Tag Archives: USA

Sequoia National Park

When planning our honeymoon, with main destination California, it early became clear that other national parks were optional but the must visit would be the Sequoia National Park.

The schedule of the trip was tight and we were not up to long walks or hiking routes, however, with a good map and a car we could reach many of the sights in the west part of the park (be aware that within the park there are no gas stations, so you better fill up the tank beforehand).

We slept over at Montecito Sequoia Lodge and before breakfast I took the opportunity to run in the forest. It wasn’t a long run, just 8km, but it was wonderful though the climbing part was tough as I went up until Big Baldy (2,503m) where the 360º sights of snow-covered mountains and valleys were superb (it’s a pity that I did not take the photo camera for that morning run).

Run from Montecito Lodge to Big Baldy.

Run from Montecito Lodge to Big Baldy.

After breakfast, we spent the day driving through the park seeing most of the highlights of the park and dozens if not hundreds of sequoia trees. The biggest one is the General Sherman Tree, if not the oldest nor the tallest nor the widest (as there are other trees claiming those records).

General Sherman Tree.

General Sherman Tree.

It is the biggest by volume, with 1,487 cubic metres, with an estimated age between 2,300-2,700 years and about 1,900 metric tones of estimated mass (that is 10 times the weight of a blue whale or almost 200 times that of an elephant). You can see some explanation about the tree in the sign post from the park pictured below:

Sherman tree explanation.

General Sherman tree explanation.

There are many other stunning sequoia trees living or fallen, that make the visit to the park special, even if at the end of the day you end up not deviating the sight from the road to see one more sequoia.

Apart from the trees, there are many other worthy things to do or to see, including the stunning views from Moro Rock, or the different meadows you could walk by.

Enjoy some other pictures we took at the park:

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P.S.: By the way, Luca had just learn before this trip that you need not to go to California to see sequoia trees, but that in the region of Cantabria (Spain) you can see them as well! At the Monte Cabezón.

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Eating garlic at The Stinking Rose

Looking for a book shop in San Francisco we saw the exterior of The Stinking Rose restaurant:

The Stinking Rose, at 325 Columbus Street (San Francisco).

The Stinking Rose, at 325 Columbus Street (San Francisco).

It first caught Luca’s attention, and we went to check the menu and whether there was any description in the guide (which there was). The restaurant is a garlic restaurant started by an Italian some decades ago, meaning that all their dishes included garlic! I loved that and immediately tried to persuade Luca to get in.

I think that instead of giving a thorough description of the restaurant by me I can show you the description of the restaurant made by them:

Description of the restaurant.

Description of the restaurant.

Have you seen that sentence: “We Season Our Garlic with Food”? Take then a look at the first dish we ordered: garlic bread, with minced garlic with herbs plus garlic…

A good starter.

A good starter.

Finally, take a look at how the interior is decorated with garlic bulbs all over the place (it reminds me to “Museo del Jamón” in Spain):

Garlics all over the place!

Garlic bulbs all over the place!

I guess that many of the readers will think “yuck!”, as Luca did at the beginning. Well, this is because you have never tried it… do so the next time you are either in San Francisco or Los Angeles.

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North American X-15

I once wrote about how it took me some visits to different museums and reading a book to connect the dots and see what was the controversy in France about the Wright Brothers pioneering first flight.

It takes several museums to get a complete glimpse of the story of the X-15.

This experimental aircraft, powered with a rocket engine, was used to reach the edge of outer space and gather data for aircraft and space design. In doing so, it set several records of speed and altitude. To date it keeps the speed record of any manned flight with over 7,000 km/h (bear in mind that this a rocket engine, vs. the record for an atmospheric engine reached with the SR-71). The aircraft also flew several times above 50 miles, which by then in the USA was considered the limit for outer space, thus making some of its pilots being recognised as astronauts by NASA and USAF. The International Astronautics Federation (FIA), however, sets the limit at 100km of altitude. Still two of the X-15 pilots flew over that height being them also recognised as astronauts by the FIA.

The aircraft itself, the North American X-15, is displayed at the National Space & Air Museum at the Mall in Washington DC (which I first visited in December 2008) and USAF Museum in Ohio, while one of the mock-ups is displayed at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson (which we visited last May 2013).

North American X-15 the National Air & Space Museum in the Mall (picture from Ad Meskens).

The flight tests in which the X-15 set so many high altitude and speed records were performed at Edwards AF Base in Mojave (which we visited in May 2013). At the Flight Test Center museum you can read some displayes about its story.

Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards (public domain image).

