Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Roswell, New Mexico 2017

This Mexican Restaurant, where I had lunch, is right across from the UFO Museum. Good food!
There can only be one reason for me to want to visit Roswell and it isn’t to eat lunch at the flying saucer shaped McDonald’s Restaurant - as thrilling as that prospect may sound. (I swore I wouldn’t advertise them.) As an alumni member of the first post-atomic bomb generation and a so-called, baby boomer, I grew up watching the newly invented medium of television. The viewing screen of our first TV in 1955 was very small and as the three of us young brothers huddled around the tube to watch Captain Kangaroo, our heads blocked the entire viewing screen. Mom said from her perspective, it was like watching three basketballs instead of the programming offered on any of the three then existing network broadcast channels. She was happy for our nap times, so she could watch her soap opera stories.

(l to r) Dancing Bear, Mr. Moose, Mr. Green Jeans, Bunny Rabbit and Captain Kangaroo.
We also watched news stories about the Cuban Missile Crisis and stories about people who were actually building Fallout Shelters in their backyard, digging underground. There were companies who had Preparation Fairs and demonstrations while other companies sold canned food in bulk. Freeze-dried food wasn’t invented yet. We lived in fear of Communism and The Bomb - not ours, ... theirs. In addition to normal fire drills at school, we held regular drills to either Duck and Cover under our desks or file out into the central hallways and face the wall with our hands behind our necks and bent over until our faces were in our laps until the “danger” had passed - all to be ready in case of nuclear attack. We had no idea that in a real  nuclear attack, we’d all become burnt toast in under 10 seconds after the initial flash.

Of course, these drills were leftover from WW-II, but we were glad to feel safer anyway. We believed in our government to protect us. We believed they would never lie to us. To shore up and confirm our patriotism, we recited the Pledge of Allegiance in school, every day before class began. It didn’t hurt and nobody was offended. It took thirty seconds. It made us proud to know what the stars and stripes on our flag represented and about our heritage as young  Americans. Those were the early times of our lives.

Television gave us an escape from the horrible realities in a world too grown up for us. A few years later and with a new, larger black & white TV screen, we began receiving an independent local channel which offered “scary movies”, late on Friday nights called Nightmare Theater and hosted by TV personality and ghoul, Sammy Terry. To close out each show, Sammy had a sinister laugh and wished us, “Pleasant nightmares”. The snowy reception could be clarified by using a set of rabbit ears antennas with aluminum foil wrapped around the tips so we could pick-up the signal from their broadcast tower on southwest part of Indianapolis, Indiana - if we moved the antennas around enough to find just the right spot. It was free of charge as long as you had a TV receiver.

The inimitable Sammy Terry, from WTTV-4, Nightmare Theater.
There were always the horror classics of Frankenstein, Wolfman, Dracula, the Mummy and all incarnations of those characters later to come. There were even comedy versions of these bad guys. Then later, movies of the science fiction genre were included. Every New Years Eve, “Godzilla” - a sleeping prehistoric lizard king made alive again and more dangerous by residual atomic radiation from the bombs dropped on Japan which ended WW-II - terrorized our living rooms, while mom & dad were elsewhere attending a neighborhood NYE party.

Still, two of my all time favorite Sci-Fi movies, which seemingly contained a moral message  following the advent of the Atomic Age also came on TV.

“From out of space ... a warning and an ultimatum”

“Join us and live in peace or 
pursue your present course and face obliteration. 
We shall be waiting for your answer. 
The decision rests with you.”  

Of course, those are the parting words of Klaatu, backed up by his enforcer, an 8-foot destructive robot named, Gort from the 1951 film, “The Day the Earth Stood Still”.

My other favorite was the 1956 film, “Forbidden Planet” - the first film to offer a soundtrack purely of artificially produced music made on the new invention called the Moog Synthesizer and also had a real robot, “Robby”, as a co-star. If that wasn’t weird enough, the moral of that story was that no matter how advanced civilization becomes, hidden deep within our pre-historic genetic beginning lies “monsters from the Id”. In short, no matter where we go, we take our problems with us.

Now, back on point, here. It wasn’t until much later that we ever learned about what may or may not have really happened in the high desert some 70 miles northwest of Roswell that brought Science Fiction possibly into the realm of Science Fact. That is, of course, if you discount the actual reports of “Foo Fighters” (not the music group), but actual UFO’s that were spotted by WW-II pilots during combat missions. Were we visited by extraterrestrial aliens who crashed here during a lightning storm in July 1947?

Your host, outside the UFO Museum, Roswell, NM.
Whenever in question or in doubt, there IS only one place to go - and go there, I did. The International UFO Museum, in downtown Roswell, New Mexico - the only official place to visit, which includes a research library and a gift shop. (Who knew? - a gift shop.)

A morning sun capture of the building front.
Of course, this IS THE UFO tourist destination, but it’s not at all fun and games. The museum does an excellent job of portraying the facts - just the facts, ma’am - of that incident and has the proof to support its claims. Full documentation, audio recordings, artifacts as well as artists renderings based upon eyewitness descriptions are all there for your perusal without any false claims or accusations in either pro-con direction. In the auditorium, there are documentary videos that play continuously. There were documented interviews with those who were on the scene in 1947, radio news broadcasts that were later recanted by government authorities, observations by those who were coerced into NOT telling anything they witnessed or assisted with - clean up, removal or anything connected with the “event”.

