Saturday, March 23, 2013

Georgia On My Mind

Heavy rain is expected all across north Florida for the next two days and so we've hunkered down in a beautiful little campground, Country Oaks, in Kingsland, Georgia. We're less than 30 minutes north of the Florida state line. 

Kings Bay Submarine Base

One of the local attractions at St Mary is the Sail of USS George Bancroft (SSBN-643) displayed at main gate of the Naval Submarine Base at Kings Bay. This very unusual memorial was dedicated in 2000, as part of Kings Bay's celebration of the submarine forces' 100th anniversary. It's quite a site to drive upon this behemoth unexpectedly.

That minuscule figure near the center of the photo is the Wayner

Since 1979, Kings Bay has been the US Navy's East Coast site for the new Ohio-class Trident submarines.  To this day, it is one of only two Trident submarine bases in the world.

The Major Commands at Kings Bay are: Submarine Group 10, Submarine Squadron 16, Submarine Squadron 20, Strategic Weapons Facility Atlantic, Marine Corps Security Force Battalion, Trident Refit Facility and the Trident Training Facility.

Submarines that call Kings Bay Home Port are:   Guided Missile  USS Florida (SSGN-728) and USS Georgia (SSGN-729).   Ballistic Missile  USS Alaska (SSBN-732), USS Tennessee (SSBN-734), USS West Virginia (SSBN-736), USS Maryland (SSBN-738), USS Rhode Island (SSBN-740) and USS Wyoming (SSBN-742).
Of course civilians just don't get to stroll onto military bases these days, so from the gate of Kings Bay we made our way to the waterfront of St Marys where we visited (dogs in stroller) St Marys Submarine Museum.

St Marys Submarine Museum

This is where you go to get a sense of what life aboard a submarine is all about.
St. Marys Submarine Museum is located right on the riverfront and offers visitors the chance to get up-close and personal with the history and operation of America’s most famous submarines.
St Marys Submarine Museum has one of the most modern working periscopes in the world.
My big kid took a look and ordered "Fire One!" but nothing happened.
That's an actual  Honolulu newspaper ... yellowing but the real deal.
St. Marys Submarine Museum is the largest museum of its kind in the South and it's the fifth largest submarine museum in the country. Nearly all the WWII Patrol Reports and their command history files are housed here with documents previously classified -- most unseen by the average person or submarine veteran.

This door is extra important to a guy from Tennessee (home of President James K Polk)
St Marys Submarine museum features shipboard equipment including a ship’s control panel, ballast control panel, working periscope, a WWII dive suit, and other items from around the world including two items from the sunken Russian submarine Kursk,which I didn't realize were there until later and I'm sorry I missed. 
WWII dive suit
 A ride through town gave us a couple more historical treats too.
An interesting Georgia factoid.
One of several very old buildings. 
At least two are churches.
We've been here at Country Oaks three nights already.  Considering the pleasant surroundings, it's likely we'll stay on for a few more days.  There's no pool, spa, tennis court, activities or even a coffee get together, but the quiet serenity makes it a perfect place to relax after the torrential rain subsides on Monday. 

Country Oaks
Relax and exhale.

Fly Me To The Moon -- On A Surf Board!

From our relaxing, slow-paced days in North Fort Myers we made a mad dash to Prompt RV Screens in Winter Haven before they closed at 4 p.m.  Prompt RV Screen is not open on Saturday so to avoid staying around Winter Haven all weekend, we'd have to get there Friday. By mid-afternoon we had picked up our new 2-piece awning screen and a set of windshield wiper covers and were leaving town. 

After spending one night in central Florida, we whiled away a few days around Titusville, visiting Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral, touring the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and driving around Cocoa Beach.

The Titusville, campground we had selected was completely full so we fell back onto our second choice in nearby Mims.  While the common parts of the campground were nice with newish buildings, tennis courts, hot tub and wilderness trails, the campsites in the section where we were parked were black sand and very little grass. Bummer. We'd stay just two nights spending the days touring.

Most of what we wanted to see was, naturally, along the coast and mostly around the area of Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.  On the way out, we passed the cruise ship terminals.

Port Canaveral.  One Disney and two Carnival cruise ships were in port.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1963 as an overlay of NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center. Consisting of 140,000 acres, the Refuge provides a wide variety of habitats: coastal dunes, saltwater estuaries and marshes, freshwater impoundments, scrub, pine flatwoods, and hardwood hammocks provide habitat for more than 1,500 species of plants and animals.  We mostly saw birds as we drove through and this one was the best!

An eagle is perched in the tree. Center of photo.
Taken on a drive through Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

I was glad to have my new Nikon  14x wide optical zoom camera in the car.
Got this shot without the tripod -- steadied my elbows on the car door.

