Stopping to smell the roses

When you’re road-tripping, it’s usually worth taking those little side trips and stops rather than just powering on through to your destination. They’re often the things that memories are made from.

Breakfast stop

After our stay in Portland, OR, we road tripped through Oregon and Washington, and stopped in Post Falls, ID so that we could add another state to our list of Visited States.  With Montana so close, we drove through the mountains along I-90 and stopped at a neat little spot 16 miles past the ID/MT border. Lincoln’s 50,000 Silver Dollar Bar and Gift Shop is a neat little family owned stopping place with a good sized gift shop, restaurant, inn, gas, and camping ground. Pretty much everything you need when looking for a road-trip stop.

Lincoln's 50000 Silver Dollar Bar and Gift Shop
Lincoln’s 50000 Silver Dollar Bar and Gift Shop

We got there early in the morning, browsed around and picked up a couple of state Christmas ornaments for our collection, gazed at the massive number of silver dollars mounted on display in the bar, and had breakfast in the restaurant. It was a very nice and enjoyable stop.

Stop in, browse the gift shop for some souvenirs, check out the 50000+ (and growing) collection of silver dollars on display in the bar area, and grab a bite to eat at the restaurant. Get something with bacon in it.  Make sure to pick up the sheet of paper that tells you the story behind the place.

Scenic views

Somewhere along I-90 in the middle of Washington State is a very nice place to stop where you can get some scenic views of the Columbia River. We stopped for a while to enjoy the scenery on our road trip back to Seattle.

Stop a bit, go for a bit of a walk and stretch your legs, and enjoy the scenery.

Visiting Space Center Houston

Last weekend we were in Houston and paid a visit to Space Center Houston, the visitors center for NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC).

NASA Johnson Space Center
NASA Johnson Space Center

Like Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Space Center Houston (SCH) is a pretty fun place to visit. It’s not quite as large as KSC, but it’s got some pretty sweet exhibits including Independence Plaza that features the Boeing 747 that ferried the space shuttles across the country.

Independence Plaza
Independence Plaza at Space Center Houston

I highly recommend the 90 minute tram tour that will take you into NASA JSC. If you go early and catch the first or second tour (SCH opens at 9 or 10 AM. See the calendar for hours), you’ll avoid the long line. The tram tour takes you into JSC where you’ll get to go into the Christopher C Craft Mission Control building, the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility, and Rocket Park.

At Rocket Park, you’ll see some of the rocket engines that powered the Saturn V, rockets used for the Mercury and early Apollo programs, and the king of rockets, the Saturn V.

The Saturn V at SCH is one of three remaining Saturn V rockets and was restored fairly recently.

From the SCH website:

There are only three Saturn V rockets on display in the world. The rocket at NASA Johnson Space Center is the only one comprised of all flight-certified hardware. The other two rockets are made of flight hardware, mock-ups and test components. The three segments, called stages, contain the powerful engines needed to lift off, entering orbit to reach the moon. In total, 13 Saturn V rockets launched into space.

When you’re back from the tour, head over to Independence Plaza where you can wander through the NASA 905 SCA (Shuttle Carrier Aircraft) and the Shuttle Independence, a replica space shuttle. This is another one you probably want to get to early in the day so that it’s not too crowded. We went first thing in the morning on our second day visiting SCH, and had the shuttle and 747 pretty much all to ourselves.

Make sure to stop in the food court where you can have lunch sitting next to the Galileo shuttlecraft (NCC-1701/7) used in the Star Trek episode Galileo Seven. This is the actual set prop that was used in the episode and fully restored. You can read about the Galileo’s history and the restoration at startrek.com.

Before leaving SCH (or before the doors open if you got there too early), make sure to walk the scale model of Solar System. It starts over on the left side of the parking lot near the SCH building and goes around the perimeter of the parking lot toward the main entrance.

Of course, the rest of the exhibits at SCH are pretty cool too. Lots of great shows, interactive displays and an impressive collection of space and space program artifacts. It’s a great place to spend a couple of days exploring while you’re in Houston.

Mammoths, alligators and butterflies. Oh my!

One of the stops we made on our trip last week was a stop in Gainesville, FL to meet up with one of our friends who just started a post-doc at the University of Florida. After having lunch together, we all headed off to the Florida Museum of Natural History on the University of Florida campus.

Mammoth!
Mammoth!

It’s a pretty nifty museum with a lot of neat interactive displays. Great place to take the kids.