An artist's commemoration to Mac Brazel, the discoverer of the Alien Craft debris field on his ranch.
As you look and admire this huge collection, should you have a question, as I did several times, merely go to the desk and ask anyone there. My first question was, “Clearly, the ship that crashed was a small scout-class ship. Was there no mother ship?” The answer was well in-line with the truth of the times, that RADAR of the day was still in its infancy and probably could not observe any other orbiting craft beyond a certain range limit.

There were 8-other craft sighted, but only one crashed as a result of a lightning strike. There were reported bodies at the crash site, but none survived - so the unofficial (non-government sanctioned) story goes. Question #2: “Were there any observed rescue attempts by other UFO craft?” Answer: None were observed. My comment: Well, there must have been ship-to-ship communications of some form, so ....  I didn’t know how I wanted to finished that comment, so I just dropped it. Instead of ‘no man left behind’ perhaps aliens believe ‘there is nothing to be served by recovery missions’.

Of course, there is other information available here relative to other and completely different UFO observations world-wide as well. Such as indicated in the photo below.

One of many such exhibits. This radar scope photo and accompanying legend.
So, of course, since the government agencies have not been exactly forthcoming about their findings, conspiracy theories are created and are bountiful. People KNOW something happened and a crashed weather balloon story released AFTER the original story became public somehow sounds wrong. This would be a good time to introduce the propaganda concept of False Flag, but I assume you already know that is a distinct possibility. We were very angry with the post WW-II Cold War, the Russians, Communists and even possible American spies living and working in Hollywood at the time as brought forward by Senator McCarthy. I don’t think they teach that anymore. Do they? At what time, exactly, did our government start lying and/or withholding the truth? This issue seems to bring that question to the fore.

ON the record are people of world renown. Their comments, while non-specific to the Roswell Incident, do seem to be indicative that UFOs do exist. (Who else do you know that uses an ordinary digital camera to photograph documents on public display?)

Memorable quotes relative to the existence of UFO's and extraterrestrials visiting us on Earth.
Clearly, here are a few of the reasons for the government to cover-up UFO investigations and dissemination of information - even for our own protection. After all, you just can’t have people going around digging deep holes for underground shelters. We all can’t have weapons and ammunition to protect ourselves from the alien threat ... can we?

This next photo, originally I didn’t want to include here as too gruesome, but they are only mannequins and artists renderings of what was to suggest a deceased alien autopsy. It was one of the highlight exhibits and posting it here will either create more interest for the readers to desire a visit or merely to be informed of its existence at the UFO Museum in Roswell.

A diorama of what an alien autopsy might look like - from eyewitness descriptions.
All in all, this is the place to become completely immersed in the UFO Phenomenon. Bring your questions and your skepticism - all could either be entertained or answered. In the adjacent research library, you can do your own research and further your own investigations. The cost of admission is inexpensive enough and if you desire to wade-in chest deep, you could be there all day. I skipped the videos, but now feel sorry that I did.

I took many photos, as usual, but most were of interest only to myself. As I left the Museum and wandered up and down the street for about two blocks in either direction, it seems the folks in Roswell enjoy the tourists who drop their cash in their community and do what they can to entice you into their stores. I liked this window display, but the store was closed that day. I don’t buy tourist t-shirts anymore anyway.

Almost every storefront along a two block area - including the bank - has some sort of UFO window display.
Clearly after 70 years, no one alive remembers the incident first hand or what the ship looked like, but everybody wants to get into the spirit - for the tourists. It’s fun and different, but it also gives pause and thought to the possibilities. It also sells a lot of t-shirts and trinkets. I bought a couple of pins for my collection, a ball point pen that I needed to take notes while in the museum and a pencil. Big spender that I am, I have enough t-shirts, hats, coffee mugs and too many shot glasses to keep my kids busy sorting after I croak ... or get mysteriously abducted into space.

I’ll leave you with the highlight display that is actually animated occasionally throughout your visit there. I did shoot video, but you should really see it yourself.

The centerpiece display at the International UFO Museum & Research Center, Roswell, NM.
A little something to frighten the kids. One of the alien’s heads move, but I won’t tell you which one. I don’t know about you, but ... I’m still thinking about whatever it is I’m still thinking about. Time for another sci-fi movie in my collection that is NOT Star Wars or Star Trek. Trust me, I have others. I even have one where the aliens come back to Earth to “harvest the crop of humans they dropped-off here to grow their herd ... as an alien food source.” Hahahaha!

Oh, and don’t think for a second that the Ancient Astronaut Theory wasn’t discussed and displays created. The Museum thought of everything.

See ya ‘round the galaxy! “The Truth is Out There!”

The long, winding road back to camp at Bottomless Lakes State Park near sunset.

~ 30 ~

(Word Count: 1950)

Monday, February 12, 2018

The VLA - Very Large Array Experience

My interest in space exploration began as a near teenager, when my grandparents took me to the Holcomb Observatory Planetarium and Telescope on the campus of Butler University. Every so often, they would hold Planetarium shows there and on clear nights we could see the planet Saturn through the telescope.

At Arlington High School, we had the state's ONLY high school Planetarium and Astronomy programs were offered. During my recent school visit during our 50th Anniversary of that great day in the sun - Graduation - we were told that although the Planetarium had been moved to the very back of the building, no classes were offered and there was virtually no one in the school who could operate it anymore.

