Last month I was so very fortunate to return to Arizona for another round of stargazing at Kitt Peak (click HERE to see last year's highlights). Don Terndrup, my astronomer friend, had eight nights scheduled at the MDM Observatory's 2.4 meter telescope, and with a few extra days padding the start of the trip, we decided to take the long way there. Since Don had shown me one of his favorite things --the stars -- I thought the least I could do is show him one of mine -- Route 60. So we flew to New Mexico and rented a car in Albuquerque...
The desert was raging with wind; we dodged tumbleweeds the entire way to Socorro, where we picked up Route 60 the next morning. Once a rest stop along the Camino Real, Socorro is home to NM Tech, the San Miguel Mission, an interesting mix of architecture, and my new favorite restaurant: the El Camino.
When H.T. Kirby-Smith wrote US Observatories: A Directory and Travel Guide, he described New Mexico's plains of St. Augustin as being "perhaps, the most beautiful remaining 'wide open space' in the country." I have to agree with him. At the time of the book's publication in 1976, construction of the Very Large Array had only been underway for a short time, so Kirby-Smith included an artist's rendering of the finished project. But here it is for real. The seemingly minuscule radio telescopes of the VLA glimmer in the landscape past the turnoff for route 52. Up close, they dwarf just about anything you can put next to them.
Don hadn't been to the VLA before, and what does he find when we get there? Among the names of famous astronomers scratched into the pillars of the radio sundial: his PhD thesis advisor!
Pie Town… Springerville… Show Low… Globe… as we crossed the Continental Divide, route 60's flat plains gave way to mountains and canyons. We pulled off at an overlook and discovered a historical marker paying tribute to Gustav Becker of Springerville, who was apparently the "father" of route 60. How many times have I driven this road, not knowing whom to thank for its existence? Thank you, Mr. Becker!
In Globe, we said goodbye to Route 60 and took 77 the rest of the way to Tucson, stopping for some quiet time at the mission and courtyard of DeGrazia's Gallery in the Sun.
With a night in Tucson marking the end of a great little 3-day road trip, we celebrated with incredibly delicious pizza at Falora (where you can bring your own records to play on the hi-fi) and then spent a quiet, leisurely morning in our host's garden before heading up to Kitt Peak.
More to come...