My Great American Road Trip – Santa Fe and the VLA

Eva Grall at the Very Large Array in New Mexico
Eva Grall at the Very Large Array in New Mexico
At the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array in Socorro, New Mexico

Santa Fe is one of my favorite place, so I was really excited to be able to pass through on the road trip. We decided to try a new hotel this time and I must say, Jon picked a winner. The Inn of the Five Graces is magnificent. The hotel is situated on the oldest inhabited block in the United States and it feels like you’re immersed in old Santa Fe. Owned by a married couple who are internationally-known importers, the hotel is built in a classic adobe style but decorated in exotic antiques from around the world. From unique doors, wooden ceilings, colorful tapestries, and amazing custom tile-work in the bathrooms, I was truly blown away by the beauty everywhere.

In of the Five Graces Exterior in New Mexico

Interior of Inn of the Five Graces in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Jon, doing some work on the road
Bathroom of Inn of the Five Graces in Santa Fe, New Mexico
That bathroom though…
Bathtub of Inn of the Five Graces in Santa Fe, New Mexico
That tub is like a throne!

Though I did spend large swaths of time wandering around the hotel room looking at the unique details (and the pieces of straw in the mud walls) we actually did get out to do things.

First stop, Ten Thousand Waves – a Japanese-style spa on a nearby hilltop. My San Francisco esthetician is an Albuquerque native and recommended this place as a must-go. After a delicious massage (I think Jon got a facial too, teehee!) we sat out in one of their private wooden hot tubs surrounded by a juniper forest. Above us was the starry night sky and in the distance, lightning flashed. It was the best way to spend the evening after a few days of driving.

The next morning (we spent two nights in Santa Fe!) we met up with a friend of Jon’s from his EA days, who had just wrapped a film nearby. After a visit to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, I snuck away to do some shopping at the Palace of the Governors where local Native American artisans sell their handmade work. I picked up a few pieces of jewelry, a cat sculpture (what else is there?) and this tiny bowl which had Jon very perplexed.

Teeny handmade bowl from Santa Fe, New Mexico

Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Paintings: Clam and the Mussel; Tan Clam Shell with Seaweed
My favorite paintings at the O’Keeffe Museum

Shopping at the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, New Mexico

That night I stuffed myself with fajitas and guacamole at the best Mexican restaurant in town, Casa Chimayo Restaurant. So good!

Of course, the night before we left I took a bath in that amazing tub…

Using the bathtub at Inn of the Five Graces in Santa Fe, New Mexico

The next morning before hitting the road we grabbed iced lattes from the wonderfully eclectic coffee shop Holy Spirit Espresso.

Holy Spirit Espresso, Santa Fe, New Mexico

The small coffee stand is covered in things to look at: from the international money hanging from the overhead light, to the millions of postcards covering every available surface. Not to mention, the friendly face behind the counter. The shop is very fittingly located on San Francisco street, and if you visit be sure to have a chat with Bill, the kind owner behind the tiny cafe’s decor. With coffee in hand, we were on our way.

Santa Fe -> Lubbock

Distance: 578 miles
Driving Time: 9 hours, 14 minutes (Longest driving day so far!)

Santa Fe, New Mexico to Lubbock, Texas GIF

We headed south through Madrid (a fun stop on the Turquoise trail), snagged some overly sweet smoothies, and began the long detour to the The Very Large Array – located in literally the Middle of Nowhere, New Mexico. This was a place Jon had wanted to go for many years, but the location is intentionally out of the way of any towns or cities that might interfere with the VLA’s signals.

We snaked through the desert for at least two hours, with not a lot in site until we came to a giant plain. There was nothing to see in all directions but a single road and a big open sky. Then at some point…in the distance…you see them…

The Very Large Array as seen from the road

***Start listening to Norman Greenbaum ’s “Spirit in the Sky” here***

The Very Large Array is a giant radio telescope in the middle of no-man’s-land. It’s made up of 27, 25-meter tall antenna laid out in a giant Y shape. The dishes are arranged in different formations depending on the location in space being pinpointed. The VLA is more famously known for it’s feature in the Jodie Foster movie Contact, where Jodie’s character records an alien signal transmitting from a distant star.

When we arrived, we were the sole visitors, rushing to the near-closing gift shop to buy some kind of proof that we had made the three hour trek to this lonely place. The employee standing behind the desk was wearing a long dress with buttons to the neck and a hairstyle from 1910. It felt like a strange time warp amid science dioramas and the futuristic landscape outside. She sold us a ticket, instructed us to turn off our cellphones, and then sent us in the direction of the self guided tour.

The Very Large Array in Socorro, New Mexico
Beautiful view of the radio telescopes all lined up in the distance
Antenna Assembly Building at VLA
Jon standing in front of an antenna assembly building

Every 6 hours the dishes adjust their position and we were lucky to be there for one of the adjustments. All 27 radio telescopes moved simultaneously. It was very cool. Our only company was a huge jackrabbit sprinting through the nearby field (my what big ears they have!).

We spent too much time on our jaunt to the Very Large Array, and with the extreme distance to our next stop (11 and a half hours away), we decided to crash in Lubbock, Texas at a very average Embassy Suites. We tried looking for a hotel in Roswell, New Mexico, but I must tell you, there is a serious lack of alien hotels in that town. Seems like a real missed opportunity if you ask me.

It had been a long drive late into the night when we finally arrived in Lubbock, but I looked forward to staying with friends and exploring Austin next.

Jon channeling Jodie Foster in Contact at the VLA
Jon channeling Jodie Foster’s character in Contact

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