AHS Planetarium, Indianapolis) Photo by Leslie Saure.
Heaven help me, I love the Science Fiction genre of literature, TV programs and movies. Looking back over the years, I've literally witnessed some Sci-Fi become Science Fact. Mankind has visited the Moon on the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969, not in a giant bullet fired from a giant canon as envisioned at the turn of the century by fiction author H.G. Wells, but in an actual space craft invented by thousands of men and women with the express purpose of going there. I watched it on TV, along with millions of people worldwide. What they learned on that mission has been passed along and fostered return trips which lit the fires of inspiration to learn and explore even further outward toward visiting the planet Mars - Earth's nearest neighbor in space.

The idea that extraterrestrial beings have been visiting our planet has been in the public awareness for many years and exacerbated by the events near Roswell, New Mexico in July of 1947 - whether true or not. There is even a professional organization called, S.E.T.I. - Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, whose mission it is to listen for signs of life from "out there", in the vastness of space - the final frontier. As noted in Carl Sagan's book, "Contact", if there aren't other lifeforms or civilizations out there, it would be a terrible waste of space. Perhaps we'll find them someday and in peace. Just the idea of that meeting, makes the problems of people on this planet to seem very small.

The opportunity to visit and explore the VLA near Socorro, New Mexico has been on my "Wish List" for a long time. The world's largest listening post for what's going on in our Galaxy and the Universe observes low band (what we call) radio frequencies emitted from the heavenly bodies outside the observation of even the assisted human vision. That visit wish came true on February 10, 2018.

Standing 90-feet tall with a dish diameter of 82 feet, this is one of 27 such dishes spanning 22 miles in the "Y" array.
The Sci-Fi factor is always entertaining to consider, but there is very serious astronomical work being done here as well as at other facilities like the one I visited in the late 1990's at Green Bank, West Virginia. At the time I visited Green Bank, the largest Radio Telescope in the world was under construction, but of course, has now been completed.

The World's Largest Single Radio Telescope at Green Bank, WV under construction in about 1997-98.
The goals of each array are varied and study tasks are submitted by proposal from qualified scientists, but only one-third of which are accepted as there are only so many hours in a day, week, month or year at 24-hours per day. The areas of study are as varied as the scientists themselves. The studies and space observations are linked between the VLA in New Mexico with Green Bank observations. As we speak, the VLA is undergoing a complete mapping of the stars - an 8-year long project.

As it turned out, I was very glad to have visited with a group of campers from the Cedar Cove RV Park near Elephant Butte, New Mexico. Visiting the VLA would turn out to be a little more of a rugged trip than I envisioned. We broke down the group into two vehicles, but the drivers decided to take the scenic route traveling down long, rough and rocky roads called "state highways". With no businesses, factories or shopping along the way, these roads allow ranch owners a clear path to their homesteads. There just isn't any budget for road improvements in this vast area of desert.

A small herd at a ranch along the dusty road toward our destination.
Along the washboard roads, sparse of none but local traffic, I did get a chance to photograph some wildlife - outside of the cow herds belonging to local ranchers. This was a pleasant surprise - a herd of Pronghorn antelope was grazing along the roadway. As we stopped to take pictures, it seems the animals were more than willing to pose ... just so, for our cameras. Notice the natural camouflage.

This is only a small part of the group of Pronghorn antelope who posed for the folks with cameras.
Once at the Visitors Center, we were treated to a 20-minute movie, introductory talk and guided tour of the facility with lots of information and history of the VLA all for the low, low price of only $5.00. (I spent twice that on souvenir pins for my collection.) On one wall, was a large projection screen display explaining the history of the facility along with some great images of various space discoveries in vivid color.

The VLA adventure and education begins here. Amazing!
Several movies were photographed here, namely; Contact, 2010-the Year We Make Contact, Independence Day, Terminator and several others. I've gone back to my own movie collection to view the short scenes shot there. It's mentally pretty cool to now say, "I've actually been there."

In the movie, "2010", Doctor Floyd was filmed on these stairs talking to a Russian diplomat.
As excited as I was to be there, this is not a theme park for kids. This is pure scientific investigation. They just let us in, occasionally, because it was built with public funds - authorized by Congress in 1972. The "guided tour" is extra, but you can roam the area outside of the Control Building for free.

In the Control Building is the "brains" of this outfit - human and the new Super Computer - which controls the Array.
This is where all the real work is done. The scientists around the world have access to their own telescope projects via the new Super Computer capable of performing 10-quadrillion mathematical operations per second and only uses 170,000 watts of power. The numbers are so large, I just don't have that many fingers and toes to make sense of them. Put another way, it takes in data equivalent to 2.3-billion "Tweets" per second.

The list of observations, discoveries and work accomplished here since it's beginning and especially since the 2012 major upgrades is astounding, but every day people like us won't be impressed. I have a lot of literature from my visit, but I'm not sure I even understand it at all. To my way of thinking, it's hard to be impressed by things we don't understand without some basis or frame of reference. Let's just say that the scientists around the world are truly amazed.

I'll give you an example: "The VLA has seen clear into the dust-shrouded center of our galaxy, 26,000 light years away - that's over 150 quadrillion miles from here! With radio eyes, the VLA captured a stunning view of the material spiraling around the super-massive black hole anchored in the heart of our galaxy." This is quoted right from the handout brochure.

