In February/March this year, we visited the United States of America for three weeks. Richard and a group of work colleagues flew over to New Mexico to spend a week at the EVLA in Socorro, some 120 km south of Albuquerque. I, meanwhile, had a little adventure of my own: I stayed with a long-time penpal and his family near the small town of Hazard in eastern Kentucky. At the end of the first week, Richard and I met up in Louisville, Kentucky, from where we embarked on a two-week road trip around (parts of) the southeastern and eastern USA, ending in New York City.
Sunday, 26 February 2012, is a day that will forever be etched upon my memory as the day on which Bobz and I finally met each other, face to face, for the very first time. Seeing each other in real life, suddenly solidly three-dimensional and so real, was the culmination of almost 25 years of long-distance communication in its various forms – letter, fax, telephone, email, Skype, the internet…
When travelling to a foreign country – even one as familiar from the movies and the television as the United States of America no doubt is – it is helpful to remember that one is not at home. Some things work a little differently across the pond. I thought I would share with you some of the things we learned while travelling through the US.
We Blast Off Into Space: From Mission Control to the Space Station at the Challenger Learning Centre
One day, Bobz, Dana and I visited the Challenger Learning Centre for Space Science Education on the campus of the Hazard Community and Technical College in eastern Kentucky. This is one of 48 such centres around the United States. They were created by the families of the seven astronauts who died when the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart about 73 seconds into the flight on 28 January 1986 as a kind of living memorial.
One bright and crispy morning, Bobz announced that we would be taking a little drive up to a place called Elk View. This part of the country – Knott County to be specific – has a substantial population of about 11,000 elk. We thus drove up to the area known as the Mine Made Paradise Park, in the hope of (photographically) shooting some elk. It didn’t quite turn out as expected.
The Bluegrass region of Kentucky is famous for its magnificent horses and its superb bourbon whiskey. On our way to Louisville to meet Richard at the airport (he was due to land there in the late afternoon, having flown eastwards from Albuquerque, New Mexico), we stopped at the Kentucky Horse Park just outside Lexington, a beautiful equine theme park and competition facility dedicated to man’s relationship with the horse. Our visit was unfortunately cut very short, because there was a tornado watch in the area just west of Louisville. It was a nailbiting couple of hours.
Bittersweet goodbyes among the tree-lined boulevards and magnificent Victorian mansions of Old Louisville
The next morning, Bobz showed us around the neighbourhood of Old Louisville where he had lived a number of years ago. It is a beautiful area, with magnificent Victorian mansions and avenues lined by mature oak and magnolia trees. We walked around the Central Park, which hosts the annual Shakespeare in the Park Festival, and spoke to the friendly people in the Visitor Information Centre, and marvelled at the extraordinary architecture of this place. All too soon, the time came to say goodbye to our dear friends, and to go our separate ways. This was the start of our roadtrip.
After bidding farewell to our friends in Louisville, we took the I-65 southbound, stopping at a Welcome Centre off the highway. It was here that we found out about the nearby Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest. We decided to explore Bernheim a little bit, going for a couple of hikes and enjoying the peace and tranquility of this idyllic place, which brought us right back into the present moment. Ahh, bliss.
After our visit to Bernheim Forest, we drove south to Bowling Green, where we overnighted. On Sunday morning, we backtracked north to Mammoth Cave National Park, which is the world’s longest known cave system, with over 390 miles (630 km) of interlinked caverns and passageways having been explored and surveyed so far out of an estimated 1000 miles (1600 km). Richard joined the longer New Entrance Tour, whereas I went on the shorter Frozen Niagara Tour; while I was waiting for his tour to finish, I walked along the Heritage Trail. Afterwards, we briefly drove down to the Green River to see one of the two still-operational ferries in the Park in action.