Southern Places: Huntsville Alabama’s U.S. Space and Rocket Center remembers the 50th anniversary of the moon landing

Some moments in history take our breath away. Fifty years ago, America’s moon landing millions had millions of Americans holding their breath. The Saturn 5 rocket took off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on July 16. Inside the rocket were three men. Two of the men, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, would make history as the first Americans to walk on the moon, with Armstrong uttering one of the most iconic phrases in our country’s history.  Michael Collins piloted the command module Columbia. Armstrong and Aldrin took the Eagle, the lunar model to the moon, hence the phrase, “The Eagle has landing.” Eight days after blast off the three men would splash down in the Pacific Ocean.

The U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing with an exhibit, “Apollo, When We Went to the Moon.” The exhibit runs until the end of the year so you still have time visit. The Space and Rocket Center also has a permanent exhibit of a Saturn 5 rocket, which is one of only three in the world.

Display at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center

I had not visited the Space and Rocket Center since I was in 6th grade when we took an impromptu visit recently. I have few memories from that trip 40 years ago but the ones I have are unforgettable.  I remember seeing Miss Baker, one of the animals America sent into space. I also remember the G-Force Accelerator, which I got on and got off of for fear I would be sick. I was worried my friends would think I was chicken for getting off but I don’t recall any teasing—at least about that. Miss Baker died in the 1980s and I knew better than to get on the G-Force some 40 years later (my husband, who is normally daring, also declined).

We were there mostly to see the Apollo exhibit, which we found first. The exhibit was more than just displays of memorabilia. Like many of the exhibits at the Space and Rocket Center, the exhibit was interactive with things kids (and big kids) will enjoy. We enjoyed sitting in a ‘moon buggy.’ And I made that ‘one small step for man (or woman) and one giant leap for mankind).

Steve and I try out the “moon buggy”

For me, it was some of the items that some may overlook while enjoying a walk on the moon or time in the buggy. I was moved by a letter from former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, who asked that the contributions of her late husband not be forgotten. It was President John F. Kennedy who passionately stated “we choose to go to the moon” in a speech he delivered on Sept. 12, 1962 in Houston Texas’ Rice Stadium. Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963  and never lived to see the moon landing  The speech is part of the display and you can hear at the exhibition which includes the famous words: “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.”

The exhibit does not gloss over the turbulent times of the 60s. The battle for civil rights was blazing. Martin Luther King Jr. and others were leading marches and peaceful protests. King’s life would end by an assassin’s bullet in April of 1968. An unpopular war was taking place in Vietnam. The moon landing brought all Americans together on July 20th to watch Armstrong make those historical steps.

One of the displays in the Saturn V Hall at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center

The Space and Rocket Center does not stop telling the story of the historic moon landing with the Apollo exhibit. Saturn V Hall has one of only three of the Saturn V’s on display. You can learn more about the science behind our space journeys. Something I found interesting: the three men had to continue living together in a small space even after they returned to Earth. They were quarantined in an Airstream RV until they were medically cleared. You can sign up for a guided tour of the Saturn V Hall or walk through at your own pace. The hall includes some play areas for kids.

Shuttle Park at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center

The main purpose of our visit was to see the Apollo 11 exhibit. But the Space and Rocket Center has several standing and changing exhibits, rides and experiences. Kids can climb the Mars Climbing Wall or take a ride in the Hypership simulator. Two great exhibits are outside.  Rocket Park gives you a sense of just how big the rockets are. A large space shuttle is the centerpiece of Shuttle Park.  Families can find a diverse menu at the Mars Grill that is reasonably priced. I enjoyed a burrito bowl and my husband had a grilled chicken sandwich and fries. You can spend an entire day there and not do everything.

Huntsville also has several other fun places for families to visit including the Huntsville Botanical Gardens and the Earlyworks Children’s Museum. We will be back to learn more about all of Huntsville has to offer!

U.S. Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, Ala.

Admission: General Admission is $25 for those 13 and older. Admission is $17 for those ages 5-12 and children 4 and younger are free. Senior and military discounts are available. You can purchase several add-ons including movies in the planetarium and guided tours.

Parking: You can park for free right outside the center.

Directions:  Huntsville is located right off U.S. You know you are getting close when you see the large replica of the Saturn V rocket in the distance. Exact directions from your location can be found here.

Dining: The Mars Grill is located inside the center. The food is reasonably priced and you have a lot of variety. Huntsville has several well-known eateries and local restaurants for everyone’s taste.

Where to stay: Huntsville has several brand-name hotels near the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. We booked an apartment through Airbnb that was reasonably priced and had a kitchen just in case we wanted to save money and cook for ourselves.

