Friday, February 27, 2015

In California!

As a recap, we left Florida on Tuesday February 10, heading for California.  We had two planned short stops along the way: New Orleans to experience a bit of Mardi Gras, and Choudrant LA for the repair of our awning. 

The remainder of the journey was unplanned other than having a destination of Fontana California for an appointment at Alfateers for a few small jobs on the Alfa.

On straight driving days we have averaged over 350 miles, but we have also taken one detour to visit friends, plus a half day of driving when we stopped at the Desert Museum near Tucson, and a stop in Los Algodones for a new pair of glasses for Craig. 

We've stayed at a variety of RV parks.  The one in Tucson was a bit flaky. Sometimes Passport America parks are.  But then if all you are doing is sleeping overnight you don't need amenities, and the 50% discount makes a doubtful location more tolerable.  

We also stopped at two casinos: Quechan near Los Algodones and Fantasy Springs near Indio.  Both were free with no hook ups.

We are now up in Fontana and show a total of close to 2800 miles this month.  

Wow!  Too far, too fast!

But we want to get to San Diego and spend time with our daughter and grandsons as soon as our short list of repairs are finished.

The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson is mostly wonderful outdoor cactus gardens.

On Wednesday we enjoyed the museum's "Free Flight Raptor Show," which was a narrated description of birds flying from trainer to trainer. 

The first birds were small ravens, which are not raptors. The ravens swooped back and forth over the crowd of people.  

They are not tame, but they do fly between trainers who I'm sure are giving them treats.

While they flew the narrator told us about them and some of the other birds that call the desert home.

The next two birds to fly were a great horned owl followed by a falcon.

The falcon flew across the viewing area a few times and then took off after a red-tailed hawk that was not part of the park's raptor show. 

The narrator emphasized that the birds had the freedom to leave or do their own thing, and that this falcon was chasing what he considered an intruder into his territory.  He did not return to the trainer, but not to worry because they would find him via a tracking device if he did not return.

Later, when we were walking thru the enclosed aviary we noticed this bird, on the outside of the net roof.  
We think it was the resident falcon.

There were several hummingbirds feeding on wild flowers in the gardens. Craig caught this one as he took a rest.

This is one of my favorite cacti, of the many Craig photographed.

As we left the museum, we were amused by this sign.  

Do not feed the coyotes Ritz crackers?

They really are dogs at heart, aren't they?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Surprise This Morning

After three good days of driving we decided to take a couple of days off and so took a 80 mile detour north, 

to connect with Karen and Steve who were camping at Elephant Butte State Park, New Mexico.  We have followed each other's blogs for several years and enjoyed a visit with them at their home in Wisconsin last July.

We spent a pleasant afternoon sitting out in the warm sunshine gabbing away. Then about four or five, as the sun snuck behind the building clouds, the temperature began dropping and we decided to move the get together into our Alfa. They also have a terrific motorhome. It is an older Safari that Steve has kept in prime condition.

Rather than dig out our two extra dining room chairs from deep in the bay, they brought their two chairs on over. The men cooked the brats on the grill and Karen brought a couple of yummy sides.

We sat around, drinking wine and exchanging stories for several hours.

This morning when we opened the shade we were surprised by this:


 You can't quite see it, but there is a delicate hint of dawn color in the sky and except for some rabbits I was the only one out and about. 

The temperature was 22° and the water hose was frozen, but everything will start to melt as soon as the sun comes up a bit more.

My footprints in the snow, with Karen and Steve's Safari and our Alfa.

Good morning world, now we don't feel left out of the National Weather scene.  It should get up to 55° this afternoon and all will melt away.

Friday, February 20, 2015

On The Road To California!

We left the New Orleans area on Saturday and drove north to Choudrant, Louisiana to our favorite Alfa fix-it guy to have our awning repaired and remounted. We have been stepping over the 18-foot rolled up canvas ever since the disaster in November.

The Florida repair guys estimated $2400. They said several parts needed to be replaced that we felt might be OK, so we took the job to Ronnie at Albritton's. We ended up paying about $750 for parts and $285 for Ronnie's labor! We did have to wait around for several days to get one part, but overall it was well worth waiting until we got there instead of having the Florida crew do it.

Now we are on a long haul to California. We have driven 560 miles across Texas so far, and have another 400 to go.  We will drive as many days in a row as we are comfortable with, then take a break. Our next appointment is not until March 2nd at Alfateers. They are experts in Alfa bodywork and have all the trim and parts. We need to have a hinge on one of the bay doors adjusted, some bottom trim replaced, and I want an additional overhead light installed above the swivel chair. Alfateers will have exactly the same lights as we have elsewhere in the rig.

Then it will be a quick drive down to San Diego for a long visit with our daughter and her family. 

I will keep reading all of your blogs, but I doubt if I'll have much to write about myself.  Well maybe, I'll start writing some of the thoughts and opinions I have instead of just "this is where we are and this is what we are doing..."

Monday, February 16, 2015

Mardi Gras Parade and the French Quarter

Mardi Gras lasts from Kings Day (January 6) to Fat Tuesday (February 17 this year), with the week before Fat Tuesday having many parades and activities. The biggest parades are on the last Saturday through Tuesday.

We had an appointment to get our awning repaired in northern Louisiana on the 16th, but we were still able to get a taste of Mardi Gras by going to a couple of parades and visiting the French Quarter.  Each Mardi Gras parade is organized and built by a group of people called a "krewe".  We saw the parades of the Druids and Krewe Nyx.

We watched the parades from a "family friendly" area southwest of the French Quarter. As we waited for the first parade to start, there were many children running and playing in the street. They really seemed to be having a great time and we enjoyed their antics. While we ate our street food supper, we watched a New Orleans police woman give a cuddly bear to a boy who looked about twelve, and a ball to his younger sister. I had to smile when I watched the boy give the bear a hug when he thought no one was looking. 

I like parades, and this one did not disappoint me. There were horses, bands, fancy cars and motorcycles, dance groups, and of course the floats.

The floats were large and very colorful.

On each float there were numerous costumed Krewe members who tossed beads and trinkets to the crowds.

Merikay with the first few beads she caught

I was excited when I caught a few beads from the first few floats that went by. Everyone reaches out and calls to the tossers in hope of getting their attention. It is more fun if you feel like they are tossing to you and not just into the crowd.

This is a picture of most of the beads we caught. We also caught a little alligator and a little dinosaur which will join our other stuffed pets on the Alfa dashboard. I'm not sure what we will do with all the beads. For now they are in a bag in the bay.

One of the floats had Hollywood lights that shown up into the night sky. I thought it was neat the way they illuminated the budding trees overhead.

On Friday we went to the French Quarter. One of our first stops was at a mask store. I really wanted one, but couldn't find one that was compatible with my glasses, so I settled for a Mardi Gras hat instead.

We couldn't help snapping a picture of this banner on sale at the same store.

The streets were full of people. In some places you could hardly move. We watched as the Talladega College marching band wove its way through. Most of the buildings were decorated with garlands of green, gold, and purple, and costumed people tossed beads and such to the crowds below. 

Brightly colored wigs were quite popular. These ladies were tossing beaded bras in addition to beads.

Many of the locals were in costume.

I've seen guys just like this one on the wharf in San Francisco. He looks like a statue until he moves!

This was a real statue, one of several famous jazz players in the little courtyard where we had a candy snack.

You may notice I have my purse snugly under my jacket. With so many people around I try to avoid being a victim. Life is more fun that way. When we were at the parade, I think I discouraged a pickpocket that was moving in on Craig. It was just a feeling, the way he looked, and the way he quickly moved away when he saw I was closely watching as he moved towards Craig's wallet pocket. I am not paranoid, just careful.

I was also careful when a man handed me an open can of beer that was fizzing in a strange way. Although Craig was with me, he was not obvious because he was still inside the shop we had just stopped to look at. Was the beer drugged? Did this guy expect to mug an old lady who was alone? Who knows, I smiled, walked on and got rid of it at the next doorway. If I was younger I would think date rape drug, but at my age I thought purse snatcher. 