If I remember correctly, a "light year" is the distance that light travels at a speed of 186,000 miles per second times the number of seconds in a 365 day calendar year. Let me see, traveling at 70 mph, I could drive there in "X" years. That's a pretty big X. Before calculators and super computers, these computations were made on a slide rule. Anybody remember those from Science Classes? Okay, I'm showing my age again. In truth, I get lost in all the zeroes, which puts me ... nowhere.

I've always considered Science to be theoretical for my purposes. Science is raw knowledge that can be used for practical purposes. My brain power can't make the connection. H2O is the chemical formula for water. We drink water. Good to know. Lots of things mix with H2O. They also mix with water. Now, I'm confusing myself because I'm watering down the argument. My apologies to scientific work and discovery. I'm only trying to inject a spot of humor as poor-man's entertainment for myself. Science has a language all its own and things learned are fascinating and can be valuable for those in the scientific community.

It's just 250 tons of steel and electronics but we learn so much about our Universe.
In this photo, you can see the railroad whereby these antennae are moved along the "Y" array to suit the needs of the space observation project. Yep, they are movable! The introductory video showed the amazing process - showing again what the mind can conceive, mankind can achieve. By the way, the Manager of the facility today was a young lady who managed to monitor and control the processes of no less than 8-computer monitors which displayed every function of data collection processing.

After our visit, we headed to a small, nearby town for a good-tasting meal at the only business still open - The Eagle Guest Ranch Cafe, grocery, motel, RV park and gas station. It was a long day filled with new and different experiences. We arrived back at camp around 7:30 pm. Tired and road-weary, I went to bed early after two vodka cocktails.

Parting shot: As the sun set in the West, we traveled this state highway back toward paved roads. Sill loved the view.
As for me, it's not enough to put a check-mark on this line item on my Bucket List. Hope you enjoyed my visit.

~ 30 ~

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Wi-Fi or What? ... NOT!

Just to show you that life traveling on the road can be even more harrowing that one imagines affecting your psyche in weird ways, ...

About two weeks ago, some silly crow-brained crow decided that flying was for the birds and decided to rest a while as he had done time and time before. Notice I didn’t use the trite, but true cliché “bird brained”. There’s no sense in casting aspersions on those species that are of lower or superior avian intellect. Our unfortunate fellow, however, instead of taking a break on an ordinary phone pole or grounded line his choice was a local power transformer. Not only did the poor black bird bite the dust, he became dust in a hail of falling feathers .. After the Big Bang of the short-out, the rest of the known universe of this small village in New Mexico experienced an uninterrupted power delivery failure for about an hour and a half unbeknownst of the demise of said unfortunate crispy crow.

All I knew for certain was that I’d never know the outcome of the gunfight of Lucas McCain on The Rifleman TV Show. I guess he won, but I’ll never know for sure. However, the odds are good. It's his show. There will be more installments of the trials and tribulations of Lucas and son, Mark, from the desert town of North Fork in the New Mexico Territory before statehood. But, I’m getting away from my story. The power was out.

HP Omni 220-1185qd (2012)
As for my computer, it was in the middle of a security scan and rearranging of the electrons on the hard drive to make it more efficient when the power went out. What I did NOT know, was that - for the second time in 12-months - the power to my desktop computer was interrupted during a Windows download and/or update. Of course, I set this to happen behind the scenes as needed, but they never tell me they’re gonna do it. (Sneaky bastards.) So naturally, when the computer powered on again after the power failure was resolved, it proceeded to reboot and automatically update Windows with what it “thought” was the full and complete download. How was I to know?

So, the hard drive was now corrupted with inadequate code to tie my many expensive and paid-for software programs with the data files I’ve collected including 68,000 photo images I’ve taken along the way - post 1997. Some programs opened and seemed to work, but there was no data. I found the sequestered data but the “new and improved more secure Windows update” didn’t know where they were and couldn’t rectify the errors. I was screwed.

I made some calls and evidently, you can reinstall Windows to heal over the errors, but in reality what it does is wipe-out everything in favor of it’s new matrix. It’s the Genesis Effect from Star Trek II - Wrath of Khan. At this point, I was resolved that what was NOT on my back-up external hard drive would be lost from my hard drive.

I purchased a new Windows 10 Installation and was glad to see that it was on a flash-drive instead of a couple of data disks. Hard to believe that it was $123.00 plus tax. Microsoft was giving it away for so long last year. Facing the potential loss of my desktop computer last summer, I bought a new laptop. The new laptop I bought last year when this happened the first time doesn’t have an optical disc drive but it does have only a 1-TB hard drive. So many new computers are sold today are going to small Solid State Drives and depending upon “The Cloud” to store all your data unless you have an external hard drive as back-up, which is my choice whenever possible.

I don’t do “Cloud” except where they insist you’re not getting what you paid-for any other way ... Amazon, iTunes, Google, Corel and Cyberlink. Although using them all, I was happy to be able to reconstruct my software purchases on my new laptop. Sometimes, even when you have your data backed-up, the DRM files prohibit you from playing them without some sort of trigger code that re-authorizes the use of something you've already paid-for. (It sucks!) When the world goes to hell and all is blown up, electricity availability and internet access will be down, but somebody out there will have all your stuff and you won’t. They say, plan for the worst but hope for the best and that’s what I’m doing. No Cloud.

