Bill and Kit’s 2019 Excellent Adventure, Journal #10


It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves – in finding themselves.
Andre Gide

Friday, March 15, 2019: Kit and I departed Palmetto, Florida at 0927 hours under bright sunny skies and a temperature of 72 degrees…

…then chose a variety of back roads to travel north into Tampa, before hooking around to head south on the Selman Expressway towards Port Tampa.

At the extreme tip of the Tampa Bay Peninsula sits MacDill Air Force Base…

…where we found Raccoon Creek Recreation Area and our camp spot for the next four days.

This is our first stay at Raccoon Creek and, regardless of its name, Kit and I did not find one single racoon. However, we did discover a first-rate military recreation facility located next to a beautiful beach featuring panoramic views overlooking Tampa Bay…

…where picnic cabanas are strategically placed along the shore…

…and where a beachside restaurant and tavern called The Seascape sat…

…where live entertainment is often featured during the weekends.

Oh, and since the beach is blessed with an unobstructed view to the Southwest…the sunsets are spectacular!

Believe it’s going to be a relaxing and pleasant stay…goodnight!

Saturday, March 16 through Monday, March 18, 2019-MacDill AFB at Tampa, Florida: The weather was delightful during our stay, warm sunny days followed by cool evenings…perfect! And surprisingly, this US Air Force Base contains an abundance of open land being that it is only a few miles from downtown Tampa…a city with over 385,000 residents! There are trails that lead from the campground to various other recreation facilities…

…such as this fresh water lake…

…which is purported to have a family of alligators somewhere in its depths, but the only wildlife I noticed were the many songbirds living amongst the pine and oak trees…

…which could be heard but I never spotted them.

On one fine pleasant day, Kit and I attempted to visit the illusory town of Del Boca Vista and visit the infamous Hanging Chad Museum. However unfortunately the museums founder, Mr. Frank Costanza, had closed it down…so we drove out to see Honeymoon Isle Instead.

Now a Florida State Park, this once private island is located off the coastal town of Dunedin. The island was once owned by wealthy industrialist Mr. Clinton Washburn who in 1939 built several rustic thatched huts…

Photo from Google Images

…and offered them to newlyweds for up to a two week stay, free of charge. All the honeymooners needed do is to write a letter to Mr. Washburn explaining why they should be chosen for this honor. Over 200 couples enjoyed his hospitality until the onset of WWII when the program was stopped, and the huts fell into disrepair. However, for the next dozen years Mr. Washburn kept in contact with all the couples and there had been no divorces, which today helps brand Honeymoon Island as a magical place for young lovers to visit.

Driving into the Honeymoon Island State Park on a narrow paved one-way loop road…

…brings the visitor to many secluded beaches…

…with unique vegetation…

…and the occasional four-legged residents…

…some of which were quite shy!

Then there was an abundance of two-legged residents…

…living amongst the many wildflowers…

… growing in the most unusual places.

As mentioned, the state park has many easily assessable beaches that go largely unused. However, there is one large beach area with a massive parking lot, snack bar, beach equipment rental and…

… hundreds of vacationers attempting to get away from it all. The proverbial Herd Mentality at its best.

Following our visit to Honeymoon Island, Kit and I returned to the base campground for evening cocktails and yet another spectacular sunset!

Goodnight!

Well, it’s been a few pages without mentioning food, yea I’m surprised at that as well! So, here is one dining opportunity we enjoyed in coastal Clearwater which is accessible by a bridge from the mainland…

…that led us to Frenchy’s Salt Water Café, where…

…their source of fresh seafood is just a few feet away…

…and their specialty being Grouper…

…which Kit and I selected to have fried and in sandwich form. It was some of the best Grouper we have ever enjoyed! And a shout out to the folks that recommended we visit Frenchy’s, our friends David and Betty…thanks guys!

On the way back to the base we were caught in commuter traffic, a bit of a mild nuisance to us retirees. But the slow speed did allow Kit and I to enjoy some of the highway landscaping…

…that most folks just whiz by at breakneck speed.

Once back at our campsite…guess what? Kit and I walked down to the shore to view yet another stunning sunset!

Goodnight!

Well, this morning, the day before Kit and I were to depart MacDill AFB and head over to the East Coast of Florida, we received word that some Maine RVing friends were inbound from the south. And, since we’ve not been close enough to co-camp with them over the years…it was quickly decided that we would stay here for a few more days.

Tuesday, March 19 through Saturday, March 23, 2019 – MacDill AFB at Tampa, Florida – (extended stay): Woke to more beautiful Florida weather…sunny and rising temperatures! Spent the morning lounging about and working on the journal. Shortly after the noon hour, long time Maine friends Vince and Candy arrived at MacDill and set up in a site next door.

We have known this pleasant couple for over thirty years…

…ever since the day that Vince, a fellow Navy retiree, joined the group at Lockheed working at Maine’s Bath Iron Works.  They also arrived along with their dog Jake…

… a beautiful animal and a seasoned traveler in his own right!

The next few days were spent walking the beach and along the wooded paths bordering the campground, or just sitting, eating, drinking, and enjoying each other’s company.

One morning Vince, Candy, and I walked over to the Seascapes for a complimentary breakfast as the sun rose in the East.

Sponsored by Morale, Welfare & Recreation (MWR), the folks that manage the campground and Marina, put on this feed as a “Thank You for Staying with Us” event.

The chow line featured eggs, bacon, sausage, fruit, and the best homemade biscuits I’ve enjoyed in quite some time!

Following breakfast, Vince and Candy decided to take Jake for a walk down a wooded path, and invited me along…

… toward the pond I had visited a few days earlier. Along the way we spotted these nesting pairs of Osprey….

…but did not notice any young ones about, however.

Once at the pond, Candy and I climbed the observation platform…

… and enjoyed the early morning view which included…

… some waterfowl wading in the placid waters.

Returning to the campsite, the four of us spent the day visiting and enjoying each other’s company, followed by a great barbeque meal hosted by Vince and Candy featuring plenty of adult beverages.

While sitting around camp, Jake took a liking to Kit which she thoroughly enjoyed…

… partly because Jake reminded her of Finny…

… our Great-grand-dog back home in Maine

And of course, as nighttime fell, there was yet another sunset to enjoy.

Goodnight!

Vince and Candy winter over in Key West, and over the years have amassed a huge circle of Key West camping friends, some of which have returned to their summer places up north in the Tampa area. While we were at MacDill, Candy arranged for those folks to join us at the Seascapes Lounge for the traditional Friday Crab Leg and Shrimp Boil.

Kit and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting these fine folks and sharing camping stories over an excellent meal.

Now, that’s a lot of food…and I ate every morsel…and it was incredibly delicious!

Back at the campsite we all sat around, having a few drinks, and visiting until it was time once again for the sun to set in the West…

…and a gorgeous sunset it was…goodnight!

On the final day at MacDill for Kit and me, we hung around the campsite, taking care of some maintenance chores and doing laundry followed by an afternoon of visiting with our neighbors. Then that evening, the four of us walked down to the beach and enjoyed one final Tampa Bay sunset, an image made even more special by these lovely ladies!

Goodnight Vince and Candy, its been a blast camping with you, reliving old times, and meeting some new friends…I think you’ve convinced us to visit Key West again and thanks for that as well! But for now, Kit and I will pull chocks and start heading north in the morning…stay tuned for Chapter Eleven of our 2019 Excellent Adventure.

Kit’s Bit’s: We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at MacDill AFB and spending time with Vince & Candy! Lots of laughs, memories and shared camping experiences, both good and, not so good! Thanks to both of you for such an enjoyable visit. As we wander around Florida, the northern part, we’ve seen lots of neat places and discovered some cool places to spend time during the winters. We still need to check out the southern half of the state, mainly Key West, one of these winters, which happens to be the first place we lived after getting married and where our oldest daughter, Kimber was born. Stay tuned…😊

Bill and Kit’s 2019 Excellent Adventure, Journal #9

In life, it’s not where you go, it’s who you travel with
Charles Schulz

 

Friday, March 8, 2019: This morning we depart from Country Aire Estates in Dade City, Florida following a thoroughly enjoyable week camping and chuming around with our Maine (no pun intended) friends Jeff and Catherine.

Departed at 1053 under sunny skies and a balmy 80 degrees with a light wind. Found our way to US-301 which we took to the south before intersecting with I-75.

Ninety minutes later we merged onto I-275 North and within another ten minutes pulled off the Interstate into the town of Palmetto, and our base for the week…Fiesta Grove RV Park.

Where we set up in a small lot amongst mostly mobile home style units.

This older park is like many in Florida as it features lots for rent on an annual basis, so folks can anchor a park model trailer or some other type of small manufactured home and attach so called Florida Rooms for more living space. Not the nicest park of this type we’ve stayed at, but the residents are pleasant, and the park is neat and clean…it’ll do for the week. And even in this landlocked park, the classic Florida sunsets can be enjoyed over the surrounding homes.

Goodnight!

 

Saturday, March 9 through Thursday, March 14, 2019-Palmetto, Florida: Decided to come down to this area in order to spend time with some Maine expatriates…Sterlin and Pat.

Although Maine natives, these dear friends decided to become residents of The Sunshine State and then reverse snowbird back home where they reside in a beautiful lakeside cottage.

Their new hometown is in Ellenton, Florida where they have a nice place in a 55+ retirement community called Colony Cove…

…which is a large community of neat and tidy manufactured homes, such as theirs…

…and features numerous swimming pools…

…exercise rooms, ponds, community centers, and access to the Manatee River

…which flows to Tampa Bay and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico. All in all, a perfect place to relax for the discriminating snowbird, primarily winter weary humans, but the other type of snow-bird as well…

…such as the Sand Hill Cranes shown above.

While in the area, we enjoyed a lot of activities…and of course food was paramount! To this point, the four of us met up with Betty and David, another couple of Maine expatriates who live full time in a nice community an hour north.

