Category Archives: Museums

U.S. Space and Rocket Center

Ever since we were kids, Diana and I have been interested in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, otherwise known as NASA.  We’ve been to Kennedy Space Center numerous times, and have watched the shuttle Columbia launch from Titusville along with several SpaceX launches from Melbourne Beach.  We also saw Columbia land piggyback on a 747 at Kelly AFB in San Antonio, and heard its twin sonic booms at Disney World as it came into Kennedy on approach.  We’ve seen many moon rocks and crew capsules around the country, but….

…we had never been to Huntsville, Alabama and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, better known as Space Camp!  Oh, man…had this been here when I was a kid, I would have bugged the heck out of my parents to send me. 😊  We actually weren’t here for Space Camp itself, but to see the artifacts they have from the space program and to take a tour of the Marshall Space Flight Center…the place where Werner von Braun and a team of NASA scientists developed the moon rocket.   We camped two nights right at the center in their RV park, which was a bargain at $18 a night for full hookups!

Upon entering the main museum building, we saw this interesting graphic.  It compared what human history would look like if it were put on a year long cosmic calendar…with the beginning of the universe being at 12:01 AM on January 1st.

Recorded human history has all occurred in the last 14 seconds, according to this display.  Talk about putting things in perspective!

Before we entered the mockup of the Space Station, Diana decided to pose with Astronaut Scott Kelly.

After spending a year in space, Scott was feeling a bit flat.  😉

The mockup of the International Space Station was really cool, as it showed experiments, crew quarters, exercise equipment and the toilet.  We were surprised that the crew members are required to exercise 2-1/2 hours a day to prevent muscle atrophy!  The other items in the main museum were hands on and mostly aimed at kids, so we buzzed through it fairly quickly.

Two of the displays outside were very impressive.  The first is a mockup of a complete Space Shuttle stack….the only one in existence in the world!  The main tank and the solid rocket boosters are the real deal, but the orbiter is a mockup used in testing when the shuttle program started.

It’s amazing how big it is!  The other thing we had never seen was a vertical Saturn V rocket, the one used to send astronauts to the moon.  That’s the rocket in the first photo of this post.  It’s a full scale model, standing at over 360 feet tall.

Better plug my ears, just in case they decide to light this thing up!

The other museum building on the grounds is the Davidson Center for Space Exploration, which has an actual Saturn V on its side, similar to the one at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Our guide, Kiri, took us step-by-step, explaining the rocket.  She also showed us many of the other displays in the building, including…

…Ed White’s umbilical, maneuvering unit and helmet from the first American spacewalk in 1965.  

I actually remember when he did that!  Unfortunately White, Gus Grissom, and Grand Rapids native Roger Chaffee were killed in a preflight test when their Apollo I capsule caught on fire less than two years later.

The museum also had the Apollo 16 capsule, a chunk of Skylab that was recovered in Australia, and one of the biggest moon rocks we’d seen yet.

Diana also found herself a rocket scientist!  Lt. Col. Otha ‘Skeet’ Vaughan was involved with the development of the Saturn V, the lunar rover, and several experiments that were flown on the Skylab and shuttle missions.  He began his Air Force career in 1951, started with NASA the day it was founded in 1960, and he is still a civilian pilot today.  He actually worked under Werner von Braun, which we thought was pretty darned cool!  Listening to him talk about those early days when they all were fresh out of college and didn’t know what they were doing was fascinating.  One of the early rockets was destroyed by fuel oscillation; in other words, the fuel was sloshing around in the tank.  One of the engineers discovered that if they floated empty beer cans on top of the fuel, it would dampen the oscillation.  They tried it on the next flight and it worked!  😊

The last thing we did was to take a bus tour of the Marshall Space Flight Center and the Redstone Arsenal, which is named after the red clay that the base is built on.

This is the stand that they used to test the Redstone rocket; the type that Alan Shepard was launched on to become the first American in space.  The ‘386’ is a scoreboard of sorts, as they would change it after each test to show the number of engine firings they conducted there.

The stand where they tested the first stage of the Saturn V is pictured above.  When they first fired it, they expected to have some windows in Huntsville shatter, so they warned residents of the possibility.  What they didn’t account for was the cloud cover that day, which allowed the sound to travel the 100 or so miles to Birmingham and break windows there!  It also scared the hundreds  of skunks in the vicinity, causing them to stink up the area for some time afterwards.  🙂  It was one of the loudest man-made sounds ever, coming in second to a thermonuclear bomb.

Perhaps the coolest place we saw on the tour was the International Space Station Payload Operations Center.

All of the space stations’ U.S., European, Japanese and Canadian experiments are conducted through this center. These people are in constant communication with the ISS, monitoring each experiment, as well as the crew.  The large display on the wall in front of them showed multiple feeds, including live views from both inside and outside the station.  I checked my ISS Spotter app on my phone and the tracking feature was spot on with the live map on the wall.  😊

We really enjoyed our time at the NASA facilities in Huntsville!  Of special note: the bus tour of the Marshall Space Flight Center is open to U.S. citizens only.  It is also an additional $20 per person, over and above the museum entrance fee.  We wanted to let folks know that before they make a trip to the facility.  The museums do not carry the citizenship restriction.

When we visited the Museum of the Rockies we purchased an annual membership in ASTC (Association of Science Technology Centers). This covered our admission fee, so we visited the day we arrived as well as the following day. 

Thanks for exploring the U.S. Space and Rocket Center with us!  Be sure to stay tuned to see what vistas we find on our next adventure!

———-

Follow NASA, including live feeds from the ISS by downloading your free NASA app HERE!

