New Mexico Desert Trip: Part One

Jeremy Wray has an old Foundation sticker on his car. It’s a dog with the words “Adventure Today” coming from his mouth. The sticker however isn’t on the outside of the car for everyone to see, it’s on the inside of the driver’s window. More of a reminder for Jeremy than anything else.

For a number of years, Jeremy, Jonas Wray (Jeremy’s brother), Paul Luna, and I have taken off on various adventures into the deserts of the Southwest. One afternoon, while sitting around Jeremy and Jonas’ house in Los Angeles, trying to think of where to skate, we decided we wanted to go to a school yard. This school, however, was in New Mexico, not L.A.. So along with Pat Channita and his brother Belu, we hit the road again. Sometimes the road trips are skate trips, other times they’re trips for the sake of nothing else but to explore a new area we haven’t been to yet.

A few months back, one of these trips found us in the deserts of New Mexico. We were aiming for a school in Albuquerque, but as we usually do, we avoided the main highways in favor of trying to find interesting things on the back roads. Sometimes you don’t see anything rewarding, but other times you stumble upon something you normally wouldn’t find on the freeway.

This trip ended up being one of the later. Out of the black night, we saw the massive shapes of radio telescopes looming a few miles ahead¿the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s VLA (Very Large Array). The location is very remote: 25 miles from the nearest small (and I mean small) town, and about 50 miles from any real civilization. You may have seen these giant monoliths if you’ve seen the movie Contact. They’re visible from three to four miles away as you descend into their valley floor. The dishes are 81 feet in diameter and approximately four to five stories tall with a weight of 230 tons per antenna. There are 28 antennas total, one’s a spare and the other 27 laid out in a gigantic Y pattern covering up to 22 miles across (roughly one-and-a-half times the size of Washington, D.C.).

We hiked around the site for a couple of hours before heading to Albuquerque, deciding that we had to return to find something to skate. Part Two: The Return to VLA

A couple months after the initial discovery, we began to make plans to return to the VLA; this time equipped with wood and power tools to make sure we’d have somewhere to skate. The vanload consisted of Jonas and I, and some new faces for our adventures: Jason Dill, Anthony Van England, Chris Lambert, and TransWorld Video Production Editor Ty Evans. Never having been to VLA, the new crew was a little skeptical of what there could possibly be to skate deep in the high dessert.

As usual, we took the scenic route (the back roads) to show them some of our favorite stopovers, such as the dry Salt Lake in the Mojave dessert and the White Sands National Monument.

Like all road trips, this one had its incidents. But when you’re in the deserted areas of the Southwest, incidents always feel more like something out of a Twilight Zone episode rather than real life. Take for example, Jason and Anthony going to the corner store for snacks and ending up having to deal with the broken-down mentality of a small-town sheriff who “don’t like you city folk comin’ inta my town.” They were arrested, taken to jail, and released several hours later after the local cops felt they’d had enough fun with them. No charges, no good explanation. Be careful in those back-road towns, people.

We finally found our way back to the VLA and scouted out some spots to skate. Deciding that we’d need to build some ramps, we headed for civilization. We spent the next day building ramps in the blazing sun in a farmer’s field several miles from town. The following day, we moved the ramps to the VLA site and set them up on one of the access roads. Moments later, government vehicles rolled up and informed us that if we remained on the roadways we’d be charged with trespassing on government property. We packed up again and headed offroad a mile or so into the surrounding fields. We unloaded the ramps and headed back to town.

Now you have to undersand how remote this spot is in order to know how perplexed we were when we arrived the next day and found two of our three ramps missing without a trace. There are no houses in any direction for at least 20 miles of the spot we’d left the ramps. On top of that, we were about a mile out in a field accessed only by a side road several miles in from the main road. There is no way someone just happened upon them. Yet we were left with just one ramp to complete our task.

We made the best of it, even though everyone was rather annoyed they’d spent the better part of two days building ramps in the hot sun, only to have them end up as a new dog house for some backwoods hick named Floyd.

Sidebar Facts:

-The VLA is the best Astronomy Radio Observatory.

-Each antenna is 81 feet in diameter.

-Total cost of the array was 78,578,000 1972 dollars

or about one dollar per taxpayer.

-Scientists don’t actually listen, but use the radio telescopes

to take pictures of celestial bodies and events.

-What the pictures show scientists actually happened millions of years ago.

-The VLA is used by astronomers around the world.

August 1972¿VLA was approved by congress.

April 1973¿Construction started.

September 1975¿First satellite dish and antenna were in place.

January 1981¿Site was completed and on line (one year ahead of schedule).