Sunday, August 24, 2008

Bar Trip Days 3-6

It's been a long four days since last I posted, and in those four days, I have not had real high speed internet access. That just means, of course, more pictures!

Day Three was relatively uneventful. We started by going to Albuquerque to try breakfast at the famed Blake's Lotaburger. It was okay; I think we would have enjoyed the green chile more if we had experienced it growing up.

The rest of the day was pretty much just driving. There was really not much to see throughout the rest of northern New Mexico, nor the part of Texas that we drove through, encompassing Amarillo. (For those who wonder, the locals pronounce the name "Amarillo" according to English rules, not Spanish rules.) From there, we drove into Oklahoma, and checked into the Regency Inn just before the built-up part of Oklahoma City.

On Day Four, we went into Oklahoma City, as I had insisted on seeing the National Memorial commemorating April 19, 1995, when Timothy McVeigh unleashed the single most awful act of domestic terrorism on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

Across the street, at St. Joseph's Old Church, there is a different, and equally poignant memorial.

One of the great joys of this trip, due to the long, uneventful drives, and the weather patterns stirred up by Tropical Storm Fay, has been trying to find shapes in the clouds. Too often, we get so caught up by life that we forget to make time for that wide-eyed wonder that made childhood so magical. Here's a rain cloud trying to hitch a ride; unfortunately, we've been bringing California sunshine to every place we've stopped.

From Oklahoma City, we traveled south to Dallas. The plan had been to see if we could meet up with my cousin there, but she didn't return my call, and it was short notice. Without a local guide, there was really nothing else to do. All I got out of Dallas was this shot of a life-size Dirk Nowitzki bobble head in a McDonald's located in a rather grim-looking part of town.

From Dallas, we drove all the way down to Houston. Along the way, we encountered some rain, and Val, our rendez vous in Houston, reported rain where he was at, as well. But he said he'd be down to go out as planned no matter what, so we headed toward his place. By the time we were near Houston, the rain had stopped.

Due to some logistical considerations, we decided to bunk an extra night at my uncle's place. Thus, Day Five was dedicated to Houston. We began the day with some Mexican-style rib eye steak at Las Rosas along Highway 6 on the west side of Houston:

From there, we proceeded to Space Center Houston. The admission was expensive, and because it was toward the end of the day, we really could only make the tram tour. The tour took us into and throughout the Johnson Space Center. It is a huge complex, sitting on top of 1640 acres. Of those acres, 640 are owned by the Federal government, and 1000 are leased from Rice University at the rate of $1 per year. (Law students will recall from their Dukeminier books why such token rents exist.) We made our first tour stop at Mission Control.

Here, we got a quick briefing on the room. We were seated in the gallery where relatives and VIPs were able to watch the communications with the astronauts. The equipment in the picture is the original equipment, which was moved back after the more modern equipment for the shuttle was moved to the newer mission control center downstairs.

Our next tour stop was the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility, which holds mockups of all major space vehicles. These mockups are used for training astronauts, as well as to give technicians a visual reference to trouble-shoot problems reported by the astronauts. Here, for example, is the International Space Station.

Behind the full mockup of the space shuttle hang banners with names of the fleet of spaceworthy shuttles. (Enterprise is not represented because it cannot go into space; it is, however, otherwise airworthy.) Of this fleet, Challenger blew up 73 seconds after launch in 1986, and Columbia disintegrated on reentry in 2003.

Indeed, space exploration has not been without human cost. At JSC, there is a circle of memorial oaks, dedicated to the men and women who have lost their lives during the space program.

Our final stop was at the warehouse which holds the only complete Saturn V rocket still in existence. This behemoth is taller than the Statue of Liberty, and weighs over 2000 metric tons. It is the workhouse on whose back the Apollo programs rode, and is the brainchild of Wernher von Braun, whose rockets had rained terror on the British Isles during the Second World War.

After the Space Center, we got to see a little bit more of Houston, including the circular street name indicators along Westheimer Boulevard ...

... and the rise of a modern Chinatown along Bellaire Boulevard.

Today, on Day Six, we again visited Bellaire, having yum cha (飲茶) at Ocean Palace. It is without a doubt one of the largest scale Chinese restaurants I've ever been to, if not the largest.

From there, it was back on the road. We got back on Interstate 10, east bound, and got into Louisiana, whose waters made for much more interesting scenery.

We drove through most of southern Louisiana, and found our way to the Big Easy, New Orleans!

For those that don't know, New Orleans is a city at the mouth of the Mississippi River, which can be seen here:

Then it was off to the French Quarter, also known as the Vieux Carré.

Jackson Square, once known as Plaza d'Armas, is located within the French Quarter, and features an equestrian statute of Andrew Jackson, who was a Major General at the time of the Battle of New Orleans at the close of the War of 1812. It was during this battle that Francis Scott Key penned the words to "The Star-Spangled Banner".

And of course, what would the French Quarter be without Bourbon Street?

Although we had a limited budget, we definitely wanted to try things out, so we went to the Tropical Isle, where we got some food and drinks, and sat out on the balcony of the second floor.

We even made some new friends!

So, all in all, it's been a long four days. Tomorrow, we head to Jacksonville and the end of Interstate 10. Before I turn in for the night, here is the video log entry for these past four days:

No comments: