Stephanie is one of those persons who can fit a lot of words onto a standard size postcard -- usually by writing sideways, around corners, and even upside down if she can find some extra space. Most of these go to family and friends. But some of them -- those which document our RV adventures -- find their way onto this portion of our website.
Postcard: Ambling through Alabama
April 1, 2000
We detrained Amtrak and were back at Topsail Hill on March 27. We picked up the dog and drove our toad straight to our assigned space. There was our coach, all ready to be hooked up and lived in. One of the benefits of this park is that they put your coach in storage and also return it to your new site before you get back.
At long last, we are headed north. Spring is coming, and the clues are everywhere. We are going to explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This park is the most visited in the entire US, and we are determined to beat the crowds. We don't want to arrive too early, however; most of the campgrounds do not open until April 1st and the weather is bound to be uncertain. A perfect interval for exploring Alabama.
Our first stop was a return visit to Scherling Lake. This very nice (and modem friendly) park is just 4 miles west of Greenville. Here you can hike, fish or play golf. We watched several fisherfolk who were out after bass and perch, but the only activity we saw was when one of the hundreds of turtles in the lake proved a bit too fond of fish bait. One of the golf courses on the Robert Trent Jones golf trail (8 public courses, all in Alabama) is just three miles away. It was a gorgeous afternoon with low humidity, and a bit of a breeze, perfect for a short round.
Off to Birmingham, and the local KOA . This campground proved a good base camp for getting some big city errands accomplished. (After all, as Tom is quick to remind, April 15 is fast approaching.) Here I got my first lesson in understanding, and translating, "Alabam-ian". Despite several years of French in school, I didn't expect to understand the Louisiana Cajuns when they spoke French. But that was not the case in Alabama. Here I had trouble with Southern English. What was the gal who cut my hair saying, anyway? I think it was something about fixing up her front yard now that spring had arrived, but I was far from certain. Nods and smiles and an occasional "uh-huh" worked just fine, however.
Then we were off to the northeast, to Lake Guntersville State Park. This is a huge place, over 5,500 acres, overlooking the 66,740 acre of Guntersville Reservoir. There is a resort inn, chalets and lakeside cottages, a golf course and tennis courts. There are 364 campsites, and tonight, nearly every one was filled. This is the last weekend of spring break, and families are here from all over. All over Alabama, that is. I found only one out-of-Alabama license plate, and that was of an Alabama native who just happens to currently live in Alaska. He was happily renewing his Alabama roots and contemplating moving back. There were children everywhere, riding bicycles and big wheels, drawing pictures on the asphalt drives with inch thick chalk. We noticed that these were just about the best behaved children we had seen anywhere -- no crying babies, no fighting tots, no shouting parents, and everyone polite and fully "monitored". The campground is very pretty at this time of year. The dogwoods are blooming throughout the forests, giving the illusion of white butterflies in the newly greened woods.
On a cliff above the park is the beautiful old park lodge. We wandered around the spacious lobby and various public rooms. All had high ceilings, burnished dark wood floors and huge stone fireplaces. In the lobby are several paintings done by various local artists, and there was one quilt which showed the state with each county stitched in a different color. There are several conference rooms, a cafe and dining room, and a deck stretching the entire length of the front of the building. From the deck we could look down on a good portion of the Lake, even noting where the campground was, far below. There is a trail from the campground stating that it is only .8 mile to walk to the hotel. What it doesn't say is that distance is straight up.
The last 7 miles before we got to Lake Guntersville were narrow and winding. It was barely navigable for big rigs. Looking at the map, I thought I could plot a better route toward the Smokies. I pride myself on this sort of thing -- finding the best and shortest routes, adventurous shortcuts to places, and roads that only the locals know. Pride goeth.....
