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Day Two and Three Of Our First RV Trip: West Memphis to Huntsville
Wake up and roll!
Sleeping alongside the Mississippi River after a long day of driving was restful...for the most part. My wife woke in the middle of the night suffering from a gall bladder attack and I sat up with her, rubbing her back as she spent the better part of an hour in severe pain. I have heard it said that childbirth is the most painful thing imaginable with kidney stones and gall bladder a close second. I have had a single kidney stone attack and if that was anywhere close to what my poor wife was experiencing, I feel for how much pain she was in while in our trailer. No where to go, no way to relax, nothing to do to ease the pain except wait it out.
Like a trooper she did just that, putting up in silence with the pain until it subsided enough to allow her to lie down in bed once more. I do not know when we fell back asleep but I can say the morning came far too early.
At 6:00 AM we rolled out of bed and began our day. A trip to the bathrooms for all, then reattaching the trailer to the truck, unhooking the sewer, water and electric and storing them properly before hitting the road around 7:15 AM. The road awaits.
Are we the Keystone Kops?
Heading across I55 on the bridge over the Mississippi River was fun. There was a wreck just on the other side and we were at a virtual standstill for about a half an hour before it was cleared sufficiently to allow traffic to proceed. As we passed it we saw it was a collision between a personal vehicle and a bus full of tourists en route somewhere. Nothing serious, just a sideswipe as one attempted to change lanes and the other refused to give way.
Then on to Memphis and the wonderful world of misdirection and signage. Did you know 240N and 240E both go north? Yup, and only one goes where we wanted to go. Guess which one I picked: 240N and it was wrong. Find a place five miles or so up the highway, turn around in a bad location for a truck and trailer and head back south, then east, then north, then east again. Such fun!
The roads are anything but smooth through here; evidently there is so much traffic they are just destroyed. Potholes, rough spots, and concrete that is in poor shape defines this area. It took us about another thirty minutes or so and miles from Memphis to finally hit smooth highways.
Next stop: Corinth, Mississippi
It didn't take too long to pass into our fourth state of the trip, Mississippi. As we rolled into Corinth on highway 72 we pulled up to a station for gas and other things. As I filled up I noticed a quasi-permanent eatery stationed on the far side of the convenience store parking lot. I had to smile for when I saw what it was advertising as I knew we had made it to the South.
Crawfish. Yes, this trailer-like roadside food stand was selling crawfish by the dinner or by the pound. And even at this early part of the day, around 10:30 AM or so it was doing a brisk business. Just past it sat a pickup truck filled with watermelons and peaches, tomatoes and other veggies for sale. It too was doing a very nice business by passerbys.
After we all had a chance to do our business, including Chew Chew we hit the road again with Huntsville our next stop. We would be staying two nights here and enjoying several sights of this lovely town.
I was particularly excited to see Huntsville for one of my favorite books, Space by James A Michener has this as the backdrop for a large portion of the novel. It was here that America settled some of the German rocket scientists after WWII, and it was here that played a vital role in our space program.
I had decided to stay at the Space and Rocket Center RV Park, also known as Space Camp RV Park for both Friday and Saturday nights. I had planned multiple locations to see including Monte Sano, the Von Braun Observatory and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center itself. If time permitted we might visit the Marshall Space Center as well.
I was glad to see that the field where the Space Campers fire off their rockets was dedicated to Homer Hickam. If you do not recognize the name, go watch the film October Skies. Homer was one of four high school boys who, on their own, pursued rocketry in the 1950's and designed and fired their own rockets. Homer went on to be a large part of the U.S. Rocket Program, even enjoying time working on the Space Shuttle.
Once we were settled my wife and daughter wanted to rest up; my wife was still feeling the effects of her attack the night before. So Caleb and I wandered over to walk the grounds of the Space Center. There at the entrance stood my favorite plane ever, an SR-71 Blackbird. Oh, I was in hog heaven!