Finally, the mother ships from which the different X-15 aircraft were launched were modified B-52 Stratofortress bombers. The two aircraft are displayed in the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson (which we visited last May 2013) and again the Dryden Flight Research Center which is also located at Edwards AFB.

NB-52, modified Stratofortress to drop X-15.

NB-52, modified Stratofortress to drop the X-15.

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B-52 Stratofortress, nuclear disarmament and The Boneyard

One of the oldest flying aircraft in the US air force is the bomber B-52 Stratofortress, built during the 1950s. Over 700 of them were built during a decade with only above 70 today being used in the active or reserve forces. The retired ones are either in museums or in The Boneyard.

Part of B-52 retired fleet.

Part of B-52 retired fleet.

During the visit to AMARG, the guide explained us one historical anecdote taking the following picture as the departing point:

B-52 Stratofortress without horizontal tail plane.

B-52 Stratofortress without horizontal tail plane.

The curiosity of the picture: as you can see the aircraft has no horizontal tail plane (HTP). 

The story went as follows: as part of Arms Control and Disarmament agreements between the USA and USSR, the USA had to retire a certain number of B-52 aircraft from service (over 300 of them). At some point a soviet delegation visited The Boneyard at Tucson to witness the retirement of those A/C. However, they said that being the AF base right there, side by side of the boneyard, the USSR could not have any guarantee that those B-52s would not be immediately put back into active service just after the soviets had left the city, and thus required that Americans dismantled the HTPs from all B-52s that were to be retired as part of the agreements. In that way they could always check via satellite image whether they had those HTP on or off…

Later on I checked the story in the Wikipedia where you may see the whole background of the START agreement. Some of the aircraft were chopped into 5 pieces. Those you cannot see in the guided visit to Davis-Monthan AFB but you can see them in satellite image here:

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The Boneyard

The US Air Force’s 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), known as “The Boneyard”, is one of the places that I had wanted to visit since many years ago. Luca and I visited it a couple of weeks ago.

The Boneyard is an aircraft and equipment storage facility located at Davis-Monthan AF Base near Tucson (Arizona). The are over 4,000 military aircraft stored at the place. Most of them come from the USA (not only from the air force, but from other services as well) but there are some aircraft from foreign countries. The aircraft are stored for several reasons and in different conditions.

  • Some of them are maintained waiting for a possible future use of them (be it with US armed forces or through some foreign military sale, that is the case of several old versions of C-130, F-16).
  • Other aircraft are kept so their parts can be used as spare parts for other active flying aircraft (e.g. C-130, KC-135).
  • Finally, there are aircraft which are stored waiting to be scrapped so the metal can be reused somewhere else.
KC-135 partly scrapped.

KC-135 partly scrapped.

Hundreds of C-130.

Hundreds of C-130.

There are whole fleets of retired aircraft: C-141 Starlifter (retired once the C-17 took over their role), half of the C-5 Galaxy fleet (the A versions, due to budget constrains and fleet strategic decisions), the Vietnam-era helicopters Hueys and Cobras

The Boneyard can be visited with a guided tour organised by the Pima Air and Space Museum (I will write about this museum in another post).  The tour is made with a bus which goes through the Boneyard very slowly and making several stops (though guests cannot exit the bus). The guides are veterans from the US armed forces, who have flown or maintained some of those models that you get to see. The wealth of knowledge that they have about them, the anecdotes and stories that they tell during the tour are worth much more than the 7$ that the tour costs.

The place is impressive, overwhelming. Not only there are thousands of aircraft but the seeing of them fully aligned, whole fleets of different models helps you put things into perspective:

  • World commercial airliner fleet (over 100 pax) has about 16,000 aircraft vs. the 4,000 at The Boneyard.
  • The largest airline fleets have about 1,200 aircraft.
  • Spanish AF has 14 C-130 Hercules vs. the hundreds of them you see at The Boneyard.
  • The dozens of retired Lockheed C-5A Galaxy that you can see there have a combined payload capacity of over 5,000 tonnes… which is more than the complete payload capability of any other air force in the world except the US one…

You may want to take a look at satellite images from the Boneyard here:

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San Diego Marathon

“The next time you’re in the USA, run a marathon there”. Those were the words from by brother Jaime after he took part in Chicago marathon in 2011.

It has taken me 2 years to go back there. This time for my honeymoon. This did not stop me to follow the advice. I went through a website with all the marathons in California and found that San Diego Rock’n’Roll marathon was taking place on the very last day of the trip. Perfect! That way the muscle soreness of the following days would not interrupt the tourism activities.

June 2nd, the day of the race was only one month and a half after March 17th, when we ran Rome marathon, thus I did not follow any special training plan for this marathon. I just tried to keep the form with which I arrived to Rome by running often, though I didn’t do any series session and only one long run… I paid for that.

