Friday, November 29, 2013

The Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center

It was a rainy day on Galveston Island so we decided to spend it at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. When we left the Adventure Bus the rain wasn't bad but here is the view from our car window just before we exited the highway:
Fortunately Houston drivers are pretty sensible. Everyone slowed down and there were no accidents. Not like Toronto or New York!

The Space Center was fun and interesting. It would take three blog posts to tell you all about it and that would be boring so here are a few of the highlights.

We took a tram tour throughout the Space Center grounds with stops at three major points of interest.

The original Mission Control. We walked up 87 stairs to see it. The present day Mission Control was one floor down and not open to the public.They sent a man to the moon from this spot:

On the tip of this rocket, housed in a building of it's own:
Saturn V Rocket
The Astronaut Training Center (billed as the world's largest classroom by our tour guide) was really interesting. It was huge but what was really impressive to me is the number of countries working on the “next generation” of space exploration vehicles:

While these vehicles are developed space exploration continues on the existing space station with people being ferried there by Russian space vehicles:
Which looked pretty scary to me. It is very large but looks like a big cement ball.

Meanwhile, in Houston they are working to create a vehicle that can take us beyond the moon to other planets and asteroids. Called Orion they had two of these experimental vehicles in the training center:

Plus there was a vehicle designed to land on these far away space objects:

And, of great interest to the Canadians in our group, the Canadarm was there:

And as a compliment to the Canadarm they are working on a space robot:

The top part of this robot is pretty much done. It's fingers can do many things, including turn the pages of a book. The plan is to send it out to do a lot of things that people currently do and some that are very dangerous for people to do.

The Tram Tour alone took a lot of time but I really recommend you take it. Fascinating!

I apologize that the pictures above are not as clear as they should be but all, except the Saturn V rocket, were taken through glass.

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Building to Survive a Hurricane

In September 2008 Hurricane Ike devastated Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula on the Texas Gulf Coast: (I found these pictures on the internet.)

But some newer homes survived:

We were fascinated to learn how these homes are built.

The major factor in their survival is the foundation they are built on. Twelve inch by twelve inch posts forty feet long are driven into the ground 20 feet. It is quite a process.

The posts are driven in the soil for half their forty foot length: 
The sleeve holding the pounder (please excuse the use of such a technical terms) is placed over the post:
And then the post is slowly driven into the ground:
Once the foundation is in place .
The remainder of the home is constructed to a code that requires that it withstand a 200 mile per hour wind
The results are quite beautiful homes that have stunning ocean views.
The construction around the foundation will break away during a hurricane and allow thw water to flow through.
The builder told us that homes in this subdivision sell for between $450,000 to $600,000. Not bad for a beautiful beachfront home that will survive a category 5 hurricane.

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Dinner with Rachel

One of the great joy's of the RV lifestyle is catching up with far-flung family. My niece, Rachel, is a lecturer at Louisana State Universuty in Baton Rouge. So we stopped there for two days to visit with her.

We stayed in a interesting RV Park associated with an Equestrian Center not far from the university. The view from our front window was endlessly entertaining.

We were told we could only stay for two days because the LSU football Tigers were playing at home on the coming Saturday and they were fully booked for the weekend. Americans love their university football!

Back to Rachel. We loved seeing her office at the University:

And her new home

We went out to dinner at a restaurant called PF Changs. An American chain that I don't think has made it to Canada yet. They bill themselves as a China Bistro and the food was interesting and delicious.
We settled in and ordered.

Then interesting things started to happen. First Arch was served an appetizer that did not look anything like what he expected when he ordered. But he decided to eat it anyway.

Then the food we ordered showed up – including the dish Arch had ordered. So we called the waiter over and told her that they had made a mistake and served him someone elses food. And he had eaten it. “Oh no” she said. “That was an extra dish that the kitchen made by mistake so I served it to you as something to nibble on while you waited.” Great.

A short time later a server showed up with a delicious looking shrimp dish. The kitchen made another mistake – would we like it? Sure, we are not idiots.

Then a very charming young man dropped over to say hi. Turns our he was one of Rachel's students who worked at the restaurant. He saw us come in but this was his first chance to stop by. Ahhh, that explains why all the extra food was arriving at our table.

He says he has purchased dessert for Rachel and she can select anything from the menu. She chose the “Great Wall of Chocolate” that they said was perfect for sharing:

While we were waiting for the Great Wall of Chocolate to arrive Rachel's student arrived with another kitchen “mistake” - Tiramisu . By then we were ready for “doggy bag”.

I think we should drop in and go out for dinner with Rachel more often.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Driving the Natchez Trace Parkway

The Natchez Trace Parkway leads you 444 miles through 3 states and 10,000 years of history. Established as part of the US National Parks system in 1938 the Parkway commemorates the most significant highway in the old west. It follows a natural corridor that dates back centuries. As the US expanded westward in the late 1700s and early 1800s, growing number of travelers tramped the rough trail into a clearly marked path. In 1801 President Thomas Jefferson designated the Trace a national post road for mail delivery between Nashville, TN and Natchez, MS.