So I decided to go exploring in the tow car, following the only other available route north and east from the park. My straight line, light grey road quickly became a narrow lane, winding up and over the northeast Alabama hills. I went by neat little farms, through woods laced with the blossoms of white dogwood. Every so often, the road dropped steeply down to Guntersville Reservoir. Whenever this happened, I passed small marinas, boat launches and fishermen. The lake is well known for its huge catfish, as well as perch and bass. Whole families lined the banks, all with fishing poles. Then the road would go back uphill, and I would be alone. There was almost no other traffic. A good thing on some of curves this road was taking.
At Scottsboro, I rejoined the Guntersville road, and headed back to the campground. This road was not as picturesque, but was wide and reasonably straight. Much better traveling for a big rig. This is the road we will take as we meander toward the Smokies. But it was a most pleasant way to reach this conclusion...
Postcard: Getting our Ducks in a Row
March 14, 2000
We are planning an Amtrak trip. We leave next week from Mobile, AL, en route to Palm Springs. From there we'll drive to Borrego Springs to attend a very special birthday celebration. Next we fly north for a quick business meeting, see the kids and grandkids, and then fly back to Los Angeles to catch Amtrak back to Mobile. All this is supposed to happen within an eight day period. A schedule like this required us to get all our ducks in a very straight row. And it all worked out beautifully.
Monday, we drove into Mobile to find the train station, only to discover it closed. A helpful station-hand was inside the building, and he came out to tell us that getting our tickets just before boarding would be no problem at all. Within walking distance of the station, we found several hotels and motels (our train leaves too early to spend the night in the RV). Next problem -- where to store the RV. The first park we tried, the I-10 Kampground in Theodore, had a secure compound for storing rigs. So far, the ducks were setting up nicely, and it wasn't yet noon. Now we needed to find a nearby place to store (board) the dog. A glance at the Mobile yellow pages revealed a kennel right in Theodore. We drove out and got Missy signed up.
Downtown Mobile is certainly different from downtown in other large cities. We drove right through the center of town, down Government street, past lovely old homes with spreading oak trees in the front lawns. Many of them, (the houses, not the trees,) also have the small plaque which proclaims them to be on the National Registry of historic places. Oak trees, festooned with Spanish Moss, line both sides of Government Street. They are trimmed to allow traffic, but not enough to rob them of their unique Southern charm.
Since all the ducks were lined up so early, we had time to explore the area around Mobile Bay. Taking highway 59 south toward the Bay, we passed the Bellingrath Gardens and Home. These gardens are reminiscent of the Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC. There are 65 landscaped acres, with gardens of differing motifs -- including oriental, bridal and rose. In each the different flowers bloom according to season. We did not go in this time; this is azalea season in the south, and each day brings more blooms. The purples and pinks we saw in Louisiana have been joined with Alabama and Florida reds and whites. Every house is a miniature Bellingrath. And we were headed toward the water and a ferry ride.
Highway 59 became Highway 193, and dead-ended on Dauphin Island. As we crossed the long curving bridge which spans part of the bay, we saw a lot of very small boats out in the shallow water. In each boat was a man using what looked like a two handled rake. He would rake the bottom, close up the handles and come up with a rakefull of oysters. An oysterman later told us that these rakes were like a posthole digger in reverse -- to use the posthole digger, you pry the handles apart. The rakes work when you pull the handles together.
Once on the Island, we headed for the ferry landing, and the boat across the mouth of Mobile Bay. There is a nice RV park located right next to the ferry, and we were thinking that perhaps this would be a good place to spend some time before returning to Mobile. (Our last duck, the "where are we going to spend the next couple of nights" duck, was proving a bit recalcitrant). We only found one drawback to the park on Dauphin Island -- one we didn't discover until we disembarked from the ferry on the other side. The ramp on the Fort Morgan side is an impossibility for many RVs -- including ours. To get to the park, many RVs must come from the west -- and return the same way.
We passed by Fort Gaines as we left, and arrived on the other side of the Bay in the shadow of Fort Morgan. These twin Confederate forts were built after the War of 1812, and by the time of the Civil War had proven to be out of date. The canon and steam-powered warships were more than a match for the old brick forts, as Admiral Farragut demonstrated by leading his fleet past the guns of the fort and into the bay with the loss of only one of his 18 ships.