From the brochure I saw there are plenty of hiking trails at the Wildlife Refuge here.  Among them:
    • Cruickshank Trail is a 5 mile loop around an impounded marsh at Stop 9 on the Black Point Wildlife Drive.  .
    • Wild Bird Trail is a ¼ mile trail located at Stop 3 of Black Point Wildlife Drive. Two wildlife observation blinds provide views of different marsh habitats.
    • Scrub Ridge Trail is a 3/4 mile loop routed through oak scrub and is a good place to see scrub jays and other scrub species.
    • Pine Flatwoods Trail is a 1 mile loop and follows fire breaks though pines and oak scrub.
    • Oak and Palm Hammock trails provide ½ mile and 2 mile trails through hardwood hammocks.

Haulover Canal, in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, has a nice Manatee Observation Deck. We stopped by for a look-see... but alas! not a single sea cow anywhere.

So Wayne just snapped this picture of me in front of the sign.    Ho hum.
It's been well over 25 years since we've been on this part of Florida's coast and I did not remember it fondly for some reason. Can't remember why... it could be something as silly as bad weather. 

When we were here way back then, the Ron Jon Surf Store was big -- but nothing like it is today.  The gargantuan building itself is fantastic with beach sport statues adorning the outside.  We didn't go into Ron Jon this trip.  
Kennedy Space Center's Visitor Complex has also changed dramatically since we were here last.

Even this sign is new since we were here.

The entry gates into the KSC complex.

A huge wall fountain commemorates a JFK statement about space exploration.

A familiar sight -- the NASA globe. 
General admission information suggested allowing 6-8 hours to tour Kennedy Space Center.  Wayne's never had much interest in the space program so he wasn't excited at the prospect. We did not tour the facility but likely will another trip to or from south Florida because it's something I'd like to do. Of special interest to me, though I don't know why, is the Astronaut Hall of Fame.  Having lived in Huntsville, the Rocket City, Alabama and visiting Huntsville Space and Rocket Center many times, I'm an easy touch for the $75 fee to take a guided tour of KSC.  And oh yes, RV parking is $15 a day--cars a mere $10.

From here, we expect to stop again between St. Augustine and Jacksonville for a refresher course in that part of Florida.  See ya there.

Monday, March 18, 2013

On The Road Again.

Seven weeks and four days after we arrived at Seminole Campground in North Fort Myers, we pulled out. The full-timer's itch must be scratched again.  But we won't soon forget the winter we've had here -- made possible by the wonderful people we've had the good fortune to have met. 

In addition, we've done something we'd never done and have vowed we'd never do: make advanced reservations.  But indeed we did reserve space here at Seminole Campground for next winter.  I'm sure next November and December will be anxious months for us because by then, we'll be so excited to rekindle these friendships.

The last few days have been just as much fun as had been the previous weeks.  For the first time since an outing with the children, when they were teens, we played 18 holes of Putt-putt Golf.

Ken, Nancy, Me and the Wayner
I swear Ken is just an overgrown little boy as he can always find something fun to do.  This day, we waited until late afternoon for the ride over to play at Castle Golf. What a blast!

Here, I'm trying to give Ken some putt-putt pointers.
Voila!  See how easy! 
And here Nancy gives Wayne a lesson

Nancy hit two hole-in-one shots.
This expression shot was taken when she saw the first one.

What?  Me cheat? No, Ken did though.
Then on March 12 we forced ourselves to have yet another birthday party. Oh darn!  More cake and ice cream!  This birthday party was for Joyce and it was a special labor of love for us as Joyce's twin sister passed away and we wanted to be sure we honored the tradition while celebrating new friends.

Joyce with her birthday flower pot.

We cooked steaks on the grill and everybody pitched in.

The birthday girl was transported everywhere that afternoon in the specially decorated birthday carriage.
Our final night with the West Side Trailerhood gang was a celebration for our departure the next day. As a special surprise, Linda treated me to the first professional hair cut I've had in a dozen years!   I'm still not real sure if they were sending us away happily or in sadness as the side-splitting laughter continued as they cooked on the grill, made special dishes and desserts for us to gorge upon... again.

Difficult to see here but Wayne has a big Cheetos puff in his mouth, making a big orange smile.

The big Cheetos puff crumbled leaving just an orange stained smile.

Farewell dinner.  Burgers, Dogs and brats, vegetables, mac and cheese and all the fixins.

Such sad faces on Dale and Linda.
They're going to miss us I'm sure.

Around the farewell campfire.
The campfire lasted until late in the night. Hours, probably, after we had gone to bed and fell asleep. 

