Friday, May 29, 2015

US Space and Rocket Center/Redstone Arsenal Visit (Part 1)

Posted from Gunter Hill COE near Montgomery, AL
  (Click on Pics to Enlarge)

One of the reasons we decided to stay in the Huntsville, AL area was to visit the US Space and Rocket Center. If you’re interested in taking anything more than a cursory look at this collection, a multi-day visit will be needed.  On 5/21/15 we ventured over to the visitor’s center to plan our visit.

We decided that today we would watch a movie entitled Journey to Space in the center’s 67 foot high IMAX theatre. The film illustrated the evolution of the US Space Program.  Very well done!

We also wanted to tour the Redstone Arsenal (an active Army base) which encompasses the Marshall Space Flight Center. This tour is only given once per day currently at 1:00 PM.

As we had several hours before the Redstone Arsenal Tour began we wandered around looking at the “free” exhibits around the visitor’s center.  The A-12 Blackbird is positioned just outside the entrance.  This plane amazes me in that it first flew in April of 1962.
Also on display is the space shuttle Pathfinder.  Although the Pathfinder never made a trip to space, it was used as a trainer here on earth.  The “stack”, a combination of rocket boosters, shuttle, genuine shuttle main nozzles and genuine external tank make this the ONLY such display in the world.

In the early days of our space program animals were first sent into orbit before attempting the same with humans. Miss Baker was a 1-pound squirrel monkey. Her grave is just outside the entrance doors to the visitor’s center.  She, along with Miss Able, were the first US animals launched into space and recovered alive. The pair spent 16 minutes in space on May 28, 1959. (Miss Able died on earth while surgeons attempted to remove implanted electrodes.) Miss Baker continued to live for a total of 27 years before dying in 1984.

The Marshall Space Flight Center is located on the Redstone Arsenal and first opened in 1960.  For a nice “quick history” lesson on the early days of the Redstone Arsenal as it related to rocket development take a look at this Wikipedia reference.

One of the first stops on the tour is at the International Space Station’s Payloads Operation Center.

After a brief explanation you get to view the actual control room where the operators are in contact with the astronauts in the ISS.

The next part of the tour continues on to the now historic Redstone Test Stand where static testing was done on many of the early rockets.

Nearby is the dynamic test stand where early tests were done on the Saturn V project rockets.  Actually, this stand is still in use today (Notice the small white rocket).

I thought the next stop at the Environmental Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS) building was very interesting.  These folks deal with the day-to-day operations experienced by the astronauts.  This could mean designing systems to re-use and recover fluids to be used as water, to dealing with astronaut hygiene.

Of course, the group had questions about using the toilet in space, so I had to include a picture of that.

The “orientation” of the US Space and Rocket Center (along with our IMAX movie) and the bus tour of the Marshall Space Flight Center on the Redstone Arsenal took up our entire day.  Part 2 of this series will take a closer look at our day of touring only the US Space and Rocket Center.
For many more pictures of both of these facilities please take a look at our Google+ Albums:
US Space and Rocket Center
Redstone Arsenal/Marshall Space Flight Center

Thanks for dropping by to take a look!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Sometimes Things Work Out for the Better

Posted from Gunter Hill COE CG near Montgomery, AL       (Click on Pics to Enlarge)

After leaving Red Bay we decided to drive a couple of hours east to Huntsville, AL for two main reasons.  First, we wanted to take a tour of the Space and Rocket Center located in Huntsville and second Karen wanted to meet up with a prior co-worker she met in an office back in Virginia.  Denise now lives in Huntsville, AL and we’ve been meaning to stop by on several of our trips thru Huntsville, but something always prevented us from stopping in the past.

We made camping reservations at the US Space and Rocket Center Campground which is located within a 1/2 mile from the entrance to the Space Center.  This park has 30-amp only electrical and is getting a bit dated, but there are plenty of trees and it seemed like a nice choice.

The roads are a bit narrow, but easy to navigate if you take it easy.  We really liked the trees throughout and there was room between the sites.

Space Camp is held throughout the year at the US Space and Rocket Center for “budding” scientists and astronauts of the future.  There’s even a Space Camp for adults!  The kids build rockets which are fired off just outside the campground on a daily basis.  It was actually kind of fun to watch their enthusiasm when their rocket was ignited.

