Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fall Travels, 2009

Big Sky, MT

Yellowstone National Park

Friday, May 15, 2009

Catching Up...

It's been over a month since I posted, so I decided it was probably time to catch up a bit! We got home from our 2 month "road trip" with a little time left to enjoy a bit of winter here in the cities and up at the lake. Lowell got in 2 or 3 ice fishing trips, nothing spectacular, but we had enough fish for a nice fish fry when Bernice returned from California.

The ice went out about the 26th or 27th of April, and the two of us went up the week before the fishing opener (May 8) to put in the lift, dock and boat. It took a little bit longer than usual (like 2 days!!!) but we got 'er done! Joel and Jeanie and the kids came up for opening weekend. It was cool and not much for fishing - but we had a great weekend anyway. Lots of walks and "discoveries". After they left, we (Lowell mostly) worked on a new steps/deck on the driveway side of the cabin. It's give us a little more room and a nice spot to sit in the warm afternoon sun on those chilly, windy days.

I've also been giving the camera a bit of a workout, trying some new techniques and some new places as well. We've been to Fort Snelling State Park, Oakdale and Maplewood Nature Centers & Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. Just havin' fun being retired!!!


Tuesday, March 10, 2009


The final 5 days of our Great Winter Road Trip were in Albuquerque with our friends Peg and Dave. They've been living there for 10 years already, so they know the good spots to visit! Since they both had to work during the week, we spent the first few days exploring on our own. The city is at the foot of the Sandia Mountains. Peg and Dave live just a few miles from the Rio Grande River as well. We enjoyed lots of hiking, geocaching and bird watching in the bosque. Bosque (bahskay) is the name for oasis like areas found along the flood plains of stream and river banks in the southwestern US. The most notable is a 200 mile bosque along the middle Rio Grande in New Mexico. The neat thing about that area is that although the trails are used for walking, biking, running and horseback riding, nothing is paved and it's all really rustic. It reminded me of playing in the woods at the end of Clarence Street when I was little! The area has a bunch of geocaches - which was fun - but the highlight for me was spotting a small Western Screech Owl sitting in a juniper tree just off the trail. I was able to get a bunch of pictures of the little guy. Screech owls are about 8 inches tall. Unfortunately, he spent the whole time squinting at us and never really opened his eyes - but I know he was watching!!
Another day we took a 2.7 mile tram ride to Sandia Peak. The view was spectacular - the only downside was the wind. Gusts up to 50 and 60 mph in the afternoon put the tram on "standby". Fortunately, we went in the morning and got up and down just fine. That afternoon we braved the gusty weather and hiked up and down the trails in the Petroglyph National Monument.
Over the weekend, Peg and Dave took us to see a few more places. Old Town Albuquerque was a great little spot for local shopping. We also drove north of Albuquerque to the Jemez (haymess) Mountains and hot springs, the Valles Caldera, Bandelier National Park and Santa Fe. In the caldera is a large meadow (12 to 15 miles wide) formed in the cone of the volcano. There we saw several huge herds of elk, they come down to feed in the winter. We figured there must have been nearly 1000 elk in each herd. It was amazing - but they were so far away that if you didn't stop and use the binoculars, you wouldn't even know they were there!
The Bandelier Mountains are the location of Frijoles Canyon and a major site of an old pueblo village and many cliff dwellings. By the late 1400's about 700 people lived in the canyon. The really cool part was that you could hike to and climb the ladders into the pueblos. We did lots of climbing and hiking -- but saved the final climb for our next trip. At the very end of the trail is the ceremonial kiva or gathering area. It is located in the cliff 140 feet above the trail - reachable by climbing several ladders! next time.....
In addition to Peg's wonderful home-cooked meals, which we really appreciated, we ate at several great restaurants. El Pinto is a popular area place that has pictures and autographs of some of their famous customers, including Barrak Obama, Hillary Clinton, George Bush, Mel Gibson, and Clint Black. The Range displays their famous autographs on fiestaware plates - Will Farrell, Ben Kingsley and Mary Stenbergen to mention a few.

