Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Not All Who Wander Are Lost
January 17, 2017 - Florida Keys

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Cruising Today

After a stressful Friday, both of our boys finally made it to New Orleans. Korey arrived on Friday with just a two hour delay. Eric’s flights on Friday were cancelled, but he was able to get onto flights on Saturday and finally arrived at 5:30 pm on Saturday.

We leave today for a seven day cruise so I won’t be posting until we get back. We’ll have two days at sea. Our first port is Honduras where we will do a dolphin encounter excursion. Next is Belize where we will zip line in the rain forest and then tube in a river in a cave. The last stop is Cozumel where we will do an ATV adventure.

I’m sure I’ll have plenty to share when we get back. Thanks to everyone for all the prayers and well wishes when I was stressing about our son’s flights being cancelled. Travelling in winter is not for the faint hearted!

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

One of Those Days

So, yesterday was one of those days. Started out with a flood in the bathroom because the toilet water kept flowing, and we didn't realize it for about an hour. That's never happened before and it's working fine now. Luckily, the water did not go through to the basement. Kevin cleaned it up as best he could, and we dried as much as we could in the dryers here at the campground. We had a heater on the carpet that got wet all day, and everything is dry again. That was just weird.

Then Eric's flights were cancelled. It seems O’Hare was a mess yesterday, so he is re-booked for today. Sure keeping my fingers crossed. If he gets cancelled today, he’s hopping in his car and driving 16 hours from Milwaukee to New Orleans. If all goes well with the flights, he’s supposed to arrive at 5:45 pm today. Our plans to visit New Orleans today with the boys have been cancelled. That’s fine as long as Eric gets here safe and sound and before the ship leaves tomorrow. Traveling in winter is stressful!!

Korey's first flight was delayed about 20 minutes. Not too bad, but when he was sitting on the plane from Dallas to NOLA they announced the plane was broken, and they would have to get on a different plane. Thank goodness it didn’t break while they were in the air. Dallas is a hub for American Airlines, so they were able to get another plane in service pretty quickly. Two hour delay, but at least he's hear safe and sound.

You would have thought yesterday was Friday the 13th or something. I sure hope today is a better day. I’m ready for some tropical breezes, sitting on the ship deck with an umbrella drink in my hand and my family beside me. Ahhh!!!

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

New Orleans French Quarter

A couple of weeks before arriving in New Orleans, I had found a Groupon deal for a two hour walking tour of the French Quarter with Magic Tours. I made reservations to do the 4:00 pm tour on Monday afternoon. The tour never happened, but we still had a good time exploring the French Quarter.

We left the RV park around noon and parked in a lot about two blocks outside of the French Quarter for $5. The campground owner had told us about this lot, and it is definitely a bargain. Parking in the area is very expensive.

Driving around New Orleans we have seen quite a few condemned or abandoned houses with numbers spray painted on them. These houses are casualties of Hurricane Katrina which hit New Orleans in August, 2005. From what we’ve seen so far, New Orleans has lots of very old buildings, and seems to have many areas struggling economically.

P1150285We wandered through the French Market which had the typical tourist stuff for sale. If you want a t-shirt or an alligator head, this is the place to buy it. Prices were definitely better than in the shops. We walked along the riverfront for a bit, and then continued walking along Decatur Street which has many shops and restaurants. We saw quite a few street performers and also a number of panhandlers.

If you look closely at the above picture, you can see paintings along the fence in the background. That is Jackson Square, which is a park near the center of the French Quarter near the Mississippi River. Many artists gather around the square to sell their artwork. There were also quite a few fortune tellers set up near the square. The square was the location where in 1803 the US flag flew for the first time in the Louisiana Territory.

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The square was originally called Place d’Armes, but was renamed in 1856 for the hero of the 1815 Battle of New Orleans Andrew Jackson. There is a statue of him on a horse in the center of the park.

The church behind the square is St. Louis Cathedral. The first local parish church was built on this site in 1727. The church was destroyed along with three-quarters of the city in 1788. Since then it has been rebuilt a few times. The current façade was added in 1851.

We had lunch at Crescent City Brewhouse. We had a coupon for a buy one, get one free lunch entrée. I had crawfish etouffee and Kevin had shrimp jambalaya. Both dishes were good, although a bit spicy for our virgin northern pallets. Kevin also enjoyed a glass of Weiss and IPA beers. Even with the coupon, our bill was $40. New Orleans is a pretty expensive place.

After lunch we wandered around a bit more. We made our way to Bourbon Street. We passed Jean Lafittes Blacksmith Shop, the oldest bar in the country. It looks like an old blacksmith shop although I overheard a tour guide saying they actually never forged anything there. It was a front for pirates to get together, drink and do business.

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We walked all along Bourbon Street from one end of the quarter to the other. Lots of bars and strip joints. In 1997 we flew to Biloxi, Mississippi for a 20th anniversary trip. On that trip, we drove to New Orleans for one day. That day happened to be Halloween, and Bourbon Street that night was a crazy place to be. It was pretty mild this time. We are planning to come back with our boys on Saturday evening, so we’ll see what that’s like. This will be a new experience for them.

P1150289Here I am with my pal Pat O’Brien. The Hurricane drink originated at this bar in the 1940s. On our trip here in 1997, I had my first Hurricane. It left me rather tipsy as there are 4 ounces of rum in it, yet it tastes like fruit punch and goes down very easy! I may have to try another one Saturday night.

We arrived at the appointed time and place for our walking tour. The guide, however, did not arrive. I called the company, and the guy on the phone couldn’t reach the guide. So, no tour. Magic tours had many great reviews online, so hopefully this was just one of those things. I called them back the next day, and he didn’t explain what happened, just that the guide was fine. I rescheduled for Saturday with our boys, and they are giving us the same Groupon deal for the two extra people. Hopefully, the guide shows up this time.

On our way back to the truck, we walked along the riverfront again. The Carnival Eclipse was leaving the port heading down the river. We’ll be on the Sunshine on Sunday. After looking at a map, I learned that the river flows quite a ways from New Orleans before it reaches the Gulf of Mexico. It should be fun standing on deck as we cruise along the river.

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Now I just have to hope the weather cooperates so both boy’s flights are not delayed or cancelled and they arrive safe and sound on Friday. Can’t wait!!

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Avery Island Tabasco Tour

Jude Travel Park, New Orleans, Louisiana

On Thursday we headed about 40 miles to Avery Island to tour the Tabasco factory with our friends Kim and Harland. The tour is free, but there is a $1 per car charge to enter the island.

In 1868 Edmund McIlhenny started producing Tabasco pepper sauce from capsicum peppers he was growing on Avery Island, his families home. Five generations later the same family is still operating the factory using the same recipe. The factory itself has been rebuilt a couple of times. The present factory was completed in 1980.

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There are now several varieties of pepper sauce sold in over 165 countries and labeled in 22 languages. The day we visited, they were bottling sauce to be shipped to Germany.

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The capsicum peppers are still grown on Avery Island. Those peppers are used for seeds which are shipped to growers in Central and South America to produce enough peppers to produce and bottle all of the sauces.

Once the peppers are processed, they are placed in oak barrels which have a few holes in the cover. Then a layer of salt is placed on top of the barrel. The pepper sauce in these barrels ferments for three years before it is mixed with the remaining ingredients and bottled. I had no idea it took that long.

The salt comes from under Avery Island. The island is on the largest of five salt domes in Louisiana. The salt goes down as far as Mount Everest is high. That’s a lot of salt. The salt mines are leased to the Cargill Salt Company. Annual production tops 2.5 million tons, and the extracted salt is 98.9% pure.

We were each given four small sample bottles of different types of pepper sauces including the original, buffalo, green pepper and chipotle. There was also a free tasting area where you could try all of their sauces, chili with their chili sauce, jalapeno flavored ice cream, pepper flavored soda, and some pepper jellies. I’m not a big fan of spicy hot stuff, but I did like their new sweet and spicy pepper sauce. We bought a bottle of that, a bottle of mild bloody mary mix and a bottle of garlic pepper sauce which Kevin liked and is going to use for marinating. The tour was fun, and we all enjoyed our visit.

On our way back home we saw this camper. They put anything on stilts around here. Interesting!!

