We packed up the coach once again on Wednesday with enough chow to feed our little group for a couple of days. Peg did the buying choice, depending on what what she figured would be consumed by the group on each day. We loaded two local grandsons for a few days return to the small National Park in Datil NM, near the Arizona state line.
The old Datil Well RV campground recreation area, along the old 130 mile cattle and sheep trail drive from Springerville Arizona, to the old rail head at mining town Magdalena NM, is so remote, so pleasant, yet close relative to Alb, that we really enjoy it and figured the young brothers would have a good time there.
Driving south in the coach alone, with no tow vehicle, out of Albuquerque and turn west at Socorro for a total 150 miles to campground, passing the famous ‘VLA’, and set up beneath the trees, in our favorite space number 5, early afternoon for the planned stay of a couple of days.
Each afternoon was spent metal detecting close to the camp site and actually doing the following campers a favor. We scavenged ‘stuff’ at each repeat tone, until an accumulated pile of scrap metal shards, rusty wires, burned and melted foil, bottle caps, pull tabs, old tent stakes, nails and screws, intermixed with one or two treasures [coins], consumed an hour or so each day before evening and a meal following.
The brothers used the lighter, but very proficient ‘Bounty Hunter’ metal detectors. One being the old faithful, well used ‘Tracker Four’. An analog dial detector discovered on Ebay, that has ‘detected’ numerous finds and enabled a young man to master/decipher the tones and dial needle readings of items beneath the soil..
The recently purchased, three tone Bounty Hunter ‘Quicksilver’ was used briefly by a friend, stored away for years and has ‘detected’ numerous coins, as well as the plethora of other items all detectors locate with no trouble, nor remorse. I used the Whites Coinmaster happily acquired at a charity thrift store.
Pinpointers were reluctantly shared, as we were one short. Garrett ‘Carrot’ and an AT Pro copy of the Garrett, worked wonders to locate each object in the little dirt piles. Another hopefully excellent AT Pro ‘carrot’ is on order from Ebay for $33.
The 1st night initially was warm from the coach running gear heat depleting until after the sun set and an evening mountain breeze came through the open windows.
Nights are dark and cool in this area of several mountain ranges, a pass overlooking the 7,000′ altitude of the San Agustine high plains. Formerly an ancient and vast, high altitude lake bed, surrounded by snow capped mountains, the retreating Ice Age kept the lake filled to capacity.
Dark, at least when no moon is over us. Silence is typical in this little campground of a couple dozen privacy welcome spaces, widely interspersed through the trees.
Hiking and toting gear through the conifer trees, such as various junipers, pinon pine, scrub oak and scrub cedar with a few Ponderosa Pines., the volunteers will be busy maintaining trails, repairing and repainting trail infrastructure, shelters on this weekend.
Squirrels are busy with the pinon seeds, burying during times of harvest and digging them up as need arises. Navigator saw what appeared to be a large roadrunner, half flying and running across a meadow. No coyotes this time. A few very bright blue birds flitted about, dropping a few blue feathers beneath the trees.
The mornings were cereal, frozen blueberries, apple slice, bacon, sausage and eggs, toast, all prepared in gourmet fashion by our camp ‘Cookie’. Tea for the camp ‘Cookie’ and a couple of big, hot cups of early morning ‘Joe’ for myself. The grandsons on the sofa conversion bed in their sleeping bags, could not sleep-in during my noisily preparing for breakfast and making coffee. Still, we did not get out onto the trail hikes until after 10 am in the mornings.
The trails are presented on large and smaller sets of excellent sign boards. We used the cell phone cam to save map images, in case we forgot which way the junctions went.
Cell phones are mostly non-functional in this area and especially anywhere near the massive array of radio telescopes. Cell signals would overwhelm the faint signals from the universe beyond. A little Garmin Geco GPS recorded our trail traverses and provided basic reference back to where we turned it on where it acquired satellites.
The little Garmin Geco is not as user friendly as it seems. For one thing, it recorded every trip we ever made, both to and from this campground as we drove from/to Alb [I was observing altitude… over 7,000′], added to every hike, the data became basically a heavy black highway line, and tangled web of small dotted lines for hiking. To say Geco never forgets certain details, track, pan, routes, history……no matter how many times it is cleared, is an understatement.
In spite of all of the references to our saved trail map images on my phone, all three of us deciding where to turn, we somehow missed a faintly marked turn junction at a small rock cairn and repeated a mile or so of trail loop on the way back, taking us farther from camp. Oh well, after our good breakfast we needed the added exercise… I think.
