Sunday, January 31, 2016

RV Travel it's our First Anniversary

Today January 31, 2016 marks our one year anniversary of becoming Full-Time RVer's ,living and traveling this great country within a 40' motor home.

In that first year we have traveled about 7550 miles up&down the eastern part of the USA and Canada. 
We started from Glens Falls, in Upstate New York and we have stopped & visited 17 states, through 3 time zones  They include Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. 
Also we visited  3 Provinces New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island in the Canadian Maritime. 
We have visited Acadia National Park in Maine and spent two weeks visiting the Bay of Fundy and Fundy Provincial Park in New Brunswick, Canada. On our travels we have enjoyed many State Parks, Historic Forts, Battlefields, and Lighthouses  We have walked many Historic Roads in beautiful cities like Philadelphia & Washington DC following the steps of our forefathers as they forged a group of states with differing cultures into a nation. 
This year's travels were not without some problems and technical difficulties.
Bonnie and I had to learn  how to live in a 400 sq ft home with wheels. We were happy to downsize (mostly) but less than 400 square feet with a basement presented a few challenges and took both of us sometime to adjust. We both had to lean how to live simply, think about where to put things and how to access them and to plan ahead. Storage is just one issue to work with. 
We have learned to slow down and to travel moderately. Our year has not just be a big Vacation. While we are loving traveling and moving our home from place to place we have found that we need camp days too. Days when we just stay home and be us.
We had some problems with both the motor home and pickup truck. We needed help with the big issues like replacing the leveling system and some body work after a driveway mishap.  We are learning how to fix small problems and to attend to monthly maintenance on the motor home ourselves. 
All things said we are happy with our decision to live on the road.
We are looking forward to finding new places to travel and explore all across this great big beautiful land we call the "USA". 
Here is to the next great year of our on-going journey across America. Westward Ho!

Create Your Own Visited States Map

Saturday, January 30, 2016

New Orleans

Barge on the Mississippi from the Algiers Ferry.

Pensacola behind us we headed west through southern Alabama and Mississippi on I-10 right into New Orleans. That bridge was fun in a big rig!
We stayed in Belle Chasse at the Naval Air Station so had to cross the bridge, and pass through a tunnel to get there. It was our first experience in NOLA and we quickly learned that everything relates to the water. The Mississippi and Lake Pontchartrain and , the levee's. It was quite and education. 
It;s hard to believe the amount of power these tugs have to move those barges against the current.
Belle Chasse is on the West Bank. We could have driven into New Orleans but it was more fun to take the 15 minute ferry ride across the Mississippi from Algiers. It dropped us off right at Canal Street near the Aquarium and the Casino. It was an easy walk to the French Quarter and the Business district where you can pick up street cars to more remote locations.

Of course we stopped for coffee!
We walked right up Decatur street to Cafe DuMonde for cafe au lait and beignets that we carried down to Jean Lafitte National Historic Park to breakfast. We were sitting in the sunshine watching the horse drawn carriages and local artists when a military band marched by. It happened that there was a ceremony taking place to commemorate The Battle of New Orleans (War of 1812). The battle itself was to be reenacted the following day at Chalmette Battlefield complete with cannons and campfires.

Wrought Iron railings and balconies everywhere.

We loved the architectural details but the artfully exposed brick was a little much
 Our bellies full we started to walk Chartes and Royal and honky-tonk Bourbon and all the short Saint named streets in between. We admired gardens and were happy to see roses and pansies blooming. We looked up to see wrought iron railings and balconies full of greenery.

French Quarter Antique Store

 The buildings were small with beautiful architectural details. We stopped to listen to buskers and even met our grandsons favorite transformer Bumblebee!
Gas lights

Pat O'Brien Hurricaines
Fred had visited New Orleans 45 years ago when he had just gotten out of Air Force basic training. One of his favorite and most talked about memories was visiting Pat O'Brien's for Hurricanes, their signature rum filled cocktail served in a Hurricane lantern shaped glass. We stopped at Pat O'Brien's and each enjoyed one while spending an hour of conversation in their enclosed garden with live jazz drifting over from the restaurant.

My brother in law Eric had talked of his visits to Orleans and shared how much he liked Aunt Sally's Pralines. Fred loves his sweets so we wandered over to St. Charles Avenue to visit the store and sample some of those pecan filled delicacies.

On our second day in New Orleans we had a long wait for the ferry. The water was rising and the Mississippi was running very fast. There were murmurs of closing early and we were warned to make our return trip before dark so not to get stranded in the city. The water levels were nearing flood stage and the Corp of Engineers was planning to open the Bonnet Carre Spillway to divert water into lake Pontchartrain the next day.

