Goddard Visitor Center and National Wildlife Visitor Center, MD

Thursday, I had some time on my hands after meetings, and these two places were conveniently on the way to BWI, so I stopped at each to visit.

A place like Goddard really brings out the nerd in me!

This was my third try at visiting Goddard Space Flight Center. The first time, about a year ago, I got there at 1510, but they close at 1500. The second time was Monday when I arrived in the area; I got there at 1230, but they are closed Monday and Tuesday. I got there at 1245 Thursday. The neatest part was the Rocket Garden outside.

This one shows some of the buildings on the main Goddard campus, and the myriad of cool antennas.

Inside, there were some really cool exhibits. My favorite was a set of images of the Sun showing various activity, such as promenences and flares. I really liked this one also; it shows the Sun in X-Ray, and the activity difference between the solar minimum and maximum.

This is looking at the “business end” of a plasma generator.

They also have a mockup of a Gemini capsule. It’s the same basic shape as a Mercury capsule, but the dimensions are slightly larger. There are two seats in there, and if you sit in them, you can briefly imagine what it was like to sit in there for up to two weeks! I have always admired the courage of the men who volunteered to squeeze in a small space like that, on top several thousand tons of highly explosive material, and have it LIT.

There is a decent gift show. My favorite things there were license plate frames for the employees. One had “Yes, I AM A Rocket Scientist”, and another “186,000 MPS… It’s The Law!”. I think I would like working with those guys.

From Goddard, I went to the National Wildlife Visitor Center. I’ve passed the place a million times on the BW Parkway. Turns out the real name of the place is the Paxutent Research Refuge National Wildlife Visitor Center. There is a nice interpretive exhibit that looks like it was created in the 80s. That’s not a slam; there was interesting information in there.

There are also hiking trails in the refuge. Turns out that the Visitor Center is on the southern, smaller tract. The north, and much larger tract, buts right up against Fort George Meade. The north tract has many more miles of hiking, and I will walk some of those on a future trip (one note, a minor gripe, I haven’t found ANY information on the trails here anywhere on line. I wonder why).

I headed out on the trail on the Loop Trail, then vectored to the Cash Lake trail, taking several spurs to lookout points.

I saw this and thought it was a viewing tower. Turns out it is a nesting bird tower.

The trail is pretty.

I didn’t go fast on the trail. It was about 75F, no wind, and very pretty. The only downer is an almost constant low-frequency traffic noise from the east. There was also someone persistently shooting from the west. I crossed a floating bridge and had a flyby from two herons. Around the corner, I found one of them and snuck up on it just a bit.

You walk over the dam for the lake, and loop back the other side. Eventually, I came to the Valley Trail. This odd tree growth was on a tree there.

From the Valley Trail I came back to the Visitor Center via the Laurel Trail. I didn’t bring my GPS, but the mileage according to the map is around two miles.

I didn’t see all that much wildlife. There were some geese. One highlight – I saw a Baltimore Oriole! I have wanted to see one in the wild ever since I wrote a report on them for Mrs. Allen in my 4th grade class at Whittier Elementary in Muskogee. It was a beautiful bird that sat on a branch and looked at me from about 20 feet away for about 15 seconds (too short for me to get my camera out, on, and aimed). I also saw about 500 tadpoles in a pond, one toad on the trail, and a skink. There was also a freshly-killed black garter-type snake; I think it was on the road/trail between Cash and Redington Lakes, and was run over by an employee who drove down that road while I was on the road. The guy probably didn’t see the snake, it was only about 9″ long.

This is a map of the south tract trail system.

From here I headed to BWI. I got there about 3.5 hours early, and found out that my flight to MSP was already an hour late arriving, which meant I would have ended up spending the night somewhere there. I was early enough that I changed my flight to come home via ATL, which meant that I got to fly on a B737 and MD88 instead of a pair of RJs, and it got me in to OKC an hour before my original arrival time to boot. So that worked out OK.

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