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Glistening White Sands in a Mysterious Basin

After we navigated our way through El Paso, we saw a big yellow sign up ahead…New Mexico!  Diana had been there as a youngster, but I had never set foot in its boundaries.  Officially, it was my 49th state, and it was our 48th as a couple. (Neither of us have been to Hawaii, and Arizona was in our youths.)

I got out of the truck and stomped my feet in a happy dance! It was good to be there!

The branches of the ocotillo cactus were clelbrating along with us!

We set up base camp in Las Cruces on Wednesday, as we wanted to see White Sands National Monument the following day.  

Wednesday evening, we did a little exploring. This is the town square in neighboring Mesilla, where the Gadsden Purchase was signed in the 1850’s.  That transaction was when the U.S. bought southern New Mexico and Arizona from Mexico, mostly so a southern transcontinental railroad route could more easily be established. As a result, the land that Tucson, Bisbee and Yuma sit on are part of the United States.

This building, now called the Billy the Kid Gift Shop, was once the Capitol of New Mexico and Arizona.  It was also where the famous outlaw was found guilty and sentenced to hang in 1881.  He escaped from the jail and was killed later that year.

The temperatures had been steadily rising as we journeyed west, so we knew we needed to get out to White Sands early on Thursday.  Having spent plenty of time on the sand at Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan, we were expecting White Sands to be a lot warmer than it was. 

The majority of the morning was actually a bit chilly!  

We drove the loop road and got out at several stops to climb up on top of the hills to get a better view.

The dunes seemed to go on forever!  This area is so vast, it can easily be seen by astronauts from space.  This national monument sits in a large basin that is bordered by mountain ranges to the east and west.

Despite the barren appearance of the landscape, signs of life were everywhere.  The sand…actually gypsum…was cool to the touch.

The roadway through the dunes was hard packed sand and was well maintained.  As we drove around, Diana read the park literature to me that explained the proximity of the monument to the nearby White Sands Missile Range and Holloman Air Force Base.  Occasionally, unexploded bombs land in the monument, so there are warnings not to pick anything up.  Also, they advise that GPS devices will occasionally be blocked, as well as US-70 being closed for missile testing a few times a week.  Several times, the lady in our Garmin would announce “Lost Satellite Reception”…even though we has an unobstructed view of the sky in all directions.  In addition to that, we kept hearing an occasional boom.  There definitely was some strange things happening out there.  

After visiting the monument, we drove north to Alamogordo to see what was there.  We weren’t very impressed with the town, so we headed back southwest.  We tried to catch a glimpse of the landing strip at Holloman AFB where the Space Shuttle Columbia landed once, even talking a dirt road along the perimeter of the base.  No luck on that one.  The Garmin continued to announce that the satellite reception had been lost….and we heard more booms.  Heading back down US-70 towards Las Cruces, we spotted a sign for a missile museum at White Sands Missile Range.  With all the strange goings on, our curiosity got the best of us…so we headed towards the base. Yes, I realize that we had our fill of plane, ship, and automobile museums on this trip…but this was missiles!

Getting on the base was easier said than done.  We were subject to a security clearance check in a building before we reached the gate, then our vehicle was going to get a good going over.  We chose to leave the vehicle parked outside the gate and walk in.  It was nice to know that we passed the security clearance!

The display area consists of two museum buildings and an outdoor display area.  We started out in the main museum building, which we found to be fascinating.

This is a WAC Corporal rocket.  One of these launched from White Sands in the 1940’s and was the first manmade object to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.

I found this map interesting.  It showed the locations of the Nike missile sites that formed the Ring of Steel around important locations during the Cold War.  I never knew that Detroit and Chicago actually had missiles, nor did I know that the U.S. left so many major cities unprotected. I did know my hometown had a lot of Russian missiles aimed at it though!  So in an odd sort of way, I found this display comforting.

Remember these drills?

The other building at the museum houses a restored V2 rocket.

This is one of the rockets the U.S. captured from Nazi Germany at the end of WWII.  The scientists who developed them, including Werner von Braun, surrendered to the U.S. and were brought to White Sands to assist with our missile program. The knowledge we gained from the Germans and these rockets allowed us to become the superpower we are today.

From there, we toured the outdoor display area.

Remember the Patriot missiles from the Gulf War?  Here is a great example of one.

This is a Fat Man bomb casing…the same as the one that was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan.

And a Nike Missile…the type that protected our cities in the Cold War.

While the display was sobering, it was indeed ‘the real deal‘.  None of it was sugar-coated, therefore we found it to be immensely interesting.  As we were walking around the displays, we heard more booms.  This is an active base and the testing goes on with regularity. We can only hope that it will keep us out of harms way.

We only lightly touched on New Mexico, and we will be sure to see more of it in the future.  Stay tuned as we continue to head west!

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

 

Austin and Westward Across Texas

Once we left the Gulf Coast, we headed back up to Austin to visit with family for several days.  Diana’s cousin Nancy and her husband David, who we went to Big Bend with last year, live in Austin. Diana’s cousin Jerry had spent the winter there after retiring, so we also wanted to see him before he headed back to Michigan. They all went out of their way to show us a great time in this fun town! 

First up on Thursday was a trip with Jerry out to Johnson City to see the 36th President of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson’s boyhood home.

While his family had a fair amount of wealth, they lived simply in a rural Texas style.

The woman in the visitor’s center referred to LBJ as “a little stinker” during his days in Johnson City.  I’ll bet he was.  😉

From there, we drove west to Stonewall to the LBJ Ranch, otherwise known as the Texas White House.