Standing next to this phenomenal airplane I felt awed, excited and amazed. From the front it looked like a bullet or spear, long and narrow with a tapered nose. For a plane designed to carry a single person it was huge. If I recall correctly this thing could literally outrun a 30.06 bullet and was capable of flying well above twice the speed of sound, with an operational ceiling far in excess of 100,000 feet while carrying cameras that could photograph vast swathes of the Earth and be clear enough able to read a newspaper from that height all while flying along beyond the reach of missiles, other aircraft, anything. It was impossible to catch or shoot down.
Damn, what a bird!
We continued to wander around outside the fences, staring here and there while planning what we would see first the next day when we entered the grounds proper. Then we went into the store and nosed around here, looking at the various space related items and toys before we purchased a personalized set of dog tags for Caleb. They even said "US Space and Rocket Center" on them along with his name. He was so excited!
Then it was back to the trailer and dinner before we watched Lucy and Desi in "The Long, Long Trailer" again. This time, some of the things that happened came home to roost in my mind!
The next morning we went to the center as soon as it opened and for a while we had the run of the place. We went to the inventor's museum then into a large room filled with things you could do, participate in. There was an earthquake bench to show you what a quake felt like up to a 5 or so on the Richter scale; a globe filled with a blue sparkling substance that you spun to show how the ocean currents behaved; even a Space Shuttle Landing Simulator. Yes, this and other simulators awaited us as we moved around the area. I took my turn at the Shuttle and crashed both times. Caleb crashed a couple of times but refused to give up, and on his third try he landed it. I was sitting right behind him as he landed and listened with a smile on my face as I heard him say...
"I did it." in a quiet voice meant only for him. I went unnoticed as he sat there smiling to himself at his accomplishment. Pride, thy name is daddy.
We went to a Humvee next and I watched as the rest of my family took turns operating the simulator as both shooters and driver on a rescue operation in Afghanistan. Everyone was laughing and smiling and having the time of their lives in this room.
From there we found ourselves in a space area with a model of a Mars landing site, a personal jet chair simulator, and other associated hardware and such. We even went on a tour of a simulator of the space station, one that showed how life in space is handled. It was incredible to realize that in space, there is no up and down: every wall can be a floor, every floor a ceiling. Storage is everywhere and when one sleeps one just climbs into a sleeping bag and basically ties yourself in place. Your position is irrelevant to anything else and while you are sleeping others might be coming by in any direction.
The Rocket Collection and Observatory
We then moved outside and toured the rocket collection. All I can say is: impressive. From a Saturn V both upright (man that thing is TALL!) and on its side to a V2 to virtually every rocket and missile known to our country this collection is vast. There is also a lunar lander, an actual moon rock and simulators for landing on the moon, joining the lander and the other portions of a moon rocket together. Caleb was in and out of these constantly, enjoying every minute.
Finally it was time to go back to the trailer and grab a bite to eat. After lunch and a rest we headed out to find Monte Santo. This area had been on my mind as somewhere I would like to visit after my first reading of Michener's novel. He described it as congenial and beautiful, tree filled and home to some of the most wonderful houses one can imagine. And he was dead on. This park, which also winds itself around a community is as close to perfect an area as I have ever seen. Both my wife and I found ourselves sighing with pleasure, pointing out this home or that house time and again all the while marveling that a town could be so like a park. It is truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, and people live here!
We drove around, looking here and there before coming to an overlook. After parking and walking to the edge of the road we stood and stared, taking in an amazing vista. We could see for miles and miles, and everywhere was stunning to the eye. It was with great trouble that we pulled ourselves away from this and drove the short distance to the Von Braun Observatory. We were still early so we wandered beneath the huge pine forest in the RV park there before it was time to go find our seats for a lecture on Saturn and its rings. This was inside the observatory itself with images shown on the round interior of the ceiling. Far too soon it was finished yet the evening was not done yet.
They had brought in about a dozen telescopes to complement the 16" permanent telescope in residence already. The crowd of over a hundred people for this free event took their time and visited multiple telescopes, viewing Saturn and Jupiter, Mars and the Moon, even some stars and constellations. It was with great regret we finally walked the lit path back to our SUV and drove back to the RV park. This was a great day for all.
A late dinner, showers all around and we headed off to bed. Tomorrow will find us traveling to our focal destination of Pensacola and the beach. What wonders are in store for us? We cannot wait.