The trip was great fun. The ferry was fairly full -- about 26 cars. Not one car had Alabama plates, but 18 were from the midwest, including 7 from Indiana. The sun was out, the gulls were wheeling above us, looking for handouts. Several beautiful pleasure craft passed us returning from an afternoon fishing in the Gulf -- even the offshore oil platforms with which the Bay is studded looked fresh and clean. The ferry was not fast, but the trip ended too soon.
We were still looking for campgrounds for the next several days. We visited Gulf State Park Campground, in Gulf Shores, just a bit west of Pensacola. This is a a beautiful, secluded campground, with widely separated sites, and full hook ups. Some sites are on a bayou, and most are in "woodsy" settings. The sign at the entrance read "full". A notice in the office stated that all the reservations for November and December, 2000, and for the months of January, February and March, 2001, have already been taken!
Our next stop was at the All star RV Resort, right on the beach at Perdido Key. We drove through briefly, and could quickly see this was a truly upscale RV resort. It is well landscaped with lots of brick and concrete, and obviously has a natural attraction for high end rigs. Here's a true "resort" park that was tempting, but the day was getting late, and we decided to wait until tomorrow before making a commitment.
This morning we drove east from our campground in Navarre Beach. Highway 98 runs right along the coast, through some small and some not-so-small towns. It runs through the Gulf Islands National Seashore, where you can walk on sand so white it hurts your eyes, and as fine as granulated sugar. Today the water was exceptionally blue, turquoise in the shallows, cobalt in the deeper water. There was not a lot traffic this morning, but next week brings the college kids out for spring break. The stores are eagerly awaiting their arrival; "break special" ads are everywhere and most restaurants are gearing up for the onslaught. Still, it was fairly slow driving. After about 40 miles of stop and go, and peeking in at various campgrounds, we were just about ready to head back, when we found Gregory E. Moore RV Resort, located in Topsail Hill State Preserve. 144 sites, each set apart from the other, all naturally landscaped. Three lakes, miles of hiking and biking trails, a 25 minute walk or 5 minute drive to the beach. One resident alligator. Tennis courts and a driving range.
This park used to be called Emerald Coast RV Beach Resort, and it is still listed that way in the various publications. However, about a year ago, the State purchased the campground and renamed it. It is now the flagship of Florida's State campgrounds, and generates revenues to help subsidize other state parks. This is a beautiful spot, and it became our choice for the last few days before making our quick trip West.
Postcard: Bateaux and Bayous
What a fabulous day we had today. Through a series of good coincidences, we ended up on a boat trip to Vermilion Bay, the Intracoastal Canal and surrounding backwater bayous -- with the Deputy Sheriff in charge of the marine division of the local Parish. We took one of the Sheriff's Dept. boats, a shallow draft metal craft about 18' long, super-powered by 2 -115 hp Yamaha outboard motors. Naturally it sported the traditional blue and red lights.
The boat is extremely seaworthy, with styrofoam ballast lining the entire hull. There is a small cabin, with front windows which open like doors, allowing access to the front deck. As we sped along, the Deputy Sheriff explained some of the duties of the marine patrol. They give speeding tickets, for there are speed limits on the Intracoastal Waterway. They watch for DUI on the water. They watch for drug runners -- the coastline here provides easy access for this activity. They act much as the highway patrol on land, and let their very presence keep other boat operators in line.
They also cover accidents. Attached to one side of the stern of the boat, is a pulley contraption. When I asked what it was for, I was told that it is used to pull drowned persons from the water. Bodies get heavy when they have been in the water for a time. I should learn not to ask certain questions!
Leaving the marina, we passed a fleet of shrimping boats. I could tell from the names on the hulls that many of these are Vietnamese owned. They also do most of the Bay crabbing, which is apparently the source of concern among some of the locals here. We crossed the Intracoastal waterway, and skipped past the many barges being pushed along. Some of the tugs were pushing three or more quite long barges.
