Unusual night sky occurrences

Skychart showing the location of Comet C/2020 F3 just after sunset, July 15 through 23. (NASA/JPL-Caltech photo)
Skychart showing the location of Comet C/2020 F3 just after sunset, July 15 through 23. (NASA/JPL-Caltech photo)

The weekend of July 17 will be a great time to check out the night sky.

The NEOWISE Comet (C/2020 F3) can be seen zooming across northern United States and Canada after sunset. Watch for it now because it won’t be back for thousands of years. Tip: Look for the Big Dipper. Start with binoculars to first see the comet below the Big Dipper but then try unaided.

For more information visit NASA/Skywatchingtips  and EarthSky/neowise .

But also try to spot the planets. The schedule of when they first appear this weekend goes from late night July 17 through early July 18. Being able to see all seven planets over two days is a rare occurrence.

For more information visit Time and Date/night.

Two vacation spots open now

 

Crystal Mountain goes from ski resort to golf but is also a family resort with a good pool and dining options. (J Jacobs photo)
Crystal Mountain goes from ski resort to golf but is also a family resort with a good pool and dining options. (J Jacobs photo)

Crystal Mountain Golf and Ski Resort

Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville, MI, a beautiful complex rated #1 Resort in the Midwest by Ski Magazine, is also a great get-away place in the summer.

Nestled in the forested highlands of Northwest Michigan, it lies south of Traverse City about five hours from Chicago.

Rooms in the Inn are convenient but when you need more than one room when going as a family or two couples you can move the stay up an affordable notch.

At the multi-bedroom MountainTop Town Homes you can take a shuttle down to the village’s main street or stay down the hill, close to the action in cottages and cabins.

Relax by a pool, play golf, dine well at the Inn and check out the Crystal Spa which is Leed certified.

Tips:

The resort is a charming small village complete with a mini grocery store but if you chose a cabin or condo you have a kitchen and dining area so bring snacks you love.

Crystal Mountain, is easy to miss so plug its address into your GPS. Quickest route is north from Grand Rapids up the center of the state.

For a break, go into Frankfort about a 15 minute drive west to Lake Michigan or Traverse City, about half an hour north.

 

Elkhart Lake is a quaint resort village in Wisconsin. (J Jacobs photo)
Elkhart Lake is a quaint resort village in Wisconsin. (J Jacobs photo)

Elkhart Lake

A vacation in Elkhart Lake in Wisconsin combines Victorian atmosphere with country and contemporary comfort.

A little over two hours from Chicago’s northern suburbs, the village is a throwback to an earlier time when it was a summer vacation destination before the turn of the 20th century.

It is a sleepy town of resorts, family-owned restaurants, small stores and a century-old railroad depot museum and Saturday Farmers Market.

However, it is also home to a popular race car track that was known as Road America. Think of it as an advantage to keep good restaurants such as Lake Street Café and the Paddock Club, in business.

An eatery with a duel personality, Lake Street Café specializes in fun atmosphere and pub food in its bar and upscale bistro in its dining room. Its wine cellar has repeatedly been recognized by Spectator Magazine.

Next door is the Paddock Club which features local seasonal ingredients served in a contemporary, casual atmosphere. Look for familiar dishes with a twist of the unusual.

Among the resorts is Osthoff. It fits in with local Victorian architecture and neighboring old-time resorts but Osthoff was built in 1995. A historic-looking charmer, the resort was updated in 2007 with 21st century fixtures from Kohler, its upscale plumbing neighbor to the south.

Aside from the races, this is a town to come to feel the muscles relax, boat on the lake or play a round of golf. Bring the tennis racquets or read while the youngsters splash in a pool or the lake.

Travel updates for Chicago park and Galena ice cream and National Civil Rights Museum

Now is a good time to plan a visit close to home, a day’s drive out or a little further away because lots of travel destinations are beginning to open and gas is still in the budget range.

