Letters From a Bus
June 2007: Maiden Voyage 2nd entry for June
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Sight Seeing Around Huntsville

Huntsville, AL, Day Fifteen at the US Space & Rocket Center RV Campground, #6

Monday, June 4, 2007 — Day Twenty in our Allegro Bus

Our tow kit arrived but then we had to make an appointment for it to be installed.  Bankston is busy.  Right now we are waiting for it to be installed — on June 7th — this Thursday.  Meanwhile we have extra time on our hands….

Originally we were scheduled to leave this park on the Thursday before Memorial Weekend.  Thank goodness, there was a cancellation and we were able to stay.  Otherwise we would have had to go back to the Bankston trailer sales lot.  We much prefer the green lawns and trees here at the Space Park.

The US Space and Rocket Center is a most remarkable place and I do heartily recommend the Campground here to other RVers.  It is located at One Tranquility Base, Huntsville, AL 35805.  It sits just above I-565 at exit 15 for Sparkman Ave.  It is quiet and spacious with big green lawns and lovely tall trees scattered about.  The personnel are very nice and we feel very much at home here.  http://www.rvparkreviews.com/regions/Alabama/Huntsville.html

In terms of choosing an RV park or an RV space, if you like to watch TV at night, you have to think like an RVer.   For TV reception, we have a King Dome in-motion satellite receiver on our roof.  This means we don’t want trees directly overhead that might block reception, but we do want trees nearby to provide shade and scenery.  Picky, huh?  We have good reception here and we like the spacious views.  (I am slightly claustraphopic and I don't like to feel closed in. I prefer views.)

Above: Elsa & Rudi at the space #6 picnic table by our bus.

Above Right: The Space & Rocket Center RV Campground is located in the middle of fields and lawns. This was a day of overcast and haze from smoke from the fires in Georgia.

Right: View of the campground from our picnic table at space #6.

On average most spaces are sixty feet apart — or more.  There are huge grassy fields all around us and some empty roads and dirt trails that are perfect for walking and running the dogs.  Marriott’s Hotel is next door and the Space and Rocket Center next to that — all within walking distance.  (We dressed up a bit and walked over to Marriott’s one night for dinner.)  From our point of view the location is very handy because it is near Bankston and also very near all kinds of necessary shopping.  It’s been ideal.  (Marriott)

Insurance provided a rental bus for our neighbors, Roy and Wanda, and we watched as they settled into their new 40’ Monaco.  We waved goodbye as they were finally able to leave to begin their vacation with their grandson.  They took a bad hit like champs.  Very game people.  We began to feel less tired and more cheerful.  Symptoms of stress began to drop away. Our second week here we felt more comfortable in our bus.  We began to relax and develop some routines. 

This path leads from our campground to the Space & Rocket Museum. Just to the right of Dennis and the dogs on this path is the Marriott. Buses bring Space Camp kids to the Center and they sometimes park in the Marriott parking lot.
We started to take the dogs for a long walk early (about seven) before the heat of the day.  Giving two-year-old Margot a chance to work off all that nervous energy is so good for her.  We take her on the lawn and she runs in circles to the full extent of her 20’ extended leash.  She is like an undisciplined horse on a lunge line.  Round and round she goes but more in a figure eight pattern.  At a mature four years old, Rudi is more content to trot along.  Sometimes if we feel we are far enough away from people and roads and other dogs, we let them loose for a few minutes.  It is surprising.  They run but they don’t go much beyond thirty feet.  They are tied to an invisible umbilical cord.  However, we don’t let them run free for more than a few minutes.  It is a brief, calculated gamble between their need to run freely and our need to keep them safe. 
Left: Dennis walks beyond the Marriott towards the Space Museum entrance.

Right & Below: The path behind our campground leads up hill to the back side of the center. The track is fairly deserted so once in awhile we risk letting the dogs go free. The rocket part behind Dennis is simply abandoned litter.