This time, I chose the meet up place, and I selected…

…Ford’s Garage, a regional chain of comfort food joints with a heavy theme of the iconic Ford Model A.

In addition to the cars, the place was decorated with dozens of Model A parts and engines.

Even the lavatory had distinctive automotive touches.

I think everyone enjoyed the ambiance, companionship, and food.

I know I certainly did!

Yep, that’s a fried egg on that burger, and note the use of a shop towel for napkins and the hose clamp for the napkin ring…automotive themed to the tiniest detail!

 

Even though we spent time enjoying the company of Pat, Sterlin, Dave, and Betty…they have lives and previously made plans, so Kit and I took the opportunity to explore areas they get to see on a regular basis, such as Emerson Point Preserve…

… located on a peninsula that juts out into Tampa Bay….

…and features many small private beaches…

…divided by Mangroves…

…a shrub that grows in salt water and creates a habitat for numerous shore birds and aquatic animals.

 

On one day that Pat and Sterlin were free of other obligations, we met up at the nearby South Florida Museum located in Bradenton.

Where the history of the ecology and inhabitants of this region were on display. However, surprisingly there were no dinosaur bones in the museum. That’s when I learned that when these giant reptiles roamed the earth, Florida was mostly underwater!

A special mission tasked to the museum is the rehabilitation and reintroduction to the sea of sick or wounded Manatees.

The Manatee is a large aquatic mammal that eats primarily vegetation. Also called Sea Cows, or locally as Chubby Mermaids, the Manatee can grow to 13 feet long and weigh over 1,300 pounds. They graze in shallow water making them frequent victims of boat strikes…hence the need for rehabilitation centers. Manatees primarily reside in the ocean, but visit fresh water sources in search of food, and to help lower the level of salt in their bodies.  See, even Chubby Mermaids are health conscious!

We enjoyed touring the museum, but now it’s time for lunch…yep, there’s always time for food! So off we went to Pier 22 Restaurant, surprisingly located down the street on pier 22.

Where we enjoyed more visiting and some of Florida’s excellent seafood!

 

One morning in town, Kit wanted to explore Anna Maria Island, a peninsula that juts out into the Gulf of Mexico south of Saint Petersburg…so one foggy morning we set off. However fortunately by the time we reached the causeway leading to the island the fog began to lift.

This seven-mile-long barrier island is partly a bird and sea turtle sanctuary. However, the main industry in the village of Anna Maria is tourism, with quaint little shops and restaurant’s lining the main street of Pine Avenue.

While Kit shopped, I rambled about in search of photo opportunities, and came across a small historic district with a few unusual structures.

In 1927, Town Mayer Mitch Davis built this open-air jail to temporally house citizens and tourist who became overly inebriated and set about disturbing the peace. The doorway, windows and roof were originally all steel bars, which allowed the voracious nighttime mosquito population to enjoy a feast and teach those incarcerated an unforgettable lesson…rural justice at its best! A proper jail was constructed on the island years later and this one was painted with catchy slogans as a tourist attraction.

Next to the old jail was this handsome cottage.

Known as Belle Haven, it was originally built in 1920 with similar cottages on the town pier as tourist lodging. However, six years later a major storm battered the pier and all the buildings were swept into Tampa Bay where most broke up and washed ashore as firewood. Local legend has it that Belle Haven remained intact and floated into a protected part of the bay where a guest emerged and walked ashore. The cottage was soon sold to a local for $125.00 and he relocated it on the island as his residence.

The Gulf side of the island features miles of sugar sand beaches…

…where many pale snowbirds…

…strut about enjoying the warm sunshine.

What would a Bill and Kit exploration trip be without food? On this day, we learned of a quirky local hangout called Ginny’s and Jane E’s.

A repurposed IGA market, the Café, bakery and gift shop has a loyal following and serves some great breakfast and lunch fare.

Which one enjoys at antique tables surrounded by funky wall art.

An interesting dining and visual experience!

On another day in town, Kit and I accompanied Sterlin and Pat to the nearby Tampa Power Company generating plant…

… to see if any Manatee’s were being drawn upstream by the warm discharge into the sea by the outflow of cooling water from the plant.

Sterlin and I walked out into the bay via a long pedestrian walkway but…

…alas, no Manatee’s, just these Mullets cavorting about under the pathway.

Sterlin did point out several areas where the surface water was being disturbed by some sort of aquatic creature, he surmised they may by Manatee’s, I’ll take his word for it.

Returning to the visitor’s center, we encountered a touch tank that contained several Manta Rays…

…which seemed to like being stroked by humans, as whenever they circled the tank and came near a person, the Ray’s rose and slowed to allow touching…their skin felt a bit like rubber.

Returning to Colony Cove to enjoy snacks and retrieve our truck, I noticed this nice sunset down the street from Pat and Sterlin’s place.

Goodnight!

 

Woke to overcast skies and we (I) decided it was a good day to see some collector cars. Like Southern California there is a vibrant car culture in South Florida with many unique automobiles on the road, and plenty of upscale car dealerships and museums about…one of which I toured while Kit engaged in some local retail therapy.

Located in the resort town of Sarasota, the museum is the result of one man’s passion that outgrew his ability to store his collection at home. As a result, this building was constructed in 1952 and is recognized as the second oldest private car museum in the nation.

With over 75 automobiles on display and about that many in storage or undergoing restoration, the collection is very eclectic with examples of some interesting vehicles…such as this 1964 Ford Fairlane Thunderbolt.

Ford wanted to get back into drag racing, and rather then support a team, decided to produce their own drag cars. Only 100 of these factory racers were produced, each with a 427 CID engine and dual four-barrel carburetors which produced a whopping 600+horsepower. The car was lightened by deleting all parts and accessories that were not essential to its purpose which rendered these cars ineligible to be registered…however a number of them did find their way to public streets.

The museum also has some unusual one of a kind automobiles, such as this 1937 Gougeon Streamliner.

This odd-looking car was hand built as a prototype by a wealthy business owner in Michigan. The aerodynamic body was placed on a donor chassis with the drive wheels in front and the Ford Flathead engine in the rear. In the 1930’s, there was a push for modern looking fuel-efficient cars and several prototypes were cobbled together in backyard garages…many, like this example, never evolved beyond the experimental stage.

Another futuristic car in the collection is this Shark Roadster.

Designed in the early 1960’s by Industrial Designer and Florida resident Henry Covington. The roadster, along with a companion coupe called the Tiburon, was recognized in 1963 as the most aerodynamic automobile in the world. This notoriety encouraged Covington to go into production, and ultimately build twelve automobiles before his untimely death which caused the company to fold.

Other cars in the collection that found wild success were those produced by more established automotive manufactures in the 1950’s and 1960’s…such as this 1963 Cadillac.

Which received fancy pinstriping and a flame paint job during its restoration.

At the collections other end of the spectrum, size wise, was this diminutive 1957 BMW Isetta.

Which held a special place in my heart as my mother owned a version of this strange vehicle whose only door was in the front. The five-foot-long car weighed under 800 pounds and was propelled by an anemic 18 CID motorbike engine producing 13 horsepower. The small and lightweight car allowed my brother and I, along with a few other teenagers, to lift the car and place it in some unusual locations…much to the chagrin of my mom.

An historic vehicle in the collection is this 1922 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost.

Once owned by John Ringling of circus fame, it accompanied him via railcar to circus venues through the United States. A unique Rolls, it was assembled in a factory in Springfield, Massachusetts from parts shipped over from England which cost far less in import tariffs than shipping a complete automobile.

Then there was this 1959 Bentley…

…which was designed and painted for The Beatles to use during their later US tour’s.

I really enjoyed seeing these interesting classic and antique automobiles, but it was time to fetch Kit and find somewhere to have lunch…yep, food again!

The downtown portion of Sarasota is neat, clean, and nestled on the shore of Sarasota Bay…

…where the highly rated restaurant Marina Jacks is located on the waterfront, and since the overcast had cleared, that’s where we decided to eat.

Since it was the classic blue-hair hour of 1500 hours, we were able to score a nice window table overlooking the marina, Jack!

So, what did we order from the menu? Well, Kit choose a large salad with grilled Salmon…

…and I went with the Alligator Tacos!

Both meals were excellent, and by the way…alligator meat doesn’t taste like chicken either!

And, for desert we each selected Key Lime Pie.

Which was every bit as good as the offerings we enjoyed in Key West many years ago!

After dinner, Kit and I walked about the boat docks a bit where I noticed this vessel was for sale…

…so, I decided to take a closer look. Gently used, and only $3,440,000.00 I quickly deducted that I could probably afford to make an offer on the American flag flying proudly from the stern…however, I doubt the yacht broker would be willing to sell it separately.

Yep, Sarasota Harbor is replete with high end yachts…

…and the local police department has a nice vessel parked at the ready as well!

Walking back to the truck we passed the valet lot for Marina Jack’s and spied this high-end beauty.

A late model Rolls-Royce which likely cost more than my home!

Being there was still daylight, and considering we were in the area anyway, Kit and I decided to take the bridge over to Longboat Key…

 …where we visited Coquina Beach…

…another unspoiled coastline with soft white sugar sand and where…

…near-do-well beach bums tend to hang out

There is a lot of money in this part of Florida, and where the rich and famous reside one finds many high-end automobile dealers. However, if the moneyed set want something more unique and classy, they head for Vintage Motors of Sarasota…a classic and collector car dealership where the “Deal of the Day” routinely sits out in front to lure prospective buyers, and tire kickers, into their showroom.

Just inside the dealerships front door rests this beauty! Woodies, such as this1940 Buick Estate Wagon, are my personal favorite type of antique automobiles.

This gorgeous fully restored wagon is one of only twelve documented 1940 Buicks know to exist and therefore demands a purchase price of $195,000.00.

Of all the expensive collector cars in inventory, there were a few more pedestrian models on the showroom floor such as this 1966 Ford Bronco Roadster.

