Huntsville, Alabama: a budget getaway with two worlds to offer. New restaurants and more breweries than anywhere else in the state of Alabama. Not bad for a city that was home to only 15,000 people before NASA moved its scientists, manufacturing, and tests there. Reaching Huntsville is now easier with GLO Airlines, a New Orleans-based company with flights that are almost like taking a private jet. Huntsville is perfect for weekend getaways. Here’s why:
We’ve all seen the brochures for Space Camp, the fascinating blue or white suits of astronauts, and Tom Hanks having yet another tumultuous trip in a movie. Yet, when you travel to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, you begin to understand the immensity of Huntsville’s influence. We’ve received numerous technological advances from our space endeavors (velcro, heat blankets, etc.) but what I didn’t realize is how Pat Ammons, the Director of Communications at the Center, puts it, “You can’t get off the ground without Huntsville, Alabama.”
Go to learn about the actual first piloted, winged craft; what future soldiers will fight with and what they will wear; and how to land a space shuttle; and see the actual Apollo 16 capsule and much more. You can experience what type of testing real astronauts go through with the MAT simulator (Multi-Axis Trainer) or the G-Force machine. Few of us will ever come close to understanding the mental and physical capacity real astronauts possess, but the U.S. Space and Rocket Center brings that reality a few inches closer.
Another scientific endeavor in Huntsville is its recent influx of chemistry-minded brewmasters. With nine breweries within the city limits, Huntsville may win for either the most hipster city or the residents with the most expendable time and cash. I stumbled into Green Bus Brewing my first night in town and found few people in there except for the friendliest, most non-threatening bartender. A sign behind the bar (“Your Driver Tonight is:”) informed me that his name was Micah. Green Bus has the feel that the owner was told to move his nano homebrewing out of his garage and into downtown Huntsville. The beers are solid and the people are friendly.
Yellowhammer has some of the best beer that I tried in Huntsville. The place is a little more into itself and preppy, but go for the Bride of Frankenhammer or Hops Fell.
Straight to Ale (across a football field-sized lawn from Yellowhammer) is their nemesis and more utilitarian. It reminds me of breweries in the Northwest. Straight to Ale’s slogan is “The Devil Made Us Brew It” and, although not my favorite, is not situated inside a renovated school building which brings it some credit. Stay with the Monkeynaut and take a chance on Hell or Hot Water.
“Real maps, fake places,” David Nuttall explains, as I sit inside his and his wife’s studio in the Lowe Mill. As a classically trained military cartographer in the British Army, David now spends his time creating new segments of reality and unique stories through mapmaking. It’s by far the most informative and invigorating conversation I’ve had with an artist ... ever.
His different pieces are all fascinating. In one, he teamed up with a female artist in Tehran. She was drawing female nude figures on maps while he was drawing maps on nude models. Together they make truly law-breaking, rule-bending art. The way it’s meant to be.
At times, David will take commission pieces and draw a map in a part of the world you love, with the names you give him (family history, for example), and piece everything together. For example, I am thinking about a piece set in Myanmar but I want names of significant people and places in my life. David will research a location and learn how cities have been built on top of themselves throughout history: how far houses are apart, where a university might be, old fortresses or palaces, etc., etc. He could build a completely unique and new world dreamed up by my imagination but factually backed up geographically. Frankly, it’s a fascinating proposition. He is a true blend of science and art.
If more traditional art is your style, then the Huntsville Museum of Art in downtown will be right up your alley. At the time I went, they had a traveling gallery for Chuck Jones cartoons, so I guess the guy I knew in college who received a degree in “Contemporary Pop Culture” has found a job.
Their collections range from “Connection” by Jim Neel and Karen Graffeo (a truly mesmerizing and sobering current exhibit) to the Buccellati silver collection donated by Betty Grisham. Once Big Spring Park’s renovations are finished, you will be able to have a complete afternoon of art, food, and beers in the city’s downtown.
The United Nations has deemed 2017 the year for sustainable tourism. Although our minds go directly to rural communities in exotic locales, we need to remember the simplicity of what is around us and the areas we have yet to discover in our own country. Huntsville, Alabama, may be a quiet sanctuary, but don’t underestimate its deliverables. Food, drink, the outdoors, art, science—all of it offered in northern Alabama.
If you’ve made it to the end of this article you’re in for a treat. I’ll tell you my absolute, hands-down, falling-head-over-heels favorite thing about Huntsville. Bandito Burrito. Sitting on the busy highway across from Straight to Ale, you’ll find a divey, counter-service Mexican joint where the tacos are under $2 and the refried beans remind me of Baja. Even thinking about it now, I want to go back just for the burrito plates.