———-

explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising annd linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

Johnny Cash Museum

Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.

Most people over the age of 50 have heard that line, followed by the tune Folsom Prison Blues…as that is how Johnny would open his shows.  Whether or not a person is a country music fan, they most likely know a song or two by the performer.  The Man in Black, so named for his trademark clothing shade, had a career that spanned six decades.  He sold over 90 million records during that period.

When we met up with our friends Jodee and Bill last year in Nashville, they had just visited the Johnny Cash Museum. Bill Miller, a former resident of the same small town in California where Jodee and Bill grew up, had recently opened the attraction.  Bill Miller’s son had also opened Nudie’s Honky Tonk.  The bar is a tribute to Nudie Cohn…the tailor who specialized in the rhinestone-covered suits that country stars so often wore.  We checked out Nudie’s and the Country Music Hall of Fame with Jodee, but missed seeing the museum.  With that in mind, we set out to see the tribute to Cash this year.

Located just off of Broadway, the Johnny Cash Museum is one of the most popular attractions in Nashville.  Not long after it opened, Miller debuted the Patsy Cline Museum on the second floor of the building.  Just yesterday…on the 50th anniversary of the release of the song Sing Me Back Home, Rolling Stone Magazine announced that Bill and his wife were opening the Merle Haggard Museum next door.  Needless to say, this is fast becoming a popular spot!

We learned that Cash was given the name J.R. by his parents.  When he was in the service, the Air Force told him he had to have a full name, so he chose John.  He was a Morse Code Intercept Operator assigned to monitor the Soviets, and was the first person in the west to learn of Joseph Stalin’s death.  Prior to the service, he worked for a whole two weeks in an auto plant in Pontiac, Michigan.  Sure glad that job didn’t pan out!

Once out of the service, he began his musical career, quickly finding his way to the top of the charts.  The museum walks the visitor through his career in chronological order, with many interesting artifacts from his life, including this Gibson guitar, which was made in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  All of the good and bad aspects of his life are presented, though the focus is more toward the positive. There are several videos that show the entertainer along the way, which we really enjoyed.

This orange duster and the Guild guitar featured on the cover of Rolling Stone were gifted to Bill Miller by Cash, as a token of the friendship they had built up over the years.  Bill visited Johnny just 6 days before the singer’s death.

From there, we walked up Broadway a couple of blocks to Nudie’s.  

We enjoyed lunch and a drink at the longest bar in Nashville!  When one of the band members came around with the tip jar, he asked if we had any requests.

Our choice of the Johnny Cash tune Ring of Fire was played for the second time that day, another tribute to his continued popularity.  😊 We once sang a “spectacular” version of this song, led by our friend Mike, while in a traffic jam after the fireworks in Traverse City…windows rolled down, of course!

If you make it to Nashville, be sure to check out the Johnny Cash Museum and Nudie’s Honky Tonk.  It’s a fun way to spend an afternoon!

———-

Search for all things Johnny Cash here on our exploRVistas Amazon link!
———-

explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising annd linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

Feeling ‘Midwest’ in North Dakota 

When we last posted, we were leaving Jim and Barb’s place in the Black Hills of South Dakota and heading up to Bismarck, North Dakota.  We broke that trip up into two days, with a stopover in Bowman, ND for the night.  The trip from Bowman to Bismarck on Friday, September 15 was pouring rain with a stiff headwind.  Even though we were losing elevation across the plains, the transmission in the truck was constantly downshifting to compensate for the rush of air coming at us.  The upside?  Free car washes!  I barely recognized the truck, as the layer of tan Oregon dirt on it had become part of the North Dakota soil beneath it.

Once in Bismarck, our goal was to see a friend of ours who lives there.  Nina has been working as an engineer for a road construction company in the area after graduating from Michigan Tech a few years ago.  We met up with her and her friend John, who was visiting from Minneapolis for the weekend.

We had breakfast and checked out the street fair that was going on downtown.  Very fun!

Nina is part of the second generation of our WMU friends. It was great to see her and to also meet John! 

That afternoon, Diana and I headed to the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum.  It’s located directly adjacent to the State Capitol.

Diana saw this unique bison statue, which uses reinforcing rod for the fur near its head.  :). While we found the museum interesting, we realized that we really prefer to see artifacts in context; in other words, where the history actually occurred.  They definitely had a lot of things to look at, though!  A little bit of everything that is North Dakota.

A nice surprise for me was that the state tree of North Dakota is the American Elm.

Growing up in Detroit, almost every street was lined with these vase-shaped giants.  It gave the roads a bit of a gothic archway effect.  Dutch Elm Disease wiped most of them out, and I watched as they cut them down, one by one.  To say I was thrilled to see these in North Dakota was a huge understatement!

The next day, we met up with our friends Kat and Bob, who we last saw in Prineville, Oregon.  They are headed to the sugar beet harvest, so we took the opportunity to check out a few Lewis and Clark sites with them.  The first place we visited was the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center near Washburn.

It is a beautiful building with nice collection of some of the items that would have been brought on the expedition.

One particularly interesting piece was this air rifle; the same type that Meriwether Lewis took along on the journey to impress the natives.

  But the best part of this museum was located a few miles up the road:

A re-creation of Fort Mandan, the place where the expedition spent the winter of 1804/1805.  Now this is in context!  While this fort isn’t the original, nor is it even in its initial location (which could possibly be underwater, as the river has changed course), it is built to the specifications described in the journals, using the same materials. Not only that, it is furnished and stocked with similar items that would have been there when the Corps of Discovery occupied it.  If that isn’t enough, tours are led by interpretive rangers, who encourage visitors to actually pick up and examine the different items in the outpost.  They sure know the way to these history buffs hearts!

