As my wife and I drove south out of Cloudcroft, New Mexico we into the wilderness of the Sacramento Mountains. We decided to drive south to the small village of Sunspot that is a location where numerous scientists live and work at. These scientists man a number of telescopes and other equipment located in the village to study the stars and the sun. While on our way there, just outside of Cloudcroft there is a really nice viewpoint of the 12,000 foot Sierra Blanca peak that towers over all other peaks in these beautiful mountains:
Sierra Blanca is the tallest most southern mountain in the United States as well as being home to a ski resort located on the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation. Besides this viewpoint there is another great lookout further down the road at the Haynes Canyon Vista:
From this lookout there is not only some great views of the surrounding mountains, but also of the incredible White Sands National Monument located in the desert valley floor far below:
The desert valley below the Sacramento Mountains is known as the Tularosa Basin. Here is how the basin was formed millions of years ago:
The gypsum that forms the white sands was deposited at the bottom of a shallow sea that covered this area 250 million years ago. Eventually turned into stone, these gypsum-bearing marine deposits were uplifted into a giant dome 70 million years ago when the Rocky Mountains were formed. Beginning 10 million years ago, the center of this dome began to collapse and create the Tularosa Basin. The remaining sides of the original dome formation now form the San Andres and Sacramento mountain ranges that ring the basin.
This basin is roughly 150 miles north to south and 60 miles east to west. Where I live in El Paso is at the very southern end of this basin. We continued down the road admiring the various aspen trees that were in various forms of green and yellow:
Not all the trees were yellow, there were occasional trees that were also shades of red:
After about a 45 minute drive from Cloudcroft we arrived at the Sunspot Astronomy & Visitor Center:
The visitor center has a small display that you have to pay to see, but outside there is plenty to see where you don’t have to pay for anything, such as this device that was deployed to Antarctica to study the sun there:
Since the sun stays out 24 hours a day during the summer time in Antarctica it is a great place for scientists to study the sun from. On the trail from the visitor center the first building we came upon was the John W. Evans Solar Facility:
This building is named after the first director of the Sunspot Observatory where they use this telescope to study the sun:
Easily the most impressive observatory at this facility is the Vacuum Solar Telescope:
This is the large telescope that can be seen from Highway 54 when driving north from El Paso. This telescope is just absolutely huge, towering over the area at a height of 132 feet. Along the trail to the telescope we saw some odd plants such this one pictured below:
Besides odd plants there was also some really nice wildflowers that were still out in bloom in the fall:
We walked into the observatory and something interesting about this facility is that you can actually walk in and watch the scientists work as long as you remain quiet:
Something interesting we learned from visiting the facility is that telescope they use in this facility to study the sun is actually much bigger than it appears from the outside:
This telescope actually extends 228 feet below the ground, which is pretty incredible when you think about it. While walking around inside we could actually look over the shoulders of people working and see images of the sun being transmitted on monitors from the telescope.
After exiting the facility we walked around and checked out the other telescopes, but they all fail in comparison to the Vacuum Solar Telescope:
Sunspot as you would imagine also has some pretty nice views of the Tularosa Basin down below:
After visiting Sunspot we headed back towards Cloudcroft enjoying the autumn scenery:
The Sacramento Mountains have quite a few aspen trees that provide the vast majority of the color in the mountains during the autumn:
Once we got back to Cloudcroft we drove back down the mountain and headed home to El Paso. All in all as usual we had a great day out enjoying the trees and fresh air in these mountains because both things are in short supply once we get back to El Paso.