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2006-06-23 - 25, National Radio Astronomy Observatory
Green Bank, West Virginia

Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope

Five Goldwing bikes, one Goldwing trike, and nine riders and co-riders spent a mostly wet weekend tooling around Virginia and West Virgina. The highlight was a tour of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) at Green Bank, WV.

We left Asheville on Friday morning. We left the interstate highway at Erwin, Tennessee, and Russ led us through miles and miles of beautiful countryside. Our first sightseeing stop was at Backbone Rock Tunnel near Southerland, Tennessee. This is possibly the shortest tunnel in the world. The stone ridge is 75 feet high and only 20 feet thick. The Empire Mining Company blasted through the rock in 1901 while laying a railroad track. Once the track was in place, the train engine’s smokestack wouldn’t quite fit through the tunnel, so a little extra was chiseled out of the top by hand.

Backbone Rock Tunnel Sign
Backbone Rock Tunnel Sign

Backbone Rock Tunnel
Cliff, Rilla, Linda, Wil, Russ, Beverly, Phil, Jean & Al
Backbone Rock Tunnel
Backbone Rock Tunnel

A closer view of Backbone Rock Tunnel
A closer view of Backbone Rock Tunnel

Cliff & Russ discuss the finer points of rhododendrons
Cliff & Russ discuss the finer points of rhododendrons

After moteling overnight in Christiansburg, Virginia, we started for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory on Saturday morning. We stopped high above the clouds for the view near the top of Potts Mountain on the border between Virginia and West Virginia.

The view from Potts Mountain
The view from high atop Potts Mountain

Daisies on Potts Mountain
Daisies growing along the side of the road

Linda’s trike & trailer
Linda’s trike and new trailer reminded Wil of
a Red Delicious apple towing a grape.
(She will have the trailer painted to match her trike.)

Phil readies his camera for an action shot
Phil sets up to photograph Cliff...

Cliff
...and Cliff rides through the curve.
Watch for the gravel!

A sign of things to come
This kind of sign that gives motorcyclists something to look forward to.

Fortunately, we made it to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory just before it started to rain.

Arrival at Green Bank
Arrival at Green Bank

Unfortunately, our raingear was packed on our Goldwings a couple of parking lots away from the visitor center.

Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope
Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope

The Robert C. Bird Green Bank Telescope, the world’s largest steerable radio telescope, can view the entire sky above 5 degrees of elevation. The surface of the reflector is slightly oval with a diameter of 100 by 110 meters (328 by 361 feet). The reflector consists of 2004 panels. Each panel is mounted on motor-driven actuators to adjust the shape of the reflector for changes caused by gravity, temperature, wind and other stresses. The track on which the telescope rotates is 64 meters (210 feet) in diameter and supports a moving weight of 16 million pounds.

Digital cameras aren’t allowed near the radio telescopes. This photo was taken from the visitor center. I got some closer shots of this and other radio telescopes on film, but I’ll have to wait for it to be developed before I can post those pictures here.

After suiting up in the raingear, we headed for our motel. On the way there, we rode through Cass, WV, home of the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park. Just the short ride through town was enough to convince us to plan a return trip. After occasionally heavy rain and one foggy patch we reached our motel in Princeton, VA.

Because of the threat of rain on Sunday morning, we stuck mostly to the interstates straight through to Asheville. There was talk of taking a side trip to Mount Airy, North Carolina, Andy Griffith’s childhood home and the inspiration for the town of Mayberry on The Andy Griffith Show. It was raining there, so we decided to add this at a later date on our ride schedule.

I’ll add photos taken by others as I get them.

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