Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fountainebleau State Park in Mandeville, Louisiana

On the northshore of Lake Ponchartrain, in Mandeville, Fountainbleau State Park Campground was our next stop -- for just two nights, November 28 and 29. This is a 2,800 acre park right smack on the shore of the lake and the sunsets are worthy of watching.  Here's the story of this park: In 1829, the founder of the town of Mandeville, Bernard de Marigny de Mandeville, built a sugar mill here on his huge sugar plantation.  Ruins of the old sugar mill are still standing.  More memorable to me than the sugar mill remains, are the beautiful live oak trees all throughout the park. There are hundreds of huge, old trees draped beautifully in Spanish moss.  Sadly, I didn't get any photos because of the storms that moved through and prompted our early departure.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday and the 2010 Iron Bowl

Today, we surprised ourselves with an early Christmas gift:  A 32" flat panel TV.  It's the fourth set in the motorcoach but we needed it to use as our "mid-ship" set so we can watch tv more comfortably from our recliners. It's lightweight enough to secure when we're traveling.

An important factor in making this purchase decision is today's all-important IRON BOWL.  My prediction:  Auburn will defeat that small tuscaloosa, alabama college handily.

Wayne is making chili for the big game.

Thanksgiving Etouffee: Walking Through the Bayou; Looking for 'Gators

Our 2010 Thanksgiving dinner was homemade shrimp etouffee and it was d-licious!  We had two helpings each and had just two cooking pans to wash. That's important since we don't have sewer connections here at the National Seashore Campground.  After dinner we took a nice long walk to search for wildlife.  We had seen an alligator and some large turtles as we drove in yesterday. We want a closer look...
Getting ready to go for the daily walk

One of the bayou areas inside the park

Along the nature trail.

Looking for 'gators

So, let's see a 'gator already!


This ole 'gator is a regular here. He's about 10' long.

Eating his Thanksgiving meal. Whatever it was -- it was large!

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Davis Bayou at Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Mississippi's District of the Gulf Islands National Seashore includes the Davis Bayou Area which is between Pascagoula and Biloxi. The bayou is on the mainland while the Gulf Islands National Seashore itself is, of course, part of the barrier island group off the coast.

Driving over we drove west along I-10, through Mobile. We saw two large alligators along the roadway. When we arrived here at the National Park, the weather was mild and sunny, but rain is due to arrive within a few days, followed by much cooler temperatures. This campground is small, some 50 campsites. We chose one that suits us and got settled in early afternoon.

Wednesday was a day of exploration as we drove west along the beach highway, going through Biloxi and Gulfport. We passed the area of Keesler Air Force Base and saw more of the "supposed" oil removal all along the beach area. I say "supposed" because every worker we've seen so far has been sitting in a chair. Still more plastic bags everywhere. Equipment strewn all over the place and still more porta-potties.

We traveled this road back in the mid-1990's and it has changed dramatically since then. This is the work of the hurricanes. There are numerous sites along the way where houses used to be but are not longer. Some lots still have brick or concrete steps, driveway entrances and other signs that homes had been there. Many lots are for sale. Surprisingly, there are still many beautiful old live oak. Some have been damaged, you can tell, but they are still there. Tree stumps that remain since hurricanes blew some trees away have been worked into carvings and look nice, but have a strange look and made me sad as I do love trees.

The home of President Jefferson Davis is along the beach road -- it's still there but we didn't stop to see it. Because of the fence along the roadway, I couldn't take a photo either.

Lighthouse at Gulfport -- decorated for Christmas

Mississippi Gulf Coast Highway
Entry to the National Park

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Naval Air Station at Pensacola

Yesterday we went into Pensacola to visit the Naval Air Station and see the National Naval Aviation Museum.  Here are a few pictures:

Gate to the Naval Air Station

Entering the Museum

Museum Foyer.  It is massive.

These guys are here to greet you at the museum entry.  (Not the fellow in the yellow shirt)

The squadron patch section has thousands of patches.  Uncle Roy's squadron patch is on the top row. Second from the right.  Blue diamond background, red wings and the skull smoking a cigarette (50 caliber machine gun).  The skull's eyes are landingofficer flags.  Wayne knows all this stuff -- I don't know why he knows it, but he knows it. 