Our interpretive ranger, Robert, explained each room in the fort to us.  While there were only 6 people in our group, there was also a tour bus that was being led by another ranger.  Robert explained that the combined groups totaled the amount of people who lived at the post, so it was a great visual in that regard.

Here he explains the lead canisters that Meriwether Lewis had designed to store the gunpowder in.  Each one contained 8 pounds of lead and 4 pounds of gunpowder, as it took half the weight in powder to propel a lead musket ball.  Each was sealed with wax to keep the powder dry, which it succeeded in doing the entire journey.

This would have been Lewis and Clark’s quarters.

By golly…Bob makes a pretty darned good Meriwether Lewis!

When Robert found out I was related to George Drouillard, he decided to put me in his clothes to see if there was a resemblance.

I do believe I have the French-Canadian nose down pat!  We want to give a huge thank you to Robert and his colleagues, as they deliver on what is an important piece of American history!

We had one other thing that we needed to do before we left there:

Diana wanted to see the statue of Seaman, Meriwether Lewis’ Newfoundland dog.  😊

From Fort Mandan, we drove up to the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site.

While this looks like a lawn with mounds scattered around it, it’s actually where Sacajawea lived with the Mandan Indians.  These mounds are all that remain of the earthen lodges they lived in.

This is an example of the exterior of one of the lodges…

…while this would’ve been what the interior looked like.  Quite large, sturdy and warm.  Even still, the natives only expected them to last around 10 years.  Not your average teepee, but I’m sure the winters up here dictated the use of these!

It was great to see Bob and Kat again, and to experience the transition from the West to the Midwest in beautiful North Dakota!
———-

Click here for a selection of Fort Mandan articles, along with everything else under the sun on our exploRVistas Amazon link!
———-

explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

 Saguaro Serendipity

Diana and I have seen a huge chunk of this continent, but we had never seen a Saguaro cactus (pronounced sa-WAH-row) until this past week.  As we drove into the Sonoran Desert on I-10 in Arizona, they began to appear along the roadside.  Diana likened them to cartoon characters and my mind immediately went to the Peanuts comics, in which Snoopy’s brother Spike always seemed to be surrounded by them.

We were concerned that we were going to arrive in Tucson too late for any hiking or meetups, as it was getting too hot, the snakes were out, and all of our blogging buddies had headed north. After we set up at Mission View RV Resort, I decided to see what was happening online.  I noticed that Steve and Mona Liza from Lowe’s RV Adventures had posted that they were still in town, even though they were supposed to have moved on. Although we had followed their blog for years, we had yet to meet them. Well it turns out that Steve found out he had cancer that required surgery.  We contacted Mona Liza and said we would like to meet them, if they were up to it.  I explained that I was a 7 year cancer survivor, and was doing well. She replied that Steve was in the hospital recovering from his surgery, but she would love to meet us.  We set up a time to meet for dinner the next night.  

The next morning, we were up early to try to beat the heat.  Our destination was the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  This facility is a combination of zoo, botanical garden, art museum, aquarium, and aviary.  It was recommended to us by several people, and we figured it would be a good introduction for us to the unique Sonoran Desert.  While we aren’t on board with caging otherwise healthy mammals, we thought the other aspects of the museum were well done and helpful.

The desert blooms were absolutely beautiful.

This spinytail iguana kept watch over the surroundings.

The butterflies were enjoying the spring blooms.

The museum had a great hummingbird aviary.  This is a species called Anna’s Hummingbird.

And just to prove this was more than just a zoo, a Western Diamondback rattlesnake slithered across a very busy pathway in front of us!

One thing we learned after getting to the Sonoran desert was that the Saguaro cactus normally bloom in May.  Most winter RVers miss this, as they typically move north before the cactus show their flowers.  As luck would have it for us, the blooms appeared early this year!

The bees were hard at work pollenating them.  Each individual bloom is open less than 24 hours before it closes to begin the process of becoming fruit.

Even the doves enjoyed a soft place to land!

After we finished at the museum, we went to Saguaro National Park West.  We picked up our Not-So-Junior Ranger book so we could learn more about the park.  Seeing that this park has an east and west unit, we saved the bulk of the exploration for our trip to the east unit the next day.  We headed back to Tucson and met up with Mona Liza.

What a fun and energetic person to spend an evening with!  We went to dinner with her at a funky little outdoor restaurant called La Cocina.

She cracked up after she caught me trying to take a photo of her listening to the band.  We had a great time, and it was good for all of us to get together and talk.  Here’s hoping Steve’s recovery will go smoothly and we will all enjoy a meet up in the future.

The next day, we checked out Saguaro National Park East.  We took the 8.3 mile Cactus Forest Loop Drive into the foothills of the Rincon Mountains.

Remember the cartoon characters?  “These flowers are for you, my dear!”

And check it out…we became Not-So Junior Rangers!  Thanks to Gaelyn at Geogypsy for tipping us off to this great program.  It makes exploring the parks that much more fun!

Next up, we head to Ajo!  Stay tuned for that adventure!

———-

Here is our link for our exploRVistas Amazon search
———-

explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!
 

Glistening White Sands in a Mysterious Basin

After we navigated our way through El Paso, we saw a big yellow sign up ahead…New Mexico!  Diana had been there as a youngster, but I had never set foot in its boundaries.  Officially, it was my 49th state, and it was our 48th as a couple. (Neither of us have been to Hawaii, and Arizona was in our youths.)

