Category Archives: Museums

The Finest Hours

“You have to go out; you don’t have to come back” 

Unofficial Coast Guard motto

 

September 8, 2018

A few months back, you may recall that we stopped into the Old Harbor Lifesaving Station while we were visiting the Cape Cod National Seashore.  One of the reasons for that visit was to see how a tour of a maritime museum is conducted.  Our tour guide, a National Park Service volunteer named David, inspired us with his ability to portray what life in the U.S. Life Saving Service was like.  While we were there, he gave us a tip to go see a famous Coast Guard boat that was docked in Rock Harbor, some 30 miles to the south.  It was the subject of a movie called The Finest Hours.

This turned out to be a case where history stared us right in the face and we didn’t catch it.

The next day, we set off to explore Cape Cod’s elbow, first visiting Chatham, and then Rock Harbor.  At Chatham, we parked in front of the Coast Guard station and lighthouse. This complex overlooks the Chatham Bars, a series of sandbars that extend out into the ocean.

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We were a bit more focused on this shack constructed along the shore, but we did note how far out the waves were breaking on the ever-changing sand bars.  Shortly after taking this photo, a driving rain came in off of the ocean, so we failed to photograph the station and lighthouse.  Instead, we headed up to Rock Harbor to see the boat that David had mentioned.  Once at the dock, we were greeted by this sign:

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Still not familiar with the story or the film The Finest Hours, we descended to the lower dock to examine the boat.

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Obviously well restored and impressive to look at, the CG-36500 was tied up with little explanation to it’s storied past, short of the fact that it was a gold medal boat that had saved 32 men.  Not knowing much about Coast Guard history, we focused on how impeccable this boat was and not much else.

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The fittings on the craft were impressive.  Still, we were somewhat more interested in the U.S. Life Saving Service on this trip than the Coast Guard, so this small beauty’s story didn’t fully grab our attention.  We left the dock with the intention to see the movie and to research the boat’s story.  One thing led to another, and that didn’t happen.

Fast forward to our boat museum in the former Glen Haven Canning Company building at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.   When we started our stint as volunteers here at the beginning of August, it was hard not to notice the largest boat in the museum as being similar to the CG-36500 we saw in Massachusetts back in May.

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Turns out it was not only similar, but built from the same blueprint.  Our boat, the CG-36527, had been stationed at Duluth, Minnesota.

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Both crafts, along with the 128 sister TRS 36-foot motor lifeboats, were built by hand at the Curtis Bay Yard in Maryland.

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Not being in the water, it appeared much larger than it’s fleetmate out on Cape Cod.  The boat is self-bailing, self-righting, 10 tons and its motor will run upside down.  Solid as a stone and virtually unsinkable.  It is rated to carry a crew of four and up to twelve survivors.

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The ‘pudding’ bumper on the front is a work of art.  Visitors comment that it resembles a mustache.

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Standing on an easel by the front of the craft, this poster is displayed.

There’s that movie we failed to see…

So we watched the movie, then read the book of the same title.  The story goes like this:  A ferocious winter storm off the coast of Cape Cod in February of 1952 caught two World War II era tankers in its grip.  Both ships split in two between their bows and sterns.  The Fort Mercer was able to get a distress call off, and the Coast Guard sent most of their boats to assist in rescuing that ship’s crew.  The Pendleton wasn’t able to get an SOS off before it broke up, and it wasn’t until they were noticed on radar that the Chatham stationmaster Daniel Cluff went into action.  He ordered Boatswain’s Mate Bernie Webber to gather three other men and head out in the CG-36500 to see if there were any survivors.  Doing so meant they had to cross the dangerous Chatham Bars that we mentioned earlier.  Those sandbars have been known to rip boats to pieces in mild seas, and the waves that afternoon were upwards of 60 feet high!  Most of the locals considered it impossible.

“You have to go out; you don’t have to come back.”

