Monday, 20 July 2015

The Cosmosphere and home again

On arriving back at the family’s home, we spent a few days doing the washing and a little shopping whilst The Son (TS) went back to work.  On occasions, I present short talks to my University of the Third Age (U3A) science group on astronomical subjects and I had been researching a talk about the early days of space research, which I had mentioned to the family. The following weekend TS had planned to take a long weekend and suggested a visit to the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Centre, which is in Hutchinson not far from Wichita.  Liking the Cosmosphere themselves, they decided it was a must whilst we were visiting them and so it was arranged for us all to go. Hutchinson is about three hours from where the family live and so would take out six hours from a day just for driving there and back, so it was decided that we would book into a hotel. This meant that TS could drive us there after work on Friday, spend most of Saturday at the museum and return the same day. On Friday we got ready and when TS arrived home we set off. On the way we stopped to pick up some sandwiches for our evening meal to eat on route and I bought these rather unusually coloured chips (crisps in English English). They were quite good.

As the sun started to get low in the sky, we saw one of these ice rainbows start to form where a rainbow can actually form a circle around the sun or at night, the moon.

We arrived at our hotel around twilight and checked in and the following morning set off to the Cosmosphere.  By co-incidence both TS and I had decided to wear our Red Arrows tee shirts that day and since we were sharing the hotel with at least two junior baseball teams, here for some baseball heats, we kept getting strange looks from the team coaches who were obviously trying to figure out which baseball team the Red Arrows were and why we were there.

The Cosmosphere originated in 1962, but has since expanded and moved to its current location on the Hutchinson Community College campus grounds.  It is both a muesum and education centre with various educational facilities within the building.  As you arrive, on each side of the building is an Atlas rocket.

Right by the entrance you are greeted with a statue of the last man on the moon, Eugene Cernan. The Apollo 17 mission included Ronald Evans, who is from Kansas and who studied at Kansas University the same university where TS got his degree and met The Daughter In Law (TDIL).

The last man on the Moon

Inside one of the first things that greets you is a full size replica of the Space Shuttle Endeavour which is a great deal larger than they looked when you saw the real ones in service. 

The real Endeavour is in a museum in California and it caused quite show when it wa taken there via public roads.

Further inside we saw a lot of space hardware, some of which is unique to the museum. The route through the exhibits takes you through the history of space flight, starting with the German V1 and V2 which, whilst they were never intended to get into space, were the first steps which led to the present day ability to launch satellites into orbit and send space probes to other planets. In the section about the German attacks by their Vengeance weapons, the V1 and the V2 there is a map of England showing where both types of weapon landed and I was surprised to find marked on the map, Barnet, the town where I was born. Some of the hits shown on the map must have been after I was born and would have been heard by my parents and myself, although I was much too young to remember. I do recall the air raid sirens and the sound of distant bombs, but not clearly. My sister who is four years older than me recalls the sound of V1s and the panic that ensued when the engines stopped. That was when they would fall to the ground and explode and the fear they created was not because they were bombs, but because no one could predict where exactly they would land and if you could hear them arrive, it would be close.

Barnet is just up a bit and to the left of London

The displays then moved on to the Cold War era and the start of the space race between the USA and the Soviet Union. The museum has a lot of Soviet hardware and a lot of the original Gemini and Apollo mission equipment on display.

This is a replica of the tiny Endeavour satellite. The third artificial satellite to be put into Earth orbit and was the first to be solar powered. Launched in 1958, remarkably it is still in orbit when a lot of more recent satellites and space stations have come down. It was supposed to be the first American satellite, in answer to the Soviet’s Sputnik, but the original launch by the US Navy failed and they had to hastily launch the Army’s Explorer satellite instead. Khrushchev, the Soviet premier at the time, scornfully called it a grapefruit and it is not a lot larger than that kind of fruit.
Whilst there we booked to see the show in the Planetarium and also to visit Dr Goddard's lab.  The planetarium was not the best show since the section on Pluto was a childs cartoon and showing a 2D movie on a dome did not work too well.   Dr Goddard was run by the same man who had ushered us to our seats in the planetarium and introduced the show.  In the lab he came into his own and did a pretty good job of teaching about rocket propulsion with demonstrations of rockets, complete with carefully controlled explosions, all supported by a slide show.

Once we had seen everything, we exited via the gift shop and I bought myself a souvenir baseball cap.

On the way home we went cross country instead of the faster interstate route.

Up ahead is a 'sunny interval' as the weather people would say

 A rare sight in the USA, but becoming more common now, a roundabout.
We went towards Topeka via Emporia and on the city outskirts saw this rather unusual welcome sign.

Shortly after we left Mitchell we came across this sylvan scene which was fairly typical of a herd of cows.

 All across South Dakota we had seen a number of herds of different kinds of cows spread out over a wide area like this but as we went further along the road to Topeka, we saw a lot of herds bunched together for no apparent reason.
For several miles each new herd we passed was clustered in groups and not scattered across the meadows as we had seen earlier and it puzzled me as to why they should behave like this.

