Michael Strickland's blog on all things travel: news, deals, destinations, dreams and more.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Making contact with the Very Large Array

As I crossed the mountains of western New Mexico, I came over a rise and plunged into a wide valley. There, lined up like white tin soldiers, stood the 27 antennas of the Very Large Array of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. With each dish measuring over 80 feet in diameter and weighing 230 tons, the VLA presented a very impressive sight, even from miles away.

That's what I wrote back in 2003 after visiting the VLA, made famous in popular imagination by the Jodie Foster movie "Contact." After driving for miles upon miles through deserted landscape full of nothing but scrub brush and blue sky, the sight of the VLA's antennas seemed as out of place as a fleet of UFOs. The sight was more reminiscent of an installation by artist Christo than a scientific facility.

If you're driving between Phoenix and Albuquerque, you're more likely to take I-40 than the more rural Highway 60 (even though the latter is a more direct route, as the crow flies). Nevertheless, if you want a weird and random sight at the halfway point, then take that back way through the mountains—and keep your ears tuned for an alien reply from the heavens.


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