I got out of the truck and stomped my feet in a happy dance! It was good to be there!

The branches of the ocotillo cactus were clelbrating along with us!

We set up base camp in Las Cruces on Wednesday, as we wanted to see White Sands National Monument the following day.  

Wednesday evening, we did a little exploring. This is the town square in neighboring Mesilla, where the Gadsden Purchase was signed in the 1850’s.  That transaction was when the U.S. bought southern New Mexico and Arizona from Mexico, mostly so a southern transcontinental railroad route could more easily be established. As a result, the land that Tucson, Bisbee and Yuma sit on are part of the United States.

This building, now called the Billy the Kid Gift Shop, was once the Capitol of New Mexico and Arizona.  It was also where the famous outlaw was found guilty and sentenced to hang in 1881.  He escaped from the jail and was killed later that year.

The temperatures had been steadily rising as we journeyed west, so we knew we needed to get out to White Sands early on Thursday.  Having spent plenty of time on the sand at Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan, we were expecting White Sands to be a lot warmer than it was. 

The majority of the morning was actually a bit chilly!  

We drove the loop road and got out at several stops to climb up on top of the hills to get a better view.

The dunes seemed to go on forever!  This area is so vast, it can easily be seen by astronauts from space.  This national monument sits in a large basin that is bordered by mountain ranges to the east and west.

Despite the barren appearance of the landscape, signs of life were everywhere.  The sand…actually gypsum…was cool to the touch.

The roadway through the dunes was hard packed sand and was well maintained.  As we drove around, Diana read the park literature to me that explained the proximity of the monument to the nearby White Sands Missile Range and Holloman Air Force Base.  Occasionally, unexploded bombs land in the monument, so there are warnings not to pick anything up.  Also, they advise that GPS devices will occasionally be blocked, as well as US-70 being closed for missile testing a few times a week.  Several times, the lady in our Garmin would announce “Lost Satellite Reception”…even though we has an unobstructed view of the sky in all directions.  In addition to that, we kept hearing an occasional boom.  There definitely was some strange things happening out there.  

After visiting the monument, we drove north to Alamogordo to see what was there.  We weren’t very impressed with the town, so we headed back southwest.  We tried to catch a glimpse of the landing strip at Holloman AFB where the Space Shuttle Columbia landed once, even taking a dirt road along the perimeter of the base.  No luck on that one.  The Garmin continued to announce that the satellite reception had been lost….and we heard more booms.  Heading back down US-70 towards Las Cruces, we spotted a sign for a missile museum at White Sands Missile Range.  With all the strange goings on, our curiosity got the best of us…so we headed towards the base. Yes, I realize that we had our fill of plane, ship, and automobile museums on this trip…but this was missiles!

Getting on the base was easier said than done.  We were subject to a security clearance check in a building before we reached the gate, then our vehicle was going to get a good going over.  We chose to leave the vehicle parked outside the gate and walk in.  It was nice to know that we passed the security clearance!

The display area consists of two museum buildings and an outdoor display area.  We started out in the main museum building, which we found to be fascinating.

This is a WAC Corporal rocket.  One of these launched from White Sands in the 1940’s and was the first manmade object to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.

I found this map interesting.  It showed the locations of the Nike missile sites that formed the Ring of Steel around important locations during the Cold War.  I never knew that Detroit and Chicago actually had missiles, nor did I know that the U.S. left so many major cities unprotected. I did know my hometown had a lot of Russian missiles aimed at it though!  So in an odd sort of way, I found this display comforting.

Remember these drills?

The other building at the museum houses a restored V2 rocket.

This is one of the rockets the U.S. captured from Nazi Germany at the end of WWII.  The scientists who developed them, including Werner von Braun, surrendered to the U.S. and were brought to White Sands to assist with our missile program. The knowledge we gained from the Germans and these rockets allowed us to become the superpower we are today.

From there, we toured the outdoor display area.

Remember the Patriot missiles from the Gulf War?  Here is a great example of one.

This is a Fat Man bomb casing…the same as the one that was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan.

And a Nike Missile…the type that protected our cities in the Cold War.

While the display was sobering, it was indeed ‘the real deal‘.  None of it was sugar-coated, therefore we found it to be immensely interesting.  As we were walking around the displays, we heard more booms.  This is an active base and the testing goes on with regularity. We can only hope that it will keep us out of harms way.

We only lightly touched on New Mexico, and we will be sure to see more of it in the future.  Stay tuned as we continue to head west!

———-

Search and shop our exploRVistas Amazon link here!
———-

explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

 

Austin and Westward Across Texas

Once we left the Gulf Coast, we headed back up to Austin to visit with family for several days.  Diana’s cousin Nancy and her husband David, who we went to Big Bend with last year, live in Austin. Diana’s cousin Jerry had spent the winter there after retiring, so we also wanted to see him before he headed back to Michigan. They all went out of their way to show us a great time in this fun town! 

First up on Thursday was a trip with Jerry out to Johnson City to see the 36th President of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson’s boyhood home.

While his family had a fair amount of wealth, they lived simply in a rural Texas style.

The woman in the visitor’s center referred to LBJ as “a little stinker” during his days in Johnson City.  I’ll bet he was.  😉

From there, we drove west to Stonewall to the LBJ Ranch, otherwise known as the Texas White House.

This is still a working cattle ranch.  The road meanders through the property, as do the prize bovine. 😃

The visitor’s center for the ranch is housed in the former aircraft hanger.

