Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Back to East Tennessee

Fall Colors greeted us at home!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

We left Birmingham about 9:00 and started on the last leg of our trip. We turned our unfinished mystery CD back on and the miles clipped by. We tried to find the Little River National Preserve near Ft. Payne AL but we were unsuccessful even with the help of the GPS and a map! As we neared Chattanooga we began to see a few trees turned in color but they did not seem to be anywhere near peak until we were nearly home. We did stop for lunch at a rest area between Cleveland and Athens.

Alabama Crimson Tide
Tennessee Vols

The highlight of the trip was watching the Alabama Crimson Tide decorated cars and fans headed north to Knoxville for the BIG game….after Chattanooga they were joined by equally decorated cars and fans but of the Big Orange variety. As we neared Knoxville the road became a parking lot for a ways but cleared and was not as bad as we feared. The game was not to begin until 7 PM and we were home about 4 PM so you can see we were probably ahead of largest number of fans….glad we missed the larger number!

As we neared home the trees began to take on more and more color. The best near the Fall Branch exit - about 5 miles from home!

This was a really great trip and we are already talking about heading back down for a longer stay in the late spring. Total mileage was 1,906.

Starting Home Pensacola to Birmingham

Children's climbing structure at Big Lagoon

Friday, October 22, 2010

We were up at 7:00 and left camp at 8:15…pretty good considering we enjoyed a cup of coffee before completely taking down and packing up camp. We drove over to the waterway side of the island just to see it in the daylight. There was a really cool play structure with numerous climbing walls that Daniel would have loved!

We took a road straight north from Gulf Shores to I-65 – interesting small towns in Alabama and land dotted with cotton fields, some sugar cane, pecan trees, and cattle. We took I-65 and headed through Montgomery and on to Birmingham. We stopped for gas, to buy pecans and for lunch at a rest area. It was a fairly boring day except for a good mystery on CD.

We arrived in Birmingham and the same Quality Inn we stayed at on the trip down. We caught up on internet and Jane searched for the information on the Japanese Restaurant, Sekisui, where we planned to eat dinner. We have been searching for a Japanese Restaurant with Sukiyaki on the menu for about a year. It was a little crazy finding it – GPS tried, Jane called and asked for directions…we kept looking and finally found it by looking UP…it was on the upper level of a several level shopping area.

Restaurant Signage on 2nd floor of Mall
Japanese seating area

It was a very nice and VERY Japanese restaurant. We had sushi, sukiyaki, and tempura bananas with ice cream for dessert. Ben had sake. Everything was excellent. We have now had sushi – neither of us hated it but we did not love it either….so it is one of those things we now know we have eaten and do not need to eat again but could if necessary! The waitress came over and talked to us for a long while, she was very interested in why we ordered sukiyaki – evidently very few Americans order it…and we had BOTH ordered it!

Tomorrow we head home and hope to see some nice tree color when back in Tennessee.

Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola

Museum of Naval Aviation
Thursday, October 21, 2010

This has been a fantastic day until just now (8 PM) when I realized the log entry I typed last night for Wednesday is gone – how did that happen? Must have been operator error and I did not save it…hard to believe but I guess I did it. Oh dear, I have to try to remember! Today as everyday of our trip, we had beautiful weather. Jane hiked over to the lagoon and took some great mirror photos and then back to camp for coffee and a little breakfast.

Picnic Shelter and Canoes - Big Lagoon Park

Trees along the Lagoon - Big Lagoon Park

We were on our way the 6.5 miles to the Naval Aviation Museum by 9:10 and walked in the door at 9:30. In between was a stop at the Pensacola Lighthouse for Jane to get her “lighthouse photo”. Someday I plan to do something with all of the lighthouse photos taken over the years.

Pensacola Lighthouse

This museum is really something – equals if not exceeds the Smithsonian.

Sculpture at entrance - naval aviators from each war share stories

We signed on for an inside tour, an outside tour, and an IMAX movie. These along with our lunch at the Cubi Bar – filled our time until 3 PM!! Our inside tour guide was a retired naval fighter pilot from WWII who told us he had just celebrated his 85th birthday a few years ago with a special flight in one of the planes he had flown years ago and he had the photos to prove it. He had lots of stories to tell and helped bring to life the numerous planes and artifacts we saw. Planes that were actually at Pearl Harbor, Midway, first plane to fly across the Atlantic – no not the non-stop one by Lindbergh – but a Navy plane NC-4 flew it 1919. The trip took the aviators 3 weeks with stopping in Newfoundland, then the Azores, and on to Portugal.

