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Old 01-09-2011, 03:01 PM   #1
brunstei OP
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From Canuckistan to the South: The Alabama Transplant Adventures of Capt. Highlighter

Well here it is January, 2011 and your humble author brunstei (aka ‘Captain Highlighter’ when in his high-vis riding armour) finds himself temporarily transplanted from Vancouver to the far off exotic deep-south locale of Huntsville, Alabama. The back story behind this isn’t overly exciting and has nothing to do with riding, but for the truly curious can be found in more detail here; suffice it to say I left behind my house, cats, bikes, and girlfriend (with instructions to look after house and cats and leave bikes alone) and drove for four and half days in the middle of winter to get here. Some of you may already notice a remarkable similarity of back story here to that of klaviator with his “150 through the Rocket City” thread – I guess Huntsville tends to bring in a lot of folks with this sort of back story.

Anyhow, in order to keep himself from getting too bored on the weekends, your author has already located himself a bike for some local exploring. Huntsville it turns out is sort of in this motorcycle backwater, unless you want a cruiser there are not a lot of choices around, and despite some attempts via the Flea Market her I wasn’t able to find what I really wanted. In the end, I located a Cragslist find; a 2004 SV650S with a range of ‘Frankensteinings’, including:

  • front suspension stiffened
  • rear shock exchanged for one from a Hayabusa
  • touring windscreen
  • clip-ons replaced with wide touring handlebars
  • DL650 handguards
  • mirrors extended out on great long bug-antenna stalks
  • frame sliders
  • manual override for the aux cooling fan (to force it on faster in hot weather)
    I’d already brought down a small tank bag, and a pair of Joe Rocket soft side bags, so plop those on and I have my make-do adventure touring bike. Let the Alabamian Adventures begin!

    (PS - at the bottom of the back - story link above, there's a real time map with a GPS tracking feed via my Blackberry and InstaMapper; when I go for outings I'll usually switch this on. So if it's a weekend you may just look there and be able to see where I was 15 seconds ago, as long as I have a cell signal).

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    Old 01-09-2011, 03:10 PM   #2
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    Outing #1 – Russell Cave - January 9, 2011

    Today it’s cold but clear in Huntsville, 2C by 10:30 in the morning when I finish getting my car back from servicing and am free to go in search of things to do. Over breakfast I had pored over some local maps and noticed a place called Russell Cave National Monument, about 150 km northeast of me. The little bit of info I had said it was an archaeological site, and my Blackberry managed to pull down the National Park Service site which confirmed it was open. The map I was using (MAD Scenic Road Trips of Georgia and Alabama) suggested a route for one trip which went that general direction, so I planned to take the relevant parts of that on my outbound leg. Realizing it would be pretty chilly for the first part of the day I had the foresight to put the liner in the Capt. Highlighter suit right from the outset. Load up the bags with some gear, gas up, and I’m on my way.

    I haven’t got a GPS on the bike, and my tank bag is too small to have a map window, so I just memorized my first section of route (72 to 65) and started off, looking for road signs. 72 was easy to find, as was where it branched out of downtown and started off into the countryside. Huntsville really is not a very big place, and in 10 minutes or so you’re out of town. This isn’t very exciting or scenic here, just mostly flat highway, but you reach the turnoff for 65 in about 20 miles and it starts to get prettier. Good two-lane blacktop with a few easy curves trace through fallow farm fields with rolling hills in the background.






    In some places, livestock were in the fields by the farms and the route started coming more into the hills. A mixture of deciduous and evergreens gave the hillsides an interesting mottled grey and green look, very different from the solid dark-green walls of trees I am used to seeing.