Crossing the bar meant timing the waves, gunning the throttle on the upside and switching to full reverse throttle down the backside…so as to keep from driving the bow into the sand.  The ship’s compass was ripped loose and lost overboard almost immediately and the windshield was shattered.  Miraculously, they made it past the bars, but they were now running purely on Webber’s knowledge of the currents and the winds.  They somehow found the stern of the Pendleton, which was still afloat.  On deck were 33 men, anxious to get off.  (It was discovered later that the bow section had partially sank, killing the captain and crew that were in it.)

Remember, the CG-36500 is rated to carry a crew of four and up to twelve survivors.

Suddenly, a Jacob’s ladder was thrown over Pendleton’s stern and the men started down.  Webber brought the little lifeboat in close to get each man, backing away in between to keep from smashing into the tanker’s side.  Men were packed into the survivor’s cabin and onto every available space on deck.  The only man that didn’t make it was Tiny Myers, the ship’s 300 pound cook.  He fell into the sea and a wave threw the lifeboat into him, killing him.  Once everyone was on board, Webber pointed the CG-36500 back towards shore, hoping to beach it somewhere.  The tide had risen and they were able to cross the bars rather quickly.  As luck would have it, they ended up at the mouth of Chatham Harbor and were able to come directly into the dock with their soaked and freezing survivors.

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All four crew members were awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal for their efforts.  They tested CG-36500’s limits, which in turn performed beyond its intended purpose for them.  The mission is considered to be the Coast Guard’s greatest small boat rescue ever.  The craft continued to serve until it was decommissioned in 1968.  It was donated to the Cape Cod National Seashore with the intention that it would be displayed in a museum.  Funds never materialized, and the boat was left to rot in a storage yard, totally exposed to the elements.  The Orleans Historical Society acquired it in 1981 and restored it to the operational beauty it is today.

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In 2002, the crew was reassembled for the 50th anniversary of the rescue, and they were able to take the CG-36500 out for a tour of the harbor with Webber at the helm..  That would have been a sight to see. Clockwise from the front:  Andy Fitzgerald, Richard Livesey, Charles Bridges (Pendleton crewmember who later joined the Coast Guard), Ervin Maske and Bernie Webber.

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If you find yourself on Cape Cod, be sure to stop in Rock Harbor and view this wonderful piece of history.  Maybe rent the movie or read the book. Or if you find one of the 15 or so remaining 36 footers that grace our nation’s maritime museums, take a moment to imagine that night in 1952 when the Coast Guard witnessed their finest hours.

Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

Reliving the American Revolution at Williamsburg

Thinking back to high school and American History 101, most of us learned about the American Revolution and the reasons it came about.  Our teachers and textbooks dealt with much of what led up to our forefathers’ decision to break free from Britain…but as a teenager, it was tough for me to envision what they went through and were feeling at that moment in time.

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© aoc.gov

Looking at the image of Thomas Jefferson and his contemporaries gathered in Independence Hall, I really wasn’t able to fully grasp the moment.  Although I was most likely bored by it then, I am intrigued by that illustration now. What did their voices sound like?  Which ones were overly passionate and who among them were the voices of reason?  What was the chatter in the corners of the room?  Most certainly there were those that were ready to fight for independence, while others quietly wished they were somewhere else.  At just shy of 60 years old I have lived one fourth of the United States’ lifespan, yet I feel light years removed from this group of guys wearing those funny clothes and wigs.

Diana and I have been fortunate to be able to visit many of the places where our nation was built.  Standing in the actual room in the painting above we were enveloped within the surroundings, but we still needed to concentrate to feel the founders’ presence over the sounds of modern Philadelphia outside of the rooms’ windows.  Piece by piece over time, we’ve heard stories of these men.  Familiar ones like Benjamin Franklin, who was asked by a woman as he left the proceedings whether they decided upon a monarchy or republic.  His reply was, “A republic, if you can keep it.” And lesser known men like Caesar Rodney of Delaware who, while sick with cancer, rode 70 miles on horseback through a thunderstorm to cast his vote for independence.  He walked into the room with his spurs on, damp and dirty.  That ride is depicted on the back of the Delaware state quarter.   Sorry folks… that ain’t Paul Revere on that horse.