So on a “busy” Saturday night before the featureless but colorful cloudless sunset, I got busy eating Mexican take-out food and checking my now corrupted computer for anything I could get from it before wiping it out and starting over. By about 1:00 a.m., I had new Windows and Microsoft Office 2007 - which was previously purchased loaded onto the hard drive of the old 2012 model HP AiO-Omni 220 with a 22” full HD screen. I love that thing. I special ordered it from HP. It’s still great hardware inside, but it’s showing its age now with scratches and some damage to the display screen that I put on there while setting up my new drone camera toy.

Also realizing that it has taken up too much room - even for an AiO - in my little camping trailer, that I’ve decided to hand it down to my brother, Dave’s wife - Barbie. Dave doesn’t do computers, so Barbie will have fun with it and appreciate it’s power. Poor kid is still running Windows Vista until her old desktop followed the footsteps of our crow friend and bit the dust. She’s using a borrowed Mac, but she’d rather have her own. So, I’m giving it to her with some extra things and $100 gift card for Cyberlink’s Media Suite Ultra which gives her lots of abilities for photo/video editing, burning DVDs and CDs as well as playing DVDs in the optical drive. It even includes YouCam software which facilitates Windows in using Web Cams.

I also gave her a pair of Logitech headphones with a microphone for video chatting as well as a Logitech Pro 9000 webcam and M510 wireless mouse. I can’t find the original one that HP provided new, but this mouse is better.

I know that I’ll miss it when it’s gone. I’ve taken it off the table here already. While I really appreciate the extra table space, the clear view to the front of my monstrous 18 foot travel trailer from the dinette area, I miss the big screen. I’ll get over it. The 15.6” display on this HP Envy x360 or whatever computer is pretty sharp and easily readable. The keyboard is nice, back-lit and very familiar.

Oh, and to add insult to injury, I just found the Windows 10 Installation Disc that the Service Techs gave me  following the first meltdown and reconstruction last July. I was rooting around here and organizing my junk and "there it was" - all shiny and everything. I could have saved the $123.00 at the local small town retailer that seems to have everything. Yeah, you know the one. Well, too late now.

- 30 -

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Traveling Route 66 - Westward Ho!

With all due respect to the uniquely talented Jazz pianist/Composer, Bobby Troup, I wasn't out to get my "Kicks on Route 66" this camping season - although I am playing one of his albums in iTunes on my computer as I create this posting. Sadly, there is very little remaining of the former "Mother Road" that connects Chicago to Los Angeles. Much has happened along the way since those early days when people traveled by car to "See America First", as the saying went. Traveling Route 66 really began shortly after the invention of automobiles and the idea of picnics and camping while traveling. In the 1950's, there came TV commercials to "See the USA in your Chevrolet". The country was awakening to post WW-II days of leisure time and family vacation trips to see and experience the sights and sounds of other parts of this great country of ours. The more I travel, the greater the appreciation I have.

This was the route I took. It's all Interstate Highway where Route 66 used to be.
Following the Eisenhower presidency came the Interstate Highway System and the Mother Road was supplanted by 70-75 mph super slabs of concrete with only fuel and fast food stops along the way. I can't help but think something has been lost with progress. I'm sorry, Bobby. The "kicks" you wrote about in your 1946 song are pretty much over these days. Everybody is in a big hurry to get there these days. They forget that it's the journey and not the destination that makes the trip worthwhile. I must confess, I grew up in the era of Interstate Highways, so likewise guilty.

Traveling thru St. Louis on I-70, I hardly noticed the Mighty Mississippi River.
I wanted to get an early start, but ol' Jim never really does. I had a few short errands to run, but was 97% ready. Fully stocked with food and the fresh water topped-up, everything inside my camper tied down, I took-off out I-70 via the south loop of I-465 around Indianapolis taking one last look at the city in which I grew up. It didn't seem like 'home' anymore. For me now, the idea of 'home' is a place I've never been. If/when I find it, I'll know where that is. It's not weird at all. Just recently, I attended my 50th High School Reunion. Lots of our classmates have traveled to and made lives in other cities across our country. We all agree that coming 'home' felt totally differently these days.

At St. Louis, I traveled where Route 66 used to be, now called I-44 thru Missouri and thru Oklahoma as a Toll Road. Altogether, I had to pay out $25.10 for tolls - four axles; car and trailer. The first night, I waited until too late to get a campground site - all the offices were closed when I called. Clearly, I was getting tired, so I pulled into a Visitor Center in Missouri somewhere north of Sullivan, locked everything up and hit the sack right there. I should have picked a better spot. All night long, I heard every tractor/trailer rig pulling-up the ramp. Stuffing cotton in my ears didn't help much. Since I wasn't connected to any outside source of electric power, I clicked on the furnace to see if it worked. I learned that the furnace runs just fine on the travel trailer's on-board 12v battery and propane, so I had heat and some lights, which weren't on long. I hit the sheets hard.