    From 65 I turned onto 146, and the road immediately got narrower and twistier. These are both good things on a frankensteined – up adventure bike, but one word of caution is in order – the locals, as I quickly observed, don’t care much about the centre line. There was very little traffic but what there was, when I saw them, just took whatever line they wanted through the corners. (I will comment though, none of them were going overly fast, and in every case where I saw this, they had a clear sightline through the curve and were quite a ways from me. While I was cautious and took an outside line on all blind corners, I didn’t actually have any surprises). From 146 I turned onto 33:




    Here the road rapidly got even narrower, and the road surface started to deteriorate with lots of potholes, rough patches, and then what I eventually realized was a very dense scattering of pea-sized gravel over the blacktop. Just about the last thing I wanted to see on sport-bike tires but I resisted the urge to slow too much, kept my speed up for stability, and tried to be very easy on my turns. The wider handlebars were a lifesaver here, enabling me to fight back as the front end tried to jump around. I also began to discover about here that, like it or not, I am going to have to get smarter about suspension tuning. Every bump made me feel like I was about to fly out of the seat. I am guessing too much preload; the prior owner was “a bit” heftier than me so I can probably ease that back some and improve this. The scenery kept getting prettier here though, with open forests and twisty roads.




    After a few good uphill sections, and a brief run along the ridge, the road drops through a series of tight switchbacks. Thankfully, there was much less gravel on the road here, but I was pretty cautious in any case. I pulled out on one of the switchbacks to try warming my hands up a bit.





    While I was there a pickup truck came along, driven by a grizzled looking local with a hunting rife on the seat next to him. When he pulled over for a half-second I had visions of Deliverance passing through my head, but he was just being nice and had pulled over to ask if I was ok. When I assured him I was fine other than being cold, he laughed and said his bike was securely stored in the garage for the winter. I appreciated his stopping to check, in any case. Actually, across this really backwoods section of the route, I noticed most of the vehicles I met waved as we passed. I’ve seen this before, it’s a hallmark of being ‘in the boonies’ – people get friendly that way, because you never know when it’s going to be you broken down at the side of the road. Glad to see that sort of ethic seems to carry over down here, too.

    From 33 I carried on to roads 32, 42, 55, and 53. After coming down from the ridge back into the valley floor they went back to straight and less interesting, and I found I had a bit of an issue. Up to this point, I could pretty much tell from my map which way to turn at the various intersections – but for these turns, the map didn’t actually show the road, and I didn’t have a compass. It was cloudy again and I couldn’t really tell where the sun was, either, so I made my best guess at each intersection and turned out right. Next trip, I’ll bring a compass in the tank bag….

    Along through this section I passed a farm where they had dragged a bunch of odd-shaped limestone chunks down by the road and painted them up as a menagerie:









    From 53 I hit 171 and the town of Stevenson, AL. Apparently, during the Civil War, it was referred to as “one of the seven most important cities in the South” due to its transportation connections. The town changed hands several times during the war because of this. The rail station and its hotel have been turned into a museum but were closed for the season; I’ll have to go check again in summer.





    From here it was back onto 72 and up a few miles to the sign for Russell Cave. A few side roads later, and I was there.



    So, a bit of what I learned about Russell Cave. It was discovered as an archaeological site in the 1950s; power line crews nearby had noticed artefacts and mentioned this to an amateur archaeologist. The cave was known to people in the area, and it occurred to him that if the area had been settled, maybe the cave had been used as a shelter. It’s actually two side by side cave mouths, one some 10-15m high and maybe 20m wide, with a creek running into it (note into, not out of; I found this odd. The creek resurfaces some 2 miles away). The adjacent cave side, divided from the creek by a stone pillar as it were, has a much higher bottom due to a partial roof collapse some 11,000 years ago.




    The raised side thus has a very wide opening, towards the south and well sheltered from winds, rain, etc. and the creek side acts as reliable fresh water which doesn’t freeze in winter because of the temperature stabilization of the ground. The creek also acts to draw air through the cave system, making it not too smokey for campfires, etc. Noticing all this, the 1950’s people did a small bit of digging and within very short order were uncovering tools, pottery, etc. Realizing this might be an important find, they contacted the Smithsonian which in turn got in touch with National Geographic. Together they funded two years of professional excavation and by 1958 or so, bought the land from the local farmer who owned it. It turns out, Russell Cave has a very nearly complete record of habitation over some 9000 years, making it one of the most comprehensive continuous archaeological sites in North America. While it’s not the oldest site, it has some of the earliest remains from this general area, as well.







    You can go into the first bit of the cave but not beyond that without Parks Service approval and equipment, etc. I read the cave extends more than 7 miles, and is home to a species of scorpion found nowhere else on the planet.



    There is a small ranger station at the cave, with a rather disappointing number of exhibits. I guess most of the artefacts are in major collections elsewhere, so I didn’t really see anything worth photographing here. The reconstructed ‘push drill’ and its couple of chert bits as found were pretty interesting though.

    After the cave it was time to head home. I opted for the direct, fast way back on 72 all the way. While I had hoped for the day to warm up some, the few thermometers I passed on the ride home told another story – 36F all the way. My hands were beginning to get very cold now and there wasn’t much to photograph in any case, so I just stayed in the saddle and made it all the way back to my tiny little “swingin’ bachelor pad” and began the process of thawing out.

    Hope you enjoyed the ride!
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    Old 01-09-2011, 03:25 PM   #3
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    Must be nice to be able to relocate to year round riding! Enjoyed your report and pics
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    Old 01-10-2011, 06:02 AM   #4
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    Eek "Year Round Riding?"

    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Gadget Boy View Post
    Must be nice to be able to relocate to year round riding! Enjoyed your report and pics
    Maybe "year round riding" for the GS and Dual-sport folks... me? Well, I'll let this photo speak. Ride report was Saturday; this is Monday morning, after I swept the snow off the bike cover. About 20 cm, and almost all of this snow hit in a 3 hour period Sunday night.

    ....I opted to take the 4x4 to work!
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    Old 01-10-2011, 07:21 AM   #5
    klaviator
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    John, it was good meeting you last week. Here's the one pic I took:



    We'll have to do it again soon.

    Today was a great day for a ride



    OK, it wasn't exactly a real long ride.

    Looking forward to riding with you when the timing, and weather, work out.

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    Old 01-10-2011, 07:36 AM   #6
    brunstei OP
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    Win,

    Likewise! Well, when the weather improves and the days are longer, we can probably work out time when a ride together will fit in the schedule!

    Good to see you're here at all, I saw the airport was shut down, did you have any trouble coming back in early this morning?
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    Old 01-10-2011, 07:50 AM   #7
    klaviator
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    Quote:
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    Win,

    Likewise! Well, when the weather improves and the days are longer, we can probably work out time when a ride together will fit in the schedule!

    Good to see you're here at all, I saw the airport was shut down, did you have any trouble coming back in early this morning?
    I drove back last night to beat the snow. Today might be OK for riding, but I wouldn't want to drive in it
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    Old 01-30-2011, 01:56 PM   #8
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    Natural Bridge Outing - Jan 29 2011

    Finally! I didn’t know they got this much real, honest “winter” down here, but today it’s let up. Overnight was about 6C, it’s sunny, and supposed to be climbing to 17C. After 4 weeks of the bike huddled under its cover (in snow half of that), time to get the cover off, service her a bit, and hit the road.
    Up onto the trackstand, lube the chain, check and top up oil. I’ve never had a trackstand before, this bike came with one. It works – it makes me feel all squidly, and that’s before I have even gotten on the bike!



    Then flop on the luggage, climb into the gear, and off I go. Today’s goal is generally southwest of Huntsville – the Bankhead National Forest, and Natural Bridge, AL. The first section of road is pretty dull, just hop onto 565 to Decatur. There’s an immense set of double bridges over the Tennessee River as you reach Decatur, but I didn’t see any good place to pull over and get a photo with any perspective so none this time – maybe I’ll try again another time. Into Decatur itself and try to find my way to Route 24. I see signs for a tourist info centre so I follow those and get to the place, only to find it’s closed. I guess there aren’t many tourists here in January. Adjacent to the tourist centre was a private residence though, with a great example of Alabama Urban Architecture. I couldn’t resist taking a picture; not because this was unusual, but more, just a good example of what is usual.



    After a bit of bumbling around in town I found my way onto 24 and out into mostly farmland. I did pause for a picture of one of the farms. It does look like good cattle land.



