Sunday, December 30, 2007

Busch Gardens during the Holidays

Busch Gardens all dressed up for the holidays.

An antelope finds a solitary corner to take a break.

The elephants gather around right before an interactive show. They playfully waved their trunks around as if waving at the people.

Holiday lights at dusk.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas at the Opryland Hotel

We visited the Opryland Hotel to see the sights and walk off some of our Christmas feast from earlier in the day.

The place is huge. There are a series of interconnected gardens inside vast atriums. This scene is on the Delta Island.

Lights and fantasy animals from the upper walkway in the Garden Conservatory.

Near a restaurant on the lower level of the Garden Conservatory. The balconies are at hotel rooms and open walkways.

I think this is on the lower level of the Garden Conservatory. There were a lot of twisted paths going up and down around a pond. The turns in the paths made small, hidden areas where there was seating, statues, leprechaun figures, and exotic plants.

This scene in the Delta area looks like a gazebo near an ice skating rink, but it is really a polished indoor floor. Little M danced around shouting "Watch me ice skate."

An outdoor manger scene set up around a pond.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve in Nashville

We travelled north on the Dixie Highway from Florida to Nashville, Tennessee for Christmas.

Monday, December 03, 2007

LC-39 Observation Gantry

We went to Kennedy Space Center today and went on a tour that went to the LC-39 Observation Gantry. It's an observation tower where you can see the shuttle launch pads. This tour is closed on launch day.

This is a picture of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) where the space shuttles are lifted vertically to be fitted with the big orange fuel tank, solid rocket boosters, and otherwise readied for launch.

A shuttle engine on the LC-39 Observation Gantry.

A view up the shuttle engine. A launch can be scrubbed up to 3 seconds before lift-off. The shuttle engines fire up 3 seconds before the solid rocket boosters. That's to prevent the shuttle from being launched into space if the engines aren't working properly.

Shuttle Atlantis on the launchpad. You can see the black nose of the shuttle and the orange fuel tank. The wide part of the tower rotates away from the space shuttle for launch.

The platform with the tractors around it is the crawler that takes space shuttles from the tall Vehicle Assembly Building in the background to the launch pad. The crawler travels up to 1 mile per hour with the shuttle vertical and maneuvers the space shuttle into place at the launch pad.

Here is a panorama of the crawler path showing both space shuttle launch pads. I couldn't get both launch pads in one shot, so this is crudely stitched together. Click on any of the photos to see a larger version.

This is another photo of the VAB as we left the tour area. It is the third largest building in the world (by volume) and the largest one story building in the world. One of the stars on the American flag on the side of the VAB is 6 feet across. The blue field in the flag is the size of a regulation basketball court. You can see it from miles away.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Christmas Tree

It was 90° F today when I bought my Christmas tree. I'm amazed at how much the winter theme is present in the holiday decorations and cards, despite the tropical Florida heat. I'm having a hard time finding tropical themed Christmas cards. Most of the cards depict snowy winter scenes. Some of my neighbors have winter themed yard decorations like polar bear and snowman figures. Up north it seems natural, because the environment is in a wintery freeze. Here it appears more obvious that the religious holidays are infused with celebrating the winter solstice.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Cotton Fields White as Snow

The mountains and lakes of Tennessee are gorgeous. The cotton fields in Georgia are white and the trees are full of autumn reds, golds, and orange.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving Up North

Here's a Dixie Highway sign near Cincinnati.

We had fun visiting family and friends up north this week in Toledo, Ohio. It was 25° F when we left this morning, and we're so glad to be heading south.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Florence Y'all

Here are some things we saw on our way up north for Thanksgiving. This water tower in Florence, Kentucky cracks me up. At this point headed north, we're about to leave "Y'all Country." You don't hear southern drawls as much once you cross the Ohio River.