So on our trip up the East Coast this year, Williamsburg, Virginia, was high on our list of places to visit.  We had been here previously, back in 1993. The town was the capital of Colonial Virginia up to and through the American Revolution.  When the seat of power was moved inland to Richmond at the end of the war, the once bustling community became a sleepy borough.  By the 1920’s this place that was also home to the College of William and Mary was getting a bit run down.  A local minister, W.A.R. Goodwin, was dismayed at what Williamsburg had become. He was concerned that a big part of American history was being lost to decay and/or modernization. He quietly convinced John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to support a project to restore the community to it’s 18th century heyday.  Rockefeller secretly bought up most of the historic part of town in 1926 and worked to restore it over many, many years. He was still working on it when he died in 1960. The vision included the use of costumed reenactors. Not only could we see many of the buildings from that time…either original or recreated…but we could also see people assume the roles of some of the key players from that era.

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Walking the streets of Colonial Williamsburg…refereed to by the locals as CW, there are plenty of reminders that you are in the 21st century.  Paved streets, electric lights, and a solid cell signal are but a few of the conveniences of today.  But watch where you step, so you don’t end up with horse poop in your Nike treads.  🙂

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We lucked out and were there while the gardens were in full bloom.  Sights like this were common throughout the community.

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Craftsmen were working in every shop at CW.  This woodworker was demonstrating his foot-powered lathe.  One gentleman we spoke with in the blacksmith shop had worked there over 20 years.  Those career lengths seemed to be more the rule than the exception, so you know the foundation must be treating them right.  They follow the steps from apprentice to master craftsmen and women. Some even enjoy the benefit of living onsite, with their children being required to dress as and play the role of 18th century youngsters when they are outside of their homes.

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This building is the Governor’s Palace.  Remember, this was a British colony at the time, so the ruler had to exhibit a level of dominance over the commoners. And if the exterior dimensions of the building didn’t achieve that…

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…perhaps the interior decor would get the point across.

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One thing to note about touring CW is that it is totally free to stroll the streets.  To gain access to the buildings and to be a part of the reenactments, you have to buy a ticket; something we recommend.  When we arrived on April 28 we purchased a three-day pass at $50 and some change each, which was a bargain in our minds.  The only thing we paid extra for above that was food.  Military and veterans enjoy special benefits and discounts, including their own lounge, thanks to the generosity of the Home Depot Foundation.

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Our ticket even included a tour of the Rockefeller home.

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While CW was being restored, John and his wife Anna lived here.  Everything is left as it would have been when they were in town.  Even the radios were playing music from the 40’s.  🙂

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This building is the Capitol.  It is a second recreation, as the original and its replacement both burned.  We toured the building, and later took part in an audience participation production that included several of the rooms.  Very impressive, to say the least.  We followed that up with a tour of the Raleigh Tavern, where the Virginia delegation secretly gathered to decide whether or not they were going to part ways with England.  On that private tour, we met with an enslaved minister reenactor. He stood across the table from where we were sitting and explained his role in the community.  He was very animated and actually had us sinking into our chairs as his rich baritone voice rose.  Think James Earl Jones speaking directly to you and you kind of get the picture. When he looked at us and asked if he could have an ‘Amen!”, we gladly obliged!

We also attended two talks with CW’s ‘nation builders’.

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Martha Washington told a bit about herself and her life while George was off to war.  She would go visit him and his men, personally tending to their wounds.  She also insisted on being given the smallpox vaccine so she could do so.   The end of the talk was opened up to questions, which was very interesting to hear her responses to a 21st century audience while still in character.

