Friday, September 30, 2016

The Mermaid City

Tiled Mermaid near the Oriental Pagoda

Cannonball Trail historic marker.
We stopped in Norfolk last week to walk the Cannonball trail which provides a lovely walking experience of Norfolk's historic spots.

The tour began at the Fireman's Museum on Freemason St. and led us to St. Paul's Episcopal church. The church, built in 1739 is the only building in the city that survived the British attack in 1776. It still has a cannonball embedded high up on one wall. It took us a few minutes to find it. You must enter the side gate and walk through the very old cemetery to get the best view.

The Cannonball trail led us around the downtown district where we discovered the MacArthur Memorial, a Confederate memorial, a US Customs House, Nauticus, and in Norfolk's historic waterfront an Oriental Pagoda

Cannonball in the wall of St. Paul's church

I am not sure how far we followed the cannonball symbols embedded in the sidewalk but our Fitbit's buzzed 10,000 steps before we stopped for lunch at Freemason Abby.
That's a restaurant not a meeting place for members of a fraternal organization.

Norfolk is called the Mermaid City. That designation was adopted in 1999 by business leaders as part of a plan to bring visitors back to its downtown.

The project began with a first casting of 130 statues. Each mermaid was designed and decorated by a local artist. The completed works of art were auctioned at a Mermaids on Parade event in November of 2000 with the proceeds donated to local charities. The mermaids were then installed throughout the city. Over the past 16 years they have become part of Norfolk's identity.

We were told that no one really knows any more how many Mermaids are in Norfolk. Some statues have been lost to weather, to vandalism and to theft.

Textured Verdigris Mermaid near the MacArthur Center
We saw bronze mermaids, tiled mermaids, painted mermaids, glass mermaids and even a mermaid with a Hawaiian lei. The 10 foot long statues are impressive and each fish/lady is a unique work of art.

Mermaids are all over Norfolk. We were on a Scavenger Hunt and spotting them was like finding little treasures.

Patriotic Mermaid near the courthouse.

"Miss Definitely Downtown" Mermaid

"Riverview" Mermaid points toward the harbor.

Not one of the original 130, this bronze mermaid was at a waterfront hotel.

"Aloha" Mermaid at Nauticus.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

NASA in Virginia?

NASA Wanted Poster

Drive along route 13 in the Virginia portion of the DelMarVa Peninsula and turn East at T’s Corners. You will be on  Chincoteague Road and on your way to Chincoteague Island.

Many years ago, before retirement and our fulltime RV life, Fred and I turned off on this road on our way to Virginia Beach. We wanted to take a look at the Assateague Lighthouse.

Northup Gruuman E-2 Hawkeye in flight near NASA's Wallops Flight Facility
As we drove the narrow road we began to notice Navy jets  in low flight performing  touch and go maneuvers. High chain fences and a large Satellite array made us wonder aloud and then we saw the signs that welcomed us to NASA and the Wallops Flight Facility.   We saw a rocket display and the Visitor Center on the right, but we had limited time so didn’t stop. We vowed to return to visit this division of NASA that we had never heard of.  Last week we returned and spent an hour or so at the Visitor’s Center learning about the facility and its missions.

NASA’s Wallops Flight facility is one of the oldest flight facilities worldwide. It has many active missions.

Those military jets we noticed?  They are Navy pilots training for carrier landings.  Wallops Flight Facility provides airfield services to the US Fleet Command. All E-2 and C-2 pilots operating from an Aircraft Carrier must complete Carrier Qualification training here before practicing on an actual carrier. There can be up to 5 planes in the flight pattern at any time and they practice night as well as daytime hours. No wonder we saw so many.

Wallops Command and Data Acquisition Station is responsible for the satellite views that you see on evening weather reports. The data collected from NOAA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental satellites is used to analyze coastal waters, provide meteorological data, and track hurricanes and tropical storms. They have been operating since 1966.

NASA has been monitoring Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets since 2009 with Operation IceBridge. This mission provides an annual 3D view of those ice sheets.  The data is then used by scientists in trying to understand sea level rise and it’s relation to polar ice melt.