You never know what you'll encounter on a long road trip. What is that? Redneck A/C? They want to make sure the back of the SUV stays cool.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Busch Gardens

An animal handler was loading the parrots on a cart to take them to another habitat. I was amazed at how well trained the birds are. It's probably routine for them to ride around the park on a cart amongst crowds of people.

This is a dragon. It's the biggest lizard, besides an alligator, that I've ever seen.

These colorful little lorikeets were in a walk through aviary where people could feed them.

The Serengeti Plain is huge. It's incredible that all this is in the middle of a city.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Shuttle Discovery Lands

It was a clear blue sky today over the Tampa Bay area. We think we saw Shuttle Discovery coming in for a landing on the east coast of Florida. We were in the backyard with binoculars looking at everything in the sky shortly before the scheduled landing. Airplanes had longer wings than the space shuttle and we could usually hear the engines. The white spot that we think was the space shuttle had shorter wings, dropped down really quick, left no exhaust trail, and was quiet. When a space shuttle comes in for a landing it drops quickly like a big brick with wings. After it cleared the tree line we went inside and watched the landing on TV.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Totally Lame

The weather has been lovely. It cools off enough at night to open the windows and air out the house mornings and evenings. Right now it is about 71° F. My northern friends would think I'm totally lame to be sitting around in a heavy robe and big fuzzy socks. After living here through my first hot, humid Florida summer 71° F feels cold.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Edison & Ford Winter Estates

We visited the Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Florida, which were built at the turn of the 20th century. The tree trunks in the photo are actually all part on one banyan tree. This banyan tree is one of the largest in the world. Roots hanging down from the tree form new trunks. The tree started as a 4 ft tall specimen in the 1920's.

An orchid growing in the banyan tree.

Edison's chemistry lab. Edison, Ford, and Firestone were looking for a new botanical source of rubber. They experimented with different types of tropical trees. They also did research on materials like bamboo for light bulb filaments.

A series of pullies, similar to those in Greenfield Village, helped power the machines in the workshop.

The Moonlight Garden behind Edison's office.

The pier on the Caloosahatchee River. Supplies for the estates came in via boat.

Edison's home and garden.

An electrolier. The lighting fixtures in the Edison house are fascinating.

Dwarf Poinciana

The interior of the Ford house was decorated in the Arts & Crafts style of the early 20th century. The lamp in the corner is reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright's style.

This tree near the Ford house had strange flowers hanging from it.

Close up of the tree's hanging flowers.

A huge old Mysore fig tree with sprawling roots.

Close up of the roots of the Mysore fig tree.

Lipstick Plant

You can click on any of the photos in this post to see a larger version. Thanks for visiting my blog!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

STS-120 Shuttle Discovery Launch

We had to be at the Kennedy Space Center at 6am for the 11:38am launch. It was dark and the shuttle was lit up. It looked something like this. This picture is a painting in a NASA art gallery.

Kennedy Space Center entrance on launch day. The Discovery flag flies with the American flag.

We are 6 miles from the launchpad on a causeway across a bay on NASA property. You can see the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) in the background. The launchpad is off camera to the right. This place is the closest the public can get to a shuttle launch.

Shuttle Discovery clears the launchpad. We saw movement before we could hear it. The sound was much louder than at previous locations. It wasn't an earpiercing noise; it was a low rumble that shook you inside and out. Crackling sounds like a giant bonfire faded as the shuttle rose farther up into the sky.

Here's the launch sequence patched together. (Click on any of the photos in the blog for larger images.)

The cloud clears the launchpad. We could smell it. An announcement over the P.A. system said that we could be affected by hydrochloric acid fumes from the launch. If we felt like we had sore throats a drink of water would clear it up. I felt a minor irritation and a few sips of Pepsi washed it away.

The roll.

This is another painting from the NASA art gallery. If I were to make a composite of my experience watching the launch it would look something like this. There were people with cameras everywhere. The orange flame from the shuttle cut through clouds set against a blue sky.