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We attended a talk with young Thomas Jefferson later that day.  CW has both an old and a young TJ.  This version is played by Kurt Benjamin Smith, a professional actor who jumped at the chance to take on the role. To label him as merely ‘inspiring’ is a gross understatement.  If you ever go, make it a point to see him. We’ve spoken with a few people since, and ‘young Thomas Jefferson’ ended up being mentioned as a high point of their visit.  During his presentation, he continually asked his audience questions at what was needed to make our democracy work.  When he asked how we would achieve an informed electorate, I softly mouthed my response to myself and he saw me do it.  Over 10  or so rows between us, he motioned upwards to me with his hand and said “be heard!”  Louder, I gave my response of “free public education”, to which he agreed.  He also talked about slavery, which can be a touchy subject…especially for Thomas Jefferson.  In fact, we found that CW as a whole did not shy away from discussing the complicated issues of  owning slaves. We were often reminded that even though Jefferson aspired to the ideal of “all men are created equal”, the reality was that only white, property owning, Protestant men were making the decisions. Luckily, the U.S. Constitution was designed to be amendable.

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We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Colonial Williamsburg.  The people who take on these roles of our ancestors accurately portray when the men of Virginia decided to become independent from British rule.  Our forefathers could have been hung for treason, yet they banded together and pushed forward with the American Revolution.  Americans have a lot to be thankful for as a result of their efforts.

And I now have a better appreciation of what those guys in the painting were feeling.

 

A Harbor Well Protected

Charleston Harbor is home to one of the most significant historic sites in the nation; Fort Sumter.  This massive brick structure at the entrance to the harbor saw the first shell of the Civil War explode above its walls. With that said, there are other historic military compounds around the perimeter of the harbor…each having significance in their own unique way.  Come on along as we tour these fascinating locations and find out the importance each one holds.  We even found a few surprises along our path!

Fort Sumter

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© moultrienews.com

 

Fort Sumter was not the first defense built in Charleston Harbor, but it was by far the most imposing.  Built in 1829, it was intended to defend against invaders coming in from the ocean. Able to fire cannons at three levels, it appeared to be invincible.  The Confederate states needed control of this fort, in order to bring supplies into Charleston and beyond. On April 12, 1861, Confederate Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard ordered his soldiers to fire upon the garrison that was held by Union Major Robert Anderson and 85 men under his command.  It was a difficult decision for Beauregard, as Anderson had been his artillery instructor at West Point.  The Union soldiers were not effective in hitting any Confederate targets, as the rebel forces were spread out around the large waterway.  The flip side of the coin was that Beauregard’s men had one thing to focus on, and they inflicted heavy damage.  When the Union soldiers called a truce on April 14, Fort Sumter had been heavily damaged.  Amazingly, no one had been killed in the battle on either side.

Once the Confederates held the structure, it was the Union’s turn to try to get it back.  Several attempts were made, but the South had a firm hold on it and the harbor.  Remember the building was tall, massive, and made of brick.  By 1865, the North had pounded it with seven million pounds of artillery shells. Most of that brick fell and created a solid mound of material that was stronger than the original fort. Only Sherman’s troops approaching on their March to the Sea, were enough to cause the Confederate troops to abandon the fort.

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Today’s structure bears little resemblance to the original.  The fallen brick has been cleared away and the lower portion of the walls are once again in view.  The black concrete battery in the center of the fort was completed in 1899, in preparation for the impending Spanish-American War.

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That battery was manned in both World Wars I & II, after which point the fort was decommissioned.

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Little remains of the lower level casemates.

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The older brick against the relatively newer concrete.

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This massive leaning wall was knocked off kilter when the powder magazine behind it accidentally exploded, killing 11 Confederate soldiers.  The National Park Service has installed these metal supports to prevent it from moving further.

Note that access to the island is by ferry boat, either from Liberty Square in Charleston or from Patriot’s Point in Mt. Pleasant.

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We chose the latter, which gave us this awesome bow view of the U.S.S. Yorktown aircraft carrier as we passed by!

Castle Pinkney

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Castle Pinkney sits in the center of the harbor, between Fort Sumter and Charleston.  Built in 1810, it was used for six weeks as a prisoner of war camp during the Civil War.  It also housed artillery, although it is believed that a hostile shot has never been fired from there.  In 1924 it was designated as a national monument, only to see that status taken away in 1951.  It was deemed excess property and sold to the South Carolina in 1958.  Attempts to turn it into a tourist attraction failed, so the state tried to give it back to the federal government.  They declined the offer. The Sons of Confederate Veterans took over care of the island, but were unable to raise the cash to buy it.  Finally, in 2011, the State of South Carolina sold Castle Pinckney to the Sons of Confederate Veterans for the sum of $10…in Confederate currency.  The Stars and Bars of the Confederacy fly over it today.