I must have been tired because I woke up 11-hours later. I fixed a sandwich, grabbed my last two bananas and some Lay's Stax chips to eat in the car and hit the road again. I don't think I'll ever try to over-night like that again anytime soon. So, onward through the rest of Missouri and into Oklahoma without problems. Traffic was light - mostly commercial trucking. I was thinking of maybe trying the Visitor Center routine again for tonight - picking out a different parking location than the entrance ramp the night before - just to save money. That way, I could keep driving longer and get closer to my destination - originally planned to be Roswell, NM. I pulled off to get gas as the sun was nearing the horizon. Clearly, I felt road-weary from fighting the constant headwinds by this time of day.

To look past the office building, you saw only trees. There IS a deep canyon back there.
I decided to camp, instead. Using a cell-phone app, I located this state park only 5 miles from the highway and stopped at the office. "Closed". I had already called ahead and spoke to a park ranger who said just come on in and someone will take care of you once you find a spot you like. It's very "self-serve". A warning sign just past the office said "steep grade". Well, no kidding!! The road was about a 35% grade with several switchbacks until I reached the bottom. I had no choice but to ride the brake. I started to worry if I had the power to get back up the next day. I did, obviously.

Red Rock Canyon State Park, Hinton, OK - the whole canyon was very colorful. Nice park. Peaceful area.
Following the road around, I found a nice spot and backed-in. I was only going to be there one night, so I leveled up, connected the electric power, but I didn't unhook from the car. About that time the Ranger came around to collect the rent. She politely asked me where I was from and about my destination and I told her Roswell, NM. "I'm going to the UFO Museum." She asked if I were visiting relatives? (As in UFO relatives?). We laughed as she gave me the receipt. I got a $2.00 senior citizen discount. I spent that back in the gift shop the next morning. I had to buy another hat pin. I think I have about 150 of them now from most of my travels.

Onward thru the rest of Oklahoma, into Texas and then into New Mexico. My mind was drifting a little bit as I thought about how the wagon trains negotiated these lands during the years of Manifest Destiny and the building of the railroads afterward. Driving into a headwind of 30 mph, I seemed to be getting nowhere fast, but compared to a oxen-powered Conestoga wagon, I was doing all right. I was "kicking" all right - at the accelerator pedal to maintain a decent speed. The minimum speed is 40 mph and you can be ticketed. I was okay on that, but fuel economy was going to really suffer more than it was already pulling my camper.

This is what I call "360 Horizon". No matter which direction one looks, this is the view, sans Super Slab that is.
No "kicks on 66" here, for sure. The land looks the same as it has for probably a million years. This is about the time one's mind wanders again back to the pioneer days and settling of the great west. I have yet to see anyone wearing a cowboy hat or riding a horse, but there are huge cattle ranches along I-40.  I decided to "sing" along with Joshua Kadison from his Painted Desert Serenade CD in my dashboard changer. Great album along the lines of personal experiences and living in a desert community. I've had it since it was new in 1993. Music becomes personal, somehow.

The Welcome Center is just on the other side of this sign. Great resource for anything New Mexico.
I had to turn-off my GPS unit. I had programmed my destination as Roswell, but decided to change my plans last night as I studied more maps back at Red Rock Canyon in Hinton, OK. The Garmin girl's voice kept telling me to turn around and take another road south thru Texas to get to Roswell. I knew where I was going. I just hadn't told "her" yet. Haha

New Mexico Visitors Center on I-40 West. The flags confirm the headwinds I'm traveling into.
It was just past this point a few miles that I made an almost critical error in gas mileage judgment. I looked at my gas gauge as I approached the exit that offered gasoline at a really high price - more than I had paid per gallon anywhere along this whole trip. Well, I'm no fool (or am I?). I'm not paying that price when there are sure to be several gas stations ahead who don't price-gouge weary travelers. I gave it a miss while looking at my gas gauge again. What I thought was 1/4 tank, was actually 1/8 tank. Would this be critical? It was too late to speculate. I was already well-past the exit ramp - past the point of no return. I was committed now.

I would soon discover that the New Mexico horizon was totally devoid of any exits for many miles, let alone fuel stops. I had mental visions of finding a dead steer skull in the desert as I walked many miles toward the next fuel source. Would someone, someday find my bleached skull and bones in the desert with a hand still grasping a faded red gasoline can? The gauge continued it's quick trip toward the big "E" and I slowed my speed to 50 mph still against a 30+ mph headwind to stretch fuel consumption. Things weren't looking good. I could feel the stress building inside of me.

I punched up the "Where Am I?" button on my Garmin GPS. Gas was available 10 miles ahead. Then 9.6, then 8.7. I definitely saw a pattern emerging. With the fuel level turning ever so toward empty, my anxiety level increased exponentially. At 5.4 miles on the Where Am I status, my Low Fuel indicator light came on. Add blood pressure to anxiety and you can feel the facial flush as I began to consider the long walk of shame. If I were a nail-biter, I'd have no fingers by now - just nubs at the second knuckle. I had no other choice. I soft-pedaled the foot-feed and kept going.

Ahhhh! An Exit!! I'm saved, ... maybe. Hey, it's the Old Route 66 cut-off from I-40! There are still parts of it left intact. A fuel station was in sight. I pulled-in to the Conoco-Philips 66 station and got my "Kicks" filling up my tank and being thankful to the Lord Above that I made it. My tank is rated to hold 22.0 gallons. I bought 22.008 gallons just to be on the safe side at $2.499/gallon and damned grateful to pay it. (The price I passed-up? $2.629/gal.)