LBJ would fly in to the ranch on this Lockheed JetStar that he dubbed “Air Force One Half”.  We found it interesting that he spent 20% of his time in office at his home here in Texas.

The wing on the left with the covered chimney was his fully functional presidential office.  The gentleman on the left was our tour guide.  He told us that a man on a tour he gave earlier in the day was the brother of the Dallas police officer J.D. Tippet, who was shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald after JFK’s assasination.  The ranch is where the Kennedys were to spend the night of November 22, 1963, but that was not to be.  

This was LBJ’s domain. He used his 6’4″ frame…and several chairs that sat taller than the guest seating…to persuade people.  He felt self conscious around the Ivy-leaguers who ruled in Washington with himself only having a Texas teacher’s college education, so he would bring them to his ranch where they were out of their element. He achieved a lot in a short amount of time at this location.  He died of a heart attack in this home at the age of 64, six years after he left office.

That evening, we went to a place in South Austin that Jerry had discovered called the Saxon Pub.  Austin has a tremendous music reputation, and this night lived up to it.  

The headliner was Patrice Pike.  She and her band put on an amazing show.  At one point, she morphed one of her own songs into “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin, sliding into the drummer’s place.  That left the drummer no choice but to beat the wall with his drumsticks.  The audience definitely got their money’s worth!

The next day, Diana and I met up with Jerry, Nancy, and David.

Our destination was the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

The facility had a natural feel to it, and the buildings blended well with the surroundings.  Austin, in general, excels in their use of the local limestone in their architecture, giving the town a warm and inviting feel.  We enjoyed our visit to the gardens, and followed it up with lunch at a local barbecue joint called Salt Lick.  That was delicious!  Later that evening, Jerry’s son Ben and daughter-in-law Sara had us over for dinner, which was even better!

Here is Diana loving holding their son Cole.  What a cutie!

Saturday afternoon we headed over to Nancy and David’s home for dinner.  Their sons Thomas and Robert, along with their wives Marlana and Tashia were there, and also Jerry, Ben and Sara. There we had a birthday party for Sara and Cody Lynn, Nancy and David’s granddaughter.

Here is Cody Lynn showing off her new sticker book we got her.

We thought her brother Hayes might like a present also, so we got him a magnifying glass.  It was a hit!

Cole was enjoying a little lawn time.  😃

Sunday evening, we headed downtown to see one of Austin’s unique phenomenons, the evening bat flight.

When the Congress Avenue bridge was reconstructed in 1980, the gaps under the roadway unknowingly provided an ideal place for bats to roost.  Up to 1.5 million bats reside there by mid summer, and their nightly departure draws quite a crowd.  From our vantage point, we couldn’t see them very well…as it was quite dark when they began leaving. Still, it was a hoot to see the people hanging out to watch.

Monday, we began our journey west!  First stop was the tiny town of Junction to meet up with fellow RV-Dreamers Debbie and Steve!  We set up camp at Schreiner City Park, which allows three days of free camping.  We found this and the park mentioned in our last post on the AllStays app.

It’s pretty tough to beat that site!  Just beyond that shelter is the junction of the North and South Llano Rivers that give the town its name.

As a bonus to getting to see Debbie and Steve (seated behind me), we were able to meet Pam and Red, who are also fellow RV-Dreamers.  What a great evening!  If you are counting, that’s four couples from Howard and Linda’s rallies that we’ve met up with in Junction in the past two years.

The next day we headed to Balmorhea State Park in Toyavale.  This location is getting out there in the West Texas desert and featues a huge natural spring.  In the 1930’s, the CCC turned it into the attraction it is today.

From this panoramic shot, it looks like a normal public swimming pool.  What you aren’t seeing is…

…the natural bottom or the fish!  We did go for a dip, which felt really good.

We also enjoyed watching the roadrunners and the bunnies at our campsite.  

On Wednesday morning, we headed west toward El Paso.  For some reason, Diana and I had pictured it to be a sleepy West Texas outpost…not realizing that the city is home to well over 600,000 people!  With construction on Interstate 10, the trip through town was a bit more than we expected.  😊.  We enjoyed our trek across Texas and are looking forward to what comes next.  Be sure to stay tuned!

———-

Search and shop our exploRVistas Amazon link by clicking HERE
———-

explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!
 

Bringing out the Big Guns in Alabama

On our trip through lower Alabama last year, as we crossed Mobile Bay, I looked to my left and saw a huge gray vessel moored there.  I later learned that it was the USS Alabama, a WWII battleship.  With the unmistakable 16 inch guns pointing to the sky and the sleek curving lines of it’s bow, I knew that it was a place I wanted to visit when we had more time.

Growing up in Detroit, I have always been fascinated by mechanical things.  It must have something in the water around there. Heck, Henry Ford and I practically drank from the same well!  As a tot, my parents used to take me to Historic Fort Wayne in Detroit to explore the grounds.  One of my favorite things to do was to climb in and on the old tanks and anti-aircraft guns.  There were switches, dials and cranks that did all sorts of things, and I loved playing with them to see what they were used for.  I never gave much thought to what happened on the receiving end of the shells that were fired from those guns; I was simply amazed at the complexity of the machines themselves and the way the systems worked in unison. Tanks were cool, planes were cooler and battleships…well those were downright legendary!  I’ve never lost the desire to see them, as they represent some remarkable seat-of-the-pants engineering that was accomplished in an extremely short time frame.

As part of our trip west this year, we made plans to stay over and visit Mobile and the USS Alabama. 

Construction on this ship began on February 1, 1940 in Norfolk, Virginia.  Two years and fifteen days later, the Alabama was launched.  A mere six months later, the ship was commissioned, and her sea trials were completed by the end of the year.

Beginning her career as an escort in the North Atlantic, the Alabama was soon sent to the Pacific to participate in the shelling of several Japanese-occupied islands.  The ship’s nine 16″ guns were a force to be reckoned with, not to mention the wide array of other firepower that adorned her decks.

Just in case they decide to try them out, I’ll plug my ears.  🙂

There are three self-guided tours on the ship:  red, yellow and green.  We opted for the yellow tour first, as it concentrated on everything from the main deck upward.  The mid-ship tower rises 8 levels from the deck.  If you’ve ever been on a navy ship, you know that the stairs rise nearly straight up and the doorways are short hatchways.  Lots of climbing and bending!  The scent of oil was one of the first things that hit me, and it took me back to my paternal grandfather’s garage in River Rouge, Michigan.  Grandpa B loved working on anything mechanical, and I loved the smell of his shop.  While the Alabama was clean, it still had its 1940’s patina, which made it all the better.

We were amazed at the complexity of the tower, as there were not only guns, but a vast array of navigational systems.

Not only was there the main bridge, which was used during normal operations…

…but there was also a ‘battle bridge’, which was encased in thick armor.  This is where the captain and the lead officers would command the ship from during battle.

Back on the deck, we saw that the rear hatches to the huge gun turrets were open.

We were able to get up inside to see where the shells were loaded into the barrels!

This door separated the end of one of the guns from the area where the gun’s operators worked.  It was tight, stinky and grimy.  Yep…it was great!  One fact I found interesting was that the turrets aren’t attached to the ship.  They sit on rollers and if the ship were to capsize, they would fall out.

But as impressive as the yellow tour was, I knew there was more to see below deck.  

This is the area outside one of the turret housings.  Bunks were put in whatever available space there was.  I was surprised that the ceiling heights were actually a lot taller than they were in the tower.

These are the shells from the big guns.  They traveled a half mile a second and were extremely accurate to 24 miles.  That would mean they would take 48 seconds to reach their target.

Ok…I needed to find the engine room.  On the way down, I saw this:

Oh, my!  More switches!

And the engine room was full of cool stuff!

How did they get this all to work in unison?  Simply amazing.

Back on deck, we checked out the stern of the ship.  This is looking out towards the Gulf of Mexico.  When Hurricane Katrina rolled in here, they used the Alabama as a shelter.  That’s putting a lot of confidence in something that is floating!

Our admission also included a tour of the USS Drum, a WWII era submarine.  There are also several aircraft on display, both inside the aircraft pavilion and outside on the lawn.  There are $2 off coupons (from full price) available at the Alabama welcome center.  Seniors 55 and older get the same discount without the coupon, as do AAA members.  If you are ever in Mobile, make sure you take the time to tour the USS Alabama!

———-

Search and shop our exploRVistas Amazon link here!
———-

explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

Heading for the Florida border

After we pulled out of Melbourne Beach on Saturday, we stopped in Summerfield (near Ocala) to see Diana’s brother, our niece, and her children.  We also were able to meet our niece’s new boyfriend and his son.  Sunday was spent at Carney Island Park on Lake Weir, which was absolutely beautiful!  We were so busy talking and watching the kids, we failed to take photos.  And get ready for this shocker; I went swimming in an inland body of water in Florida.  Never thought I’d ever do that.  😉  Back on the beach, I mentioned to our niece Danielle that I try to incorporate the history of a place we visit when I write about it.  We chuckled that even Lake Weir probably had something interesting that had happened there.  Well, that turned out to be an understatement!  I did a little research after we left.  Turns out that in the 1920’s and 30’s…during the Al Capone days in the Midwest…there was a family known as the Barker Gang.  They hailed from Missouri, had moved up to St. Paul, Minnesota and proceeded to carry out numerous major crimes.  Heading up the family was a tough gal named Ma Barker.  J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, described her back then as “the most vicious, dangerous and resourceful criminal brain of the last decade”.  When the law started closing in on them, they found their way to Florida and a house on Lake Weir.  In correspondence to one of her sons, Ma mentioned a legendary alligator nicknamed Gator Joe that lived in the lake.  The FBI found the letter on the son when they arrested him, and soon found Ma’s hideout.  They surrounded the house and ordered them to surrender.  Turns out that only Ma and another son were there.  A four hour long shootout ensued, which resulted in Ma and her boy’s demise.  Supposedly the locals showed up to watch the melee, even going as far as having picnics while it happened.  And this all took place just up the shore from where Danielle and I wondered about the lake’s history.  And..wait a minute.  Gator Joe?  I was swimming in that water!

Monday morning saw us heading for Tallahassee.  Our destination for the day was the Tallahassee Automobile and Collectables Museum.

This facility, located at the junction of I-10 and US-90, is a member of Harvest Hosts.  We got there early enough to visit the museum before their 5 PM closing.  There were severe weather warnings for the evening, so we set up before we went inside.

With well over 100 cars, this place was an automotive collector’s dream.

That wasn’t all they had.  Boat motors, dolls, Steinway pianos, Case knives, brass-blade fans…you name it.

This 1934 Ford school bus was in amazing shape.

They even had a Divco milk truck, which I remember from Twin Pines Dairy in Detroit when I was young.  It turns out there were only 221 ever built.

And remember the Batmobile from the 1960’s Batman TV series?  They had that too, along with some of the cars from the newer movies.

