the Valkyrie Road trip Part two The continuing adventures of a two-week road trip across North America to see an airplane. And some other things, too.

Following the fulfillment of my decades-long promise to myself to see the XB-70 in person, I continued eastward, to Washington, DC to see more airplanes in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.

The easiest route would follow Interstates right to the heart of DC, but I wanted to use as much two-lane as I could.

There was little of the flatlands left for me to cross, but the thunderstorms that greeted my arrival in Dayton left me once last chance to photograph their remnants before I crossed the Alleghenies.

Here, a detour off the Interstate and another little road to nowhere led me to this delightful location near the town of Salisbury in Elk Lick Township, southwestern Pennsylvania.

As I made my supper, I heard an unfamiliar sound and discovered this lovely scene. A quarter of a mile away this man and his three-horse team was working his pasture. I could actually hear the mower working, sounding much as it did a hundred years ago.

Elk Lick proved an excellent roadside campsite and Mother Nature rewarded my two-lane diligence with this perfect evening.

Mother Nature blessed me again in the morning. A gift to landscape photographers, fog accompanied my breakfast.

As I prepared to leave, this small herd of dairy cows came trotting across their field to see what I was up to.

We spent a few minutes together, chatting. They told me that they weren't hungry, just curious.

Rush hour in Elk Lick, PA. These "Four Wheelers" were everywhere on the roads this bright Tuesday morning in late May.

For a guy from Western Canada, this spring morning in rural Pennsylvania was like travelling in a foreign country. Oh, wait. This IS a foreign country!

Ignorant of the social implications of photographing the Amish, I just carried on photographing. These happy families never failed to smile and wave at me so I wasn't deterred. Notice the horse's hooves? This image answers the old question about whether or not all four feet of a horse can be off the ground at the same time.

I moved on reluctantly. The relentless clock was still ticking.

A day later, I dropped anchor at an Internet friend's residence in Chevy Chase. His family graciously hosted me for three nights in a perfect location, just a few minutes walk from a Metro station. It was a short subway ride to The Mall and the museums there.

Riding the Metro was a special treat for me. The last time I was in this tunnel, it was occupied by a huge tunnel-boring machine and a lot of other noisy, heavy equipment. It was in the middle 70s and I was making a film about its construction. Nice to see the final result.

My first stop was the National Air and Space Museum - the most popular museum in Washington. It was much smaller than the USAF museum in Dayton and had twice number of visitors. Still, it was an excellent museum and a great experience. Here, a Lunar Excursion Module sits directly under The Spirit of Saint Louis.

Here's a replica of Telstar, the first practical communications satellite. Its construction looks quaint by modern standards.

You know those little plastic tabs that you sometimes need to remove from a battery before using an electronic device for the first time? This is the same thing, circa 1957. The last thing the Russians did before launch was pull this tab to connect the battery to the all-important radio transmitter which provided proof of the satellite's orbit.

At one time, I earned a substantial portion of my income doing aerial photography for movies, so this display was special to me. I know just what that guy had to endure; cold is an ever-present challenge when shooting aerials. Imagine operating a camera with those mitts!

A standard piece of equipment on any film set is duct tape. Film crews call it "gaffer tape". I remember watching in amazement on television as Apollo 17 astronauts Cernan and Schmitt repaired the lunar rover's fender with the same tape we used every day on set. They actually took gaffer tape with them on the lunar rover, right out on to the surface of the moon! They brought the repaired fender home, gave it to the Smithsonian and there it was, right in front of me.

Cockpit: Lunar Excursion Module. This primitive display is what Armstrong and Aldrin used to land on the moon.

Here's Vanguard, America's failed first attempt to answer Sputnik's success. Cracked and dented, it was found in the weeds after its booster rocket exploded on the launch pad.

This is an early inertial navigation system. That massive (and expensive) thing at right is the gyroscope platform. Today, all the equipment you see in this display is buried inside your phone. And, instead of navigating with that clumsy typewriter, there's a nice lady inside your phone who talks to you, giving explicit, accurate directions.

I spent a half day at The National Gallery of Art, where these boys were more interested in their phones than a bunch of boring paintings. Fair enough. I was that age, once.

I spent another half day at the Natural History Museum. Here's a piece of the actual cretaceous tertiary boundary. This is a geological record of when the dinosaurs were wiped out.