On the second day of camping here we began to have electrical problems.  We have a Progressive Industries EMS and it is designed to shut down power coming into the coach when the voltage drops below 104 volts.  This began happening several times per hour even though we had all of the major appliances (AC, water heater, battery charger, etc.) turned off in the coach. I didn’t like the cycling of the rig’s transfer switch while this was occurring, so I started talking to the neighbors about their power. I found that some folks had good incoming power and some were getting low voltages.  I believe we might have been at the end of the run on our row.  Although the choices of campgrounds around the Huntsville area is not great, one neighbor stated that he had stayed at a nice county park just northeast of Huntsville named Sharon Johnston Park.

We took a drive over to this park to check it out.  (About 30 minutes from the Space Center). It looked very nice, so we grabbed the camp host and reserved a site for the next 5 nights because the Memorial Day Holiday was quickly approaching.

It turned out we made a good choice. The FHU sites were $18 per day and the site pads are all asphalt.  The roads around this small campground are newly paved.

There are plenty of pavilions, both large and small, for picnic use. 

For the fisherman out there, there is a small lake as well.

The drive back and forth to visit the Space Center was a breeze and this campground was very quiet and away from the city. We will definitely stay here again when visiting in the area.

The second reason we’re here is to visit with Karen’s friend Denise.  We got together on Wednesday and met at Rosie’s Mexican Cantina in Huntsville for dinner. Another good choice.  The food was good and Karen and Denise got a chance to catch up on old times.  THANK YOU for dinner Denise!

The next blog entry will talk about our exploration of the US Space and Rocket Center and a day trip to Decatur for the Alabama Jubilee.

Thanks for stopping by to take a look!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Why Red Bay, AL?

Posted from Huntsville, AL   (Click on Pics to Enlarge)

Why indeed. 
Red Bay, AL is the home of Tiffin Motorhomes, Inc.  We had several reasons for dropping by our motorhome's "birthplace" on our way back east.  I am happy to say that we had NO service related things to take care of at the Tiffin Service Center.  We used to plan our trips to Red Bay to arrive during the off season, but I'm not too sure that there is any off season anymore.

Several new camping spots are opening around town to facilitate people who wish to come to Red Bay for service and warranty work at the Tiffin Service Center, aftermarket modifications,  or simply to visit the Tiffin Factory. We stayed for the first time at the Red Bay Downtown RV Park.  Only 10 spaces, but FHUs, and all of the rigs are parked on concrete from an old storage building.  Much cleaner than over at the Tiffin Service Center lot.

While here, we were happy to meet up with some old Tiffin friends Marty and Bob. We first met them several years ago at a Tiffin RV Network Rally.  We also met new friends Kathy and Wayne. It was a great time seeing old friends and getting to know new ones.

We've always had our coach's annual maintenance performed by Bay Diesel while in Red Bay.  I use them because they charge a fair price, do all of the work requested in a timely and professional manner, and most importantly, allow me to be inside the bay watching them work and asking any questions I might have.

Although we've toured the Tiffin factory every year when we make our annual pilgrimage, we still enjoy seeing the new rigs and the design changes.  Here's one of the first year Tiffin motorhomes on display.

I still enjoy watching the "line" moving along and the parts being assembled.

About a year ago we had an irresponsible person allow a shopping cart to strike the rear of our Honda Fit causing a pretty good sized dent.  By now, the paint was starting to peal.  I remembered that Custom Paint and Auto Body (owned by Bruce Deaton) came highly recommended by folks who had needed body and paint work on their motorhomes.  Since his shop was only a block away from the campground I decided to see what he could do.  He "squeezed" me in among motorhomes he was working on and completed the job in one day.  The price was good and his work was excellent.
"Before"                and                  "After"

Here's a shameless plug for Bruce Deaton should you need work done while in Red Bay.

For those familiar with Brannon Hutcheson's after market modifications and upgrades (especially on Tiffin coaches, but also on other brands), you already know about his shop in Vina, AL.

Brannon has added a new parts store to his business.  The store is located in a new, separate building beside his shop.  Although not officially opened yet, the store is well stocked and has a nice assortment of items from which to select.

Our trip wasn't about only motorhomes and service work, however.  Karen and I finally decided to visit the Red Bay Museum.

The museum is only open on Tuesday and Thursdays, but includes a nice assortment of memorabilia from the local area and from the folks who make Red Bay their homes.

