Archive for August 28, 2010

Days 88 and 89

August 28, 2010 12 comments

Location: near Perry, OK

Miles Driven: 637

Total Miles: 22,165


On Wednesday morning I got in a quick swim at the hotel pool before getting everything together for checkout.  Around 11AM I was in the car, but I needed to take care of a few things before I traveled east towards Kansas, one of those being an oil change.  If I calculated correctly in my head, the oil change I got in Boulder might be the penultimate oil change for this trip.  Only one more left.  That’s hard to believe.

By early afternoon I was on I-70E towards Kansas, but it would be a few hours before crossing the Colorado/Kansas border.  I was a little startled by the terrain in eastern Colorado.

“I thought the Rocky Mountains would be a little rockier than this. That John Denver’s full of sh!t, man.”

Not much longer I was driving amongst the plains of Western Kansas. I’ve talked to a number of people during this trip about their past roadtrips, and nobody spoke highly of the drive here.  Just flat as far as the eye can see…farmland on top of farmland.  I remember being surprised by how flat Florida was, but I think Kansas might take the cake.

Kansas drivin

On Wednesday evening, just around dusk, I was driving along (at the speed limit) and saw two cop cars next to each other on the median.  One of them closest to my side started moving before I even passed by, and I was subsequently pulled over.  I was wracking my mind to figure out what I had done wrong…wasn’t speeding, and I wasn’t following anybody closely, so I was a little confused.  When the officer came out he informed me my driver’s side headlight was out.  “What!?” was my mental reaction.  If you recall, I had just gotten the bulb replaced when I was in Alaska.  The officer took my information and went back to his car.  I was hopeful I wouldn’t get a ticket; I was planning a response if he came back with one – showing the receipt of a new headlight from less than 5,000 miles ago.  Looks like I might have some kind of short in the wiring.  Thankfully, the officer just gave me a warning.

As it was getting dark and I only had one functioning headlight, I stopped at the next rest area for the night.  Along the route there, I saw something pink in the horizon up ahead.  I couldn’t tell what it was…some kind of unique building?  It took me a few minutes to realize “ohhh, it’s the Moon.”  The way it lined up, it looked like you could take I-70E straight towards the Moon.


I got a good bit of sleep and was on the road by 8AM the next day.  I was taking my time and taking advantage of breaks along the way at the Kansas rest stops.  I won’t say they are the nicest rest stops I’ve ever seen, but they certainly have the most real estate.  In one rest stop I saw enough space where you could have a couple football games going on.

just a lot of space

I continued eastwards towards the town of Salina, and there I began the journey south by turning onto I-135.  Along the way I stopped at Coronado’s Heights.  It’s alleged that on this hill (one of the few I saw in Kansas), Franciso Vasquez de Coronodo gave up his search for the fabled “Seven Cities of Gold” and turned around back towards Mexico.  There’s no proof of this, it seems, but I was enjoying just thinking about the legend.

There was a stone shelter built on top of the hill, and I foolishly thought maybe the shelter dates somewhere around the time of the explorers like Coronado.  Nope, I’m an idiot…it was built in 1936 as a public works project.

The views from the heights were impressive.  Although it was a small hill, just a little bit of a rise gives you a good view of the surrounding farmland.

Before I left Coronado’s Heights, I noticed an empty car with a peculiar license plate:

Bonus points for the first person to ID the movie that license plate was in

At this point I would be remiss to not thank a friend I know online, Danielle.  Danielle lives in Kansas, and before I got into the state I had asked her if she had any recommendations of things to see.  She went above and beyond and polled some people she knew online.  They, in turn, filled out a GoogleDoc full with places of interest along my route.   I had plenty of recommendations in no time, and had to pick and choose.  One item listed that piqued my interest was a space museum called the “Cosmosphere.”  I’m embarassed I would’ve driven past a pretty major space museum and not even realized it.  It was just about 30 minutes off the interstate, and I arrived just after 3PM.  And it wasn’t until around 6PM that I left…it was that good.

The museum was impressive from the get go.  Here’s a picture from the main lobby:

I went to the desk to buy a ticket.  Unfortunately, I was just a few minutes late to catch the IMAX film about the Hubble Telesccope, but on the positive side, that meant only $12 for admission to the museum section.  The trailer I heard playing through the speakers made it sound like a pretty cool movie (plus it was using music from the movie “Sunshine”, which is never a bad choice).  Hopefully I’ll be able to catch this film in some other IMAX elsewhere in the country.

