grandson mason

grandson mason

grandson jaxson

grandson jaxson

Friday, December 31, 2010

27-31DEC10 - Biloxi, MS & Navarre, FL (happy new year!!!)

Monday, 27DEC, we left Houma, LA, to meet up with our Coast Guard friends & fellow full time RVers, Chuck & Anneke Guldenschuh, in Navarre, FL. But first we decided to stay overnight in Biloxi, MS, to test our luck once again at the local casinos. Enroute we stopped at the MS state visitor center to see if any of the casinos had “free coupons” available. We were able to get several coupons for the Isle Casino in Biloxi (formerly the Isle of Capri Casino). After checking into the military Family Camp at Keesler Air Force Base we headed to the Isle Casino, where we had a typical casino buffet using our half price coupon. After a little gambling it was back to the RV to watch the Saints beat the Dirty Birds (aka the much despised Atlanta Falcons). Who Dat? We Dat!

Tuesday morning it was back on the road to complete our drive to Navarre, FL. After an uneventful drive we arrived at the RV park after lunch, & immediately met up with our friends Anneke & Chuck Guldenschuh. We have been friends with the Guldenschuhs since the late 70s, & usually our RV paths cross about once a year. For our last visit with them see the following BLOG link:

That evening it was dinner at their daughter’s Heather's & husband’s, Ryan Baxter, house. We attended their wedding in DEC04; & where we celebrated New Year’s in DEC07 at the very same house. The following BLOG link contains details on that New Years visit. Heather & Ryan are expecting their first baby in about a month; so Chuck & Anneke plan on being in the area for several months at least.

Wednesday morning the four of us got together for coffee & a short walk on the beach. Back in JAN09 we discovered a Goofy Putt-Putt Course that we took pictures of, but did not play. Supposedly this is the oldest Goofy Golf putt-putt course & is over 50 years old. A couple of years ago the owners celebrated their 50 year birthday with the return of “Hammy”, a freshly restored mint-green T-rex, which had collapsed in 1993. This Goofy Golf course (& a sister course in Pensacola) served as working laboratories for the elaborate statue concepts that were built (& still stands) at the Panama City Beach Goofy Golf, 50 miles to the east.

So it was decided to get together with Heather for a round of putt-putt golf at the Goofy Golf course. Even though it was very cold, the place was packed with families & even groups of teenagers taking a break from their electronic distractions. After a spirited round of putt-putt where Dan “let” Chuck win, it was off to old Fort Walton to find a 15 foot Coca Cola bottle for a photo op.

First thing Thursday morning, 30DEC, we headed to the local Camping World to buy a new water pump, which Dan had installed by lunch. Normally we hook a water hose up to “city” water & don’t need to use the auxiliary water pump. But it has been acting-up recently & we will need it in a couple of days; so we elected to replace it now. Then it was time for a scenic drive down Santa Rosa Island to the Gulf Islands National Seashore (Florida & Mississippi units) Visitor Center at Fort Pickens.

Fort Pickens was one of three forts built to defend the entrance to Pensacola Bay. The placement of the forts was such that any vessel attempting to enter the bay could be fired upon by at least two of the forts! As you can see from the BLOG link, Dan previously toured Fort Barrancas in Pensacola, FL, back in DEC08. (The third fort, McRee, was destroyed by wind & waves.) Fort Pickens is unique in that it contains examples of all of the different coastal defense systems built by the USA from 1817 to the middle of WWII. So in one location you can see how brick forts like Pickens evolved to concrete casements w/disappearing guns in response to rifled cannons; & eventually to fixed guns in concrete casements to protect them from planes. We also observed that the north west corner of the fort was “gone” a result of a fire & black powder explosion, not enemy fire.

Although almost all other coastal forts in the south were overwhelmed by Confederate forces, or surrendered without a fight, at the start of the Civil War; Fort Pickens remained in Union hands throughout the war. This was because 50 Army & 30 Navy personnel loyal to the Union refused to surrender & held out until Union reinforcements arrived. Because of their actions the port of Pensacola & the vitally important Navy Yard located there were lost to the Confederacy for the entire war!

Trivia – what famous Apache warrior was imprisoned at Fort Pickens?

After several hours of exploration we started our drive back to the RV stopping for baked oysters & fried clams at Pegleg Petes, where we had dinner back in DEC09. On the return trip we made a stop at the Naval Live Oaks Area Visitor Center, also part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. (Note – the Florida National Scenic Trail administered by the National Forest Service is also contained in the Live Oaks Area.) Live oaks are a distinct type of American oak that was found to be far superior to all others for building warships (ie Old Ironsides). Once this was realized by the Federal government, hundreds of thousands of acres were set aside to only be used for the building of USA naval vessels. In fact, one of the earliest problems the new government had after independence was the theft of live oaks from federal lands! After an excellent day exploring we joined Chuck & Anneke at Heather & Ryan’s for dinner & a couple of games of Apples to Apples.

Trivia – where was the first dedicated tree farm in the USA?

New Years Eve Day we headed back to the Naval Live Oaks Area for a walk with Gumbo the one eyed Jack Russell. Then it was back to the RV to prep it for our departure Saturday, New Years Day. Early that evening we met up with the Guldenschuhs at Heather & Ryan’s for a traditional "dutch" New Year's Eve dinner of ertwensoep (dutch split pea soup w/ham & sausage), and ollie ballen (think donut holes on steroids); followed by different games like Cranium, Mexican Train Dominoes, Uno, etc. Since we were able to watch the Time Square celebration real time (ie East Coast time), we were able to make our good-byes and get back to the RV before midnight local time (ie Central time). As always it was great time getting back together with old friends; & as the Dutch say - GELUKKIG NIEUWJAAR!!! De beste wensen voor 2011!!!
ps – you can check out Guldenschuhs summary of our visit on their BLOG:

Saturday, December 25, 2010

01-26DEC10 - Houma, LA (merry x-mas!)

Although we have been back in our old home town of Houma, LA, for over three weeks; not much has been happening in the weeks leading up to Xmas. The month started off with Dan gone for two days to a very short job for LSU NCBRT near Anniston, AL. After his return we started our annual round of doctor & dental visits. As usual even though everything appears ok, we still have to schedule some follow-up appointments. And as usual, these appointments will stretch into January, if not February of 2011.

In keeping with the “commercial nature” of the season we (or more correctly – Corrie) spent a good deal of time Xmas shopping. In between appointments & shopping trips, we did find time to visit with old friends & get together again with our son (Joe) for another family dinner & a new game called Taboo; where once again Rebecca showed she doesn’t like to loose.

Sunday, 19DEC, was our Anniversary & Dan planned a special day by getting tickets to that very romantic Broadway play – “Spamalot” written by Monty Python. If you are not fans of Monty Python, than we probably couldn’t begin to explain the plot. For those of you that are fans, the play consists of about 75% from the 1975 movie “Monty Python & the Holy Grail”, a little bit of the 1979 movie “Life of Brian”, & some bits & pieces from the BBC TV show. If the “Knights who say NI”, “bring me a shrubbery”, or “bring out your dead” mean anything to you, then this is a play for you! The cast even threw in references to prominent NOLA natives, Hurricane Katrina, the Saints come marching in, & even the fact that the Baltimore Ravens had just beaten the Saints in football while the play was being performed. Lastly, Spamalot won the Tony for Best Musical in 2005.

From Spamalot it was off to Upperline Restaurant for romantic & excellent dinner. The Upperline was opened in 1983 by JoAnn Clevenger. Today it is still run by Ms JoAnn Clevenger, who is definitely hands on! She handles all reservations & seating arrangements, meets you at the door, escorts you to your table, & stops by your table several times during your dinner. The Upperline is the creator of such “standard” New Orleans dishes as Fried Green Tomatoes w/Shrimp Remoulade, Spicy Crispy Oysters, & Jalapeno Cornbread w/Aioli. During the holiday season they offer there Reveillon Menu, which is a fixed price four course dinner offering several choices from there best dishes. Truly one of our best dining experiences ever in New Orleans!

On Wednesday, 22DEC, all our lives were some what disrupted, with the arrival of two foster kids placed under the care of Rebecca & Raymond! As we mentioned in our OCT BLOG Rebecca & Raymond have volunteered to be foster parents. Late Tuesday they received a call from a nearby Parish social service agency, asking to place two siblings (ages 3 & 4) in their house for several weeks, or longer! Privacy laws prevent us from discussing the kids, their situation, or showing pictures; but let’s just say that some people should not be allowed to be parents! Even with all that has happened in these kid’s short lives, they appear to show no scars, were happy-go-lucky, & most important to Dan – reasonably well behaved! The kids introduced us to a new Xmas tradition, sprinkling sugar on the ground to attract Santa’s reindeer.

Xmas morning both kids were up early impatiently waiting for us; forcing Rebecca to call us on the cell phone, telling us to get over there quickly. As usual with young kids, all the packages were ripped open in less than five minutes, & numerous small pieces of various toys were scattered everywhere! That afternoon Joe joined us for the holiday dinner. This year everyone voted for the main course, & the winner was spareribs. So along with the traditional mashed potatoes, stuffing, etc, we had BBQ ribs. It was a great Christmas & the two kids definitely made it special! We used Sunday to rest & get the RV ready for the road on Monday, 27DEC, to head to Florida & get together with our friends the Guldenschuhs.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

22-30NOV10 - Various TX & LA (houma (home) again)

Monday morning, 22NOV, we departed the Big Bend area enroute Dan’s sister Sharon & husband Tim Tompkins place in Kerrville, TX. If you have followed this BLOG, you know we routinely stop there on average twice year; once on our drive leaving Louisiana, and upon our return. We decided to break our drive to Kerrville into two days & spent the night outside Ozana, TX, a little Texas town we overnighted in once before (see below BLOG entry).

After a short, relaxing, drive on Tuesday we arrived at Sharon & Tim’s in Kerrville. We used the rest of day to check on our household goods in storage, do laundry, & run errands. Wednesday we ran more errands before getting back together with Tim & Sharon, & taking off for steaknite at Waring General Store, Waring, TX.

First Tim took us on a sightseeing drive thru the some of surrounding back country roads; stopping at a local cemetery to check out some of the historical headstones. The Waring General Store is in the middle of nowhere & appears to be more dance hall/entertainment venue than a store. Supposedly steaknite here was started by Don Strange & is the first “steak” night in TX. The funny thing is that Don Strange’s main business is a catering business started by parents in Bandera, TX. Bandera is home of the Cowboy Bar which also has a steak night on Wednesday nights that we have attended a couple times in the past.

For $20 you get unlimited non-alcoholic drinks, appetizers, dessert & fixings; along with your choice of grilled steak or 1/4 chicken. The food was excellent & well worth the price. Then around 7:30 the house band, Brian Strange & the Strange Brothers, starts playing. We found the music very enjoyable. In fact for the first time ever, Dan went to the cashier & bought one of their music CDs; something he never does. Except for the long drive home (thankfully Tim was driving), it was another great night out with family!

Thursday (turkey day) we got back on the road heading east on I-10 enroute Houma, LA. First stop was at a RV park on west side of Houston which had no room (or so they said, even though we could see empty sites). Since this was the last RV park we knew of on the west side, we decided to drive through Houston to the next one listed on the east side of Houston. Somehow Dan missed our turnoff for Beaumont & we found ourselves circling Houston on I-610 in the wrong direction! After back tracking a few miles we found the next RV park & set up camp. Our turkey day dinner was supplied by What-a-burger.

Friday morning we continued driving east on I-10 making a detour to our favorite casino, Choushatta Casino, in Kinder, LA. Apparently because they were giving away two cars that night, there was no room in casino RV park. The choice was dry camping in their parking lot, or finding another RV facility. Since the drive had been very cold, we wanted electrical hookups to run our heaters & finally warm-up. Dan had noticed a nice RV park just down the road. We drove back to it & found it almost completely empty. In fact we had to call the 800 number the next morning to find out what to pay, because there was no staff on site. That evening we spent a couple of hours at the casino, where the gods of chance were not kind to us.

Saturday we awoke to sunshine & had a quick drive to Rebecca & Raymond’s. That evening our son, Joe, showed up & joined us for a dinner of leftover Thanksgiving items. Sunday morning Dan & Rebecca took off to pick out a Xmas tree for the house. In the afternoon Joe came back over to watch football & play Yahtzee & Pictionary. The competition was spirited, & we learned how much Rebecca hates to loose! After just a quick two days, Dan had fly out on Monday morning for a one day job in Anniston, AL.

Monday, November 22, 2010

17-21NOV10 - Various AZ, NM & TX (big bend national park)

Departing the Freightliner service facility on Wednesday, 17NOV, we decided to only go about 180 miles & overnight at Pato Blanco Lakes RV in Benson, AZ. Apparently this is another RV park that is heavily used by snowbird RVers, even though it was still pretty empty when we pulled in. After hooking up the RV we headed to the pool to enjoy the afternoon sunshine. Although we were only overnighting & not a long term resident, we were invited to the Wednesday night Mexican potluck. Apparently the potlucks were previously held on Tuesday nights, & the recent change has not been well received by all the regulars? The food was very good; & as usual, too much. After dinner we were treated to some acoustic western music by the resident band the “Lost Hobos”. One unusual thing at the potluck was the serving of alcohol by the park; usually it is BYOB. Dan noted we were right next door to Kartchner Caverns State Park & decided to call & see if we could get tour tickets for tomorrow AM. We lucked out & got tickets for the 0945 tour.