Youngest grandson found an old ‘snap purse’ frame, like the style my grandmother carried. It is now in a place of honor in the display case of the visitor office at the Datil Well campground. Two of the old cartridge casings that I ‘detected’ while searching the area with the Whites Coinmaster, have joined two other vintage casings. We forgot to search the area of the purse near the trail, to find all of the money buried 😉
The Rocky Point overlook, high on a ridge, was visited more than twice. Often in the repeated excursion around the ridge top overlooking our campground. We could see the distant coach in the valley slope below, but getting back down there seemed to be the problem. All trails, all junctions, led us back to the high Rocky Point. “We’re back” was our code for lost…sort of.
After spending a couple of hours wandering in circles, we finally discovered the small side trail that led us down off the ridge and toward the trail gazebo closer to the campground. Seeing the trail gazebo shelter told us that camp was only a few minutes further. Not a good idea to get lost on the edges of the Gila National Wilderness. One of the largest wilderness areas in the USA, countless folks throughout history have entered it, to never be seen again.
The boy’s parents would be upset at me for losing their sons.
GPS, I will blame the GPS Geco…and the maps, and the trail markers. Using today’s logic, it can’t all be my fault, as the group leader..sort of.
The following day, the last day of hiking the forested valleys, canyons and ridges, we finished the rest of the designated trails and heard thunder following distant lightning strikes. Seeing a few lightning burned tree trunks and stumps, we agreed to take the shortest route back down to camp. Locating the shortcut down through the valley proved a little daunting…. as we passed the trail to Rocky Point… again. All trails lead to Rocky Point.
Returning in time for a nice late lunch prepared by Cookie, added to some more leisure metal detecting, we decided to stay one more night.
Dropping the envelope into the vault pipe, set off only one complaint from the youngest member of our party. The one that had decided he had enough of mountain man life and desired a return to city…. TV… and video games.
Settling the difference of opinion by some more metal detecting around the campground, he and I were caught in a deluge and sat out the downpour of rain under a shelter on the other side of the campground from our coach. Trudging back in mud afterward was a mistake. I spent the next half hour cleaning shoes for the next day’s adventures.
Early morning last breakfast of bacon [Hormel pre-cooked in package of 30. Remarkable stuff] and eggs, then break camp, we began the return to Alb.
Passing the VLA, we decided to turn off and visit the site. One curious young antelope even approached the coach when we stopped along the 4 mile entrance road.
VLA was open to public today, as most days. Visitor center had all of the info about the creation of the massive array that listens to the galaxies far far away. A 20 minute documentary even showed clips from ‘Contact’ with Jody Foster narrating, a Terminator with Arnold Schwarzenegger, where the dish array was again featured. Added all in total several films, with more to come, the Array is quite the film star in itself.
We drove up in the coach, alongside one huge dish setting on concrete mounts outside the tall structure, a very large building where they are sheltered during maintenance. Each dish is over 85 feet wide and 92 feet tall. They are moved around on the 40 miles of rails by a unique diesel electric locomotive. A hydraulic device with jacks and swivels for positioning each dish onto rail sidings and then precisely raised and positioned, bolted onto concrete mounts set for firm observation points, as demanded.
Each session of remotely controlled time, bought by various entities around the world, lasts for 6 hours. I would imagine a huge bill submitted for each time slot. The array, constructed during the 1960’s, was saved from obsolescence when a Canadian firm provided the latest updates. The newest ‘listening’ units bolted into each dish, took over ten years to construct, install and tune, after mounting on the 28 large dish devices.
Today, used periodically in conjunction with other radio telescopes across this hemisphere, located in the Virgin Islands, Northern California, Washington State, Hawaii, Ohio, Los Alamos NM and the east coast, considered the Long Baseline Array, it’s life expectancy will extend to the the next generation of scientists curious of our origins and for whatever reason we were created to temporarily exist on this unique planet Earth.
Leaving with a new appreciation for yet one more of the many remarkable structures that seem to be prolific around the remote and secluded, sparsely populated land mass of the State of New Mexico, we head for Socorro, lunch stop at Subway and drive home.
Passing the water intensive miles of California style Pistachio groves south of Belen NM, amaze us in the desert environment, supposedly deficient of water. Makes one curious of the politics involved in acquiring Govt permits, let alone legions of EPA bureaucrats, for such water intensive, obviously [the overflow return sluiceway] soil eroding endeavors.
Re-fuel at Costco in preparation for next adventure. The driveway ‘roost’ of Thunder Hog is for unloading, water resupply, dump holding tanks, schedule maintenance projects… and call parents for return of their treasured young ones.
Tonight we rest assured that other blessed days of adding to the preparation of the young ones for their future, was accomplished with relatively little investment and shared fun time of prime memory quality.