At The Top Of The World
The Magdalena Ridge Observatory is located atop a towering mountain overlooking the San Agustin Plains of New Mexico. Though the point of the observatory is to look up and not down, with otherworldly views that stretch to the horizon (beyond there be dragons...), the trip is worth while just for the sights alone.
Speaking of the trip, this journey is not for the faint of heart. The Magdalena Ridge Observatory is not open to the public so the only time that nosy photographers like myself can visit is when they host their open house events. See their website for more information about when these events are scheduled. Furthermore, the road to the observatory is also not open to the public, and for good reason. Attendees of the open house event are instructed to park at a camp site at the bottom of the mountain. From there we all load into a shuttle bus and begin the 30 minute, 10 mile journey up the super steep one lane dirt road with no guardrail. There is literally not room for two cars to pass each other going opposite directions on this road which is part of why they don't want visitors coming and going at random intervals. As a passenger on the shuttle, it is safe to assume that the driver doesn't want to die in such a horrific manner as driving a bus off a cliff, so if you stay calm and busy eyes with your Twitter feed, all will be well and you'll be there in a jiffy.
A Weather Station
In 1980 Congress designated 31,000 acres across the Magdalena Mountains in the Cibola National Forest as the Langmuir Research Site. It's primary purpose was studying weather patterns and natural phenomena such as lightning. Pictured below are a building for studying lightning and a hanger for a weather balloon. Both buildings are no longer in use. Behind the balloon hanger was a much older looking silver domed building like that of a telescope but no one seemed to know what was in there or what it was for or maybe that's where they keep all the top secret stuff.
MRO Interferometer (MROI)
Interferometry is a technique used by astronomers to obtain the resolution of a large telescope by using multiple smaller telescopes. The electromagnetic radiation collected at each of the smaller telescopes is combined to recreate the image that would have been obtained with a large telescope. This process is commonly referred to as aperture synthesis. At present, the Magdalena Ridge Observatory only has one Interferometer (pictured below) but in the near future more will be coming so they can set up their array. The goal of this project is to produce images of astronomical targets at resolutions over 100 times that of the Hubble Space Telescope.
The most interactive part of the open house is the tour of the 2.4 meter telescope. This telescope scans the skies looking for anything that may be a threat to the earth, like asteroids that could be on a collision course; or present a threat to national security like satellite remote sensing, space surveillance, and missile tracking.
During this part of the tour, guests are able to go up inside the dome and see the telescope up close. You can even have your photo taken in the telescope if you like. One of the special features of the 2.4 meter telescope is it's rapid tracking capability of 10 degrees per second. Being able to move at a high speed allows the telescope to track things such as fast-moving asteroids, comets, and resident space objects in low-Earth orbits. To facilitate the rapid movement of the telescope, the dome also has to open and rotate rapidly. The tour of the 2.4 meter telescope culminates in an excellent demonstration of the rotating dome. Everyone gathers around the telescope and the operators rotate the dome. This creates a crazy optical illusion where it looks and feels like the floor you're standing on is turning instead of the dome. It's a very convincing illusion.
These images were shot on November 9, 2019 with a Canon Powershot Elph 360 and edited with Fotor.
The Ojito Wilderness
The Ojito Wilderness in New Mexico is an 11,000 acre site located north of Bernalillo, around the vicinity of San Ysidro. It is a BLM owned public open space full of desert jewels such as petrified wood, rare plant species, dry river beds, ancient petroglyphs, hoodoos and a generally alien landscape.
Some things to be aware of when visiting Ojito is that it is closed to motorized vehicles. I don't recall there being any proper parking lots and it is in no way ADA accessible. There are no bathrooms, water fountains, tour guides or snack bars. What there is is wind and lots of it. If you come here, be prepared to pack in anything you might need and carry it all out too. The desert doesn't want baby wipes and beer bottles so, as always, leave only footprints and take only photographs.
No one remembers the Trading Post
I guess that's why it closed, you know, because no one knew it was there. I found plenty of sites with information about the Ojito Wilderness but I couldn't find even one mention of this abandoned trading post that once sat out in the middle of it all.
These photos were recovered from my (previously missing) archives. They were shot in 2006. I know the trading post was still there for at least another five or six years but I heard a rumor that it had since fallen down - either by itself or with the help of bulldozers. With that in mind, these are likely the last photos of this forgotten place.
The dragonfly pictured below was stuck to the window in the above photo. I do recall that on a subsequent trip, the window in question had been broken thus marking this image as a one of a kind moment in time. And for the record, the dragonfly was already dead when I found it, I did not harm the dragonfly for the sake of staging a weird photo (because I would never do that!).
The Last Page
The photo above is one of my all-time favorite images. In fact, there is a large framed print of it hanging front and center in my living room so the three people that come to my house can say, "Wow, that's a great photo!"
Believe it or not, I didn't stage this photo. In the back room of the trading post was an over turned stove. Sitting on the stove was a copy of The Red Badge Of Courage that was well past it's prime. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it is always windy in the Ojito Wilderness. So all I did was turn the book slightly so that the draft coming in through the broken window and exiting the missing door would blow the book open. Then I set myself up across the room with a telephoto lens and a slow shutter speed and waited for the wind to make the book do just the right thing, which it did... eventually. Good things come to patient photographers.
To see my posts about other Abandoned Places, click here.
