Posts Tagged ‘military museums’

The Enchanted Rock Did Not Crackle at Me (Day 119)

November 16th, 2009 Comments off

I think it’s supposed to creak or crackle or something. And that it’s therefore “enchanted”. Well, that and it makes you invisible if you go to the top. Military crests and all that. Ah well, ah well.

It’s sort of like the Half Dome of Texas.

The hike around it is mostly dull and doesn’t get too interesting until you start hiking up the granite. At that point it turns fun. It’s nowhere near as steep or dramatic as Half Dome, but it’s a fine enough jaunt. As evidence thereof:

enchanted-rock_trail-panoramaYes, that’s the peak.

enchanted-rock_altarSort of an altar-thing.

enchanted-rock_uphill-trailThe upward trail.

enchanted-rock_sidehill-rocksSome rocks along the way.

enchanted-rock_creasesA crease with adjoining run-off.

enchanted-rock_me-at-topMe at the top.

enchanted-rock_others-at-topView at the top. With others.

Yep, so that was Enchanted Rock. No crackling on my watch. No cackling, either.

After that, drove on down to Fredericksburg. Ate lunch at a German restaurant — had the gulasch since they didn’t have klöse on the menü to go with the Jägerschnitzel. It was okay.

Then I went to the Nimitz Pacific War Museum. Unfortunately their main gallery is closed for renovation and they didn’t set those exhibits up somewhere else in the meantime. They had this “Pacific Theater Experience” thing set up a couple blocks down the road, but man. It was irritating at best. A couple tanks, a grounded PT boat, and a TBM Avenger and having to be part of a guided tour that somehow took almost an hour. It merited no photos.

OTOH, it *did* help me realize how special that USS Alabama floating museum was in Mobile. Full-on WW2 battleship that you can climb in, on, and around versus refurbished PT boat that you’re allowed to look at, but not touch. Mobile FTW.

Headed west from there. Stopped at a rest stop east of Ft. Stockton at sunset. It looked like this:

stockton-sunsetThe 10.

That’s probably enough.


Alabama the Battleship and Friends (Day 104)

October 30th, 2009 Comments off

Last military museum for a while. Well — till Texas. That seems like a while, but it’ll probably be like a week and a half.

The USS Alabama is a WW2 battleship that was used for five years, then sat mothballed for another 15 before getting towed to Mobile, Ala., where it became a “museum”. Sort of the martial-maritime version of the Biltmore Estate, except for the entry fee was 82% less and it wasn’t the home/play-thing of a useless trust-fund nerd. If you want to know what a WW2-era battleship was like, this is a fantastic ship-museum. They let you touch a lot of stuff and climb on things.

They also have a WW2-era submarine there, the USS Drum.

uss-alabama_uss-drumAs an added bonus, this photo also shows Mobile’s skyline. Seriously, it’s there.

uss-alabama_periscopeThe periscope actually works. You can see the Alabama through it. You can order someone to fire torpedoes at the Alabama, but nothing happens, at which point the fantasy breaks down.

They let you climb up into the conning tower, which is pretty cool. There are also a lot of levers and knobs you can manipulate to your heart’s content (depending on your heart). This would’ve been the greatest field trip ever if I were still in grade school.

Also there’s sort of a flight museum. Or at least, there are some planes parked in a hangar there.

uss-alabama_f15-f16Any color you want, so long as it’s gray.

uss-alabama_yf-17“See that white plane over there? The one that’s the only legitimately unique thing we have in this place? Yeah, that one. How ’bout you go ahead and throw all those folding chairs next to it. There you go.”

The plane’s a YF-17, one of two prototypes that were originally developed for the Air Force, which rejected them in favor of the F-16. Then the Navy needed something small, so had Northrop re-develop it into the F/A-18 that has since grown up considerably to where it’s now not small at all. Anyway — nice folding chairs. Hope that airplane’s not getting in the way of your spare television set.