This version of Ford’s venerable Bronco 4X4 came with no top or doors, although both were an option, and the windshield could be folded flat to the hood for a true open-air off-road vehicle. The fully restored Bronco had a price of $49,000.00…ten times its cost when new!

At the other end of the price spectrum was this 2006 Ford GT.

The Ford GT was inspired by the GT-40 race car of the mid 1960’s that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans four years running. This street version was designed with the assistance of Carroll Shelby and sold in 2006 for $139,000.00. The mid-engine 330 CID supercharged power plant produced 550 horsepower for a 0-60 time of under four seconds. The sticker on this beautiful, well cared for vehicle, with under 500 miles on the odometer, is a mere $369,900.00.

Another rather unusual sports car for sale was this 1956 Bangert Manta Ray.

Designed by a 20-year-old Noel Bangert to be made of fiberglass and dimensioned to fit on many European sports car frames of the day, the Manta Ray was likely the first Kit Car. This restored example, of which there are only four known to exist, is offered for $49,000.00. As an interesting side note, Noel Bangert got out of the car business, moved to Hollywood and entered the movie industry…to his credit is the classic horror film The Exorcist.

Then there was a rather plain looking Mercedes sitting on the showroom floor.

This 1979 Mercedes-Benz 300TD with a turbo-diesel power plant was the last vehicle owned by John Lennon and was not for sale.

My personal favorite vehicle, that was for sale, is this 1941 Chrysler Town and Country…know as a “Barrel Back”, for obvious reasons.

Wood bodied station wagons of the late 1940’s were viewed as upscale vehicles and demanded higher prices, so many auto manufactures added wood paneling to their passenger cars as well.

With only twenty-three examples of this vehicle know to exist, this gorgeous and extremely rare example is listed at $384,900.00…making it the most expensive vehicle on the showroom floor.

Well, it’s time to close this chapter of our Florida adventure, but not before thanking these two fine folks for their companionship and decades long friendship.

Thanks, Sterlin and Pat…looking forward to seeing you around the Lake District this summer!

And lastly, one final sunset that didn’t fit anywhere else, but I wanted to post it…so here!

Goodnight!

 

Kit’s Bit’s: Well, other than “tagging along”, (and, occasionally escaping) looking at cars, we had a wonderful time with Pat & Sterlin. It was great to see their winter home and meet some of their friends. We went to an auction at the Club House which included dinner and was fun. We also spent a lot of time catching up on things which we haven’t had much time to recently. Spent some time with David & Betty, too. Catching up on things in their life and remembering old times when we first met, in 1977. Each of our 3 kids are about the same ages as their 3 kids, so, it’s always nice to catch up on their activities.

Bill and Kit’s 2019 Excellent Adventure, Journal #8


Adventure before Dementia
Seen on the back of a camper along I-75

Tuesday, February 26, 2019: Departing Travelers RV Park in Alachua, Florida following a pleasant overnight stay. Kit and I found our way back to I-75 South and ninety minutes later we pulled off in the town of Bushnell for a Walmart resupply stop. After two hours of retail therapy and walking around time we were back on the road under drizzly skies and a temperature of 71 degrees.

Heading south, we were surprised at the number of RV’s heading north…these likely snowbirds must live in a more temperate climate than we do, as it would be insane to think of returning to Maine in February!

At 1527 hours, we pulled off the highway and made our way to Country Aire Estates, the seasonal resort of some very good Maine friends, and our new home for the next week or so.

In residence are Jeff and Catherine, the proud owners of a beautiful brand-new Class A Motorhome!

Jeff, a fellow old car nut, got me interested in Ford Model A’s, and I in turn piqued his interest in RV’ing. After all, what are friends for if not to encourage each other to spend gobs of money on retirement toys!

Oh, in the photo above note the photographers creative use of the shiny new windshield to mirror the swaying palm trees…unfortunately some dork wearing a miner’s headlamp photobombed the picture!

Kit and I were fortunate to score a nice camp spot right next door to Jeff and Catherine…

…and at a very attractive weekly rate. Actually, it was competitive with most military campgrounds!

Their new rig is a Pace Arrow built by Fleetwood, a decades old manufacture of quality RV’s.

Built on a Freightliner chassis, this 34-foot diesel pusher supplies 300 HP through an Allision transmission which motivates the 26,000-pound luxury coach to highway speeds with little effort. The air-suspension provides a smooth ride to the motorhome’s contents and occupants as well…

…. a fact I was able to verify when Jeff invited me to ride back one day to the dealership for some warranty work.

With the coach in the shop, we spent the rest of the morning in the dealers lounge before the girls drove down to accompany us for lunch at a local Plant City, Florida dining institution…Fred’s Southern Kitchen.

Where we met and visited with the matriarch, Mom.

Fred’s was established in 1954 as a small takeout diner housed in the family’s gas station. Word of mouth spread, and the station was converted to a full restaurant.

Photo from Freds.com

Today, Mom is on site most days to greet customers and oversee the staff of family and friends who are still serving good old homestyle southern fare.

 

On another day the four of us visited the Pioneer Florida Museum and Village in Dade City. This very nice museum is the home of many historic structures that were moved to the site saving them from demolition…including The John Overstreet House, a typical home of the mid 1800’s.

Other buildings of significance include an implement shed where…

…a couple of volunteer steam mechanics are restoring an early farm tractor.

And a display building which was full of historic artifacts such as these woodworking planes…

…and a variety of hand sewn quilts, which was of interest to Catherine and Kit.

A rather unique artifact in the same building was a hand sewn US flag from the 1770’s…

…that was said to be the first American flag flown in battle at Fort Stanwix, New York.

The beautiful grounds of the museum feature mature native Live Oak trees draped with Spanish Moss.

Which isn’t a moss at all, but rather a flowering plant that lives in a host tree. A cash crop for poor southern farmers, Spanish Moss was collected…

… cleaned, and baled for sale to manufacturers of furniture, insulation panels, and pads for evaporative (swamp) coolers. Kind of ironic that a natural fiber grown in the humid southeast was used as a medium for coolers in the arid southwest.

Spanish Moss also played a role in the burgeoning auto industry. In fact, Henry Ford specified Spanish Moss be used in the seat of his iconic Model T, an example which is also on display at the museum.

Mechanically unchanged for almost twenty years, The Ford Motor Company produced over 16,000,000 of these 20 horsepower automobiles. A rather cantankerous beast, the Model T had manual brakes on the two rear wheels and unique driver controls. A lever below the steering wheel controlled the engine throttle and three primary pedals on the floorboard…

…controlled the cars direction of movement. The right one is the brake, the center pedal puts the car in reverse, and the left one shifts the car into a low, neutral, or high gear selection. Model T enthusiasts today call this strange pedal configuration the ultimate theft deterrent.

Also, on the museums grounds is a one room school house furnished with period artifacts.

The sight of the furnishings in this early school room brought me back to the days when I was in the 1st grade at a rural elementary school in Bonita, California. As an attempt to relive the past, I reenacted a typical school day as I recalled it.

Yea, I wasn’t a very good student…as my 1st grade teacher wrote on one of my report cards found amongst my mother’s papers; “William is too fidgety and doesn’t pay attention”. Explains a lot, huh?

The museum also features a railroad engine from the early days of logging.

This 4-6-0 Ten-Wheeler was built in 1923 and in service for over fifty years hauling Swamp Cyprus logs to lumber mills throughout Florida.

The attached flat car held three huge logs of Red Tidewater Cyprus totaling an estimated 80,000 board feet of lumber. The oldest tree is estimated to be 524 years old before being felled in swampland near Dade City back in 1961.

Jeff is a railroad buff, both full scale and model, so it made perfect sense to capture him at the controls of the museums steam locomotive.

Or, for that matter to spend time with the museums nice scale model railroad layout, which wasn’t open on this day due to a lack of volunteers.

However, the very pleasant museum manager, located the buildings keys, and got the display up and running much to our delight.

Even allowed Jeff, a model railroader in his own right, to help run the layout…a truly enjoyable experience!

Another interesting display at the museum was one of early agriculture.

Florida, which by the way is the Spanish word meaning Land of Flowers, is the flattest state in the union. That, and its year around tropical climate, make it fertile ground for growing citrus…so, it’s no surprise that orange groves cover much of this state.

But other crops of note include, vegetables, strawberries, and grapes…which led us on another road trip!

To the Lakeridge Winery and Vineyards located in Clermont, Florida…

…which is the self-described “Birthplace of American Wine”, with historical connections to French settlers making the elixir of life in the mid 1560’s.

As a family business, with a total of 777 acres in cultivation spread throughout Florida, Lakeridge is the largest winery in the state.

The wine is produced in their state-of-the-art facility under rigorous conditions of quality and cleanliness.

The highlight of any winery tours is the complimentary sampling.

Which allowed Jeff and I to pick up these two “wine imbibing” and therefore, uninhibited chicks, and take them home…

…where we uncorked our bounty…

…and enjoyed a campsite barbeque of steak, chicken, and all the fixings.

And since a combined love of fresh home-made style pie seems to be a common trait, most meals ended with a pie of some sort such as this example made with locally grown strawberries!

Speaking of food, which I seem to do a lot of on these trips, we were able to hook up at local restaurants with other Maine residents that seek environmental sanctuary in Florida during Maine’s long, dark, and cold, snow-season.

Spent one very pleasant afternoon with fellow Sage friends, Pat and Sterlin at Cheddars…

…where we embarrassed ourselves by gorging on stacks of their famous onion rings.

And yes, we ordered a main course as well…and yes, we all carried out to-go boxes of food for later…and yes, it was as good as it looks!

On another day, we went up to Plant City and met our old friends from Brunswick, David and Betty.

Who Jeff and Catherine had not had a chance to meet before but quickly struck up a conversation about growing up in 1950’s Maine…and as it turns out, Catherine and David had some distant relatives in common…small world!