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On Friday we headed to New Orleans. We are staying at Jude Travel Park. We’re staying for a month and wanted someplace where we could leave the fifth wheel while we were on the cruise. This is a family owned small RV park with a fence and security gate. The owners live on site and will be personally watching our truck and fifth wheel. It’s a no frills place, not in the best part of town and the sites are tight; but it works for our needs this time.

As we were driving to New Orleans, we crossed the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge. It’s 18.2 miles long and crosses over a couple of lakes, rivers and swamps. It seemed like that bridge would never end. It is the second longest in the US and the fourteenth longest in the world. Then as we got close to New Orleans, we crossed another long bridge over Lake Pontchartrain. There sure is a lot of water in Louisiana.

Today we did some grocery shopping. There are definitely some different types of food here than we are used to seeing. As Mardi Gras is just around the corner, the stores are all selling King cakes. It looks like a big cinnamon roll with colored frosting. I would have like to buy a small piece to try, but all of the ones we saw were too big for us.

IMG_20140118_112722_917 (1)This bottle of pickled pigs lips definitely caught my attention. Who eats this stuff??? On Monday we’re going on a guided walking tour of the French Quarter. I bought the tour on Groupon a couple of weeks ago. I also bought a swamp tour on Groupon which we will do after the cruise. Our boys arrive on Friday, and on Sunday we start cruising. We’ll have a busy couple of weeks. I sure am looking forward to seeing my kids!!

 

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Rayne, Louisiana

Frog City RV Park – Duson, Louisiana

We arrived yesterday afternoon at Frog City RV park in Duson, Louisiana. This is another Passport America park and is a nice place just off I-10 to stop for a couple of nights. We met up with our friends Kim and Harland from Nova Scotia for a few days while we’re here. They’re on their way to Yuma coming from the east. We’re on our way to New Orleans coming from the west. This was a great spot to meet up in between.

We first met Kim and Harland in 2007 on a bus tour of Europe. We hit it off on that trip and have kept in touch via the internet and Facebook. We’ve met up the last two winters in our travels through the south, and always have a great time visiting with them. This time has been no different. Lots of stories and laughter.

Today we visited Rayne, Louisiana, about five miles from our RV park. This small town got its fame from frog legs. In the early 1900s three Parisian brothers operated a profitable export business in Rayne, shipping frog legs all over the country and even to Europe. At the height of the business, they were shipping 10,000 pounds of frog legs a week. That’s a lot of frogs!!

Today the town uses its claim as the frog capital of the world as a tourist attraction. There are frog statues all over town painted to coincide with the business they are in front of. Here’s the frog in front of the bank with Kim and Harland.

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This one was so clever. It was in front of a building supply business, and he had a whole construction site around him with stories to go along with it.

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In addition to the frog statues, there are also a number of murals throughout the town. Some of them are really nice, and some of them have seen better days. This one was on the side of a large building and looked great.

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I thought this one was really cute, and I liked the play on words with the town’s name.

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As if the frog theme isn’t enough of a claim to fame, Rayne also has a cemetery that is in Ripley’s Believe it or Not. It seems St. Joseph’s Cemetery is the only cemetery in the Judeo-Christian world facing north-south.

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I never realized this, but apparently cemeteries are laid out so the graves face east-west (the east representing the beginning of life and the west the end of life). Legend has it that the creators of the cemetery in Rayne mistakenly started burying people north to south. By the time the error was discovered, too many bodies had been buried so they just kept going.

This was an interesting town to spend an hour or so roaming around on a beautiful, sunny day. Another novel roadside America town to explore.

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Visiting Judy at Anahauc Refuge

Turtle Bayou RV Park, Wallisville, Texas

When we left Kansas, we had over three weeks until our reservation in New Orleans on January 17th. One of the places I wanted to stop was Anahauc National Wildlife Refuge to meet fellow blogger Judy who writes the blog Travels With Emma.

So, I booked five nights at Turtle Bayou RV Park near the refuge. It’s a Passport America park and is pretty dumpy. The discounted price is $18 a night. Even that is a bit high in my opinion, definitely not worth more. It is right off of I-10 so there is plenty of road noise. The hook-ups are adequate, and they do have very good free wi-fi.

Judy is currently a volunteer at Anahauc. She spends most of her time as a full time RVer volunteering at various wildlife refuges. We made plans to meet up with her yesterday afternoon for a tour.