Interactive dog tags were part of the museum experience.
Our goal on that second day was to visit the National World War II Museum. We started our Museum tour by watching Beyond All Boundaries  a 4D movie experience of the war that changed the world. The museum produced film narrated by executive producer Tom Hanks was a moving experience and a great introduction to the exhibits. When we bought our tickets to enter we each received a dog tag shaped like a credit card. We activated the dog tags at a computer terminal on board the train that started the tour. Fred and I were then able to follow our soldier through then museum and listen to his story at terminals in the exhibits that represented the battle theaters he was involved in. My soldier/pilot was Jimmy Stewart. 

Fred in the Museum's welcome Center
The museums exhibits are extensive and fill five pavilions. Our favorite was the immersive experience of Campaigns of Courage: European and Pacific Theaters.  
Road to Berlin had us walking through actual battle settings like bombed out villages and falling down walls and caved in rooftops. The glimpses of the lives torn apart was heart breaking. The sounds were realistic and the air conditioning on high to emulate cold winter conditions as we walked past snow covered jeeps and encampments. There were many video screens playing actual news reel footage of the time period. My favorite part of the exhibit were the kiosks with personal information about a particular combatant or support person. They made history come alive.  We were pleased to realize that so much personal history of the war had been preserved through an Oral History project that recorded interviews with combatants. 
Road to Tokyo had us travel a different path through Pacific Islands and Southeast Asia where soldiers fought a war in an environment totally foreign to all they knew, struggling against tropical diseases like Malaria, Typhus and Dysentery.

One of the Personal Stories along the way
We highly recommend the Museum Experience. If you are fortunate enough to travel to New Orleans put it on your must see list.
This building on the way to mothers need some windows.

We made it back to the ferry before dark after a quick stop at Mother's to pick up sandwiches to go. Our return trip was uneventful and the Ferdi Specials were delicious.

To see more photos of New Orleans visit our Flickr Album.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Pensacola Lighthouse

Pensacola Lighthouse stands guard over Pensacola Pass, that place where the Pensacola Bay meets the Gulf of Mexico. It is a beautifully maintained tower and keepers quarters located on board NAS Pensacola.

When we arrived at the lighthouse we entered through the old carriage house which has been restored and serves as a Welcome Center and Museum store that is operated by the Pensacola Lighthouse Association. We were greeted by a very friendly and knowledgeable member who explained that part of the old Keepers quarters has been restored to it's mid 1880's condition and contained many artifacts of the lighthouse as well as exhibits about local Civil War history and the history of the Naval Air Station. She encouraged us to explore the grounds visit the museum and climb the tower. We discovered a lovely board walk through the scrub and over the dunes to a quiet beach that would be perfect for a picnic. It gave us a chance to see the lighthouse tower as you would view it from the water, a black and white sentinel above the trees with a flashing white light every 20 seconds.

Pensacola lighthouse as seen from the beach.
Note the beautiful open grill work on the stairs
The winding 177 step staircase is open metal work and the climb is worth the breathtaking view. A warning for those with a fear of heights.  I also suffer this phobia and that open staircase was a challenge. From the open catwalk below the lantern room you can look across the pass to Santa Rosa Island and Fort Pickens. You can also see the Navy yard, Perdido Key with the old site of Fort McKree to the West and the Pensacola Skyline. Looking down at the Base you will spot the hangers and support buildings for the Blue Angels, the National Naval Aviation Museum and Fort Barrancas. There is a Docent stationed on the catwalk to answer questions and indicate points of interest. He told us that if you happen to visit when the Blue Angels are flying you can see them at eye level as they take off from their nearby runway.

The Light at Pensacola has served since 1824, with a 1 year break in service during the Civil War. The original tower was replaced with the current 150 foot structure and a brighter lens in 1859.
It's daymark is white at the bottom and black on top.
The first order Fresnel lens was automated in 1965 and remains an active aid to navigation.

View of Santa Rosa Island from the Lighthouse Catwalk. 

The Pensacola lighthouse has stood through many disasters both natural and man made. It has suffered 2 lightening strikes with damage to electical components due to a faulty lightening rod. It  also survived an earthquake in 1886 and has withstood the fierce winds of numerous Hurricanes.
During the Civil War the lighthouse was abandoned by Union forces in January of 1861 when they moved across Pensacola Bay into Fort Pickens. The Confederate Army took control of Fort Barrancas and the Lighthouse tower. They removed and hid the lens leaving the Pensacola Pass dark until December of 1862 when the Union Army regained control after the Battle of Pensacola. The tower had been struck by a half dozen cannon rounds but none penetrated the outer wall of the lighthouse.