For more information:

U.S. Space and Rocket Center website

Huntsville/Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau website

Southern hiking: Marble Mine Trail at Sloppy Floyd State Park

When I decided to take up hiking for health and recreation reasons, I knew I would start close to home. I have lived within 40 miles of James H. “Sloppy” Floyd Park in Chattooga County, Georgia most of my life. I thought about going there numerous times and checking it out. It was not until it seemed as if everyone was discovering this hidden gem that I decided it was time for my husband and stepdaughter to make the hike to the infamous Marble Mine. We were not disappointed.

Sloppy Floyd Lake

When we first arrived, I was stunned by the beauty of the place. The banks of the large lake were full of people with fishing poles hoping to catch a big one. Families were having picnics while some were hiking on the park’s many trails. And some were on paddle boats or in canoes in the water.

We were there to hike to the old marble mine. I am still getting my footing when it comes to hiking.  I mistakenly thought this was rated as an “easy” hike. It’s rated moderate and it was probably complicated by some large rocks on the trail due to washouts. Since we walked from the main lake to the trail, we probably did more than the 0.8 miles, which is the approximate distance from the end of the trail to the marble mine. The hike up has several hills. I was thankful I had been “practiced” on some smaller trails near home. We had to avoid the rocky places and dips in the terrain.

The hike up. I was walking a little sideways!

The views on the hike are spectacular. You can see some remnants on buildings that once stood there. You can even take a picnic up if you want as there is a table located about halfway. We also saw some tents a few hundred feet off the trail.

Despite the challenges it presented for a middle-age, out-of-shape woman, the end was worth it. The marble mine had a small waterfall trickling down into a pool of water. It was cool there and we stopped to catch our breath on the benches provided. Some brave souls ventured into the cave nearby. The verdict— “It just keeps going.”

The hike back down was just as challenging even though it was mostly downhill. We had arrived shortly before lunch on a Saturday and there were not many people on the trail. We had to step aside for newly-arrived hikers which was difficult at times due to the rocks on the trail.

This is a great hike for families and we saw many children with their parents on our trip. I wouldn’t recommend this hike to anyone who needs assistance walking. But if you are able—Go! The mine is worth seeing. You can also hike the other trails.

James H. “Sloppy” Floyd Park is a great place to spend a day. The only charge is a $5 parking fee. You will find snacks and drinks at the park’s office or you can bring your own. We will be back!

The water levels were great at Marble Mine the day we visited.

The basics:

Getting there: The park is located north of Summerville just off U.S. 27. Turn down Sloppy Floyd Lake Road and you can’t miss it.

Cost: There is a $5 parking pass fee unless you have a Georgia State Parks pass.

What’s there: You can fish on the lake or rent canoes or paddle boats. There are plenty of shaded tables for a family picnic. You will find hiking trails for all ages and skill levels. Of course, we recommend the hike to Marble Mine. The park also has several cottages for rent.

Great Southern eating: Barbecue joints you must try

Barbecue is a favorite not just down South but in many other regions. And what better way to celebrate summer and the July 4th holiday than by eating some grilled meat drenched in the sauce of your choice. I have been to Kansas City a few times since my sister moved there and I will admit they have some great barbecue. But we have found some great choices close our Northwest Georgia home. We have not been to every barbecue joint in the region so feel free to make some suggestions. Here are a few of our favorites and some sent in by our readers. These are in no particular order listed by state.

Alabama

My pork plate at Pruett’s

Pruett’s Bar-B-Q, Gadsden

We love Gadsden, Ala. and on our last trip, I let my husband choose the restaurant. He chose Pruett’s. We got there on a Friday at around 1:30 p.m. and the place was still packed. But the food was worth the wait. I decided to get the sampler plate that no only included barbecue but their famous catfish and chicken tenders. My husband loves the Gospel Bird so of course he ordered the smoked chicken. The meat is great but the sauce is sweeter than I am used to eating. I know it’s not barbecue but let me make a plug for the chicken tenders—homemade and cooked to perfection. Gadsden has a lot of good places to eat (Top o’ the River is just across the street), but we are going to make it a priority to go back here.

Georgia

Dub’s High on the Hog, Calhoun

My delicious pork plate

For years my husband passed by a log-cabin style building on U.S. 41 in Calhoun that always had a lot of cars in the parking lot. We finally stopped one day and were kicking ourselves for not stopping sooner. Dub’s High on the Hog will leave you high on their barbecue and wanting more. We have been back a couple of times and have tried a few things.  My favorite is the pork plate. Their sides are amazing, too (be sure to try some baked beans).

Tennessee

Edley’s Bar-B-Q, Nashville

Edley’s menu

I almost always take a picture of my food when we eat out. Sadly, I was just too hungry the day we visited Edley’s Bar-B-Q in Nashville. Again, I had the pork plate. The meat was just as good without any sauce. And I loved the potato salad and baked beans. I snuck a taste of my son’s macaroni and cheese and wished I had ordered another side. We are hoping to visit the one in Chattanooga, soon.