Then battleship.

uss-alabama_stackRoll, Tide!

uss-alabama_16-inch-shells16-inch shells are pretty big actually.

uss-alabama_stack-and-semiforeSome day I hope to learn semaphore so I can quit wondering whether a ship is talking about me.

uss-alabama_bob-fellerWell he did. And he’s basically the Ted Williams of right-handed pitchers.

uss-alabama_turret-meManning my self-selected battle station.

Other things I feel like typing right now:

  • The Alabama is a fantastic artifact, especially so given that it was never updated after WW2 and therefore has its 1942 almost completely intact.
  • Being allowed to crawl all over it is awesome. For instance, you can crawl into all three of the sixteen-inch turrets. Never done that before.
  • Some time I’d like someone to explain exactly what it is that makes up the smell inside a big, retired navy vessel. I’m guessing it’s oil, grease, and seawater, but — it’s just a guess.
  • A WW2-era battleship would make for an unbelievable haunted house, I think.
  • They claimed that the ship went through 1,000 gallons of ice cream a day, despite having a crew of only (“only”) 2,000. Raises at least a couple of concerns for me.

The Pacific War Museum is the one in Texas. It’s the only one I got left this trip. Sadly. I skipped the WW2 one in N.O. If you’ve been there and it’s great, please don’t tell me now.



My Day at the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola (Day 103)

October 28th, 2009 9 comments

Here’s how my Day 103 started:

pensacola_rainAnd thus the Blue Angels canceled their practice session.

It supposedly rained like three inches in Pensacola that morning, which seems like a lot. We were the top news on the Weather Channel that day. That’s right, The Weather Channel. Which, btw, has some good-looking on-screen personalities.

pensacola_museum-entry-rainOne day I’m going to find a flag that’s not flying at half-mast. Maybe.

pensacola_museum-glingFiercest of the Navy’s 1920s night-fighters: the Gling.



pensacola_p-40-tomahawkCome to think of it, we may have already been fighting Japan when they attacked Pearl Harbor.

pensacola_many-tailsIt’s like a tails and folded wings convention in there.

pensacola_artworkNavy art. I like the composition.

pensacola_blimp-videoI am deeply concerned about naval blimpery.

pensacola_wide-viewAny color you want, so long as it’s navy blue.


pensacola_blue-angelsForever stuck in formation.

pensacola_museum-entranceIt eventually stopped raining.

pensacola_chopper-rowChopper row.

pensacola_fat-albertFat Albert: always a crowd-pleaser.

pensacola_door-21You asked me once, what was in Room 21. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 21 is the worst thing in the world.

pensacola_blue-angel (1)Yes, it *does* seem to be listing to port.

Beyond that:

  • The museum is actually on-base, which I thought was very cool.
  • I think the one thing this museum has going for it that no other flight museum has is the Blue Angels practices. Which get canceled when it rains three inches.
  • The museum has some usability issues, for instance: some of the displays are hard to read (see: “gling”); it was difficult to tell what the organization at the museum was meant to be — there are grouped displays, but their locations seem randomly selected; and some of the aircraft did not seem to have signs describing them.
  • Dave, our flight line tour guide, was exactly what you want a retired-Marine tour guide to be. Well done, very entertaining.
  • For some reason the four Blue Angels displayed in the museum (the old A-4s) are angled in a downward attitude. Seems sort of wrong.
  • The other thing this museum has that I thought was unusual and pretty cool was the artwork. They got a ton of artwork and a lot of it rulz — especially the WW2 stuff, which covered subjects I always thought should’ve been covered on canvas, but which I hadn’t seen before. Wish the National Museum of the Marine Corps had had that (seems like it’d be the rightful place for some of these, for instance — or maybe I just failed to notice them there).
  • I don’t think this museum quite nailed The Navy’s Big Moment (IMHO, that’d be Midway). I mean, they talk about it, but it doesn’t come alive or command attention the way you’d think it should. IMHO. Always IMHO.

But it was fun. Again, I thought it was particularly great that the museum was on-base.