Our tour guide was Oz Nunn. A retired Kentucky businessman.  He served in the Air Force.
It's anybody's guess why he's so interested in the Navy.

An original German Fokker
This museum is so impressive and would inspire anybody to join the Navy.  There's an IMAX Theatre, Flight simulations, a cafe, guided tours (inside and out), gift store, U.S. Coast Guard display, P.O.W. exhibit, WWI, Sunken treasure film, library and research center, Top Gun Air Combat simulators, Space exposition, South Pacific, Aircraft Carrier, Flight Deck, Dirigibles (air baloons), cockpit trainers and a kiddie area here.  We had a great time here. 
This huge thing was one of just four made in the mid-1940's. It is the NC-4 Flying Boat and it is original.  It is the first plane to fly across the Atlantic.  It's the largest wing span I've ever seen -- 180 feet across, I think. 

The USS Cabot Flight deck.  The boards Wayne is standing on are the actual planks taken from the USS Lexington. 

Blue Angel jets.

It's impossible to describe the size of this facility.  There are four full-sized jets hanging in this atrium.
That's Wayne standing just in front of the huge American flag. 

I really liked this display.  It's the newest one in the museum and was added because so many people were confused at the ever evolving Navy emblems.  There's a reason behind each variation, we were told.

Enough said right here.

Wayne's favorite is always the amphibious planes.

We were fortunate to get to see these  Blue Angel planes fly over while we were there.
The weather is still good, but the humidity is high and rain is possible. We've decided to move along tomorrow morning.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ft. Pickens at Gulf Island National Seashore - Gulf Breeze, Florida

From Dothan, Alabama, we drove southwest to our next destination, Ft Pickens Campground along the Gulf Island National Seashore in Gulf Breeze, Florida.  It's just off the coast of Pensacola.

The barrier island just off Pensacola is a remarkable sandy strand with sparkling blue water and bright white beach.  The single road going down the center of the strand of the National Park looks prehistoric. There are virtually no people in this area. The vast sand drifts and dunes along the roadside gives the impression of traveling through snow. The single two-lane road actually appears to be below sea level.  There are few people, plants or animals.  There are armadillo, pelicans and osprey. Reportedly cottonmouth snakes are here -- fortunately, we haven't seen any. 

The weather when we arrived here is about as near perfect as you could want.  Sunny with daytime temperatures in the low 60's -- 50's at night. The landscape is sparce, just a few scrubby liveoak, palmetto plants, spanish moss and odd sand-growing weed. It's great. There are nearly 200 campsite here. Here's ours:

The view from our bedroom window.

Our patio area is full of holes dug by armadillo.
They ignore people.

The first day's sunset as seen from our dining table.
The Gulf Island National Seashore was established in 1971 by Congress to provide recreation and to protect wildlife, the salt marshes, historic structures and the barrier islands. 

Fort Pickens itlslf dates back to 1829, completed in 1834 and used until 1947. It was held by the Confederates in the Civil War. The first full day, we spent some time touring Fort Pickets itself.

Ft Pickens is the most fully accessible old fort I can remember visiting.
It was last used duringWWII.

We also spent some time looking around for signs of the dreaded New Horizon oil leak from last summer.  What we found was lots of seemingly deserted areas full of canvas topped gazebos, chairs, coolers, equipment and tons of plastic bags.  Plastic bags everywhere.  And an uncountable number of portable toilets and plastic, portable handwashing stations.  There were too many little plastic flags on stuck into the sand to even think of counting.  The beach itself looks perfectly normal -- but nothing else does.
All I can figure is those sand bags tied to the port-a-potty is hold them down in heavy wind...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Our Uninvited Guest

White sitting around the campfire at Hardridge Creek Campground, we received a visitor.  This Tom cat came by one day and became very friendly with us. So friendly, in fact, that he rarely left our site.  He was particularly cozy to Wayne, who is NOT a cat lover.  Tom even sat outside the coach door when Wayne was inside -- waiting to rub against Wayne's legs. 

Waiting for Wayne to come back outside...

Wayne and his ever-present friend... Hardridge Creek Tom.
 Yes, I wanted to take Tom with us when we left, but I knew that cat had a wonderful life there in the campground.  Everyone there feeds him and he is completely unincumbered.  What a good life that cat has.
Why would I want to disturb that?

What Is It With Me and Firewood?