NC-4 First plane to fly across Atlantic in 1919

Also very interesting was a PBY like “Strawberry 5” from the battle of Midway. It was much larger than I had imagined.

PBY restored with cutaway view

Another interesting display involved training of Naval Aviators for carrier landings during WW II. Since it was too dangerous to have carriers off either coast due to enemy subs and mines…the Navy bought two paddle wheelers, took off the tops, built a carrier top for them and paddled them around Lake Michigan and trained over 17,000 fighter pilots. They had to have 8 successful carrier landings before they could be certified as “ready”. Some of the best planes restored for this museum have come from the depth of Lake Michigan where they had crash landed. They were never recovered since they were planes that had been deemed unworthy of battle used for training. The records showed about 2 planes a week went into the drink. Several of the “one of a kind” planes in the museum were recovered and restored primarily with volunteer effort.

Outside tour - you can see trolley in distance

At the conclusion of the inside tour – we headed immediately to board a trolley for the outside tour. This tour was also led by a retired navy airman. He had flown in the much more recent past – 1967 – 1987. We saw many planes and got to visit the restoration hanger. They are currently restoring many planes including the Admiral Nimitz plane that Howard Hughes had purchased. It looks many years away from completion. The plane flown by George W. Bush was on display known as a COD (carrier on board delivery).

When we returned to the Museum we headed to the Cubi Bar for lunch. There is a story here. We lived in the Philippines from 1965-67 and were assigned to Subic Bay for 1966-67. Our son was born there at Subic Bay Hospital. The night he was born, Ben had to find somewhere to wait and eat – nothing was open at the hospital (very small) so he ended up at the Cubi Officers Club Bar! Well, it makes a good story but it is true. When we knew the Bar had been reconstructed here we had to see it… Ben remembers they were in the process of rebuilding the O Club during the time he assigned as a civilian engineer there at the OICC – Officer in Charge of Construction Southwest Pacific. The Cubi Bar here at the Naval Air Museum was reconstructed when the US did not renew the lease for Subic Bay and Cubi Point when they expired in recent years. The most famous part of the bar being the plaques left there by various commands throughout the years. We had a great steak sandwich and hunted all through the bar until we found the OICC plaque to photograph it…fun time.

Each command left a plaque in Cubi Bar
OICC Plaque - Ben was assigned to this command
Bar Scene

After lunch we had an hour and toured more of the exhibits we had not seen this morning. At 2 PM we watched the IMAX film of Red Flag – Fighter Pilots. It was a story of the Red Flag Training Program of the US for giving fighter pilots realistic training in combat but in a controlled situation. I only had to close my eyes about 10 times – not nearly as bad as the last IMAX or I am getting better at watching!

Blue Angel Planes

We looked around some more and visited the huge gift shop. Ben found a shirt, we had a dog tag made for Daniel and found him a shirt. I was very disappointed in their selection of women’s shirts – none that had a collar and only one t-shirt I would have considered and it was purple. This is just not my trip for purchases!

We barely made it to Fort Barrancas before it closed – only enough time to watch a 10 minute film, get passport stamps and take a couple photos. We will have to come back here and spend some time this is a very interesting and well preserved fort.

Drove back to camp and rested a short time before heading out for dinner – our last seafood. This time we made an excellent choice and it was 1 mile from our camp ground. Triggers Seafood- Ben had fried oysters and shrimp. He said the best of the trip and he has tried oysters 3 times. I had grouper with a shrimp Creole sauce that was fantastic. We cleaned our plates and if we were not leaving tomorrow we would go back again!

The evening was as usual – a little TV, blog writing, photo sorting, and reading. Tomorrow we start our trip home – the days have really flown by on this trip.

Gulf Shores to Pensacola

Ben and Jane at Gulf Shores Visitor Center
Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Got up about 8 AM and took a good mile and half walk before it got hot. This is a nice park with lots of loops for walking or bike riding. Back at camp ate breakfast, packed up and drove over to the activity center to see if the WIFI worked. We were able to get on so Ben caught up on news. Jane took care of her farm on Face book and caught up on emails.

After a short stop at the gulf access area for Jane to take some photos, we headed east crossing into Florida within 10 miles.