Eventually we arrived home and on our next shopping trip, I bought myself a Kansas souvenir baseball cap, just to round off my collection.

Back home we went to the cinema to see the latest Pixar movie, Inside Out.  It was preceded by one of the most awful short cartoons I have ever had the misfortune to pay for.  It was about a lonely volcano wanting to meet a lady volcano and kept singing a dreary song which added to the torture.  As I said afterwards, a volcano is not exactly a romantic thing, they are dangerous, destructive and effectively a zit on the surface of the world.  No one in their right mind would attempt to anthromorphise and romanticise a zit, so why a volcano?  The main feature was quite good, but not as good as other movies released lately.  We had also been to see Jurassic World, which was more entertaining, despite being death on a large scale and terror all round for the participants of the theme park.  I am glad none of the wild life parks I have visited have such a bad safety record.  After all, this was the fourth attempt to introduce the public to dinosaurs and each time it was a disaster.  Still, it made box office records and earned the company who made it oodles of cash, by pretending to kill and maim lots of people.  At least they don't do it like the Roman Games, with real people and real animals, we have advanced just a litle bit since then.

For the next few days we tried various combinations of packing in order to get everything into our suitcases for the journey home. Someone had bought far too many books, tee shirts and baseball caps to get them to fit easily into our cases without deforming the peaks on the caps. We managed in the end.

On the day we were to catch our connecting flight to Chicago we were driven to Kansas City airport by TS and we arrived in good time to check into our flight and we soon had checked in the four largest suitcases. We then went through security, emptied our pockets, took off our shoes and took our laptops out of our hand baggage.  Once this was done and we were scanned and passed through as no security risk, looking at the departure board, we discovered that our flight had been cancelled. The next flight was now going to be seven hours later! This meant we would not catch our booked transatlantic flight.
Fortunately the family had waited to wave a final goodbye, so we left the secure area again and re booked our transatlantic flight and then sat around for a while until lunch time. For lunch we all went to a restaurant and ate a gloomy meal. We returned and waited for a while but the family had commitments for that afternoon and so we said a second farewell and went back through security once more to be scanned etc and wait on the flight side of the departures lounge and waited for our new flight, hoping they would not cancel that one. Finally our plane arriveed and we left Kansas and two hours later arrived at Chicago with just enough time to make the connection. When we had re-booked the transatlantic flight, the desk staff had told us that we were being upgraded, but instead we found ourselves a few seats away from the seats that we had originally booked which were unoccupied!  Before we had time to talk to the flight steward a single passenger was shown to these seats, who expressed surprise that was where she was to sit. Meanwhile we wondered about the standard of staff working for this airline. There were several unoccupied seats within the section we were in so it would not have been hard for them to have arranged for us to sit where we had booked and incidentally paid an extra fee for the privilege. We are still negotiating. Once back home, we were confronted with a wild flower meadow instead of a back lawn and after recovering from the inevitable jet lag, I went out and mowed the meadow until it looked like a lawn once more.

Now all I have to do is find space in my wardrobe for a number of baseball caps that seem to have arrived back home with us.

 It is amazing what how many caps I have managed to accrue over the years.  Only three of these do not come from the USA. The Red Arrows, Virgin Balloon Flights and Cawdor Castle are British, whilst apart from the Canadian CN tower cap near the front, the rest I have gathered over the years touring or on business trips to the USA.  The sun hat at the front is brand new, like the sun hat I lost in the grand Canyon, I managed to lose another one this year by leaving it behind in a rental car right at the end of the holiday and have been able to find another to replace it.
That is all for now, no planned next blog.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Day eight - Omaha Zoo

We had detoured to Omaha so that we could visit the local Zoo, properly known as the Henry Doorley Zoo, which claims to be the World’s best Zoo. That morning we checked out of the hotel and went in search of the Zoo. Although allegedly a world famous zoo, we only ever found one signpost and that was when we were practically there. It seems satnav is a must if you want to find it. This day was a Saturday, so when we arrived the Zoo was quite busy and unlike most of the places we had been all week quite crowded. There were several lines of people queueing for about half a dozen ticket windows, but suddenly The Better Half (TBH) spotted one window with no line and raced up to the window before anyone else saw it. This saved us about ten minutes of queueing.

It was raining hard when we arrived, so the Desert Dome seemed like a good idea, but because it is close to the entrance, nearly everyone else there seemed to have the same idea.  So we squeezed our way out again and braved the weather.  We then came to the big cats house which was also under cover and a lot less crowded.

This guy seemed to have the right idea, sleep away the day and have the night to himself.

I am a statue, not a real lion
Whilst it was a good zoo, I am not sure by what criteria it is judged to be the best in the world, since I have been to very similar seeming places elsewhere and would personally rate Kansas City zoo and South Lakes Wildlife Park near Barrow in England at least as good, if not better. It reminded me more of London Zoo since the cages were smaller and more along the lines of a Victorian Zoological Garden of the last two centuries than Kansas or Barrow zoos, which are more concerned with large open enclosures as well as conservation of species.
The weather had started to clear by the time we came outside again and we walked around the apes section and saw a few playing around inside heavy wire mesh, so not very photogenic.  Then we came across this guy.
 Did someone mention food?