Fort Johnson

Fort Johnson was built in 1708.  Only a small powder magazine remains at the site that actually fired the first shot of the Civil War.  The rest of the site is occupied by South Carolina Fish and Wildlife and the College of Charleston.  It is unfortunate that this prominent place in American history wasn’t preserved.

Fort Moultrie

Last, but by no means least, is Fort Moultrie.  This location has the longest history of all the Charleston garrisons, having been manned for 171 years.

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Located on Sullivan’s Island, this was the second defensive structure built to protect Charleston.  Due to the natural curve in the river channel, ships had to pass here before they were ever within sight of town.  Soldiers would fire a cannon to notify the townsfolk of an approaching ship.  In 1776, a palmetto log fort was constructed by Colonel William Moultrie and his men to defend against a British invasion.  They fought a one day battle that heavily damaged the enemy ships, yet little damage was done to the fort.  Turns out that palmetto logs, a member of the cabbage family, are fibrous.  The British cannonballs simply bounced off.  To add insult to injury, the American soldiers would retrieve the balls and fire them back.

During the battle, the soldiers wore hats with a crescent. The shape had the word ‘Liberty’ inscribed in it.  This was also on South Carolina’s flag.  A palmetto tree was added to the flag at a later date to signify the palmetto logs of Fort Moultrie.

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That symbol is everywhere throughout the state.  Coffee mugs, keychains, license plates…you name it.  At first glance, we thought the flag represented a waning moon rising or setting over a palm tree.  The crescent represents a gorget, the throat plate that protected officers’ throats at that time.  In designing the flag, Colonel Moultrie chose the the crescent and blue color to match the uniforms they wore.  So much for that romantic image of an evening walk on a South Carolina beach with your sweetheart. 🙂

Between the Revolutionary and Civil wars, the fort continued to be manned.  It is interesting to note that a young private by the assumed name of Edgar A. Perry was stationed there from 1827 through 1828.  We know him as Edgar Allan Poe.  Fittingly, the establishment we ate at on the day of our tour of the fort was called Poe’s Tavern.

Another resident of the fort at that time was the famous Seminole leader, Osceola.  He was held there by the U.S. Army after being taken prisoner under a flag of truce in Florida.  In failing health, Osceola died there in 1838.

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His grave lies just outside the fort gate.  The John Anderson classic Seminole Wind came to mind as we stood there.  While it is sad that he isn’t buried in Florida, it is nice that he is given an honorable grave.  Also on the property is Colonel Moultrie’s grave, which is along the shore of the cove behind the visitor center.

At the beginning of the Civil War, Major Robert Anderson was originally garrisoned at Fort Moultrie.  By 1861, the walls had gone from palmetto to being made of brick.  However, the Union commander felt it was indefensible, as the area around it had been developed with homes that looked down into it. The Confederate army took over the post after Anderson and his men left for Fort Sumter.  Fort Moultrie had one of the best positions to shell Fort Sumter, with only a mile separating them.

Like Fort Sumter, Fort Moultrie had batteries built in the late 1800’s.

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These were used through World War II.  A gas and bombproof building was added following World War I.

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Referred to as HECP/HDCP, it was a joint command post run by the Army and Navy.  The building is maintained as a museum as it would have looked in the 1940’s.  It is interesting to note that German U-boats slipped past this post and mined Charleston’s harbor at different times in the war.

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We had a great time exploring the forts around Charleston this week.  We even earned two Junior Ranger badges in the process!  Stay tuned for one last adventure in Charleston, along with our move up the coast.  We hope you will tag along!

 

 

 

 

Tybee Island Light and the Mighty Eighth

Before we take the trip up the coast as we promised in our last post, we wanted to detail two other notable sites we toured in Savannah:  Tybee Island Light Station and The National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force.  The former has guided mariners in some shape or form along the Georgia shore for almost 300 years.  The latter honors the men and women who served and are serving in the Eighth Air Force, which was founded in Savannah in 1942.