Two years ago they built a very nice new visitor center at Anahauc after Hurricane Ike destroyed the previous one. While we waited for Judy to return from her duties at the hunter checkpoint, we watched the two short movies about the refuge. You sit in a retired air boat to watch the movie, and it vibrates and makes engine noises so you feel like you are really riding in a boat. There is even a little breeze blowing in your face. The movies were very informative, and some of the best we’ve seen at visitor centers.

We followed Judy in her truck to the auto tour section of the refuge. From there she hopped into our back seat and gave us a personal tour. Judy definitely knows her stuff. She is affectionately known as the bird lady of blog land. She often helps other bloggers identify birds they have seen in their travels, including several I’ve seen. I’ve learned so much about birds and wildlife refuges from reading her blog. I would encourage you to take a look.

We saw several alligators sunning themselves along the way.

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Judy showed us where a mother alligator hangs out with her babies. There were five cars parked at the spot when we arrived. Just as we got there, the mother slid into the water. You can see her big head sticking out of the water below. Judy said there were too many people around.

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We did see two of the babies in the reeds. That was pretty cool. They look like little dinosaurs to me.

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P1150247Next we drove to the area that borders Galveston Bay where you can see the Bolivar peninsula. We were now seeing the bay from the opposite side we were on while in Galveston. There were several people fishing and crabbing along the way. We saw lots of coots and different types of ducks on our drive. This Red-tailed Hawk looked very majestic sitting in a tree beside the road.

Our last stop was at the Skillern Tract. A short hike along a path takes you out to an observation platform overlooking a large pond. Judy had been telling us about a couple of Vermillion Flycatchers that have been spotted on the refuge lately. One of them put on quite a show for us at this last stop. It flitted between a couple of the tall trees for quite a while. Unfortunately, I do not have one of those cameras with the gigantic zoom lenses, so I couldn’t get a real good close up, but I think this picture is still pretty good. It was a beautiful bird, and a real treat to see it

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By the way, thanks to reader Contessa who suggested I tap my camera on the counter to see if I could dislodge the dust that was on my lens. It worked, and no more dark spots on my photos!!

P1150271Judy spent about three hours with us. As we slowly drove around the refuge, we shared some details about our lives and she told us some of the history of the refuge. It was great meeting her, and we certainly appreciated the personal tour. What a neat lady!!

 

 

 

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Offshore Drilling Rig Museum

Jamaica Beach RV Park, Galveston, Texas

Yesterday started with a breathtakingly beautiful sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico. I thoroughly enjoyed watching from the comfort of inside our fifth wheel. It was still rather cold outside. Kevin slept through the whole thing :)

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The sun came out and temps warmed into the 40s. Much better than our northern friends, but record lows were set all around this area in the last few days. It was my idea to tour the Gulf Coast this year. Kevin wanted to go to Arizona again. I’ve been reminded of that a few times.

We headed to the port area again yesterday to tour the Ocean Star Offfshore Drilling Rig Museum. The museum is built on the platform of a retired jackup drilling rig. They had a senior (over 55) rate of $5 to tour the museum, and we felt it was definitely worth it. Too bad parking is so expensive in the area. It cost us $12 for three hours of parking.

I had a coupon from a local tourist brochure I got at the campground so we received the audio tour for free ($5 value). Each of us listened to parts of it. It was interesting, but sometimes just more information than I wanted to hear. You could read most of it on the signs along the way, too.

We watched the introductory movie which explained how the rigs are built and gave an in-depth explanation of the drilling process. Some of it just went right over my head, but it was a good introduction.

There are a number of models of ships and drilling platforms used in the industry. This museum rig was able to go down to a depth of 200 feet. Some of the newer platforms can drill thousands of feet down.

P1150240This is a model of the Devils Tower Spar Platform. It sits in 5,600 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico, and can produce 60,000 barrels of oil per day. Notice the small chains running down from the yellow to the red painted areas in the model. They are quite small and can hardly be seen. (Click on the picture to enlarge).

 

 

P1150237Here’s what each link of the chain actually looks like in full size. That gives you an idea of just how huge these platforms are!

The next picture is of some of the drill bits used in the drilling for oil and gas. That’s my cell phone on the table to give you an idea of the size. Not the drill bits found in the average tool box.