Moe’s brisket

Our favorite chain

When Moe’s Original Barbecue first came to my hometown of Rome, Ga., I didn’t realize they have locations across the country. This great Southern food is available in California and Wyoming among a lot of other places.

I have never had a bad meal at Moe’s. I usually get the pork plate of sandwich. But on one of our visits my husband ordered the Redneck Nachos. That was a favorite for a while. Then a Facebook friend told me to try the mahi-mahi. It was the best fish dish I have ever had. As for the sides, I love their macaroni and cheese and the banana pudding (I hope my doctor isn’t reading this) . My family has never had a bad meal here.

Reader’s choices

Alicia Evans Brown mentioned Character’s Famous BBQ in Adairsville, Ga. We were going to mention it, too. Michael Character has competed across the country and was featured on Pitmasters. This is another restaurant where you hate to put sauce on the meat because it’s so tasty without it. But the sauces are so good. My favorite side is the baked beans.

Debby Zeigler loves Zeigler’s BBQ on Cobb Parkway in Acworth. We have not been there but we plan to visit soon!

What’s your favorite barbecue? Let us know in the comments!

Southern Places: The Noccalula Falls Experience is a must see for the summer

At the top of Noccalula Falls in Gadsden, Ala. is a statue of the Native American princess named for the stunning waterfall. The story of the young woman who jumped into the ravine to avoid marrying a man she did not love has been told thousands of times. This summer, Brian Clowdus has brought Noccalula’s story alive with an immersive theater experience set where the events unfolded.

The Noccalula Experience features classically trained actors who not only act but sing and climb on the Gorge Trail that leads to the bottom of the falls. The audience can walk down the slope to the play’s setting or be assisted by park staff in a Gator.

Sarah Elaine as Noccalula

Once the audience is assembled, music begins and Noccalula appears. Portrayed passionately by Atlanta actor Sarah Elaine, we quickly learn the princess is in love with Wa-ya, portrayed by Jonathan Varillas. The actors expertly portray the joy of two young people in love.

But their joy is short lived as Noccalula is told by her father, portrayed by Pedro Ka’awaloa, that she must marry Tsu-la to broker peace with another tribe. Woven throughout the story is the voice of Noccalula’s mother, who guides her daughter to her fateful decision.  Irene Bedard, known as the voice of Pocahontas in the 1995 Disney movie, provides the voice of Noccalula’s mother.  

Theater lovers will revel in seeing the story told on the path where the Native American legend was born. Once at the play’s first setting, the walk through the journey is an easy one for adults and children. Benches are provided in some of the areas for those who need them but the audience should be prepared to stand for about an hour during the performance.

A scene from the Nocculala Falls Experience

After the play, the audience can take the rocky hike down to the gorge or return to the trailhead. Park admission is included with the theater ticket. Noccalula Falls has beautiful winding trails filled with historic cabins and beautiful foliage. My favorites are the covered bridge and old-fashioned post office. Everyone will enjoy seeing the animals in the petting zoo. And if you get tired, just catch a ride on the train that winds through the park. A miniature golf course is adjacent to the park. Adults can play for $5 and $4 for children and seniors.

Here’s what you need to know about the Noccalula Falls Experience

When: Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through July 7. Shows are performed at 2 p.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Where: Noccalula Falls Park, 1500 Noccalula Road, Gadsden, Ala.

Admission: For 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. shows: $15 for adults. $10 for seniors, military and kids

For the 6 p.m. show: $25 for adults. $15 for seniors, military and kids.

You can purchase tickets and get more information here.

Other information: You do need to walk down a steep incline to get to where the play begins. A driver in a Gator is there to assist you if you don’t feel comfortable walking down. The play is performed on the trail but relatively easy to walk.

Southern Places: Explore aviation history in Warner Robins, Georgia

Steve is an Air Force veteran so when we visited the Macon area last fall, we had to go to the Museum of Aviation. Steve tied together some of the stories in this blog post. —Kim

The Musuem of Aviation

Deep in the heart of Georgia, there is a historic military installation that houses aircraft memorabilia from bygone days. The Museum of Aviation is located adjacent to the Warner Robins Air Force base south of Macon. All theaters of war in the 20th and 21st centuries are represented in the museum. Admission is free and you will find a lot of exhibits for kids.

As an Air Force veteran, I took interest not only in the stories of war heroes and flying aces but in the story of the base itself and its role in some of history’s biggest stories. Robins AFB has been and is still today one of the most utilized and mission ready military bases in the world. It has a history that is replete with many accomplishments both overseas and on the domestic front. As well as participating in our nation’s defense in a major way for over three-quarters of a century, Robins AFB has been a major corporate citizen to the middle Georgia community.