It was also interesting to me that the base has its own lighthouse (what base doesn’t?):

pensacola_lighthouseIt keeps PBYs from hitting the control tower, I assume.

Once I got over the lighthouse, I left the base and headed to Warrington, which is where my parents lived when my dad was stationed in Pensacola. This is what the house looks like now:

pensacola_505-e-sunsetI like the gully.

Anyway — big day of naval aviation. And it’s still sort of disappointing to go to these places where my parents (and siblings) lived before I was born and then to find them to not be stuck in the era in which my family lived there. I mean, how hard would it be for Pensacola to pull off 1961? Oh well: maybe next year.


Yorktown IV: Revenge of the Essex Class (Day 97)

October 22nd, 2009 6 comments

I guess it’s never a bad thing to go hang out on an aircraft carrier-museum for a few hours. Well — probably the second consecutive day of it might get old. Never done it that way, though, so I wouldn’t know.

I’m starting to realize that Charleston’s attractions are merely okay. OTOH, it’s been a great, comfortable, *polite* place to hole up for a few days.

That said, here are a few pictures of the same thing each time. (The aircraft carrier is the Yorktown, it was built in 1943 and therefore involved in WWII. Decommissioned in 1970. It smelled like an aircraft carrier.)

Oh, and I forgot to re-charge my DSLR battery, so these were taken with my cell phone, so they’re kind of crappy-looking.

yorktown_ship-flag-bridgeCarrier, flag, Ravenel Bridge (connects Charleston with Mt. Pleasant)

yorktown_tailhookTailhook, but no scandal.

yorktown_hornetHornet is go.

yorktown_thru-windowBridge and Phantom viewed from flight control.

Y’know, I’m not sure I learned anything from this ship. The guy there didn’t know if there were any actual F4F Wildcats left anywhere (theirs was another FM-2). Um. They have a Medal of Honor museum on-board, but it was pretty dull. You do (re-)learn that aircraft carriers are big, complex systems there. Got to see the on-board dentist area. There’s also a submarine that you can walk through (torpedo room, engine room, officers’ rooms, bridge, galley, mess, torpedo room — IIRC).

Beautiful day, though.


(PS, I *did* learn that Charleston lost their navy base in, like, ’98 or so. Still got the AFB, though.)

National Museum of the Marine Corps and the Great USMC Brand (Day 85)

October 11th, 2009 7 comments

The US Marine Corps is just like Apple in that they are smaller and more agile than their competitors and have a killer brand. And, sort of like Apple, they *are* their brand — it’s not just the sum of logo and tag-line. Everything they do adds to the brand, whether intentionally or not. I mean, the Marine Corps had entire divisions (almost) wiped out in certain World War II battles and instead of burying that fact, they embrace it. It’s pretty amazing that getting killed can create positive associations with your identity.

Went to the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico. My favorite part was this:

usmc-museum_yelling-simulatorJust step right up and…

It’s a drill instructor simulator. You step into the booth and DIs start yelling at you from every direction (well, seemingly — I think it’s only from four directions). The crazy part? You know it’s a simulator and that you’re just in a plastic booth, but your (my?) natural instinct is to do whatever they yell at you to do. I found trying to get my heels closer together, standing up straighter, and, well, worrying about whether or not I was then standing correctly. They kept yelling at me to grab a rifle, but that one was harder. I think I learned more about either myself or human nature in those 60 seconds than I have the whole rest of the trip combined. It was really eye-opening.

Just generally, the cool thing about the museum is, well, (1) that I know more about the Marine Corps than other branches of service so there’s more there that I’m familiar with in the first place, but more especially (2) that they make it really immersive with several “simulations” parked in strategic locations. They’re not high-tech simulators, but it’s enough to let you imagine you’re there if you want to. For instance, there’s a Landing on Iwo Jima simulator. It sort of makes it look like you’re on a Higgins boat and the walls and floor vibrate while you watch a 180-degree movie (actual Iwo D-Day footage) of landing. Then, once you land, some non-com yells at you to move out and the ramp in front of you lowers. (At which point you just sort of walk back into the main part of the museum.)