This is still a working cattle ranch.  The road meanders through the property, as do the prize bovine. 😃

The visitor’s center for the ranch is housed in the former aircraft hanger.

LBJ would fly in to the ranch on this Lockheed JetStar that he dubbed “Air Force One Half”.  We found it interesting that he spent 20% of his time in office at his home here in Texas.

The wing on the left with the covered chimney was his fully functional presidential office.  The gentleman on the left was our tour guide.  He told us that a man on a tour he gave earlier in the day was the brother of the Dallas police officer J.D. Tippet, who was shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald after JFK’s assasination.  The ranch is where the Kennedys were to spend the night of November 22, 1963, but that was not to be.  

This was LBJ’s domain. He used his 6’4″ frame…and several chairs that sat taller than the guest seating…to persuade people.  He felt self conscious around the Ivy-leaguers who ruled in Washington with himself only having a Texas teacher’s college education, so he would bring them to his ranch where they were out of their element. He achieved a lot in a short amount of time at this location.  He died of a heart attack in this home at the age of 64, six years after he left office.

That evening, we went to a place in South Austin that Jerry had discovered called the Saxon Pub.  Austin has a tremendous music reputation, and this night lived up to it.  

The headliner was Patrice Pike.  She and her band put on an amazing show.  At one point, she morphed one of her own songs into “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin, sliding into the drummer’s place.  That left the drummer no choice but to beat the wall with his drumsticks.  The audience definitely got their money’s worth!

The next day, Diana and I met up with Jerry, Nancy, and David.

Our destination was the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

The facility had a natural feel to it, and the buildings blended well with the surroundings.  Austin, in general, excels in their use of the local limestone in their architecture, giving the town a warm and inviting feel.  We enjoyed our visit to the gardens, and followed it up with lunch at a local barbecue joint called Salt Lick.  That was delicious!  Later that evening, Jerry’s son Ben and daughter-in-law Sara had us over for dinner, which was even better!

Here is Diana loving holding their son Cole.  What a cutie!

Saturday afternoon we headed over to Nancy and David’s home for dinner.  Their sons Thomas and Robert, along with their wives Marlana and Tashia were there, and also Jerry, Ben and Sara. There we had a birthday party for Sara and Cody Lynn, Nancy and David’s granddaughter.

Here is Cody Lynn showing off her new sticker book we got her.

We thought her brother Hayes might like a present also, so we got him a magnifying glass.  It was a hit!

Cole was enjoying a little lawn time.  😃

Sunday evening, we headed downtown to see one of Austin’s unique phenomenons, the evening bat flight.

When the Congress Avenue bridge was reconstructed in 1980, the gaps under the roadway unknowingly provided an ideal place for bats to roost.  Up to 1.5 million bats reside there by mid summer, and their nightly departure draws quite a crowd.  From our vantage point, we couldn’t see them very well…as it was quite dark when they began leaving. Still, it was a hoot to see the people hanging out to watch.

Monday, we began our journey west!  First stop was the tiny town of Junction to meet up with fellow RV-Dreamers Debbie and Steve!  We set up camp at Schreiner City Park, which allows three days of free camping.  We found this and the park mentioned in our last post on the AllStays app.

It’s pretty tough to beat that site!  Just beyond that shelter is the junction of the North and South Llano Rivers that give the town its name.

As a bonus to getting to see Debbie and Steve (seated behind me), we were able to meet Pam and Red, who are also fellow RV-Dreamers.  What a great evening!  If you are counting, that’s four couples from Howard and Linda’s rallies that we’ve met up with in Junction in the past two years.

The next day we headed to Balmorhea State Park in Toyavale.  This location is getting out there in the West Texas desert and featues a huge natural spring.  In the 1930’s, the CCC turned it into the attraction it is today.

From this panoramic shot, it looks like a normal public swimming pool.  What you aren’t seeing is…

…the natural bottom or the fish!  We did go for a dip, which felt really good.

We also enjoyed watching the roadrunners and the bunnies at our campsite.  

On Wednesday morning, we headed west toward El Paso.  For some reason, Diana and I had pictured it to be a sleepy West Texas outpost…not realizing that the city is home to well over 600,000 people!  With construction on Interstate 10, the trip through town was a bit more than we expected.  😊.  We enjoyed our trek across Texas and are looking forward to what comes next.  Be sure to stay tuned!

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!
 

Scootin’ down the Gulf Coast 

Once we left Mobile, our next goal was to visit friends along the Texas Gulf Coast.  We headed west through the remainder of Alabama, straight through Mississippi and into Louisiana.  Our first night, we stayed at a campground that we had been at the year before; Lakeside RV Park, in Livingston, LA.

We asked for a long site, seeing we had the Escape, truck and fifth wheel.  They gave us their longest site, which also used to be their boat launch.  If I backed up far enough, I’d get a free RV wash!  It was fun to watch the swans, along with a beautiful sunrise the next morning.  Livingston was also where Diana was able to find a begneit last year, so we made sure to include that stop again.

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Lots of powdered sugar on top…yum!

Once we were back on the road, our next goal was Texas!

We certainly wouldn’t want to miss a chance to ham it up for the camera!

When searching on AllStays for a campground, we came upon this gem: Winnie-Stowell County Park.  Free if you don’t use the hookups, or $15 if you do.  Diana stopped at the county courthouse up the street for a permit and was told that the electricity probably wasn’t on yet, so they wouldn’t take her money.  The woman said that if it was, just go ahead and plug in.  The 30 amp boxes weren’t open, but the 20 amp electricital boxes were on, as was the water…and there was a sewer connection at each site.  We ended up having one neighbor…nice!

