We had no idea what to expect from our first foray into Alabama. Our seven-day round-trip drive took us both ways through the 300-mile expanse it occupies between Tennessee and Louisiana, and gave us opportunities for stops at several points of varying interest levels. Our first impressions confirmed our research results: it’s large. It contains multitudes.
That location in the photo? That’s just their Welcome Center.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
This year’s trip began as a simple idea: visit ostensibly scenic New Orleans. Indianapolis to New Orleans is a fourteen-hour drive. Between our workplace demands and other assorted personal needs, we negotiated a narrow seven-day time frame to travel there and back again. We researched numerous possible routes, cities, and towns to visit along the way in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. We came up with a long, deep list of potential stops, but tried to leave room for improvisation…
We do our best to plan our potential stops and know where we’re going in general before we leave home, but sometimes we’ll stop at welcome centers along the interstate anyway to stock up on extra brochures, stumble across travel ideas the internet neglected to mention, and seek input from local tourism representatives. And sometimes we just need a rest stop. Day One was no exception — with an eight-hour drive planned, not including stops, we knew we’d be dying for excuses to escape the car every so often.
The rep on duty was among the friendliest we’d ever encountered at one of these places. I imagine they spend most days in isolation dozens of miles from home, surrounded by exhausted strangers, helping travelers who don’t get maps, recommending one-star motels to road warriors who prefer to improvise their arrangements, and providing directions to the bathrooms across the hall. Not so with Alabama’s own — the friendly lady struck up conversation with us first, handed us some colorful small-scale maps, and even gave us coupons for free sandwiches at a BBQ joint several miles down the road. Awful decent of her.
We weren’t too far from Huntsville, where NASA’s U.S. Space Center is supposed to be a must-see for fans of America’s space program. We visited Kennedy Space Center on our 2007 road trip and thought Huntsville’s extension would make a nice companion stop. We had that tentatively scheduled for our return trip, but this photo-op stand was a reminder to give them serious consideration.
In addition to the inviting scenery and large pet-walking field, the grounds of the Welcome Center also include a pair of war memorials — one for Korea, one for Vietnam.
As one tour guide would put it to us on Day Six, Alabama is one of the few states that hosted historical moments in both the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. So this marker could be taken a few different ways.
Then there’s the centerpiece that caught our eye from miles away. The Saturn IB launch vehicle was developed as sort of booster for carrying lunar or command modules into orbit. These were in testing from 1966 to 1968 (the one manned test in 1967 ended in tragedy for the crew of the Apollo I), then in active use from 1973 until the entire line was was decommissioned in 1975. This eight-story portion came from one such vehicle that was never used. And this was just the first stage.
The Saturn IB is surrounded by a security fence so you can’t just walk up to it, hug the engines, or hold rocket-climbing races with your friends. Despite some attempt at camouflage, though, I noticed the barbed wire and stern signs weren’t enough of a defense against all scurrilous intruders with flight on their mind.
To be continued!
[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for previous and future chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Thanks for reading!]