Also had a Chosin Reservoir simulator, in which they turn the temperature of the room down by 20 degrees (it’s still about 50 degrees warmer than reality, but, you know) and have not-quite-animatronic guys in a diarama get uptight about not having enough ammunition. They had a few other vibrating floors also (I think another landing craft, plus one helicopter), but, basically, they want you to feel like you’re there and that, well, death is imminent. I mean, that *is* sort of the Marine Corps brand, right?

It was cool.

usmc-museum_front-facadeI think they also have some late-mover advantages — the facade is actually *interesting* (whereas the more venerable USAF museum just looks like an airplane hangar — I mean, fittingly enough, but, you know).

usmc-museum_atriumThe main atrium.

usmc-museum_corsairThere are a few airplanes in the museum — maybe 15, but at least two of them are Corsairs. No Hornets, no Phantoms, no Ospreys.

usmc-museum_skyhawkHarrier taking off vertically inside the museum.

The other cool thing about the Marine Corps is that if you’re somewhat famous and say something positive about the Corps, they’ll memorialize you for eternity. Although I was surprised they didn’t have that Reagan quote engraved in the atrium — maybe he’s on the outs since he let Col. North take the rap for Iran-Contra. Oh well. (Apparently, I need to learn how to turn around when entering atriums.)

It was more fun than I thought it would be, entirely un-disappointing.


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USAF Museum Makeup Date: Experimental and Presidential Planes (Day 66)

September 21st, 2009 2 comments

So I went back the next day, got there before the doors were open, and was the third one to get his name on the list to take the bus out to the Experimental and Presidential Planes area. It’s a little unfair that you only get to spend an hour out there in that IMHO the experimental part is the most interesting (and essential) part of the museum.

usaf-museum_exteriorI suppose I could have included this with yesterday’s post.

usaf-museum_c47Before my 9:30 tour bus left, I went back and re-considered the museum’s WWII wing, including this C-47 Skytrain.

usaf-museum_me-262An Me-262. First second one of these I’ve ever seen in real life (and one of only three currently on display in the US).

usaf-museum_xb70-l-to-r‘Course there’s one of these in *every* flight museum, so no need to comment I figure.

usaf-museum_x-1bIt’s not the original X-1, but it’s still a pretty unique plane to have around.

usaf-museum_xb70-noseIt’s an XB-70 Valkyrie — sort of the museum’s centerpiece (even though it’s a long ways away from the rest of the table). They only ever built two and the other one crashed during a photo shoot. Here’s a photo of one not crashing.

I overhear a lot of conversations. While looking at the XB-70, I overheard:

  • “Of course, the Soviets had one of these as well.” (No they didn’t — the movie you’re thinking of is Firefox and it starred Clint Eastwood.)
  • “They were also going to build a Concorde, but they never got around to it.” (Yes they did — the plane you’re not thinking of is the Tu-144 “Concordski”.)

Some days I wish I were deaf. Moving on…

usaf-museum_experimentsI’m guessing the forever-entombed XB-70 and the YF-23 share a sort of kinship. Kind of like the one Teddy Kaczynski and Timothy McVeigh had, only without the murderous criminal aspect.

usaf-museum_x-10One of two surviving X-15 space planes. A couple of times these guys went into actual outer space (the plane was dropped from a B-52 at Pima Air Museum, although the B-52 was not at the museum at the time of the dropping). Pretty slick.

usaf-museum_x-15-windowThe cockpit window on the X-15. If you stare at it long enough, it winks at you.

usaf-museum_presidential-planesA couple of Air Force Ones before they were called that.

usaf-museum_presidential-propsAnd the props that, well, propelled them.

usaf-museum_c119And a C-119 like my dad used to fly in the USMCR.

Phew. Posting photos on here often feels like hard work. Slow-ish connection and all. You understand. Glad I went back for the second day and the other hangars, wish I’d have arrived in a more plane-centric mood the day before. And that there hadn’t been all those runners.

If anyone’s thinking of going, I thought it might be useful to assemble a list of the must-see planes there:

  • The B-29 (Bockscar) — It’s not as famous as the Enola Gay, but it’s got its place in history.
  • The Me-262.
  • The B-2 — Still not an airframe you’re used to seeing at eye level.
  • The FA-117 — Ibid.
  • The XB-70 — Worth a visit in its own right.
  • The X-15.
  • The X-1B.

So if you only got, oh, three hours or so, that’s probably the list to attack. IMHO. If you got another couple hours beyond that:

  • The Doolittle’s Raid exhibit.
  • The Vietnam POW stuff.
  • The B-36 — Not a lot of these left and it *was* the first inter-continental nuclear bomber we ever had.
  • I dunno — everything else, I guess.

It’s a good day-long museum, unless *important* running events force you to alter your plans. They made some weird choices at the museum. A lot of the plaques for planes are hard to find, which I haven’t really experienced before. I think they may also have too many airplanes for their current capacity — those hangars feel cramped and I’m guessing this may add to the plaque-finding problem.

And then I was a little baffled as to why they didn’t make a much bigger deal out of the WWII B-17 flights. That’s gotta be the most iconic thing the (Army-) Air Force has ever done, but it felt like a footnote next to Doolittle’s Raid (which was, of course, pretty cool). For that matter, more explanation of the nuclear bombings would’ve been a good inclusion. Maybe they’re just bitter they didn’t get the Enola Gay.

It’s hard to compare flight museums and say where they rank. I’ve been to all the major ones in the US now (Smithsonian, USAF, and maybe Boeing make up the Holy Trinity — feel free to suggest others) and they’re all unique enough. The USAF museum feels a little more biased than the other two — but then, it *is* the Air Force’s museum. I dunno. I think if you combine the stuff on the mall with the stuff at Dulles, the Smithsonian probably wins. But I’m not sure it’s fair to do that. I wish the USAF exhibits had been outside (granted, it’s not December) so you can walk around them more and get a better sense for the plane (the Pima museum is the champ when it comes to that). It’s a shame you can’t get a sense for the XB-70 as a whole due to all the visual and physical “clutter” in the way.

All is well, all is well.


USAF Museum Attempt #1: Scrubbed Due to Runners (Day 65)

September 21st, 2009 Comments off

Eh, it wasn’t scrubbed entirely. I showed up at the general Wright-Patterson Air Force Base area around 10:15 only to find the streets clogged and cops directing traffic due to the air force base marathon that started and finished at the museum. I don’t understand the mentality that compels people to run in marathons, therefore I have little tolerance for having my museum flooded due to one.

Anyway — couldn’t park in the museum parking lot, so was directed to a parking space on the grass, right next to the sign that says not to park on the grass. From there, walked to the museum, which was packed with people wearing too-short shorts and limping slowly. Ugh. When the marathon’s over, you should go home and get off your feet. Stop ruining other people’s museum experiences by manning up for your wife and six-year-old who came to watch you jog.

The worst part, of course, is that due to the marathon the museum canceled all their morning tours of the experimental and presidential wings of the museum, which are sort of the most important parts. As a result, by the time I got through traffic, parked on the grass, waded through throngs, and stumbled onto the tour sign-up desk, the afternoon tours were filled up. As such: scrubbed.

I mean, I still looked through the rest of the museum, but — anyway. Here:

usaf-museum_bocks-carHistory’s second most-famous B-29. It’s a pretty big drop-off to #3.

usaf-museum_mig-17The MiG 17, NATO Codename: Pig Snout. Not really. It was “Fresco”.

usaf-museum_b-47-in-bubbleThe plane in the bubble. It’s a B-47 Hustler reflected in the aft bubble (window?) of a B-36 Peacemaker (six turning, four burning, none pictured here).

usaf-museum_b-2The ol’ B-2 Spirit. The flesh still seems willing.

usaf-museum_missile-gardenGot a bumper crop of missiles coming in this year!

