The Bowler Hat Goes South

(I may be misremembering that chapter’s name.)

Greetings from Louisiana! After two days of intense travel, I’m ready for my first site visit tomorrow: LIGO, the only gravitational wave detector in the United States. (When it was built, LIGO had two antennas: one in Louisiana, and one in Hanford, Washington. The Hanford piece was shut down, and its work is being done in Australia. I will gripe about why this happened on some other occasion. Update: I am happy to report my memory failed me! Hanford had two antennas, only one of which has shut down; that equipment will eventually be set up in India. So, LIGO is still fully operational as a two antenna system.) Pretty much every day from here on will be filled with science, and while I doubt I’ll have time to blog it all, I’ll hopefully be able to check in and let you know what you’re missing…er, what I’m up to.

A portion of the battlefield at Cowpens in South Carolina. On January 17 in 1781, rebel soldiers under the command of Luke Skywalker Daniel Morgan defeated a detachment of British soldiers and Loyalists (colonials loyal to the Crown).

I don’t know about you, but I always take a little while to get into the proper mind set for a trip. I left Richmond (where I live) on Sunday morning, and I have no distinct memories of the drive through Virginia or North Carolina. However, when I crossed the border into South Carolina (a state I had never visited previously), I saw a sign reading “Cowpens”. Those of you who have a passing familiarity with American history might recall that was a battle in the American Revolutionary War, one of the rare battles with a clear outcome. (We whupped the Brits. I say “we”, ’cause obviously I was there and I feel strongly about it personally.) The battle happened on January 17, 1781, and even by contemporary standards wasn’t a huge engagement: the entire clash lasted about one hour.

A road trip isn’t legitimate until the traveler makes several unscheduled stops, so I was compelled to go see the battlefield. After 231 years, there’s no sign of the battle itself. Unlike modern warfare with heavy explosives, the kinds of weapons used in 1781 don’t tear up the landscape, leaving scars that persist for decades.The soldiers didn’t build breastworks or cannon batteries; the fighting took place in a rather pleasant bit of open forest, flanked by wetlands. The Continental Army commander, Daniel Morgan, selected the ground both to put the British army at a disadvantage—they were fighting uphill and couldn’t outflank the Americans thanks to the swamps—and to keep his own troops (who included a number of undertrained militia) from fleeing by placing their backs to a river. Today, the battlefield is a nice quiet meadow with plenty of trees, though as far as I could tell, none of them over 100 years in age.

An alligator near Davis Bayou in Mississippi. It was far enough away from me that I had to use my camera’s maximum zoom, and even then I wasn’t able to confirm it actually was an alligator until I loaded the photo onto my computer.

If nothing else, Cowpens provided a lovely walk of about a mile, a good chance to stretch my legs before driving on. It was an ironically peaceful interlude, which likely helped me survive Atlanta’s traffic (which I will not discuss here, as this blog is PG-rated). I ultimately ended up in Montgomery, Alabama for the night.

Today’s spontaneous side-trips involved a quick exploration of the Davis Bayou in Mississippi (where I saw my first wild alligator!), and a quick peek at the visitor complex at NASA’s Stennis Space Center. I didn’t linger there, since I was too tired to do it justice. However, I will be seeing so much science in the next two weeks, I don’t feel I’ve gypped myself too much.

When next you hear from me, I will probably be in Texas!

2 responses to “The Bowler Hat Goes South”

  1. […] today, I haven’t been idly driving without keeping an eye out for interesting things. To wit: yesterday, I saw a wild alligator and one of the engines from the Saturn V rockets, which were used to launch the Apollo missions and […]

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