Texas (Part Two)

Monday 15 April – Space Center Houston

I visited this very popular science museum which has enough exhibits to occupy a whole day.

A highlight of the whole holiday for me was a visit to the Apollo Mission Control which has been restored beautifully. They ran replays on the screens of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the “one small step”, and finally the splashdown.

Another important exhibit is a Saturn V rocket. This one is made of unused parts from the cancelled Apollo 18, 19 and 20 missions.

The massive rocket was displayed in the open air for many years and suffered severe corrosion damage until 2000 when they built this shed and did a lot of restoration work. You can see below a piece of corroded metalwork which was replaced. I suppose when you’re designing a single-use disposable rocket, long term weather resistance is not a high priority!

Next, the space shuttle and Boeing 747. The shuttle here is a never flown mockup used for astronaut training, the 747 is the one actually used for test flights and for transporting shuttles between landing and launch sites. (And also for the European goodwill tour when I saw it fly over Altrincham back in 1983.) I could go inside both the shuttle and the jumbo.

Inside the cargo bay:

Finally, a SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage reusable rocket which was used for two missions before being retired:

This is one of the landing legs:

Tuesday 16 April

Houston’s 1940 Air Terminal is exactly what it says. A new terminal was built on the other side of the Airport in 1955 after which use of the art deco terminal built in 1940 declined and it was eventually abandoned. Fortunately it was not demolished and has been saved for preservation.

Unfortunately there is only one staircase so fire regulations prevent public access upstairs. I’m sure a visit to the control tower would enhance the visitor experience. Inside the building is an interesting collection of airline memorabilia going back over seventy years, and outside on the apron they have a Lockheed Lodestar, a contemporary of the more well known Douglas DC-3:

In downtown Dallas there were more trams to ride:

Wednesday 17 April

While studying the internet to plan the next leg of my Texan travels I came across the small town of Wharton and its 20th Century Technology Museum. Here I found an amazing collection of all sorts of 20th century technology:

Also in the same building is the Wharton County Historical Museum. Less interesting to me personally but still a very good collection covering the history of the area from the Mexican war onwards. The museums were originally created as the result of the philanthropy of a local oil magnate; one room displays the trophies from a three year round the world hunting trip he went on. Here’s just one wall:

Thursday 18 April

The San Antonio River Walk is a section of the San Antonio river where it passes through the city. Both sides of the river have been converted to walkways, and various flower beds and art installations have been added.

The authorities put a lot of effort into maintaining the river walk, I saw this boat “trawling” for rubbish:

The main reason for tourists to come to San Antonio is, of course, the Alamo:

Quite a bit of construction work was under way here, with parts of the site inaccessible:

Next, the Tower Of The Americas for some good views of the city:

Friday 19 April

The cave system at Natural Bridge Caverns was only discovered in the early 1960s. It soon became a tourist attraction. I went for a tour of beautiful caves and passageways, just a small part of the system:

Here is the natural bridge after which the caverns are named, and below it the entrance to the caves:

Saturday 20 April

The Texas Steam Train Association operate excursion trains along a line north of Austin. They don’t actually have an operational steam engine at the moment, so my ride on the Hill Country Flyer was powered by a relatively modern diesel:

At the far end is the little town of Burnet where the passengers scattered in search of lunch or shopping. I failed to find an open bar but had some traditional Texas barbecue (and a beer) at Warehouse BBQ:

Sunday 21 April

Austin is the state capital of Texas, and the capitol building is well worth a visit. After passing through security you are free to wander around this impressive building, which is still very much in use by the state government.

The Supreme Court of Texas:

The hinges on the door to the supreme court:

The House of Representatives:

Monday 22 April

As my holiday drew to a close it occurred to me that I had seen lots of America’s long freight trains but I hadn’t taken many pictures of them, so I called in to Saginaw Rail Park in Fort Worth to do a bit of train watching. Only two trains passed while I was there, the first one had five locos:

And with that, five weeks of holiday drew to a close. My time in the USA has been very enjoyable, but I think I need a rest now!

Here are some statistics for the 38 day holiday:

  • Rail miles: 3,195
  • Road miles: 1,128
  • Photographs taken: 900
  • Bars visited: 56

If you would like to see details of all the bars and breweries I visited in Texas, click here.

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