"Coud Gate" (The Bean) reflects people and skyline in Millennium Park. (J Jacobs photo)
“Cloud Gate” (The Bean) reflects people and skyline in Millennium Park. (J Jacobs photo)

Chicago

Restaurants and bars have opened their outdoor seating areas. Among them is The Loyalist at 177 N. Ada Street near Randolph Row. It has had walk-ins but will likely be taking reservations beginning Wednesday, June 24,2020. If you go: expect more French style choices.

Millennium Park and Lakefront

Yes, you can visit Cloud Gate (The Bean). If you go: take selfies and don’t touch it. Most of Millennium Park is open but masks are encouraged as is social distancing.

The same goes for the lakefront which isopen as of today, June 22, 2020 to movers, not sitters. that means walkers, joggers, cyclists.

 

The historic town of Galena, IL has yummy shops and good festivals. (J Jacobs photo)
The historic town of Galena, IL has yummy shops and good festivals. (J Jacobs photo)

Galena

Tucked into northwestern Illinois near the Wisconsin and Iowa borders is the charming town of Galena. There are lots of good B&B and restaurant choices because rolling hills, historic homes and fun shops make the town a popular summer (and fall) destination.

If you go:  stop at the American Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor, the Fried Green Tomatoes  restaurant and Galena Cellars.

Lorraine Hotel site of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. (J Jacobs photo)
Lorraine Hotel site of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. (J Jacobs photo)

National Civil Rights Museum

Memphis, TN has a lot to offer as vacation destination. However, if interested in understanding more about the global Black Lives Matter movement  then  visit to the famed museum based at the Lorraine Motel, 450 Mulberry St, where Martin Luther King Jr was shot. The museum plans to reopen July 1, 2020.

If you go: you will need a timed ticket and have to wear a face covering. For tickets and other information visit National Civil Rights Museum.

 

 

Vacation destinations begin to open

 

Lake Geneva Wisconsin is a popular Chicago summer destination on Geneva Lake. (J Jacobs photo)
Lake Geneva Wisconsin is a popular Chicago summer destination on Geneva Lake. (J Jacobs photo)

Travel this summer is not what was expected when plane, resort or B&B reservations were made months ago. Instead, what we’ll find as we stretch and yawn as we come out of our caves into the summer sunlight, is that our destinations are beginning to open but with stay-safe guidelines and phase-in dates.

Here are just a few destinations that are phasing in how they will open and what can be expected.

Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island

If planning to visit the historic Mackinac area, a popular summer destination known for its historic sites and fudge, check on what will be open when you go.

Mackinac State Historic Parks will start welcoming guests to historic sites and facilities June 12 with the Colonial Michilimackinac Visitor’s Center. Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse opens June 13 and the Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park and the David A. Armour Visitor’s Center will open Monday, June 15.

Buildings and facilities on Mackinac Island don’t open until June 19. They include Fort Mackinac; The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum; Historic Downtown Mackinac (Benjamin Blacksmith Shop and the American Fur Company Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum); the Mackinac Island State Park Visitor’s Center and restrooms; Mission Church; Bark Chapel; Fort Holmes Blockhouse; British Landing Nature Center and restrooms; Arch Rock restrooms; and the Station 256 Conference Room.

For more information visit Mackinac Island and Mackinaw City.

The Broadmoor

A 5,000-acre historic resort surrounded by the mountain scenery of Colorado Springs. The Broadmoor is open now with lots of open-air experiences from hiking, zip-lining and horseback riding to golf pickleball and tennis. For additional information, access https://www.broadmoor.com/special-packages/.

Grand Geneva Resort & Spa

The Lake Geneva, WI resort opens June 15. It’s closeness to the shops and boating of Lake Geneva, a vacation town that is has already opened to visitors this summer, plus the resort’s golf and spa facilities make it a popular getaway from the Chicago area.

 

Travel to space with next launch

NASA launch watched on TV in 2017. (Photo courtesy of NASA)
NASA launch watched on TV in 2017. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

When getting around the country by car and commercial air is challenging, consider a trip to the International Space Station via NASA links.

NASA is inviting the public to virtually experience #LaunchAmerica when astronauts Rober Behnken and Douglas Hurley fly the SpaceX’s Crew Dragon to the International Space Station. Lift-off is May 27.