The next morning, I was conversing on Messenger with our friend Peter about the fact that we were in the same state as him and his wife, Peg.  I told him we were headed to Rockport, to which he responded “Are you taking the free ferry at Bolivar?”.  Our plan was to brave Houston traffic, so I was all ears for an alternate route!

Hmmmm….this sure isn’t the Houston traffic I remembered from last year.   The route took us south out of Winnie and followed along the Texas Gulf Coast.

The ferry gave me a quick opportunity for a rooftop inspection.  A little dirty, but the seams all looked good! 😉

We were glad we took this route, in the fact that we saw an area we might not have otherwise seen.  It did add a few hours to our day, and actually got busy in the afternoon.  A touch heavy on the refineries and too many speed limit changes for hauling a fifth wheel (Peter warned me about that)…but it was still fun to see. 😎. Thank you, Peter!

When we got to Rockport, we went to see our friends George and Grace.

They are seasonal residents at Wild Cherry Resort in Michigan and they own a home in Rockport.  It was nice to see their beautiful home and community!

On Sunday, they gave us a tour of Padre Island National Seashore and we spent the afternoon on the beach.  Diana mentioned to the park staff  that one of her dreams is to earn the right to be a NPS Ranger.

They gave her a little preview.  The look on her face pretty much sums up what that hat represents to her.  😃

On Monday, Diana and I drove down to see the USS Lexington in Corpus Christi.

This aircraft carrier was built in one year, and survived many battles in WWII. After the war, she was modernized several times and ended up serving the US Navy into the 1990’s.

While the deck seemed large by ship standards, it seemed very tiny when thinking of it as a runway for airplanes.  I can see why my dad chose the Army Air Corps when he enlisted in WWII.  😉

Sitting on the bridge felt like I was at the wheel of the ultimate RV!

The hanger deck, located immediately below the main deck, was massive.  It had been turned into a museum, cafeteria and theater.  The crew areas below these decks were left as they would have been used while the ship was in service.  Diana and I enjoyed our tour but both agreed when we were done that we had our fill of ships and planes for awhile.  😉

On Tuesday, we joined up again with George and Grace so they could give us a tour of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

We spotted plenty of wildlife while we were there.  This is a place you want bug spray, good binoculars or a spotting scope, and a decent zoom lens on your camera.

I managed to catch this vulture with the Nikon as it passed overhead.

Grace spotted an alligator, and after zooming in on it, we discovered that there was another large gator next to it.

We also spotted this feral hog.  The refuge is trying to reduce their population, as they are considered an invasive species.  We also saw a couple of javalina, a few whitetail deer, and a multitude of different shore birds. We were about a week late for seeing the Whooping Cranes.

That evening, George and Grace invited us to join them for a Passover Seder at their temple.

With Diana being raised Methodist and me growing up Catholic, this was a new and fun experience for us.  While we were there, we met Grace’s friend Dorothy, who happens to be a Methodist minister and a friend of Diana’s cousin, Nancy. It certainly is a small world!

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We really enjoyed our stay on the Texas Gulf Coast.  It’s very different than what we are used to in Florida.  Next stop for us is Austin to visit with family and take in some vistas we’ve yet to explore!

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

 

Meandering Around Mobile

The day after we visited the USS Alabama, we decided to do a little exploring in Mobile.  We had a few errands to run on the outskirts, then we headed downtown.  Our destination was Dauphin Street, which was touted to have architecture similar to New Orleans.

Many of the roadways are lined with live oak trees, and we enjoyed driving down them on our way into town.  There were plenty of historic homes along the way.

Our first stop was the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. With the cornerstone laid in 1835, this church has been a work in progress ever since.  The parish itself was established by the Bishop of Quebec in 1703.  

During the Civil War, a Union Army munitions depot exploded north of town, blowing in the north facing windows.  Fortunately, the stained glass windows had yet to be installed.

Those were installed between 1890 and 1910 and were a product of the Frantz Mayer & Company of Munich, Germany…a firm that is still in business today.  A 1954 fire resulted in the windows being dismantled and sent back to the manufacturer for restoration.  The parish is currently in the process of restoring the windows yet again.  The twelve main panels are currently valued at $144,000 each.

The towers were completed in 1884 and have withstood several hurricanes.

As previously mentioned, the church withstood the ravages of a fire in 1954 which caused the floor to collapse into the basement.  The interior was completely redone at that time.  The ceiling features both fleur-de-lis and three-leaf shamrocks, which in unison represent the Holy Trinity, and separately the French and Irish heritage of the community.

Another unique feature is this circular staircase in the center of the church which leads to a lower chapel and crypt.

It is here that the remains of all but two of the bishops of this archdiocese are entombed.  One of the others is buried in St. Louis, Missouri and the other is buried under the front portico of the church, a feature for which he was responsible for adding in the 1800’s.

I always enjoy seeing the grand pipe organs in these churches, as my mother was a master at playing them.  She could go from the softest background music to practically lifting the roof off the place in crescendo!  It brought her great joy to play them, and it brings tears to my eyes just thinking about the talent she held.

From the church, we continued down Dauphin Street to the central district.

Not exactly New Orleans, but there were plenty of historic buildings.  Mobile has had a Mardi Gras celebration every year since 1703, which is 15 years before New Orleans was founded.  They even have a museum here dedicated to it.

We stopped and had a hard cider at a sidewalk establishment to toast the day!

Before leaving town, we stopped along the riverfront to see the shipyard across from the convention center.