So, we are now almost home. We are driving through thick fog in southern Iowa, watching the weather in MN. The predictions look like thick fog, rain and maybe some ice and snow as we get into Minnesota. Welcome Home.
57 days 8703 miles 18 states

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Grand Canyon National Park

Amazing, awesome, incredible, extraordinary, I can't begin to tell you how spectacular this canyon is, so I won't even try. We got into the park about 11 AM and spent the afternoon walking a mile or so on the Rim Trail and even did a bit on the Bright Angel Trail, which is one of the popular trails for those hiking all the way down into the canyon. That trail did have quite a bit of snow and ice, and we weren't prepared for that kind of hike, so we only went in a short way. These walks take a long time, beacuse around every turn there is another amazing view that you really need to stop at. We ended the day climbing the Watchtower at the east side of the park (only 84 easy steps!) and then settled down at a lookout called Navajo Point to watch and photograph the sunset...then the clouds blew in! It was cold, windy and drab - but we were there!
You should never go to another national park the day after you've been at the Grand Canyon - we stopped at the Petrified Forest on the way into Albuquerque on Tuesday. It was pretty, and the petrified wood is amazing, but I couldn't get all the vast, spectacular views of GC out of my head and I'm sure we didn't appreciate it as much as we might have on another day.
So, we're on the last leg of our trip - here in Albuquerque, NM with Peg and Dave. We've been enjoying the mountains, the river (I didn't know the Rio Grande went thru this city!) and the good company. We'll leave for Oakdale on Monday....

For some really good pictures of the Grand Canyon: http://www.nps.gov/grca/
And for better information and pics of the Petrified Forest: www.nps.gov/pefo/

Monday, March 2, 2009

Highways and Byways

As we headed out of Tucson last Sunday morning(2/22), bright blue skies led us through Phoenix. Just north of Phoenix, we stopped at 2 old pueblo ruins – the Tuzigoot National Monument and Montezuma’s Castle National Monument. Both places were fascinating, examples of housing built and used by Sonaqua Indians in the 1300s. We had no idea we would be passing near them, but my friend Pete recommended them and we were glad we stopped.
The next stops were in the Sedona area. What a spectacular drive! I’ve always heard about the red rocks of Sedona, but we were absolutely amazed by these spectaculars mountains. We all decided it’d be great to spend a few days exploring the area more. Almost by accident, we found two great places to take pictures. We stopped at a “Tourist Information/Souvenir Shop” to ask where we might get some good views of the surrounding areas. The clerk gave us a little map and suggested an airport road and a chapel in the hills. The airport road overlooks the city and had some pretty terrific views. Then we headed up a little side road, which was under construction and quite narrow. When we finally got to Chapel Road and turned the corner we were amazed!! The Chapel of the Holy Cross was built into the hillside in 1957. It was a really neat spot and we are so glad that we found it!!

Traveling up Oak Creek Canyon toward Flagstaff brought cooler temperatures and some pretty views of this small creek. And snow!! Yes, first we saw it in the distant mountains, then it got closer and closer until it was right beside the road to welcome us to Flagstaff. It was about 40 degrees when we pulled into our hotel – they had the fireplace going in their lobby.

Monday’s drive brought us to the Hoover Dam and then into Las Vegas. We took the dam tour and walked the grounds there marveling at the dam and the new road being built to help bypass the dam. Next it was into Vegas and checking into The Flamingo. We spent the evening wandering down the strip and gawking like a bunch of tourists - it was great! A couple of the hotels have music/light/water fountain displays going all evening so we watched that and then spent some time watching people play Texas Hold 'Em -- none of us had a clue about how to play that game. On Tuesday morning we walked the other half of the strip. The M & M store was interesting - but we didn't buy anything. M&Ms went for $11.95 a pound!!! We stopped at the CVS on the way back to the hotel and bought a bag there... We did see a replica of the M&M car that Kyle Busch drove when he won this weeks' NASCAR race - in Las Vegas! At the end of the day, we said our goodbyes and dropped Larry and Sue off at the airport. We sure had fun with them and will miss them on the rest of our adventures.
From the Las Vegas Airport we drove south to visit our friends, John and Grace, in Lake Havasu. They were having a Fat Tuesday Party at their house - we missed dinner, but they saved us some yummy gumbo and jambalaya. During our week in Havasu we enjoyed beautiful weather, toured the city, including the Colorado River as it goes thru town and under the London Bridge. We spent a day traveling on old Route 66 to the little mining town of Oatman. It is about 4 blocks long and the big attraction in town each day when the wild burrows come into town. They were pretty funny - acted like they owned the place! Another highlight was driving out to the Desert Bar near Parker, AZ. It's about 5 miles off the highway on dirt roads in the middle of the desert - Great music, cold beer and spectacular views. I do believe I need to get back to this area when the desert is in bloom!!! We had a great time in this little town and I'm sure we'll get back there again someday.
This morning (Monday, 3/2) we bid goodbye to John and Grace and headed the car to the Grand Canyon; tonight we find ourselves back in Flagstaff, AZ. The Canyon was absolutely awesome - I'll have to write about it in my next blog... for now, enjoy the images I have here. In the morning, we will drive over to Albuquerque, New Mexico. I can't believe we've been on the road for 7 weeks already! We'll be home a week from tomorrow - whew!!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Under the Tucson Sun--

I'm enjoying my last afternoon on the patio of our townhouse. We just returned from a 4 1/2 mile hike in Sabino Canyon, followed by Cherry Limeade and chili-cheese fries at the local Sonic Drive-In. Tomorrow morning we leave and drive toward Flagstaff with a few stops along the way. Then we head to Las Vegas for a night before Larry and Sue head back to Gig Harbor, WA on Tuesday evening. I don't expect to do much blogging for a few days, so figured I'd better hit the highlights of the last few days.
When I finished my last entry, we were literally parking the car in Tombstone, at the Boothill Cemetery. Lowell was stationed at Fort Huachuca in '68-'69, so had some memories of this area - it's changed! But it was still a pretty neat spot. The cemetery was only open for a few years, and the 125 people who are buried there get a marker - with the cause of death on it! Stuff like "hanged by mistake" and "shot by Curly Bill". The town has been pretty well preserved and it was fun to walk down the dusty street - but it's been so commercialized that we were constantly being asked to buy tickets for stagecoach rides, gunfights, etc. We didn't do any of the shows - but had lunch at the Crystal Palace - and Elvis was entertaining the lunch crowd there! Go figure!
From Tombstone we drove south to the copper mining town of Bisbee. This town is well preserved, and a haven for 1960's era hippies! It's a neat little town with lots of artisans and shops - we drove thru the hills and walked the streets.
On Thursday we headed south again - first to the Mission San Xavier del Bac. This mission church was built by the Franciscan brothers from 1773-1797 - when the area was still part of Mexico. It is a beautiful, beautiful church that has been restored over the past 25 years of so. Every 7 years the adobe is cleaned patched with the original mixture of sand, limestone and prickly pear cactus juice. Naturally - this is year #7 and it's half finished... It is still a gorgeous church and after seeing all of the beautiful churches and cathedrals in Europe it was kind of fun to see what these people did with the natural surroundings. It was also interesting to note the similarities. We stopped to have some authentic frybread as we were leaving. Sue had powdered sugar and cinnamon, I had cinnamon and honey - check out the bees in the pictures! After we left the mission, Lowell and Larry went to the Titan Missile Museum, which they found quite interesting. I've included some of their pictures. Sue and I went to a quilt shop, a Starbucks and then sat in the sun!!! Next on the agenda was a quick visit with my friend and former co-worker, Joy, who lives in the town of Green Valley. It was so nice to see her and catch up a bit. For those who know Joy, she is doing very well and as usual was a gracious hostess.
The weather was forecast to be warm and sunny on Friday, so Sue and I planned to get in a good walk around the area, while Lowell and Larry went to the Pima Air & Space Museum and the Boneyard (a 2750 acre area where the military stores outdated and unusable planes, etc.) . Today is Saturday, another beautiful 80 degrees and sunny! We decided we needed one more hike among the cacti at Sabino Canyon. We took a different trail and once again it was beautiful. We spent lots of time just admiring the views. Now we're washing clothes, washing the car and reviewing information about tomorrow's drive up to Flagstaff.
This slideshow has a few pictures from Saguaro National Park West - the pictographs - and the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum as well as images from Tombstone, Bisbee and last night's sunset. It's another long one -

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

You can never have too many...

...pictures of cactus! And my portfolio is filling up!!!! We've been in Arizona for a week now and are enjoying the area very much. The blue skies are incredible - even when the temperatures are not really warm. We are staying in a very southwest style townhouse on the north east side of the city, which put us within 5 or 6 miles of an absolutely gorgeous area called the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area in the Santa Catalina Mountains, part of the Coronado National Forest. It takes a little while each morning for the sun to reach our patio - but by 8:15 or 8:30 we can sit in the warm sun for at least a little while.
We've been walking/hiking in Sabino Canyon 3 or 4 times already. This whole area is known for its Saguaro cactus - they are exclusive to the Sonora desert area here and are incredible, both the size and number. They live about 150 to 200 years and are 30 to 50 feet tall. They cover the hillsides. On our first visit to the canyon, we took a tram about 4 miles into the canyon, rode a mile or so back down and then walked the rest of the way down to the Visitor Center. Now we are much braver and walk the trails through the desert and up and down the hills. We walked into the Sabino Canyon Dam and across the creek. The snakes are hibernating - we haven't seen any in the wild! We've also hiked and driven through Saguaro National Park - East and West. Again, beautiful scenery in this mountain desert.
We visited the Old Tucson Studios one day. This is a working movie studio - although we didn't see anything being filmed. Lots of old westerns were filmed here (Rio Lobo, McClintock, Outlaw Josie Wales, Hombre, Tombstone, Young Guns II & Three Amigos) in addition to some television shows (Little House on the Prairie, Bonanza, High Chaparral) and some movies that you wouldn't expect (Revenge of the Nerds!!) were filmed in the sound studio there. That studio burned town several years ago. We spent the afternoon wandering around, watching their skits - Miss Kitty & and Girls, The Gunfight with Billy the Kidd, the Medicine Show & the Stunt Show.
On Monday Lowell and Larry tried geocaching for the first time. If you haven't heard about this GPS game, it's pretty cool. You go to a geocaching website and get the coordinates for a "cache" - then drive/walk to the area and try to find a box. The boxes have a bunch of little items that people have left and a log book. When you find the box you sign the log and if you take an item, you leave something else. The guys found the first one they looked for about a mile from our townhouse! Then we hiked in the canyon in the afternoon and found another. It really was kind of fun - they are 2 for 4 in searches so far and I think that we'll do it again. We also had a great visit with my high school friend Pete, who drove over from Yuma, AZ. It was so nice to see her again.
Yesterday afternoon we went to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. It's a great place to learn about the flora and fauna of the area! We actually got to see some of the critters we've been reading about. I don't know about anyone else, but the absolute highlight of the afternoon for me was the Hummingbird House - I not only got to photograph a hummingbird nest - but got several images of mama hummer on her nest!

There's so much more to talk about, but we're traveling down to the Tombstone/Bisbee area right now and this connection is a little bit iffy going through the mountains. I think I'll try to get this posted and then I'll post more pictures in the next day or two. Oh yeah, none of these pictures are labeled either - maybe tonight!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Adios Texas...

We are on the way out of Texas - this is one huge state! and I'm still amazed by the technology that lets me write this online as we are traveling down the highway. To re-cap the past few days--on Saturday, we strolled the Jackson Street Market in downtown Harlingen. Dan and Mickey arrived with Mickey's Mom, Betty, and sister, Pat. We had a great dinner at the Lone Star.
Sunday brought a trip on the Kiki De La Garza Highway to the Don-Wes Flea Market for the Schumacher contingent – all the usual treasures were available and we picked up a few of things. The wind was absolutely unbelievable, we came home feeling like we'd been sand blasted! Mom and Dad took the Koch/Cammack party to the city of Pharr and the Basilica of San Juan. When everyone returned we took a quick dip in the pool & hot tub. It was so darn windy we had white caps in the pool, but it was our last chance to take advantage of that wonderful pool. All of us had dinner at Mom and Dad's and had some time to visit and exchange stories. We also took a few minutes to walk over to my cousin Judy's and say goodbye to all of them.
With hugs, kisses, good wishes and an orange and lemon picked fresh off their trees, we bid goodbye to Mom and Dad and Harlingen early Monday morning. A strong Texas wind pushed us up the highway and into San Antonio. The 4 of us spent the next couple of hours immersed in Texas history at the Alamo. The Mission San Antonio de Valero is famous for the 1836 Battle for Texas Independence, where 189 Texas volunteers held the site against 4000 Mexican troops for 13 days. The stories of William Travis, Davey Crockett, Jim Bowie and the rest of the volunteers at the Alamo are inspiring and heart wrenching. There isn't much left of the original mission and it's right in the middle of downtown San Antonio.
Next, a short walk led us to the famed San Antonio River Walk – a great walking path along the SA river, past a variety of shops and restaurants – we had lunch at a bar called Dick’s Last Resort. The waitresses had great T-Shirts that said "Dick's Chicks" on the back. I tried to get them for me and my sisters, but sadly, they are no longer available. We continued our walk along the 2 mile River Walk and had dessert at Ben & Jerry’s. The buildings around the area are really pretty neat - lots of great architecture and landscaping. As you might expect, there are quite a few ducks living in the area along the river, and we saw a newly hatched group of ducklings as well as a nest with a dozen or so eggs and Mama Duck caring for them.
At 4 PM we left San Antonio and headed west, hoping to get a few hours of driving in. By 9 we were in the hopping town of Fort Stockton TX, had a quick dinner and crashed.
Tuesday morning brought much cooler temperatures and the forecast for an even stronger wind! We headed north to Carlsbad Caverns National Park in NM. The caves were discovered in the late 1800's by a 16 year old cowboy named Jim White, who thought he saw smoke in the hills. Upon further inspection he realized that the smoke was really thousands of bats emerging from a cave in the ground.
The Mexican Free Tail bats still live in some of the caves from early spring until about October. The bats' nightly forays for insects continue to amaze visitors - there are typically 300,000 to 400,000 bats entering and leaving the cave each evening. The spectacle actually takes up to half an hour. I'm sure it's quite a sight, I'd even like to see it! As Jim White was trying to interest people in his discoveries, one enterprising fellow decided all that bat guano ought to be worth something and set up a guano mining business! Since the business was not very lucrative, the caves eventually became more of a tourist attraction and in 1923 the US Department of Interior set it up as a park and White was the first Park Ranger.
Due to the time of our arrival and the guided tour schedule, we were unable to use the Natural Entrance - a one mile hike that takes about an hour. We took the elevator down to 750 feet below the surface, joined a ranger guided tour and then hiked another 80+ feet down into the rooms of the Kings' Palace. This cavern is 829 feet below the surface – and absolutely spectacular. Of course we had 3 cameras going and got some decent pictures – but they can’t really capture the amazing structures. After that tour, we walked though an 8.2 acre cavern called The Big Room. All of these areas have decent trails and some indirect lighting so that it's a really easy walk and you can see all of the formations - or as the rangers say, decorations. Water dripping into the caverns deposits calcite which over the course of millions of years forms speleothems - cave decorations including helictites, draperies, columns, soda straws, stalagtites and stalagmites! The temperature in the caves stays at 56 degrees year round - which was very pleasant compared to the 32 degrees and snow flurries that greeted us when we left!
This park was well worth the trip and we all highly recommend it. Next time we'll come when we have more time to explore other areas of the park, use the Natural Entrance and see the Bat Flights in the evening.
We left the Park and battled high winds through 136 miles of NOTHING - to get to El Paso. The blowing sand obscured the city skyline. My good friend Colleen met us at a little neighborhood Mexican restaurant called Fortis. They had great food - Sue and I enjoyed what was probably the first many chili rellenos! YUM. It was so nice to catch up with Colleen, she's enjoying her job and her time with her grandson, Ethan.
So - this morning we left a chilly El Paso and are headed to our condo in Tucson. The weather doesn't look like it's going to be really warm, but as long as the sun is shining we'll have plenty to explore in that area.

Friday, February 6, 2009

This week in Texas...

..has been a busy one! In addition to quick trips around town, including the Iwo Jima Memorial here in Harlingen, we've explored a number of spots in the area. We headed to Progresso, Mexico, on Monday - it hasn't changed much since last spring! After visiting the usual colorful shops and markets, we headed to Arturo's for some margaritas and a great lunch.

Wednesday started early - the guys had 8:00 AM tickets to go bay fishing and all 4 of us had tickets for an "eco tour" - we had to be in South Padre by 7:45 AM. The winds were calm and the fishing was pretty good - they caught enough for the 6 of us to have a fish dinner last night. While the guys were fishing, Sue and I went out for breakfast, did a little shopping and walked the beach. At 11:30 we headed back to the pier and got in line for a table at Dirty Al's. The place had been recommended to us by several people - and it was busy. We got our table at about 12:10 -- just as Lowell and Larry got back from fishing. The shrimp baskets were SOOOOO good! At 1:30 we boarded another catamaran and headed into the bay to look for dolphins -- we saw lots and lots of them! They played beside and in front of the boat - we took lots of pictures as usual. Then they threw a net into the water and dragged it for about 10 minutes - the object was to pull up some of the common sea life from the area and show it to us. The first time they pulled the net in, there was nothing in it! It had gotten tangled so they threw it out again, and obviously it wasn't quite as good as we had expected! They did get a couple of blue crabs - both of whom were carrying large egg sacks. There were some small fish and a really cool, huge hermit crab in a large welk shell. It was a good day on the water!
This morning (Friday) Lowell and I went back to Laguna Atascosa, I was hoping to see a greater variety of bird by getting there early in the day. We did see more birds, but the biggest treat was the javelinas feeding at the bird feeders! These little pigs paid no attention to us - and the birds sat on their backs and ate the bugs off their backs - yuk! After we got home we loaded up Dad's Suburban and all of us went up to a little town named Port Mansfield. Well, this place is a fishing town - and not much else! We walked out on the long county pier and watched several people catch sting rays! The waters there must be absolutely filled with the buggers!!

We've had such a good week - Mom and Dad have been dragging us all over town and feeding us great meals each day! We usually get at least one walk in, and go swimming every afternoon as well. It's been fun to visit with Judy, Don, Jim and Aunt Lorraine. We are looking forward to Dan and Mickey's arrival tomorrow afternoon. The slideshow is probably a bit too long this time - sorry if it takes forever to load -- just wanted to share a few of the highlights with you.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Wild Animals of South Texas

Larry and Sue got into Houston Wednesday evening, it was great to see them and to get started on the next part of our adventure!
An uneventful trip through Texas cattle country put us in Harlingen on Thursday afternoon. It was great to be greeted by Mom and Dad and warm weather! We've had a few busy days, I'll try to give you a little flavor of our time here in the Rio Grande Valley - so far!
The big news in the park has been the wild green parrot flock that has visited several times this winter. We're listening for them, but haven't seen anything so far - Mom and Dad assure me that we'll hear them if they come into the park.
Friday was pretty quiet - we had a great lunch at a little Mexican cafe called Alicia's, and went into the pool and hot tub -- too bad if it was only 70 degrees, these northern folks were really anxious to get warm! In the evening my Aunt Lorraine, cousin's Judy and Jim, and Judy's husband Don, came over for cocktails. It was fun to see them - Judy has taken some neat pictures of the parrots in the park.
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge was our destination Saturday morning. The refuge is east of Harlingen, and home to a great variety of birds and wildlife - ocelots, deer, javelinas, coyotes & alligators. It also is considered a premier birdwatching destination. We saw lots of birds - and three alligators! The birds were mostly at the Visitor Center, the green jays were really beautiful, but we might try to get back some day in the early morning so we can see a few more species. So we drove to the lake and a viewpoint area. there was a huge gator floating in the lake, right in front of the observation platform, and another with his eyes peeking out that we saw for just a couple of minutes. A 1/2 mile walk to a spot called Alligator Pond gave us our best 'gator viewing! Two large gators were in the pond - one sunning himself on the shore and the other just floating in the water. After a couple of minutes, the guy on the shore slipped into the water and came swimming over to see us!! He just came and floated in front of the deck for about half an hour. We figured he was at least 8 feet long and the other guy was bigger! That was fun.
Sunday's plan was to visit the South Padre Island Kite Festival - but Mom and Dad took a bike ride first and Dad spotted a hawk building a nest in a Norfolk Pine on the other side of the park. So I grabbed the camera and Mom's bike and headed out. We watched the hawk working on a nest and the second hawk even joined it for a bit. I got a few pictures and then we looked it up - I believe it is a Harris' Hawk.
The wind was light today as we headed to the island to catch the Kite Festival. It was on the beach and there was everything from little individual kites to HUGE characters and even "team" kite flying -- they had 3 and 4 people flying kites in patterns, set to music. After a walk on the beach and collecting a few seashells (because none of us have enough of them!), we had a great lunch at Blackbeard's. Grilled shrimp, mahi mahi and giant onion rings!! We didn't even need to make dinner tonight - just snacks during the Super Bowl!
The rest of the week will hold new adventures - a trip to Nuevo Progresso, the flea market, an eco tour on the Bay, and maybe even a fishing trip! Stay warm everyone - we are :-)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Big Easy

We spent about 24 hours in the city of New Orleans. Knowing that there is enough to do and see for a week in this city, we knew we could only see a few of the highlights. We did learn a few things for the next time we visit.
First of all - January is winter; downtime, quiet time. Mardis Gras parades begin the first weekend in February so shops were preparing, but the streets seemed to be fairly quiet. In fact, many tours are on a winter schedule - 1 tour or trip per day. New Orleans is a great walking city. We stayed at a Holiday Inn Express on Carondolet Street - about 2 blocks from Bourbon Street and 7 blocks from the Riverfront area.
When we arrived on Monday afternoon, we walked to the riverfront area, past Harrods (cha-ching), and back up to Bourbon Street. We sauntered up and down the street, but it was really quiet - just hot dog vendors and a few other tourists. Dinner was at a place called "Desire" - I had BBQ shrimp, Lowell had a dish of jambalaya - and of course mine was much spicier! Lowell's Cajun Mary, however, had a little kick, so he was happy.
After dinner, the street was a little more active - still not crowded or in a big party mood. We listened to lots of music - good jazz, some blues, even some rock and county. Every bar seems to try to play it's music louder than the one across the street. We did not hear any Zydeco though - and that's what I was hoping for - it's such a different sound. There were plenty of policemen on the street too, so it felt pretty safe. They have a big camera called Skywatch, at one end of the street as well. It's raised up about 1 story on a lift kind on contraption. So, it was a pretty quiet evening, but we did get to see and hear the famous street.
Tuesday morning brought bright sunshine and the promise of 70 degrees - We took the streetcar from our hotel west through the Garden District and past Tulane University, Loyola and Sacre Couer. Sacred Heart Academy opened in 1727 and is the oldest girl's school in the United States. I've included some of the homes is that area in the slide show - it was a beautiful area, and the homes are pretty spectacular. Since we went early in the day, we shared the street car with folks on their way to work or school.
Next on the agenda was a stroll through the French District to Jefferson Square and St. Louis Cathedral. The square is a monument to Jefferson Davis. The Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis King of France is the oldest Catholic cathedral in continual use in the United States. Of course the cathedral is beautiful, so I wanted to take some pictures. Naturally, today was the day that they were changing light bulbs on the altar - so there's a big orange ladder on the altar, just my luck. The streets around the square are for pedestrians only, lots of artists and palm readers were set up in the area. After sampling the pralines and buying a cookbook, we walked over to the Mississippi riverfront area. It has a great walkway along the river that leads into (ta-da) a shopping center! We stopped for gumbo and po-boy sandwiches, yummy lunch.
After lunch we hustled back to the hotel, checked out and headed to St. Louis Cemetery #1. There are a number of cemeteries right in downtown New Orleans. Next time we'd like to do a cemetery tour. St. Louis Cemetery #1 is the oldest and most famous of the 3 catholic cemeteries operated by the Archdiocese. It was opened in 1789, replacing the city's older St. Peter Cemetery (no longer in existence) as the main burial ground when the city was redesigned after a fire in 1788. The cemetery spans just one square block, but is the resting place of over 100,000 dead. It contains a variety of tombs in various states of repair and disrepair. It is still being used - we saw tombs marked in 2004 and 2005. In the early days of the city, the immigrants could not afford private burial plots, so they joined a "mutual benefit society" (i.e. a group of French or Italian immigrants). They had a large crypt designed and built, often in Europe, and they could all be buried there. The 3 St. Louis cemeteries have lots of these crypts. One that we saw was for the Italian Mutual Benefit Society. It is a large round structure with 24 vaults. There are currently 2300 people entombed in that single structure!
Usually you hear that the tombs are above ground because of the low water table, but we read that it's more likely because they were designed after European cemeteries. All of these were flooded in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina went through New Orleans, but reportedly there wasn't much damage.
The balconies and ironwork in the city were fascinating - right now lots of folks are decorating their balconies for Mardi Gras. That would really be a great time to visit the city.
So - that was our extremely quick tour of The Big Easy. We'd like to return again, when it's warmer and a little more exciting. We'd do a cemetery tour and probably a riverboat tour in the area as well. We are now in Texas and on the road to Houston. I'm doing this blog from the car!! This technology never ceases to amaze me! Larry and Sue are flying in there tonight, we are looking forward to seeing them and to heading down to Harlingen to stay with Mom and Dad.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Swamps & Marshes & Bayous, oh my.....

We did the Honey Island Swamp Tour on Monday in Slidell, Lousiana. It was actually pretty interesting. The first thing our guide Charlie told us was that the alligators were in hibernation! Of course, we didn't know that, but he said that because it was a warm day, we might see a couple of young ones who were fooled into thinking it was time to wake up. This particular tour company advertises itself as being an eco-tour, and Charlie was very knowledgeable, he grew up on the river about 5 miles from the tour company. So, the first thing he pointed out was that we'd be in a swamp (flooded forest), a marsh (flooded grassland), a bayou (slow flowing waterway), a stream (a little faster flow) and a river! The West Pearl River in the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area. There are 5 rivers running through the WMA - the West Pearl, Middle West Pearl, the Middle Pearl, the Middle East Pearl and the East Pearl. Pretty creative, huh? The first thing we noticed were the fish shacks on the river. These shacks - and they really are shacks! - are used by locals to store fishing equipment, etc. Some of them though are used as places to stay. We stopped and talked to a fellow named Daryll (HONEST!). He was sittin' on his porch watching the river flow by - and had a cooler full of wild pig that he was "curing". They soak it in ice water for a couple of days until the meat turns almost white - then they cook it. Yum?? There were also some very nice houses on the river. When Katrina came through the area had a pretty severe storm surge - the houses closest to the place where we got into the river had a couple of feet of water in the basements. Further down river they had 5 or 6 feet. Most of the shacks on the river were destroyed in Kartrina and severely damaged again last Fall in Gustav and Ike. Charlie explained that since these places are vulnerable to flooding and un-insurable, no one puts much of value into them - that was pretty obvious!
We saw lots of turtles and shorebirds - egrets and herons mostly. Yellow bellied turtles and red-eared turtles are the most common kind in the swamps and bayous. When we got back into the deepest part of the cypress swamp we saw a big fat nutria sleeping on a tree. Nutrias are large, semi-aquatic rodents which were imported from South America into Louisiana for fur and meat farming. The idea of eating the meat or wearing the fur never did catch on., you'll probably understand why when you look at the pictures. They were somehow released into the wild and have gotten so out of control that there is a $5/tail bounty!!
As we cruised through the swamp we saw 3 small alligators - about 3 feet long. Two of them left without any photo ops. The last one stayed by the boat for 20 minutes or so. But he had a piece of straw or branch sitting across his nose so he looked pretty goofy! Charlie also had a small alligator that he brought out in a cooler. The little guy was rescued by someone and donated to the tour operation so they use him for show and tell. He's about 7 months old. At least I finally got to see a wild gator! I even touched the baby gator. The other interesting little fact we learned about the cypress swamps was that the cypress trees send shoots up, called cypress knees, in order to get air for the trees so they don't die during flooding. The knees are pretty unusual looking.

