were doing for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Sylvia said "you know, you could always just come here..." So on Sunday we were in the car, heading for Austin.

The week in Austin was nice. The new Whole Foods down the street from Andrea's parents' house is really amazing. I think that a typical english king from the 16th century, transported into the future, given a shower to make him presentable in public, and ushered into the Whole Foods, would have been reduced to tears by the sumptuousness of the feast laid out there.

It was a nice visit - nothing really remarkable, just family conviviality. We watched War of the Worlds, which was really quite good. Dunno why it got such bad reviews. We stopped in Oklahoma on the way home, which was nice - Sandra and David put us up in their new upstairs guest room, which is really nice. We had a good visit with Sandra and David on Friday night, and then visited with Grandma Carrie for a bit Saturday morning, and finished up with a visit to Flo. Everybody seems to be doing well, as well as one can say things are going when one is dealing with the vicissitudes of aging. Grandma is happy in the nursing home.

The drive from Claremore to Albuquerque took quite a while - we finally got in a little after 11:00 in the evening, Albuquerque time. It's not the most exciting drive, until you get to the Sandias. The trip over the Sandias was especially exciting this time because it started raining on the way up, and then at the summit the rain turned to snow, and stayed snow all the way in to Albuquerque. The road was never icy, except on one section close to the city. The snow was made up of compact, massive flakes - nearly hailstones. Very cool looking in the headlights. After years of mostly living in Arizona, the snowstorm was really sweet, even though we had to drive through it.

Anyway, the whole point of this was to get to the final day of the trip, which was the day that we'd set aside to do something different. We negotiated a bit about precisely what route to take, and finally settled on taking U.S. 60 from Socorro to Globe, and then Arizona 77 from Globe to Tucson. We'd never done this drive before, and had no idea what to expect.

It was a very nice drive, but long. I would suggest stopping in Show Low next time to break it in half. The first surprise of the drive was the discovery that the Very Large Array is just off of U.S. 60, about an hour west of Socorro. The VLA is one of my favorite pieces of Big Science - it's a collection of about 25 radio telescopes on train tracks in a symmetrical Y shape with a 13-mile radius. The antennae can be moved in toward the center or out toward the edge. When we were there, they were in kind of a weird pattern - I think they must have been doing some upgrades. The VLA is going digital, with fiber optic nerve fibers in place of the old waveguide system.

Anyway, it was just a treat to unexpectedly get to go there. I've known about the VLA for years, first in the context of SETI, and later in the context of mapping the deep universe. What they do at the VLA is so cool you could use it to refrigerate semiconductors. I'm not going to describe it much, but check it out if you're curious. The thing that I love about the VLA is that it uses computation and electromagnetics together to do something truly amazing - to see things that are incomprehensibly far away in space and time. They have a map of the galactic center done with the VLA, but this is peanuts compared to what else it's capable of seeing.

Anyway, that was a wonderful highlight. Then trip from there was mostly just up, up, up, down little, up again, through a town called Pie Town, above the snow line, et cetera. It got very cold. I was tempted to stop for pie in Pie Town (this is the actual name of the town, by the way, not the name of a commercial establishment in the town), but resisted. We crossed the continental divide and continued on through a very small number of small towns separated by vast gulfs of 75-80mph straightaways, saw a few cars, mostly didn't have to do much passing. Crossing the Arizona border was not much of an event. We stopped for sandwiches in a town called Springerville, which despite not being near a ski area seemed a lot like a ski town to both of us.

The drive from Springerville to Show Low was long and not very interesting, although it was certainly pretty enough. Traffic started to get heavier the closer we got to Show Low. Show Low itself reminds me of a fairly typical Sierra Nevada resort community. Not sure what drives it, but I suspect tourism is a big draw. It's a nice little town. It's entirely surrounded by hundreds of square miles of pine forest - the Show Low fire that was on the news a couple of years ago burned a large swatch to the northeast, and I fully understand why people up there were concerned about it, but from the highway it looked like it never came near the actual town, and percentagewise it didn't burn that much. But that's from the highway - I don't know what it looks like from the air.

The drive from Show Low to Globe was unexpectedly scenic. It turns out that the part of Arizona with which Andrea and I are familiar - the Sonoran desert - is characteristic only of the southern part of the state. The middle of the state is all about geography. We were driving along, innocently minding our business, and then off to the right I noticed a fairly cool looking canyon that looked rather deep. I pointed it out to Andrea. She said "yeah, looks pretty deep."

A couple of minutes later the road plunged down into the canyon. I think it might be a little like driving into the Grand Canyon. I know this canyon isn't that big, but it's bloody big. It's all part of the Apache Indian reservation. By the time we got to the bottom, the tableland from which we had come looked like a series of towering redrock cliffs, and the road was still clinging to a sheer rock face - we never made it to the bottom, but just crossed a bridge and went back up the other side, to the table land on top again. This was the equal to any of the more dramatic drives I've taken in the Sierra Nevada - it reminded me quite a bit of Tioga Pass road, only with red rock instead of grey. Completely wasted on a car - this is a place to bring a motorcycle. Surprisingly, we didn't see any.

After the canyon, the terrain was pretty mellow for a while, and then started turning to a drive alongside a riparian zone, with aspen trees and thick underbrush. Finally we were dumped in Globe, which reminds me a bit of Placerville, and we got to abandon U.S. 60 for AZ. 77. At first this looked pretty mellow, but we came over a rise after climing up out of Globe to see what the tableland must look like when giant aliens jump up and down on it - broken planes, jagged mountain ranges, mesas, valleys, all jumbled together in a pile, through which we had to drive for the next seventy miles. By this time we were just wishing the road would straighten out, but it didn't oblige us - we were in the twisty maze nearly to Oro Valley, which is the town to the north of Tucson. The stretch from Mammoth to Oro Valley wasn't bad, really, but we were so tired that it seemed bad. We stopped in Wild Oats on the way down Oracle Road, and finally drove into our garage, grumpy and tired. Andrea showered, I made salad, hijinx ensued.

We're glad to be home. But it was a nice trip.


Blogger Mark said...

Sounds like your trip went really well. Glad to hear it!

It's been trying to snow a bit here. Apparently we're in for a bad one, but I don't know...

Friday, December 02, 2005 3:44:00 PM  
Blogger Ted Lemon said...

Living in Arizona, whenever my friends from out of town tell me about snow my reaction is to rejoice for them, because it's what I would want, even though they're probably tired of it. So good luck with the snowstorm, I hope nobody is injured in it, and if you have a chance to try to see it through my snow-starved eyes, enjoy it. :')

Friday, December 02, 2005 9:36:00 PM  
Anonymous kimba said...

Ohhhhh, the VLA. I'm going to lightly compare the sight of it to riding over 580 and seeing the wind generators on Altamont Pass. Nice bits of beautiful technology, one simple, one complex, but both a surprise when encountered on the landscape.

Monday, January 09, 2006 10:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually Springerville IS a ski town and it IS near a ski area. Sunrise ski resort is the second largest ski resort in Arizona and lies halfway between Springerville and Showlow along highway 260. Had you taken 260 to Showlow instead of 60 you would have driven right past it, and it is a much more scenic drive. High pines, deep woods, etc vs. flat high-plateau.

Sunday, March 19, 2006 3:15:00 AM  

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