 

 

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P1150241This platform is called The Bullwinkle. It sits in 1,400 feet of water off of Louisiana. The base covers 4.5 ACRES of the seafloor.

I found this diving suit to be very interesting. It keeps the diver at the same pressure as at the surface, so they don’t have to go into the decompression chamber when they come up to the surface. It works the same as how airplane cabins are pressurized. The technology has actually been around for a while, but I’d never heard of it. Today, most repairs are done by robots controlled from the surface, so there is not much need for divers.

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P1150235We went outside to look at the actual platform. Everything is so big. Just take a look at the tower.

There were videos showing how they build these huge platforms on land, transport them by barge to the drilling location, and then somehow get them in position. Amazing engineering and technology. I have a newfound admiration for this industry.

I know there is a lot of dissention regarding oil drilling and all that is involved with it. Did you know that the industry pays $4.3 billion a year to the Federal government for leases. And, that for every one oil rig worker, there are 10 jobs in related industries. I sure don’t like fuel prices, but I had no idea what was involved in the exploration and drilling operations. It is a very expensive undertaking.

On the way home, we drove along Seawall Blvd. in Galveston. There is a 10 mile walking/biking path along the Gulf. What a great place to spend some time if the weather were a little nicer. There is even an amusement park on one of the piers. It reminded me of pictures I’ve seen of Coney Island.

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We enjoyed our visit to Galveston. It would have been nicer if the weather was warmer, but that’s how it goes. I don’t know if we’ll ever come back, but I’m glad we spent a week here.

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Exploring Galveston

Yesterday was a beautiful day here on Galveston Island. Most of the day was sunny and highs were in the low 60s. We took advantage of the wonderful weather by doing some exploring.

First on the agenda was a trip on the free ferry from Galveston Island to the Bolivar Peninsula, which is part of the mainland. We saw a couple of large motorhomes on the ferries. The main reason for riding the ferry was just because I like riding on them, and I wanted to see some dolphins. I got out of the truck and stood at the front of the boat. I saw several dolphin on both trips, as well as lots of ships in Galveston Bay. I didn’t try to get any pictures of the dolphin. Sometimes, you just have to enjoy the moment :)  Here’s one of the ferries.

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And a Carnival and a Disney cruise ship in port.

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As you can see, that darn spot on my camera lens is still there. Thanks to a couple of readers who informed me the spot is probably dust on the inside of the lens. One reader suggested tapping the camera and seeing if I could dislodge the dust. I did that last night, and it seems to be gone. Keeping my fingers crossed.

We stopped at Fort Travis Seashore Park in Port Bolivar to see the remnants of Fort Travis. It was the first coastal fort built in Texas and named after William Travis, the commander at the Alamo. It was used for coastal defense during WWI and II, and later served as a refuge during hurricanes. There are a few bunkers left, but not much else to see.

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After the ferry ride, we headed to Strand Street to explore the old historic area of Galveston. Strand Street was considered the Wall Street of the south in its heyday. Many products were shipped through Galveston and business was booming. Some of the old buildings are still quite impressive. Now it’s a touristy area near the cruise ship docks.

The Galveston Custom House is the oldest civic building in Texas built in 1861.  It hosted the ceremony which ended the Civil War in Texas. Its fireproof cast iron structure has kept the building standing during fires, war and hurricanes.

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The Grand 1894 Opera House has been restored and is still hosting performers to this day. While we were here there were some comedians performing. We didn’t go inside, but it’s an impressive looking building.

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A few blocks from the downtown area is the historic residential area. There are many gorgeous Victorian style homes in this neighborhood. Some of them have been beautifully restored. I loved looking at them, but all I could think about was the money and time these homes would require.

On September 13, 2008 Hurricane Ike covered most of Galveston Island in a tidal surge. One of the terrible results was that the powerful winds and waves uprooted thousands of beautiful large Oak trees in these neighborhoods. Some homeowners have hired artists to carve sculptures from the remains of these trees. There is actually a self-guided walking tour. We spent about an hour walking the streets of the neighborhood admiring some of the sculptures and homes.

P1150218This sculpture was in honor of the homeowner’s Great Dane. The tree had actually grown around the fence at the spot the paws grip the fence. Lots of the sculptures were decorated for Christmas.