It is here that they build a very different type of vessel for the U.S. Navy.  These are LCS trimarans, capable of close to shore combat.  We just missed seeing the LCS-10 Gabrielle Giffords, which left for its home port of San Diego earlier this year.  Maybe we will see it out there!   It is interesting to note that the tunnel that Interstate 10 uses to go beneath the Mobile River runs directly under the stern of the ship on the right in this photo.

We sure enjoyed our time in Mobile!  If you ever have the chance to stop and spend a few days, by all means…do so.  😀

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

Bringing out the Big Guns in Alabama

On our trip through lower Alabama last year, as we crossed Mobile Bay, I looked to my left and saw a huge gray vessel moored there.  I later learned that it was the USS Alabama, a WWII battleship.  With the unmistakable 16 inch guns pointing to the sky and the sleek curving lines of it’s bow, I knew that it was a place I wanted to visit when we had more time.

Growing up in Detroit, I have always been fascinated by mechanical things.  It must have something in the water around there. Heck, Henry Ford and I practically drank from the same well!  As a tot, my parents used to take me to Historic Fort Wayne in Detroit to explore the grounds.  One of my favorite things to do was to climb in and on the old tanks and anti-aircraft guns.  There were switches, dials and cranks that did all sorts of things, and I loved playing with them to see what they were used for.  I never gave much thought to what happened on the receiving end of the shells that were fired from those guns; I was simply amazed at the complexity of the machines themselves and the way the systems worked in unison. Tanks were cool, planes were cooler and battleships…well those were downright legendary!  I’ve never lost the desire to see them, as they represent some remarkable seat-of-the-pants engineering that was accomplished in an extremely short time frame.

As part of our trip west this year, we made plans to stay over and visit Mobile and the USS Alabama. 

Construction on this ship began on February 1, 1940 in Norfolk, Virginia.  Two years and fifteen days later, the Alabama was launched.  A mere six months later, the ship was commissioned, and her sea trials were completed by the end of the year.

Beginning her career as an escort in the North Atlantic, the Alabama was soon sent to the Pacific to participate in the shelling of several Japanese-occupied islands.  The ship’s nine 16″ guns were a force to be reckoned with, not to mention the wide array of other firepower that adorned her decks.

Just in case they decide to try them out, I’ll plug my ears.  🙂

There are three self-guided tours on the ship:  red, yellow and green.  We opted for the yellow tour first, as it concentrated on everything from the main deck upward.  The mid-ship tower rises 8 levels from the deck.  If you’ve ever been on a navy ship, you know that the stairs rise nearly straight up and the doorways are short hatchways.  Lots of climbing and bending!  The scent of oil was one of the first things that hit me, and it took me back to my paternal grandfather’s garage in River Rouge, Michigan.  Grandpa B loved working on anything mechanical, and I loved the smell of his shop.  While the Alabama was clean, it still had its 1940’s patina, which made it all the better.

We were amazed at the complexity of the tower, as there were not only guns, but a vast array of navigational systems.

Not only was there the main bridge, which was used during normal operations…

…but there was also a ‘battle bridge’, which was encased in thick armor.  This is where the captain and the lead officers would command the ship from during battle.

Back on the deck, we saw that the rear hatches to the huge gun turrets were open.

We were able to get up inside to see where the shells were loaded into the barrels!

This door separated the end of one of the guns from the area where the gun’s operators worked.  It was tight, stinky and grimy.  Yep…it was great!  One fact I found interesting was that the turrets aren’t attached to the ship.  They sit on rollers and if the ship were to capsize, they would fall out.

But as impressive as the yellow tour was, I knew there was more to see below deck.  

This is the area outside one of the turret housings.  Bunks were put in whatever available space there was.  I was surprised that the ceiling heights were actually a lot taller than they were in the tower.

These are the shells from the big guns.  They traveled a half mile a second and were extremely accurate to 24 miles.  That would mean they would take 48 seconds to reach their target.

Ok…I needed to find the engine room.  On the way down, I saw this:

Oh, my!  More switches!

And the engine room was full of cool stuff!

How did they get this all to work in unison?  Simply amazing.

Back on deck, we checked out the stern of the ship.  This is looking out towards the Gulf of Mexico.  When Hurricane Katrina rolled in here, they used the Alabama as a shelter.  That’s putting a lot of confidence in something that is floating!

Our admission also included a tour of the USS Drum, a WWII era submarine.  There are also several aircraft on display, both inside the aircraft pavilion and outside on the lawn.  There are $2 off coupons (from full price) available at the Alabama welcome center.  Seniors 55 and older get the same discount without the coupon, as do AAA members.  If you are ever in Mobile, make sure you take the time to tour the USS Alabama!

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Heading for the Florida border

After we pulled out of Melbourne Beach on Saturday, we stopped in Summerfield (near Ocala) to see Diana’s brother, our niece, and her children.  We also were able to meet our niece’s new boyfriend and his son.  Sunday was spent at Carney Island Park on Lake Weir, which was absolutely beautiful!  We were so busy talking and watching the kids, we failed to take photos.  And get ready for this shocker; I went swimming in an inland body of water in Florida.  Never thought I’d ever do that.  😉  Back on the beach, I mentioned to our niece Danielle that I try to incorporate the history of a place we visit when I write about it.  We chuckled that even Lake Weir probably had something interesting that had happened there.  Well, that turned out to be an understatement!  I did a little research after we left.  Turns out that in the 1920’s and 30’s…during the Al Capone days in the Midwest…there was a family known as the Barker Gang.  They hailed from Missouri, had moved up to St. Paul, Minnesota and proceeded to carry out numerous major crimes.  Heading up the family was a tough gal named Ma Barker.  J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, described her back then as “the most vicious, dangerous and resourceful criminal brain of the last decade”.  When the law started closing in on them, they found their way to Florida and a house on Lake Weir.  In correspondence to one of her sons, Ma mentioned a legendary alligator nicknamed Gator Joe that lived in the lake.  The FBI found the letter on the son when they arrested him, and soon found Ma’s hideout.  They surrounded the house and ordered them to surrender.  Turns out that only Ma and another son were there.  A four hour long shootout ensued, which resulted in Ma and her boy’s demise.  Supposedly the locals showed up to watch the melee, even going as far as having picnics while it happened.  And this all took place just up the shore from where Danielle and I wondered about the lake’s history.  And..wait a minute.  Gator Joe?  I was swimming in that water!

