The “Final” Cross-State Romp (Days 9 through 12)

Enjoying dinner our first night in Columbus
Enjoying dinner our first night in Columbus

We left New Orleans and headed to Columbus, GA, to visit Candy’s mom.  The kids always enjoy visiting there, because they relax there, play games, and generally enjoy some “down” time.

Tom and Sam showing Grandma something on her computer
Tom and Sam showing Grandma something on her computer

The next day Candy and her mom had some errands to run, so I took Tom and Sam to a new attraction in downtown Columbus.  We zip lined across the Chattahooche

e River to Alabama.  Once in Alabama the kids negotiated an obstacle course.  Though it turned out to be not too difficult, I chose to skip the obstacle courses because of my recent knee surgery, but I did do the zip lines with the kids.

Tom and Sam on the ropes course
Tom and Sam on the ropes course
Tom leaping from obstacle to obstacle
Tom leaping from obstacle to obstacle
Sam taking a more deliberate approach
Sam taking a more deliberate approach

Because our group for the zip line and obstacle course was small, we finished before Candy and her Mom completed their errands.  I took Tom and Sam to the north side of Columbus to play a round of indoor miniature golf.  For an indoor course it was surprisingly good and would have, in fact, been a good outdoor course.  The holes were long and challenging, and the course was in good repair.

Miniature golf
Miniature golf

The next day we headed to Huntsville, AL, to see the space center.

 

You can see this Saturn V rocket from a long distance away
You can see this Saturn V rocket from a long distance away

We arrived at the space center a little after noon with the intent of staying until it closed at five.  There was a lot to see.  Candy and the kids were ready to leave before I was, and there are a number of displays I would have liked to spend more time visiting.

There were a number of really nice outside displays
There were a number of really nice outside displays

We have been to the space centers in Houston, Cape Canaveral, and now Huntsville.  I find them all very enjoyable and a stark reminder of what this country can do when it sets its mind to something.

<Warning: political rant>  I fear those days are behind us.  We cannot have a reasoned discourse in this country about things that matter, and instead we focus on trivial social issues and the politics of character assassination of anyone who wants to tackle the important issues.  Unlike Kennedy’s vision of going to the moon not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard, our “representatives” from both sides of the aisle focus on trivial issues like gay marriage, politically correct language, and symbolism over real action rather than important issues like fixing our economy, getting rid of a tax system that punishes success and fosters class warfare, and curtailing social programs that keep people in poverty.  Where are the leaders who will create a coherent energy strategy for the nation?  Where are the leaders willing to really take on immigration reform (like controlling the borders and expelling those here illegally) rather than merely masking amnesty policies with leftist rhetoric?  When will the Supreme Court do its job of protecting us from an increasingly overreaching and unconstitutional federal government and stopping activist judges from legislating from the bench?  When when will we get serious about stopping the decline of our educational systems compared to the rest of the industrial world?  Where are the leaders who will attack the causes of the destruction of the middle class in this country instead of symbolic, and useless, measures?</rant off>

You cannot help but be both awed an inspired by the men and women who took us to the moon in such a short time, built two space stations, and are preparing to colonize Mars.  They are doing what is hard to create new science, promote the pioneer spirit that built our nation, and generally advance America and mankind.

Sam learns what she weighs on Earth, Mars, and the Moon
Sam learns what she weighs on Earth, Mars, and the Moon
Sam suited up for EVA
Sam suited up for EVA

I learned quite a bit about the preparations for sending people to Mars.  I have been a proponent of this since reading A Case for Mars by Max Zubrin.  While NASA’s approach doesn’t follow Zubrin’s model, bit is nonetheless exciting and will involve setting up permanent habitats on the moon.  NASA says that they already have thousands of volunteers for a one-way mission to colonize Mars but not return — to instead stay there.  Now THAT is the kind of pioneer spirit that built America!

Climbing a rock wall on Mars
Climbing a rock wall on "Mars"

I don’t know what the climbing wall had to do with space, but hey, it was a climbing wall, so it HAD to be climbed.

One of many displays about telescopes
One of many displays about telescopes
A Saturn V on its side
A Saturn V on its side

In addition to all the static displays, there were a couple of really exciting IMAX movies.  We saw the one on exploration of space that talked about the shuttle missions, the international space station, and culminated with information about a future expedition to Mars.

There were three organizations that were created or enhanced as a result of the Russian launch of Sputnik: NSA (to prevent strategic surprise), DARPA (to prevent technical surprise), and NASA (to win the space race).  I have worked at the first two.  Someday, I would like to work at NASA if the right opportunity arose.  I watched Neil Armstrong step on the moon when I was in first grade and have been a sucker for space stuff every since.  How amazing it would be to have even a small role in getting men to Mars!

A lunar module on display
A lunar module on display

I really enjoyed our brief visit and would like to return to take in more of the displays in a leisurely manner.

Our next stop was the Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.  Mammoth cave is the longest cave system in the world, with the known tunnels measuring some 400 miles and more being explored and mapped each year.  We took a four hour tour which only covered about four of those 400 miles.

A 3D model of the Mammoth Cave tunnel system
A 3D model of the Mammoth Cave tunnel system
This map shows the extent of the Mammoth Cave tunnel system
This map shows the extent of the Mammoth Cave tunnel system

The National Park covers more than 52 thousand acres.

A rock formation near the area known as Frozen Niagara
A rock formation near the area known as Frozen Niagara

Our Ranger was quite informative, stopping often to allow our long line of visitors to catch up and ask questions.

Part of our tour group
Part of our tour group
A rest stop during the tunnel walk for the Ranger to hold a Q&A session
A rest stop during the tunnel walk for the Ranger to hold a Q&A session

There were two rest stops with latrines during the four hour tour.  These “modern” facilities were cut into the rock cave in the 1950s, with sewage pumped to the surface rather than flowing into the three underground rivers that flow in the fifth level of tunnels.

Modern restrooms cut into the cave walls
Modern restrooms cut into the cave walls
Traveling "Cleaveland Avenue"
Traveling "Cleaveland Avenue" (this is spelled properly)

Being a mostly dry cave system formed when the shallow sea bed receded some bazillion years ago, Mammoth Cave is a largely dry system.  Sandstone and other rock above, protects most of Mammoth Cave from having water seep into the Limestone, eroding it and also creating dramatic rock formations (stalagmites, etc.) that we saw in Carlsbad Caverns.  There were a few areas where the protecting cap of other rocks had eroded away and there were some of those interesting formations.

By about three in the afternoon we were ready to do something above ground.  We drove into Cave City and played some miniature golf, went down an Alpine slide, and rode in Go-Karts until a typhoon struck the area and drove us indoors.  After dinner at a local restaurant (we typically seek local places, rather than chains, while on vacation), we returned to our hotel within the National Park.

While the kids played some Frisbee, Candy and I took a short walk to Sunset Point overlook the Kentucky countryside.

Sunset Point
Sunset Point

We finished our time at Mammoth Cave National Park with a game in our hotel room.  The game was sort of Russian Roulette with jellybeans in which some of the jellybeans were good flavors but others were things like baby wipes, vomit, and skunk smell.  The game ended when Sam got a vomit jellybean and spent five minutes with her head in the sink.

The hotel was built in the 1970s, but has a more nostalgic feel to it.  Many pictures on the walls show tours of Mammoth Cave in the 1950’s with the typical attire of the time.  For someone (like me) who thinks the pinnacle of women’s fashions was reached in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the pictures on the walls were entertaining.

Our quaint hotel room in Mammoth Cave National Park
Our quaint hotel room in Mammoth Cave National Park

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