Next morning, just before we pulled away, we ate again. This time, it would be Nancy's family's recipe of baked oatmeal with coffee, juice and fresh fruit.  Holy cow, it was great.. again.  With Nancy's permission, I'm going to share her family's recipe here:

Wagner Family Baked Oatmeal

2 eggs beaten
1 c milk
1/2 c oil
1 c brown sugar
1 t salt
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t cinnamon
3 c quick oats
1/2 c raisins (optional)
1/2 c chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
Mix first seven ingredients. Stir in oatmeal, raisins and nuts.
Pour into a 9x13 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.
Serve with warm milk.
Repeat the next morning.

We said our goodbyes around 10:30 Friday morning and of course, I cried.  These are special friends and I'm going to miss them.   

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Eat At Joe's!

This post is tardy. Real tardy. As a matter of fact, I had completely forgotten two memorable events until I was working on a more recent blog story and ran across the pictures. 

A few weeks ago, Ken and Nancy's friends, Jean and Ron, were wrapping up their week long visit when they decided to invite the West Side Trailerhood gang for dinner at Joe's Crab Shack in Fort Myers. A few carloads of us hauled our bottomless pit stomachs along for eats.  Gee, that's some surprise, eh?

We found this sign on Joe's Crab Shack door to be a bit comical.
Seems the restaurant is open Sunday through Thursday from 11 to 12
They are open on Friday and Saturday, however, from 11 to 12.  Hummm.

Let's see now.... going around the table clockwise, there's Wayne at the opposite end (12 o'clock), then my empty chair, Mark, Janie and Ron.  In pink is Jean, then Ken, Nancy, Joyce and Charlie.  All are looking a bit weak from hunger.

A variety of seafood was ordered and most everybody enjoyed their dinner.  One notable exception, however, would be Janie, who was not amused at the difficult and time consuming task cracking crab legs for the tiny morsels of meat inside.  Unfortunately, I didn't get to capture her frustrated expression as she tossed the crab carcases into the bucket provided for that purpose. Nancy, who sat across from her at the table, told me about it later.  

Janie and Ron all dressed up for their messy hard shell seafood meals.

Ken has crabs.  Yes, he does.
Wayne ordered a shrimp dinner and I selected crawfish ettoufee and both were excellent.  I should point out that Joe's Crab Shack had $2 hurricane's the night we were and they were really good too.

Wayne's fried shrimp dinner was oohhh, yum, good.
Accompanied by a $2 hurricane.

Crawfish fried and crawfish ettoufee.

Peach cobbler with ice cream

Being the kind who just itches to break the rules, Mark insisted he take his beer right to the edge. We made a special trip outside... to the restaurant porch for this one.   

Yes, he did stretch his right arm past the sign that strictly prohibits that action! 
Later that week, I had the thrill of holding Ellie Mae, a Capuchin Monkey who lives in the campground.  Anxious to get a picture of her, I ran outside with my camera.  Who knew she would leave her pop's shoulder to come visit with me?  How exciting! 

I think Ellie Mae is contemplating leaving home in this picture.
These next few pictures of Ellie Mae and me are displayed in proper time sequence.  Notice I look nervous in the first one.  Yes, I am a little bit afraid of monkeys.  Someone standing close by took my camera to snap these pictures.  

Ellie Mae is very soft, warm and lightweight.
You don't hold Ellie Mae -- she hold you.

A closeup.

Completely unrehearsed, folks. 

Introducing Antoinette, the great! 
Wild animal trainer!

Wait!  She's going to choke me to death with her tail!

Now don't mess up my hair, Ellie Mae!

As unique as she is and as strange as it seems, Ellie Mae is not the only unusual animal guest in and around our campground.  One photo I didn't catch was the colorful parrot who rode through the campground on the handlebar of his owner's bicycle.  He was always talking as he passed. 

Holly talks... a lot.  She calls her mom, Cheryl, by name.  That's weird.

This is Tyler, a Newfoundland with a neurological condition that causes his rear legs to bend in such a way that when first seen, he can easily be mistaken for a bear.  Yes, I thought he was a bear.

We call this big pig "Petunia".
Petunia lives in the yard of a house up the street from the campground. 
Yes, this pig is a pet.

I forgot this fellow's name, but it was in the campground for awhile too.
Sadly, we had an pet death in the campground during our stay.  Maxwell, a 14 year old Schnauzer, became ill suddenly and upon advice of the attending veterinarian, was euthanized.  A few weeks later, Max's parents found Joshua.

Deb and little Joshua. 
Our time at Seminole is winding down and we'll be saying some sad farewells soon.  What a fun time we've had here but our feet are starting to get the travel itch again....