Adventuring in New Mexico :: The Very Large Array (VLA)

My family loves to adventure around New Mexico. Our schedule with two toddlers revolves around naptime and bedtime, so we typically try to get all our adventuring done by noon. However, occasionally we live really risky by (gasp!) skipping naptime and venturing a little further. One such adventure took us to the Very Large Array (VLA).

The VLA is a radio astronomy observatory located about two hours southwest of Albuquerque through Socorro, the small town of Magdalena and onto the Plains of San Agustin.

As we adventured onto the desolate plains, in the distance we began to see huge radio antennas. 27 antennas to be exact! Each antenna is 82 feet in diameter and weighs 230 tons! They make up one of the world’s premier astronomical radio observatories.*

Very Large Array (VLA) - Albuquerque Moms Blog

The Y-shaped formation of radio antennas is truly something to behold. As we approached the VLA Visitor Center, it became clear just how huge the antennas were! We enjoyed the informational displays inside the center and were able to take a self-guided tour of the antennas closest to the visitor center. It was a well-manicured and flat path with a fairly short walk to be able to get to see an antenna up close. We even got to see it move positions, which caused my toddler to nearly loose his mind with excitement. All in all, we probably spent about an hour looking around and taking in the various displays and informational stops along the self-guided path.

A few tips if you are thinking of visiting this unique New Mexico treasure.

  • It does cost money to look around. Find fee information and visiting hours at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory website.
  • There are four antenna configurations. When we visited, the antennas were in the configuration that is most spread out. So, we only saw a couple antennas up close. The remainder appeared extremely far away and in fact, I’m not sure we even saw all 27. I wish we knew this in advance and waited until the array was in Configuration C or D – as the antennas are much closer together at these times. Check out the schedule here.

    Plan your trip soon because the array will be in Configuration D from Feb 10 – May 15.

  • Magdalena is the last town before the VLA. It is very small and does have a few places to eat. However, if you are looking for fast food or a place to gas up, do so in Socorro or you might be out of luck.

The VLA is a truly unique place to adventure in New Mexico – particularly if you have a child who loves science or you grew up wanting to be super smart Jodie Foster in the movie Contact. Whatever the reason, enjoy this quick day trip just south of Albuquerque.  

*All information gathered from The National Radio Astronomy Observatory

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