But the runners killed this. I dunno. Maybe it was all the driving the day before and *then* the runners. I appreciated the museum more when I came back on Day 66, so I’ll do a bunch of bullet points and stuff on *that* post instead.

Maybe just one note:

  • It’s hard to photograph planes when they’re all cramped into hangars like this.

Well it is.


More Photos from SF

July 21st, 2009 1 comment

I’m three four days in arrears, but feel I’m coping well personally (although I’ve been told that these entries aren’t mean enough — I’ll work on it). Anyway, just a few more photos in case you can’t get enough SF photos.


Some bridge, fogged in.

sf_alcatraz_from_presidio_hillView of Alcatraz from (near) the top of Presidio Hill. I’m not sure how to make this caption snarkier. Suggestions?

sf_flower_presidio_hillYou know, one of the reasons why these posts may lack any “edge” is that I’m usually posting in a race against time, trying to finish before my laptop battery or wireless batter run out. (This is a flower.)

Fort Madison Port of Embarkation in San Francisco

Fort Mason, the Port of Embarkation for US Army troops heading to the Pacific during World War II. SF really ought to get that Liberty Ship parked here instead of down the way. And they should probably put a little more signage up around here instead of leaving that up to the various acting troupes that apparently inhabit it now.

In South Lake Tahoe now. Maybe I’ll catch up while I’m here.


Note: This was started while eating in Carl’s Jr. in Oakhurst, Calif., 15 miles (= 35 min.) from my campsite, but not completed at that time due to my wireless running out of battery.

Recurring Themes for the Cross-Country Road Trip Itinerary

May 12th, 2009 8 comments

I’ve had a few people ask me about whether I was going to try and “hit all x of y” during the trip. Actually, I’ve had two people ask me this and both with the same example: catch a game at all 30 Major League baseball parks. So: I’m not doing that. But I still have some themes lined up. Ready?

You sure?

Cuz I can do this later if you want.

K, ready?

Themes currently planned into the itinerary:

  • The 20 Best Hamburgers (as defined by this article from GQ): SF, Napa, Seattle, Chicago, Ypsilanti or Dearborn, Newport RI, New Haven, NYC (x2?), Philly (x2?), San Antonio NM, and Santa Fe. I’ve hit a few of the others, but if I do all of the above, I’ll only be missing the one in Hackensack, NJ and Hollywood, FL. (I probably won’t hit all of the above — they’re uncomfortably concentrated in a few cases.)
  • National Parks  — per the as-yet unpublicized Ninth Itinerary, I’d hit as many as 24 of the 58, including (only?!) 17 that I haven’t visited before.
  • “Great Day Hikes” — There was an article about The 100 Greatest Day Hikes in the last Backpacker magazine. I’m not really using that as a checklist, but I like the concept and day-hiking is kind of the skeleton around which the rest of the trip has been planned.
  • Military and Flight Museums: McMinnville maybe, USAF in Dayton, USMC in Quantico, USN Flight in Pensacola.
  • US Tourist Checklist Stuff I Haven’t Done Before — although, I’m not sure what I’d count under this other than Mt. Rushmore, Niagara Falls, the Statue of Liberty (and I *lived* there even), the French Quarter, and The Alamo. Maybe that’s enough — but if I go just three hours out of my way, I can also see the St. Louis Arch! (Meh.)

Had some other theme ideas also that are sort of in the hopper, although I worry that they’ll get in the way of having an actual semi-relaxing, enjoyable trip. Ah well. They would be:

  • Photographing every broken-down farm building that I see.
  • Photographing every gas station I tank up at.
  • Photographing every state line crossing (so trite).
  • Collecting a shot glass (or key chain or baby spoon or hat pin or…) from each state and/or Sehenswürdigkeit.

Any further thoughts appreciated. Unless they’re no good.


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