I forgot to mention in the last blog that on the way to Lake Arrowhead we stopped at the National Weather Center which was on the grounds of the University of Oklahoma and was completed in 2006. It is one of the largest weather facilities in the world and has over 550 students, faculty, and research scientists. The center has been responsible for significant weather developments such as the Doppler Weather Surveillance Radar (NEXRAD) for observing regional weather conditions. Unfortunately we were there on Sunday and it wasn’t open for touring.
After Lake Arrowhead SP we went to Fort Griffin State Historic Site. This used to be a State Park but now the Historic Society runs the location. We checked out the campground first and then went across the road to the actual Fort. It was odd because when we arrived (at 2:30 pm) the door was locked to the visitor center so we thought maybe they were doing rounds but after we found out the ranger had forgotten to open the front door in the morning and we were the first people to show up! She gave us a huge amount of historical information on the Fort grounds and on the old town of Fort Griffin which at one point was actually the largest town between Dallas and El Paso. The Fort was founded in 1867 and then was closed in 1881 when the railroad went through Albany. The grounds didn’t have too many buildings left (originally 93 buildings and 469 Federal Troops) and they were spread out so they lend you a golf cart to tour around;-) The bakery was fully intact but at one point it closed because the baker deserted due to working in the heat and found the job tedious since all they made was bread, up to 800 loaves per day! The administration building and the Sutler’s store (sold guns, ammunition, and canned foods) were partially standing.
Longhorn were wild cattle (originally from the Spanish cattle) that the Cowboys corralled and drove over 10 million north to sell. A large cattle drive could have over 15,000 cattle with 200 people and went from Fort Griffin to Dodge City. The Longhorn came close to extinction around 1920 and then they started efforts to preserve the herd. This park has been home for the official Texas Longhorn Cattle herd since 1948.
We also saw Barrack Huts and the Mess Hall that had been reconstructed in the original style. Then we went through the videos and displays in the visitor center (just opened in 2014). We read about the daily activities of the Fort Soldiers, the decimation of the buffalo herd, the cattle drives, the decline of the Fort Griffin area, and the details about the official Texas Longhorn Cattle Herd.
The ranger told us how to find the old town of Fort Griffin down a gravel road so we went there next and saw the Saloon, the jail, an old closed trestle bridge and the Clampett’s Wagon Yard. The town was also the location where Doc Halliday met Big Nose Kate and the Earp brothers. This would be our last day wearing shorts and T-Shirts as the cold front finally caught up with us that night.
The next day we headed for Lake Colorado City SP and on the way we stopped in Shackelford and saw the oldest courthouse in Texas built in 1883. There was also a historic Sinclair gas station, a giant Longhorn Cattle statue, and a minor who was caught in possession (we’re not sure of what) who had to walk in front of the courthouse with a sandwich board on as a punishment.
On the way to the next campground, Lake Colorado City SP, we realized how much Cotton was grown in this Big Country area of Texas. Most of the fields had been harvested but some were still waiting. They either put the cotton in large round rolls or they had large rectangular stacks that had tarps on the top. We also saw some processing plants. There were only 2 other campers in our section of the campground and the cold front had definitely found us.
The next morning before heading out we did a 3.5 km walk along the Cactus Cut Trail by the lake. The trail was rugged but quite pretty. We also saw a small bird’s nest and some fresh cactus eating perhaps by a deer.
On our drive that day we had about 2 hours of wet snow on the 4 hour drive to Brantley State Park near Carlsbad New Mexico. We were shocked how full the campground was after the sparse campers we’d seen in the Texas State Parks. The next morning we had lots of snow on the RV (most had slid off by the time I took the photo).
The following day we were going to go up and over the mountains through Cloudcroft (9500’ elevation) to get to Alamogordo but after watching the local weather we decided that wouldn’t be too safe with all the snow in the mountains and the steep grades. Therefore we chose the slightly longer circuit up to Roswell (which we visited last trip) and then through Ruidoso Downs and back down to Alamogordo. We got more wet snow going through the mountains but it was melting on the road as it landed. We had lunch at a great Mexican lunch at Jorge’s in Ruidoso Downs. Then we stopped at the World’s Largest Pistachio to do some wine tasting and buy some nuts and pistachio brittle before checking in at the KOA in Alamogordo.
Our main reason to go to Alamogordo was to visit the New Mexico Space Museum and International Space Hall of Fame. They had various displays outside, 4 floors in the main building (some under renovation) and an IMAX theatre with various shows. We started off learning about why this area was so significant for early rocket testing and saw the photos for the 153 people who had been inducted in the Hall of Fame including the first Canadian in space Marc Garneau.
On the top floor of the museum we saw a sample of a Moon Rock and learned about the early Russian and US space efforts. The Sputnik was the first man made object in space in October 1957 and that promoted the establishment of NASA in 1958. The NASA progression included the Mercury Redstone rocket which was manned in 1961, then the Mercury spacecraft from 1961 to 1963 which started with the Chimpanzee named Ham, after the Holloman Aerospace Medical Center who prepared him to go in to space. He survived the mission, lived a long retirement in a zoo and is now buried at the Museum. Then there were the Gemini launches in 1965-1966 which were flown by two astronauts, and lastly the Apollo missions from 1967 to 1972 where they finally landed on the moon and returned.
On the next floor we learned about the progression of Rocket Science (including an exhibit that simulated the sound and forces of various rocket take offs which scared Sharon when the floor shook) and the critical part that Robert Hutchings Goddard (“The Father of Modern Rocketry”) played in those early efforts. It was also very cool to learn how the rocket gyro sensors eventually made it in to products that we take for granted now like Automobile Stability Control and Smartphones. There was a display to show how astronauts on Skylab could go the bathroom and lastly about the Liquid Mirror Telescope used to monitor all the Space debris.
The second floor was the one being renovated and then on the first floor they had a great Star Trek exhibit as Gene Roddenberry had been inducted in to the Space Hall of Fame in November 2016. We saw part of the exhibit and then had to go to the IMAX theatre to see the show we bought tickets for, which was “Back to the Moon”. The show explained about the current competition underway where teams could win $30M to be the first to land on the moon, broadcast photos and videos, and also travel a distance of 500 metres on the surface of the moon. The 5 top teams are very close to completing the mission so we may hear about the results in the next few months. The teams cannot be funded by any government and have lots of volunteers involved in doing the necessary science.
After the show we completed the Star Trek Exhibit where we saw some of the original show props like Caveman Spears and of course the famous Tribbles as well as some of the various Star Trek Collectibles, a Transporter simulation, and some of the 96 starships from the series.
We finished off the museum with the outside exhibits where we saw original rockets and rocket engines. Fun Fact: The power generated by the five F-1 Engines on the Saturn V rocket was equivalent to 190 giga watts which is almost twice the peak electrical power consumption of France or 630 times more powerful than a Boeing 747 aircraft. We also saw the “Daisy Track” where they would do human testing for impact and deceleration G Force testing for the astronauts as well as seat belt testing. What a great museum to visit.
Next stop Las Cruces New Mexico to visit our friends Becky and Ed.