It was a bit windy, and Vermilion Bay, which is shallow (about 4 1/2 to 5 feet) was quite choppy. We were headed toward Boston (pronounced with the accent on the last syllable) Bayou, and the fishing camps located along it. These are weekend cabins, used for fishing and hunting (deer and waterfowl), and reflect the personality of their owners. Some are very fancy, but most seem made of left over sheet metal and other materials. Most have a smoker/barbeque in front. We passed one man mowing his lawn on a riding lawnmower -- very impressive when you consider that everything that goes to any cabin, be it building materials, televisions, pots and pans, or lawnmowers, everything must come by water -- there are no roads at all in this swampy area. One cabin had a "guest house", a small doll's house of a building set up on poles high above the dock. The Deputy pointed that one out, and commented that, in the case of a hurricane, that little house would be "one gone pecan"!
The wind was increasing, and the Deputy decided that we would not return by way of the fairly open water of Vermilion Bay. Instead, he took us the back way, through an incredible maze of bayous. Many of these were waterways so narrow, that it seemed they must be shallow, and we were glad he knew his way through them. He did not go slowly, either. No, he cranked those engines up to full power so we would be drawing almost no water. We fairly flew through the water, scattering herons and egrets before us at every turn. In places the bayous were so narrow that we had brush on both sides of the craft. I became completely lost, trusting (and hoping) that our skipper knew where he was. We passed lonely cabins set out on the bayous; we passed another "settlement" of weekend cabins. And suddenly, we were back on the Intracoastal.
Now the wind had become so strong that many of the barges, (and all of the larger ones), had come to a stop. They nosed the lead barge right up on shore to keep from being blown all over the water. As we came up the Waterway, a large cruiser was approaching our boat. At the last minute, the other captain cut his power to idle. "A good thing he did that", remarked the Deputy, "or you would have seen Lou'siana law at work"! The law states that you must be at dead idle within 300 yards of an oncoming vessel. He pointed out a commercial fishing boat coming very slowly towards us, and commented that its skipper had received two tickets -- at $500 each. A lesson he seemed to have learned very well.
We were dropped off back at the marina, and the Deputy sped off to continue his rounds. We had had a wonderful morning adventure, and decided to see more of this area. It was only 5 miles to the end of the road, so we went south -- and found Leland Bowman Lock.
Now, being Northwesterners, we thought we understood locks. Locks control the level of water between freshwater and salt. They are what enable boats to travel from Lake Washington and Puget Sound -- where the water can be 13 feet or more lower on the salty side -- at least where we live. But here there couldn't have been an inch of difference between the water level on one side of the locks and the other. As we walked out to look at this different sort of lock, we were hailed by the lock operator. "You cannot walk on the lock gates," he said, "but please come up here and ask me all the questions you wish". And that is how we met Chester Derouin. He explained that this lock, and 4 just like it, have been put in place to help reduce tidal inflow and maintain a freshwater reservoir for agricultural use. The goal of this lock is to preserve the Mermentau River Basin's environment from Gulf saltwater intrusion. Other locks help protect other freshwater areas. Rice growers and crawfish farmers need ample supplies of fresh water. But the Basin is mostly marsh and wetlands, supporting a wide variety of wildlife --among them muskrat, otter, deer and alligator. Various types of fish and shellfish are found here and the Basin provides habitat for wintering waterbird , landbirds and wading birds. And with the current Louisiana drought, keeping the saltwater system apart from the fresh has become increasingly difficult.
We watched as a large tug with a couple of barges traversed the lock. Chester talked to the skipper by radio, and obviously knew him well. Then the gates were closed once again and Chester entered the information on a small piece of paper. The computer system was down and he grinned impishly as he thought of the work the next shift would have.
We headed back to Betty's RV Park in Abbeville, as we'd decided at least for this particular morning Missy would have to wait for us in the RV. We'd certainly had a great snapshot of life on the Waterway, the Bayous and the Bay. Another Acadian adventure, and a fabulous day...
