Thursday, December 31, 2009

Christmas in Oregon

We had a really nice Christmas in Oregon. All the family was over on Christmas Eve to open most of the presents, then Christmas morning we opened the stuff from Santa. After breakfast and the first round of playing with new toys, my dad, eldest son, and I went for a walk in Mary S. Young Park and found another couple of geocaches.

I know anybody in Oregon reading this will probably say, "You took pictures of that???" However, I enjoyed seeing things in Oregon that I don't normally see in Virginia. For example...


A fallen tree had recently been cut into sections,
revealing these beautiful rings.


So many ferns you can hardly tell
there's a tree trunk underneath.


Isn't it interesting how the fungus has only grown around the edges of this fallen tree?

Moss and Fungus

On Boxing Day, we went up to Portland to visit the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). One of the big attractions at OMSI is the ex-USS BLUEBACK (SS-581).

Self-portrait with the boys in front of BLUEBACK.

Bearing, MARK!

I won't bore you here with a lot of pictures of the science museum. Suffice to say they have a lot of the usual hands-on science-experiment type fun activities to do with kids. On temporary loan to OMSI, they had Samson, one of the most complete T-Rex skeletons.

Self-portrait with Sampson.

He'll GNASH you apaht

There's nothing like a HUGE radiation-trifoil symbol to feed public fear of nuclear power.

Later, my brother and his partner took us all to see Beauty and the Beast in downtown Portland. It was an excellent performance. This was the first exposure the boys have had to a professional stage production like that, and my eldest son was fascinated by how the sets changed.


The foyer inside the theater was spectacular.

With that, I bring to a close my blogging on our vacation in Oregon. We had a wonderful vacation and are very thankful for such a loving extended family and for the opportunity to spend time together this holiday season.

We left Portland just in time. As we were sitting on the plane before backing away from the terminal, it started to snow.

We made it home to the DC area just in time, too. Most of the roads are clear from the big snow storm last weekend. This morning I woke up to the sound of our neighbors shoveling fresh snow and ice out of their driveway. Time to get my boots on and get to shoveling.

Have a Happy New Year!

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.)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Lest We Forget

Rest in Peace, Shipmates. You are not forgotten.

Plymouth Sound
(Photo taken 28 Dec 2006)

For those who aren't familiar with the details, see last year's post (which also includes links to two previous posts on the topic).

Friday, December 25, 2009

Pearson Air Museum (Oregon vacation part 3)

After visiting Fort Vancouver, we grabbed some lunch and then headed over to the Pearson Air Museum.
Pearson Air Museum

Pearson Field was an old Army Air Corps airfield.

YB "flying" in front of the HQ building

For my dad, me, and the two boys to get in cost us $15. After paying the admission, when I first stepped into the hanger, I said to myself, "Self, whoa this place is small!" My initial impression was that we had been ripped off at the ticket booth. However (comma) I ended up very pleasantly surprised. They really packed a lot of informative and interesting exhibits into that small hanger, and there were a few hands-on displays that really made it worth while for the boys.

Just inside the front doors.

The first exhibit you will find after entering the front doors is a two-panel display on the life and achievements of Army LT Alexander Pearson. I enjoyed learning about LT Pearson and the role he played as a pioneer in military aviation. His career crossed paths with some notable events and people such as Doolittle and Eisenhower.

Also just inside the front doors and the thing the boys enjoyed most was the model aircraft carrier with an airplane on a wire you had to land on the deck and catch the tailhook on the arresting cable. You pull a handle forward and back to raise and lower your end of the wire the airplane was flying on. If you let the wire go too low, the plane would run into the back of the aircraft carrier, and if you held the wire too high then the plane would overshoot the flight deck.

Lotis the Test Pilot

Kiddie Rides with actual moving control surfaces,
lights and sound effects.

The boys also spent a while on the balcony controlling this yellow model airplane.

Lotis the Flight Instructor

They also had an entire separate classroom off the side of the hanger that was full of about a dozen computers with fancy flight simulator programs. The boys spent so much time just playing with the aircraft carrier and the yellow model plane controls above, I didn't think we'd ever get out of there if they saw the room full of flight simulators.

Having read Jeff Shaara's book about the Lafayette Escadrille and seeing the movie Flyboys, I was interested to see the WWI exhibit here. The exhibit included information about spruce trees and why spruce made good aircraft frames and how it was used to build the aircraft in WWI. Plus they had a couple of nicely preserved planes like this Fokker DR-1.

Fokker DR-1

Pearson Field is also where the first trans-polar flight landed in 1937. If you ask me, those guys were nuts. Could you imagine in that day and with their navigation technology flying thousands of miles over the North Pole with a magnetic compass in a single engine plane in the harsh Arctic environment with ice on the wings??? If I had been there when they took off, then I would have wagered money they weren't gonna live to tell the tale.

Another exhibit I enjoyed was on the flying clippers (mostly run by Pan Am) and flying boats that provided trans-oceanic service to places like Hawaii.

Obligatory Blunoz Self Portrait

All four of us (Grandpa, me, and the boys) learned a lot in exploring this museum, and it was well worth the price of admission. It's very nicely put together, and the hands-on activities really captured the boys' interest.