 

Yea, visiting with good friends and eating good food is a prime hobby of the blue hair set. In addition to all the above, we participated in a good old-fashioned Pig Roast at the RV park on one afternoon, and an Ice Cream Social on another day. Below is a photo of Catherine using her banana phone to order up another round of ice cream sundae’s!

In addition, a local Dade City restaurant we checked out was “The Black Eyed Pea”.

I was tempted to request their signature dish until I noticed the southern favorite Fried Green Tomatoes on the menu.

Which I enjoyed alongside my Blue Cheese Burger…some good eatin’ there!

 

Jeff and Catherine also purchased a new car to tow behind their new motorhome, in the RV’ing vernacular this “towed car” is known as a “toad”. And it is an essential component to fully enjoy an unencumbered exploration of America. After all, disconnecting a large motorhome daily to drive about the countryside is a bit onerous, and not very efficient.

So, one of the days we were visiting, Jeff and I took his toad to the dealer in Holiday, Florida to have some detail work accomplished. On the way over via state roads, we came to a small traffic jam crated by this incident.

Yep, it is what it looks like…a pontoon boat separated from its trailer and sitting on its gunnels while the jackknifed tow truck was still attached to the trailer but heavily damaged…someone’s day on the water just went south, probably because he had just visited the Trinity Releaf store up the road.

With the car service completed at the dealership, and still having some daylight left, Jeff suggested we drive over to nearby Tarpon Springs to have a look around.

A tidy little gulf side community of 22,000 folks, Tarpon Springs is renowned for their Sponge Industry and not the namesake fish. The quaint downtown area features the usual gaggle of tourist shops and eateries.

The area is honeycombed with miles of saltwater canals which allow homeowners to keep their boats safely tied up in their backyards while having access to boating on the Gulf of Mexico.

Also, a causeway juts out from Tarpon Springs and leads to a pleasant seaside park…

…on an undeveloped barrier island…

…suitable for swimming in the warm waters of the gulf.

Before leaving Tarpon Springs, we sought out a local institution…Rusty Bellies Waterfront Grill.

Where the special was fried Grouper, known in these parts as Rusty Bellies due to their coloration.

An excellent meal enjoyed on an open-air wharf overlooking a Mangrove forest where Brown Pelicans were at rest in the branches.

Another great day on the Florida Gulf Coast!

 

Dade City hosts a monthly car show and we, or at least Jeff and I, were fortunate to be in town at the right time!

So, while Kit and Catherine walked about the nice and compact downtown area, we enjoyed looking at the local’s collector cars such as this nice Hot Rod…

…which you can see is for sale! Awfully tempting…after all, I do have a two-car garage at home!

Then there was this nice example of a clean 1955 Chevy resto-mod…

… that Jeff is admiring.

A relatively new form of car customization is the Rat Rod, an example of which is this very well engineered vehicle.

A custom fabricated frame supports a pickup cab and box, dual rear wheels and powered by a…

…Cummins Turbo Diesel power plant.

Another classic vehicle of note was this beauty!

Car Nuts will immediately recognize it as a 1963 Corvette coupe, an iconic and very valuable generation two model of Chevrolets, and Americas, true sports car. The split rear window configuration was not popular with the motoring public due to limited rear visibility, so 1963 was the only year with that roof design. In fact, some owners later replaced the split rear windows with a 1964 era single window…which ironically, significantly reduced the value in the current collector car market.

It’s no secret that the state of Florida is a retirement mecca for a substantial population, mainly (pun intended) from cold weather states such as, well…Maine. The state is tax friendly, it enjoys a low cost of living, the weather is mild, and there are rivers, lakes, and oceans accessible to all areas of the state. These facts lead to the unusually high number of golf cart’s one sees on the public right-of-way’s…many of which are designed to resemble 1950’s era classic cars. Then there are examples such as this handmade custom golf cart.

Built over the course of a few years by a retired long-haul trucker. He started with a gas-powered golf cart chassis, and hand fabricated the cab, hood, and bed to mimic his work tractor. Everything is operational…the engines exhaust even exits through the twin chrome stacks! All in all, an incredible engineering accomplishment!!

However, my personal favorite show car was this WWII vintage military Jeep owned by a member of our rapidly disappearing Greatest Generation.

Tony was drafted into the US Army right out of high school and served in Europe as an infantryman, occasionally riding in a similar Jeep. Jeep’s came about their name due to the Army’s designation of the little 4X4 vehicle as a General Purpose (GP) Staff Car. Tony is a spry 92 years young and as sharp as a tack…it was a pleasure talking to this American Hero and hearing some of his stories.

Of course, there were other interesting features of note in downtown Dade City, such as the County Courthouse, built in 1909 and on the National Register of Historic Places.

Tradition has been that on Valentines Day each year the County Clerk conducts complimentary weddings on the front portico of the historic building to anyone with a valid marriage license.

 

For the most part during our stay the weather has been absolutely delightful…warm and sunny. However, one early morning I walked out to the truck and encountered frost!?!?

But that quickly melted with the rising temperatures…didn’t even have to use my snowbird ice scraper that I’ve been carrying around for the past eleven winters.

 

And last, but not least, the famous Florida sunsets could be enjoyed most evenings from a variety of vantage points, such as this shot from a side street in our temporary home of Country Aire Estates.

Well, this has been an unusually long journal, but there was so much to see and do, and our hosts Jeff and Catherine kept us on the go to many interesting sights and attractions…thanks again guys!

So, until next time…Goodnight!

Kit’s Bit’s: We have thoroughly enjoyed the last couple of weeks here in Dade City. Very nice town with a good mix of restaurants, shopping, and RV/Double-wide parks for Seniors from the cold north. There were lots of friendly folks in the park as well as many activities to keep everyone busy. We explored the surrounding area and were able to get an idea of what it’s like to be a “Half-timer” in this area. We enjoyed all the places and, of course, all the people we met up with, both old and new friends.

Bill and Kit’s 2019 Excellent Adventure, Journal #7

There’s only one place I want to go and it’s to all the places I’ve never been.
Nikki Rowe

Sunday, February 17, 2019: Woke to foggy and cool weather off the Texas Gulf Coast and prepared to leave Corpus Christi Naval Air Station. Departed under clearing skies at 1000 hours and meandered through the countryside toward the northeast intersecting I-10 an hour later.

An uneventful transit, with a few rest stops, before pulling into Beaumont, Texas and seeking a recommended RV Park for the evening.

Gulf Coast RV is a nice and well managed campground…the overnight sites are a bit tight but nice and long.

Our rig is only 45 feet long in total…however, a number of newer fifth wheel trailers and their tow vehicles exceed 60 feet which makes some parks rather restrictive due to lot size…this was not one of them.

Entering the camper after six and a half hours of riding on some of the more poorly maintained roadways on our nations interstate highway system, we encountered this!

That table is supposed to be upright and held in place by rather large fasteners…however, the screws stripped right out of the floor and the table toppled!?!? No harm, just righted the thing and used even larger screws from my inventory of miscellaneous hardware to fix the problem!

 

Sunday, February 17, 2019: Woke early and after some e-time we strolled down to the office complex for a nice continental breakfast…a complimentary feature unusual in the average campground!

And, Texas being Texas, the variety and quantity were quite large…and, as an added touch, the waffles were formed in a distinctive shape.

Following the hearty and delicious breakfast, Kit and I got underway at 1016 hours and hopped back on Interstate-10 heading east under partly cloudy skies and a temperature of 54 degrees.

Forty-five minutes later we crossed the Louisiana border, and rolled through Lake Charles. Then following a stop at The Walmart in Jennings, Louisiana, we cruised over the Atchafalaya Basin…

…and stopped at their very nice and informative Visitors Center for a break.

The Atchafalaya Basin, the largest wetland in the United States, is a swampy area we have cruised over many times in the past. Historically, there were a dozen communities in this area engaged in hunting, trapping, fishing and logging the Tupelo-Cypress swamp forest.

Photo Credit-Google Images

The frequent floods combined with depression era flood control projects, forced the residents to move onto higher ground and the swamp slowly reclaimed their former homes.

At 1609 hours we crossed the Mississippi River at Baton Rouge, and thirty minutes later exited onto I-12 to skirt the northern shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Within an hour, we arrived at the Covington, Louisiana home of our longtime friends from the Key West days, Johnnie and Eileen.

It’s always a treat to visit these old friends and accept their hospitality of setting up camp in their spacious circular driveway. Following a nice meal, and great conversation, it was time to call it a night.

 

Tuesday, February 19 and Wednesday, February 20, 2019-Covington, Louisiana: We have visited these pleasant folks many times over the past eleven years of our Excellent Adventure trips, and have seen most of the regional sights, so this stop was all about getting caught up on our lives and enjoying each other’s company.

Kit and Eileen have many hobbies in common as do Johnnie and I…while the ladies visit in the house, we head to Johnnies well appointed woodworking shop to, well…talk shop!

Another hobby we share is eating good Cajun food such as the Shrimp Gumbo that Eileen prepared one evening.

The dinner, as well as the company, was incredible!

As in the past, Kit and I treated Johnnie and Eileen to a meal out to thank them for allowing us to campout in their dooryard. A regional favorite of ours is Lake Pontchartrain Restaurant…one we like to visit annually on our trek through the area. Oysters are their specialty, whether they be on the half shell…

…or fried…

…they can’t be beat for quality, taste and texture! On this particular occasion, we were joined by their delightful granddaughter Shelby, a high school senior with a developing art talent.

Kit and I had a great time folks, thanks again for spending part of your week with us!

 

Thursday, February 21, 2019: Up at the crack of dawn and headed for our traditional Louisiana morning refueling spot…

…an outpost of the original in NOLA’s French Quarter, Café Du Monde (french for The Peoples Café) features the perfect morning elixir…Chicory Coffee! And the freshly baked Beignet’s pair nicely as well!

Well fed, and fortified, we eased onto I-12 and headed east. Since we left so early, and have no particular destination in mind, Kit and I decided to move over to US-90, which parallels I-10. This is a more scenic, albeit slower, route toward the East.

Crossed into Mississippi at 1005 hours and encountered a thick fogbank as we neared the coast. Decided to pull over at an oceanside parking area in Gulfport, Mississippi to wait out the fog and figure out where we may want to spend the evening.

Well, you’ll have to take it from me…about fifty yards from our parking spot lies the Gulf of Mexico, but the fog is so heavy it’s hard to tell.

There were camping opportunities at both Gulfport Naval Station and Kessler Air Force Base, but since it seemed a bit early to stop, and since we’ve spent time at both places on previous trips, and since I had made numerous business trips to nearby Pascagoula, we decided to roll on.

Moved back to I-10 East just east of Ocean Springs before crossing into Alabama at 1146 hours and abruptly came to an all stop as we neared Mobile.

Traffic near large cities is usually heavy, but this was extreme. We inched along in the travel lane as I-10 dipped into the 3,000 foot-long George Wallace Tunnel under the Mobile Bay.

Ventilation in this 3,000 foot-long tunnel is normally very good…at 60 MPH. However, at 2 MPH it was beginning to get a bit fumy, so I shifted the trucks AC to recirculation mode and the cabin air freshened.

Slowly emerging from the east end of the tunnel we noticed traffic was merging into a single travel lane and so we did likewise. Shortly, we learned why everything was so backed up on I-10.

I’m guessing the Community Coffee delivery driver had not had his coffee today! Hidden from view between the box truck and the cement truck, where emergency personnel are working in the photo above, was a small sedan…and the blue compact pickup wedged between the box truck and bridge wall was involved as well. The good news was that apparently everyone was OK and none of the vehicles plunged into Mobile Bay.

At 1347 we crossed over into Florida and pulled into the welcome center for our complimentary orange juice and some maps.

A quick “Bill and Kit” planning session resulted in us bypassing Pensacola, a spot we’ve camped at many times in the past, in favor of heading to Eglin Air Force Base located on the Emerald Coast, as it is called, near the town of Destin.

Pulling on base, we discovered that we could only score four nights due to the extra personnel staying in the campground due to the evacuation of Tyndall AFB which was heavily damaged during Hurricane Michael. Much to our delight that one camp spot was in the more rustic of the two parks’ where the environment was much more to our liking.

Lacking many of the amenities of the newer campground, Post’l Point offered much more by its incredible location. Setting up camp at the end of the point, we enjoyed a commanding view of Choctawhatchee Bay and the barrier island town of Destin in the distance.

And to add frosting to the cake…we were treated to a gorgeous sunset!

Goodnight!

 

Friday, February 22 through Sunday, February 24, 2019-Eglin AFB, Valparaiso, Florida: Woke early to birds singing outside our window. As spectacular as last nights sunset was, this mornings sunrise across the small bay bordering the north side of the campground, was equally as pleasant!

The weather today is projected to be partly cloudy with temperatures in the low 70’s…my personal threshold for the wearing of shorts.

This is our first venture into this region of Florida. Generally, Kit and I are on a mission to get out West and so only touch the Pensacola portion of the state. So…this trip we are taking the opportunity to see as much of the Emerald Coast as possible.

One foggy morning, we drove out to the resort town of Destin by way of the Midbay Bridge…

…and in route, a seagull challenged me to a race…and won!

At the far end of the bridge was a large boatyard that was painted in colorful undersea scenes.

Murals such as this are scattered about the country and are the product of a very talented and prolific artist by the name of Robert Wyland. Born in landlocked Madison Heights, Michigan, a fourteen-year-old Wyland viewed his first ocean on a family vacation along the California Coast. He was infatuated with the sea and its sea life which focused his burgeoning art talent toward ocean themes. Wyland has designed and created one hundred of these murals starting in July 1981 with a small painting of a Grey Whale and Calf in his adopted hometown of Laguna, California…designated as Whaling Wall #1. The painting in the above photo on Florida’s coastal town of Destin is Whaling Wall #88 and is titled…Marine Life off the Gulf Coast.

Portland Maine was the grateful recipient of Whaling Wall #36 in June 1993, which was painted on the exterior surface of a Bath Iron Works Shipyard Building along Portland’s iconic Commercial Street and is titled Whales off the Coast of Maine.

Photo from Google Images

His final mural, Whaling Wall #100, was painted in Beijing, China in June 2008 and is titled…Hands Across the Ocean.

Destin is set up as the typical beachside tourist town with shops, restaurants, street musicians, and pale northerners strolling down the manufactured promenade.

The town was once a sleepy little fishing village, and along its waterfront there was a magnificent tree that served as an early navigation aid to fisherman returning to port. The 170-year-old Magnolia finally succumbed to the ravages of time, storms and man. Rather than uproot the deceased tree, it was decided to memorialize it in sculpture.

In 2014, famed artist Marlin Miller who is nationally recognized for creating similar public works of art, was contracted to design and sculpt the tree into images depicting Destin’s marine heritage, including sea life, aquatic birds, and even the legs of a flippered diver.

After strolling Destin Harbor Walk and peeking into a few tchotchke shops, Kit and I made our way to nearby Gulf National Seashore, a largely intact and undeveloped beach of this long barrier island…

…where I stumbled upon a group of political representatives locked in verbal discourse…

…then one politician, losing the battle of wits, flapped about and soiled the area before flying off to attend a fundraiser. See, one can find the absurdity in today’s dysfunctional government in the most benign subjects.

Tourist towns can have some of the best restaurants, and Destin is no exception. The Crab Shack is set on a dock overlooking the bay and features delicious and unique fare…

…such as this Crawdad Po’boy…

…which was very good and didn’t taste a thing like chicken!

 

Of our three day stay, Kit and I only made one trip off the reservation because our campsite was so relaxing. As mentioned, Eglin AFB has two campgrounds…a newer facility with more modern facilities, and the one we are staying at that features a great location but lacks full hook-ups, and other conveniences of the typical RV park. But you can’t beat the location and views!

The campground sits on a small peninsula with a saltwater pond teaming with life on one side.

Yep, that’s a nesting eagle in the tall dead tree top!

And on the other side is a nice clean white sand beach…known locally as Sugar Sand!

This sand is powdery fine, unlike the more course sand on our native California beaches, or the pebbly sand in our adopted state of Maine.

The only potential problem with this location, especially if you have pets that are small in stature…

… are native wild animals that are much higher on the food chain than little Muffy.

The campground is also next door to the welfare and recreation gear issue and a nice marina…

…where paddle, power and sailing craft are available for rent.

Kit and I have noticed throughout the years that campers take on the personality of the campground they prefer, or visa versa. On one hand, Resort type facilities tend to attract the upper crust who generally do not socialize much outside their million dollar rolling estates. On the other hand, more rustic campgrounds tend to attract the more laid back and friendly folks. On the third hand, there are vagabonds such as us that pull their gypsy wagons in whatever direction their mood strikes them…this campground had some of the later such as Willie and Karen.

The recently retired couple invited most of the small campground’s inhabitants to a chicken barbeque at their camper. We had a great time meeting other ne’er-do-well folks and sharing stories from the road…some of them actually based in reality.

As the evening came to a close, and the sun set across the bay, Kit and I joined the remaining campground scalawags and raised a cocktail to another fabulous day in Florida.

Goodnight!

 

Monday, February 25, 2019: Underway from Post’l Point Campground on Eglin AFB at 0955 hours under sunny skies and a temperature of 56 degrees.

Made our way using the local roads of the Florida Panhandle toward Interstate 10, which we utilized to continue toward the east. Along the highway, we witnessed several areas still recovering from the ravages of Hurricane Michael in October of 2018.

At 1204 we crossed back into the Eastern Time Zone and lost an hour of the day. Four hours later we encountered Interstate 75, the former Sunshine State Parkway, and headed south.

As most of you know, we don’t plan our travels too far in advance, and a few weeks ago had no intention of diving south into Florida. However, the cooler than normal winter temperatures this year, coupled with the presence of some great friends that are wintering over in the Tampa area, attracted us to explore parts of this haven for winter refugees.

At 1547, it was time to seek shelter for the evening so pulled into Travelers RV Park in Alachua, Florida, which came highly recommended by fellow RV’rs.

Well, this closes out the most recent chapter of Bill and Kit’s Excellent Adventure…stay tuned for Fun in the Sun with Maine Snowbirds, coming soon to an inbox near you…goodnight!

Kit’s Bit’s: We have thoroughly enjoyed the last couple of weeks as we begin to explore a bit of Florida. Having more time as we wander about, has been quite nice. We haven’t had to rush to keep moving on quickly or to get home by a certain time. More time to spend exploring. One thing I’ve noticed is the green landscape vs pale green and brown landscape out west. Since I’m originally from Minnesota, I’ve always preferred green over brown.

Bill and Kit’s 2019 Excellent Adventure, Journal #6

Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from. Unknown Author

Friday, February 8, 2019: On the road from the South Texas town of San Marcos at 1055 under cloudy skies and a temperature of 37 degrees. What the heck’s with these cold temperatures…it’s a balmy 39 degrees in our Maine hometown. Gotta head further south, it’s way too chilly in this neck of the woods.

I noticed during my pre-underway safety checks that one of the camper’s tires was a bit suspect, so calling the local Discount Tire store, I was able to get an appointment this morning to get it changed out. After the repair, we decided to head over to the Canyon Lake, a recreation facility in the Texas Hill Country managed by Lackland AFB. As we gained altitude, it began to sleet, and the temperature continued to drop…yea, we’re nuts!

After checking in, we set up on a nice campsite leaving the truck and trailer connected as we do not plan on traveling anywhere beyond walking distance.

As much fun as it was co-camping with Rey and Darlene, we got a bit behind on our domestic chores, truck and trailer maintenance, and journal writing…so the next couple of days should prove to be a nice quiet stay to catch up.