We drove the Trace from end to end with the exception on a 90 mile section we missed when we went into Florence, Alabama to get the Adventure Bus repaired and ended up driving to Red Bay, AL and around Tupulo MS on back roads before re-entering the Parkway.

There are no commercial vehicles allowed on the Trace and the speed limit varies between 45 and 50 mph.

We found it a very peaceful and pleasant three day drive after spending 10 days in Interstate highways. To us, one of the most interesting spots on the Trace was this area, about 5 miles wide, where a tornado went through in 2011.

And spots where the “old” Trace was preserved:

You can stop frequently to check out historic markers and sites, Indian Mounds, hiking trails, etc but we pretty much drove straight through, with stays in Florence,AB and Jackson, MS.

I think really, to do the Trace justice, you need to spend a two week holiday there exploring and learning about this historic and interesting part of the US.

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Monday, November 25, 2013

A History Lesson at Vicksburg National Military Park

Being Canadians we didn't know a lot about the US Civil War. We knew that the southern states fought the northern states over the issue of slavery and the desire of the South to be independent of the government in Washington. And that the North won. And that was about it.

On our drive south we passed many battlefield sites and memorials so when we got to Jackson Mississippi and discovered that the Vicksburg National Military Park was just 40 miles away we decided to spend a day there.

When we arrived our luck for getting things for free held. They were short-staffed and, as the gatekeeper was at lunch when we arrived, we got in for free. We offered to pay in the gift shop but they just sold gifts and did not take entry fees. :)

The 1863 surrender of Vicksburg on July 3 and 4th, along with the defeat of Gen. Robert E. Lee's army at Gettysburg, July 1-3 marked a Civil War turning point . The fighting continued for 21 more months, but Federal control of the Mississippi River helped to ensure the survival of the Union.

Our visit started with a short film describing the siege (which lasted 46 days) and then we took a 16 mile driving tour of the battlefield:

This picture depicts about 1/3 of the major field of battle and the driving tour went around it – the Union side first (I took the picture there) and the Confederate side opposite. The battlefield is huge. I took the photo above with my camera's panorama feature. To enlarge it, or any other picture on this blog, just click on it.

So many lives were effected by this one battle. So sad:

There are over 1300 monuments in the park. It would take many days to stop and check out all of them.
There was one of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant on his horse:

All the states who fought in the war had memorials to their regiments who fought. This is one of the more elaborate, for Ohio's Union soldiers:

But the feature of the park we enjoyed the most was the U.S.S. Cairo Museum:

The Cairo was one of 7 ironclad gunboats boats build for the North in 100 days.

It was sunk in the Yazoo River north of Vicksburg in 1862. It is the first vessel ever sunk by an electrically detonated torpedo (today called a mine). 

It is the only surviving Ironclad ship from the Civil War:

Above you see the hole the torpedos made in the ship

The ship's boilers

The Paddle Wheel

Fire Power
All and all, a very interesting day learning about a very significant time in American history.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Day in Jackson, Mississippi

Jackson is the capital and largest city in Mississippi. Located south of the Yazoo River, it is considered to be at the southern border of the Mississippi Delta. Located just to its north is the Ross Barnett Reservoir which supplies water to the city. 
It is an amazing facility that contains 48 parks, including 5 campsites. We discovered it while searching for a spot to stay for one night. The campground was the most beautiful we have found in our travels in the Adventure Bus. 

And only $20 per night, with all services. So we stayed 3 nights.

Boating and fishing are the main forms of recreation there:
Apparently there is a catfish in the reservoir the size of a Volkswagen. Or so we were told. I wouldn't want to see that thing on the end of my line!

When we visit a new area we like to spend one day checking out an interesting feature of that area. Did you know that Jackson is one of only four cities in the United States that are located on an extinct volcano? It is said to be under the coliseum:

So we headed out to see what we could learn. Not much. The coliseum was not open that day.

Next on the agenda was a visit to the biggest event happening in Jackson that day. The Grand Opening of Mississippi's largest outlet mall. They were expecting huge crowds and were prepared for them with a heavy parking control and police presence:
And the media was there hyping the place:
The mall itself was the usual but this kiosk interested me the most:
I'm not sure what the message was. There was no one overseeing it and the musical instruments were not protected by a glass case. Yet no one touched it. Interesting.

And this shop caught Arch's attention:
The cookies were delicious.

When we left the mall we decided to stop for a late lunch, early supper. We do this a lot. It saves on making lunch AND supper. The meal needs a name of its own. Lupper maybe. Anyway, we chose a restaurant called Georgia Blue:
We are having a problem finding small local restaurants and this restaurant, one of a chain of three, was as close as we could come here. The food, which they bill as sophisticated southern cuisine, was interesting, delicious and unique and our server outstanding. We spent a lot of time chatting with her and when we asked for the bill she said "there is no bill - I had so much fun hearing about your trip that I am paying for your lunch." What a pleasant end to our day in Jackson. 

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