Monday morning saw us heading for Tallahassee.  Our destination for the day was the Tallahassee Automobile and Collectables Museum.

This facility, located at the junction of I-10 and US-90, is a member of Harvest Hosts.  We got there early enough to visit the museum before their 5 PM closing.  There were severe weather warnings for the evening, so we set up before we went inside.

With well over 100 cars, this place was an automotive collector’s dream.

That wasn’t all they had.  Boat motors, dolls, Steinway pianos, Case knives, brass-blade fans…you name it.

This 1934 Ford school bus was in amazing shape.

They even had a Divco milk truck, which I remember from Twin Pines Dairy in Detroit when I was young.  It turns out there were only 221 ever built.

And remember the Batmobile from the 1960’s Batman TV series?  They had that too, along with some of the cars from the newer movies.

With that all being said, there were a number of things that bothered me about this museum.  I personally thought that even though it had a lot of great items, there was a certain cheesiness to it.  Sometimes less is more, if you catch my drift.  They also wear their politics on their sleeve, which is evident as soon as you start the tour.  No matter what side of the aisle you are on, I’ve never felt it to be a good business practice.  There were racially demeaning mannequins, which we found odd. But the biggest turnoff was the KKK display case near the office.  It really had no place here.  This is obviously one man’s collectibles and not a historical museum, so I question the motive of the display.  We will leave it up to you to decide if this is a place that you want to drop $17 ($30 for two).  

So on to more positive things!  The storm ended up being a long, summertime thundershower, complete with plenty of rain and chain lightning. We pulled up our jacks Tuesday morning and headed west from Tallahassee across Florida’s panhandle. Driving along Interstate 10, we were reminded just how big Florida really is.  

It took us four hours to reach the western border!  When we finally got there, we were greeted with this beautiful sign, which we thought was very nice.  We enjoyed our stay in the Sunshine State and we look forward to our return.  Next up, a two night stay in Mobile, Alabama.  Stay tuned to see what vistas we explore there!

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

Last Days in Melbourne Beach with a Treat!

April 1st is the day that Florida breathes a collective sigh of relief.  With monthly and seasonal rents expiring on March 31, a collective rush of snowbirds head north for the summer.  It was amazing to see just how empty Melbourne Beach Mobile Park gets at this time of year.  We spent our last week scurrying to finish up last minute projects, along with saying farewell to our friends for a bit.

With the weather warming up, we limited our walks of the park to sunset.  We did manage to get some beach time in though, as the Atlantic kept things pleasant on the beach.

Our friends Rod and Mary had us over to their house for a meal of fish and shrimp tacos, which was delicious!  We always have fun with them, and we are going to really miss them this summer.  They will be returning to Wild Cherry, and will be building a rental cottage near there.  These two are always on the go and are a joy to be around.  🙂

In planning for dinner, Rod asked me “Do you want to help set up the air show?”  Melbourne International hosts the annual Melbourne Air and Space Show the first weekend in April each year.  My thought was that we were going to miss it, with us leaving April 1.  Well, air shows just don’t happen on the day of the event; there is plenty of legwork involved ahead of time.  Not knowing what I was getting myself into and….if it involved getting close to aircraft…not really worrying about it, I quickly agreed!  I followed Rod to the airport, jumped in his truck and was on the tarmac before I knew it!  We had a variety of jobs to do that day, but the primary job was to erect snow fence for crowd and debris containment.

We began by putting up about 1/8 mile of fence along a roadway that was adjacent to the taxiway.  That’s Rod in the green shirt.  He told me to watch for rattlesnakes in the weeds.  Lovely.

While we were doing that, we were treated to a practice by the Patrouille Acrobatique de France.  This team puts on a decent show, considering their planes are nowhere near the caliber of anything the U.S. military flies, and are nearing 40 years old!  The team itself is the world’s oldest acrobatic team, originally forming in 1931.

Notice the plane trailing blue smoke is upside down.  He was that way the entire first half of the runway!

Each plane did a quick maneuver and barely missed each other!

After that, we had to wait for one of the U.S. Air Force’s  Lockheed-Martin WC-130J Hurricane Hunters to show up.

You may have seen one of these planes on the Weather Channel, as they routinely fly them into the eye walls of hurricanes to take wind speed readings.  Our job was to put cones under the wings and props, so no one drove any service vehicles into them.  What a hoot to be driving a golf cart around this bemouth, while Rod set the cones.  He said to me “I’ll bet that baby has seen a lot of turbulence.”  I’ll bet it has!  My guess is those flights don’t come with meal service.  🤢

Once the Hurricane Hunters were off the taxiway and parked, our next job was to erect about 1/2 mile of interlocking fence along this taxiway and then attach snow fence to it, again to keep debris off the runway.  There was about 10 of us to start. We were even instructed to not leave any loose zip ties on the ground, as they can wreak havoc on a jet engine should they be sucked into one.   One other thing to notice in this photo…that long black skid mark.  Some plane must have had a wheel lock up and they dragged the tire all the way back to the hanger.  I’ll bet that tire had a flat spot!