Postcard: Dans la Coeur de l' Acadie...
March 3, 2000
...is where we have found ourselves for the last several days. L' Acadie (Acadiana) is that part of Louisiana where the French speaking Acadian people eventually migrated, after they had been forced out of Nova Scotia in the 1700s. There are three sections of l' Acadie. The Prairie section is located to the north and west of Lafayette, and includes such towns as Eunice and Ville Platte. The Bayou/Basin area includes St. Martinville, New Iberia and Charenton. The Coastal section is a low lying, often marshy area south of Lafayette and running along the coast. Towns here include Delcambre, Erath and Abbeville.
We traveled southeast on highway 14 from Lake Charles to Abbeville, headed for Betty's RV Parking. Betty Bernard has developed part of her lot to accommodate 6 rigs, and it is just like camping on the property of a very good friend. She, like all the Acadians we have met, is extremely warm and friendly and we instantly felt right at home.
Abbeville, like many of the towns of the area, is built around a central square. Abbeville has two. Magdalen Square is a lovely park, with St. Mary Magdalen church located just across the street. The second square is built around the whitewashed courthouse. The town office buildings, and many shops are located around it. Here too is Comeaux' Cafe ("CC's"), a must place to eat and meet the local folks. We wandered in for a late breakfast (their beignets are wonderful) and were greeted by Jane Fontanot, with coffee pot in hand. This cafe serves Community (brand) coffee, brewed "with love", according to Jane. When we said we had never had this brand of coffee, she looked at us quizzically and said , "where are you from?" . Obviously, everyone here drinks Community Coffee. And we will, too, just as soon as we get to a grocery store -- it is excellent.
When we told Jane that we were from a small island off the northwest coast of Washington, we attracted the attention of a man sitting at a nearby table. Sam Broussard joined us for breakfast, and we learned a bit about life in this area. Many of the people who live here grew up speaking French at home. Sam (and many of his generation) spoke no French at all -- it was not taught in schools, and many families did not speak it to their children. Sam's father had had second thoughts about this, however, and so Sam got a summertime submersion in the language. It seems that when he was about 16 he came down to breakfast one morning and learned that, instead of having a leisurely summer vacation, he was going to work in his father's lumberyard. The foreman had been told that he (the foreman) was to be the only person to converse with Sam in English. Everyone else was to speak French to the boy. The foreman thought about this for a minute and said that this would pose no problem -- he was the only one there who could speak any English at all!
We learned about alligators and alligator farming. Sam's opinion was that, if you are going to eat alligator, the farmed ones will be much better -- both more tender and more tasty. This is because farm raised 'gators are fed special foods, and when it is time to slaughter them, they are dispatched swiftly, with minimum of stress, and then immediately butchered and stored in a cool spot. Compare that to the trapper. He sets his bait out in the bayou, possibly several hours from his camp. The 'gator eats the bait, which is tied to a pole with a stout rope. Once realizing he is hooked, the 'gator does not flail around, but just stays put until the trapper comes back -- which might take a day or two. Then he is killed, towed to the trappers camp, eventually butchered and taken to town. Me for the farm raised type. Alligators are still listed on the endangered list, but Sam thinks they should not be. Alligator farmers are required to return 17% of the hatchlings to the wild, and Louisiana's alligator population is booming.
Right next door to the Cafe is the Abbeville Cultural and Historical Alliance Center. I visited the Center at 3:50 in the afternoon, not realizing that it was supposed to close at 4:00. No matter, the curator on duty was another Abbeville Acadian, Tony Mayard. He was more than happy to show me around the Center, no matter the time.
The Center is one large room, divided into sections. One shows the history of Abbeville, with pictures of the buildings of the past. Tony told me that the founder of Abbeville, Fr. Pere Megret, planned for there to be two squares, sort of a "separation of church and state", and that when a latter day mayor of the town tried to get move the courthousem from the "government " square to the "church" one, he found that the will of Fr. Megret stipulated that if the any building other than a government building was located on the square, the property would revert to the church. End of problem.
