US Space & Rocket Center

I first visited the US Space & Rocket Center when I was a little kid. I remember climbing all around in lunar landing modules, twisting and pulling knobs and levels on mission control mockups, and gazing up at a sea of stars in a planetary exhibit. It made me want to become an astronaut. That dream didn’t pan out, but the museum is a really great destination for both kids and adults.

I hadn’t been to the museum for many years, but recently returned to see an exhibit celebrating the 100th birthday of Werhner von Braun, one of the fathers of our space program. It was very well done and allowed me to experience the thrill and awe of the early days of our first trips into space.

The museum itself starts with a sizable gift shop and a few cool moon rocks on exhibit. I wound my way through this area (come back later for gifts) and got to the beginning of the von Braun exhibit. The only thing in the whole exhibit I didn’t like was the very first thing. To enter, I walked through a large tunnel illuminated with pretty blue light, very “2001: a Space Odyssey.” The thing I didn’t like was the blue light illuminated a wall-sized printout of the Wikipedia page dedicated to Von Braun. I just dislike Wikipedia as a source for history. Children shouldn’t see a signal that Wikipedia is a great history resource. Blech. But the rest of the exhibit made up for it.

The first room featured Von Braun’s early career. A video described his work in Germany during WWII, but neglected to mention some of the more controversial aspects of Von Braun’s wartime activities, such as his membership in the Nazi party and the slave labor involved in the V2 rocket program.The section on Von Braun’s activities during the war shed light on the first glimmers of interest in rockets: as a way to explore space, not as tools of destruction. After the war, Von Braun and his team were whisked to the US as part of Operation Paperclip (wasn’t that an X-Files episode?)  to help with the fledgling US Army intermediate range ballistic missile program.  The German scientists were sent to Fort Bliss, TX where they worked to adapt the technology they used in the German V2 rocket program for new US missiles.Von Braun worked on this project for five years. Keep in mind that this was the era of the Cold War and the Space Race with the USSR. The US and Soviets were running as fast as they could with missile technology to build better, bigger, faster rockets, mostly to ensure each country could more effectively bomb the other one. Luckily, Von Braun still dreamed of using his technology for exploration.

The second part of the exhibit explored aspects of what I found most interesting, the birth of the US space program, its ties to the US Army rocket program, and how we made it in to space. In September 1954, von Braun proposed using the Redstone Rocket, a direct descendant of the V2, as the main booster of a rocket to launch satellites into space. This was the first breath of the US space program. In the early 1950s, von Braun started to publicly talk about the possibility of actually exploring space. Von Braun was well on his way to seriously planning how to get to the moon, as shown in this drawing dated December 22, 1954.

Werhner Von Braun photo exhibit

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Visiting Fort Morgan, Alabama

Driving along next to sparkling white sand dunes  as sea gulls toss and call in the salty breeze, it’s hard to imagine that the peaceful coastal outpost of Fort Morgan, Alabama was ever the scene of cannonfire or battle. But it sure was.

Gulf Shores, Alabama is one of my favorite vacation spots. It’s a beautiful little town with lots of great seafood (scallops!). It’s also near not one, but two interesting historic travel destinations, Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines. For now, we’ll just talk about Fort Morgan since it’s so easy to get to from so many tourist destinations along the Alabama coast.

To get to Fort Morgan, just drive west out of Gulf Shores on highway 180. Keep going until you get to the fort. You’re driving down the middle of a very narrow barrier island so it’s impossible to get lost.

The Fort is currently a living museum. Although many of the structures have disintegrated under the stress of time, wind, rain, and blowing sand, many of the key structures remain in place. You can wander through the pentagon-shaped stone walls and imagine what it would have been like to have lived in this fort during the early wars of the 1800s, the Civil War, and even World War II.

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Nine Mile Canyon, Utah

If you love petroglyphs and pictographs, you’ll love Nine Mile Canyon. It features one of the highest concentration of rock art of anywhere in the United States. With at least 10,000 rock art images, it’s often called the world’s longest art gallery. On my last visit to Utah, I wanted to find pictographs to photograph and discovered a web page all about this wonderful area in northern Utah.

Road through Nine Mile Canyon Utah

Some more poking around uncovered a few guides to this very remote and beautiful place. The photographs on web sites I found showed some of the most exquisite rock art I’d ever seen. I knew I had to visit.

Nine Mile Canyon is actually not a very accurate name. The canyon itself is actually 40 miles long and the road traversing the canyon is a 78-mile-long Back Country Byway.  John Wesley Powell led an expedition through this remote section of Utah to map and explore; his expedition camped at the mouth of the canyon in 1871. His cartographer, F. M. Bishop, mapped the area and used a “nine-mile triangulation” to map the mouth of the canyon and the surrounding area. On maps of the area, this area was first referred to as Nine Mile Creek. [Read more…]

Horseshoe Canyon Utah: Fantastic Pictographs and Hiking

The Grand Galley, Horseshoe Canyon Utah
The Grand Galley, Horseshoe Canyon Utah

Far off in the Utah desert, in one of the most remote parts of the country, determined archaeology fans can find one of the most mysterious and intruiging places in the whole country. It’s one of the largest and most beautiful rock art panels I’ve ever seen.




Exploring history and historic travel destinations

ancient sumerian statuesI clearly remember the moment I became addicted to history. I was in fourth grade (Mrs. Daniels’ class) and I flipped our textbook to the chapter on ancient Mesopotamia. Drawings of ancient ziggurats, photos of cuneiform tablets, and pictures of lovely artwork adorned the page. I remember looking at the descriptions of the images and reading about how old those artifacts were. I tried to wrap my young mind around the dates. 4500 BC. How many long years ago was that? I tried to imagine what it had been like to live so very long ago. What was the land like? What were the people like? How did people survive in that ancient time and ancient place?

My love of history started right then and there. After school that day I went to a friend’s house and whirled a globe around until I found the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. I thought about the people who use to live there, and loved learning more about that culture.

Andrew Jackson and Creek Indian Leader WIlliam Weatherford signing the Treaty of Ft. Jackson, ending the Creek-Indian War of 1813-14.
Andrew Jackson and Creek Indian Leader WIlliam Weatherford signing the Treaty of Ft. Jackson, ending the Creek War of 1813-14.

As time passed, I learned to love other aspects of history. I developed an interest in other ancient cultures, including Egypt and Europe. I started reading about World War II and the holocaust. Southern history became intriguing. In college, I majored in history, learning how to research and analyze many different historic topics. One of my favorite things to do was to uncover really old documents, especially handwritten notes from long ago, and figure out how what people wrote and thought related to what actually happened in the world. My senior these covered Andrew Jackson and the Creek Indian War of 1813-14 and later 1836-37.

After college, I continued to love history, to visit historic sites, to dig up information about times that are now long past. My current interests are still varied and enormous. Ancient history, early American history, WWI, WWII, and more. I really love to find travel destinations that incorporate some aspect of history. This site will share some of my tips and tricks to have a great time visiting places that are rich in history.

Fort Morgan, Alabama
Fort Morgan, Alabama