I grabbed my ticket and quickly headed towards the main exhibits.

replica of the Mars Viking landers

Just before the main entrance to the museum section, there was a big exhibit about Apollo 13, as 2010 marked the 40 year anniversary of the mission.  Displayed were pieces of equipment used in the mission, photographs, and personal accounts of NASA employees.

“From the Moon, knowledge” – emblem of the Apollo 13 mission, along with a part of Mission Control

I spent probably 25 minutes looking at the Apollo 13 stuff, and this was even before the official start of the museum.  I knew I must be in for something special here.  I scanned my ticket, went through the turnstiles, and began my tour.

At the start of the tour were a number of cool photos from various missions, some with autographs and quotes from astronauts.  Just a couple that really stood out to me:

“Envy the nation that has heroes.” -Buzz Aldrin

I then stepped into the main section of the museum.  I didn’t really know what to expect going in (I hadn’t read the pamphlet), so I was a little confused when I found myself in a gallery about WWII.  But then after seeing a model rocket hanging and some displays, I realized the museum was going to start from the very beginning – German development of the V2 rocket in the early 1940s.  And there were other galleries ordered in chronological fashion – Cold War era, first satellites, etc.  I learned a lot reading each of the displays, and there was a lot of information on Wernher von Braun, the premier rocket engineer of the 20th Century.

Although von Braun was a commission SS officer in the Nazi army, there is debate as to whether or not he shared the mindset of the Nazi’s, or was just an opportunist who saw the military as a way to fund his ambition with rockets (particularly ambitious about sending rockets into space). I think the evidence points towards the latter, and here is one quote from the displays I enjoyed:

With Germany crumbling in the spring of 1945, von Braun saw his best chance to continue his passion with rocketry in the United States.  I read the displays about how he managed to surrender to U.S. soliders before the Russians closed in:

One of the displays said that thanks to von Braun continuing his work in America, the U.S. saved over $2 Billion (1950s dollars) in rocket R&D.  Unreal.  I knew this man was a genius, but the more I read the more I realized I’ve underestimated his impact.

Then I read about the planned division of postwar-Germany between the Allies.  The primary V2 rocket areas where located in what would be Soviet territory (and the agreement was the technology in the area goes to the occupier), but the US Army quickly raided the areas for the paperwork, rockets, and equipment involved with V2 production, before the Soviets could arrive. The US now not only had von Braun and his team of engineers, but now the technology in their hands, as well. Mr. Joe Stalin was none too happy:

Further into the galleries, the displays discussed the two major players in rocketry on each side – there was von Braun on the American side, and then Sergei Korolev on the Soviet side.  Sadly, Korolev was deemed so important by Stalin’s successor, Kruschev, that his identity was kept a secret.  He was only known as the “Chief Designer,” and was prohibited from wearing the medals he earned, and was not allowed to be recognized at public functions celebrating his achivements, notably Sputnik and Vostok 1 (which took the first man into space).  Interestingly enough, Korolev was a former Soviet prisoner forced to work in a gulag for several years, but years later still passionately pushed for the USSR’s cause in rockets and space.

Sputnik replica

The museum went on in such a fashion, giving great detail about each side in the space race – success, failures, Americans trying to catch up to the Soviets, etc.  I won’t bore you with more history…I could probably type for pages about what I learned.  I learned that in the 60s, JFK asked his VP, Lyndon Johnson, to put together some recommendations for the US space program.  Johnson, after consulting with the experts, was the one who advised that a goal of putting men on the moon was achievable.

Just some fascinating history at the museum. I was blown away.  And combine the history with space stuff – just a double whammy. I had learned some of the history in the past, but to understand it better, here, and to hear about the motivations and thinking going on behind the scenes…that was quite an experience.  I wholeheartedly recommend the Cosmosphere to anyone within a day’s drive of Kansas.  Absolutely remarkable.

Sergei Korolev – the architect of the Soviet space program who, sadly, received little recognition during his life

It was near 6PM when I left…the time in the museum just flew by.  I had to make a little more progress before the night came, so I made a beeline back to the interstate.

I was able to cross the Kansas/Oklahoma border and it was at a rest stop near Perry that I stopped for the night.  This Oklahoman rest stop did not have as much open land as the Kansas ones, but it had some nice views of the farmland adjacent to the stop.

Great times in Kansas.  From here the trip somewhat turns back into “people mode,” as I know more folks in this part of the country and further east (where I’m headed).  On Friday, I’ll make my way into Texas and re-visit some friends in the Dallas/Fort Worth area over the weekend.  The plan is by August 31 to be back in Georgia, the starting point of this roadtrip…but not the end point!  That’s still a few thousand miles away.