Coastline at Gulf Shores State Park

Orange Beach and Perdido Beach blend together and suddenly we were at the Florida State Park – Big Lagoon – where we had planned to camp. We drove through and decided it was a good place to stay. We got a site but immediately left for The Florida section of Gulf Shores National Seashore. We drove through Pensacola, across the bridge to Gulf Breeze where the headquarters for the park was located. Photo at beginning of post was taken here.

We got an overview of the park and the suggestion to drive to the Santa Rosa section for our picnic lunch. We crossed the toll bridge to Pensacola Beach and headed further east along some beautiful white sand beaches. The picnic area at Santa Rosa was indeed nice and we enjoyed the last of the DB 50th meatballs, shrimp, cheese ball, crackers, celery, carrots etc. Nice lunch in a beautiful location.

Oil Spill notice on beautiful beaches
Perfect white sugar sand at Santa Rosa Beach

We then headed to the west end of the island to tour Fort Pickens. This was a very interesting fort as it was first built in early 1800’s – saw action during the Civil War when the Union occupied Fort Pickens and the confederacy occupied Fort Barrancas on the mainland. The fort was updated near the turn of the century and again during World War II. It was an interesting mix of beautiful original brickwork and concrete bunkers similar to those we had seen at Corregidor in the Philippines. The ranger who gave the tour had been there 25 years as historian and had obviously done a lot of research… When Hurricane Ivan came ashore in 2004 the storm surge was 10 feet over the sea wall and flooded most of the fort.

External View of Fort Pickens

Inside Fort Pickens

We headed back toward the campground with a stop at Joe Pattie’s Seafood. This was a fresh fish supermarket! There were numerous types of fresh fish, probably 10 types of shrimp, various types of crab, lobsters, scallops, etc. - anything you would need to prepare them plus lots more. We got 3 pounds of large shrimp for $6.99 and they went in the freezer section of the refrigerator. We also bought snapper and scallops to eat tonight for supper. Jane found this business on the internet and it was indeed a real find.

Joe Patties Seafood
Inside Joe Patties

Back at camp Jane cooked a good seafood dinner. The snapper was particularly good. The moon was nearly full and we decided to walk across the boardwalk to the lagoon. The boardwalk continued for about a mile – crossing marsh and swamp. There was a large pond where the reflections of the trees on the water were beautiful. Photos with my camera just were not possible. As we reached the other side of the island we could see the inland waterway, the bridge back to Perdido Key and the huge condominiums. We were in a different world yet so close.

Campsite at Big Lagoon

It has been interesting that we have had 3G coverage everywhere along the beach. So we have had email on our i-phones but have not able to access the internet with WIFI except at Gulf Shores Park and the internet hot spots we have found.

Exploring Gulf Shores

Evening Scene at Gulf Shores State Park
Tuesday, October 19, 2010

We were up, ate a quick breakfast and headed out in search for an internet site. We found a Coffee Shop and set up for an hour or so of catching up. Ben needed to get Sprinter tags updated and reserve a hotel room for our return trip. We will stay in Birmingham on Friday night and eat Sukiyaki - we found it at an upscale Japanese restaurant on the way down. Ben has been wanting Sukiyaki for close to a year and most Japanese restaurants do not have it on their menus. Anyway – Jane caught up on Farmville and checked a couple other things.

We left the internet cafĂ© and headed to the outlet mall in Foley – about 10 miles. Ben had given Jane a rocking chair to replace our old fold up chairs for camping – and he wants one like it. We saw some at the Mullet Festival and the folks who owned them said they came from the Coleman Outlet in Foley. We drove all around the outlet mall and did not find Coleman. Jane however wanted to look around in Coldwater Creek so since there was a Tool/Hardware outlet close-by; Ben went there. BIG mistake on Jane’s part! She looked for the appointed 20 minutes and headed back to the Sprinter. Ben had two huge boxes … he had bought a chain saw AND a leaf blower! Said he had been thinking about buying one or the other this fall and for the great prices here he got both for less than he had anticipated spending for one at Home Depot. While there were several nice things at Coldwater Creek; nothing that just cried out for purchase…so, Jane didn’t buy anything. Ben always says he is not a shopper – he is a buyer. Well he proved that today – chain saw, leaf blower, and when we got to Coleman – his new chair! My time will come…..