Run Margot, run!

The US Space and Rocket Center is a gigantic indoor and outdoor museum. http://www.spacecamp.com/ I’ve discovered that it is one of the most comprehensive US manned space flight hardware museums in the world.  NASA’s Official Visitor Information Center for Marshall Space Flight Center is here.  The Space Center offers programs for kids and adults such as Space Camp and Aviation Challenge and Leadership.  Every day we see teams of kids around the area.  Some are standing on top of a tall platform getting ready to take some kind of zip line to the ground.  Many are shooting off small rockets on the lawn in front of our RV Park.  It is not particularly noisy and it is great fun to watch them.  They are each so excited to shoot off the rocket that they made.  (Rocket debris is evident everywhere for miles around.  Rudi and Margot have turned gray from running around here.)  The museum is gigantic.  We spent two hours looking at all the exhibits and an hour at an IMAX movie, "Mars" about sending the geology rovers to Mars. 
Dennis found a fairly in tact rocket made by one of the space camp kids. The cylinder is about 2" in diameter and about 18" tall.
F-14 Tomcat placed near Space Leadership area. SR-71 Spy plane at exit of museum.
On Tuesday, May 29th we took the dogs and drove our new Honda 20 miles east to Decatur.  We spent a wonderful afternoon at a big grassy park right next to the Tennessee River.  It was a lovely, breezy day.  From all of the TVA dams placed along its course, the river is very wide and impressive at this location.  It is more like a lake than a river.
At the west end of the park we could see a trestle train bridge that raised up for this barge. At east end we could see the bridge we drove over when we came from Huntsville to Decatur. This is the same barge approaching the highway bridge, which has a clearance above the water line of 60 feet. The water flows westward (right to left) but it is so controlled by dams that I am told it sometimes reverses direction.

Rhodes Ferry Park has a path along the edge of the river with benches placed at intervals under shady trees.  Between the river and the path is a railroad track.  We sat on a bench with the dogs to enjoy the shade and the breeze and the wonderful river view.  We speculated that the tracks must be out of use.  No sooner said, than we heard a train whistle.  A freight train slowly approached as we hastily pulled in extended leashes and held the dogs in our laps.  We watched amazed as the engineer waved to us and passed within fifteen to twenty feet in front of us! 

What’s the chance of that happening in California?  There would be a fence for sure — or a law suit from a railroad death!  Do we in CA live in some kind of la la Disney World where we have to be protected?  Are people in AL more grounded in reality?  Is it a population density issue?  I don’t know. 

I took these photos from the bench where we were sitting with the benches in these photos on either side of us. This is the same train approaching from the west and departing eastward towards downtown Decatur.
We found a cement ramp that led down to the river.  It stopped about three feet above the level of the river, which gave us a short, rocky beach.  We sat on boulders and the dogs roamed to the extent of their leashes.  Soon they were balancing on rocks and in the branches of a large fallen tree that was lying half in the water.  Once wet, they took to wading through the shallow waters.  They had a terrific time. 
We did too.  At five o’clock we saw umbrellas flapping in the breeze on the patio facing the rivers by the edge of the park.  Just opening, they welcomed our dogs and we had a marvelous dinner at the Market Street Café and Deli.  It turned out to be a popular place and soon we were entertained by the Tuesday night Decatur dinner crowd.  I was a happy woman. 
Rhodes Ferry Park. The red brick building has a patio facing the river. This is the Market St. Cafe and Deli.
This past week has been hot and muggy and the skies have been gray from the Georgia fires for the last few days.  It is not tempting to go out.  However on Wednesday morning we finally drove into downtown Huntsville and explored the Old Town.  It is impressive with many refurbished mansions identified by signs.  The city is more than 200 years old.  We took a fascinating and extensive tour at the Alabama Constitution Village (est. 1819) and came away impressed with the dedication of the docents who showed us through the houses and business establishments of this antique village where the Alabama State constitution was written.  We also enjoyed wandering through Harrison Brothers Hardware Store Museum. 