When we got to the end of the taxiway, we were told to fence off the other side of it to keep the crowds out of the drainage ditch.  Yep….back the other way for a half mile.  I was using a post driver for all these posts and was pretty beat by the end of that run.

About halfway back, we heard a distant roar.

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds had arrived!  Of course, they just don’t show up and land…

…they treated us to a twenty minute air show!  It certainly made all the hard work worth it.  Thanks for letting me tag along, Rod!

On Friday, Diana and I packed up the rig, leaving just a few things for our Saturday morning departure.  We had to run to town, so I drove her by the airport to show her the Thunderbirds lined up near their hanger.  We saw several planes doing acrobatics, and people were parked all around the perimeter fence at the field.  Pretty cool.

When we got back, we said our farewells to a few of our neighbors, all the while enjoying this one last sunset over the back of the park.  The next morning, April 1, we packed up the rest of our stuff and bid adieu to several more neighbors.  A few other rigs were in the process of doing the same thing.

Before long, it was ‘jacks up’ and exploRVistas was rolling!  Be sure to stay tuned, as we have a lot of new adventures planned. 😎

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

Reflections in the Rear View Mirror

If there is one constant in a fulltime RVer’s life, it has to be the D on the transmission indicator on our dashboards as we head out in the morning. The only time we put it in R to back up seems to be when we are parking our rigs at the end of the day. A scene from the movie Gumball Rally pops into my head where an Italian race car driver named Franco looks at the guy in the passenger seat and says “First rule of Italian driving…” as he reaches up and snaps off the rear view mirror and tosses it out of the car “…what’s behind you isn’t important”.  

And while Diana and I like to examine the history of the locations we visit, there is still that forward movement of wondering what’s over the next hill or around the next bend. Shift to D, turn on the radio and step on the gas. It’s right about that time when life taps you on the shoulder and reminds you that Franco’s statement couldn’t be further from the truth.

Part of our preparations to leave Florida and head west have been to take care of authenticating our mortality, so to speak.  In other words, preparing wills and similar paperwork.  Our home base is the Sunshine State, so this is the place to take care of that business.  Traipsing our caravan across the country in two separate vehicles places a greater need for such documentation, especially when one of us has 14,000 pounds following in close proximity.  Snapping that rear view mirror off would be ill-advised!  So we plowed through the perpetual paperwork (pardon the pun), moving forward with our feet on the gas…just wanting to get it completed.  On St. Patrick’s Day, we had a noon appointment to sign our wills and have them witnessed and notarized, so we went about our morning routine in preparation for the meeting.  That’s when I sat down in my recliner and checked my phone.  There was a text from my former coworker Barb that read, quite simply “Hey. Just wanted to make sure you heard about Richie.”  Well, considering Richie was one of the two people I kept in somewhat regular touch with from work (Kenny being the other) and it wasn’t him telling me what happened to himself, I knew this wasn’t going to be good. So I casually replied “No, what’s up?”, hoping to hear he won the lottery or something.  It was not to be.  A flurry of texts came in from Jeff, Stephen and Barb to tell me he had passed. From what has been told to me since, he had kissed his beloved wife Connie goodnight, took a few steps towards the bedroom and collapsed from a massive heart attack.  62 years old, planning on retiring and looking forward to having more time for golf.  Now don’t get me wrong…Dickey-boy had a lot of fun in his life.  In addition to golf, he loved NFL football and his Detroit Lions, along with classic rock music.  He knew several people in the music industry, played a little guitar, and was close friends with the members of Foghat.

Our VP, Joel, took this tongue-in-cheek photo of us, poking a little fun of the long-standing brothership we shared.  I proudly own that, as we worked side by side for 30 years and had each other’s backs.  He thought the world of Diana, and we indeed are both going to miss him.  The irony of finding out as we were about to sign our wills wasn’t lost on us, nor was the fact that the beach bar we toasted him at was playing classic rock instead of the usual trop-rock.

It dawned on me later that one of the songs playing was The Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps.  Nice song selection, Richie…looks like you just picked up a DJ gig upstairs. 😉

Suddenly, I noticed I had eased off the gas and had slipped the shifter to N.   Instead of thinking about our upcoming trip, I found myself pondering the past.  We were fortunate enough to meet up for dinner with Bob and Pat from Michigan Traveler, and Bonnie and Fred from HappiLEE RVing this last weekend.  Bob and I both grew up in Allen Park, Michigan, and we spent a week together at Wild Cherry, so we have a lot of past in common.  Fred and Bonnie and us met at the RV-Dreams Rally and we’ve seen each a couple times other since, so we have a fair amount of history. Bob and Fred are both retired military, and the couples spend a fair amount of time at the US military FamCamps, so we thought it would be fun for them to meet.

It was good to pause and reflect a bit and catch up on everybody’s lives.  🙂

Just after that, we had some business we needed to take care of up in Green Cove Springs.  We saw that Linda and Steven, our friends we met at Amazon, were very close by.  We contacted them, and they invited us to join in on a lunch date in Jacksonville they had with Howard and Linda, founders of RV-Dreams.  It was those two who’s seminars at a Grand Rapids RV show in January of 2014 provided the final nudge to get us on the road.  With no firm plans to leave our jobs at that point, their presentations caused us to go home and crunch some numbers.  By March 21 of that year, I was retired, and Diana was done at work by July 1.