Does the history of the Pensacola lighthouse live on?  psychics, clairvoyants and Sci-Fi's Ghost Hunters think so. It is called one of the most haunted lighthouses in America. The Pensacola Lighthouse Association even offers a ghost hunt tour complete with EMF monitors for those interested in a Paranormal experience. We passed on that option.

If you have an opportunity to visit NAS Pensacola and the lighthouse you might want to stop at Fort Barrancas, administered by the National Park Service as part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and the National Naval Aviation Museum. Those that do not have military ID's can still visit by making a reservation at the Lighthouse or Museum and showing a picture ID at the bases security gate.

Pensacola loves it's Pelican statues, this one can be found behind the carriage house.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Pensacola at last!

Sunset from the pier at Blue Angels RV Park.

Pensacola! We finally made it on December 1. Fred and I were supposed to spend the month of April in Pensacola last year but a lengthy wait for parts for our leveling system left us in Ocala for 7 weeks and we missed the opportunity. I have been looking forward to it. My father served in the Navy and our family spent 2 years here in the mid 1960's while he was on "shore duty". I recognized nothing of course but it still was fun to explore the area.

9th hole at the mini golf course.
We stayed at the Blue Angels RV Park, part of the military Fam-camp system for NAS Pensacola. The park is divided into 2 sections. We chose Battleship row because of its full hook up sites with nice level concrete pads.  Our site #4 was near the water with a view from our deck and living room window of Pensacola Bay. The other camping area is closer to the Marina but is more rustic and offers only water and electric sites. My favorite Florida birds Brown Pelicans were plentiful at that end of the park.
The recreation area has 2 disc golf courses and a military themed miniature golf course. We were happy to find that the roads were well tended and gave us miles of places to walk and ride bikes.
Some people find it too windy here but we didn't mind, except for the night that it tried to tear the awning off of the coach. Days were warm and mostly sunny while nights were pleasant but cool. There is a large Commissary/Base Exchange complex near by and we had no problem finding anything that we needed.

We spent some great time visiting The Pensacola Lighthouse and Fort Pickens.
Al Fresco at the corner of Palafox and Main in downtown Pensacola

A day in the downtown area on Palafox Street visiting coffee shops and visiting with other travelers was fun too.. We were delighted to find a corner lot at Palafox and Main that features 4 classic Airstream trailers as food  trucks and a palm tree shaded outdoor seating area. It is called Al Fresco and seemed to be doing a brisk business. Pensacola loves it's Pelicans and we saw many painted ones throughout the city, much like the horses in Saratoga Springs.

One of Pensacola's colorful  Pelican statues.

 We discovered Perdido Key and the FloraBama a fun community oriented bar located on the border of those 2 states, where you can find everything from afternoon Bingo to Honky-tonk music. We are told you can attend Sunday services there and on Wednesday afternoons there is a potluck lunch and open mic. We enjoyed our visit there. Having drinks and sitting on their outdoor deck on a Sunny afternoon we were treated to the sound of the waves and the sight of 3 parachute sky divers land on the beach in front of us. Then the Blue Angels flew by.

Fred on the beach at the FloraBama
We noticed many flags flying and learned that Pensacola is nicknamed The City of Five Flags since the banners of 5 nations have flown there. They include Spain, France, England, The Confederate States of America and the United States.

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay. Fred and I found the Panhandle area to be friendly and welcoming. The area is easy to navigate and  the beaches are plentiful. You have to love that soft white sand. Our 3 week stay gave us time to do projects. Fred set up a workshop on the deck and created hockey equipment drying racks for our grandsons. He caused quite a curiosity in the park as other RVers stopped almost daily to ask him what the heck he was making.  I set up the sewing machine and made crochet project bags and hook holders.  We had a great 3 weeks before heading North for the Holidays.
Pensacola and Perdido Key are on our list of places to return to.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Montgomery, Alabama

The Alabama Capitol with marchers foot prints leading to it's staircase.

Montgomery Alabama is a great capitol city. We were only there for a day found and it to be friendly and walkable. Parking was easy and we found a variety of things to see and do.
Fred and I drove into the city on a workday Monday and expected to find a lot of traffic. We must have timed it right because we were able to get right in to the Capitol building and found metered parking not far away.
Alabama's capitol building is beautiful. White Alabama marble, a grand staircase and a stately rotunda make  an impressive structure that is fitting for a Government building. The building (circa 1851) is designated a National Historic Landmark  as the first Capitol of the Confederacy.  Statues of Jefferson Davis and a Confederate monument grace the landscaped lawns which were originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, author of New York's Central Park and North Carolina's Biltmore Estate.
Those steps were the end point for Dr. Martin Luther King's 50 mile march from Selma to Montgomery to petition then Governor George Wallace to end racial discrimination in the state of Alabama. The crosswalks in Dexter Avenue leading up to the capitol are painted like the soles of the many shoes that marched with him.