With smoky gray, overcast skies, Saturday did not beckon much either.  However, for the length of time we've been here, we haven’t done much in terms of exploring the area.  I guess we felt bus-bound so we thought we should make an effort.  We headed west on I-75, a two-lane suburban-rural road that passes through a number of small towns.  We wanted to see more of the Tennessee River so we aimed for the Joe Wheeler Dam and State Park. 

Before the dam/bridge, we paused to drive through the RV Park.  It is a pleasant, leafy area located above the river.  There are 116 sites and they looked doable for our 42’ bus but were a little narrow and would be a challenge for us — not that we plan to move there!  Then we drove across the dam to the south side of the river and walked the dogs around the paths overlooking the dam.

Completed in 1936, Wheeler Dam is the first of eight dams that TVA (created by FDR in 1933) constructed on the Tennessee River.  Behind the dam (right) to the east is Wheeler Lake and in front of it is Wilson Lake.  At this juncture a tributary, the Elk River, contributes in large part to the Wheeler reservoir.  Before the dams were built, Muscle Shoals was a stretch of shallow rapids that made navigation impossible.  The dams allow barge traffic to navigate up and down the river. http://www2.una.edu/geography/tn_web/Dams/Wheeler.html

We drove around the state park and saw marvelous brick “cabins” lined up with a view of the river.  They struck me as great luxury for a cabin.  For families with small children or for combined families, this is a wonderful way to have a holiday where there is recreation and convenience available for all requirements.    www.JoeWheelerStatePark.com  
At Joe Wheeler State Park, the brick "cabins" have a capacity of from 4 to 15 and rent for $72 to $150. The Joe Wheeler Home is located next to ALT I-75 and the railroad tracks. The home is down the path behind the trees. It is not open.
Driving eastward back towards Decatur on ALT I-72 we stopped to drive through “Historic Courtland” and further on we stopped to look at the home of Joe Wheeler.  Who was this famous name of dams and parks and lakes?  He was a Tennessee Confederate General.  I am impressed with the resume of his daughter, Annie Wheeler. 

Home of GEN, JOSEPH WHEELER, 1836 – 1906

“Fighting Joe Wheeler”

Confederate Cavalry Commander of Army of Tennessee

Major – General, Cavalry, U.S.A. in Spanish American War

Soldier – Statesman – Author – Planter

One of Alabamas’s representatives in the Statuary Hall in Washington.


Born July 31, 1868 – Died April 10, 1955

Daughter of General Joseph Wheeler

Gallantly served her country three times on foreign soil.

Volunteer nurse, Santiago, Cuba – 1898

Spanish-American War and Manila, P.I. – 1899 during Philippine Insurrection.

Red Cross Worker with A. E. F. France World War I – 1918

Beloved as a humanitarian and benefactor of mankind.

RAIN!  Huntsville finally got a little bit of rain on Saturday evening.  Alabama is suffering from a drought.  Their annual rain level is behind state averages by four feet.  Four feet!  California talks about inches, not feet.  Sadly it didn’t last for long but it was exciting while it lasted.

 Rain changes the atmosphere in the bus.  It is very loud on our fiberglass roof — almost as loud as on a tin roof.  It scared us when we first heard it — now what’s going wrong — what is that noise?  The dogs began to bark.  They didn’t know what it was.  I had to open the front door to show them the rain.  Wow, there’s an awning over the door and the steps.  I can stand at the open door and not get wet!  Cool!  We were all very excited.  Dennis and I sat in the front driving seats and watched the rain through our huge, tall windshield.  We had a marvelous view of the park in front of us as we watched the rain coming down.  We each held a dog and we felt very happy.  Silly us.

Elsa Walton — Huntsville, AL, 6/4/07

Elsa Walton, Space and Rocket RV Park, Huntsville, AL, Monday, June 4, 2007