Another section is devoted to the "Confrere de l' Omlette Geante", the Celebration of the Giant Omelette. Abbeville joins the cities of Granby, Canada, Frejus and Bessiers, France, Dumbia, New Caledonia, and Malmedy, Belgium in this group. Members travel to the various countries, prepare giant 5,000 egg omelettes and share the French cultures of these areas. Each country adds something to make its omelette individual. In Abbeville, a recipe would include 5,000 eggs, 75 bell peppers, 50 lbs. of onions, 4 gallons of pepper tops, 2 cans of black pepper, olive oil, butter and crayfish.
Another section of this Center covers the history of the Acadian people, with pictures of those places in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick where Acadians still live. And the last part of the Center is given over to artists. The current exhibition is a carryover from Black History Month, with interesting sculptures, primitive paintings and fine art -- all by black artists.
Off to see more of Acadia, we stopped in the small town of Erath, just 5 miles down the road from Abbeville. In the Musee Acadien, we met another Broussard, Jane, volunteer curator at the museum, and no relation to Sam. (The name Broussard takes up the lion's share of the "B" pages in the phone book.) The museum takes three rooms. The first is for the history of the town of Erath. The second, and largest, is the Acadian Room. Here we saw pictures of the deportation of the Acadians from Nova Scotia and their subsequent landing in Louisiana. The third room concerns Acadian life here, models of what their homes looked like and descriptions of their new world customs.
Next we made a quick revisit to Avery Island and the Tabasco factory, but we had become interested in trying "Cajun Power Sauce", made right here in Abbeville, so did not get any of the many Tabasco brand items for sale. We did get two of the little ounce bottles of tabasco that you get as a "cadeau" (gift) when you visit, and Tom now has a belt with red peppers on it, but the fact that the factory was the focal point for 5 or 6 school bus loads of children helped to shorten our visit. It is lovely at this time of year, as is all of this area -- the azaleas are in bloom, and their pinks, reds and whites are everywhere.
Since we hadn't spent too much time on Avery Island, we had time for a tour of St. Martinville, the "Evangeline" town. Here the Evangeline oak, several hundred years old, spreads its branches over Bayou Teche. As in many towns, the Catholic Church dominates the main square. This beautiful church still has doors on either end of each pew. In the churchyard, we saw the Evangeline statue, and look forward to seeing its twin when we get to Nova Scotia. We traveled out to the visitor center, where you can visit farmhouses which have been set up to replicate Acadian farms, complete with volunteers in period costume.
One building houses the Acadian Memorial. A large room, empty except for a mural at one end and a list of names of the original settlers. The mural depicts the landing in Louisiana, and an accompanying brochure identifies each person in the mural and tells a little about them. In the courtyard of the building, is an eternal flame to the memory of these people.
The Acadians, (Cajuns) have been in this area since the late 1700s. They tend to stay in Louisiana, or if they do leave, return again. This may, in part, be because, as Sam put it, "our ancestors were forcibly removed from Nova Scotia, and, finding a place to stay here, have never wanted to leave again". This is indeed a fascinating area, and Abbeville is perfectly situated in the middle of it all...
Postcard: Exploring Space -- Houston
February 28, 2000
We are headed to Louisiana, and had planned to get to Vinton in one day. But we are trying to move slowly, and see as much as we can, so we decided to stay a day in Houston and visit the NASA/Johnson Space Center and Space Center Houston. To go anywhere near Houston means that we would have to drive in or around this huge city. Since it is said that no real Texan drives in Houston, we followed this advice and drove around the city. Coming in from the West, we took Highway 6, which looked like it would avoid much of the downtown traffic. Wrong. The first 15 miles of Highway 6 took us through a seemingly endless strip malls, one after the other with no discernible break between, and a minimum of 2 stoplights per mall. Eventually we left this urban mess, and found ourselves in the bayou laden countryside.