    This section of Alabama is really flat, and the road is correspondingly dull. I resisted the urge – for now – to really drop the hammer and get to more interesting scenery quickly. I really don’t feel like getting pulled over for speeding what with an out of country driver’s license and all. Besides, I’m not in a hurry and the air is warming up and promising a spectacular afternoon.



    It didn’t take too long in any case to reach the small town of Moulton. I pulled over to wander around a little bit and see what there was to see. I learned that the county (Lawrence County) was formed in 1818, which means it actually predates the founding of the state, and that the town was named after some fellow from the Creek Indian War (which I’d never heard of). In a flashback of 1950s zeitgeist, the county courthouse still has its big Nuclear Fallout Shelter sign above the door.



    Interestingly, I discovered the area around Moulton was also for some time the home of Anne Newport Royall. I’d actually heard of her newspaper, the “Paul Pry”. The info plaque does a better job of telling you about her than I can, so I’ll let it speak for itself:



    I may have to see if I can get her “Letters from Alabama” to read.
    Not a lot else to see in Moulton; a lot of the town has seen better days, and by that, I am guessing 1972. There was a big church (Methodist I think?) right on the main street, and I noticed it had some pretty stained glass windows. The church seemed to be closed but by going around to all the doors I found one side door open and a couple of women inside, setting up for some little event. They had rented the church and eventually I was able to sweet talk them into letting me walk into the main chapel and get some photos of the windows. With no lights inside and the sun full – on the glass, it was pretty spectacular:










    After that it was back on the road (33) and down to Bankhead National Forest. Wow! This turned out to be a great road for riding. The terrain goes back to hilly and the road is both twisty and up and down, simultaneously. There is very little traffic (although what there was included loaded logging trucks, with these terribly spindly long logs good for pulp I guess). The pavement surface was very near perfect – no potholes, tar snakes, chips, dips, bumps, oil slicks, or gravel – and the forest is quite open. With no leaves on the trees at present, this meant even on ‘blind’ corners you could see enough of the route through the trees to see if there was any oncoming traffic. I can’t think of a more perfect combination for a good ride and I made the most of it!




    There are occasional historic sign markers, telling you things such as that the ridge the road runs along in places is marked on a 1663 map as being the dividing line between French and Spanish claims to the area.
    I came out of the forest and into the town of Double Springs about time to grab some lunch. A Mexican place looked good so time to get out of the saddle. I know, no ride report is complete without the gratuitous food shot so here you go. Note the carafe of salsa.



    While I’m on the topic, I’ll mention one other thing I’ve noticed here. Back home, “iced tea” is almost always sweetened – but it’s only a little bit sweet. Previously my experience in the US has been that “iced tea” is only unsweetened. However, down here, if you ask for “iced tea” you’ll be asked if you want “sweet tea” – which is iced tea, sweetened to the point of being nearly diabetic coma-inducing, and I mean in people who aren’t diabetic. The “sweet tea” at this place was no exception. I was reminded of the similar levels of sweetness in another supposedly refreshing drink: Vietnamese lime sodas. Both here and in Vietnam, I guess it can get very hot and humid in the summer. Sweating is actually a very energetically costly process and profuse sweating, in humid conditions, actually puts a very big drain on your bioenergetics, so maybe this isn’t coincidental and it’s actually an adaptive measure to the environment, with the drink supplying both fluids and enough sugar as an immediate energy source to drive sweating. But I’m digressing from a ride report. Onwards towards Natural Bridge!




    Natural Bridge bills itself as “the longest rock arch east of the Rockies”. The arch itself formed about 200 million years ago, and is an iron rich vein which was embedded in a limestone matrix; the limestone over time eroded away, leaving the iron arch. For reasons which weren’t clear to me, the area right around the Bridge is also a “refugia” – it has a number of plant species left over from the last Ice Age in the valley bottom. Some refugia also have remnant animal species, but often it takes an approach like mitochondrial DNA sequencing to show this, since the mice or voles look pretty much like the non-refugia one to the eye. The information signs here only mentioned plant species as refugia, though. The park was opened in 1954, and there’s a nominal fee to go in. The first thing you see is “Indian Head”:



    (Look closely, you'll see it.)

