Russell Cave National Monument

On our recent road trip we stopped at places we had never heard of before such as Russell Cave which has been home and shelter to Native Americans for thousands of years. The charcoal remains of the first fires in the cavern date to between 6550 and 6145 BC.

The cave has a mapped length of 7.2 miles, however due to the discovery of several rare species (including a species of scorpion that exists nowhere else in the world other than Russell Cave) the cave is closed to tourism other than the large shelter area as seen in these photos.

Ave Maria Grotto

When we do road trips I always use Google Earth and Maps to see what is along the way and that is how some time last year I learned of the Grotto. Unfortunately, none of our trips got near Cullman, Alabama.  This week I went to Florence and the trip took me right through Cullman and I knew I had to stop at St. Bernards and see the Ave Maria Grotto.  I love models and miniatures.  This was absolutely incredible what this man did.

Brother Joseph
Brother Joseph

The stone and concrete models are the work of Brother Joseph Zoettl, a Benedictine monk of St. Bernard’s.  They incorporate discarded building supplies, bricks, marbles, tiles, pipes, sea shells, marbles, plastic animals, costume jewelry, toilet bowl floats and cold cream jars. … Continue reading

Rosenbaum House – Florence, Alabama

The Rosenbaum Home is the only Frank Lloyd Wright designed structure in Alabama.

I remember learning about Frank Lloyd Wright as far back as 7th grade when I took my first drafting class.  I recall this was a recurring theme through my many years of drafting and architecture in both High School and College.  We studied about Falling Water, Taliesen, Prarie Style Homes and of course Usonian Architecture.

Living Room showing the 2'X4' Grid on the Floor
Living Room showing the 2’X4′ Grid on the Floor

Usonian homes were small, one-story structures set on concrete slabs with piping for radiant heat beneath. The kitchens were incorporated into the living areas. Open car ports took the place of garages.  Most of these homes were laid out on a grid.  The Rosenbaum is laid out on a 2’x4′ grid which carries out to the patio and all the walls, windows, doors and fireplace are placed on this grid.  Horizontal lines and cantilevers are also incorporated into Usonian homes, but Wright used these characteristics on the majority of his designs.

I knew the House was not open on Mondays when I arrived, but I wanted to at least get a glimpse of this historic house.  When I came around the corner of Riverview Drive, there it was; no fences, no “No Trespassing” signs, just this incredible and beautiful house.

I parked and slowly strolled through the property peeking in windows and taking photos.  It was about 4:30 in the afternoon on a beautiful sunny day so I was dealing with some harsh shadows.  I decided I would go and check into my hotel and then come back closer to dusk.

Courtyard
Courtyard

I went back about 6:30, the entire house now in the shade.  It was quiet and peaceful as I took some more pictures.  As I came around to the courtyard, I pushed on the gate and it opened.  So I went in and sat on a stone bench.  There I was, just myself, a beautiful courtyard and a Frank Lloyd Wright house.  It was truly an incredible 20 minutes of solitude and reflection.  I had come along way since that first drafting class in the 1970’s.

I returned on Tuesday to tour the home.  As my luck had it, it was a slow day and I was the only on there.  I was given a private tour by an older gentleman who had known the Rosenbaums and had borrowed books from them as a kid.  He did not give me a spiel  as I am sure he did for groups, but it ended up more as a discussion.  And then he left me alone to wander through the home by myself and take pictures.

It was truly a once in a lifetime experience.

 

Marshall Space Flight Center

The George C. Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) is the U.S. government’s civilian rocketry and spacecraft propulsion research center located at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama.

Neutral Buoyancy Simulator
Neutral Buoyancy Simulator

Last time we went to Huntsville in 2002, they were not offering the Marshall Space Flight Center bus tours because of security concerns after 9/11.  These started back up two years ago and depart from the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.  The tour has changed a little, but still very fascinating.  No longer on the tour is the Neutral Buoyancy Simulator which is where the astronauts would practice in the very large water tank.  Now, you visit various aspects of the International Space Station.

ISS Payload Operations Center
ISS Payload Operations Center

Still on the tour is the original Mercury Redstone Rocket Test Stand and both the Static and Dybnamic Test Stand for the Saturn V Rocket.  These two test stand were also used for the Space Shuttle.  NASA also is making progress with the development of the Space Launch System (SLS) using these historic testing facilities.

The bus tour is well worth the $12.00, but make reservations in advance to be sure you get a seat.

U.S. Space and Rocket Center

This was my fourth visit to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.  My last visit in 2002 was very disappointing as the whole museum felt very neglected.  Reading about the center, it ran into a very large debt by miss management in the late 1990’s.

The New Davidson Building at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center
The New Davidson Building at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center

I was very surprised and delighted with the progress the center is making on this trip.  They have built a new building called the Davidson Center for Space Exploration.  They have refurbished the old Saturn V Rocket, that used to sit on a trailer outside, and built  this beautiful new building around it with some great new exhibits such as the Apollo 16 Command Module and the Quarantine Trailer astronauts stayed in after they returned from the moon.   The Saturn V Rocket is a National Historic Landmark, one of only three in the world.

They have also started running the bus tours to the Marshall Space Flight Center and Redstone Arsenal again.  They we stopped immediately after September 11, 2001 for security reasons.