You can find out what training and take off is like by clicking on NASA Gov/Specials/Virtual.

And you can get to knows Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley by clicking on YouTube/Watch.

Thoughts on Memorial Day

Chicago Memorial Day Parade on State Street. (City of Chicago photo)
Chicago Memorial Day Parade on State Street. (City of Chicago photo)

With so many events canceled and people staying home to be safe, we may barely note that Memorial Day Weekend is upon us. But some places such as Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon have procedures in place to again allow visitors and other destinations are planning to reopen. So with that in mind think of where you might want to go to recognize the meaning of Memorial Day.

The following article is a reprint of one I did for the Chicago Tribune when I was a regular contributor to Features and Travel. It is “Military Museums: Fit one into a long weekend or summer destination.”

Heads up vacationers, you know that Memorial Day, May 25 (in 2015), and not the Summer Solstice, June 21, marks the start of summer vacations. But Memorial Day really is a time to honor people who lost their life while serving in the United States armed forces.

As a long weekend or the start of a summer journey it’s a perfect time to visit military museums to find out more about wars in which the US was engaged, their eras, battle conditions, leaders and places. And it’s simpler than you may guess because military museums dot the US from California to Florida. They range from huge displays of lifelike dioramas to small gems of plane and vehicle-filled hangers. And they often are near vacation destinations. Here are just some of the places to put on your do now list.

 

Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola, FL

If you have watched in wonder as the Navy’s Blue Angels have zoomed overhead during the Chicago Air and Water Show, you can see them up close inside a hanger at the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, FL and practicing outside.

But that wouldn’t be the only or even main reason to go there. Walk under and around a combat F-14D Tomkcat or a rare SBD Dauntless Bureau No. 2106 from the Battle of Midway. Glimpse the Western Front in a World War I diorama. Or see the replica of the WW II USS Cabot aircraft carrier’s Island and flight deck and go to its main deck to try the ship’s anti-aircraft gun battery. Memorial Day is also about people so look for vintage uniforms and memorabilia such as flight logs.

But don’t miss the Cubi Bar Café. Way more than a place to relax while touring the museum, the café replicates the mid-twentieth-century Cubi Point Officers’ Club that was in the Philippines. Known for its bar lined with squadron plaques started during the Vietnam War, the plaques here are the real ones sent to the museum when the Officers’ Club closed.

You will want a place to rest tired feet. The museum has 350,000 square feet of exhibits and covers 37 acres. NAS, as the base is known, dates from 1914. It handles Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard flight personnel. As museum historian Hill Goodspeed pointed out during a recent phone interview, it is an aviation museum but the people who serve are important. “You will see more than flying machines. Look beyond the machines and focus on the individuals in the cockpit. We have memorabilia, but really it’s about those who served of various ages, including those in their teens, who were and are willing to fly into a dangerous situation and serve in the military to protect our freedom,” Goodspeed said.

Lyon Air Museum, Santa Ana, CA

In contrast, the Lyon Air Museum, tucked into the Martin Aviation corner of John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, CA is tiny. At a mere 30,000 square feet, its planes, jeeps and memorabilia, mostly from WWII, are easy to slip in a sightseeing jaunt when visiting Orange County, CA’s Irvine area.

“Visitors who come here don’t feel rushed. They see how small we are so they feel they can take their time to really see what’s here,” said Museum President Mark Foster.

However, finding the museum is a challenge on the airport’s winding back roads unless you are persistent and the GPS is working. But once there you find a gem.

It’s not hard to find the B-17 Flying fortress used in the Pacific, a Douglas A-26 “Invader” or the B-25 “Mitchell,” named for General “Billy” Mitchell. The museum isn’t just a good place to visit for its machines and memorabilia, it’s the docents. Many of them are military retirees

“We get letters from visitors who say they spoke to someone who served in the same squadron or area as a grandfather,” Foster said. He added, “Talking with our docents is like finding old letters from a family member. You hear their stories.”

