On Friday, October 1, after six days of travel, I finally arrived at Daryl’s home in Phoenix, Arizona. It was a shock to drive down from the White Mountains and be met with 100-degree temperatures. Only a few hours before, at a place called Datil, New Mexico, I awoke to a chilly 40 degrees at my pre-dawn campsite. As I descended through Salt River Canyon to lower altitudes, I kept thinking it was a good thing my van has A/C.
I did a lot of sightseeing on Thursday and Friday. A short detour below Amarillo, Texas brought me to Palo Duro State Park, a place of stark contrast to the flat plains and endless grasslands of the Texas Panhandle. Palo Duro is like a mini Grand Canyon carved over the years by the Red River. There is a scenic roadway all the way to the bottom that was built in the 1930s by the CCC. I stopped to enjoy many fine views and read about the history of the park.
Then it was on to New Mexico where I enjoyed the scenery as the flat plains gave way to hills and magnificent rock formations. I entered Albuquerque, NM just before rush-hour and thought once of calling Dick for directions to the house he built. I would have liked to see it, but the traffic was about all I could handle, and I lamented into just getting through. As it turned out, minutes after I turned south on I25 and headed out of the city, all the interstate highways both coming into and going out of the city were closed, snarling traffic for hours. It seems that VP Biden was in town campaigning and now was leaving for the airport. A few minutes later and I would still be stuck in Albuquerque.
Then it was on to Rt.60, a beautiful highway running through the mountains from Soccoro, NM to Show Low, AZ. I passed the VLA (Very Large Array of radio telescopes) and continued on to a cute little campground run by the Bureau of Land Management and spent the night for a mere $5. With a Golden Pass the price would have been $2.50. It was getting late so I decided to find a campsite and return the next morning to the VLA. The campground even had free firewood for the campers, something I had never seen at any of the campgrounds back east.
I awoke before dawn, made coffee, and took a stroll around the campground. A sign announced that the Datil Well in this area was used as one of the watering stops for cattle drives through the mountain pass in the 1800’s. A thermometer on the office building read 40 degrees, and I thought of Mom when she said to ‘soak up’ all the cool weather before descending into the Phoenix area. Before I did though, I headed back to visit the VLA.
I could see the giant dishes for 15 miles before I arrived. The remoteness of their location, along with the altitude – over 7000 feet – make this a perfect spot for interference free signals from space. There are 27 dishes, each about the size of a baseball diamond, arraigned in a “Y” formation. All the antenna’s signals can be synchronized so that they act like a single antenna, reading images millions of light-years into space. I watched a short film and then did a walking tour to see the antennas up close. One of the neatest facts about the VLA is that in 1997, a large part of the film “Contact”, staring Jodie Foster, was shot there.
The rest of the drive into Arizona would take me through the Salt River Canyon and 60 degrees of rising temperatures. I remember the stories of Salt River Canyon and the truckers who lost their brakes coming down the steep grades. I was glad that I have good brakes on the van, and also glad I was behind the U-Haul truck that gave off the odor of burning, brake pads all the way to the bottom. Some of the views from the pullouts were really breathtaking.
Last night, Mom, Donna, Daryl, Gisele, Derek and I went out to eat. It was good to see everyone again and spend some time together. Today, Daryl and I did some shopping for our backpack adventure next week. The weather in the Sierra’s looks kind of cold and rainy for the start of our hike, but what do you expect when you’re hiking with the Soggy Shoe Hikers?