    Just past that is the bridge, proper. Here’s a few shots of it, one with people in the frame to give you a sense of scale. It’s pretty massive, spanning 148 feet and being 60 feet above the valley floor. I was also impressed by the tenacity of two trees, which had sprouted in the darkness of the near-cave below the bridge, and then grown up and around the Bridge to reach the light.









    Another interesting historic tidbit about this area – in 1862 this region (Winston County) voted against secession (although wasn’t the Civil War already ongoing by then?) Anyhow, they voted to have a policy of official neutrality as the ‘free state of Winston’. I don’t think this was very successful but at least they tried!

    I aimed onward for Hamilton, AL however a bit further down 278 there were highway detour signs, which led me off the main road and then dumped me…well I don’t know where, because the road it dumped me on never had a sign saying what it was. Well, I could use the angle of my shadow to know I was going more or less northwest, which was ok, so I went along with it until after about 15 miles I hit signs which directed me back onto I-43 at Hackleburg. It’s quite pretty down in this area, rolling hills and open forest and farmland. Speaking of land, it’s very cheap right around here. I was looking at some real estate prices, and right near here for example I saw 3.3 acres of rolling, semi-treed farmland on a county road, asking $6500. That’s about 1/10 of the price for an equivalent piece of property anywhere near where I am from. It’s tempting to get at that price, but I ask myself what I’d do with a chunk of backwoods Alabama, anyhow. Then I think about all the snakes down here and decide, maybe, I’ll pass for now. This is what the area looks like. I don’t think for $6500 you get any shacks, though.



    After fueling up at Hackleburg I just headed north on 43 to Russellville, where I decided to cut the day a bit short and take 24 back to Moulton. The SV doesn’t have a very comfortable seat compared to say my Vstrom and I was beginning to feel it. (No comments from the peanut gallery about how maybe after 6 weeks here I’m getting an Alabamian-size butt and that’s why the seat is not so good!) This section of 24 was truly – well mindless is about the best way to describe it. It’s a 4 lane divided highway across pancake-flat farmland, totally cleared and brushed back on both sides and the central median. It’s also very straight; at one point I could see for probably more than 4 km down the road in front of me, and there were precisely two cars in sight – both close enough that I could tell they were not police cars. I decided the 65 speed limit was a bit slow here and expedited along for a while. I had to drop back into normal speeds as I approached Moulton, and from there on I just revered my route 24 to Decatur and 565 back to Huntsville, in moderate traffic and without anything worthy of a photo that I noticed. Total trip 213 miles and a great way to spend an afternoon.
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    Old 01-30-2011, 03:09 PM   #9
    klaviator
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    Nice pics I think you will find there is better riding in the mountains to the Northeast, east and Southeast. I also think you made a wise decision riding where you did since all those great mountain roads are most likely still covered with sand, salt and other crap from all the recent snow.

    We still have some more winter to go but spring is getting closer and you never know when we'll get a reprieve from winter like we just did. It was sunny and close to 70*F here in Marietta on Sat and Sun.
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    Old 01-31-2011, 07:58 AM   #10
    AST236
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    Great ride report. Looks like you got a sweetheart when you bought the SV. Give me a heads up if you want to check out some of south Alabama. I'm about 4 hours south on I-65. My Transalp and your SV would make good riding partners. Might even gather up brother #1 and his XR650L, brother #2 and his KLR650 and another reprobate or two.

    Also, I plan to ride Cheaha Mountain a good bit this spring. That's only a couple of hours from you, just south of Oxford (my hometown).

    Ride safe
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    Old 01-31-2011, 11:48 AM   #11
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    Quote:
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    Great ride report. Looks like you got a sweetheart when you bought the SV. Give me a heads up if you want to check out some of south Alabama. I'm about 4 hours south on I-65. My Transalp and your SV would make good riding partners. Might even gather up brother #1 and his XR650L, brother #2 and his KLR650 and another reprobate or two.

    Also, I plan to ride Cheaha Mountain a good bit this spring. That's only a couple of hours from you, just south of Oxford (my hometown).