Retired USAF Major General William Lyon who flew during WWII and Korea founded the museum so current generations would have some idea of WWII era vehicles and battles and stories. lyonairmuseum.org/

National Museum of the Pacific War, Fredricksburg, TX

Tourists coming to Fredericksburg, Texas for its very western look and shops, its nearby wine region and its abundant flower and peach fields will arguably be surprised to find a museum dedicated to the Pacific War and its veterans while walking down Main Street.

But Fredericksburg was where Admiral Chester Nimitz was born in 1885 and the congressional district that appointed him to the U.S. Naval Academy. A career naval officer, Nimitz was Commander in Chief of the United States Pacific Fleet and of the Pacific Ocean Areas for U.S. and Allied sea, land and air forces during WW II.

The background is important because it was the Admiral Nimitz Foundation that set up a museum in the former Nimitz Hotel in Fredericksburg in 1971.

Today, that museum is one of several stunning places to visit on the National Museum of the Pacific War’s six acres. Stop in the Nimitz Museum to learn of the Admiral’s career and see the historic hotel.

Iin the 33,000 square foot George H. W. Bush Gallery, follow the battles and America’s involvement on the Pacific Front beginning with Japan’s mindset that led to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Walk outside to the Japanese Garden of Peace, a gift from the Japanese military to the U.S. in honor of Nimitz. Also outside, see plaques honoring Pacific War heroes that line the Memorial Courtyard’s limestone walls.

Be sure to visit the Plaza of Presidents made up of stone and bronze monuments to the 10 U.S. presidents who served during WWII. A separate program, the Pacific Combat Zone, re-enacts engagements in a field two blocks east of the museum campus.

National WW2 Museum, New Orleans, LA

When looking for a fascinating way to work off at least some of New Orleans’ famed cuisine, check out the National WW2 Museum, a 220,500 square foot campus in the former Warehouse District known now as the Arts District.

Opened on the 56th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 2000 and affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, the building was called the D-Day Museum until the U.S. Congress officially designated it America’s National World War II Museum in 2003.

As with the Lyon Air Museum, the volunteers you encounter are likely to be war veterans. But you will need a good half day to experience this museum. Its galleries and movies cover all the fronts, from Home to Europe to the Pacific Islands in several pavilions and theaters.

The feeling of awe starts in the museum’ s multi-level atrium where you see a Douglas C-47 Skytrain and SBD Dauntless, a Supermarine Spitfire and Messerschmitt BF 109 hanging from the ceiling.

You are in the US Freedom Center: The Boeing Pavilion. While exploring the Boeing Pavilion do the “Final Mission: The USS Tang Submarine Experience.” Similarly to major Titanic exhibits, it assigns participants an actual name of someone on board. Learn at the end if your person was lost or captured by the Japanese.

You can see the planes from an observation deck on the third floor of the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion. The original museum, the Louisiana Pavilion is the place to learn about Normandy and other beach landings.

Be sure to go to the new Campaigns of Courage Pavilion. Its “Road to Berlin: European Theater Galleries” opened early 2015 with fantastic dioramas such as a blown-out German bunker and the forested “Battle of the Bulge” in the “Breaching the German Frontier” section.

Also look for a village and other scenes as the armed forces marched up the Italian boot. They are battle sites that have been recreated with bombed out roofs backed by the sounds of war and newsreels.

The remaining Courage Pavilion build out, “Road to Tokyo: Pacific Theater Galleries,” opens in late 2015.

“It’s amazing,” said Owen Glendenning, associate vice president of education and access. “It’s immersive. It’s realistic and environmental. You can believe you are there,” said Glendenning.

Save time to see “Beyond All Boundaries, a 45 minute 4D film in the Solomon Victory Theater narrated by its executive producer, Tom Hanks. The movie takes you from battles to the Home Front using a variety of animation and sound effects. Personal accounts are read by Brad Pit, Gary Sinise and other celebrities.

For a recreation of USO style entertainment, think Bob Hope or the Andrew Sisters, try to catch a show at the Stage Door Canteen.

