I plan to mark my New Year’s resolution of exercising more and leading a healthier life by … sleeping in on Tuesday. But for those of you who want to set the tone for an active and healthier 2013 on New Years Day, check out the Tuesday morning hikes being held at dozens of Florida state parks. There’s a ranger-guided walk along the Wetlands Trail at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park on Key Biscayne, a two-mile hike and history lesson on the Long Key Viaduct on the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail, three-mile hikes at Hugh Taylor Birch and John U. Lloyd parks in Fort Lauderdale, and a hike along 2.2 miles of four interconnected trails in Oleta River State Park, among others. They are all part of a national “First Day Hikes” program that has spread to state parks in all 50 states in an effort to promote a healthy lifestyle. There will be more than 600 such events on Tuesday. Read more about the program here. Here’s where you can find out about hikes across the country, and here’s a list of events in Florida state parks.
While we’re waiting for the Kennedy Space Center to complete the exhibit for space shuttle Atlantis, the center opened the first phase of a 10-year upgrade to the Visitor Complex on Thursday. The first piece is a $16 million entry plaza, which includes a retail shop, restaurant, ticket stations and other services. The grand entry plaza also has a 75-foot-long fountain, pictured above, that pays homage to the dreams of President John F. Kennedy and can put on light-and-water shows for guests in the evening.
Next up is the $100 million, 90,000-square-foot celebration of the space shuttle program, featuring Atlantis, scheduled to open in July.
Meantime, Delaware North, the concessionaire that operates the Visitor Complex, announced that it has extended three behind-the-scenes tours of areas that were closed to the public while the shuttle program was active. How long the tours will go on depends on whether NASA or commercial operators need to use any Kennedy Space Center facilities. Tours of the Launch Control Center and Launch pad have been extended at least through March 31, and tours of the Vehicle Assembly Building, which used to house the shuttles, have been extended through 2013. Price: $25 adults, $19 children, on top of admission. Information here.
Photo credit: Kennedy Space Center
We stepped into the hangar-like building and there it was, the space shuttle Endeavor, right in front of us. It was bigger than we expected and looked battle-worn, its white tiles scorched by the heat of 25 re-entries. A spontaneous chorus of "wow!" erupted, then everyone raised cell phones and started snapping photos.
The scene was at the California Science Center in Exposition Park, wedged between the University of Southern California and Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where my girlfriends and I had just attended a football game. On our way back to our cars, we decided to detour through the new shuttle exhibit.
The exhibit starts with a display of shuttle tires. "This is sick," an excited young boy behind me breathed. Then there was a display of a space shuttle toilet and a video explaining how to use it. The 6-and-under set was fascinated by the space potty. Around the next corner were a mock-up of a section of Mission Control and a simulator ride.
Endeavor flew to Los Angeles International Airport on the back of a modified 747. Then it essentially was trailered through the streets of Los Angeles to the museum, about 12 miles away. Engineers plotted the route in advance, light poles were relocated, trees were cut down. Crowds gathered all along the route for what amounted to a one-float parade. Sidewalks and parking lots were jammed for a trek that ended up taking 68 hours. An edited and speeded-up video of the trip was shown at the museum, and it was almost as good as seeing the shuttle itself. We sat through it twice. Here's a slightly different version of the video.
We were ushered out of the room, out of the building and into another building where we finally saw Endeavor. The orbiter is mounted on a metal frame that raises it so people can walk beneath it and study its underside, which is just out of reach of a hand stretched overhead. We lingered for at least a half hour, gaping at the wonder of the shuttle, its enormous engines, the printing on the side that told where to cut for an emergency rescue, and all those scorched tiles.
A separate shuttle engine was mounted in a display. A preteen girl asked her mom if she wanted to know where the fan blades were, then proceeded to explain how the fuel powered the internal combustion engine. And we thought generations too young to have seen the first moon walk were blasé about the space program!
Endeavor is on display in a temporary space while its new home is being built. For more information on the California Science Center and the Endeavor display, click here.
Meantime, at the Kennedy Space Center, the space shuttle Atlantis has been moved into a six-story building still under construction, where it will go on display next summer, surrounded by more than 60 interactive exhibits.
On Friday, the last space shuttle will make its final journey. Atlantis, the last orbiter from the retired shuttle fleet to move to its exhibition space, will travel from the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center (pictured above) to the visitors complex. The daylong, 10-mile journey will include a couple stops, one private, before it ends at the building still under construction where it will go on display next summer. For the journeyworkers will have to remove and replace 120 light poles, 23 traffic signals, 56 traffic signs and one high-voltage power line to make way for the orbiter. Tickets and advance reservations are required to attend the event. Several packages are available; cost is $50-$90 for adults, $40-$80 children. Click here for information.
Travelers who use the Miami airport: MIA now has three new art installations:
Air Chair, a construction of a discarded wheelchair and steel and wood materials, floats above passengers near North Terminal’s gate D-14. Paul Villinski, a New York artist who jogs near two VA hospitals on Roosevelt Island, was inspired by men he saw in wheelchairs. As a sculptor and paraglider pilot, he said, he wanted to contrast the image of limitation (a wheelchair) with the freedom of flight.
Roberto Juarez’ MIA Flower Fence, a painted mural that juxtaposes botanical-style renderings of Florida wildflowers with the geometric patchwork designs of Florida’s Miccosukee Tribe, is by skytrain Station 1 on Concourse D. “A glimpse of Miami's clear skies and starry nights celebrates the splendor of Florida's tropical climate and blossoming gifts of nature,” Juarez said.
Hortensia, two kaleidoscopic mixed-media murals by local artist Aramis O’Reilly, is by the exit doors between the South Terminal international greeter’s lobby and the Flamingo parking garage. “My work is an exercise in creating moments that describe the play between the act of creation and the deeper forces of design with purpose. In this work, I represented nature vaguely abstracted and created a design that attempts to express the exuberance of life,” O’Reilly said.
For more information about the new installations, click here. All photos by Dan Forer.