Thursday morning we got the RV ready to go but left it plugged in so Gumbo had AC as the day heated up, & we headed off to Kartchner Caverns State Park to catch the 0945 tour of the “Big Room”. We won’t bore you with the complete unique history of the caverns, but here is an outline:

1974 – discovered by two spelunkers who decide to keep it secret while they explore it to prevent its destruction in the name of tourism
1978 – realizing it is on private property, not public, the spelunkers approach the Kartchner family about keeping the secret & finding a way to transfer it to the state; although a teacher with a large family, the Kartchners agree & the secret is kept
1988 – in a midnight session the Arizona legislature pass the bill to purchase the land as a state park, & the Governor signs it; the press & public are told about the Caverns
1999 – the Caverns are opened to the public after four years of scientific base line studies; followed by seven years & $28 million in construction to insure minimal impact by tours on the Caverns

Kartchner is one of the few “wet” caverns that have not been degraded by commercial exploitation. Almost all caverns have water in them, but most caverns are considered “dry” because they have very large natural openings that allow the moisture to evaporate & naturally keep the cavern cool. Kartchner’s natural opening is the diameter of a grapefruit; therefore, the cavern stays warm & humid. To insure no change in the Cavern’s environment two tunnels were drilled into the cavern each equipped with an airlock, followed by several “containment” doors, & before you pass through the last containment door you are completely misted down with water to minimize the lint from your clothes & dead skin (yick) that you leave in the cavern. In addition, after all the tours are done for the day, cave specialists enter the cavern to sanitize all areas of the tour & immediately address any area that was accidentally disturbed.

The price of the tour was much more than the Carlsbad tour we took in MAR in this year (see below BLOG link), but the safeguards in place are worth it. Over the years the Cavern has been under continuous study; unique things discovered so far are – nitrocalcite “cotton” never before seen, one of the most extensive occurrences of moonmilk, new type of shields called “turnips” or “beets”, two new minerals never seen in caves (nontronite & rectorite). The tour was great & worth the money; unfortunately to protect the Cavern pictures are not allowed!

After the tour, it was back to Pato Blanco & a quick lunch before hitting the road to the Escapees Rainbow RV park in Deming, NM, where we have stayed many times before. Once again we were informed that the RV park was having a potluck dinner. But we opted for dinner at Si Senor, our favorite Mexican restaurant in the southwest.

Friday morning we continued driving east on I-10 to Van Horn, TX, but did not connect up the Toad because we were buying cheap diesel in Las Cruces, NM. After a really tight fit at the gas (diesel) station not really designed for large size vehicles, it was time to drive through El Paso on I-10 which is always fun; before we finally made it to our next overnight in Van Horn, TX. We have stayed overnight many times in Van Horn (see 2 BLOG entries below). Although the many of the small businesses are still closed, some of the derelict buildings have been removed & others given a new paint job; overall things look better. For the last couple of years the Hotel El Capitan has been closed for renovation, now it is re-opened with a new dining room. So we skipped our usual diner at Chuys to eat at the hotel. Corrie went with pork tenderloin, while Dan went with chicken fried steak made with ribeye, crusted with pistachios & topped with jalapeƱo gravy! Everything was great & we were impressed.

Saturday, 20NOV, we detoured south enroute to the Big Bend National Park area via Marfa & Presidio, TX. Just outside of Presidio we stopped at Fort Leaton State Historic Park. This is a day use park that was being setup & decorated by the staff in recognition of the 100 year anniversary of the Mexican Revolution. Although called a fort, it is really the fortified home/trading post of the Leaton Family. Next we headed down Texas Highway 170 from Presidio to Lajitas, TX. This portion of 170 is considered by many to be one of the most scenic drives in the USA. Along the way we stopped to explore Closed Canyon. This is very narrow box canyon where you can clearly see the power of flash floods! Driving 170 is highly recommended if you are ever in the area (especially in a car or on a motorcycle); lots of whoop-de-doos & great scenery!

After parking the RV Dan headed out to check out the eccentric sites of the ghost town Terilingua. Terilingua was a company town during the large scale mining of Cinnabar (ie raw material for Mercury). As usual when the market collapsed, the mine & town were abandoned. Most of the adobe buildings have been steadily deteriorating; but a funny thing happened, individuals (some down on their luck, other who want to live off the grid) have occupied the derelict buildings & have created their own community. In fact, they now have a tradition of sitting on the porch of the Terilingua Trading Co to watch the sunset in the east. That’s right in the east, they watch the changing light & colors on the mountains to the east. So we made it a point to be there for sunset before heading to La Kiva for dinner.