Perhaps the most forceful feature of the National WW2 Museum is the personal connection to people, places and time. Glendenning pointed out that the museum has four-full-time historians who are finding and recording personal stories of WWII veterans and their families. “It’s the compelling way we tell the story. It’s through personal narratives from citizen soldiers,” he said. www.nationalww2museum.org

First Division Museum, Cantigny, Wheaton, IL

A visit to Cantigny Park, the estate that Robert R. McCormick’s will decreed as a public space after he died in 1955, is a delightful Chicago area destination. Its gardens and museums are particularly fun to browse from late spring to early fall. What Chicagoans, and indeed, out of town visitors are likely not to know is that Cantigny (pronounced Canteeny (silent g), is home to a terrific museum that honors the Big Red One, the nickname of the US Army’s 1st Infantry Division. BTW, the 1st Division celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2017.

Talk about you-are-there dioramas, at the First Division Museum you don’t walk by them, you enter them and are fully enveloped by sight and sound as you connect from trenches and beaches to jungles and sand while going from World War I to Desert Storm. The museum plans to add a section depicting contemporary conflicts.

“It’s very powerful and compelling,” said Exec Director Paul Herbert, discussing the museum’s depictions.

What he hopes visitors will take away though, is an appreciation for the high price paid by people who serve in the military.

“It’s not just Division One, but all who serve our country. “Our soldiers have paid a high price for our freedom over the years. We’re telling the story of everyone who serves to defend our democracy,” said Herbert.

Jodie Jacobs

 

 

 

 

Travel with a National Geographic slide show

Passing the Mendenhall Glacier and so many other glaciers on our spectacular cruise up Alaska’s Inside Passage. (J Jacobs photo)
Passing the Mendenhall Glacier and so many other glaciers on our spectacular cruise up Alaska’s Inside Passage. (J Jacobs photo)

Among the ways to travel now while staying at home to defeat the coronavirus is to visit our national parks. National Geographic has a slide show of many of our iconic parks with most photos by and copyrighted to Jonathan Irish.

Visit them at NationalGeographic/traveldestinations/United States/NationalParks.

Here is a sample of what to expect accompanied by editor commentary.

The slide show starts with Zion National Park at the south end of Utah just over the Arizona border and near Bryce Canyon National Park. There are challenging places to climb and interesting formations to photograph. Places to stay are in the nearby town of St. George in the Mojave Desert. For a closeup, visit the film “We the Keepers. ”

Further along in the slide show is the Bass Harbor Lighthouse in Acadia National Park.  A large island park accessible from mainland Maine, Acadia is interesting to drive around but a good place to headquarter is Bar Harbor. The town has delightful ma and pop stores and eateries. Arguably the best part of the visit may be a cruise that goes around the park to see its lighthouses, eagles and the coastline.

Of course Yosemite and the Grand Canyon are included in the slide show but you have likely traveled there or are planning to anyway. However, the slideshow is a way to learn about some national parks that may be less familiar.

So on to the Great Smoky Mountains, a “great” park for hiking, biking or driving. The park accommodates more than 1500 black bears. If when driving, cars stop ahead of you it is likely to be a bear jam not a traffic jam because mama bears take their cubs across park roads. Its  location across the states of Tennessee and North Carolina on the edge of I80 and US Highways 129 and 321 makes it is the most visited national park. To stay in the area consider the highly commercial but fun town of Pigeon Forge to see its Titanic exhibit or the artistic community of Gatlinburg that has one of the easy to drive Park Information Center entrances. The town also has an arts and craft studio circle drive.

American Indians talk about the power of mountains and the spirits that are in our natural landscapes but if you haven’t felt any, drive around Mount Rainier National Park. It may change how you feel. The park is southeast of Seattle if flying in and Tacoma is clloser if driving. We stayed in Seattle where we had some of the best Copper River King Salmon we’ve tasted with the exception of a town visited while traveling to Denali (Mount McKinley) in Alaska.

Glacier Bay National Park, in Alaska Is different from Glacier National Park in Montana, so don’t get confused. You may have to visit really soon or revisit because the glaciers are rapidly shrinking due to earth’s warmer weather. But if having to make a choice go to Alaska. The area is worth the trip. You may have heard that Alaska is gorgeous. But unless you fly over it and tour what you don’t realize how spectacular the scenery really is.