    Ride safe
    Thanks, I'll take you up on that! Yeah, I'm sure the SV and TransAlp are a "good pairing" - as long as it's just pavement we're on. Oh, what I would give to have my Vstrom down here and really be able to do something other than pavement - oh well plenty of places for me to play tourist even with that restriction.

    I'm sure as the weather improves I'll be making trips down that way - I'll give you a shout when I do.
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    Old 02-02-2011, 04:56 PM   #12
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    I have not read the whole thread yet, but I suggest you make your way over here to North Georgia for some fine riding this spring. There are plenty of good routes from there to here and back...
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    Old 02-03-2011, 06:09 AM   #13
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    Quote:
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    I have not read the whole thread yet, but I suggest you make your way over here to North Georgia for some fine riding this spring. There are plenty of good routes from there to here and back...
    Thanks for the suggestion - I'm sure I will be over that way. A ride to Terrapin Brewing might be in order, at least.
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    Old 02-07-2011, 06:38 AM   #14
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    The "Must-do" Huntsville Photos

    This weekend, Saturday was grey and cold, not much fun for riding so I opted to be lazy and stay home. Sunday dawned clear and cold but by noon was above freezing. With just a few hours free for a ride, I peered over my maps but nothing of real interest struck me as being doable before dark.

    So, I did what is sometimes the best kind of riding. I slipped on the Capt. Highlighter suit, thumbed the starter button, and rolled out on the road with no destination at all...

    My first set of roads took me up to Monte Sano Park. This is a state park, basically adjoining Huntsville, on top of a 1600' tall mountain. The "locals" started building summer cottages up there since the 1820s, and the small town of Viduta was formed. By the late 1800s, a small train service up the mountain was built to take all the traffic. There are cottages for rent, camping sites, a lodge for rent (weddings etc), and lots of hiking trails. I stopped to check out the cottage rental rates and get a few photos from one of the 'scenic overlooks':





    I took the road down the other side of the mountain. It was nice and twisty, although too short:



    Next to the road, there was a plant with very pretty seed clusters I didn't recognize - almost like an elderberry, maybe?



    This road pops out in the historic 'Five Points' district of Huntsville. This was, I guess, the first 'suburb' of the town, back in about 1900, serviced by a tram system. A lot of the original houses are still there, and it has a very nice feel to the area, which I think now is a lot of students, artists, and the like. Sort of Huntsville's answer to Soho or Greenwich Village. I'll have to go back and do some architectural photography there another time. Today, after a brief lunch break, I opted to go get some of the 'de rigeur' photos for anyone in Huntsville. Off to the Space Sciences Center it was.

    Parked illegally, under a 'full stack' of space shuttle, main fuel tank, and booster rockets:


    Then, parked illegally next to an SR-71 'Blackbird'. I recall, these flew faster than the bullet from a .30-06 Now, I think my SV is faster than this one, at least.


    Then over to the Saturn V for a couple of shots. It's so big it's nearly impossible to get the whole rocket in frame, and still be close enough to see the bike.


    A closer shot, just showing the rocket nozzles in comparison to the bike.


    Finally, onto 565 and a quick but dull burn over to Decatur, or at least, next to Decatur. I stopped at a small nature site right on the east bank of the Tennessee River. Here, it must be well over a mile wide. The original 'Steamboat Willie' was from this area.

    If you look closely, you can see the massive twinned bridge over the river, dropping into Decatur.


    There you go - not very exciting but no Huntsville visit album is complete without the above photos. Now I've got them out of the way and can move onto more exotic things.
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    Old 02-07-2011, 07:14 PM   #15
    Gale B.T.
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    Restone ,Huntsville

    Brunstei, Nice RR and to think you left beautiful BC to enjoy the snow and cold in Huntsville, Alabama. I got relatives all over that state and they have ask me to send some snow shovels, a tool hard to find in good ole Bama.

    My closest neighbor in Tete Jaune Cache, BC was related to one of the top scientist at the Redstone Arsenal there in Huntsville during the 1945-1955 years. Lots of neat stories.

    Enjoy your visit to the south, lots of beautiful scenery and stuff to see.

    Below I have a short Alabama story for you , hope you enjoy.

    gale,,, http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=572583
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