Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Evergreen Air & Space Museum (OR vacation part 4)

For our next adventure in Oregon sight-seeing, my dad and I took the boys out to the Evergreen Air & Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon.

First the Good:

This place is GINORMOUS with an amazing collection of aircraft. It's on par with the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. There are three large buildings that make up the campus - the air museum, the space museum, and the IMAX theater.

Air Museum, IMAX Theater, and Space Museum

In front of the Air Museum

The air museum's central exhibit is the Spruce Goose, Howard Hughes' gargantuan flying boat transport plane that did one test flight near Long Beach, California in 1947 and then never flew again. Around it are dozens of static displays from Wright Brothers' Kitty Hawk and World War I replicas to World War II and onward to present day aircraft.

Panorama just inside the entrance (click on image to enlarge)

One thing I really liked about this museum, aside from the vast number and good condition of the aircraft on display, was the painting and story that went along with each aircraft. Next to each static display was a nice painting of the aircraft in action and a short (1 paragraph) story of the importance of that aircraft in its day and age.

Spitfire - Guardians of the Realm

There are several multi-media displays throughout the museum. Each multi-media display area has a row of commercial airliner seats in front of it to sit and watch. For example, the one I took the most interest in was their exhibit on the P-38 Lightnings that shot down Admiral Yamamoto over Bougainville.

They had this mock-up of Yamamoto's crashed plane, with informational panels and with a video monitor in the tail that told the story of the mission to shoot down Yamamoto.

The boys and I sit and watch the video about Yamamoto's demise.

Like any good museum does these days, this museum also has a section with hands-on activities for kids.

Grandpa and YB deliver air-dropped supplies to the mountains.

We thought the FLIR exhibit was so cool, we went back to it a second time to make goofy faces and see how the temperature in our mouths changed when we inhaled and exhaled. (Yes, that is the "geek" alarm you hear going off in the background.)

Space Museum

After a bite to eat (more on that at the end of this post), we headed over to the space museum on the other side of the parking lot. Again, the collection here was pretty impressive, even though there is a big empty spot that they have reserved for a space shuttle to someday call home. I didn't take as many pictures on the space side because I was feeling pressed for time to get home before the afternoon rush hour traffic started. They had nicely done exhibits about the V-1 and V-2 rockets and the space race. I was surprised that my 8 year old son actually sat in the commercial airliner seats and listened to all of President Kennedy's speech about sending men to the moon.

The photo above was taken at the ground level. The Titan II actually went down two floors below that. You could take the stairs down and go into the mock-up of the Titan II launch center.

I've seen lots of space capsules on display in museums, but this was the first time to see one with the Sea King helicopter that pulled it out of the sea.

Self portrait with Titan IV

The highlight of the space museum for my boys was finding the escape pod used by R2D2 and C3PO. Okay, no it it's not really the escape pod used in Star Wars, but it sure looked like it to them.

Like the Smithsonian, they have an SR-71 Blackbird at the Evergreen museum. What I enjoyed seeing here that I didn't remember seeing at the Smithsonian was the remote sensing instruments. They had several of the Blackbird's sensor payloads on display next to the plane.

Backtrack to the Air Museum

We went back to the Air Museum because my eldest son really wanted to see the firearms exhibit on the second floor terrace. I was actually glad we went back. It was very well put together. Rather than just a bunch of glass cases with guns on display, they had several static displays of how the weapons were used in action.

Invasion of Normandy

Iwo Jima

San Juan Hill, Spanish-American War

Lewis & Clark Expedition

Alright, you knew this was coming because of the first paragraph heading way back at the top of this post, but it has to be said...

Now for the Bad:

The price of admission to this museum is astronomical. You'll be asked to sacrifice your first born child and take out a home equity loan before you can walk in the door.

Okay, I'm exaggerating just a bit. It's not quite that bad.

My sticker-shock was most likely induced by two factors and aggravated by a third.

First, after paying just $15 for the four of us to get into the Pearson Air Museum a couple of days ago, paying $92 to get into the Evergreen museum left a flaming hole in the back pocket of my blue jeans where my wallet used to be. Oh, and that's with the military discount. Second, coming from the Washington, D.C. area, we can go see the same stuff (except for the Spruce Goose) at the Smithsonian [cue Adam Sandler's voice in Bedtime Stories] for FREEEEEEEE.

My frustration over the smoking hole in the back of my jeans was aggravated by the vacuum they kept trying to stick in the hole as we walked around the museum. They added insult to injury with all the opportunities for you to shell out MORE money as you go through the museum.

Since the Spruce Goose is the main attraction and one of first things you see when you walk in the door, we almost immediately walked over to check it out. We climbed the stairs to go inside. We stepped through the door and found ourselves in a glass box about the size of my bathroom. From this glass box, you could see all the way from the nose cone to the tail cone inside the plane, but you couldn't go up the spiral stairs to see the cockpit / flight deck or walk around at all.

This is your $92 view of the inside of the Spruce Goose

You'd have to be blind to miss the multiple posters advertising having your picture taken in the cockpit... IF you pay for a VIP tour. **Cough, cough.** I'm sorry, but paying $92 at the front door didn't just make me a VIP??? I might be able to accept paying something like the Pearson museum's admission rate and then paying extra for things like going inside the Spruce Goose and the B-17, but to charge that much money at the front door and then expect to nickel and dime us inside the museum is just rude.

Considering the Smithsonian is free, and considering all the other free monuments and museums and things to see and do in DC, you might be better off spending your money on flying to DC than going to visit the Evergreen museum.

Now, there was one mitigating factor on the cost. If we were locals and could come back here on a regular basis, the annual family pass was $120, and that totally would have been worth it. As it was, we ran out of time and didn't get to check out all the exhibits. If you live anywhere near McMinnville, then I recommend buying the annual pass and plan to go spend one outing visiting the air museum and come back another day to see the space museum, and come back whenever you have friends or family come to visit.

A Footnote on Food

There are two places to eat here, a small concession stand in the air museum and the Cosmo Cafe in the space museum. In contrast to the price of admission to the museum, the Cosmo Cafe was very reasonably priced. The service was friendly, prompt, and professional, and the food was extraordinarily fresh and delicious - a hundred times better than the junk they sell in the cafes at the major attractions around Washington, D.C. The kids' meals were $3.50 (and they got a full adult-sized cheeseburger and really good french fries). I paid $7 for a really good reuben sandwich and fries, and that's a better deal than I normally get for lunch at work.

So hey, if you're just passing through McMinnville and looking for a place to eat, you can stop and eat at the Cosmo Cafe without paying admission to the museum. Enjoy the food and the background scenery that lies beyond the ticket counter and continue on your way. :-)

Two happy boys leaving the museum.
(I don't know if you can tell from the photo,
but the driveway is painted like a runway.)

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