Dexter Avenue Baptist Church

We took a walk down Dexter Avenue and passed the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church where Dr. King led the congregation in the late 1950's.

Entrance to The Alley

Railyard Brewing Company
We walked down toward the river and found the site of Rosa Parks bus stop and the Hank Williams Museum before ducking into Alley Station an entertainment district that groups together bars, restaurants, and live music in an environment that provides indoor and outdoor seating away from street noise and busy sidewalks. it was like a little oasis from the downtown heat. The Alley is near Riverwalk Stadium the city's minor league ball field and that's where we found Railyard Brewing Company where Alabama brewer Jamie Ray produces craft ales in a great environment. Railyard offers a  pub style menu and a variety of brews from a Pale Ale to a Double Black IPA. The bar is in an interesting old building that was once part of the warehouse system for the railroad. The atmosphere is dark and cozy with exposed brick, old wood beams and railroad memorabilia that included a reception desk shaped like and engine. Fred sampled and enjoyed some of their offerings.

We had wandered a long way and made our way back up to the Capitol giving our Fitbit's a workout. No trouble recording those 10,000 steps this day!

First white House of the Confederacy

Our last stop was the First White House of the Confederacy. The building is Italianate Style and is furnished in period pieces from the 1850's to 1860's.  It was built in 1832 by a relative of Zelda Fitzgerald and leased by the Confederate Government to serve as the first home of it's President. The house features many artifacts of the Confederacy and Jefferson Davis's presidency as well as a research library.  It was an interesting walk back in time to see the house fully furnished as it would have been in 1861.

The Wright Flyer

We enjoyed our day in Montgomery and headed back to base. Along the way we stopped at a red light on Maxwell Blvd.and spotted an airplane mounted on poles in a small pocket park. It was a replica of the Wright Flyer.  We discovered that the Wright Brothers first flight school was located in Montgomery at the area that is now Maxwell Air Force Base. While the flight school was only in Montgomery for a year it is considered an important reason for the development of interest in aviation in Alabama.  I love learning this kind of history. It made our day and we were happy to discover another facet in the history of American Aviation.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Tuskegee Airmen

Control Tower at Moton Field

Montgomery Alabama provided a short lay-over on our way to Pensacola Florida. We stayed in the Fam-camp at Maxwell-Guntner Air Force Base just off of I-85. 
While in Montgomery we discovered Moton Field the National Historic Site dedicated to the Tuskegee Airmen.
Hangar 1

Tuskegee University was chosen in 1941 as the aviation training center for the group.  The Institute had a history of dedication to aviation and with President Roosevelt's endorsement became one of a select few private American institutions to own, develop and control facilities for military flight instruction. It was the only primary flight training center for African American pilot candidates during WW II.
This listing Gulf sign looks like it has been there since 1941

Fire Supplies building
Classes were taught at the University but flight training took place at Molton Field. Part of the space is an active Municipal Airport. We were lucky enough to watch sky divers on the day of our visit.

Beyond the active runways much of the old airport still stands and the hangers and outbuildings remain. The tale of these first African-American Pilots, navigators and bombardiers  along with their trainers and support teams has been preserved here as part of our National Historic record.
The 2 hangers at the field showcase a museum that brings the stories of the airmen to life through films and a National Parks oral history project that captured their stories.

 The Tuskegee trained squadrons served as bomber escorts over Italy and Germany during World War II and had one of the lowest loss records of all of the fighter groups.
They were known as the "Red Tails" because of the 4 fighter squadrons that flew with the 332nd Fighter group that flew the P-40 and P-51 Mustang with the tails painted red.

The Tuskegee Airmen were remarkable in their achievements both at War and at home. Officers fighting segregation within our borders staged a nonviolent protest at the officer's club in Freeman Field Indiana that brought notice to the Military's need to desegregate.
It was not until 1948 that the armed forces were directed to provide equal opportunity to all individuals.

Ghost structures represent buildings which no longer stand

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Stone Mountain Georgia

Stone Mountain Monument to the Confederacy
Washington was a great experience but we needed a little downtime after that whirlwind of National Monument sightseeing. We started a slow move south by spending 3 nights at one of our favorite military fam-camps, the Westin Lake Recreation Area at Fort Jackson South Carolina.
Westin Lake is a beautiful and at this time of the year peaceful place to stay. It was just what we needed after a busy week.

