On July 30th we joined a local El Paso Mini club, EPMINIS for a rally to the Sunspot National Observatory just outside of Cloudcroft NM.
The rally started at 9:30 with everybody meeting at Starbucks off of I-54 for a quick drive to Alamogordo New Mexico. In Alamogordo there was a a brief lunch break at Alameda park before we headed into the Lincoln National Forest towards Cloudcroft.
We were driving our Jeep and don’t have a Mini but we were given a nice “Honorary Mini” car-magnet to identify us as part of the rally. The El Paso crew was joined by some New Mexico Mini-ers, so there was quite a turnout.
The drive to Cloudcroft is pretty quick with a nice change in elevation as you enter the forest. The roads are curvy and the Minis were cruzing at a good clip on the way to Sunspot. We wound up in the middle of the pack so I did my best to keep the Jeep in the mix and not slow anybody up. The Jeep handles really good for a large SUV, supported by a new stiffer uni-body construction and airbag suspension. The 5.7 HEMI helped too:)
First stop was the National Solar Observatory (NSO). Their mission statement from their website:
“The mission of the National Solar Observatory is to advance knowledge of the Sun, both as an astronomical object and as the dominant external influence on Earth, by providing forefront observational opportunities to the research community. The mission includes the operation of cutting edge facilities, the continued development of advanced instrumentation both in-house and through partnerships, conducting solar research, and educational and public outreach. “
It was a nice facility with plenty of parking and a visitors center.
After a brief explanation of the facilities purpose, which included an overview of the structure of the sun, we were given a tour of the grounds by a astronomy student who works there. The tallest on site was the Dunn Solar Telescope:
After viewing the inside and getting a overview of how the scope works, we exited and toured the rest of the site wrapping up at about 3:00 PM. From the NSO we motored over to Apache Point Observatory (APO) where one of the EpMini club members, Garrett worked and was going to give us a tour. APO is a private facility partnered with the NSO and New Mexico State University.
Garrett’s job at APO was keeping the 2.5 meter telescope operational. He explained the telescopes capabilities and showed us the work that goes into the fiber optic cartridges that are used to do spectral analysis on stars, planets and other space objects. Garrett gave us a lot of info and really showed some enthusiasm for his job. I would imagine working here to be pretty chill, you get to look out into space seeing things that few people get to experience, coupled with the calm forest surroundings.
One of the best parts about the APO tour was the view from the Sacramento Mountains down into the valley. The Who’s “I can see for miles” sums it up best:
We were finished at APO at about 5:00 and it was time to head back home. I would like to thank the EPMINIS group for letting an ol’ Jeep tag along, it was good to get away from the heat in El Paso. For more pictures of the NSO and APO sites see my Flickr set here: Sunspot Rally 2011