 

Saturday, February 9 and Sunday February 10, 2019-Canyon Lakes, Texas: This military recreation facility is located on its namesake lake an hour north of Lackland AFB and Fort Sam Houston.

In addition to camping, it features cabins, a marina, picnic areas…

…and hiking trails…

…where, if one is quiet as they walk along, they are likely to happen upon some unsuspecting wildlife.

The weather remained cool and overcast, a perfect opportunity for Kit to enjoy cooking some of her signature breakfast fare.

Yep, it was as good as it looks…and, as a bonus, there were leftovers for the next morning!

Well, other than chores and some walking about the park, we didn’t accomplish much to write home about during our two day stay…but it was relaxing!

Like to close out our stay at Canyon Lake with a sunset photo but did not see the sun at all…so here is a substitute taken last summer from the porch of our family ‘campupta’ Maine.

Goodnight!

 

Monday, February 11, 2019: Up and gone by 1025 under cloudy and misting skies, with a temperature of 56 degrees.

Wound our way back east using a variety of local roads until intersecting Interstate 35 where we headed south, and hopefully warmer weather.

After about four hours, including one rest stop, Kit and I were on the Texas Gulf Coast and pulled into Corpus Christi Naval Air Station to set up for a few days in their oceanfront RV park.

It was twenty degrees warmer, but a whole lot more humid! Hard to tell in the photo above but the sun was shining, however the air was so saturated it looked overcast.

 

Tuesday, February 12 through Saturday, February 16, 2019-Corpus Christi, Texas: Spent a very relaxing and enjoyable time in this park sitting on the Gulf of Mexico along the Coastal Bend area of Texas. A prime salt water fishing habitat, the Gulf was a mere 50 yards from our campsite.

And with the consistent coastal breezes, coupled with wide open spaces, it made for a prime kite flying venue as well.

I spent many an enjoyable hour flying a variety of kites in the hazy skies, including my newest acquisition, a dual-line Prism Parafoil with a 75-foot tube tail…yea, another kite…it’s a sickness!?!?

 

During our stay, Kit and I enjoyed a day in the city of Corpus Christi located just across the bay from the Naval Air Station.

Boasting a population of over 320,000 folks, Corpus Christi is the eighth largest city in Texas, and the Port of Corpus Christi is the fifth largest seaport in the United States…it is also the homeport of the USS Lexington.

Built in 1941, The Lady Lex served in the Pacific during WWII before becoming a training ship in 1969. As the fleet training aircraft carrier, many newly minted naval aviators developed their skills in the art of landing high-performance aircraft on a constantly moving airstrip. Decommissioned from active service in November of 1991, she served our country for an astonishing 51 years! Today she serves as a museum ship with the distinction of being the world’s oldest Attack Carrier still afloat. Touring the Lexington is well worth the time, which I had accomplished on a previous Excellent Adventure trip so passed on the opportunity today.

Corpus Christi is a modern city with a bustling commercial port with bulk cargo and containerized ships utilizing its deep harbor. Oil and Gas production and distribution is also a main industry with many oil drilling platforms based here.

And, nestled up to downtown Corpus Christi one finds a thriving waterfront park where private yachts are berthed.

The cities residents are friendly, but I believe this fellow was overly comfortable with tourists as I was able to get quite close to the majestic bird.

Also located downtown is a unique museum for a Gulf Coast city.

The Texas Surf Museum was established in 2005 to promote and document the Texas Surf culture. In addition to photographs and displays, the museum hosts a nice representative sample of surfboards shaped by Texans for the particular demands of surfing the storm produced shore breaks of the gulf.

And others that were specially shaped for the unusual sport of Tanker Surfing!

Deep draft vessels that transit through a shipping channel throw of a small bow wave, when that wave encounters relatively shallow water near the shore it grows into a larger more rideable wave. Very patient Gulf Coast surfers wait until conditions and shipping schedules are right then paddle out to catch these waves which they can ride for miles.

A display in the Texas Surf Museum that particularly appealed to me were the tools and materials to create a surfboard.

A foam blank is shaped with this equipment into a suitable form, then wood strips and stringers are sandwiched in the foam to provide decoration, and rigidity. The final step is to add the skeg (fin) and layers of fiberglass to protect the foam. So, why does this process appeal to me? Well, back in the early 1960’s many a cash strapped San Diego kid built their own boards from cast off foam blocks the commercial surfboard shops couldn’t use…and I was no exception.

A skinny 14-year-old Bill in the photo above is holding board number two of four total that he kluged together. My very first board was a piece of junk, and although pretty, rode terrible…this one was rather plain but rode quite well. I decided my fortune was not going to be made in the surfboard shaping arena so turned my attention to more productive challenges, like trying to win Kit’s affection.

Speaking of Kit, she quickly tired at looking at old dinged up surfboards and made her way to the many shops in the area, one of which had a beautiful painting on the treads and risers of a staircase going to the shops second floor…

…which she fell in love with…

…and ever since has been trying to figure out which one of us has the talent to replicate such a beautiful work of folk art at our Maine home.

Well, this brings to a close our visit to downtown Corpus Christi, one of Texas’s iconic coastal cities!

 

On another nice sunny day, we took a ride out to the coastal barrier landmass of Padre Island. At 113 miles, it is the world’s longest barrier island…and the second largest island by area in the United States, just behind New York’s Long Island. During WWII, the government looked at Padre Island as a candidate for testing the first nuclear bomb, but wisely choose less populated White Sands, New Mexico instead.

The barrier island is separated by a narrow artificial channel known as the Mansfield Cut which provides more convenient access for Port Mansfield based watercraft to access the Gulf of Mexico. This navigable channel divides the island into North Padre and the far more commercial South Padre Island…the mecca for college spring breakers. The crown jewel of the northern segment of the island is Padre Island National Seashore.

This National Park unit, at 70 miles in length, is the longest undeveloped seashore in the world and the protected habitat of the endangered Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle…

… the rarest sea turtle on earth.

The park road that winds south from the entrance station is picturesque, without the urban sprawl that has built up on many coastal areas of the United States…

…thank you, National Park Service!

This part of Coastal Texas, as well as some beaches in North Carolina, Florida, Oregon, and Cape Cod, are open to vehicular traffic for beach driving.

The generally hard packed sand provides a relatively smooth surface for driving; however, care must be exercised as if you get to close to the surf line and bog down, it’s a very expensive proposition to have your automobile extracted from the watery trap as the tide relentlessly encroaches on your once treasured conveyance!

Automobile beach access is allowed in order to allow fisherfolks access to the more remote portions of the shoreline and to allow campers, with proper permits, to park above the hightide mark for overnight oceanfront stays.

Leaving Padre Island National Park, we stopped for an early dinner at a local fish shack…

…and enjoyed an excellent seafood dinner. Fried Gulf Shrimp, Hawaiian Butterfly Shrimp and Hush Puppies for me…

…and fried Fish and Chips for Kit. Both meals were excellent and plentiful, in fact we took half our meal to cover dinner the following day.

Returning to the camper, Kit and I enjoyed the sunset while also enjoying a cocktail…

…goodnight!

 

While in the area, we took a ride north to the small resort town of Port Aransas, located on Mustang Island in the Gulf of Mexico. Named for the fort that guarded the entrance to Corpus Christi Bay, Port Aransas began as a haven for pirates including Jean Lafitte…

…the dapper buccaneer who became a beloved cult figure along the Texas and Louisiana coast in the early 1800’s.

In addition to being a commercial port, “Port A” as it is called, is a mecca for Houston and San Antonio city dwellers to recreate on the ocean when the year round population of 3,480 locals can swell to 60,000 folks or more…especially during spring break season.

Protected by opposing sand bars, Port Aransas is a prime natural anchorage, and to ensure safe passage, the Aransas Pass lighthouse guides vessels through the narrow channel into port.

Prior to its construction in 1855, many a merchant, and a few pirates, found themselves hard aground on the sandy barrier island that protected Port Aransas. Ironically, the steamship that was carrying bricks and other materials for the new lighthouse itself floundered on the sandbar while trying to navigate into the inner harbor, with the resultant loss of the ship and most of its cargo. To add insult to injury, a year later, when another ship finally delivered the lighthouse materials, winter storms had shifted the sandbar over a mile to the north, so back to step one of the process to find a geologically suitable location for the lighthouse.

Today, the village of Port Aransas is a vacation spot and tourist mecca primarily devoted to boating, saltwater fishing, and other ocean activities. As at Padre island National Seashore, driving one’s vehicle on the beach is legal and a favorite pastime here as well.

A hardpacked sand road parallels TX-361 a few blocks to the west and allows access to prime swimming, beachcombing, and oceanside camping.

Port Aransas is replete with the typical tourist related establishments including T-shirt and gift shops. One massive store that caught Kit’s eye was The Destination Gift Shop featuring its unique entrance.

And, not lost on the more observant customer, the more unique exit from the large shark into the store…considering the chotskies that are sold inside, the sharks rear exit seemed appropriate.

As in most oceanside towns here about there is no shortage of seafood restaurants…one that was highly recommended was the Trout Inn and Marina.

Where Kit and I enjoyed a very nice meal overlooking the marina, which by the way, was reduced to wreckage during Hurricane Harvey a few years back.

 

Returning to the camper, we received the following photo from our daughter Kim…

…which shows Maine Street of our home town after the most recent storm. Kind of reinforces our decision to escape the worst of the winter weather in our adventure-mobile.

Well, its time to close this chapter of our trip, as tomorrow we head east, but not before enjoying one final dazzling Texas Sunset.

Goodnight, stay safe, and stay tuned for episode six of Bill and Kit’s Excellent Adventure!

 

Kit’s Bit’s: So, what’s not to like in this area of the USA? Having grown up in San Diego, we frequented the beaches, Bill spent many hours on his surf board, and we ate Jack-in-the Box fast food. Not seafood, mind you, but hamburgers. Fortunately, we have acquired a taste for seafood over the years so, we’ve moved up a step or two. This is one of our favorite areas and, it’s closer to home and, a lot more reasonable on our piggy bank. Plus, it reminds us of our long-lost youth.