Tammy Wynette was actually born in a small town in nearby Mississippi, but calls Red Bay home.  As such, a large portion of the museum's upstairs collection is devoted to her.

Another reason we came thru Red Bay was to meet up with friends Paul and Laura who purchased a 2014 Allegro Bus this past December and are at the Service Center for warranty work. We have "wintered over" in Casa Grande, AZ for the past two seasons together.  Finding diversions and new eating establishments is always important when you have to be in an area for a lengthy stay.  One afternoon we tried out a new ice cream place in town called Sno Biz. Will return again.

Another evening it was time to try out a pizza place in nearby Belmont, MS which neither of us had previously sampled.  It was called Hometown Pizza.

Here's the happy couples just before the arrival of our meals.  We were all in agreement that the pizza met our approval.  Notice the lovely wall decoration behind the table.

Of course, after pizza we had to locate an ice cream place.  A bit further into Belmont was a small roadside stand called Cardinal Shack.  No seating here, just walk up and order!  The ice cream was very good.

Paul and Laura we certainly enjoyed our time with you (and Riley, of course).  Here's hoping for a speedy departure from the Service Center for you and a speedy recovery for Riley.

Well, as much as we enjoyed meeting up with old friends and making new ones, it was time to move on down the road.  We left Red Bay on Monday and traveled a short distance to Huntsville, AL to visit a few of the sights here and for Karen to visit with a past co-worker.

Thanks for stopping by to take a look!

Friday, May 8, 2015

National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum Visit

Posted from Forrest City, AR  (Click on Pics to Enlarge)

Since we were still enjoying free camping at the Lucky Star Casino near Concho, OK (see previous post for more info), we decided to drive into the heart of Oklahoma City and visit the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.

The only regret we had was that we needed more time to explore the museum and all it had to offer.  We arrived shortly after opening at 10:00 AM and had to be “ushered along” when the museum was ready to close at 5:00 PM.

The entrance lobby features a version of the statue created by James Earl Fraser entitled “End of the Trail”.  Much of the museum is dedicated to paintings, photographs, and various works of sculpture.  I will be the first to admit that I am not usually a fan of touring “art galleries”, but the manner in which the artwork was presented and the accompanying narrative near each piece held even my attention.  Actually, I really enjoyed it.

Unfortunately, photography is not allowed in much of the art gallery areas.  The link to the museum at the beginning of this post has photographs of many works on display, however.

One part of the museum is called Prosperity Junction.  It is an area which attempts to re-create (and does a very nice job, btw) a western cattle town circa 1900 just at dusk.
The “town” has a hotel, church, bank, school, marshall’s office, among several other buildings.  Once inside the buildings, artifacts of the era are on display.  Here I am taking a look at the Marshall’s Office of the time period.

Of course near every Marshall’s Office was the town jail or cellblock.  Karen was able to escape after her short time in jail.

Due to typically excessive costs, we usually avoid eating lunch in museums, but this one was an exception.  Not only was the price very fair, but they even had a lunchtime buffet which allowed us to make our own selections.  Very tasty.  Recommended!  
Many of the museum’s exhibits stretched outdoors, as well. Several garden areas contained water features along with sculptures and other pretty landscaping features.
The Western States Plaza area contains flags of all of the “western” states, a large area for events, and a large-scale version of Remington’s “Coming Through the Rye”.
As time was really moving along for us, we made an all too hasty visit to several halls.  One entire area was devoted to the role of the military in the west.  Many, many artifacts here.  For fans of military weaponry, uniforms, and other history of this era, one could spend an hour or so in here alone.
Of course, the role of the cowboy in the west and the evolution of the rodeo are displayed in depth.  The rodeo champions thru the years, along with many of their trophies and memorabilia, are presented extremely well.

The last section of the museum which I really wanted more time in was dedicated to the role of the film industry in the western culture.  This area was called the Western Performers Gallery.  A short film on the evolution of the film industry as it dealt with the West was very interesting beginning in the day of silent films and continuing to recent day.

There are “tribute” areas to several of the main actors throughout the years, and of course, John Wayne was well represented.

I have many other photos of our visit to the museum in my Google+ album.  Please take a look.

We enjoy museums and this one truly contained a great collection of, and display of, all items West. Certainly worth a visit if you are ever in the area.

Thanks for stopping by to take a look!