Now, where was I? Tucumcari, NM. I had to find a place to park for the night while I reorganized my plans and route - also to calm my almost shattered nerves. My Good Sam phone app said there was a nice, affordable campground 1.4 miles away, gave the map to get there. I called ahead. Plenty of spaces. "I'll see you in a few minutes." It was late in the afternoon and I worried that it might be too late to catch someone in the office. I was told, but didn't remember that New Mexico starts Mountain Time. I'd lost another hour. Luck was on my side again.

That's Tucumcari Mountain in the background from my campsite - the only landmark in this part of the desert.
My body clock still a bit confused with local time, I woke up extra early to witness my first New Mexico sunrise. I've gained two extra hours since I left West Virginia and Indiana. I'm usually a sunset kind of guy - at least I'm usually always awake by then. LOL

Sunrise behind the Truck Wash across Mountain Road. Tucumcari, NM.
I piddled the day away, glad to have decent Wi-Fi at the RV Park to make more plans. I changed my mind a couple of times the more I read. There are a lot of really nice places to see and visit in the northern section of New Mexico before I head south. It's not like the Aliens in Roswell would miss me if I came a month from now. It was nice to get my land legs back after mile upon grinding mile along the highways. I was also rewarded with my first New Mexico sunset.

My first New Mexico evening sky-painting.
I decided to spend an extra day at the Mountain Road RV Park. Tomorrow morning, I will top-up my fresh water tank, take a nice hot shower and do my laundry while catching-up on my accounting software postings. There won't be much to count, but I'll know where it all went. Ah! It's a once-in-a-lifetime trip. It's only money and I'm not kicking about spending it.

- 30 -

Friday, October 20, 2017

Museum of the Marine Corps - 241st Birthday Celebration

Becoming a reality in November 2006, the long-planned and highly anticipated opening of the National Museum of the Marine Corps was finally opened to visitors. Although all the planned exhibits were not complete at that time, future expansion plans include exhibits of the entire 242-year history of the Marines up to now and beyond.

As the Gunnery Sergeant Hartman character said in the film, Full Metal Jacket; "Marines die. That's what we're here for, but the Marine Corps will live forever and that means you will live forever." It was a quote tailor-made for the National Museum and Heritage Center. From humble beginnings serving about American Naval Vessels prior to the Revolutionary War to the desert war zones around current theaters of operations, Marines are there and serving our country on the front lines every single day. From the very beginnings, the Marine Philosophy has been to take the fight to the enemy on their shores so we never have to fight them on our own soil.

I originally included this important stop along last year's Beaches Tour and the first stop on my way south along the Atlantic Coast. It was even more important for me to visit on 10 November 2016 - the 241st Birthday of the Marine Corps. Our Boot Camp Drill Instructor once told us that on that day every year, we could walk into any bar in the country and get free drinks. I've been testing that theory for many years now and have yet to confirm any truth in it. At the time the Senior Drill Instructor of Platoon 1066, San Diego, 1970 - Staff Sergeant Johnson - said that, I thought it sounded far-fetched. I had just turned 21 in Boot Camp and didn't even realize what day it was. It would be many weeks of hard training before I'd have my first legal beer ("Olympia" at the E-Club, 25¢ each).

I decided to camp as closely as possible to the Museum at Prince William Forest Park. It is a National Park, but not government run, so my Senior Pass was no good and I had to pay full price for camping. I was expecting half-price, but it was not to be. The private contractor/operators were very accommodating but they couldn't tell me anything about any "Prince William" on American soil.

Sites were arranged in line on the down slope of a hill with only water and electricity hookups. Early November in the Quantico, Virginia area, it gets pretty chilly at night. The leaves were just shortly past peak. I was glad I traveled with full propane tanks to keep the furnace going. I needed it.

I arrived in what I thought was plenty of time prior to their planned birthday celebration time only to find all the regular parking lots, reserve and overflow lots completely full. There were parking guides manning the lots who told me to park here. Once I got inside, the folks were spread-out around the museum and didn't appear crowded at all. The outside design is thought to be the artist's concept reminiscent of Joseph Rosenthal's famous photo of the second, larger Flag Raising on Mt. Suribachi during World War II. It's amazing the power of that one image. (As seen on the reverse side.)

Joseph Rosenthall's famous 2nd flag raising photograph that landed on every newspaper front page in America.
As I entered the building and just past the information desk, I was intercepted by a former Marine volunteer who shared a brochure and explained how the building is arranged and answered my questions. Photography is okay. I was glad of that. I only captured about 334 images during the course of my visit. I'm so glad I'm no longer hindered by 36-exposure rolls of film and could shoot away, experiment with dramatic mixed-lighting and take more than one shot to capture the image I really wanted. There are snapshots and there are photographs. I wanted to maximize my visit.

Vietnam Era scene of Marines vertical envelopment tactics just inside.
Marine Aviation is well represented in this area.
In the memory of my mind, I envisioned my junior high school Social Studies/History teacher hanging several model airplanes from the ceiling light fixtures in our classroom from both World Wars - Fokker D-VII, Spad, P-40, P-51, F4U Corsair and several others - just like you see the real ones here. We heard stories of Captain Roy Brown, Eddie Rickenbacker, the Red Baron von Richthofen. I don't think the Snoopy and the Red Baron song had been written yet in those days.