By the end of the afternoon we had walked up and down Bourbon Street and mingled with the crowds enough, and didn't really feel like staying for another parade. 

As we drove back over Lake Pontchartrain, the sun was setting. The clouds were a delightful pastel pink in the baby blue sky. The water was a lavender color that was a mixed reflection of the sunset colors. Quite beautiful.

I've been to New Orleans before and have been to the French Quarter at a less hectic time. I'm glad to see that life goes on and that Hurricane Katrina did not end the tradition. We didn't seek out any areas of the city that had been damaged, but we did get a glimpse down a few streets and housing complexes that were still boarded up. We also saw areas that were being rebuilt.  

Life goes on. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Fontainebleau State Park and WWII Museum

We arrived at Fontainebleau State Park a little after 3 PM on Tuesday  It was only 206 miles, and the roads were smooth and the traffic light.

Because our time here will be short, we decided to take a walk after we got here to explore a bit of the park before dinner.

We thought we had seen some very big live oak trees in Georgia and Florida. But the trees at Fontainebleau were even bigger.

Notice how tiny Craig is just to the right of this giant.

In California there has been an epidemic of Sudden Oak Death Syndrome since the 1990s that has killed many of the Live Oaks in the state.   I really hope it never infects the oaks in the American South. These huge trees are a national treasure.

Fontainebleau State Park is on the northeast shore of Lake Pontchartrain.  I remember when the levees failed during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. I knew it was a big lake, but I didn't realize just how big it really is. According to the internet it is 40 miles long and 25 miles wide.

No wonder it destroyed a lot of homes when it flooded sections of New Orleans.

The late afternoon light was very interesting, so I made a companion image our new header. 

There was enough daylight left to take a short walk on a couple of connecting trails along the lake. One was called the Alligator Marsh trail, but it was too chilly out for any alligators to be out of their watery homes. Craig was glad because it was getting dark and he didn't want to step on one by accident.

We drove the 24 mile causeway across the lake to New Orleans on Wednesday with a plan to visit the WWII Museum and take in a couple of evening Mardi Gras parades that were going to be held near the Museum. Although the parking fee was high, $20, we were able to do both without moving the car.

If you are an American History buff, this museum is a must-see. I rather like one subject museums such as this because they can go into depth in a way a multi-subject museum cannot.

To be honest, we did not take many pictures that were suitable for a blog. 

But this one shows an exhibit I found interesting if not a bit disturbing in its somewhat distorted attitude.

Each of the lines in the three cases was a line of little soldiers.

This is a closeup. Each of the toy soldiers represented 1000 troops. As you can see in the top image, the US armed forces were vastly outnumbered by both the Japanese and by the Germans, much less by their combined numbers.

What I found disturbing is the failure to show the English, the Australian, Canadians, and the other countries that participated. I suppose this is the US WWII museum, and these other forces were included in other exhibits, but this made me feel like we stood alone, which of course we did not.

Because we got a bit of a late start, we did not have time to go through all of the museum.  

I can't help wondering if in fifty years there will be a similar museum detailing the wars in the Middle East. 

Hopefully it will show a peaceful resolution and we will see the Muslims as people and the radicals as the evil enemy, just as we now see the Germans as people and the Nazis as the devil's henchmen. 

I hate to include these thoughts in a cheerful travel blog, but personally I think it might be time to send our young men and women to fight and die. The radical Islamic movement will not go away and will not stop its terror, any more than Hitler would have stopped on his own.  

But we cannot, should not, and will not do it alone. It may be a regional problem, but it will take the countries of world to solve it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Fort Pickens Campground

Three days (four nights) is just not long enough for us to get the flavor of an area, nor explore as much as we would like, but we try.

Does Craig look like he is enjoying retirement?

I  snapped this picture of hm as we were setting out for a walk on Saturday afternoon. To my eye, he sure doesn't look like a 70 year old!

