Going Coastal

Going Coastal is a far better course then Going Postal, which many friends have predicted for me. Oh my, how I’ve mellowed in retirement.

My last post followed our visit to the Johnson Space Center, which we visited from our base camp at Galveston Island State Park. But, there are so many reasons to love this area. This is our third or fourth trip here, and new discoveries are made each time. This is a great area to explore.

If you’re a reader, check out Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larsen for a primer to the area’s history and geography. Hurricanes have shaped the history here. High water markers, such as this one downtown are common. Check out Ike, way above John’s head.wp-1484186300319.jpgMany historic houses boast several markers like this.

There was a huge grass fire several miles from the Park on our first night. What a great sunset it made.wp-1484277806166.jpgwp-1484277366038.jpgFor the first time, we visited the gorgeous Rosenberg Library. (Full disclosure – we needed a bit of WiFi).20170109_150048.jpg What a treat this was. Not only is it a gorgeous building, with many high-ceilinged quiet rooms paneled in oak, with cozy leather chairs, they also have a museum-like area and a rare book collection. I was intrigued by their first edition of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (1776), there was also a Quran from the 1600s. wp-1483993328769.jpgBut I loved the one-book choir hymnal, hand painted on sheepskin. So huge that an entire choir followed from a single copy, held no doubt by a sturdy choirboy. Sadly, my photo has mysteriously disappeared. Imagine it..

From a visit the day before to Galveston Island Brewery, we learned about the Be Kind project (see, just another way beer makes us wiser). A block-long downtown mural celebrates this- here’s my favorite section.wp-1484186230558.jpg

Hungry yet? We were, so we checked into Gumbo Bar, where we shared a good seafood gumbo prepared before us in an elaborate system of taps, bowls, and flames.wp-1484186267486.jpg Impressive to watch the barside preparation, and good eating to boot.

Now we’re parked (and you can see why I use this phrase) at Mustang Island State Park. 20170112_214212.jpg This is old-school camping – a parking lot with cramped sites (although not nearly as crowded as some Michigan State Parks, and a faded bathroom/shower facility. Clean, but kinda creepy. But, we love this place! Miles of Gulf of Mexico beach, with only a few pelicans and gulls to share it with. You can walk for miles. Full campground, empty beach.wp-1484186824967.jpgwp-1484186721578.jpg20170111_200343.jpgInterestingly, camping is also allowed right on the beach. We saw only two brave campers – although it has warmed up, the fierce wind whips up the salt spray/sand combo. Our campsite is only 200 yards off the beach, and the roaring surf is our day and night companion. Honestly, this place is the bomb. We’re not brave enough to camp in the sand (can you spell towtruck?) but we had a good time cycling and strolling there for hours.

Our big cycling adventure started out as a beach ride.wp-1484279123250.jpg After five miles, we had bailed out onto Highway 361, and across a causeway bridge. Soon, signs say 10 miles to Padre Island National Seashore. wp-1484279189070.jpg We push on into a fierce headwind, consoling ourselves with the fast trip home we’ll get with a big tailwind. Ten miles turned into fifteen, and we were tapped out by the time we limped into the Malaquite Visitor Center.wp-1484279153549.jpg Sadly, it was disappointing -a few shells and artifacts, but no film about this magnificent 70 mile stretch of undeveloped barrier island. Ah, but we needed the time off the bike to charge up for the ride back to camp. Sadly, the wind had shifted, and we faced the same damned headwind all the way back! Even worse, we decided to ride the last five miles down the beach (Why? It’s such a unique privilege). Even worse, the tide had come in in the hours since our outbound journey, forcing us to ride closer to the barrier dines. Damp deep sand! It was like trying to churn through fresh cement. Happily?Y, after a mile or so, we were able to find a road to cut back to Highway 361. By the time we got home, I was bonked and totally wiped out. We are not in prime shape for a windy 50 mile bike ride!

Big fun tomorrow -laundry and grocery shopping. We’ll be leaving the Gulf Coast Saturday, and won’t see the ocean again until we hit San Diego in mid-March. Been fun in good weather and bad (good weather is better) 😊

Space Cadets

If every impressionable fourth-grader in the US had the opportunity to spend a day at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, we probably would never hear about any science or math gap in our country. Hell, John and I even had astronaut dreams after visiting for a day. What an unbelievable mind-expanding day it was.

The first extraordinary sight as you approach the Center is the improbable vision of the Space Shuttle Independence perched on top of its 747 launcher. Ridiculous! Outrageous!wp-1483991235670.jpg And, so the day begins…..

Full disclosure here. I had mixed emotions about spending the time and money to visit the JSC (about $30 each, less our AAA discount). I’m not a space nut, nor a science girl. But, I would happily go again tomorrow. There’s so much to see, and it’s such an inspiring experience.wp-1483990719766.jpgThe cool thing here is that the JSC is not filled with mock-ups of space stuff. This is where REAL astronauts train on REAL lunar rovers. Thewp-1483990332262.jpg Orion capsule is the REAL working/training unit for Mars exploration.wp-1483990954206.jpg It’s unbelievable stuff.

We went to the Mission Control Center where early Gemini/Apollo missions were tracked (it’s now used for training).wp-1483990489129.jpg Real-time video from the International Space Station (ISS) ran before our eyes.

Like rockets? Redstone, Saturn, and the unbelievable Saturn 5 rockets are there. The Redstone, used to launch the first Mercury capsules, looks like a mere bottle rocket – slender and unmenacing. wp-1483991067546.jpgThe last of the Saturn 5 rockets, on the other hand, is unbelievably huge and powerful-looking. As we walked I to the hangar where it’s housed, the folks in front of us actually stopped and gasped upon seeing it. We did too – it’s cartoonishly huge.wp-1483991125221.jpgwp-1483991160476.jpgBeyond comprehension that it would lift vertically off the ground.

Of course, our 50 year space program has had its disastrous failures. Apollo I was the first, which results in the deaths of the first three Astro sure, including Grand Rapids’ own Roger B Chaffee, on the right in the photo below.wp-1483990828525.jpg The explosions of Space Shuttles Challenger in 1986 on ascent, and Columbia in 2003 upon re-entry, highlight the danger and the experimental unknown of the US space program.

It’s great to watch the enormous progress of the endeavour – single-astronaut shots in the Mercury program, followed by astronauts in tandem orbiting the earth in the Gemini program. We watched the film of Neil Armstrong stepping into the moon’s surface, while Walter Cronkite removed his glasses and wiped a tear from his eye. Did you know there were 135 Space Shuttle missions?20170109_133550.jpg That number was astonishing to me. And now, we have the ISS, staffed by crew from many nations. Up next? Mars.

I touched a moon rock that was 2.3 billion years old. Actually touched it – I was thrilled.wp-1483983256544.jpgWe both passed on putting ourselves in the capsules that would emulate some of the rougher (throw-up) simulations of being an astronaut. Hop aboard the Vomit Comet?? Not me!

Here are a few other sights from our JSC day. If you ever have the chance to do this, don’t hesitate. It’s an amazing experience. If you are jaded and uninspired about our future prospects, this will ignite a sense of hope.20170109_133930.jpgwp-1483990664115.jpgwp-1483990424939.jpgI was struck by the videos of JFK asking for an astonishing $7 billion 1962 to put a man on the moon. At that point, only the first Mercury capsules had been launched. Yet, in July 1969, Neil Armstrong was stepping on the moon’s surface. Can we not conquer Cancer with an all-out effort, as proposed by President Obama last year? Why not? Let’s dream.