Archives for category: My Travelogue

EvergladesFlorida’s most iconic landscape is comprised of a massive watershed that stretches over 100 miles from Lake Okeechobee to the Southern tip of the peninsula. During the wet season, the massive lake discharges excess water creating a massive slow-moving river that flows toward the sea. From this river a subtropical ecosystem of woodlands, marshes, grasslands, and estuaries emerges.

Fakahatchee Strand Preserve

Cypress TreeSetting out from Naples along the Tamiami Trail (Highway 41) we first encounter the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk. Tucked away in a corner of the preserve, the boardwalk offers an intimate glimpse into nature and history. Here stand the few remaining virgin cypress groves in Florida. They are the remnants of an ancient ecosystem that was mostly eradicated by past logging operations. Today, the cypress trees are protected along with the other plant and animal species that call the preserve “home”.

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Fakahatchee Strand PreserveEverglades City

2013-11-17 13.47.56 copyWe continue onward, approaching Everglades City. This little town in the middle of nowhere evokes memories of “Old Florida” before the days of air conditioning and retirees. The residents still retain memories of the town’s… colorful past. A couple of decades ago, Everglades City supported a thriving drug trade in which almost every local family was involved. Dealers delivered bales of marijuana or “square grouper” by plane and by sea, their covert actions sheltered by the expanse of swamp.Today, Everglades City caters mostly to tourists.

Speedy's Airboat Tours

Big Cypress National Preserve

2013-11-17 15.46.03 copyAs the day wears on, we turn onto an unassuming dusty dirt road. The Loop, as County Road 94 is called, leads to nowhere; it is a relic of big dreams and ruined ambition. Captian Jaudon, head of the Chevelier Company, had invested in land and agreed to fund construction of the Tamiami Trail on the condition that it be rerouted. By doing so he hoped to found “The Next Miami.” However the town never materialized and the company went bankrupt, leaving only a 24 mile long road in the wilderness behind.  

Big Cypress National Preserve

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy first impression is how tiny and cramped the Apollo capsule is. The seat is lost in a tangled nest of buttons, wires and straps. Looking at it, I honestly don’t think I could fit even without the space suit. I am only 5’1’. Those astronauts must have been pretty damn short to fit into these tin cans. NASA probably put an ad in the newspaper requesting persons of incredibly small size. I am gob smacked when I learn otherwise.  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHow did they fit the astronauts (and three of them to boot!) is the question. A team of technicians must have struggled to fit the fully outfitted men into the compartment. I imagine it involved lots of pushing, and pulling, and crushing, and manhandling. Sort of like stuffing an over packed suitcase. I think that must be the real reason astronauts must to be extremely fit: so they can fit into the capsule.

The Kennedy Space Center inevitably evokes such musings, for it is a place that celebrates adventure, technology, and history concerning space travel and exploration. When I attended school in Florida, this was always a favorite destination for school field trips. Unfortunately for me, I visited several years ago and thus have not seen the new exhibits for Space Shuttle Atlantis. 

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A Day at Kennedy Space Center

 #1 – The Visitor Complex

Before embarking on the main part of the tour, the Visitor Complex offers some interesting diversions and exhibits concerning Space Exploration. There is the possibility of having lunch with an astronaut or even encountering “Robot Scouts.”

#2 – Astronaut Memorial

It is a sobering reminder of the dangers of complacency and a dismissive attitude about space travel. On this black granite slab, stand the names of the people who lost their lives expanding our horizons

 #3 – The Vehicle Assembly Building

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the largest buildings in the world, the Vehicle Assembly Building is impossible to miss. It sits alone in the flat landscape, leaving you to wonder what is behind those massive doors. Only the American Flag and the NASA logo decorate this massive edifice. Actually, fans of brutalist and modern art and architecture would probably appreciate the merits of its design. Meanwhile the rest of us look from a distance, waiting to see what will emerge from that cavern. Special Tours are available to further explore the Vehicle Assembly Building.

#4 – The Crawler

Racing along at an impressive 1 mph when loaded and 2 mph when unloaded, the crawler is one of the largest and slowest vehicles on the planet. It carefully transports the rockets and shuttles from the shelter of the VAB to one of the two launch pads.

#5 – Observation Gantry

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis steel tower, on launch day, is one of the best views in the house. From here, you can view from a safe distance of course the beginning of a NASA mission. Although the shuttle has been retired, smaller rockets still are launched from the two platforms in the distance, LC-39 A and LC-39 B.

#6 – Launch Control

Then, there is Launch Control. It’s amazing just how old the computers are in that room. I swear my smart phone has more computing power than every machine there. Nonetheless, here is where all those launches are monitored until control is switched over to Houston.

#7 – Apollo/Saturn V Center

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis was my favorite exhibit on all of my previous visits. Nothing can floor you like that first glimpse of the Saturn V rocket hanging over your heads, each of its engines more than twice as large as the average person. In addition, you find the other displays like the cramped Apollo capsule, the seemingly fragile Lunar Lander, and the Moon Rover.

#8 – IMAX

They dragged an IMAX camera to the top of Everest. Of course, they would launch one up to space. Prepare for some of the crispest, cleanest images ever filmed on camera. Two features are shown, Space Station 3D and Hubble 3D. My favorite is Hubble 3D.

#9 – Rocket Garden

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the courtyard of the Visitor Complex stands a display of the earliest rockets. They are tiny in comparison to the giant Saturn V and simple compared to the shuttle. Yet, they remind us of how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to go. 

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