The national parks offer wonderful vistas and experiences so travelers mayh have their favorites. It is hard to say you must go here because they amake good sightseeing trips. That said., I found Mesa Verde in southwestern Colorado west of Durango to be among the most interesting. When I went several years ago the road was challenging and I had to climb ladders. But it is a memorable look into the world of another culture.

 

Travel to aTitanic and Game of Thrones destination

 

Titanic Belfast in Northern Ireland's capital. (Photo courtesy of Tourism Ireland)
Titanic Belfast in Northern Ireland’s capital. (Photo courtesy of Tourism Ireland)

t’s OK to dream of where we want to go when we can safely travel again. With that idea in mind, Tourism Ireland has come out with tempting scenes of go-to places just waiting for us when we land on the Emerald Isle.

A “stay at home and stay on board” video takes you on board the Titanic Belfast, a giant, amazing ship-style structure that seems to pull you into its hold. Inside you learn about the town of Belfast, its shipyards and, of course, the RMS Titanic.

A Game of Thrones video with its Belfast-ties shows off intricately carved doors and beautifully stained glass windows of some of the mega-hit’s special scenes and characters.

Another video takes you to the charming city of Limerick. It convinced me to add it to my go-to stops when I can visit Ireland.

Where do you want to go when we can start traveling again?
Where do you want to go when we can start traveling again? (J Jacobs photo)

Until we can safely do more than drive to our local grocery store, walk the dog and do curbside pick-up or door-to-door delivery, it’s nice to start thinking of places we hope to go.

See last supermoon of the year

 

Supermoon seen in Chicago. ( J Jacobs photo)
Supermoon seen in Chicago. ( J Jacobs photo)

Often called the Flower Moon or the Planting Moon, the early May moon appearing May 7 will be the last of the full supermoons in 2020. Best time to see it is at 5:45 a.m. CT. It will also seem at its full super size the next day.

There was one in March and one in April. Now comes the third and last one. The reason full is used before the term supermoon is because the orbits of some new moons also go close to Earth making them super in size if you saw them.

But the moon in its new phase doesn’t reflect the sun. So to enjoy a moon that appears super-sized because it is close to Earth you have to watch for it in its full phase when it fully reflects the sun.

Supermoon is a name given to our moon when it is within 90 percent of its closet approach to earth. The closeness does make it seem super sized but that is an illusion.

To find more background information check these two resources: NASA/full moon supermoon and EarthSky/full supermoon.

RELATED: https://travelsmartwithjodie.com/2020/04/07/supermoon-tonight/

Catch the Lyrids streaking across the sky

 

Meteor showers happen when Earth is in a comet's orbital path and comet debris fly across the sky. (NASA photo)
Meteor showers happen when Earth is in a comet’s orbital path and comet debris fly across the sky. (NASA photo)

Instead of merely staying inside late tonight or tomorrow night (actually very early Tuesday or Wednesday morning), find a spot outside your abode to catch the Lyrid meteor shower while it peaks April 21-22, 2020.

Meteor enthusiasts have been watching the Lyrids for centuries. Among the oldest recorded meteor shower, it was supposedly first noticed 2,900 years ago.

The timing this year is perfect because the moon won’t be interfering as it is in its new phase April 20 and will be just a thin crescent April 22.

Most sky watching sites suggest dressing warm and lying down in or on a sleeping bag with feet pointing east, then looking up and letting the eyes adjust to the night sky. This year, experts predict between 10 to 20 meteors per hour during the peak.

What may help is that the Lyrids are bright and have a long tail of dust. But they are also fast at 30 miles per second.

The shower is called the Lyrids because the meteors appear to radiate from  the Lyra the Harp constellation near the bright Vega star.

What you are seeing is debris  that has crossed the earth’s orbit from the Thatcher comet. The comet, itself, take about 415 years to orbit around the Sun so earthling won’t be able to see that comet again until 2276.

To learn more about the Lyrids and meteors visit NASA, TimeandDate, EarthSky and Space.