NASA at Wallops provides launch opportunities for Suborbital Sounding Rockets. NASA supports around 20 launches a year. The last launch from Wallops was in August of this year in collaboration with the Colorado Space Grant Consortium. We will plan our next trip around a launch.

I would also like to see one of those enormous high altitude balloons take flight. Again, next time.

The Visitor Center has information and displays that explain many of these missions.
There is no charge for admission.

MInds full of Space facts we continued down the road to Chincoteague Island.

Assateague Lighthouse

Assateague Lighthouse is in the Chincoteague Island National Wildlife Refuge which is administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. We had been to the lighthouse before but never when it was open for climbing. This day we were in luck and were able to climb the 175 steps to the top. We walked out onto the catwalk and into a brisk wind. The 360 degree view was beautiful even on this windy and cloud covered day.

Chincoteague Island is possibly most well  known for its wild ponies.  They were made famous by Marguerite Henry in her children’s book Misty of Chincoteague published in 1947.  
The ponies run free on the island. It is not unusual to see them at the beach or walking along the road. We were lucky enough to see them running in the marsh this trip.

Wild ponies at Chincoteague Island National Wildlife Refuge
 We finished our visit with a stop for lunch at Bill’s Seafood because when you are this close to the water in DelMarVa one must enjoy crab cakes.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Lighthouse hunting at the Jersey Shore

Navesink Twin Lighthouses
New Jersey has 11 lighthouses. We have visited nine of them. Today we crossed the last 2 off our list. They are both in northeastern New Jersey.

High above the Sandy Hook Lighthouse on the highlands of New Jersey there is an impressive stone structure with a lighthouse at either end. These are the Navesink Twin lights established in 1928.
New York Harbor needed an additional aide to navigation once the Erie Canal was completed and traffic in the harbor increased. The lights are historically significant for many reasons.
1841-The Navesink lights were the first in the United States to have Fresnel lenses installed.
1893-The Pledge of Allegience was first head here accompanied by a grand Naval Flotilla anchored off the coast of Sandy Hook.
1899-Guglielmo Marconi set up his wireless telegraph at the Navesink lights and conducted experiment in transmitting ships in the harbor. Those experiments helped to establish wireless communication as a viable technology.

The lighthouse is located in an winding neighborhood of beautiful homes and pretty gardens. To reach it you must drive a steep one way road to the top and hope that no one is coming down the narrow passage because unless both vehicles are Smart Cars someone will be backing up.  
The lights were closed on the Tuesday that we visited. We spent an hour walking around the structures and enjoying the view before heading out to Sandy Hook. It was dissapointing not to see the museum or climb the tower but will will leave that for another trip.

Fred at Sandy Hook Lighthouse
Sandy Hook is a 4 mile long spit of land that reaches from the base of New Jersey’s  Atlantic Highlands out into New York Harbor. In the late 1700’s it was a serious hazard to navigation for boats using the harbor. Several shipwrecks in early 1761 caused merchants in New York to band together and petition the local government to provide a lighthouse at the tip of the Hook.
The lighthouse, funded by a series of lotteries, was first lit June 11, 1764 making it the oldest lighthouse on US soil that is still standing.
There was an attempt to destroy it during the Revolutionary War but the 10 foot thick stone walls withstood the attack of cannons.

Sandy Hook Lighthouse stands today in what has become the Gateway National Recreation Area, part of the National Park Service. It remains in it’s original position but as prevailing current constantly adds  sand to the Atlantic side of the hook is now located 150 yards from the water.
It has been in continuous service since 1764 except for intentional darkening during the Revolutionary War, Civil War, Spanish American War and World Wars I and II.

We enjoyed our visit to Sandy Hook Lighthouse. Pete, the Park Ranger on duty is a former history teacher and his enthusiasm for the lighthouse and the area were apparent. Turns out that he was raised in New York not far from our home town. We had a lot in common and spent 30 minutes or so chatting with him.  
The climb was 95 steps. I skipped the last 8 which were a ladder straight up into the lantern room. Fred went up and really enjoyed the view of the Atlantic and New York Harbor.

Fortifications at Fort Hancock
I did take a walk around Fort Hancock admiring the fortifications and the Waterfront Victorian homes that were once Officer’s Quarters. Built in the 1890’s, the Fort protected NY Harbor from invasion by sea until after the end of WW II. In the years following the second world war the Fort was armed with anti-aircraft guns and then Nike Missiles. Fort Hancock was decommissioned in 1974. It is now administered by the National Park Service.

Sandy Hook Beach
Garden of beach garbage.
We left the Lighthouse and made a stop at the beach to enjoy the sound of surf and the smell of salt air. Sandy Hook Beach is a a long stretch of shoreline that is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. We found it peaceful on a warm and sunny September afternoon. We were impressed with the Garden of Garbage leftover from a Summer Education program.

Navesink Twin Lighthouse
2 Lighthouse Road
Highlands, NJ
Open: Wednesday to Sunday 10-4:30

Sandy Hook Lighthouse
85 Mercer Rd
Highlands, NJ
Open for climbing daily 1-4:30

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

On the Road Again

April was a long time ago. We were in Nashville when my brother David called and told us the our strong and independent mother who lives with him was “not doing good” and he thought she needed to go to the hospital. Thank goodness he recognized her difficulty because she needed immediate help. Two weeks later he was able to take her home again.

We left Nashville that morning and headed back to NY and straight to the hospital. She had been diagnosed with a brain mass of questionable origin. We still don’t know what the mass was but follow up scans have shown that after treatment with steroids and blood pressure medications, it is gone.
Mom is much improved but having difficulty losing some of her independence due to not being able to drive. Our wonderful 84 year old Mom has spent her life taking care of other people and doesn’t like asking others for help.
Mom is stable and well cared for so we are hitting the road again. We will worry and have to adjust to not being a short drive away, which is something that we did not consider when adopting this lifestyle.

Mom with 2 of her Mease Grandchildren at Jess's wedding this Summer

Monday morning we started up the Behemoth grabbed the animals and climbed aboard for a meandering journey South. Meandering because after almost 5 months sitting still we need a little time to get our travel routines set agin.
We are heading to Bradenton Florida to attend John and Kathy Huggin's gathering in October. John and Kathy host a website and a weekly podcast both called Living the RV dream. Their generous sharing of their own full time RV lifestyle were great encouragement for us when we started considering our choices in retirement. We had the pleasure of meeting them in person this Summer.

Colt’s Neck New Jersey was our first stop.
You probably know this already from prior posts but Fred and I love to visit lighthouses. New Jersey has 11 of them and we have visited 9. This trip we will catch up with the last 2.

Tuesday we took a drive to Atlantic Highlands to sample a local brewery.

Atlantic Highlands New Jersey has beautiful  water views. The high vantage point across the Lower Bay allow you to see New York City and Long Island.

View of New York from Atlantic Highlands
Mount Mitchill Scenic Overlook is one of those vantage points. At 266 feet above sea level it is the highest natural elevation on the Atlantic Coastal Plain.
Mount Mitchill Scenic Overlook is a County Park. In addition to the great views we found  gardens and a picnic area, a playground and a hauntingly beautiful 9/11 Memorial.

The Memorial is located at the highest point in the park. To reach it you walk a shaded path where brass markers serve as a timeline marking the events of that dreadful day.
When you reach the top of the path you see a sculpture of an eagle in flight clutching a twisted steel beam that was once part of the Twin Towers. Looking beyond the eagle you see the skyline of New York. The sculpture is mounted on a large square granite base.

9/11 Memorial at Mount Mitchill Scenic Overlook
Monmoth County lost 147 residents when the towers fell. Their names are inscribed on the base.

We visited on September 13th. The base of the statue was covered with flowers and photographs left from a memorial ceremony 2 days before.

I felt awful for the friends and family members who had no other place  to honor those they had sent off to work that day.  Perhaps they were comforted in the presence of others who had suffered the same wrenching loss. Who else could understand that kind of grief?

Never forget.

Mount Mitchill Scenic Overlook
460 Ocean Blvd.
Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey
Open daily 7am to dusk

No entry fee