Alabama… and All the Way Sweet Home

Having gotten used to the slow pace of Mississippi, we decided to take the scenic route from Jackson to Huntsville, Alabama.  We reminded ourselves that that the journey is more important than the destination as we left the interstate and made our way to the Natchez Trace Parkway.  This 444-mile parkway follows the “Old Trace” from Nachtez in the southwest corner of Mississippi all the way to Nashville, Tennessee.  The Old Trace is a combination of old foot passages followed by Native Americans, settlers and eventually even a few future presidents.  The original trails were created by people following the traces of bison and other game off of which they lived.

Boy, were we glad we took this route.  Instead of the monotonous long highway, we were surrounded by gorgeous forests, swamps, and sometimes prairie.  At the Visitor Center we picked up a guide that detailed many sites and stops on the route, and we took full advantage.  We stopped and saw swamps filled with Cypress and Tupelo trees, Native Burial Grounds that are thousands of years old, pieces of the original native trails, and a cave.  One of the more interesting stops was the place where post men from Natchez and Nashville used to meet, exchange their mail bags, and continue on to make their deliveries.

As we crossed the border into Alabama, we were actually prepared enough to be playing “Sweet Home Alabama” on the iPod.  It was a moment in time and feeling I will never forget.  Great song, open road, beautiful scenery, warm weather, open windows, and our hair blowing in the wind.  It probably even helped that the next stop after Alabama would indeed be our own Sweet Home Pennsylvania to reconnect and celebrate the holidays with family and friends.  We suddenly wondered why we hadn’t listened to an appropriate song as we drove into every state on this trip, and began brainstorming a list of states, cities, and iconic songs.

Once in Huntsville, we found our way to my Aunt Gail and Uncle Bob’s house.  As we drove around, we kept passing an enormous rocket.  Yup, that’s right, a Saturn V rocket that you can see from miles away, that is seemingly as iconic in Huntsville as the Washington Monument is in D.C.  We had a lot to learn about this town we never knew was on the map until my Aunt moved there.  It was suddenly apparent that we weren’t in Kansas, I mean Mississippi, anymore.

I knew there was a military presence in Huntsville from talking with my aunt and uncle.   During our visit though, I found out Huntsville should get just as much recognition as Cape Canaveral and Houston when it comes to our space program.  Although Huntsville is not a launch site, it is home of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, where engineers and scientists have lead the development and testing of rockets, rocket engines and space vehicles since 1960.  It is also home to the US Space and Rocket Center Museum, which is open to the public and houses Space Camp!  Our walking tour of one section of the museum was led by a young woman who teaches not only children in Space Camp, but adults.  You can bet we’ll be finding out the details of that program (and then probably getting depressed when we realize the cost is outrageous.)

At the museum we learned all about the life of Wernher von Braun, the father of our American Space Program.  We were really interested by the fact that he and several other leading rocket scientists were actually German born and working for the German space program before World War II (before they were commandeered by the Nazis for military purposes).   As it became evident that Germany was going to lose the war, they wisely chose to defect to the USA.  We also learned about plenty of the missions and vehicles that have been sent into space throughout US history, and we even got to climb into a few of the vehicles and feel exactly how tight the space was for many astronauts!  I’m not claustrophobic by any means but I think I might be if I was closed into one of those things.  It was interesting to see how exciting it was to be one of the hand-selected astronauts in the 50s and 60s.  These guys were some of the most sought-after men in the country.

Huntsville wasn’t only about space for us though.  We were also treated to two really delicious restaurants by my aunt and uncle.  Unfortunately I’ve forgotten the name of the Italian place, but if you’re ever in the area make sure you check out The Po’ Boy Factory for some home-style Cajun/Nawlins food.  Oh my, that was some tasty gumbo, jambalaya, etoufee etc!  We also drove through a great Christmas lights display together at the Botanical Gardens, where Elliott and I mused over the variety of animals and objects found in this particular southern lights display.  It included dinosaurs, tractors, and even a “regurgitating” stork.  And last but certainly not least, we had lots of fun meeting, walking and playing with all of my aunt and uncle’s pets!

On Friday last week, we drove all the way home from Huntsville to Limerick, PA, which took about 14 hours.  That was our longest drive on this cross-country road trip, and seemed appropriate as it was our last day of driving.  We figured the perfect way to celebrate our trip was one last long drive, after all!

We’ll post some photos soon of our time at home over the holidays.  I hope you had a wonderful holiday of your own, and here’s wishing everyone a Happy New Year!  We’ll be around Limerick for at least a couple of days into the New Year, so please get in touch if you’re in the area.  As for what’s next?  Well, as usual, we’ve sort of left things for the last minute.  Our itinerary still says “stay tuned” for a reason; we haven’t booked anything yet!  But we’ll let you know as soon as we do!

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