Photographed from the second level - pilot and rear gunner from WW-I era.
Most Marines aren't flyers, but we all start out the same way. We arrive on base, late at night and wait until we all arrive from towns large and small, all across this great nation. When we're all together, we are "invited, cordially" to get our grimy, civilian feet in the yellow footprints painted in rows on the concrete roadway. We had lots to do before we'd sleep again.

I was 20 years old when I first saw the yellow footprints on the deck.
This museum explores Marine Corps heritage and history. Every Marine's personal history begins in these yellow footprints. Marine Corps history can't be separated from one's personal history once past this point. As a Marine, we are taught the proud traditions that began with the very foundation of the Corps in 1775 at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia. Those traditions become our own traditions. It becomes difficult to tell the Marine Corps story without telling our own membership story. Every Marine - past, present and future - is our brother and comrade in arms. We each have our role to play and victory in battle never comes without a price. We accept that challenge willingly for our parents, our children, friends, neighbors, our country and our flag.

Scene in Tun Tavern as Continental Congress authorizes the establishment of  Marines to serve along side the Navy.
This museum offers - free of charge to visitors - an accurate and interesting view of military service while in combat forward operations along side of many artifacts and examples of weapons used specifically by Marines. Be sure and look in all directions because not even the ceiling space has been ignored for displays.

Marines served on board navy ships during the Civil War as well.
Barely 20 years since the Spanish-American War, Marines were needed again to fight in a different climate and place. This time, in Europe.
Recruiting poster from WW-I era.
 Sitting on an ammo case in a muddy foxhole, this WW-I communications NCO gets the news and company reports from the field prepared to be sent to command.

Wouldn't you know it, I'd be back in the back of the museum when the call came out over the public address system that the 241st Marine Corps Birthday celebration would begin shortly. They were looking for the oldest and youngest Marines in attendance to check-in at the information booth. It wouldn't be long to wait. Since this was my first visit, I had no idea about what was to happen next, so I hurried myself back to the main area and waited - hoping to get a good vantage point to get the shots I wanted. I'm not shy about getting in front and shooting from the floor on my knees or moving around the room to get a better shot. I'm sure people thought I was either weird or some kind of journalist. I just take pictures - the ones I WANT to get, not the ones I have to get by being stuck and out of position.

Observing strict military decorum, a Marine Honor Guard brought out the birthday cake.
As the First Sargent drew his saber and cut the cake, the honor guard stood at attention as the oldest Marine in attendance (aged 95 and served at Guam during WW-II) was assisted as he took a small bite of the first piece of cake before passing the plate to the youngest Marine (aged 18), thus passing the "torch" to following generations. Afterward, there were elementary school children in attendance that presented the Marines some posters they made honoring the Marine Corps.

Everyone in attendance would be served a piece of cake. I got a piece too. Very tasty and fresh baked.

Just like I remembered from the base galley.
As we enjoyed our celebratory cake, I wandered around the area to capture more images of the awesome displays in the main area. I was struck at the realism of this depiction of an amphibious landing. As I walked around the display, I could only imagine what it must have been like for these men. Training gets you close, but it's never like real combat.

Inside the main atrium is this display of an amphibious WW-II era beach landing.
It's difficult not to mentally visualize yourself in combat with such realistic displays. This one is reminiscent of warm climate combat - perhaps even Vietnam.

What appears to be plenty of ammo will disappear quickly in a firefight at a cycling-rate of 500-650 rounds per minute.
No detail was left out in helping visitors experience a glimpse of combat situations. To get the next few shots, I walked through a weather door into a slightly cooler room to experience a taste of winter warfare simulating the South Korean peninsula back in the early 1950's.

Alone in a frozen foxhole, the artillery fight is just beyond the hill into the valley beyond.
Over the sound system in this room, the echo of artillery impacts echoed through the valley and radio communications were overheard directing arty fire closer to target.

Although wounded, Marines pass the word along.
As I stood there witnessing these scenes, my mind wondered thinking of my own dad who fought with the U.S. Army in South Korea during that struggle. Museums such as this often evoke personal memories or thoughts of the hardships of others who fought these battles so that the folks at home could be safe and secure.

It is more than appropriate to include an honor wall for those Marines who have earned the Congressional Medal of Honor dating back before the days of available photographic imaging.

This wall silently speaks for itself.
With silence and respect, I slowly walked around the museum taking a long last look to be sure that I had not missed a single exhibit in my desire to photograph everything. The experience may have only taken a few hours, but my photos will remind me of those memories for as long as I live.

For all Marines, this is a very special place and it has been a long time in coming to reality. The Marines take great pride in their history and it definitely shows here in this Heritage Museum. With new exhibits planned and building expansion already underway, this honored place will grow and grow in honor of the Few, the Proud ... The Marines.

After my self-guided tour, I adjourned myself to the Second Deck and into the Tun Tavern for a bite to eat and a pint of craft beer with my sandwich. I also received a 2nd complementary piece of birthday cake. It seems they had plenty to go around. This time, it was chocolate cake.

Since this is related to my topic, I want to add a photo of my friend and fellow Marine, G. David Yaros as he attends to his commemorative brick in the walkway of the museum grounds in remembrance of his older brother - also a Marine.

"Semper Fidelis", my friend, Dave.

~ 30 ~