Wandering South to Big Bend

There is something different about this trip compared to my last set of journeys.  The first obvious difference is our hunt for a new home.  As we have traveled the past few days, we have been exploring areas we thought might be of interest.  Second, I’m far more laid back… I’ve seen alot of these places before.  I’m just not as driven to get to the next beautiful place as I was back in 1998.  The combination of these factors has really given this trip a different feel for both of us.  And it has led to some incredible experiences thus far, even in the past 5 days.  Here are three incredible examples:

After leaving Cordillera, Edwards, Colorado very late, we visited with friends Dan and Helen in Golden up in the mountains (Coal Creek Canyon).  (Because of our late arrival, they graciously allowed us to stay the evening.  Thanks Dan and Helen!).  But as we were leaving their home, we popped out in Golden and drove past some signs reading “Brewery Tour.”  We had no idea which brewery, but after a brief discussion, Teresa and I pulled a U-Turn and decided to check it out.  What the heck?  We had no schedule, no place to be.  Now, mind you, it is 10:30 am in the morning, but so what?  Anyhow, we ended up driving up this little valley to find none other than Coors brewery. Beer And we had an amazing tour.  Lots of fun chatting with all the various visitor folks at Coors.  And we learned a few things we never knew:  The Coors facility in Golden is the worlds largest single site brewery in the world, producing 1.5 million of gallons of beer (and other malt beverages) a day.  We also had no idea, Coors makes Killians, Keystone, and Zima (be forewarned: at 5.9 % acohol and tasting like the organge soda, Orange Zima is dangerous, especially at 11am).  They malt their own grains, make their own glass, and are fairly environmentally friendly (very little waste).  The tour was a lot of fun, and had we been on a schedule, we never would have seen it.

After catching up Don, a friend we met at Colbert’s who was visiting his parents in Littleton just outside of Denver, we headed into the mountains for a very cold night.  The next morning, I wanted to get out and visit a realtor in Pueblo, just to see what was around.  They were very nice, but weren’t too much help (more familiar with homes in Pueblo rather than in the mountains), but they recommended us driving towards Beulah.  We weren’t impressed with the town, but we had a nice drive up over a gravel road down to Highway 96 as we wandered towards Crestone to visit Earth Knack.  While driving on 96, we came upon an amazing site.  We had seen it on TV (don’t recall where), but in person, it was absolutely astounding.  It was a one man project called Bishop’s Castle. Built in Jim Bishop’s spare time, it is made mostly of rock, iron, and glass.  Had we not have been wandering about checking out some of the more remote areas of Colorado, we would have never seen this beautiful work of art.

As we were leaving, Jim Bishop himself pulled up, dumping sand into his moat… what a character!  I tried to simply complement him on his castle, but instead, he ended up going on a rant about how the government has gone overboard.  Being a part time Libertarian, I do understand where he is coming from, but damn!  Hopefully, we’ll post some video of this guy ranting.  I’m sure he’d go on all night, but we had more stuff we wanted to see and so we headed on to Westcliffe.  This is perhaps one of the most beautiful areas in Colorado that we have seen, tucked away well out of most of the tourist’s areas.  The whole valley had absolutely gorgeous views of the Sangre De Christo range.  I don’t think photos could do it justice, which may be why we have none of the area!  We talked with a realtor there and got better info about the area.  Some areas were very reasonable, so this is an area we want to check out again in more detail in the future.  After a long day of driving, we ended up in Crestone, pulling into Earth Knack well after dark.

Earth Knack was another great experience, which I’ll let Teresa cover in more detail in her daily diary.  We’ll certainly be back to spend more time with Robin and family too.  Anyhow, we booked it down to Santa Fe to see an old acquiantence I hadn’t seen in a while, Jennifer Foote.  I met Jennifer when travelling back in 1998 on a Carlsbad Caverns “wild” cave tour.  She was living out of her truck too, but with different goals.  She was staying in hostels, trying to find a place to move after becoming disenchanted with life in Memphis, TN.  She settled in Los Alamos for a while, eventually buying a house in Santa Fe.  Very good to catch up with her.

The next morning, we started heading towards Big Bend, Texas and away from all friends, etc..  Once again, a sign on the side of the interstate pulled the eyeballs nearly out of our heads.  “Very Large Array (VLA) Radio Telescope.”  Have you seen the movie Contact?  Yeah, the one, with the array of massive radio satellite dish things. Turns out, Contact was filmed at this site.  The VLA Radio Telescope is in the middle of absolute nowhere, on purpose of course.  We we drove in, we were greeted with signs pretty much demanding we turn off our cell phones.  Any radios running in the area can affect their signals.  Unfortunately, and probably to their own detriment, they don’t offer tours to the general public on a regular basis.  We really lucked out and were allowed to tag along with a high school group on an official tour, including the main control room.  We even met one of the guys responsible for making sure everything is operating smoothly.  It was a great learning experience.  Just to share a few facts about the array:

Basically, there are three arms of the array forming a Y shape.  The receivers can be moved around on a closed rail system into 4 different configurations.  The largest configuration is helpful in viewing more detail, and the smallest is helpful in seeing a “bigger” picture.  We saw the array in it’s largest configuration, each arm extending 13 miles, instead of it’s smallest configuration, which would have made for better photos.  The VLA has apparently made more astronomical discoveries than any other land based telescope.  They get their funding from the National Science Foundation.  As a result, they are running on “cutting edge” 1970’s technology.  They are upgrading their resolution/computing capabilities, but won’t be finished until 2010 or 2012.  Any reputable astronomer can request a job.  The astronomer gets results quickly; all telescope data is made available to everyone in 12 months.  So it is NOT being used to listen for aliens, and it was quite obvious, it is definitely not some kind of secret government facility… we had a very open tour of the facility.  Also, I had to ask the dumb question.  At the end of Contact, you see Jody Foster sitting on the edge of a canyon and then walking up to the dishes.  I had to ask, “where is the canyon”?  Simple Hollywood Magic that blended scenes from Canyon de Chelly and the VLA!

As I write this, we are in the Cibola National Forest in Water Canyon (I don’t see any water!) US 60 (near Socorro, NM), although you can camp pretty much anywhere around here.  Most of the land is public land in some fashion or another.  We’re about 10 miles from I-25 in a nice little desert mountain valley with no lights in sight.  Hopefully, we’ll update our site and head into Big Bend tomorrow, but if not, no big deal.  I’m kinda enjoying this wandering thing for now.  Who knows what we’ll discover next around the corner?

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