One of these is not like the others
One of these is not like the others

Part of the museum is the Butterfly Rainforest, a really cool place to get up close with hundreds of butterflies. Watch them fluttering all around you, landing on flowers, and even you if you stand still long enough.

Then we went for a walk to the Lake Alice Conservation Area where we were treated to some very nice views of the lake, turtles and an alligator.

UF is a pretty big campus, and seems like a pretty nice place to walk around.

Back to Kennedy Space Center

The Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex is one of those places I never get tired of visiting. We road-tripped back there over the weekend to get in one more visit before  the multi-day passes we purchased last year expired.

You'll need a pretty big tree for this ornament
You’ll need a pretty big tree for this ornament

On this visit, Connie noticed that the Welcome sign above the door to the Space Shop welcomed visitors in 9 languages, including Klingon.

yI'el
yI’el

We went there over two days, and spent the second day at the Saturn V exhibit building. The bus tour takes you past the gigantic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). Next to the VAB they’re working on building a new launch platform that will be used by NASA’s SLS rocket. It’s an impressively large structure and even larger than the launch platform used for the shuttle.

The bus then takes you past Launch Pad 39A. The last time I was on the bus tour, the pad was one of the stops and people were able to get off the bus and go onto the launch platform. 39A is being used by SpaceX now, so it’s not a stop on the tour anymore. I was on the wrong side of the bus and couldn’t get any decent photos when we went by.

The Apollo/Saturn V Center is always impressive, and it’s pretty easy to spend 2 or three hours exploring all the exhibits here. Next to the Atlantis exhibit, it’s my favourite exhibit at KSC.

Saturn V main engines
Saturn V main engines

A new exhibit (new since my last visit to the Saturn V building anyway) is a memorial to the Apollo I astronauts (Ed White, Virgil Grissom, and Roger Chaffee) who died when a fire started in the command module. It’s a nice exhibit featuring personal items belonging to each of the astronauts as well as the hatch from the command module.

Apollo I hatch
Apollo I hatch

Next time you go, make sure to reserve plenty of time for the Apollo/Saturn V Center.

Cruising to Alaska – Victoria, BC

After a day of cruising from the Endicott Arm, the final port of call for the cruise was Victoria, BC.

By now, I had managed to come down with a cold that left me a little drained and worn out, but not bad enough that I couldn’t enjoy the rest of the cruise.

After getting some breakfast, I headed off the ship with my sister and niece into Victoria. She wanted to go to Craigdarroch Castle, so we found a map (conveniently provided at the border entry) and walked over. It’s a bit of walk from the cruise terminal, but not hard and the weather was nice.

Our walk took us through some residential neighbourhoods, past the BC Legislature building and along the streets of downtown Victoria.

BC Legislature building
BC Legislature building
Giant sequoia tree
Giant sequoia tree

After about 30-45 minutes of walking (wasn’t really paying attention), we arrived at Craigdarroch Castle, a large Victorian mansion built by Robert Dunsmuir who made a lot of money in coal mining.

Craigdarroch Castle
Craigdarroch Castle
Craigdarroch Castle
Craigdarroch Castle

It’s a large, impressive building with an interesting history. The Dunsmuir family only lived in it a relatively short time (Robert Dunsmuir died before the castle was completed), and the mansion spent the rest of the time used for institutional purposes (military hospital, college, music conservatory, office space). The restoration and use as a museum was only a fairly recent thing. They’ve done a pretty good job of preserving and restoring the interior, including re-acquiring some of the Dunsmuir’s possessions.

One of the dining rooms in Craigdarroch Castle
One of the dining rooms in Craigdarroch Castle

After the castle, we walked back toward the downtown area and stopped for lunch at a place called J & J Wonton Noodle House. I went with the wonton noodle soup bowl, and it was pretty tasty. Would definitely go there again.

Walked over to Victoria’s Chinatown area and saw the big Chinese Gate.

Chinese gate in Victoria's Chinatown
Chinese gate in Victoria’s Chinatown
Lion statue
Lion statue

It was about time to head back to the ship, so we didn’t get to wander around Chinatown too much.

On the way back, we wandered through some open air markets near Chinatown and also at the marina near the Legislature building.

Marina market
Marina market

At the cruise port, we found this neat sundial type thing where you stand at a spot depending on the time of year and use your shadow to see what time it is.

About 3-ish (+1h for DST) according to my neice
About 3-ish (+1h for DST) according to my niece

Had a good time doing this little bit of wandering around Victoria. Will have to visit again and spend some more time here.

Back to the boat!
Back to the boat!

Next stop, back to Seattle.