We are staying at the appropriately named Space Center RV Park, just a couple of miles south of the Center itself. It is a very nice park, with cement parking spaces and modem hookups at every site. Each Saturday they fire up an enormous barbeque and park guests are invited to cook their own dinners. Fridays they have an ice cream social. Every morning, there is coffee and a full continental breakfast (cereal, sweet rolls orange juice and coffee) in the club room. It is a bit close to Interstate 45, but that gives you instant acess to all the area attractions.
Sunday morning, we drove out NASA Boulevard passing NASA dry cleaners and NASA grocery stores en route to our rendezvous with space.
We entered the large building which houses Space Center Houston. I walked to the center of the building and slowly turned around. In one area there is a kids space place, where children (and adults) can lift weights as if you were on different planets. The weight is harder to lift on Neptune than on Mars. Go weigh yourself. Earth weight is different from Mars weight, is different from Jupiter weight. Several computer screens were showing children what goes on during preparation for liftoff and flight. These computers were in use with kids waiting.
In an IMAX theater, we watched the short movie "Becoming an Astronaut" This told how NASA chooses potential recruits, and took us briefly through their learning processes - we saw astronauts, fully suited up, in a swimming pool. To simulate space walks, they are first carefully weighted so they will neither sink nor float. This is as close to zero gravity as they can get on earth. Now they learn to perform the sort of task that might be required in space. We saw them in flight simulators, where every conceivable problem that might arise in space, does arise in simulation. When they learn to perform well, new problems are added.
We walked through a mock-up of a space shuttle's flight deck. Tom was strapped into a seat representing a lunar lander and managed to perform 6 tasks and get back to base before his time ran out. We saw the various space suits which astronauts have worn through the years. (They have changed almost as much as have football uniforms, padding and helmets!) We visited EVA, a robot from the future. And then we took the tram to the Johnson Space Center.
The tram ride was a 90 minute narrated ride, explaining much of what goes on in the various buildings on the NASA campus. There are three areas where you get out of the tram, and go into the buildings. The first stop was Mission Control. As there are no missions currently underway, the room was empty, but we could see the computer laden desks, and see where the Flight Director would sit during a mission. (We had seen him performing his various duties durning one ofther movies.) I learned that the Flight Surgeon talks everyday to each of the astronauts, checking on his/her physical and mental well-being. No flight has ever been curtailed becauseof illness.
The next stop was a large building entirely filled with mock-ups of the new space station. Here the astronauts are learning how to maneuver in the confines of the station, how to assemble parts as they arrive -- in space. So far, there are two pieces of the station in space, with the third Russian piece approximately 2 years behind schedule -- but due in July. Partners in the program include the USA and Russia, Japan, Brazil, the European Space Agency and Italy.
The last stop was the building where the "escape" module is being built. If there should be a problem with the Space Station, this will be the escape vehicle for the astronauts. It will have a nine hour supply of air, water, etc. to last on a 3 hour journey. Currently, the only escape for personnel on the station is the Russian Soyuz, which cannot be "driven"; it stops by slamming into the earth.
On the trip back to Space Center Houston, the tram stopped briefly at the park. Here we could have stopped to explore several "real" (no mock-ups here) rockets, including the last Apollo, which was built before the program was scrapped. Several on our tour got out here, to see the rockets at close hand and to return on the next tour bus. We opted to rescue Missy from the back of the Jeep, and return to the RV park. This was not a particularly warm day; when it is hot and humid, the Space Center runs a free kennel where you can put your pet in an air conditioned room while you explore.
You can remove the RVers from the Pacific Northwest, but you cannot keep them off ferry boats. I was intrigued by the ferry which runs between the east end of Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula, 80 miles from the Louisiana border. I had thought this might be a good way to avoid the traffic hassle of Houston, but I had not counted on the traffic hassle of Galveston. We drove out on Seawall Boulvard, street which runs right along the water. I'm not sure if it was the fact that it was Sunday, or that it was the start of Mardi Gras, or just a beautiful day, but the traffic was horrendous. Several blocks of Seawall, and we had had enough. So we took a back road to the ferry.
