Mexico has been on the cutting edge of the space age ever
since there was such a thing as the space age. Because of
the wide open spaces, experimental rocket launches, missile
testing and the world’s
first atomic explosion have taken place out among the cacti and
We saw the
questionable side of science, with a dash of real rocketry,
in Roswell, but the real heavy lifting
of scientific discovery has been elsewhere in The Land of Enchantment.
To hit these
hot spots we made a base camp in the town of Truth or Consequences
and, like any normal people, we asked about the name.
in 1950 the town was called Hot Springs. When the radio
show “Truth or Consequences” offered to air the
show from any town willing to change their name, this little
burg jumped at the chance. Next thing they knew the show’s
host, Ralph Edwards, is in town and the
whole world, or at least the American radio listening public,
is aware of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Edwards took to
the place like a duck to water and
visited during Fiesta for the
next fifty years. The townfolk named a park after him, where they
still hold Fiesta every May.
short drive over the mountains took us to White Sands, which
is famous for two things — The White Sands Missile Range
and White Sands National Monument. The missile range is
top secret. There is a museum
open to the public but the rest is off limits, no matter how gypsy
a GypsyNester has gone.
1945 the army started bringing captured German V-2 rocket parts
to this forty-mile-wide and one hundred-mile-long facility.
By later that year missiles were flying. That same summer, just
north of White Sands, the world’s first atomic explosion was
detonated at the Trinity test site. Needless to say, that radioactive
landmark is also off limits to the public.
space between these two super secret scientific spots is
filled with white sand. Hence the name. White Sands National
Monument is a blinding alien landscape with giant shifting
dunes of pure white gypsum sand. Upwind of the site a unique
dry lake bed forms a never ending
supply of the snowy mineral that blows across the barren landscape.
Normally the gypsum would dissolve in the rain, but rain nearly
never falls in this desert, so the giant sandbox continues to
grow and grow.
of the wildlife — lizards, mice, rabbits and foxes — that
inhabit this peculiar environment have adapted, becoming
white to blend in with the surrounding sand for protection.
However, according to
one of the park signs, these little guys still end up as tasty
little dishes of fast food. Call us wacky, but that seems like
the sign might be just a tad disturbing to the kiddies.
ours are all grown up.
last of the high tech sites in the area was the one we made
the trip to see. Spaceport America is the world’s first
spaceport built specifically for commercial use. The brainchild
of Stanford University’s
Dr. Burton Lee, the project became a reality after Congress and
New Mexico State University got involved. Soon after that, Governor
Bill Richardson and Sir Richard
Branson announced that Virgin
Galactic would make New Mexico its world headquarters. In 2006
the state formed the New Mexico Space Authority and passed the
necessary laws to open the worlds first commercial spaceport.
contacted Dr. Jerry D. Brown of Spaceport Tours to set up
a visit to this real life slice of the future. The good
doctor, a NASA veteran, has secured exclusive rights to
around the facility. A dusty van ride across the desert brought
us to the gate where we were issued our visitor passes and hardhats.
It was all very official
and highly secured. A little farther
and we found ourselves standing in the middle of a huge windswept
stretch of blacktop. Enormous earthmovers, dump trucks, bulldozers
and cement mixers line the edges and roared around us as they
It is still
just a construction site, but work is nearly complete on the
ginormous two mile long runway, hangers and terminal that Virgin
Galactic will be using for their sub-orbital tourist space flight
is no regular airport runway. It must be perfectly smooth,
so specifications are meticulously met down to the tiniest
fraction of an inch. The mothership Eve will
take off from here, carrying the VSS Enterprise
with six passengers to nearly 50,000 feet where it will disconnect
and fly into space. After a few weightless minutes, Enterprise
to Earth and land on this same strip. All for a paltry
ticket price of $200,000.
it will be at least a year before any of Virgin’s over three
hundred prepaid customers get their rides into space, there
have already been numerous launches from the spaceport.
These take place at several nearby
vertical launch sites, where Up Aerospace uses traditional rockets
to blast satellites out into space.
we made it back to Truth or Consequences, or “T or
C” to the locals, we scouted out a place for dinner.
The place we stumbled onto was packed with a large group
having a big time. Striking up a conversation, it turned out
that they were in town for a calf roping event and invited us
to come out the next day. They filled us in on the history of
the annual roping
tournament and it was something we didn’t want
years, since Clint Benjamin passed away, this benefit has been
held for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and a scholarship
fund in Clint’s name. Hundreds of ropers come from miles around
to compete for saddles and buckles and raise money for this
great cause. Clint loved roping from the time he took his first
steps, and this is a wonderful remembrance, filled with fun,
camaraderie, competition and reunion.
We had a
real western afternoon at the Sheriff’s Posse Arena and did
a small part to help out.
It felt good.