Whilst walking through the zoo, I had a rather disturbing experience when a small girl walked up beside me and said; ‘You’ve peed in your pants haven’t you!’ It took me a few seconds to realise she was talking to her much younger brother.  I walked on quickly feeling relief that I have not quite got to that stage in my life.
There did not seem to be anywhere in this enclosure where the animals could avoid the public, since it was surrounded by walkways and I felt sorry for these shy creatures who seemed to want to hide.

 'It's all right dear, they will all be gone soon and you can relax.'

These trees were full of spoonbills and some other kinds of bird I did not identify.

 A bird in the hand is worth how many in the bush?


 The Son (TS) managed to get this great shot of a lemur in mid flight.

 The bull sea lion king of all he surveys.

A line from the movie Jurrasic Park, implies that they are safe from the giant dinasours grazing on the trees, because they are herbivores.  This guy is a lot smaller and also is a herbivore, but I don't think it is a great idea to get into his enclosure to pet him.

There were two trains taking visitors around the park, but this one was the fancy one.
We found a small cafe and had some snacks around lunch time and then moved on.

As we strolled around, I came across this quirky little bronze about three foot high.  It is titled 'Double Trouble' by Sandy Clarke.  I have since looked for this name on the Internet but found she calls herself Sandi Clarke and has a range of smaller bronzes for sale, including this one.  Not sure why this one is in the zoo.

We next went through the aquarium, which was pretty good and worthy of a world standard zoo.

 Amongst a large number of fish there were several rays,

 Some brightly coloured fish,

The usual sharks,

And this odd looking character.
Over one of the fish tanks was a jungle and for a moment this toucan appeared, but proved to be camera shy and fled as soon as it noticed I had taken a picture.

This was our final section of the zoo that we visited and we then had to exit via the gift shop.  So I bought a souvenir baseball cap.
We returned to the car and set off for the family's home in Kansas, a distance of around 220 miles.  The shortest leg of our journey.

On the way we passed this wonderfully patriotic fireworks sales mascot.

As we headed for home and the temperature steadily rose. By the time we arrived near home, it was above 90F. We could tell this because many banks in the area have a clock and temperature display.

Not that they all agree with each other, and can be up to five degrees off each other, but taking the average you can get a fair idea of the real temperature.   This seemed to be around 34 C, a bit lower than usual for that time of year and over the next few days it got closer to normal which is in the high 90sF or better than 37C.
Arriving home we were entusiastically greeted by the cats, who had been looked after by a friend in our absence.
Huh! You back?  Do you expect me to get up?  Come over here if you want to say hello.
Next post the Cosmosphere

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Day seven - The Badlands

We only heard distant thunder that night, but it was a lot colder in the morning. This was our last day in the Black Hills and we packed the car and set off for our next stop which would be Omaha. I had to wear a jacket for the first time this trip and still felt cold despite running up and down stairs fetching suitcases and so on. On the way we wanted to drive through the Badlands and take some pictures and then carry on to Omaha where we were to spend the night.
The Badlands is a large area of land that has been eroded into canyons and valleys leaving sandy coloured bluffs and ridges over a large area. Something like a miniature Grand Canyon. Before we reached the Badlands, we passed Wall and so used Wall Drug as a rest stop.

We bought coffee and doughnuts and ate and drank on the road.
Coffee may be hot???  Boy, some people must be dumb if they need this warning

I did not buy a souvenir cap this time as I was hustled past the clothes section by The Better Half (TBH). Wall is not far from The Badlands and so we were soon entering the park gates.

It is a long drive through and the scenery gradually became more and more spectacular.

There are several viewpoints and we stopped at the first one to take a series of pictures and then continued through taking picture after picture.

One of the inhabitants

 The strange thing about thes place is you start to think you are coming out of it and it cannot get any more spectacular when you turn a bend in the road and whole new vista is there before you.

Ths gives some scale to the area when you see the people

By the time we had finished, we were all slightly overwhelmed and were very glad we were not pioneers trecking through with a wagon train. Leaving the Badlands, we returned to the i90 and headed east.

After the Badlands, this should be known as the Goodlands. 
We had spotted this rather inconspicuous sculpture on our journey to the Black Hills and I was able to get some better pictures on our way back.

It is part of the Wane Porter Sculpture Park and altogether contains a number of wacky sculptures created by this artist. He has created a number of other roadside sculptures elsewhere, but I believe this bull's head is the largest. We continued along the i90 until Sioux Falls where we joined the i29 and turned south.

As we travelled further south, the temperature rose steadily and each rest stop was warmer than the one before. Just before Omaha we left the i29 and joined the i80 heading west across the state line into Nebraska and then on to our hotel where we spent the night.

The Omaha skyline
The view of Omaha from our hotel window
Next post – day eight