We took te opportunity to hike again in the Congeree National Forest. We found many closed trails due to recent heavy rains and flooding but managed to have a great walk just the same.
we headed to Woodstock Georgia next to spend a lively and wonderful Thanksgiving with the Luse/Autry clan. It was fun to get to spend some time with Fred's extended family.

Stone Mountain has been on my list of places to visit for quite some time. it is an amazing sight. I should have realized from the name but the mountain is quite literally one huge chunk of granite. It looms in the landscape like a bald headed man in the company of the Beatles.

We could really see the depth of the carving from our sky ride gondola.

This is much more than a mountain. We followed signs and entered into a complex that included a Conference Center, a golf course, an RV Park and at it's center an Amusement Park dressed up for Christmas. To get to the mountain you must pass through the Amusement Park.
High above the twinkling lights, the gift shops and a snow tube run, in the center of the granite rock face, the huge high relief sculpture of Jefferson Davies, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E Lee looks down over the park. 90 feet by 140 feet huge.
This monument to the Confederacy is impressive. Looking at the carving from 400 feet below we were amazed at the detail especially in the faces of the men and the bodies of the horses. From the ground it looks almost like a monotone painting.  We were surprised to learn that the carving is recessed 42 feet into the mountain.

The top of the mountain was cold and barren.
We decided to take the sky ride in order to get as close to the art work as possible. The sky ride is like a gondola on a ski slope except the ride is much shorter. It took us up the mountain to the left of the sculpture and close enough so that we could see the depth and intricacy of the carving. i even managed to stop clutching the rail long enough to snap a few pictures.

Atlanta Skyline from the top of Stone Mountain
The top of the mountain is barren of trees and has few plants. we saw some lichen and a few hardy grasses but everything else was discouraged by the strong winds and lack of soil. The views were quite spectacular. We saw Atlanta's skyline to the Southwest and Allatona Lake to the North.  Our campground was located on Allatoona Lake but we had no idea how large the lake is until seeing it from this perspective.

We decided to walk the 2 1/2 miles down the mountain and back to the parking lot. It was a beautiful day for a short hike once we got out of the wind.

Stone Mountain Express
Once off the mountain we grabbed something to drink and walked around admiring the Christmas decorations. Fred believes the designer was influenced by Clark Griswald. We rode the old train around the mountain ans sang carols with a family that we met while waiting in line. I was surprised to find myself tearing up, missing Mom and the kids.

We had a great time at Stone Mountain and were happy to see this controversial monument and enjoy it for the impressive artwork that it is.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Return to DC

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
We gave our feet a day to recover and then returned to Washington. What a difference it was to make that commute on a work day. The mass transit system in DC is great but i would not have the stamina to ride the trains in that crush of people every day. Blessings on those who do. We had dinner the night before with Fred's cousin Geri and her husband John who live in the area. We were amazed as they described their strategies for avoiding gridlock.
Architectural Detail on the Renwick Gallery

We started the day by walking to the White house. On the way we walked past the newly reopened Renwick Gallery of Fine Art and through Lafayette Square enjoying the statues and the architecture.
Ford's Theater 
We were able to see Ford's Theater and had a deli sandwich lunch in Freedom Plaza with General Casmir Pulaski.
National Archiives

We were so impressed by the solid and classical look of the National Archives, that library of our nations records, engraved with the inscription:

The glory and romance of our history are 
here preserved in the chronicles of those who 
conceived and builded the structure of our nation

We walked by the J Edgar Hoover Building and commented on its solid structure, evident security procedures and food trucks.

Our final goal of the day was the National Air and Space Museum. We got there via a stroll through the National Gallery of Art's Sculpture Garden where I discovered a new favorite bit of whimsy, Thinker on a Rock by Barry Flanagen.
Thinker on a Rock
The National Air and Space Museum was everything we hoped it to be. It was a wondrous experience to be so close to the reentry scorched surface of the Columbia Command Module and the Spirit of St Louis. 

Columbia Command Module

Spirit of St Louis
The primary reason for our visit was to walk the exhibit The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Arial Age. We had visited Kittyhawk earlier in the year and wanted to see the actual 1903 Wright Flyer. 

1903 Wright Flyer, the actual real one flown at Kittyhawk

Minds full and legs tired we headed back to the train station for the long ride home.

To see more photos of our visit to Washington DC visit our Flickr Photo Album here: