Rockies Rail Tour

(Note: Clicking on any image in this travelogue will bring up a full screen version of the image.)

Wednesday, July 5: Newark, NJ - Denver Colorado


I gotta get me a travel agent. I bollixed up the arrangements on this trip so badly it stopped being funny. Admittedly it was an awfully complex situation, but it eventually degenerated into a complete Chinese fire drill. Here are the parameters: I was to fly out on Wednesday, July 5, book a hotel, and do some sight-seeing in Denver until Saturday, July 8, when I would go about 15 miles south to Littleton, where the house concert took place. Then, the host of the house concert would put me up in a guest room until I was to board the train at 7:00 AM at Union Station in Denver. I would need to rent a car, but I couldn't do so at the airport, because I wasn't departing Denver from the airport, but rather by train. So I needed to rent the car from an Enterprise agency near the hotel I'd be staying at in Denver, because Enterprise will pick you up and drop you off at a location near their agency. But the Enterprise agency opens at 8:00 AM, so I'd need to drop the car off with them the afternoon before my train trip, and somehow get to Union Station the following morning. So I opened an Uber account for that. Then to further complicate matters, Jenny couldn't get the time off work during the early part of the week, so she would fly out on Friday night, and I'd pick her up at the airport. Then to further complicate matters, it turned out that the Enterprise agency I picked was further from the Best Western Hotel I booked than their maximum pickup radius, and they would not be able to pick me up or drop me off. On top of that, because of some miscommunications, it turned out that the guest room in Littleton would not be available on Tuesday the 11th, so I had to book a room that night at the hotel. And then to add yet another complication, Jenny got caught up in the massive crew shortage of United Airlines, had her outbound flight delayed such that she missed her connecting flight in Chicago, and wound up arriving in Denver Saturday morning instead of Friday night.


1. John Licht and me

If you're confused, imagine how I felt in the middle of it. My head was spinning, and the whole situation was rescued through the kindness beyond the call of any imaginable duty of one man: John Licht John is what I would call a super fan. A long time ago he actually flew from Denver to Chicago to see me perform. When he found out I'd be playing in his home territory, he offered me any services I would ever need, and boy, did I take him up on it. He became my personal free-of-charge Uber driver and tour guide throughout my stay in Denver, and basically saved me from my own ineptitude as a travel agent. He picked me up from the airport, ferried me to the car rental office, drove Jenny and me to the summit of Mount Evans on Sunday, and got up at some ungodly hour to get us to Union Station for the train ride on Tuesday. Thank you forever, John!

My flight, unlike Jenny's, was relatively uneventful. Bill Henderson again was kind enough to drive me to Newark Airport. I got to use my "Real I.D." driver's license for the first time, but it turned out that my boarding pass was not marked with the TSA Pre-Check identification, so I had to go through the more extensive security check. (I had neglected to enter my KTN number when I got my boarding pass online. Live and learn. But no matter how much you learn, I swear every time I go to the airport, all the procedures are different.) Oh, and I extended my ongoing losing streak in that every time I've ever flown, my gate is always at extreme farthest end of the terminal. At both ends of the flight.

Approaching Denver, I found myself suffering from the misconception that probably afflicts all easterners who grew up listening to their John Denver records. Where were all them Rocky Mountains high? Denver is flat as a pancake. I could see the mountains off in the western distance. What a let-down!

Despite good connections, it was a long day and a long flight, made two hours longer by crossing time zones. I was really happy to hit the rack at the hotel. I almost wish that the hotel I booked turned out to be a dump, so I could call it the Worst Western. I've always wanted to use that line. No, they were fine.



Thursday, July 6: Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum

I've always been interested in airplanes. As a kid I was an avid model airplane builder and flyer, and read and studied and even flown the real things when I've had the chance. A few years ago I went up with a friend who is a licensed instructor, and now have an official 2 hours of instruction recorded in my logbook. So when Jenny was researching the area for things to do on my own before she arrived, she recommended the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum. (Jenny and I have an amenable division of labor when it comes to vacations. I do all the driving. She does all the planning.) So Thursday morning, after a leisurely breakfast, and checking my email, I climbed into my shiny bright red rental Audi, and drove out to the museum. (What do you call a camel with three humps? A Saudi Quattro.) I liked the car a lot except for one little flaw. If I had to accelerate quickly, I would press on the gas pedal, and about a week and a half later it would sort of wake up and say, "What? Hello? Was there something you wanted? Oh, faster? OK, let me see if I remember how to do that."

The museum is on the site of the original Denver airport, and occupies one of the original hangers. It is staffed by a lot of amateur, but eager and helpful docents, and I liked the feel of the place. It seems to focus on a diverse collection of oddball, and little-known aircraft of all eras, with a few more recognizable examples thrown in here and there. Although the hanger is spacious, the exhibits are still placed in such proximity to each other that it's difficult to get a photo with an uncluttered background.

Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum
Click any photo for a full-screen view

2. Boeing B-70

3. Jetwing

4. EA-6B Prowler

5. Bede BD5

6. Dream Chaser

8. B-1 Bomb Bay

9. Ejection Capsule

10. Douglas B-16

7. B-1 Bomber

11. -Douglas B-16

12. Piper Cub

13. UH-01 Huey

14 UH-1 Huey

15. Star Wars x-Wing Fighter

16. Adam M309

17. German Hang Glider

18. Nieuport 27

19 Flight Simulator


Photo 2: B-70. Well you certainly couldn't miss the museum as you approached the parking lot with that B-70 bomber perched out there in front of the entrance. This plane, designed and first produced in the early 50s, is still in active service, and older that the fathers of the pilots still flying them today. It's been upgraded and re-engined and rewired with the latest electronic gadgets countless times, but the basic airframe was manufactured some 70 years ago

Photo 3: Bell-Bartoe Jetwing. Here's a perfect example of what I was talking about when I mentioned oddball aircraft. This was a one-off experimental "proof-of-concept" craft commissioned by the Navy to investigate how to configure a jet powered aircraft for low speed takeoffs and landings, presumably to facilitate carrier operations. Sort of the same goal as that of the British Harrier. Get a load of the enormous flaps and slats on the wings. Somehow, the jet exhaust was directed under those flaps (I could not find a vantage point from which I could observe the exhaust nozzles.) to enhance lift.

Photo 4: EA-6B Prowler. This is a 3-seat carrier aircraft from the late 60s designed to perform electronic countermeasures against enemy radar and other such devices.

Photo 5: Bede Aviation BD-5. Despite being painted in the colors of the Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Team, this is a civilian aircraft. Designed by renowned aircraft designer, Jim Bede, this tiny craft is offered for sale in kit form or assembled. Although it looks like a jet, it's actually powered by a 4-cylinder engine turning a pusher propeller at the rear of the craft, and has a top speed of 232 mph. They also make a jet-powered version of the craft, which appeared in a number of James Bond movies.

Photo 6: Sierra Nevada HL-20 Dream Chaser. This is a cargo delivery craft to the International Space Station and low Earth orbit satellites. It's not clear as to whether it is self-powered to get there, or launched by a rocket similarly to the space shuttle. I strongly believe it's the latter.

Photos 7 & 8: Rockwell B1-A Lancer. Low level Mach 2.3 strategic bomber with swing-wings to provide good flight characteristics at both high and low speeds. Rather than having individual ejection seats, the entire crew of 3 would be ejected in a single capsule in case of emergency. Get a load of the size of the bomb bay in Photo 8!

Photo 9: Ejection seat. Up until the time I was writing these descriptions, I had thought this was the ejection seat from the B1, because of its placement in the display. That was before I read the bit about the B1's ejection capsule.

Photos 10 & 11: Douglas B-16 Bomber. This was one of several medium bombers built to specifications released by the Army Air Corps during the 30s. They all suffered a similar fate of being rendered obsolete before they entered production, due to the rapid improvement of aviation during that time period. With a cruising speed of only 167 mph, they would have been easy meat for enemy fighters. Take a look at the ungainly dorsal turret in Photo 11.

Photo 12: Piper J-3 Cub At last, something familiar. This bare minimum light plane was originally designed as an inexpensive private plane in the late 20s, and adopted by the military as a trainer, transport, and VIP taxi during World War 2. They've not been manufactured since the 40s, but there are hundreds of them still flying and loved by civilian pilot-owners.

Photos 13 & 14: UH-1 Huey Helicopter. The iconic helicopter. gunship of the Vietnam War. Photo 13 shows it as it might have been emplaced in the field. (Except it's entirely too clean and shiny.) Photo 14 shows the business end of the machine.

Photo 15: Incom T-65 X-Wing Starfighter. And now for something completely different. Direct from the Lucasfilm lot, an actual airworthy ...err..spaceworthy* Starfighter. Note R2D2 in the cockpit

Photo 16: Adam M309. This airplane is the prototype and proof-of-concept demonstrator for the production Adam 500 Carbonaero, a 6-passenger business plane that had been set for production before Adam Aeronautics went bankrupt after the 2008 crash. (That's a financial crash, not an actual one.) It featured two engines in a push and pull configuration.

Photo 17: German hang glider. There was no information plaque about this bird, but I'll give an educated guess. After World War 1, the Treaty of Versailles prohibited Germany from raising an air force. But there were a lot of civilian aero-enthusiast groups that started gliding clubs. I'm guessing this example was from early in the 20s.

Photo 18: Nieuport 17. A French fighter plane from late in World War 1.

Photo 19: Flight Simulator. This was the high point of the museum for me. It was a device that museum visitors could ride in. My first thought was that one would sit in it, and it would go through a series of programmed maneuvers. but when they strapped me in, I discovered that I was in control of the device. There was a screen in front of me where I could view what it would look like from the cockpit. There was a control stick and throttle, and I could fly it as I wished. I was even given the choice of what kind of plane I would be flying. I chose a P-51 Mustang. I started out rather timidly, just feeling out what the controls would do. But once I got more confidence I tried a loop. It was then I realized that it was not a true simulator. A loop is a maneuver in which the pilot is never subjected to negative G-forces. That is, even when he's upside down at the top of the loop, centrifugal force will press his butt into the seat. Not so, in this simulator. When I was upside down, I was hanging from my 5-point harness. That was sort of uncomfortable and disorienting. It happened again when I tried a barrel roll, another all-positive-G maneuver. Those were all the stunts that I tried. The ride lasted about 7 or 8 minutes. Click the "Play" button in the photo to watch someone considerable bolder than me take a ride. It was an 11-year-old kid.

* I lied about Photo 15.

I was still pretty tired from the flight (the airline, not the simulator), so I went back to the motel, had a quick bite to eat, and turned in early.