Tybee Island Light Station

We will begin with the Tybee Island Light Station.  First ordered by General James Oglethorpe back in 1732, the beacon started its career as a simple day-mark; in other words, there wasn’t a light associated with it. The octagonal brick structure stood ninety feet tall.  Unfortunately, it was built too close to the shore and storms destroyed it in 1741.  The next year, a slightly taller day-mark was built, this time with a flagpole on top.  Even though this one was further away from the shore, the sea eventually reached the tower.  A third tower was completed in 1773.  That tower was 60 feet of brick, topped with 40 feet of wood.  In 1791, a light was added to the day-mark.

When the Confederate troops abandoned Tybee Island in 1861, they burned the wooden portion of the beacon to prevent Union soldiers from using it.  After the war, the tower was increased in size to it’s current height, using the original 60 foot brick tower as it’s base.

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That is what we see today.  Currently standing at 145 feet, it is the tallest lighthouse in Georgia.  There are 178 steps that take visitors to the top to view the fixed first order Fresnel lens.

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Having climbed it, we have serious respect for the men who kept the light burning.  As we were waiting to enter, an older Southern gentleman exited, looked at the ticket-taker and said ” If I win the lottery, I am gonna take a whole bunch of that money and build y’all an elevator to the top of that thing!”  We all got a good laugh out of that.  🙂

The rest of the station’s buildings are intact and restored with period furnishings.

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We toured the head keeper’s house, which was built in 1881.

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One thing we found unique was the tongue-in-groove southern pine walls and ceilings. They really gave the home a warm, cozy feel.

National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force

The other highlight of this trip to Savannah was the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force.

This division of the military currently consists of over 16,000 personnel whose primary mission is to keep America safe by operating and maintaining our long-range bombers.  They were established in 1942 with the same goal in mind.  Back then, they flew B-17 and B-24 bombers out of approximately 100 bases in England on daylight runs over Nazi Germany.  They also provided fighter escort for those big planes.

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The museum has a gorgeous B-17 Flying Fortress as its centerpiece.  On any given day, hundreds of these planes would be in the air.  One day in early 1944, Jimmy Doolittle led over 1,000 B-17’s across Europe to bomb Berlin.  It is difficult to imagine the sheer terror that must have existed on the ground that day.  At that time this division of the Army Air Corps had 200,000 people in their ranks, and had the capability of putting 3,000 bombers and fighters in the air on any given day…hence, the ‘Mighty’ as a prefix.

As we toured this building, the story of the Mighty Eighth was detailed through photos, videos, and displays.  As far as military museums go, this was what I would consider one of the better ones…as it personalized the war.  Stories from both sides were told along the way, making for a compelling afternoon.

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One such story was of the plane “Snap, Crackle, and Pop”.  The pilot of this plane, depicted in a mural at the museum, was from Battle Creek, Michigan, home of Kellogg’s Cereal.  He received permission, before flying the plane to England, to stop home and have one of the company artists paint the Rice Krispies trio on the front of the plane. Sometime later in the war, the B-17 was shot down over France, and only two parachutes were seen exiting the aircraft.

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Actually the ball turret gunner, a man by the name of Alan Magee, also got out of the plane…but without his parachute.  You see, this position in the B-17 is so small, the gunner would have to leave his parachute above him in the fuselage.  By the time he got to it, the bomber was disintegrating and he was thrown clear.  He fell 20,000 feet and crashed through the glass roof of the railroad station in St. Nazaire, France.  A German doctor saved his life by doing surgery on his many injuries.  The surgeon told him, “I am a doctor first, and a German second.”  Magee lived to be 84 years old.

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There was also a reminder of a story my father told me when he learned to fly in one of these Stearman trainers during the war.  His instructor told him to do a ‘carrier landing’, which was to put the tail wheel on the ground before the front wheels.  The maneuver simulated what a pilot would do on an aircraft carrier when they put their tail hook low enough to grab the cable on the deck.