My father's family, in Canada, were a hearty bunch of lumberjacks.  Maybe that's what possesses me.  Then again, mother was from the rural south -- in the country and firewood was a "must" during her childhood.  I like the outdoors: wildlife, shady forests, the smell of trees in spring and fall.  Whatever causes my love to scavenge for firewood, it is persistent when we're in wooded campgrounds.  I simply can't resist walking through the woods and dragging long pieces of dry wood to the campsite. Once I get onto a firewood search, I catch myself watching for good pieces of wood even when we're driving along a country road. 

Adding to my firewood obsession is Wayne's Canadian Boy Scout training.  He taught me the proper method for starting a good campfire and now I don't even need him to get the fire going! I do it myself!  Additionally, we've bought a battery operated Black & Decker chainsaw that's light enough for me to use.  And yes, I do use it.
Wayne drags a small tree back to the camp for me.

He's so sweet.  Helping sort my firewood.

All this makes me think about a Seinfield (sitcom) episode in which Jerry Seinfield talks about getting obsessed with cardboard boxes when you're preparing to move.  You look for good packing boxes everywhere and pretty soon, you can't stop looking for them. I've experienced that with moving boxes and it's the same with firewood.

As for the campfire itself -- it absolutely mesmerizes me and I can sit around a campfire all day and until well after dark.  Not in hot summer, mind you -- but anytime the sky is overcast or the temperature is below 70 degrees.

However, the smell of a campfire is not appealing to me and I dislike the odor my campfire makes in my clothes.

Inverter Repaired and Returned - All New Batteries Too

Magnum Energy was fantastic. Our inverter was repaired and returned in one week!  Of course, a $200+ overnight shipping charge (each way) made the turnaround time seem shorter.  Under the circumstances, living in the coach, it didn't seem such a wildly extravagant expense.   At any rate, we got word yesterday that it was expected to be delivered by 11 a.m. so we broke camp and made the short 28 mile drive to Camping World on Friday morning, arriving right around lunchtime, of course.  

Wayne has decided to avoid future battery power frustration by simply replacing all six batteries:  Four large ones power the coach ($140 each) and two more support the diesel engine ($135 each).  The charger we bought to keep our batteries powered has indicated our old batteries just aren't what they should be.  Nothing is more frustrating that having dead or dying batteries.  And these are, after all, about four years old now. We bought all six of them and had them installed while the inverter was being reinstalled.

We were cleared to go around 5 p.m. We stayed on for yet another night in the Camping World parking lot.  We plan to pull out by 9 a.m. tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Fort Rucker and Ozark

Ft Rucker, Alabama is the home of US Army Aviation, the Army's helicopter training facility and the Air Museum.  We took the 40 mile ride over  from Abbeville yesterday to check it out. We had some rain the evening before and the forecast calls for possibly high winds and thunderstorms today so we'd rather not be in the forest in those weather conditions.  It makes for a good day-trip and the sun was out all day -- no rain. Ha!

We arrived in early afternoon and stayed several hours at the museum.  I took these photos
Entry to the U.S. Army Aviation Museum

Entering Ft. Rucker

Caribou was the Army's fixed wing troop transport during the Vietnam war.

This small, circular Vietnam Memorial room bears the names of all Army aviators killed in the Vietnam conflict.  Interestingly, the museum giftshop sells Army gifts made in Vietnam.  Pity.

The infamous Hughes TH 55. 
It's the reason Wayne left the Army's primary helicopter school at Ft. Wolters.
Looks safe enough, eh?  No.

This Army I helicopter served US presidents until sometime during the Ford administration.
Momentos from the Presidential Helicopter days...

All folded up!

Shinok CH-47 cargo transport

That clear enough for you?

You don't want to see this happen --

Memories of 4077 M.A.S.H. from the Korean war.

We ended the day going back through Ozark, Alabama to look for the church building my dad work on sometime in the mid 1960's.  All I could remember about it was that it was a new building for the Church of Christ in Ozark, it sat on an angle on slight rise on a highway. My brother and dad worked there all summer -- mom and I came for many weeks during the summer months too.  Unable to locate any Churches of Christ with the GPS, we stopped in at a motel, thumbed through the yellow pages and retrieved the address of the only building it could possibly be. We drove to the location and I recognized it immediately.  This is it.

What a great thing to find!