We had contemplated driving on the boat, but settled for walking-on. We found out this was a good idea, when we learned that another walk-on had once driven on, just for the ride. It was easy getting off the Island, but it took him 3 hours to get back!
It was a great day for a ferry ride. Clouds of Laughing Gulls followed us each way, lured by the people who stood at the back of the boat and tossed chips into the air. Bottle nosed dolphins shared the channel with tugs, pleasure craft and tankers. The 15 minute trip was just the right length.
Tomorrow, we will probably head for Louisiana. Unless we get side-tracked once again, and take some more days off to explore.
Postcard: Some Days Off -- Exploring the Texas Hill Country
February 24, 2000
We left the coast and headed inland to Seguin, TX, and Pro-Tech, the shop where a few more coach items were to be fixed. Seguin is perfectly located between San Antonio and Austin,as a great jumping off point for the Texas Hill country. Leaving the coach in a service bay and boarding the dog at a nearby kennel, we took off in the tow car toward Austin. One of our laptops had developed a connection problem which appeared to require major surgery. We were hoping that we could find a shop where this could be done. The lesson to be learned here is: Notice if it happens to be a holiday -- like Presidents' Day. Almost everything was closed.
Austin is at the eastern edge of the hill country. Towns with such enticing names as Dripping Springs, Jollyville and Twin Sisters dot the map. Should we spend the night in Boerne or Fredericksburg? And, look, there's Luckenback. We haven't been there in several years.
We decided on Fredericksburg. En route, we detoured to look at Pedernales Falls State Park with an eye to a future stay. There were very nice shaded sites, some large enough for big rigs. The River is the drawing card here, but we didn't get to see it. When I asked if we could drive through the Park, the attendant succinctly stated that we must not get out of the car and would not be able to see the river. We promised to stay in the car and to close our eyes if we saw any water.
Next stop was Johnson City -- LBJ's birthplace. Just down the road you can visit the LBJ National Historical Park with exhibits, a bookstore and audiovisual programs. You can walk the streets here and see homes dating from the mid 1800s. Tom had heard that there was a modem friendly park here, but it remained hidden from us.
On the eastern outskirts of Fredericksburg is the KOA. We stayed here many years ago in our Winnebago and really enjoyed the park and the friendly people who ran it. They have done a lot to improve it since we were here, more and wider sites and better access roads. And it is only a few miles to Luckenback, if you are inclined to visit. But this time, we were "motel-ing it" and drove into town. Had a nice dinner "out" and headed back to Seguin the next morning. We took our Texas state map, (which is beginning to look a bit frayed by this time), and found the smallest black lines to follow that we could. Luckenback, Blanco, Fischer, farm roads 3424, 484, 32, the smaller the better. That is how we found Potters Creek Park on the shores of Canyon Lake.
Tom found the sign first and we started down the road. It looked like we were just going to come out in amidst a lot of homes, and we were about to turn around, when we saw a motorhome coming towards us. Continuing on, we found a really great place to camp. There are 61 sites, several of which are closed at the present time for renovation. Each site is widely set apart from the other, we counted 100' between us and our neighbor. Tom measured the length at 70' and the width at 27'. Part of this is set aside for tow car or boat trailer parking. The sites are level and freshly blacktopped. Each has a wood picnic table covered by a metal roof. Each site has a fire ring, and a barbeque -- Texas style -- that can serve as a smoker. It is open year around, and has recently begun to encourage multiple day, even week, stays. The campground is well cared for; when we arrived, there was a crew out painting the barbeques.
Out of curiosity, we looked up this park in Trailer Life. If we had gone strictly by the book, we might not have given this spot a second glance. TL says that the park is only open from April through October and that the sites are only 35x40. It does acknowledge that the park is on the lake with " fishing, swimming, boating, ramp, dock" . It is much more than that, and has become one of my personal top picks.
24 hours later, the promised coach parts had not arrived, so we set up a service appointment for Friday, and headed back the 40 miles to Canyon Lake and more country camping.