Time has been flying by, can’t believe we’ve been on the road for a whole month. Just left Texas and we are currently in Arkansas as we start to make our way back across the US by a more southern route that will take us through parts of Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. Had some amazing food in Texas with some great BBQ and Tex Mex. Here’s a taste of some of our adventures at White Sands National Monument, Carlsbad Caverns, Seaworld San Antonio and Johnson Space Center:
On the way to White Sands we went through Pie Town, NM so of course had to stop and get some very tasty pie. The nice lady at the place told us about the VLA (Very Large Array) down the road which is a radio telescope observatory with 27 massive 25 meter diameter antenna that are picked up and moved about every three months along railroad tracks so they are spaced out in a “y” configuration which ranges from .5 miles from the center to 13 miles. The VLA was the beginning setting for the movie Contact. White Sands pops up out of the desert and result of the perfect storm of geography and climate which allows gypsum (as in Sheetrock material) to be washed down from the surrounding mountains into the bowl and then the lake in the center evaporates allowing the gypsum to crystallize and then the precise amount of heavy winds break it up into fine sand to create a vast dune field. The boys had a blast sledding down the dunes and we even fired up the generator on the RV to make dinner so we could stay for the sunset ranger led tour.
Next we journeyed to the center of the earth at Carlsbad caverns (some footage for the movie was actually shot there) and it was massive. We hiked down the mile+ long steep winding trail from the natural entrance and took a guided tour deep in the earth. Unlike Howe’s caverns, which is tiny by comparison, Carlsbad does not have an flowing River thus is not actively growing (for the most part). We also went back that evening for the Bat Flight to watch somewhere between 100-200 thousand bats spiral up out of the natural entrance. No photography was allowed as all electronics had to be turned off to minimize our impact on the bat’s sonar. It was spectacular. Just like in the Batman movies they actually came out in a coordinated spiral as they rose up and flew off to feed on mainly a type of moth that is a pest for local farmers. There were also a fair number of cave swallows that are the “day shift” as the ranger put it who had to fight the tide of bats to try and get to their nests for the night. In the red/white tape pic, that is a bat skeleton that got formed into one of the cave elements.
Next we were off to San Antonio and sent an entire day at Sea World. Yes, that is me embracing my inner cheerleader as I and two other lucky bearded fellows got selected by the Sea Lion show’s pre show Clown/MC to “assist” in the show. Note I won the first round and was “rewarded” with the skirt and the wig. I’m surprised Nicole got any pictures as she was purple she was laughing so hard.
The boys were definitely wowed by the size of the Killer Whales and, no I have not seen Blackfish (but plan to). They had two differnet shows with the Killer whales (and all the animals). The first one was mainly educational talking about Killer Whales in the wild and at Seaworld and how Seaworld will no longer breed the whales but those there will “always have a home at Seaworld.” The 2nd show was definitely more entertainment oriented, but more “natural” than I guess the previous razzel/dazzle shows before Blackfish came out. The Beluga Whale/Dolphin show had a very Cirque Du Soliel feel to it with acrobatic divers, synchronized swimming and the like. It was very hot and humid, welcome to the Texas heat. It was only in the 90s but real feel was almost 110. After the 109 dry heat of Zion, this definitely seemed a lot worse. Fortunately, as part of the park they had a water park which we spent the end of the day in. For dinner we hit Rudy’s “the worst BBQ in Texas” which was literally in a gas station/country store. The Brisket was A-Mah-Zing and the rub on the Ribs was so good you didn’t even need sauce.
We went into downtown San Antonio to check out he Alamo which had some historical reenactors there as it was on a Saturday. We walked back to the RV down the river walk which was several degrees cooler. Made the mistake of not reading the entire sign at the private kiosk pay lot we parked at like 1/2 mile away from the Alamo and ended up getting a boot on the RV as we took up two spots and only paid for one. God forbid if the one other car in the entirely empty 40-50 car lot on a Saturday needed to park directly behind me. However, the little parking Nazi dude did come by very quickly after I called the number on the sticker on the window and it was only $35 to get it taken off not the couple of hundred it probably would have cost in Boston. Would have been an extra $10 for the 2nd parking spot so really only cost $25. Forgot to add pics of Roswell, which we hit on the way to San Antonio, so the next group is both before (Roswell) and after (Alamo) the Seaworld stuff. Roswell which was much larger and a lot more urban than we expected. I had kind of envisioned a little town that embraced the kichy alien legacy not a large urban center that probably would have been just as happy to forget all about it. Hit the World’s Largest Pistachio on the was to Roswell and camped at Bottomless Lake State Park and had a nice Sunset over the tower on the visitor center.
After San Anotnio we headed over to Houston to go to the Johnson Space Center. As we neared Houston the drivers became as aggressive as Bostonians. I hadn’t been passed on the right even once in the previous 5000+ miles, yet while doing 75 (the speed limit) and passing 18 wheelers I still had Texans in their pickups zipping in and out who would wiz by on my right without batting an eye. I don’t think Nic got any pics but the highway ramp systems they had near Houston were crazy. Four to five layers in some cases going 8-10 stories high with crazy steep grades. Guess you can get away with that if you don’t have to deal with feet of snow. Got to the Space Center right before it opened and left about 15 min before it closed. Went on both the Blue and Red Tram tours and saw all the shows/movies including the Space Station and Curiosity Mars Rover “update” talks. First pic is the boys touching a moon rock. They had the actual jet that shuttled the Space Shuttles around there with a full scale model Space Shuttle mounted on it. The talks weren’t live updates but more about the current status of the space station and and Curiosity missions. One very interesting tidbit was when JPL was making Curiosity they wanted to put their logo on it but NASA said no. So what they did is make the slots that were needed in Curiosity’s wheels to let debris fall out imprint morse code for “J” “P” and “L” every time they did a full revolution. A fact they forgot to mention to NASA until after Curiosity had launched.
The Tram Tours took us out to the actual buildings of the space center where Astronauts really train and NASA manages all manned missions. It was a Sunday so we only saw only the one Engineer working on one of the future Mars Rovers cabs. The first tour took us to THE mission control, like the one where the speaker you see in the picture next to the “Public Affiars Officer” plaque was the one that words such as “The Eagle has landed” and “Houston, we have a problem” were actually heard through. We sat in the orange chairs that Presidents have sat in, pretty cool. The other Tram tour took us into the building with the full scale training modules for the Space Station, including the Russian and Japanese modules that the Astronaunts train on and Engineers use to troubleshoot issues that happen real time in space with. They also had the next generation Orion capsule, the one that is currently slated to be used for a future manned mission to Mars at some point in the next few decades. They also had a rocket display which had one of the truly massive Saturn 5 rockets from the Apollo missions.