Bill and Kit’s 2019 Excellent Adventure, Journal #5


Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.
Albert Einstein

Thursday, January 31, 2019: Departed the RV Park at Fort Sam Houston Army Base in San Antonio, Texas and headed north on I-35. Wait, what, why back north? Well, we had planned to stay in the area for about two weeks, but we could only score five nights at Fort Sam, so our Maine RV’ing friends invited us up to their wintering over park in the town of San Marcos.

Canyon Trails RV Park is conveniently located and nestled in farming country. We choose an end site that was backed up to a nice meadow where a herd of deer visited each evening.

The high humidity helped the newly mown fields give off the fresh and fragrant smell of the rural countryside and a distant rail corridor added a nice backdrop of trains rumbling through while blowing their whistle at road crossings. Glad we are here…Kit and I are looking forward to exploring more of this interesting corner of America.

 

Friday, February 1, through Thursday, February 7, 2019-San Marcos, Texas: This town is nestled between the larger communities of Austin to the North and San Antonio to the South. Located on the banks of its namesake River, San Marcos is believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited sites in America.

Home to Texas State University, San Marcos is where Texas native son Lyndon Baines Johnson received his undergraduate teaching degree, so its fitting there be a small museum depicting his early life.

Which we toured one day with Rey and Darlene…and, which piqued our interest in roaming afield later in the week to visit the Johnson Ranch, sixty miles to the west.

During our stay, the annual NFL sports spectacle and, generally more entertaining creative television commercial airing, was being televised from Atlanta. Kit and I are not big sports fans, but we are fans of delicious eating which we enjoy during the annual ritual of munching on snack food while watching the Super Bowl commercials.

Our hosts planned a nice Sunday Super Bowl party consisting of great barbeque, produced by some fellow camping neighbors…

…for a nice outdoor feast…

…while watching the game from their outdoor television housed in one of the camper’s storage bays.

Keeping with tradition to photograph the better meals that Kit and I enjoy on the road, here is a photo of my first helping…or was it my second…or, possibly my third?

Yep, it was as good as it looks! The only disappointed, and frankly put out, guest at the Super Bowel festivities was Rey and Darlene’s pooch Coby…

…shown above displaying his displeasure.

A nearby village that Kit and I have enjoyed in the past, and visited again this trip with Rey and Darlene, is Gruene, Texas.

Established by German settlers along the Guadalupe River, Gruene (pronounced green, presumably because of all the green that passes into the local merchant’s coffers) became an important cotton producing region with a small commercial district to support the farmer’s needs.

Unfortunately, the Boll Weevil infestation followed by the Great Depression decimated the area and reduced Gruene to a ghost town. However, fortunately, a young architecture student noticed the dilapidated town while on a kayaking adventure and decided to document the remaining structures for a school project.

During his efforts he also discovered that developers had purchased the town and intended to tear down the historic buildings to build riverfront condominiums. Expanding his study, the architecture student convinced the developers of the economic advantage of a historic center in their development plans and many of the old structures were saved and restored…such as the former water powered cotton gin, now a popular restaurant.

Where we sought food and drink at a riverside table…

…with a nice open-air view of the Guadalupe River…

…while enjoying an incredible meal…

…such as my pasta dish topped with bacon wrapped Gulf shrimp on a skewer. One of the best meals of this year’s trip so far!

Folks in Texas are very friendly to tourists and us snowbirds, which they refer to as Winter Texans. Keeping with that tradition, our very pleasant waitress left this homey greeting on our guest check.

As we waddled out of The Gristmill and into the many antique and gift shops housed in the historic downtown, we were glad that an enterprising college student had the forethought to champion the preservation of the Gruene town center.

In the shops, amongst other items, Kit and I picked out these two souvenirs.

Yep, they just about cover the major food groups and will not likely last the week.

Wandering around one of the shops, I was impressed by the recycling of an everyday object to patch holes in the old wooden floor.

I have amassed almost 55 years of used license plates, might have to use them as a decorative element in our home!

Also located within the town is the famous Gruene Hall.

Built is 1878, it is billed as the oldest continuously active dance hall in the state hosting many well-known country performers throughout the years.

Kit and I had enjoyed an evening at Gruene Hall during a previous Excellent Adventure trip, so we all decided to not wait for the hall to open for the evening and instead make our way back to the campground.

We spent some of our time in San Marcos attending to domestic chores and just hanging around camp with Rey and Darlene. On one occasion, we hosted a picnic meal at our site.

Which featured salad and Kit’s signature chicken with dressing dish accompanied by freshly baked ricochet biscuits.

The meal paired very well with Gallo Red, vintage yesterday.

During our stay, the four of us piled into Rey and Darlene’s truck and headed west toward Johnson City. Founded in 1879 by President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s uncle, James Polk Johnson, this small village was the ancesteral hometown of our 36th president.

Our first stop was at the nearby Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site, which features the visitor’s center for the Johnson Ranch located across the Pedernales River and is the home of the Sauer Beckmann Living History Farm.

Built by the Sauer and Beckmann families in the late 19th century, this authentic working farm…

…is staffed by volunteers in period clothing who work the land, care for the animals, and maintain the property using period tools and technics.

The communal kitchen cooks lunch for the staff using only crops and animals raised at the farm.

Without the benefit of refrigeration, many seasonal food items are canned …

…or in the case of meat products, immersed in lard to preserve them…

…such as these sausage links.

Water for the farm is pumped into an elevated tank by a functioning windmill…

…to be gravity fed to the kitchen and barn when needed.

A curious artifact inside the residence is this human hair wreath.

These intricate works of art were common to the era as memorials to departed loved ones made from the hair of the deceased.

Of the many animals on the farm, this little guy seemed to be very friendly and inquisitive…and took a liking to us.

The young calf was safe for now from being a main course on the farm’s dinner table…however, this little porker was not so fortunate…

…in a day or two he’s slated to be a pile of bacon.

On the opposite side of the Pedernales River from the Sauer Beckmann farm is the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park.

Known during LBJ’s presidency as the Texas White House, this ranch was a place of relaxation and rejuvenation for our Vietnam era president.

From the large porch of his home…

…overlooking the river…

…many important American and international leaders would gather and discuss ways to solve world problems and improve the planet and its people.

Assuming the presidency following the tragic assassination of John Kennedy, LBJ went on to serve as our chief executive for an additional six years. Among his signature accomplishments were the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the formation of the National Endowment for the Arts, establishment of Medicare and Medicaid Programs, and many other examples of progressive legislation. He also oversaw the largest growth of GDP of any president in modern times. Unfortunately, the protracted war in Southeast Asia and decisions made by our country’s leadership tarnished his accomplishments.

LBJ loved the trappings of the presidency and had a private airfield and hanger built on his property to allow quick, secure, and easy access to his beloved ranch. Air Force One was too large to land so a Lockheed JetStar, which became known as Air Force One-half, was used…

…which would land on his 6,000-foot asphalt runway a mere one hundred yards from his home.

Also, on display were some of the automobiles used by LBJ at the ranch…such as this 1934 Ford Phaeton which was highly modified with a fully loaded bar and four fully loaded rifle racks in the back seat…

…which LBJ called the Bullets and Booze car. Below is a photo of the president driving the car across the Pedernales River by way of the Johnson Dam.

A consummate prankster, LBJ would delight driving unsuspecting guests about the ranch and abruptly head for the river and drop down to the roadway at the base of the dam. This Caused the tires to send river water spraying in all directions and the passengers to shriek in terror.

Another of his favorite vehicles, and one he would also use to prank guests, was his 1965 Amphicar.

The German made amphibious automobile could drive on the roads and easily transition into a watercraft by steering it toward any body of water. A favorite trick LBJ enjoyed playing on newly assigned Secret Service personnel was to give them a tour of the ranch using the Amphicar, then parked by a gently sloped riverbank shout excitedly; “I’ve lost the brakes, were going in!” As his security detail was trying to remember if their training included a car driven by the president suddenly rolling toward water. Eventually, the Amphicar would level out, start the rear propeller, and the president would steer the vehicle by using the front tires as twin rudders…

… laughing uproariously about how he pranked the new guy.

A generous man, LBJ kept a storeroom of various gifts to present to guests, such as lighters, fountain pens, watches, presidential seal pins…

…and Stetson hats in a variety of sizes…

…that went to the very special visitors…

…such as the dorky dude shown above.

The nation’s leaders have always been fodder for satirist, and LBJ was no exception. He was skewered relentlessly on late night television and on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour…

…however, unlike more recent politicians, he failed to melt down into a heap of pompous self-importance.

The LBJ ranch is still in operation, now managed by the National Park Service, and is continuing the lineage lines in the cattle they raise and maintain.

When mature, the cattle are auctioned off fetching many times their market value due to their bloodlines and connection to history.

A driving trip around this massive ranch is very pleasant and one can sense why LBJ found solace and rejuvenation in this beautiful place.

The Johnson family cemetery, located at the ranch, contains the remains of LBJ and Lady Bird, as well as other family members.

What a great day exploring the home and ranch of a great Texan who had a significant impact on the welfare of the citizens of our great nation.

Kit, Darlene, Rey and I were so busy touring the LBJ Ranch we missed lunch, so an early dinner was in order. Finding a highly rated restaurant via Google, we made our way top El Charro.

The food was authentic TexMex and very good!

The greens smothering my Carne Asada dish were Nopales …below is a photo of Nopales in its raw form.

A bit unique to our New England palate, but very flavorful!

Kit’s sister and brother in law used to live in this part of Texas before migrating back west to San Diego. However, parents Don and Paulene still live in the area and met us at a local restaurant one evening.

A delightful couple approaching the ripe young age of ninety, Don and Paulene are very active, dancing and socializing many nights a week. Thanks. Folks for treating us to a nice meal…take care and hope to see you again soon.