After great sleeping weather overnight, the sun warmed the day to an almost perfect temperature. I started with a jacket, but took it off after a very short time. 

Our three mile hike was through the scrub and freshwater-swampy areas of the island. There were lots of blackbirds making their squeaky hinge call that brought back memories of springtime in Wisconsin.

We have seen tall grasses before, but none that quite matched these. If I'm 5'7", the grass had to be 12' tall.

There are many trees that died from hurricanes that went through this area. Some of them support osprey nests. This one seems to have been taken over by a heron. 

Even when we don't see animals on our walks, we keep an eye out for signs like tracks in the sand and scat.  This was quite fresh and right in the center of the path.  

We wondered what critter left it. No dog would have eaten that many wild berries. It seemed way too big to have been from a  raccoon or coyote.  Could it possibly have been a bear? We know that Florida has bears in many of its parks and that the Florida black bear is much smaller than some of his northern relatives.

We asked a volunteer if there were bear in the park, but he said no. Noting that all of the mammals had been wiped out in the last hurricane. I said, perhaps a bear had come back, but he questioned where the bear would have gotten the $1 for the bridge toll!

Our day ended with a walk over to the beach to watch the sunset.  

Another good one!

Sunday was a tourist day.  In the morning we spent some time exploring the old fort. 

They are a bit hard to see on this picture, but stalactites  are forming where the water is seeping through the lime on this structure. The white on the right side is a curtain-like formation similar to what we have seen in caves.

In the afternoon we headed over to Pensacola to visit the National Naval Aviation Museum. 

Blue Angels Planes

AWACS Airplane

So many great planes and stories about them.  This is a must see for anyone interested in the history of military aviation.

The Pensacola Lighthouse is just a short distance from the museum, and is open to the public. 

So of course we had to go see it and climb the 177 steps to the viewing platform just below the light.

The views were amazing on this clear warm day.

We met a few young Navy men as we climbed up and back down. They all looked so fit and were very polite. Some were there with their girlfriends. 

Climbing up wasn't as hard as I expected. There were window openings every thirty steps and each had an area that was large enough for us to sit for a few minutes and rest.

I took the two-handed approach to coming down.  Not the fastest, but I felt safer.

We ended the day by going out to dinner at a Red Lobster, using the second of our gift certificates we had gotten from our grandsons for Christmas.  Thank you boys! Grandpa Craig enjoyed a large Lobsterita, and I was the driver for the ride back to the park.

On Monday, I would have liked to have just stayed home and rested my legs that were sore from the lighthouse climb, but we hadn't yet had a chance to walk on the beach. We didn't go far, only about two miles round trip, but we enjoyed the sun and the surf.

Footprints in the sand

I know this is a long post, but I don't want to forget any of these unique and pleasant days at Fort Pickens. Since it was a National Seashore campground we got our space for half price with our senior discount pass. It had power and water, with a dump station. A great place for only $13 per night.  It is on my list of places I would like to come back to.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

We Continue to have Good Luck

Our next reservation was in Louisiana  but we had a four night gap between when we were leaving Manatee Springs and we could check in at Fontainebleau.  I had figured we would just wing it and find a place as we went, but we had a nice conversation with another RV couple while at the Springs, and they suggested we look into stopping at the Ft. Pickens campground in the Gulf Island National Seashore. I did and it looked like a great half way point, so I went online and got a reservation for the four nights we needed. 

The 337 mile drive is about as far as we want to go in one hop. We were on the road by 9:30 and arrived at 4:00. We gained an hour with the time zone change. We haven't had to buy much fuel for the Alfa this winter because we haven't driven very far. We were delighted to fill up for $2.49 per gallon. The Alfa is a diesel.

Craig and I have what we consider a very good system of shared driving responsibilities. We both drive the Alfa. If we have to go less than 100 miles, Craig usually drives all of it. For distances over that, we trade off so neither of us gets road tired. 

When it comes time to back the rig into a spot, we find it works best if I drive and Craig gives me directions on the walkie-talkie. Like most couples, we do what works best for us.