After his buying Ben said he was exhausted. We headed to the Bon Secour National Wildlife Preserve. We ate a nice lunch at a picnic table and drove on a couple roads. It was too hot for hiking and not much wildlife was out midday, so we headed back to camp and spent a couple hours reading and figuring out where to put the chain saw and leaf blower!! When you travel/camp in a 20 foot Sprinter everything has a place and there are not many places to store extra things!

Ben unpacks his purchases

Laundry room at Gulf Shores State Park

We had a nice bike ride over to the activity area and took a few photos. The photo of the laundry room may not look exciting but this was as large as any laundromat you would see anywhere - and for campgrounds this is unusual. They did not have any shirts Jane liked to purchase for herself or Daniel, so we will hope the Naval Aviation Museum has something great.

Dinner was at the Original Oyster House – fair oysters, good flounder and shrimp and very good mahi-mahi. Thanks David for the recommendation. The evening was quiet with NCIS, other TV and photo processing and blog writing. Hopefully we will head out to the beach for a short time tomorrow before we head to Florida.

Bayside near some of the campsites

East to Alabama

First in line for ferry across Mobile Bay
Monday, October 18, 2010

We were up about 7:30, had a microwave omelet, checked email, enjoyed coffee and then took down camp. We were on our way about 9:00. Jane got an email this morning from a friend with some suggestions for the Ocean Springs area. We had already done most of the things but did drive through downtown Ocean Springs looking for a special donut shop (closed on Monday). The downtown area is charming and reminded us of St. Simon GA – it is another “real” place.

We headed east towards Pascagoula. We drove around the Northrop-Grumman Ship Yards where we observed several vessels under construction. Signs up they were hiring “long term – through 2013”. The employee parking areas were full to overflowing.

Two views of Northrop Grumman Shipyards

Then we drove through town observing numerous beautiful old homes on the bay. When we stopped at an area near the bay for a view back to Northrop-Grumman, yellow and white blooming bushes were covered in Monarch butterflies. This is obviously their migration route!

Monarch butterfly migration

On the eastern side of Pascagoula was an entirely different type of shipyard and harbor. This area supported the oil industry. There were cranes, various ships, oil rigs, dry docks, and again plenty of workers and signs out that they were hiring. The area looked very busy to these two passersby.

Oil Rigs in Pascagoula Shipyard

After passing through Pascagoula we were soon in Alabama and turned south on the road that would take us to the ferry to Dauphin Island. We passed through several small towns – one Bayou La Batre was called the Seafood Capital of Alabama so we searched for shrimp…after a number of phone calls and drives down dead end roads we gave up…we even had directions from the city hall! We finally made it to Dauphin Island and drove on to the ferry site since we did not want to miss it. They were running with only 1 ferry so the time between ferries was longer. We got there at 1:05 and the next ferry left at 2:00. We had a nice picnic lunch under some trees while we waited. We were first in line for the ferry and by the time we left there were 18 vehicles on the ferry. The ride across Mobile Bay took about 45 minutes and we were able to see numerous oil platforms and many support ships. When we departed the ferry we went directly to Fort Morgan and wandered through the fort and the museum. The fort saw action in the Civil War, Spanish American, WWI and WWII – for the last two in a defense and support role. It was mostly an earthen fort with numerous concrete batteries similar to the ones on Corregidor.

We drove east towards Gulf Shores stopping at a Seafood Market for 2 pounds of shrimp. We continued on to the Gulf Shores State Park. This park is really quite a place with over 400 campsites – all spaced well apart and with water, electricity, and sewer hookups. There is a WIFI router right beside our campsite and it shows 4 bars but you can’t get on the internet. There is a swimming pool, tennis courts, boat rentals, miles of hiking trails, miles of bike riding trails, and more. They tell us they have not worked to bugs out of the internet system yet but it should be park wide soon.

Campsite at Gulf Shores State Park

The old park was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan and this remodeled park has just re-opened in the last month or so. We will stay here 2 nights.

Dinner was the shrimp – one pound I boiled with some of my just purchased ”Slap-Yo-Mama” seasoning and we will eat it cold for lunches. For dinner I made shrimp scampi and some lightly breaded fried shrimp. We ate it along with a little brown rice and asparagus. It was all great!!! Tomorrow night we will head out to one of the places recommended by one of Jane’s Red Cross friends.

We took a bike ride to locate the Activity Room where the check-in people told Ben the WIFI worked – it didn’t… We watched some TV and Jane wrote up the blog and read. Ben got lots of good TV here with his antenna – in fact we have had good TV every night except the one night when the antenna had a loose connection.

Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, and Gautier

Biloxi Lighthouse

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Wow did we sleep late! I woke up at 6:15 but went right back to sleep and neither of us woke up until 8:45! We managed to get ready to leave for our road trip to Bay St. Louis by 10. We drove west on US 90 and will return on I-10 this afternoon. As you drove west there was more and more damage from Katrina. We saw numerous B/P clean-up crews along the perfect white beaches that rim the gulf along the entire Mississippi Coast. We chose not to stop at the home of Jefferson Davis – it is a beautiful white mansion right on the Gulf in the western part of Biloxi. Just did not seem the way we wanted to spend our $$$ it is not a national or state park but run by a private group.One of the Live Oak trees turned into a sculpture

We stopped to photograph the Biloxi lighthouse (at first of post) and watched for the dead “Live Oak” sculptures that had been sculpted from the trees by an artist over a year time frame. There were various fish, birds, animals and literature said angels. I never did see the angels.

Unique Light Poles throughout Bay St. Louis

We crossed the Bay of St. Louis and spent quite a bit of time driving around in Bay St. Louis. This small town on the west side of the bay is less than 50 miles from New Orleans and very French and very Catholic from our brief observations. We saw buildings and homes in various stages of recovery. This was the only place we saw any lots with the rubble still on the property. We spent a while looking for a restaurant in both Bay St. Louis and Waveland a little further west. Finally we decided since we were not really hungry yet we would head back east towards Pass Christian where we had seen a large shrimping fleet.

We stopped at Shaggy’s Bar and Grill that was right on the fishing pier. We arrived in the midst of the New Orleans Saints ball game which the owners and patrons of this locality definitely support! Most everyone had on Saint’s jerseys including all the waitresses. They had 4 or 5 large screen TV’s and the whole place would erupt when the Saint’s did something good.
Shaggy's Bar and Saint's Ball Game

We had excellent food. Jane had a shrimp po-boy and Ben had a grilled fish sandwich (since they had no oysters). Ben had to eat some of Jane’s po-boy but we managed to finish everything. Beautiful day with clear blue skies overlooking the Gulf – not sure anything could have made a better day.
Delicious Shrimp Po-Boy

We turned north to get on I-10 and headed towards Gautier to attend the Mullet Festival. At the festival there were a large number of vendors – all kinds of local arts and crafts with the emphasis on crafts…there were some interesting educational displays also. The Pascagoula Red Cross had their ERV there – it had been a gift from Kuwait. I believe after Katrina many of the gulf coast chapters received these from Kuwait. One other exhibit that caught my eye was the sanitation company that was a sponsor of the event. They had a big bucket of aluminum cans, paper boxes, and plastic drink and water bottles. If you could get 2 out of 3 in a trash bin then you got a prize – a garbage can drink container or another prize. Interesting way to get their recycle message across! The kids were lined up to play along with their parents…
Mullet Festival in Gautier

Can't see the Mullet very well....he's ready to toss

There were numerous food vendors too including the men’s club of the town that was serving Mullet Platters. Ben bought 5 small pecan pies that will serve as his desserts for the next few days! There was a little of everything with emphasis on local – there was a main stage with different music groups each hour. Both who played while we were there were good. The highlight of the festival was the Mullet Toss. You stood in line and threw a mullet fish as far as you could across a field marked off in 10 yard lines. They even had a lineman who ran down and measured each toss and they wrote down your score…I never did find out what the prize was but people sure were taking part – adults, kids, teens. Ben says he does not imagine there is a PETA Chapter in southern Mississippi or they would have closed the event down!

We stopped on our way back to our campground to buy gas (lowest price on the trip 2.73) and look around in a grocery. Jane wanted to look for Creole seasonings and a couple things for dinner.

Scene at Davis Bayou

Back at camp Jane took a nature trail hike and some photos, Ben fixed the TV antenna, and we visited with neighbors. One guy was very interested in the Sprinter and another one was moving from Santa Fe NM to TN. He is an acupuncturist so we learned about his profession and we told him not to forget the Tri-Cities as he looked for a new home in TN. He was considering Chattanooga and Knoxville.

We had a great dinner of lemon pepper catfish, squash&onions, and the very last of our 2010 tomatoes. They have been really great this year and I hate to see them go…

This has been a nice area but we will head east into Alabama tomorrow after exploring the Pascagoula area. Ben hears it is an area impacted by the moratorium on oil rig drilling.