Our lunch turned into a wonderful two hour conversation on what this journey we are on means to all of us.  Not only was the future discussed, but the past was reflected upon.  I detected a few misty eyes on a couple of heartfelt points that were made.  We were so engrossed in what everyone was saying, we didn’t notice that the servers had turned up all the chairs at the surrounding tables and the restaurant had closed over a half hour earlier.  Yeah, it was that good.  What finally caught our attention was the silence during a pause in the dialogue. The music had stopped playing.  Oops…time to head down the road!

We spent the night in St Augustine and toured there with Steven and Linda the next day.  

They had not been there before, and they wanted to see Castillo de San Marcos, among other things.  

It was fun to experience St Augustine with them and look forward to all the plans we have for the future!

I called Kenny last night.  We reminisced and had some laughs, along with sharing what we are currently doing in our lives.  It was really good to hear his voice again. So while everyone I’ve interacted with over the past week are ready to shift into D to see what’s around the next bend in their lives, life itself provided us with a bit of a lesson that we ought not forget the images in the rear view mirror. 

Even though there is sadness mixed into the joy in our memories, we need to listen to the music of our youth and laugh at the silly pictures in our minds. As George Harrison sang “I look at the world and I notice it’s turning. Still my guitar gently weeps…”

Rock on, Richie…Rock on.

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

Exploring in Florida 

One thing we’ve discovered about being in the town of Melbourne Beach for the winter is the fact it is somewhat isolated from the rest of the state.  That is a good thing, in the sense that it doesn’t experience the crowds that other areas of Florida see.  The downside is State Route A1A is the only way in and out, so we don’t see a lot of new scenery.  That is just fine for many folks, but when your identity is exploRVistas a little break is called for every once in a while.  And when we are able to look for adventure with other explorers, it’s even more fun!

At the end of our last post, we left you with our just having a new suspension installed on our rig.  Taking a tour of Florida would allow us to test out our modifications before we headed west in April. My sister Judy and her husband Dale had recently arrived at Lovers Key near Ft Myers Beach, so we made plans to head that way to see them.  Diana had also contacted her cousin Tom, as we wanted to see him and his wife Lisa.  They live just southwest of Orlando.  Tom suggested that we meet at Disney, as he works for them and could get us all passes for the day. We jumped on this opportunity!

We decided on Epcot, as it is one of our favorite parks.  Diana’s dad actually worked on the construction of one of the Communicore buildings near Spaceship Earth back in the early 1980’s, when Michigan’s economy was in the doldrums.

We sure had a great time with Tom and Lisa!

Disney sure knows how to provide a pleasant atmosphere at their facilities.  If you choose the right day when the crowds are down, they are very enjoyable places to be!

Next up, we visited with Judy and Dale.  We were able to grab four days at Marco Naples RV Resort. It was less than OK, but served its purpose.  The four of us checked out some of the area’s dining establishments, the pool at Lovers Key, and Barefoot Beach.

It’s always fun hanging out with my big sis and her hubby!

From Naples, we decided to take Alligator Alley across to the east coast and head north from there.  That was the first time we had been on that stretch of road since we were kids, so it was interesting to see.  We were impressed with the rest areas that came complete with boat launches. There was one family that had just put in a pontoon boat, and another gentleman was fishing off the dock.  Peering into the water, we could see it was teeming with fish.

And that’s not all it was teeming with.  I guess that’s why it’s called Alligator Alley!

One thing I mentioned earlier was our suspension.  We are happy to report that everything is working tremendously well!  On the way to Orlando, we had our rig weighed by Bob and Sherry Frizzell of RVSEF.  They weighed each individual wheel of the entire rig when it was hitched together, and of just the truck disconnected from the trailer.  Armed with this information, I transferred some weight from the truck to the trailer to balance everything out.  We also now know the proper inflation level for our tires, given the weight of our rig when loaded. Throughout the trip, I monitored the tire temperatures using our infrared thermometer.  Everything checked out great!

This is the second time we have went through this weighing process with RVSEF. The first time was before we hit the road in 2014. It is very important for our safety and the safety of those we share the road with. Just because there is room in a cabinet or drawer, doesn’t mean you are allowed to fill it and haul it down the road. We are constantly aware of our cargo carrying capacity, pin weight, tire pressures, etc. Most fulltime RVers practice the rule that if you bring something new in, something of equal weight has to go. The last thing we want is to blow out a tire at highway speed.

Back in Melbourne, we met up with our friends Fred and Bonnie for dinner.

We had met them at the RV-Dreams rally in 2014, and we caught up with them in Fruitland Park, Florida in 2015. They are in Melbourne for the month of March, so we will be spending more time with them while they are here. It sure is great to see them!

While we were at Disney, Lisa mentioned that she had recently retired from Universal Studios Orlando.  Diana said that we wanted to go there sometime, as she really wanted to see the Harry Potter areas of the park. These books came out while she was teaching and made it cool to read big thick books. Diana read the J.K. Rowling series as a way to stay current with what the kids were excited about, and fell in love with them too. Lisa said she still had tickets available to her, and she offered two of them to us. That was extremely generous, Lisa…thank you!  We ended up going this past Friday and had a fabulous time!

The attention to detail in Hogsmeade was amazing!

Here we are outside Hogwarts Castle.  We must admit, we didn’t do so well on the ride through the castle, as it was an all-out assault on our senses…but we survived!

We rode the Hogwarts Express between Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, which was also very much like the Harry Potter movies.