We have learned to look carefully for obstacles when the spot is tight. But sometimes things sneak up on us. This usually happens when the space seems wide open. 

After successfully backing into our spot at Ft. Pickens I looked around. 

EEK! I had almost hit a good size tree branch with the back corner of the Alfa. I definitely could not have seen it from the driver's seat, and Craig had not seen it because he was on the driver's side. 

Hopefully, writing about this "almost" impact will help us remember to watch all eight corners of the rig, and take a better look for potential dangers before backing in. Even when it feels like we have lots of room!

We were LUCKY once again!

After getting settled I noticed the sun was setting, and I went out to the road. I saw a boardwalk to the beach just across from the entrance of our loop. Sure enough, it was just a short walk through the dunes to the water.

Ahh! A beautiful sunset indeed! We are looking forward to some nice walks here in the next few days. Fingers crossed for nice weather.

And thanks again for the recommendation!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Manatee Springs

Things did not work out as we had planned for our brief stay at Manatee Springs.

After we got settled in our space on Monday afternoon, we took a walk over to the Springs area of the park. It was not far and a trail led from the campground right there.

Even though it was only about fifty miles north of Silver Springs it was quite a bit colder. I guess the edge of the cold storm front that was pummeling the Northeast was affecting the area. There were very few people at the springs area and the concession and boat rental counter was closed. 

We noticed this bird on a dock at the edge of the springs. We also noticed what looked like an upwelling of water, and Craig thought it was the action of a spring, but then two divers emerged. It was a surprise! 

It seemed to me the water was not as clear and shallow as it was at Silver Springs. In fact it looked black except for a few places where the springs were pumping out a steady flow of fresh water.

The channel the water takes from the spring to the river is called its "run".

There was a nice boardwalk that paralleled the run with trees standing in the water on one side, and a view of the run on the other. 

The water looked very dark, almost opaque.  It also looked like there was a bit of current running. I was surprised at how short it was, and how quickly it reached the Suwannee River. The river itself was also very dark, and I decided I did not want to try canoeing there. When we canoed at Wekiwa we stayed in the run and it was quite long and had almost no current. 

Craig may have been a little disappointed, but accepted my reluctance.  We will canoe again, just not here. 

Scary river

When we were standing at the lookout platform at the end of the boardwalk, we noticed hundreds of vultures in the sky.

They were also roosting in the trees along the river's edge.

Waiting for a canoe to tip over?

On Tuesday we decided to take our trip down to Weeki Wachee Springs to see the mermaid show. But we didn't quite make it.

A few days before we had the tires rotated on the Jeep at a dealership in Orlando. As we drove toward Weeki Wachee we began hearing a road noise. It kept getting louder and Craig pulled up to a Tire King store in Crystal River. All four tires looked good. 

While we were waiting for a Craig checked his phone and discovered there was a Jeep dealership a few miles away so we went there instead.

We drove there with the noise getting worse by the block!

The dealership mechanic said we were lucky to have made it, because the wheel was about to fall off.  It seems the guy who rotated the tires did not tighten the lug nuts on one tire, and thus the problem. 

Oh My!

We felt lucky we had not had an accident, and the fix was an easy one.  It did cost over $200, but I talked with the Orlando dealership service manager, and expect a full reimbursement check ASAP!

By the time we were back on the road it was too late to get to a show and we returned to the campground.

On Wednesday, we took another stab at it. This time we had a nice drive, but as we pulled into the Mermaid Show's parking area there were people coming out and leaving. We were told there was some sort of "technical problem" so the shows had been canceled for the day.  

We did have a really great lunch though at a funny little roadside
place called Becky Jacks. I had a fantastic fish sandwich, and Craig had some fish tacos. The portions were so large that we skipped dinner that evening because we were both still full.

We have often found very interesting food by using Google on our Android phone. Technology makes travel so much easier than it was years ago. 

If we were on vacation, these things might have seemed to spoil our time, but I think as I remember these days I will feel the luck in not losing a wheel and the pleasure of finding a great meal in a crazy little place.

Life is good. Enjoy what you can.