Directions To The Ojito Wilderness
To reach the Ojito Wilderness, start in Bernalillo and travel north on U.S. 550 for about 21 miles. Then turn left (west) on Cabezon Road (County Road 906). After approx. 9 & 1/4 miles there should be a sign for the Ojito Wilderness. Continue for another 3/4 mile and start looking for some kind of parking area. There should be two trail heads here; the Seismosaurus Trailhead and the Hoodoo Trailhead. I honestly have no idea which of these trails might lead to where the trading post is (or was). What I remember doing was driving until a sandy dry river bed forced us to park the vehicle for fear of getting stuck and then walking across the river bed to the trading post. That being said, even if the trading post is no longer standing, there is still plenty of cool stuff to see and I think a hiker wouldn't be disappointed with either trail.
Is It Real Or Is It Hollywood?
Located around the southern end of the Manzano Mountain Range, Mountainair, New Mexico is not exactly a bustling metropolis. To the contrary, population and the number of open businesses seem to have declined since my previous visit which was about ten years ago. Because of this, there are plenty of abandoned buildings to photograph but are they really what they appear to be?
I was told by a Mountainair resident that the first two photos in this blog post were never what they appear to be. The Grey Hound Trading Post (complete with the grey hound bus company logo) and the Tomahawk Service Station were never these things but the buildings were made to look this way because they were movie sets. So, at least something interesting happens in Mountainair from time to time.
What's Up With This Place?
I have never seen the Shaffer Hotel open for business but the hotel and dining room currently appear to be under renovation so maybe its on the comeback trail. There are many truly odd things about this property including, but not limited to, the swastika motif and the most peculiar stone work wall.
Now, before you get all indignant about the swastikas, understand that this hotel was built in 1923 - before the swastika became the most universally recognized symbol of racism and hate. Prior to World War Two, the swastika had an entirely different meaning to many people. Several Native American cultures, including the Hopi and the Navajo used the swastika as a symbol of peace and goodwill. The swastikas on the Shaffer Hotel were intended to welcome visitors to a friendly place, which just goes to show that you can't make assumptions in the absence of context.
I found a really great newspaper article Valencia County News-Bulletin about the Shaffer Hotel and the history of the Shaffer family in general. I highly recommend giving it a read byCLICKING HERE.
But Wait, There's More
Clem "Pop" Shaffer didn't just build the hotel and dining room, he also made this super weird/cool/creepy stone work fence.
And then there's these other buildings... I don't know if they were part of the hotel and used for something else but there are several beautiful stone buildings on the property. Currently they are all abandoned and boarded up but there are gaps in the boards so I was still able to get a couple interior shots through the windows. Don't worry, no buildings were tresspassed in the making of this blog post. ;)
Punta De Agua, New Mexico
Punta de Agua is a very small town between Mountainair and the Quari Mission Ruins. There's not much to see here but there is this ancient church and cemetery. The Church is called San Vicente de Paul, established in 1878.
Manzano Mountain Range
The drive from Los Lunas to Mountainair includes stunning views of the entire Manzano Mountain Range. I live at the north end of these mountains so it's not too often that I get to see the south end.
All photos shot with Motorola MotoX4 and edited with Snapseed.
Can't You Read The Sign?
Ramah is a tiny little town on HWY 53 southwest of Grants, New Mexico. In and of itself, it is not a place worth traveling too but it is on the way to some more noteworthy destinations such as the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, El Morro National Monument and the Bandera Ice Cave.
Ramah is part of the Navajo Nation and that means you had better read the signs. If the sign says that the speed limit is 20mph (and the signs do say that), it is safe to assume they're not messing around, especially if you "ain't from around here". Additionally, if the sign says "No Trespassing", it is not a suggestion and, with the police station, courthouse and jail all less than half a mile away, I highly recommend shooting from the safe-side of the fence.
This abandoned farm house is at the edge of town and behind a barbed wire fence with a locked gate. Word to the wise: don't climb through the fence.
All photos shot with a Motorola MotoX4 and edited with Snapseed.
So, uh.... what happened here?
If there were one question to sum up the area known as Meadow Lake, it would be, "What happened here?" You could look in any direction and ask this question dozens of times. For starters, there is a man-made lake that was built who knows when or why and was closed for reasons that remain mysterious. Aside from that, run down, abandoned, gutted and often burned mobile homes are strewn across the desert like forgotten dominoes, but right next door could be a beautiful and well maintained home.
And then there's this house.
By any standard of measure, this house would've been considerably nicer than most anything else in the area. For one thing, it's actually a spacious site-built home but then there's also the enclosed courtyard and the in-ground pool. No one up here has an in-ground pool.
And then one day, the whole thing went to hell. From the looks of things, I would guess ruination day was around ten years ago.
As I approach the entrance to the courtyard, the ground is absolutely covered with every manner of thing from the house. There are clothes and shoes and toys and trash..., soo much trash. Aside from this small stuff, furniture is cast about all over the place. There are several couches sitting in the yard.
I tried to find a news story that could explain what happened but came up empty handed. It looks to me like the residents of the house did not salvage any of their belongings after the fire. As you can see in the photos, the house was completely destroyed, and these people just walked away.
Or did they?
It's possible, likely even, that they didn't survive the fire. It's also possible that the fire was not an accident, making whatever happened here a crime as opposed to just an unfortunate event.
Why was nothing cleaned up? Why was nothing rebuilt? If they survived, I would assume they had home-owners insurance but you know what they say about assuming. Where did they go and who owns the land now?
So many questions...
What happened here?
All photos shot with Motorola MotoX4 and edited with Snapseed.
I am DeAnna Vincent, fine art and portrait photographer in Los Lunas, New Mexico. These are the photos from my everyday adventures.