Communications Breakdown

We left Marfa this morning and stopped at the Fort Davis National Historic Site en route to Big Bend National Park. Along the way, I discovered that T-Mobile uses a roaming partner here; I discovered this by using up my roaming allowance and losing Internet on my phone!

But we do have connectivity at the Visitor Center across the parking lot from our room at Chisos Mountain Lodge here at the park, so I can post tonight.

Here are a few photos from Fort Davis:

In the Fort Davis Enlisted Quarteres
At Fort Davis
Fort Davis Hospital

And a few from our first afternoon at Big Bend:

A hoodoo!
Purplish Prickly Pear
Entering Chisos Basin

Professor Binzel is taking us star-gazing in a few minutes once it’s dark enough. We only have to walk a few hundred yards instead of driving up a mountain, but I’m still going to call it a night now!

Star Party!

We left El Paso right after breakfast and drove non-stop, arriving at the McDonald Observatory with mere minutes to spare before our 12:30 tour of the 107-inch Harlan J. Smith telescope.

Our guide showed us how the astronomers used hand controls to point the telescope and rotate the dome to the right place for the night’s observation. Of course, they don’t do that any more – they type their target into a computer (running Windows 98!) and it does the rest.

There are a lot of telescopes at the observatory besides the 107-inch; the Hobby-Eberly telescope is the largest, with an eleven-meter mirror.

After the tour, we drove to Marfa and our home for the night, the Paisano Hotel. Marfa began life as an railroad water stop, but today, it’s mostly known for art.

After dinner, we returned to the observatory for a Star Party; there were hundreds of people there to enjoy the dark sky, learn about the constellations, and peer through a telescope at distant galaxies and nebulae.

It’s been a long day, but worthwhile.

Gateway to Space

We’re in El Paso for the beginning of our Solar Eclipse Tour across Texas; today we took a two-hour bus trip to Virgin Galactic’s Gateway to Space at Spaceport America.

The facility is not open to the public, but we were given a special tour. We were greeted by Dave Mackay, Virgin Galactic’s chief pilot, who would be one of our tour guides.

Dave showed us the King Air plane they use to train pilots in multi-engine flying.

Dave took us into the Gateway to Space, where customers come to be trained and take their flights in VSS Unity, the SpaceShip itself. The only place we were allowed to take photos was the cafeteria!

The Walk of Fame is where the customers leave the Gateway to walk out to the ship (and where they receive their astronaut certificates after the flight).

We met our other guides, Michael “Sooch” Masucci (Test Pilot) and Beth Moses (Chief Astronaut Instructor), and set off on the tour; our ascent was by very slow elevator, all the way to the third floor.

Beth showed us the areas where customers are trained; everything is nice and shiny and futuristic. She took us through the three days of training:

Day 1 is all about the customer, beginning with the grand entrance into the training area; the customer dons their suit for the first time and learns what to really expect on the flight. Photos are taken.

Day 2 is more technical; the customer is taken on an aerobatic flight in a plane like the Gamebird below so they can feel reduced and elevated G-forces like they’ll experience. They learn how to get in and out of the seat while in zero-G, and they learn about the cabin they’ll be in. There’s even time for a nap…which everyone takes advantage of – it’s an exhausting day.

Day 3 is more of the same – proficiency testing, repetition, and a go/no-go decision. In the afternoon, they do a full dress rehearsal with family and friends watching, going all the way through the checklist and entering the ship.

And on Day 4, they take off! It’s “90 minutes from coffee to champagne”.

Beth turned us over to Sooch, who took us to the control room and onto the floor where the ships are maintained between flights. We also got to see the pilot simulator take us through an entire flight (although the ascent and descent sections were much shorter than reality). We also heard about the new larger spaceship, Delta, which will be replacing Unity in a year or two.

We returned to the cafeteria for lunch and headed back to El Paso.

It was a great day, but I’m not ready to put a deposit down on a flight. They have a 600-person backlog already, and won’t be taking customers into space until Delta is ready in a couple of years – maybe the price will come down after they work through the backlog!

Yeast Inflection

I bought a jar of Fleischmann’s Instant Yeast in 2020 for my first foray into pretzel making. The “Best Before” date on the jar was September 2022, but I kept using it and the pretzels tasted just fine.

I ran out of that yeast today and bought a new jar; I guess the old yeast had gotten rather feeble, because the pretzels I made today rose at least an inch higher than the ones I’d made a few weeks ago (though you’ll have to take my word for it; I don’t photograph every batch of pretzels I make!).

It’s restful being home!

Memphis – Day 3 and Last (Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum)

We spent the morning at the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. It’s a museum where the audio tour makes a big difference; not only is the audio commentary a little different than what’s on the signs, but there are a few dozen songs available for you to hear if you have the time. We didn’t, but they also make it available on Spotify and Apple Music for listening at your leisure. The playlist covers at least six decades of music and includes more than 80 songs, some familiar and some new to me.

I’m typing this blog entry in the DFW airport; boarding our flight to San Jose is only a few minutes away, so I’m going to upload some of the photos I took at the museum with minimal commentary.

King 624 Stove

I remember listening to the King Biscuit Flower Hour during college; I didn’t know until today that King Biscuit Flour was a real thing and that they sponsored King Biscuit Time, a blues broadcast which (according to Wikipedia) is still on the air today.

Ancient 78 RPM jukebox

WSM 650 Transmitter Transformer

Separate doors

Sputnik Monroe’s shirt

Beautiful Jukebox

Sun Records


Yet more Elvis Merch

Record Players Galore

The museum was a good finish to our trip; I’d still like to visit Sun and Stax Records sometime, but Memphis is blessed with more attractions than we had time to see.

We had a choice between having lunch downtown or eating at the airport; I looked at the Yelp reviews of airport restaurants and decided that eating downtown was the better choice, even though we’d get to the airport a little later than I prefer. We had a great lunch at McEwen’s, a couple of blocks from our hotel…and it wasn’t even barbecue (we’ve been eating a lot of barbecue in Memphis!). It was freshly-flown-in yellowfin tuna, and it was delicious. I mentioned that we were in a bit of a rush, and they gave us terrific service, too. Highly recommended if you find yourself in Memphis.

Weather in DFW delayed our flight from Memphis to DFW; if American hadn’t rescheduled our flight to SJC, we might not have made our connection, but as it was, we had nearly two hours on the ground. We’re on the plane now, waiting for the door to close. With any luck, the next blog post will be from home…or on our next trip. :-)