 

 

 

 

The tree this Geisha came from was as tall as the electric wires that run over the street and touched the house. The top of the tree was carved into an angel sculpture that sits in the front yard of the house.

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Here’s the Tin Man and Toto.

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This mermaid had a scary looking face, but I liked the overall sculpture and the house behind it.

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One of the houses had a line painted on it showing how high the water from Hurricane Ike reached. It’s the white line at the top of the bottom window. I sure hope they didn’t stay in the house during the storm.

 

 

 

This is called Bishop’s Palace. It was built in 1886 for a railroad magnate. These places must have been amazing to live in all those years ago!

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One last house to show. This is the Moody Mansion Museum. It was the home of one of Texas’ most powerful families.

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After arriving back at the RV park, I took advantage of their hot tub and soaked my tired feet, as well as the rest of me. The hot tub here is as big as many pools at other parks. It’s brand new and enclosed. There is one whole wall of windows covered with plastic overlooking the pond. I’m guessing that stays open during warmer weather. It was heavenly!

This morning temperatures were still in the 60s so I suggested a walk on the beach before the cold front came through. Shortly after we turned around after 30 minutes, the wind shifted to the north and got strong. It also started raining, so the walk back was not too nice. Oh well. The temperatures have dropped like a rock and it’s quite windy out there. Tomorrow is only supposed to be in the 40s. I know all of you up north aren’t feeling sorry for me one bit!

Thanks to blogger Judy for identifying the birds in my last post. They are Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. I found a brochure about the birds of the area, and they are listed as being common and year round residents.

Wow, this entry has become quite long enough!

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Chillin’ in Galveston

Jamaica Beach RV Park, Galveston, Texas

Yesterday we left Houston and drove about 1.5 hours to Galveston Island. We’re staying at Jamaica Beach RV Park right across the road from the Gulf of Mexico.

This is quite a nice park. All of the sites are paved with 20, 30 and 50 amp FHU sites, free wi-fi and free cable TV. They have a brand new indoor hot tub which we haven’t had a chance to enjoy yet. There is also a nice outdoor pool, a mini golf course, and some playgrounds for kids.

Here’s the view from the front of our fifth wheel. We’re in the second row. Notice the nice utility pedestal at the site in front of us. All of the sites have these, and they light up at night.

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It was quite chilly and windy when we arrived yesterday so we didn’t do much exploring. Today the sun was out, the high was 50 degrees and the wind had died down.

We drove to Galveston Island State Park, a few miles from us, and did some exploring. There were almost no birds around. I think it is just too cold for them. We did a little hiking in some of the marshy areas, but didn’t see much. Here’s a look at Galveston Bay from the park.

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Do you see that dark spot in the middle of the picture? I first noticed this dark spot on my camera a few weeks ago. I’ve cleaned the lens, but it’s still there. I think there may be a scratch on my lens. Has anyone else had this happen? I’m wondering if it can be corrected, or if I should break down and buy a new camera. Sometimes I see it, and sometimes I don’t.

I have a Panasonic DMC-ZS3 point and shoot camera. I’ve had it for about four years, and I really like it. It has 12x zoom which comes in very handy, and it fits in my pocket.

After checking out the state park, we drove back home and then walked across the road to the beach. We spent about an hour walking along the sand and enjoying the view. These birds were enjoying the surf.

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P1150201There’s a riding stable next to our RV park. We saw these people enjoying a horseback ride on the beach. There are signs that say no horses, so I’m guessing they must have a special permit. I found a nice shell on the beach. I’ve got an idea to have Kevin drill a hole into it and then I can use it as a Christmas ornament. I’m going to get a thin line permanent marker and write the date and place on the inside edge. We’ll see how it works out.

Almost every house we’ve seen on Galveston Island is built on stilts. I know they’ve had several severe hurricanes here, and I’m sure they know what they’re doing. But, to me it looks like a strong gust of wind will blow them right over. They just look so top heavy to me.

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There’s a pond in the RV park. When we got back, there was a group of birds on the shore. I don’t know what kind they are, but they sure have very bright orange beaks. Maybe someone can help me identify them.

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Tomorrow we’re going to explore downtown Galveston.

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year

2014

Happy New Year to all of our readers. We hope 2014 brings good health, happiness and God’s blessings to all of you!

