We made a few stops on our drive to Huntsville. One was a tiny park with Coke Ovens and an outdoor amphitheater and the other was a terrible winery.
We woke up early the next morning because we had a 10am ticket for the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. We first entered the museum section in which I wore my mask, but people were not required to do so. They have the entire Saturn V in the hall overhead, which is pretty impossible to take pictures of with any accuracy.
I learned a lot about our Space Program during this visit. They had a whole wall explaining the history and high points of research and testing as well as artifacts from each time. It was pretty fascinating. There were a few exhibits that were not open due to high touch areas like a wind simulator and a capsule that you could get in like you were an astronaut. I don’t think I would have tried that…it was tiny and upside down!
You can also walk outside and see various rockets that are no longer used by the military. There were also Chinook and Huey helicopters, which I thought were pretty neat to see up close. There was a special exhibition on light that we walked through pretty quickly. Our last stop was Shuttle Park. The Challenger is a model, but the rocket boosters, main engine, and external tank are all real.
That afternoon we went to my favorite stop on this whole trip: Cathedral Caverns. It was originally opened in the 1950s and called Bat Cave, which is interesting because not many bats are found in the cave! The entrance is impressive at 126 feet wide and 25 feet tall. The cave is always at 60 degrees and you can see the heat difference by the cloud at the entrance.
Our guide was a local who just graduated from high school. There were about 12 people in our group and four of them were children under the age of 10 and everyone on the tour (except for us) had been there before. Our guide was excellent. He was able to handle the group well, especially with all the random questions from the kids, and knew a lot of information about the cave. The immensity of the cave was impressive the whole way through. After the state bought the cave in 1987, it took 13 years to renovate it to open in 2000. The walkways are massive and even though there are inclines, it’s not enough to lose your breath. It’s about a mile and a half round trip and the tour takes ninety minutes. The guide points out all the cool things to see, including famous formations and some outlines in the formations that look like things you know like a caveman or Frankenstein.
Goliath is the first big formation that you see. It’s 45 feet tall. The cave only has two sections that were man made. One section is a tunnel that was dynamited and the other is a small area that was pickaxed. I think the cave was exciting for me for the immense size and knowing it was all natural. The coolest section is the cathedral area. The guide turns off all the lights and tells you a story about Jacob Gurley, who bought the cave and land around it for $4500. His wife was not happy with this purchase and didn’t even want to go into the cave, but he managed to convince her. He brought his wife into this section, which probably took them 5 hours to do (it took us half an hour maybe) and she loved it because it reminded her of a cathedral and she was really into architecture.
I’m not sure if you can tell how much I loved walking through this cave. On the way back we chatted a bit with our guide and then he let us go ahead. It was so peaceful and cool inside. He said that it was once a bomb shelter and could fill 10-15,000 people. I’m sure there would be plenty of room.
We spent our last morning walking around the Huntsville Botanical Gardens. Our favorite area was the butterfly house. It not only had butterflies, but some turtles and tortoises as well!