Beginning with the era of the Great Depression, the U.S. Army was in need of a site to perform aircraft maintenance and store needed supplies at a strategic location. The War Department (later the Department of Defense) selected a site near Wellston, Ga. (later named Warner Robins). Local leaders in the Macon area were ecstatic at the soon to be the reality of a large industrial complex in the area to be serviced by local dairy farms and pecan orchards, as well as other supplies. The base was originally called the Georgia Air Depot, and construction of the facilities began in August 1941.

Less than four months later, Pearl Harbor Naval Base and Hickam Field in Hawaii were attacked by the Japanese in a pre-dawn surprise attack which killed over 4,000 American military personnel and civilians. President Franklin D. Roosevelt immediately called a joint session of Congress and asked for a declaration of war, saying, “…this date, December 7, 1941, is a date which shall live in infamy!”

War was declared on Japan by Congress, and later Germany, who was an Axis Alliance partner of Japan along with Italy, declared war on the United States. Our country was at war, and the wheels of mobilization began to turn. We needed that base in Georgia!

The rest was history.

The depot was completed in 1942 and was named Warner Robins Army Air Depot at Robins Field. It was dedicated on April 26, 1943, and named after the late Brig. Gen. Augustine Warner Robins. The name of the town of Wellston had been already changed to Warner Robins the previous year in anticipation of the upcoming dedication of the newly constructed depot and airstrip. Macon mayor Charles L. Bowden officially presented the deeds to the depot property to the U.S. Army Air Corps on the day of dedication.

The musuem has a section dedicated to a movie about aviation in World War II. “God is My Co-Pilot” starred Dane Clark, Dennis Morgan and Raymond Massey and is an autobiography of Robert Lee Scott, Jr. , who flew with the Flying Tigers.

As we all know from our history classes, the war ended in 1945 in both Europe and the Pacific. Another World War had ended with a victory for the Allies, which meant a lot of rebuilding had to be done to repair all the damage the war had caused. This created the need to continue supplying our former enemies’ efforts to rebuild their cities and the lives of their surviving populations, while the Allied nations of the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and France occupied them for the next several years. This mission became known as the Marshall Plan, named after former General of the Army and Secretary of State George C. Marshall.

The Berlin Airlift, a.k.a. “Operation Vittles”, was also a place where Robins AFB (as it was then named after it was assigned to the newly created Department of the Air Force to go along with the new Department of Defense in 1947) stood out in its mission to supply the people of West Berlin during the 1948 Soviet blockade. The Berliners hardly missed a meal, and the Soviets suspended the blockade.

Robins AFB at Warner Robins, Ga. became a vital corporate citizen in Middle Georgia as it continued to increase its mission status during both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, as well as Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom.

In 1981, the U.S. Air Force created and built the Museum of Aviation at Robins AFB to become its second largest aerospace museum. It is situated on 43 acres of land adjacent to the city limits of Warner Robins. It houses aircraft indoors in four separate hangars with exhibits on multiple floors. There are many permanently grounded aircraft outside on the museum grounds. There is an old Air Force One which flew the President of the United States. There are Korean War-era fighter jets, the first jet fighters ever used in warfare by the United States.

The indoor exhibits are in a climate-controlled environment in each of the four hangars for the year-round comfort and enjoyment of the museum’s thousands of visitors each year. The museum in total has 93 military aircraft, including helicopters and missiles. It displays equipment used by aircraft personnel and pilots. It even has a gift shop.

Another feature of the Museum of Aviation at Robins AFB is the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame, which was created by Georgia Gov. Joe Frank Harris in 1989. Many brave pilots from Georgia or people who are otherwise connected to Georgia in an honored status concerning aviation are remembered here. They include men like World War I ace and Medal of Honor recipient Edward “Eddie” Rickenbacker.

The contributions to our nation’s security made by the men and women of Robins AFB are innumerable. During the early 1960s the Cuban Missile Crisis was also handled in part by the staging of aircraft and weapons at Robins in the event of a call from President John F. Kennedy to launch an attack on Soviet offensive nuclear missiles staged in Cuba. This was a tense time for our country as our president encouraged us that we would be safe. Robins AFB was one base among many in the region under the Strategic Air Command (SAC) at the time, and President Kennedy was ready to give the attack order while at the same time working along with the State Department to negotiate with the Kremlin under Nikita Khrushchev to “stand down.”

The Russians blinked, and the crisis was over. The readiness of our forces was a key to the success of the operation, and the willingness of our president to “fight fire with fire” was crucial.

These are just a few of the stories you can experience at the Museum of Aviation. The kids will love some of the interactive exhibits. And again, admission is free.