Category Archives: Alabama

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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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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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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South to Florida

After leaving Kentucky, we headed south to see family in Florida. We took the familiar route of I-65 towards Montgomery, Alabama.

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A favorite stop has always been the Welcome Center in Alabama. Not many rest areas in the US can boast having a full scale Saturn IB rocket. This is the type of rocket that the crew of Apollo 7 took into Earth orbit. It is the smaller cousin of the Saturn V that took the US to the moon.

Once we got to Montgomery, we took a different route, as we wanted to stop in Crestview, Florida to check out a mail forwarding service we are considering using during our travels. On the way there, we came upon this little gem:

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This is the day use area at Blue Pond in the Conecuh National Forest in southern Alabama. Too bad there wasn’t any camping, as it was ideal!

We arrived in Crestview and met with the folks at My RV Mail. They were very friendly and extremely helpful. Once we finished in Crestwood, we continued on to Ft Walton Beach. When we arrived, we discovered a huge benefit to shoulder season travel: no huge crowds! We drove into a large public lot at the beach and had no trouble at all finding a parking spot. We had a wonderful grouper meal overlooking the gulf and then we walked the beach.

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This is some of the best sand in Florida, and we were happy to see that there were no visible after effects from the BP spill.

Once we left the beach, we headed east towards Leesburg to see family. Diana’s brother lives there, and our niece and her family live in Fruitland Park. Along the way, we discovered the importance of doing a rig walk around. Jim thought he heard a noise on the road, and he noticed the fuel mileage decreasing. We pulled into a rest area and noticed the right front wheel was considerably warmer than the others. Turns out that we had a “stuck” caliper. This happened to us one other time on a different truck, and is a result of the right front wheel catching so much curb slush and salt in the Michigan winters. We found a garage in Tallahassee that got us in and out in a flash. A special shout out to Al Bass and Bass Automotive for the prompt service. This event really drove home the fact that we need to be aware of our rig. A simple walk around at each stop can save a lot of headaches down the road.

Safe travels!