Diagon Alley itself was also well done, complete with the shops that were featured in the books and movies.

It was fun to watch the children (and several adults) in their capes wave their interactive wands to set the displays in motion.  

In other parts of Universal, we met up with other famous people.

There was Jimmy Fallon…

Popeye and Olive Oyl…

 

…and Diego and Dora the Explorer!  Hey…let’s explore that vista!  We had a tremendous day at Universal.  😃. Thanks again, Lisa and Tom!

In less than a month, we will be headed west. Be sure to stay tuned to see what our next adventure might be!

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

February and future plans

As you may recall from our last post, we had decided to upgrade our trailer axles, instead of just replacing the brakes.  Of course, projects such as these have a way of one thing leading to another. Upgrading from 5200 pound to 7000 axles also meant getting new wheels and tires, as the current axles have 6 lug nuts and the new axles have 8.  When discussing this with our friend Bill (bkamericanodyssey), he mentioned that he and Kelly were going to be upgrading their wheels and tires this summer in New Jersey. Since their current set was what I was upgrading to, they decided to do it now in Florida and sell the old ones to us. They were already planning on coming to our area for a visit. 

They delivered them on Wednesday, February 1, when the came over for dinner. The tires were nearing the end of their lifespan…maybe a year left…but the wheels were perfect. Bill pointed out that we were going to need our spare tire swapped out, as it was also a 6 lug.  Dang…forgot about that one.  That meant buying a tire and wheel.  Not wanting to invest in a new spare tire that hopefully would never be used, we opted to buy four new road tires to mount on our newly purchased wheels and use one of the used tires we bought from them as a spare.  With all the miles we are planning on putting on in the near future, that will most likely end up being the smarter choice.  Take note that this started out as a brake job.  😳  Bottom line is: we are much safer than before the project began.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Thursday was spent on the beach with Kelly and Bill. We then walked to the west side of the park and watched the sun set over the Indian River Lagoon.

On Friday, February 3, I ordered our tires from Walmart.com.  They had a really good sale on Goodyear G614 tires, coupled with free two-day shipping to our door, made for an easy transaction.  Later that afternoon, we headed over to Kelly and Bill’s place.

They were staying at the Melbourne Elks lodge.  They made us a delicious meal of ribs, broccoli, and cole slaw.  😃  We talked so much, we forgot to get photos!

On Saturday, Diana and I drove 2 hours south to Palm Beach Gardens to visit her uncle and cousin.  

Uncle Gus had recently took a tumble and broke his arm, so Jon was down from Michigan to help him out for awhile.

On Monday, Kelly and Bill came over to our place again.  We went for a bike ride around Melbourne Beach, then spent the afternoon on the beach.  Afterwards, we headed up to Bizzarro Pizza for dinner.  Remember the Seinfeld episode about the soup nazi?  Well this dining establishment is affectionately known by the locals as the ‘pizza nazi’, as you need to have your order ready at the counter when they ask, or no pizza for you!  We chuckled when Bill asked what beers they had on draft and the guy taking the order pulled out a decade old draft beer list on a board from behind the parmesan cheese and quickly put it in front of him.  He’s lucky he got a beer.  😉   After dinner, we wished each other safe travels and headed off in different directions. We look forward to seeing them again, down the road.

Tuesday was spent waiting for FedEx to show up with our new tires.  As soon as they came in, I headed into Melbourne to have them mounted on our new-to-us wheels.  The axles arrived on Wednesday and we made an appointment to have them installed on Saturday.  That left us some free time for the week.

Ok, so it’s off to the beach…

…and a corn hole tournament with the neighbors.  😃

I also installed a row of hooks to organize my shoes.  That’s six pairs of size 13’s on there!

Saturday came and we headed off to Ferguson’s Automotive and Marine in Melbourne.

There are our old 5200 pound axles…

And here are our new 7000 pound axles and our new tires!  After they were done, we hooked up and headed one hour south to Fort Pierce.  As you may recall from our last post, we had been given tickets to a John Ford Coley and Terry Sylvester concert at Summer Crush Winery. They are part of Harvest Hosts, so we were able to park our rig right on the property.  That sure cut down on the traffic after the concert, as the only other rig staying there belonged to the musicians!

John led us through the hits from his England Dan/John Ford Coley days and Terry sang several of his songs from when he was the lead singer of The Hollies.  Everyone had a great time…

….including us!

So I mentioned ‘future plans’ in the title.  We’ve been busy planning a summer journey to the west coast!  Our plan is to leave Melbourne Beach on April 1. We are excited to be visiting family and friends in Texas. Next we will do some exploring in the southwest, including some areas of the country we have yet to see. One of the main reasons for going west this summer is to visit Diana’s uncle, aunts, and cousins in southern California. She hasn’t seen an aunt and several of these cousins since she was in the fifth grade! We also have several close friends we have contacted and are planning on seeing in the LA area. We will be exploring several sites in Northern California, including Napa Valley with Diana’s cousin Nancy and her husband David. We had a ton of fun with them  last spring at Big Bend National Park, so we are looking forward to having them join us for this portion of our trip. Then we will be settling in Oregon for the summer. We have two work camping jobs as interpretive hosts with the Oregon State Parks. One begins Memorial Weekend and goes through the end of June. The second one begins July 1 and ends after Labor Day weekend. These are considered volunteer positions where we work about 24 hours a week and are compensated with a free campsite. We will miss our friends at Wild Cherry Resort, but are excited for this new adventure. We will reveal more of the details as we go.  Be sure to stay tuned!

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!