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Jul/Aug 2012 Issue

Blast off to INFINITY and beyond at NASA’s new Gulf Coast science center

Grab the kids and blast off to NASA’s new $30 million science and space educational center on the Mississippi Gulf Coast that intertwines science, space exploration, and fun into a perfect voyage for the whole family.

INFINITY Science Center, affiliated with NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center, educates visitors of all ages on the role of science and math in exploration across history. Located just east of the Mississippi-Louisiana state line (Interstate 10, Exit #2), the center also showcases Stennis Space Center’s part in the United States’ space programs–from the Apollo manned lunar landing program to Space Shuttles and beyond.

Upon entering INFINITY, visitors are greeted by Apollo 13 astronaut–and Mississippi Gulf Coast native–Fred Haise in a welcome video. The first floor features the exhibit “Great Nations Dare to Explore,” a 4,000 square foot maze that has visitors working their way from early Egypt to a future of colonies on Mars and moon research stations. Other exhibits examine the atmosphere, weather, and the contributions Stennis Space Center has made toward scientific progress on Earth.

The second floor takes visitors to the Space Gallery, which traces the history and achievements of NASA’s various space programs–Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and the Space Shuttle. In addition to space suits and rocket engine components, a focal point is a full-size laboratory module of the International Space Station.

INFINITY includes a gift shop and café that features food from different local restaurants each day. The center also is the official visitor’s center and starting point for bus tours of NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for children 6–17 and seniors, and free for children under 5. For details, call (228) 533-9025 or visit

building with rocket engine

Above: The center features a Space Shuttle engine in an outdoor exhibit area. NASA photo

Below: Exhibits include a sphere that uses animated images to examine the moon and the planets. Ellis Anderson photo



Buffalo National River in Arkansas overflows with adventure

Celebrating its 40th anniversary as the nation’s first national river, the Buffalo National River remains one of the few undammed rivers in the lower 48 states, providing nearly unending opportunities for outdoor adventures.

Nestled in the Ozark Mountains of northern Arkansas, the river flows for 135 miles and includes nearly 95,000 acres of public land along its corridor. The purpose of establishing the Buffalo as a national river in 1972 was to preserve, conserve, and interpret a clear, free-flowing river and its mountain setting. It’s just as pristine today as it was when Congress recognized it as a national treasure.

Perhaps the best way to appreciate the river is to float it. The river has swift sections with rapids, as well as placid pools. On its way to joining the White River to the east, the Buffalo skirts towering bluffs and other geological marvels.

Along the scenic river, more than 100 miles of hiking trails have been blazed for public use, and there are three designated wilderness areas to explore. Camping is available at most access points.

The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism created a new interactive section on its Web site ( with details on where to rent a canoe, raft, or kayak on the river, and where to eat and stay. More information is at


Paddlers will find striking bluffs along the river. Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism photo


Trace the roots of the blues on the Mississippi Blues Trail

With the addition of the 150th marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail this year, you can hardly swing a drum stick in the state without hitting a significant site for the blues.

Whether you’re a die-hard blues fan or a casual traveler in search of an interesting trip, the Mississippi Blues Trail offers a fascinating journey across a state that was fertile ground for the roots of the blues. The sites showcase the rich blues heritage of Mississippi and run the gamut from city streets to cotton fields, train depots to cemeteries, and clubs to churches.

The 150th marker was unveiled earlier this year in Greenwood, Miss., in tribute to Walter “Furry” Lewis who was a favorite figure on the blues revival scene of the 1960s and ’70s in Memphis. And since then, four other markers have been added.

The first sign was placed in 2006, and with the unveiling of the 154th marker recently, the trail now has 144 sites across Mississippi and 10 in other states. Among those honored with markers are Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Bo Diddley, and Charley Patton.

To help people navigate the trail, the Mississippi Blues Commission released the free Mississippi Blues Trail iPhone application, which is available on iTunes. For more details, visit

trail marker

Among the markers is one at Dockery Farms in Cleveland, Miss., which has been called the Birthplace of the Blues. Mississippi Development Authority photo


Louisiana Civil War site enhances its exhibits

Often credited for extending the Civil War, the Battle of Mansfield will be remembered in a new exhibition slated to open later this summer at the Mansfield State Historic Site in Mansfield, La.

When completely installed, the new exhibit will feature artifacts, letters, uniforms, and other materials related to the Battle of Mansfield, the Red River Campaign of 1864, and the everyday life of Civil War soldiers. Other themes include the impact of the war on the lives of the local citizens, as well as the roles played by women and slaves.

With the fall of Vicksburg and Port Hudson in July 1863, the Mississippi River was controlled by the Union Army. President Abraham Lincoln and his staff next set their sights on the capture of Texas and the trans-Mississippi headquarters at Shreveport, La.

Those plans, however, were foiled by Confederate forces. The battles of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill were significant losses for the Union Army, possibly delaying the end of the Civil War by several months.

The historic site is four miles south of Mansfield at 15149 Highway 175. The site is open 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily. The entrance fee is $4 for visitors 13–61; it is free for seniors 62 and older and children 12 and under. For details, call (888) 677-6267 or click on


Cannons and other Civil War artifacts are part of the collection at Mansfield State Historic Site. Louisiana State Parks photo

Cherish Cajun food, music at lively festival

Whether you’re a Cajun or just want to be one for a day, the Cajun Music and Food Festival in Lake Charles, La., is the place to be this summer.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary, the festival seeks to preserve Cajun heritage and tradition through food, music, and dancing showcased by local musicians and chefs. This year’s festival, July 20–22, is expected to draw more than 8,000 people to the Burton Coliseum. Sponsored by the Lake Charles Chapter of the Cajun French Music Association, the event kicks off on Friday, July 20, with a free jam session from 6–8 p.m. Six bands will be featured on Saturday starting at 10 a.m., and three bands will be playing on Sunday, beginning at 9:15 a.m.

Be sure to bring your dancing boots and “dance with the Cajun stars” in the dance contest on Saturday. A children’s dance contest will be held on Sunday.

Get your fill of traditional Cajun specialties such as gumbo, jambalaya, and étouffée. In addition, there will be arts and crafts, historical displays, and an authentic Cajun French Mass.

The Burton Coliseum is located at 7001 Gulf Highway. Festival hours are 9 a.m.–11 p.m. on Saturday and 8 a.m.–5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $7 for adults and free for children under 12. For details, visit or call (337) 217-0880.

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