The atmosphere was very good but only in some neighbourhoods, in others not so many people cheering the runners. Along the road 163, during the steepest (up to 6% along 1km) and longest (about 4km) climb there was almost nobody. Even if the overall profile is a descent I found the course quite tough. The times of the first 3 runners seem to say the same (2h15 for the winner, 20 minutes more for the second…). The other thing that I didn’t like much was the solid or the lack of abundant and varied solid supplies along the course. I thus only relied on my 3 energetic gels and drinks.

Course of San Diego marathon as recorded by my Garmin.

Course of San Diego marathon as recorded by my Garmin.

San Diego marathon profile.

San Diego marathon profile.

At 5:30am, before departing.

At 5:30am, before departing.

I went quite well at the expected pace (below 5’20” / km) for the first 28 kilometres, then I started to miss endurance and right afterwards the long climb “killed” me. I, however, did not stop and kept running up, if very slow (most of the runners in my time -between 3h45 and 4h- where walking during those kms). I’ve gone through much tougher situations in the last years, thus I only thought “well, slow the rhythm and the climb will finish at some point, keep up”.

Running at some point of San Diego marathon.

Running at some point of San Diego marathon.

In the end I finished in some 3h56’19” as clocked by the official chip (see the report of the race as recorded by my Garmin here). I was happy enough with the result and with having finished the second marathon in the year, another sub-4-hour marathon (the 4th in a row under 4h) and the 9th overall.

San Diego marathon finisher diploma.

San Diego marathon finisher diploma.

San Diego marathon medal.

San Diego marathon medal.

9 marathons!

9 marathons!

Enjoying the feat.

Enjoying the feat (behind me: San Diego Padres baseball stadium).

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Air Force Flight Test Center Museum at Edwards AF Base

During the recent honeymoon trip to the USA, Luca and I managed to visit 5 aerospace museums, 3 airplane assembly lines, 2 US air force bases and 1 space observatory… be sure some of the coming posts will be related to that side of the trip.

Air Force Flight Test Center Museum at Edwards AF Base

Since we were going to visit California and we would be around the desert of Mojave I thought that we could make a detour to visit Edwards Air Force Base, where the Flight Test Center of the USAF is located.

The Flight Test Center has got a museum which is open to the public, for which identification is needed and no carry on items able to take pictures of videos are permitted. The museum is free and opens 5 days a week. On top of that there is a monthly guided visit of the air base, flight line included. This tour is offered only once a month and you have to subscribe with some time in advance.

Several dozens of aircraft have first flown at Edwards and that, together with Rogers dry lake is what makes the place so special.

First Flights Wall at Edwards AFB (public domain image).

Some very famous flights at Edwards: the Bell XS-1 which first reached the speed of sound with “Chuck” Yeager at the controls, the test campaigns of the YC-130 (Hercules), C-17 Globemaster III (and the prototype YC-15 from which it got many features), testing of the Space Shuttle, testing of today’s state of the art fighters F-22 and F-35… take a look at the wall to get an idea.

Rogers Dry Lake is by itself a national historic landmark. The lake formed thousands of years ago, and today it’s mostly dry along the year and the strength of the ground permits it to have several unpaved very long runways in its lakebed. The longest one being over 12 kilometers long. It also has the world’s greatest compass rose marked into the lake to help flight test pilots guide themselves. It was there, in the lake, where the now retired Space Shuttle would land in its return from space.

Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards (public domain image).

The exhibit at the museum displays a replica of the XS-1, the first 2 F-22 prototypes, an exhibit about the formation of the lake, the history of the base, some remarkable test pilots, etc. The outdoors display has as a highlight a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird (a classic in US aviation museums).

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird at Edwards (public domain image).

The area of the base is of 1,200 km2 (this is about 1/7th of the region of Madrid). The visit to it, museum included, lasts about 3 hours. There are veterans offering explanations at the museum and at one restoration hangar within the base. Our guided tour was led by a young aerial photographer, Jet Set  (what a name! :-)), who made if very enjoyable.

Along the flight line of the base, for the pleasure of European-based spotters (who don’t have the chance to see them often), were some test F-35s, F-22s, C-17s, Global Hawks, F-16s, etc. Apart from some aircraft flying around. I, however, missed seeing the B-2 that was somewhere “hidden” in the base (next time!).

Edwards AF Base entrance.

Edwards AF Base entrance.

Rosamond Dry Lake (a lake close to Rogers Dry Lake).

Rosamond Dry Lake (a lake close to Rogers Dry Lake).

YC-15

YC-15.

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