With that all being said, there were a number of things that bothered me about this museum.  I personally thought that even though it had a lot of great items, there was a certain cheesiness to it.  Sometimes less is more, if you catch my drift.  They also wear their politics on their sleeve, which is evident as soon as you start the tour.  No matter what side of the aisle you are on, I’ve never felt it to be a good business practice.  There were racially demeaning mannequins, which we found odd. But the biggest turnoff was the KKK display case near the office.  It really had no place here.  This is obviously one man’s collectibles and not a historical museum, so I question the motive of the display.  We will leave it up to you to decide if this is a place that you want to drop $17 ($30 for two).  

So on to more positive things!  The storm ended up being a long, summertime thundershower, complete with plenty of rain and chain lightning. We pulled up our jacks Tuesday morning and headed west from Tallahassee across Florida’s panhandle. Driving along Interstate 10, we were reminded just how big Florida really is.  

It took us four hours to reach the western border!  When we finally got there, we were greeted with this beautiful sign, which we thought was very nice.  We enjoyed our stay in the Sunshine State and we look forward to our return.  Next up, a two night stay in Mobile, Alabama.  Stay tuned to see what vistas we explore there!

——————–

Search and shop our Amazon link HERE
——————-

explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

Nashville, Nostalgia, and Nudie’s!

Got your attention, did I???

When we prepared to head south out of Campbellsville on Friday, we pointed Henry, Clara and Edsel towards Nashville, Tennessee.  We really didn’t have any plans, other than hang out with Jodee, Bill and their fluffy dog, Tessa. Jodee writes a blog about their travels called On the Road Abode; the link will take you to her post about this day…a must read!  We have been following them since 2014 and love reading about the cool places they find. 😃. Just before we left Kentucky, Jodee asked if we would be interested in going to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.  Being country fans (along with most other types of music), we said we were in!

We arrived at Two Rivers RV Park in the afternoon and got settled in.  That night, we all went to John A’s, a restaurant just up the road.  The food and the band were good, and our waiter Jared was a hoot!  Diana’s and my alma mater…the Western Michigan Broncos…were on the TV, playing in the MAC Championship.  We ended up winning, finishing our season 13-0 and are going to the Cotton Bowl to play Wisconsin on January 2. Woohoo!!!  This has been an especially memorable season for us, as our friends Karen and Bill’s son Billy is on the team.

On Saturday, Jodee’s husband Bill wasn’t feeling well, so it was just three of us heading downtown.  Our first stop was the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

Like Western’s coach, we wore every bit of WMU cotton we could find, hoping to send good vibes to the selection committee…as they were deciding what bowl our team would be playing in.  It worked…we ended up in the Cotton Bowl! 😀

Inside the building, we saw this plaque on the Ford Theater.  That’s Henry Ford, playing his fiddle.  He loved to take Model T road trips with friends and camp out,  playing his fiddle around a campfire.  Seeing as I grew up about three miles from where he did, I guess we have a lot in common.  Better take up fiddle playing!

Inside the museum, there were displays that paid tribute to the many stars of country music.  Some displays went beyond the stars, depicting the genre in American culture.

Here is a Pontiac Bonneville owned by Webb Pierce.  It was customized by Nudie Cohn.  More on him later in the post.  Yes, that’s a saddle for a console and those are real silver dollars adorning it.

This particular display was about Johnny Cash.  I found it interesting that the boots he performed in for two years were too narrow for his feet.  Bill and Jodee’s friend from high school, Bill Miller, recently opened another museum entirely devoted to Johnny Cash just a block away from the Hall of Fame.  Jodee wrote about her and Bill’s visit the day before here.

This is Dolly Parton’s original manuscript of the lyrics for the song Jolene.  I always enjoy seeing these, as there are often words crossed out that the artist decided to change. This particular one impressed me, as she virtually made no corrections.  Dolly had a very clear vision of what she wanted this song to say.

And who can forget the black Trans Am from the Smokey and the Bandit movies.  Burt Reynolds driving and Sally Fields in the passenger seat. We were all singing ‘Eastbound and down, loaded up and truckin’…’

There was a huge display on when Bob Dylan came to Nashville in 1969 and recorded his album Nashville Skyline.   This was the album that gave us Lay Lady Lay, and included vocals by Johnny Cash and guitar work by Charlie Daniels.  It was fascinating that during such a turbulent time in history, Bob Dylan was writing country songs.  The album is considered to be one of his best.  I was so focused on this part of the museum, I forgot to take photos!

The actual Hall of Fame rotunda had plaques for each star that were inducted into the hall, very similar to the plaques in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  The band around the top of the room had the words Will the Circle be Unbroken  from the often recorded Christian hymn of the same name.

Once we finished up at the museum, we headed over to Nudie’s Honky Tonk.  This bar/restaurant/music venue/museum was just opened by Jodee and Bill’s friend Bill Miller…the same person who opened the Johnny Cash Museum.

So you might be wondering how Mr. Cohn got his name?  Well, he was born Nuta Kotlyarenko in Ukraine, and when he passed through Eliis Island when immigrating to the United States, the immigration official changed it to Nudie Cohn.  Nudie was a tailor, first working in New York and later in Hollywood, California.  He is the one credited with putting country music legends in rhinestones.

Here is Nudie with his custom Eldorado Cadillac; one of many cars he had customized with tooled leather, chrome pistols and rifles, silver dollars and longhorns above the grille.

Nudie’s Honky Tonk is located on Broadway, right in the heart of downtown Nashville in the building that used to house the Lawrence Brothers record store.  The three story tall structure has three performance stages.