Back in DEC03, before we decided to become full time RVers, we decided to test the waters in a rental RV. During that trip we stayed briefly in the Terilingua area to explore Big Bend National Park. Only later did we learn of La Kiva (the cave), built by an eccentric Texan, Gilbert Felts; who had tried to scratch out a living in the area since 1962, finally hitting upon the idea of La Kiva & started building it in 1979. Since then it has been featured in numerous national publications, even being rated one of the top 50 bars in the USA by the Mens Journal in 2002! The food is good, but the atmosphere is better! Note, we didn’t check out the on site dungeon.

Sunday, 21NOV, we took off early to spend over six hours in Big Bend National Park, which is also part of the Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River (the Scenic River starts in the west at Presidio continuing to Langtry, TX, approximately 320mi). Upon entering the park we drove the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to Castolon (22mi). The scenic drive has many great overlooks (Homer Wilson Ranch, Mule Ears, Sotol Vista, Tuff Canyon), we also stopped to hike the Burro Mesa Pouroff. This is box canyon where the flash floods originate at the box end & have created a dramatic vertical cut in the canyon wall. After a relaxing & scenic drive we arrived at the Castolon Visitor Center. This is a very small visitor center that receives very few visitors.

Castolon was a ranching, farming & trading center that was very important to the Texans, & the Mexicans a stones throw away across the Rio Grande. The small park service display of the area’s history continues the themes we saw at Fort Leaton: European/Anglo settlers arrive in Texas, USA, to find long settled & established Mexicans; Anglos use the Hispanic population to build & establish their businesses; Anglo settlers often marry Mexican women, producing biracial families; the Anglos making up just 5% of the population end up controlling the wealth & the government, disenfranchising the Hispanic majority. The most violent period was from the start of the Mexican Revolution (1910) until 1920. There were numerous raids across the border by revolutionaries, often just bandits using the Revolution as an excuse, sometimes resulting in Anglo deaths. Sadly on occasion, the local Anglos would take retaliation on their neighbors, as when 15 Hispanic men were murdered in Porvenir (140 miles north of the border) in 1918, because it was believed they harbored bandits. To improve the situation & move past the hatred inspired by the Revolution, Wayne Cartledge opened his company & a store at Castolon calling it La Harmonia; treating Anglos & Hispanic Americans & Mexicans as equals. Although his store never made a profit, his other businesses did well & the store became essential institution for the entire area on both sides of the border.

After viewing the park service displays, we decided to provide some monetary support to the park service by buying a t-shirt for Dan, scat book for Corrie, & Lifetime Pass for someone who will not be named. Next we rescued a UTEP college student who had run out of gas & got separated from his Geology class & was wandering around the visitor center parking lot trying to obtain a cell phone connection. Note, there is no gas or cell phone connections in Castolon! Turns out we had seen numerous college students with clipboards at Tuff Canyon & Dan offered to drive the young man there. Dan learned the student was a poly/sci major & this field trip was mandatory for a passing grade in Geology, & he could not graduate in DEC without this elective!

After our good deed, we then headed 8mi down the road to Santa Elena Canyon Overlook & Trail. This Canyon is a dramatic 1500 foot cut made by the Rio Grande, that you can hike 3/4 of a mile into on the USA side. It was a very dramatic landscape as you crane your neck to try in take in the walls that towered over you & almost blocked out the sun. After all this, Dan decided to return home via Old Maverick Road (14 miles of dirt) hoping he would be able to use the Toad’s four wheel drive. Unfortunately the dirt road was in pretty good shape & no four wheeling was necessary. In fact we made better time than the paved road into Castolon! But we did discover Luna’s Jacal on the road. Gilberto Luna built this very small structure & raised a large family in it until 1947. Kinda makes you ashamed of all the creature comforts we feel are “necessary” for modern life.
Because of the remote location of Big Bend National Park, & the temperature extremes, it is one of the least visited of the National Parks. This is really too bad, because it is truly spectacular & offers you the opportunity to explore & experience three totally different climates & terrains – high desert, river/wet lands, & mountain. Because there is so much of the park left for us to explore, & more eccentricities to be discovered outside the park, we plan on coming back for a longer visit!

Trivia – what is the difference between Santa Elena Canyon & Santa Helena Canyon? What is a Jacal?

After a great day in the park, it was back to the Terilingua Trading Co for sunset on the porch. This Sunday evening we were treated to live music while enjoying $2 Lone Stars. One of the musicians wrote his own original songs, one of which was “Gangrene/Gangrene” sung to Dolly Parton’s “Jolene/Jolene”. Another fantastic day on the road, unfortunately because of one of Dan’s business commitments we have to get back to Louisiana & need to get back on the road tomorrow. Otherwise we might have stuck around for a few more sunsets on the porch!