September 28 – October 2, 2012
We pulled into the marina at Joe Wheeler State Park to find we were the only transient boaters there, and we had our pick of slips. This is such a pretty spot on a large bay off Wheeler Lake. The annual Fall Looper Rendezvous will be held here in late October and we will return for that. We attended our first Rendezvous here in 2010, but we were without a boat and stayed in the lodge over looking the lake. It’s nice to be back with a boat.
There are lots of sailboats among the permanent residents at Joe Wheeler. This guy demonstrated once again that sailors are a different breed. No fear of heights, evidently.
The next day we got some company in the marina. Next to Me arrived, followed close behind by Native Son, whose prop problem has finally been solved, knock wood. Later in the day, we welcomed more guests on board. Cindy Clayton, who worked with Craig for several years at Hyco, her husband, Richie, and their 2-year-old son Everett drove over from Atlanta to spend the night at the lodge, visit with us and see the boat. Great to see them! Everett was very excited and wore his life jacket constantly, even to dinner at the lodge restaurant that night.
The next morning was cool and dreary, but we took the Claytons for a ride on the lake. Everyone had a good time, and Everett loved it, right up to the point when he fell sound asleep. Boat rides will do that to you!
After our ride, we dropped Richie and Everett back at their car, and they headed back to Atlanta. Cindy rode with us on the boat to our next stop at Ditto Landing marina south of Huntsville, where she had left a car. The next morning, after spending the night on board with us, she would drive to the Hyco plant in Arab, Alabama before returning home.
Our cruise upriver to Ditto Landing was pleasant and uneventful, much of it through the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. The only town we passed through was Decatur, Alabama, which gives prominent notice that it is the home of Meow Mix cat food. Decatur also has a low railroad bridge that had to be lifted so we could pass under it.
We continued to see a lot of limestone bluffs along the river. The trees were just beginning to turn, giving us hope for some pretty colors when we return later in the month.
The next morning, we said good-bye to Cindy. The forecast was for an unpleasant day with heavy rain, so we decided to stay at Ditto Landing and drive into Huntsville to tour the NASA space museum there. One of Craig’s former colleagues, Art Zimmerman, very kindly dropped off his car for us to use for the day. Bob and Cathryn (Next to Me) joined us for our excursion.
The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is said to be one of the largest and most comprehensive space museums in the world. Huntsville is the site of the birth of America’s space program, dating from the time Werner von Braun and his teams of German engineers arrived here. This is where the Saturn rockets were developed that eventually took men to the moon. Spacecraft development continues to this day in Huntsville; the government is a huge employer in this city.
The Space and Rocket Center is also home to Space Camp, and the facility was full of groups of excited young kids.
The current special exhibit commemorates the 100th anniversary of the birth of Werner von Braun, considered the father of our space program. It was fascinating and really fun to refresh our memories about those early days of space exploration. And after seeing some of the very primitive-looking equipment that was used even on the moon flights, we came away with renewed respect for the astronauts who were willing to sit atop often untested rockets.
It was amazing to get the perspective of how tiny was the capsule in which the humans sat, on top of the giant Saturn rocket.
And here’s a moon rock!
That evening Art Zimmerman and his daughter Jessica joined us on board for a glass of wine before picking up his car. Thanks so much, Art, for loaning us the car. We had a great day! The Space and Rocket Center AND Walmart – imagine that!
The next day we continued on to Lake Guntersville, another exceptionally attractive lake on the Tennessee River. Not far below the Guntersville Dam, we passed Painted Bluff, over 350 high.
Guntersville is quite close to the Arab Hyco plant, so Craig has been here many times over the years. Just after the Guntersville Lock, we passed one of the Tennessee Valley’s noted bat caves, the spring and summer home to tens of thousands of endangered gray bats. We were there in mid-day, and anyway they had probably already migrated for the winter, so we missed them. But Craig has been there at dusk to see them emerge en masse and he says it is an incredible sight, as you might imagine.
Around a few bends, we arrived at the Lake Guntersville Yacht Club. The club offers reciprocity to our club at home, so Looper friends Jan and Rusty on Cbay arranged for us to stay there. It is a beautiful facility on a particularly lovely part of the lake, with welcoming members who made us feel right at home. A great stop!
Next, Lake Guntersville and Goose Pond in Scottsboro, AL