We spent the entire day Monday at the Johnson Space Center near Houston. We got there early, and it was a good thing. It got quite crowded as the day progressed, but that was to be expected as the kids are off of school. We had a $5 per person discount coupon from the RV park, so our entrance fee was $35.90 for the two of us plus $6 for parking.

The first thing we did was go on one of the tram tours. It took us to the astronaut training center and to Rocket Park. It was quite cold out (in the mid 40s), so riding on the tram wasn’t too much fun. The narration was hard to hear, but it was still a good experience. We saw lots of items in the training center, but they didn’t explain very well what we were seeing.

Much of the current astronaut training focuses on the International Space Station (ISS). There are 15 countries involved in operating the station. Eleven are from the European Space Organization, plus Canada, Japan, Russia and the United States.

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There are lots of robotic components to the space program. Here are just a few examples.

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They are currently developing a robot that has five fingers and can turn the pages of a book without tearing them. It can also type on a touch screen without any errors. Pretty fascinating stuff.

Outside of Rocket Park there were a few rockets on display.

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If you want to see rockets, this is not the place to do that. The Kennedy Space Center in Florida has many more rockets on display. In fact, we felt the Florida tour is much better overall. But, we still enjoyed our day in Houston.

Several years ago private funds were raised to restore and preserve a Saturn V rocket. This is one of only three surviving vehicles built to launch astronauts to the moon during the Apollo program in the 1960s and 1970s. I definitely remember the excitement of those days! That is one giant rocket!!!

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On the tour we also saw this grove of trees. Each tree has been planted in memory of a deceased astronaut, including those killed in the two space shuttle explosions.

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Back at the main building we watched several movies about different aspects of the space program. We sure learned a lot. This is Curiosity, the rover that is currently doing experiments on Mars. It is the size of a Mini Cooper, and can do amazing things. It collects rock samples, heats them up to a gas form and then analyzes the gases so scientists on Earth can date them. Wow!

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We saw a movie about the ISS. It’s amazing to me that fifteen countries can collaborate on this amazing engineering marvel, and our own politicians in Washington can’t seem to get anything done. They’re doing some awesome experiments on the ISS. The lack of gravity has led to some promising results including a possible vaccine for salmonella.

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We watched a movie about the space shuttle program. It was in operation for 30 years. Many of the components of the ISS were delivered by the shuttles. They didn’t explain why the program was stopped. After the movie we toured the cockpit of a shuttle. Can you imagine sitting in there and looking through the little windows at the moon or the earth!

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We watched another movie about the history of the space program. After that movie they let you into a museum with artifacts of some of the missions, including the largest display of moon rocks in the world. They were in a vault. Since it was billed as the largest display, I was expecting lots of rocks, but there were just a few on display. There is a whole building on the grounds of the center that houses many of the rest of them.

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There was a sliver of a moon rock that you could actually touch. There are only 8 places in the world where you can touch a moon rock. So, now Kevin and I have had an out of this world experience :)

We spent about six hours at the center. It was an enjoyable and educational experience, and we would definitely recommend it. We did, however, feel that the Kennedy Space Center in Florida had a better tour.

Yesterday we met up with fellow bloggers Mike and Sandy who write the blog Phannie and Mae. We had a yummy lunch at Blue Water Seafood, and got to know this wonderful couple. Mike just retired this past summer. They have a house near Fort Worth, but have been traveling quite a bit in their motor home. They’re trying to figure out if they want to sell their house and become full time RVers. It’s a tough decision, and we wish them all the best of luck!

Their daughter is expecting their second grandchild any minute now, so they’re staying at a campground in Houston for a month for this blessed event. We wish the whole family all the best, and I’m sure our paths will cross again!

We’ve met a number of fellow RVers through blog reading. It’s amazing what an instant connection we have with these people. Mike and Sandy were no exception. We never ran out of conversation and had so much in common. What a great couple!

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It’s that time of year to reflect on the previous year. 2013 was a great year. The most exciting highlight was definitely the wedding of our son Korey to his bride Cathryn. As great as the wedding was, it was also wonderful to have much of our family together for a couple of days. Another highlight was all of the different birds we saw in Texas in the early months of 2013. We are truly blessed!

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!