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The tail wheel hit the runway hard and smashed the entire assembly up into the plane.  When Dad saw the damage, he feared he had totally screwed up. The instructor looked at him and said “Perfect!”  🙂

The exhibits also included stories of the Tuskegee Airmen, and the WASP’s…the non-combat women pilots who delivered planes to bases during the war.

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One of those women was Suzanne Parish.  She and her husband started the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Back when I was in college, I would see her buzzing over campus in her pink P-40 Warhawk.  Little did I know at the time of her invaluable service during the war.  If you want to read more about the Air Zoo and see a photo of her beloved pink aircraft, follow this link.

That wraps up our tour of Savannah, Georgia for this year.  We are sure to be back, as we left so much to discover on a future trip.  Next up: Charleston, South Carolina.  We hope you tag along to see what we find there!

Scouting Savannah

 

Written by Diana
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We left Brunswick, Georgia, Sunday morning and traveled 216 miles to see Rick from On the Road with Maxine and Me. He is a fellow RV-Dreamer that we met while volunteering at Heceta Head Lighthouse in Oregon last summer. We have been lucky to see him twice since then, but we couldn’t pass up a chance for another visit since we were relatively close.
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Rick Diana Jim
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Rick spent this past winter volunteering for Georgia State Parks at Hamburg State Outdoor Recreation Area. We had a lovely site right on the water, and it was easy to see why he enjoyed his time at this beautiful campground.
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 This photo was taken from the lake. The guys did a lot of pedaling on the paddle boat to get this photo for me!
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Dogwood Rick
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The Dogwoods were in bloom, and the spring green leaves were amazing!
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Jim Maxine
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 It was great to see Maxine too!
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sunrise fog Rick
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We enjoyed our morning coffee while watching the fog roll across the lake and this beautiful sunrise. It was hard to leave here after only one night. Not sure when it will be, but we look forward to seeing Rick and Maxine … down the road.
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Tuesday night we arrived at a Boondockers Welcome site that is located about a half hour west of Savannah. This host has room for four rigs, and we appreciate the opportunity to stay here four nights while we visit the area.
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birthplace outside
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Tuesday we headed into Savannah’s historic district. We had purchased tickets online to visit the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace. Known as Daisy, the founder of Girl Scouts in the U.S.A. was born here in 1860. I was thrilled to be at the home I had seen so many time in photos, and the tour did not disappoint.
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Diana Juliette 2
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Scouting was a huge part of my childhood, and I really enjoyed learning more about this strong women who started an organization that has meant so much to so many.
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girls birthplace
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It was really fun to see the numerous Girl Scout troops that were visiting during their spring breaks, and to share in their enthusiasm for scouting.
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After lunch we visited Wright Square, one of the many squares (parks) that make the city so unique. Wright Square has the Gordon Monument which honors William Washington Gordon. In addition to being Juliette’s grandfather, he was an early mayor of Savannah and founder of the Central Railroad and Banking Company of Georgia.
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Then we toured the Andrew Low House. This beautiful home is where Juliette lived after her marriage to William Mackay Low in 1886. After his death, she continued to live in the home until she died in 1927 at the age of 66. It was during this time, at the age of 51, that she established the Girl Scouts of America.
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From the Low House, we headed down to River Street.  The ramped streets that connect it to the upper town are paved with cobblestones.  Those stones were ballast from 19th century ships and are from ports throughout the world.
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On River Street, we visited the Waving Girl statue.  This is a monument to Florence Martus, a lifelong resident of the area. From 1887 to 1931, she waved at every single ship that entered and left the port, either with her handkerchief or with a lit lantern at night.  We had read about her several years ago, and we wanted to make sure we saw this memorial to her.
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There is so much history to enjoy in Savannah, but Jim ended up treating me to a day filled mostly with scouting history. Stay tuned for our next post when we will be back in his wheelhouse, as we plan to explore Tybee Island and Ft. Pulaski tomorrow.
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once a gs

 

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!

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

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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!

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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!
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 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!

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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!

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