I stood in line for over an hour to enter the recently-opened National Museum of African American History & Culture. It was well worth the wait.

Entering the museum, visitors first descend several floors in an elevator backwards in time to West Africa in the year 1400. The presentations there are sobering.

As you walk gradually back upstairs, you travel forward in time into the present day. From human cargo in a slave ship to the civil rights battles of the 60s, it's not a happy journey.

On the upper floors, African American culture and history are celebrated unabashedly. Here, a girl interacts on a huge touchscreen with "Maybelline", Chuck Berry's Gibson.

These kids are learning dance moves with an interactive multimedia display. The on-screen instructors speak directly to the students. Sensors at the panel bottoms measure the students' performance and they relay imagery of their performance to the screen in real time so they can see how they're doing. Totally cool.

More touchscreens allow visitors to research genealogy, history and the arts. The museum is state of the art. The multimedia presentations are gorgeous, informative and inspiring.

Of course I had to visit the Canadian Embassy. You can't miss it, impressively located just a few steps from the National Mall. These two iconic "Cottage Country" Adirondack chairs offer a welcome chance to sit and enjoy the commanding view of the Capital Dome and Pennsylvania Avenue.

These scooter things were everywhere. Just download an app, scan a QR code on the bike with your phone and ride away. $5 gets you about ten minutes, if I remember correctly. Apparently, freelance operators collect and recharge them overnight. My tired feet wished I'd discovered these earlier.

Nearby was the White House, so I had to go over and see it again. Unlike on my previous visit where you could look right through the front gates, you can't even get close to the building now.

So now it was time to get moving again. Before dawn, I departed Washington and two days later I was crossing central Kansas. I detoured off the Interstate for a little bit of two-lane.

I'd been on the road for a half hour or so and I was looking for a good place to stop and make my breakfast when this wonderful shadow of Frito appeared on the road ahead. The sun was shining from directly behind and was so low on the horizon that you could see the shock absorbers clearly shadowed on the road surface. Only in lands as flat as Kansas could this happen. Close the video with the "X" at upper right to continue.

In a parking lot somewhere on an SUV rear window, this. I couldn't resist.

Goodbye prairie. After nearly two weeks of flat country, the Big Horn Mountains in northwestern Wyoming allowed me at last an elevated view of the open prairie. This lovely, smooth twisty road took me high above the flatlands in just a few minutes. The West was lookin' good.

Fair warning from this sign near the summit. Sustained grades of 10% are not to be trifled with. I moved on, carefully, to Cody and then north to Dead Indian Summit and the Absarokas.

The Chief Joseph Memorial Highway (WY 296) is about as scenic a road as one could ask for, especially in early June. But wait. It gets better. The highway winds across the meadows at left and up into the Absarokas at extreme right. That's where we're going next.

This is US 212 on the southern approach to Bear Tooth Pass. Charles Kuralt, who spent more time on American highways than nearly anyone, called it "The most beautiful road in America". I certainly don't disagree. At 10,947 feet, it's also pretty darn high.

It's still early spring up here in the high alpine. I stopped at a viewpoint and laughed with some visitors from Florida who were dressed in shorts and t-shirts, suffering in high winds and near freezing temperatures.

Just a few days after the snow had disappeared, these alpine flowers were making the best of the short growing season.

Here's the pass' namesake. I've never seen actual bear teeth, but they probably look just like that.

These impressive snowbanks were just barely melting -my dashboard thermometer read 3C. My timing was excellent. The week after my crossing, Beartooth Pass was closed for three days by a blizzard.

I call highways like these "The Unnecessary Roads". Like the Going To The Sun highway in Glacier National Park and many others across our continent, they were built during wiser, more generous times for the sole purpose of allowing people to travel to amazing places. Would that we had such vision today.

I returned home 6,094 miles later, precisely (to the hour!) two weeks after departure, wiser and happier than when I left, my decades-long dream fulfilled. By any measure, the journey was a success. It's amazing really, that I was able to cram so much into such a short time, especially when nearly all of it was spent behind the wheel. It's an exceptional privilege, this at-the-drop-of-the-hat transcontinental road trip stuff. I never get tired of it.

Now, let's see... Where did I put my map?


Photography by the author

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