The 100 foot bar is the longest in Nashville.  Not sure if you can make it out in the photo, but…

…it is covered with 9,465 silver dollars!  I didn’t check the rest of the bar, but this section was all 1881 Morgan silver dollars.  There is a lot of coin in those coins!  I’m sure Nudie would have been proud.  😃

All along the walls were display cases with Nudie suits that belonged to stars such as Hank Williams, Elvis, Porter Wagoner,  Merle Travis and Hank Snow, to name a few.

Above the entrance were the two bucking broncos that were on the Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors shop in North Hollywood from the 1960’s through the 1980’s.

And there, hanging above the main stage, is Nudie’s custom Eldorado.  Just fabulous!

The food and drink were outstanding, as was the music.  This is definitely a must-stop if you come to Nashville!

So here’s a toast to Nudie, some great Nostalgia, and to Nashville!

————————–

Search and shop Amazon here!
————————–

explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

Edison/Ford Winter Estates

Thomas Edison and Henry Ford are two of the most influential people of the last couple of centuries.  They became close friends later in life, often deferring to each other for ideas in their respective areas of expertise.  Nowhere is their friendship more evident than at the Edison/Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Florida.  We visited these grounds using the American Horticultural Society’s reciprocity program, which is included with our Meijer Gardens membership back in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Admission is normally $25 each, so gaining access to the estate for free was a nice bonus.  We opted for the guided tour, which was an additional $5 each.

  

Mr. Edison purchased this land along the Caloosahatchee River in 1885.  He and his wife Mina had this home, which they named Seminole Lodge, built the following year. He was 39 years old at the time.  To put things in perspective, Henry Ford was 23 years old in 1886 and 10 years away from building his first automobile.  There wasn’t much happening around Fort Myers at that point in history. The town of 349 people was simultaneously being incorporated, the road in front of the estate was a cattle path and the railroad was 12 years away from finding its way to the area. 

  

In 1916, Henry and Clara Ford purchased this Craftsman style home next door to the Edison estate.  It had been built 5 years earlier by Robert Smith.  Over time, Mina and Clara transformed the grounds of their estates into a combined horticultural oasis. The variety of species is remarkable, and everything is labeled…to our delight!  🙂

After World War I, Thomas Edison began to explore alternatives to the imported raw materials for rubber.  He was concerned about the United States’ dependency on foreign suppliers.  He built a laboratory on the grounds across the street from his estate, and he partnered with Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone to come up with a solution.

  

This is a single banyan tree that Mr. Edison planted in the late 1920’s. It has since grown into this giant, covering well over an acre. Edison was hoping that the tree would be a source of rubber, a hope that didn’t pan out. He also tried a multitude of other source including goldenrod.  Eventually, synthetic, petroleum-based rubber became the choice of domestic manufacturers.

  

The interior of the lab is very well organized.  Flasks, test tubes and beakers on one side, and a machine shop on the other.  It was interesting to think back to my visits to Edison’s Menlo Park lab at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan and see the similarities.

Next door to the lab is a small museum.  A couple of interesting pieces caught my eye.

 

This was a phonograph that Edison had one of his workers build a wooden frame around.  The inventor was totally deaf in one ear and 90% deaf in the other. To ‘hear’ the record, he had to bite the frame to feel the sound through his jaw.
  

Another was this Barcalo offset box end wrench.  I own one of these in a 3/4″ – 13/16″ combination.  It was passed down to me from my paternal grandfather, and it is probably one of the most useful wrenches in my collection.  In essence, the card in the display case needs updating, as some Ford owners still do use this wrench on their Fords!

Back over at the Edison estate, we were able to look inside through the open doors and windows at some of the rooms.

  

Mr. Edison sat at the head of this table, using this chime to call everyone to dinner.  The seat has a commanding view of the Caloosahatchee.

  
A pergola seperates the main house from the sleeping quarters.  Edison seperated the two for fire reasons, as kitchens were a source of most home fires.  He also installed a fire suppression system.

  
Here is Thomas and Mina’s bedroom.

  
The main house has this beautiful wrap-around porch.

  
Next to the house is his study.  Mina had a small garden off this building, so she could be near Thomas while he worked.

  
Between the river and his study, he had this pool built.  The high dive was supposedly built after Fort Myers took ownership of the property and is not historically correct.

Over at the Ford estate, the home had more of a ‘cottage’ feel to it.

  
This fireplace commands the one end of the living room.

  
The home featured a cypress ceiling, which lent a certain coziness to it.

  
I’m sure Hank used this a few times!   🙂

  
Out back, there is a display with three Ford vehicles:  a Model T, a Model A, and a 1917 Model TT truck.

  
Near the river, this large Brown Wolly Fig shades the lawn.  The root system on it was very unique.

  
Here I am with a statue of Henry Ford.  I grew up 3 miles from Ford headquarters and the Rouge plant, so my childhood was heavily influenced by what this man had accomplished in the first half of the 20th century.  By mass-producing affordable cars and paying high wages, he essentially created the middle class.  He was far from perfect. We watched an hour long biography of him in the museum that was truly fascinating. 

We spent 7 hours at the Edison-Ford Winter Estates.  Most people wouldn’t take that long, but we were soaking it all in. After the hour long historian led tour, we wandered the grounds and explored buildings that weren’t included in the tour. We also enjoyed lunch with a view of the river at Pinchers, which we were able to walk to from the property. The estates are definitely worth the visit, if you happen to be in Fort Myers.  We thoroughly enjoyed it!
Henry Ford: A Biography is available here for your Kindle through exploRVistas and Amazon for $2.99…or free to Kindle Unlmited members.