Petrified Forest, Big Dishes and Birds

On Monday we drove East to Petrified Forest National Park. As Mark pointed out, it’s an important National Park but not the most inspiring we’ve been to. The petrified wood was very impressive, but once you’ve seen a couple of tons of the stuff you’ve pretty much seen it all….

There were a few petroglyphs, similar to the ones we’d already seen in other places:

We did manage our first free night’s camping just outside the park gates, where a sign directed us to “free camping” outside a (closed) gift shop. There were no services, but then we weren’t expecting ‘owt for nowt….

We were up and on our way first thing on Tuesday morning (thus cunningly avoiding any pressure to purchase once the gift shop opened). Our original plan had us continuing East on the Interstate to Albuquerque and Petroglyph National Monument, but as we’ve already seen petroglyphs in a few places this no longer seemed a must. Also Mark had noticed the intriguingly-named Pie Town on another road, and we all know how Mark feels about Pies…… I was happy with this, partly as I’d already spotted something I was interested in further along the same road: the Very Large Array….

As things turned out, Pie Town does seem to have a few cafes to entice visitors in the summer, but all was very firmly closed up for the Winter.

I was really pleased to find that not only could we see some of the VLA dishes from the road, there was a tourist parking area right next to one of them.

The VLA is a famous radio telescope (like Jodrell Bank) that I knew about from the Open University courses I took many years ago; basically they’ve constructed a massive telescope by combining data from 27 individual dishes set up in a Y-formation on a high plateau with no houses nearby to cause interference.

I was even more pleased when we drove a bit further and found that there was a visitor centre….. We got all manner of good information and could walk up to the bottom of one of the dishes. Each dish is 25 meters across and weighs 230 tons. The really amazong thing is that they’re movable. Every 4 months, the dishes get moved to a new Y-shaped configuration (of which there are 4; we saw it in configuration A which is the most spread-out). Special transporters lift the dishes off their concrete pads and move them along railroad tracks to their new position.

We saw a really good video, which we’re told is available online at

It’s very unlike us to buy souvenirs of any kind, but Mark does seem very pleased with his purchase from the VLA visitor centre.

A tourist information newspaper we picked up at the VLA on the nearby town of Socorro even told us where we could camp for free, at a place called Box Canyon, 7 miles West of town. We had the place to ourselves…

The next morning, Wednesday, we drove the short distance to the nearby Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Quite amazingly, our $80 National Parks Pass got us in here for nothing as well; we’ve been amazed at just how many places it’s been accepted at. It seems that pretty much anything with “National” in the title is likely to be included in the scheme, not just the National Parks themselves.

We spent the whole day at Bosque del Apache and saw loads of cool stuff, though not before Mark had discovered his inner Rod Hull in the small video room in the Visitor Centre (it did keep him quiet while I watched a year in the life of a crane).

Snow Geese (lots of…..):

Sandhill cranes (apparently there are thousands upon thousands, though they had spread themselves out to feed):

Roadrunners (we saw three in total):


Herons, loads of ducks and stuff:

Right at the end of the day, two coyotes in the distance:

There was also a bald eagle sat in a tree, who was unfortunately too far away to get a photo of (though we got a good view using a telescope on one of the observation decks). We’re now within two map folds of the Eastern extent of our USA road trip. Time is flying by….. Our next stop is Lincoln (Billy the Kid) and from there it’ll be onward to Roswell (aaaaaaaliens!).