Well, that brings our stay in this part of Texas to a close. As Kit and I emerged from the restaurant, the South Texas Sky bid us farewell.

Stay tuned as we reverse direction and start heading easterly.

Kit’s Bit’s: Many thanks to Ray & Darlene for showing us so many interesting things in their area. As with many of the places we stay, due to time constraints, we miss a lot of the interesting sights. As with many of our stops, we never get to see as much as we’d like to. Staying in one place for an entire week allowed us to explore some very interesting spots. Also, it was great to see Don & Pauline again, we haven’t seen them in many years. They are still as vibrant and active as they were 50 years ago! Keep on dancing!

Bill and Kit’s 2019 Excellent Adventure, Journal #4


One’s destination is never a place, but always a new way of seeing things.
Henry Miller

Sunday, January 27 through Wednesday, January 30, 2019 San Antonio, Texas: Kit and I are excited about finally getting to more thoroughly explore this iconic South Texas city. The last time we spent any appreciable time here was in 1976 when hauling our 1967 fifteen-foot Excel travel trailer with our three children on a cross country camping adventure.

That was fun, and a real family bonding adventure…five humans in a small trailer with an ice box, no bathroom, and gas lamps for interior lighting. This stop finds us living in relative luxury!

Spent four full days here and was able to see quite a lot of the main attractions of this beautiful city. We were also fortunate to have some dear RV’ing friends, who spend the winter in a park about 50 miles to the north, come down and join us for some of our excursions.

Rey and Darlene have Texas roots even though Rey was born and raised in Topsham, Maine.

They know this area very well having spent many years living and working here. One place they led us to is the historic Mexican Marketplace which was full of colorful shops selling authentic Mexican crafts. Since we visited on a Sunday, the place was hopping, and the plaza performance stage featured live acts such as this Mexican Folkdance troupe.

The matriarch of the family-based group was this delightful Senora.

Margaret Arriaga is an eighty-two-year-old cancer survivor and obviously lives life to the fullest…she was actively involved in the groups dancing and proved to be the delight of the hundreds of happy onlookers that enjoyed the performance.

At one point the performers came into the audience and selected folks to dance with. This cute young dancer was a fast learner and quickly kept step with the professional.

Being San Antonio, there is no shortage of fine restaurants that specialize in authentic TexMex…one that Rey and Darlene’s favorites is La Margarita.

Where we enjoyed a fine meal…

…while being serenaded with mariachi music and enjoying authentic dishes such as these Puffy Tacos.

What a meal!

After lunch, a walk down San Antonio’s Riverwalk was in order. This major downtown arts, shopping and dining area was created along the San Antonio River in the mid 1930’s by the Works Project Administration. Due to seasonal flooding of the area, dams and gates were built to prevent river water from flooding the increasing number of riverside business and to protect the basements of the burgeoning cities commercial high-rise buildings.

This created a stable canal and a pleasant artery to walk about the downtown area.

A great way to see the 2.5 mile stretch of river is by boat.

An eight-dollar ticket allowed one to smoothly motor down the river under electric power provided by Tesla…

…and view the downtown district from a unique perspective. Traveling under automobile bridges…

…as well as pedestrian walkways.

What a pleasant and relaxing way to see this part of the historic city!

Speaking of history, the famed Alamo is located within the city limits of San Antonio.

The Alamo was built in 1718 by Spanish Missionaries from Mexico for the Catholic Church. Their mission (no pun intended) was to convert the native population to Christianity and teach them modern ways of the Anglo world. Apparently, the way of life for the native Apaches and Comanches over their documented 10,000 years of existence, did not set well with the newly arrived Europeans. As hunters and gatherers, these native populations were perplexed by farming…why, they wondered, would one want to bury good food in the ground and keep it moist with scarce and good tasting water!?!?

During this time, Texas…as well as a large part of the American Southwest, belonged to Mexico under Spanish rule.

Wouldn’t our country be a lot different today had Mexico payed for a border wall during this period in history? Kit and I would have grown up in San Diego, Mexico!

Abandoned by the missionaries seventy years later The Alamo was used for various purposes, including a rooming house, a garrison, and a grocery store. However, it’s thick stone walls and many fortified building’s, made it a prime fortress…first the Spanish, then the Mexicans, used The Alamo as a military outpost. Following Mexico’s War of Independence with Spain, US citizens from the north moved into the area in increasing numbers and soon began their own War of Independence against the Mexican government seizing the Alamo, and control of the colonial village of San Antonio, from the small and ill prepared contingent of the Mexican Army.

Their victory was short lived however, as within three months a reinforced company of the Mexican Army, numbering 6,000 soldiers, under command of General Santa Anna laid siege to The Alamo and attacked the defenders. The Alamo patriots, numbering a mere 200-armed volunteers, held out for 13 days until they all fell under General Santa Anna’s “take no prisoners” command order.

Amongst those lost in battle were Colonel James Bowie and frontiersman Davy Crockett. The latter was born on a mountain top in Tennessee, greenest state in the land of the free, raised in the woods so’s he knew every tree, killed him a bear when he was only three. OK…if you’re a child of the 1950’s you’ll spend the better part of the day getting rid of that earworm!

The Mexican Army only occupied The Alamo for a few months when 800 Texas loyalist shouting, “Remember the Alamo”, defeated Santa Anna’s force of 1,500 men during the Battle of San Jacinto. They then drove the Mexican Army south from the newly established Republic of Texas, which is basically the border line between the US and Mexico we see today, and the Texans once again occupied The Alamo.

Admission to The Alamo is free, but photography inside is prohibited, which I found odd until one of the rangers explained that many of the artifacts were on loan from private collectors…including the musician Phil Collins. Yep, even though a British citizen, he has an intense interest in the American history and, according to legend, believes that in a former life he was a patriot fighting at the Alamo.

Exterior shots are allowed however in the expansive courtyard…

…and on this day, a local history group had set up displays…

… depicting life in the 1700’s. Period correct reenactors were in authentic regalia…

…including this field doctor who described the primitive health care of the day.

A very nice living history lesson of American history during a pivotal time.

Stepping out of the Alamo grounds brought you suddenly back into the 21st century.

With the commercial high-rise buildings looming over the diminutive Spanish mission of The Alamo.

A great day in a great city with great friends…thanks folks for sharing the day with us!

Since we so enjoyed touring The Alamo, and since we have explored many other Spanish Missions in California, Kit and I took a day to seek out the other four missions arrayed along the San Antonio River…all of which are managed by the National Park Service and have been designated World Heritage Sites.

Starting from the most southern, we stopped at Mission San Francisco de la Espada.

Dropping into the visitors center we met a very pleasant ranger by the name of Tatum.

Yep, her mom loved the movie Paper Moon! We were her only visitors, so Miss Tatum spent a good deal of time describing life in the 15th century and explaining the Spanish mission system.

This first mission in colonial San Antonio was built in 1690 in response to the discovery of a nearby French settlement encroaching from Louisiana.

The mission chapel, as were all the missions of the time, was protected by sturdy walls with small pueblos built along the inside perimeter for the missionaries and the converted native people to live.

This Catholic Church is active to this day and open to the public when services are not being held.

It has become a tradition for Kit and I to light votive candles in honor of our departed relatives…

…and this stop was no exception.

The next mission north was Mission San Juan Capistrano.

This mission complex was more isolated and was frequently attacked by Apaches, so a squad of Spanish soldiers were housed within its walls to help protect the missionaries and the converted natives.

Mission San Juan is also an active church…however its chapel is much smaller than the others.

Next along the Mission Trail is Mission San Jose y San Miguel Aguayo.

This was the only mission that featured a ranger guided tour, which Kit and I took advantage of…

…what a delightful and very knowledgeable young lady!

The largest and most complete mission of the five, Mission San Jose had the capacity to house 350 native peoples in rooms built into the perimeter walls.

The platform above the massive double doors in the photo above once held cannons for protection against marauding natives.

This chapels windows and entryways were adorned with highly detailed limestone carvings…

…and the interior was larger and more ornate than the other chapels as well.

An unusual feature was the use of electric votive candles.

Where upon making a donation, one could push a button to illuminate the candle. A bit odd…of all the missions Kit and I have toured, this was the first one that did not allow candles burning.

This place is huge, and far more architecturally decorative than the surrounding missions.

Although much of the fresco paint had sloughed off, there were a few remaining square feet that remained.

When built, the exterior walls of many Spanish missions were plastered and decorated in brightly colored designs to attract the attention of the region’s native populations.

Boy, if walls could talk, this place could really tell a story of life in the era of Spanish Missions.

The last stop on our trek was at Mission Conception.

The current church building was completed in 1755 and is the oldest unrestored stone church in the United States.

It also boasts of the longest continuous active congregation of any Catholic Church in the nation.

In addition, Mission Concepcion is famous for an annual celestial phenomenon known as a Double Illumination. When built the chapel was oriented west to east and windows were strategically placed to capture light from the setting sun.

Unbeknown to the architects of the day however was that on one day in August, the sun would be at a precise position to focus a shaft of sunlight on the face of the Virgin Mary painting behind the alter…and simultaneously focus a beam of sunlight through a dome window on the floor of the chapel in front of the alter and at the precise intersection of the cross shaped floor.

Photo from the Web

This once a year awe inspiring moment draws the faithful and curious to the small mission by the hundreds.

Kit and I thoroughly enjoyed touring the remaining San Antonio missions and talking to the rangers and volunteer docents. At one of the mission’s parish gift shop were some freshly made fruit empanadas which we brought back for desert.

Returning to the camper, we enjoyed a fine meal and a glass of wine, as the sun set on our final day in Old San Antonio.

Goodnight!

Kit’s Bit’s: We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to San Antonio! I had wanted to return there ever since we’d visited with the kids back in 1976. Fortunately, we had perfect weather. And, it was fun touring with Rey & Darlene. They have seen most places in this area but were kind enough to accompany us and keep us from getting lost. Nice to have an authentic Mexican meal, too!