So, that was our swamp adventure - from there, we drove into New Orleans and checked into our hotel about 3 blocks from the French Quarter & Bourbon Street. I have plenty of pictures and stories - I'll get them posted tomorrow. Tonight we stopped in Lafayette, LA and tomorrow we head to Houston. Tomorrow night Larry and Sue fly into Houston from Seattle - can't wait to see them and share some more adventures!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Panama City Beach was a nice little spot - not busy at all at this time of the year. We were able to talk a long walk on the beach yesterday morning. We found a few seashells - nothing very exciting though. After lunch we drove to Pensacola and went to the National Museum for Naval Aviation. It's a neat air museum - with lots of airplanes and an IMAX theater. We watched a movie about the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon. In the evening we drove a little farther to Moss Point, Mississippi. We've been driving on the highway that borders the Gulf of Mexico, rather than using the interstate. Lots more to see this way! It has been amazing to see all of the destruction from Hurricane Katrina. Along the coast there are countless foundations from homes that have been cleared away. You would see 3 or 4 steps from the sidewalk to a gate and wrought iron fence - with nothing but a foundation and maybe a couple of step inside. It's just amazing. I imagine we'll see more of the same when we get into New Orleans as well.
Today we left Moss Point and headed to Slidell, Louisiana. On the way we stopped at the Gulf Islands National Seashore - a really pretty little park on the Gulf, but it was overcast and difficult to see very far out into the Gulf. We stopped at the Mississippi Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park, and then tried to get into the Stennis Space Center - a NASA operation - but it's closed on Sunday, Monday & Tuesday. We did book our Honey Island Swamp Tour for tomorrow... www.HoneyIslandSwamp.com We'll see how that goes!

Then we head down to New Orleans! We're looking forward to seeing that city.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Adventures in Florida

We're on our way out of Florida now. Tonight we are in Panama City Beach. We have put up with really chilly temperatures the past 4 days or so. I'm glad I had my North Face fleece with me! It's been between 23 and 28 degree the past 3 mornings!!!
When we left Fort Myers, we stopped at the Edison Ford Winter Estates - where Thomas Edison and Henry Ford spent the winter months & entertained friends like Harvey Firestone. It's a wonderful area - the houses and gardens are beautiful. We took the coast highway up to Homosassa & crossed a couple of spectacular bridges. We stayed with our friends Ruth and Dick in the small rural town of Beverly Hills.
We visited a the Homosassa Wildlife Park in Homosassa yesterday. It's small, but a neat little park. Lot's of native Florida critters - flamingos, cranes, owls, alligators, pelicans and the star of the show - the manatees! They are really, really large sea critters that don't do much of anything besides float around in the rivers and eat. Their closest relative is the elephant. They look like giant potatos that someone threw in the water. The ones at the park weighed between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds ...
Today we drove the Sunshine Coast Highway from Crystal River to Panama City Beach. It was a pretty drive - and the sun was out so it warmed up all day. Along the way we stopped and took a mile long hike in the Lower Suwannee River Wildlife Refuge. Yes, it's the famous Suwanee River from the song. We walked to the river and then took The drive took us over a half dozen big bridges - beautiful scenery. We stopped in Port St. Joe to watch the sunset - which was beautiful again!!!
I love the names down here - Apalachicola, Chassahowitzka Bay, Caloosahatchee River, Choctawhatchee Bay. We didn't hear many southern accents when we were in Ft. Myers - of course it seems like no one there is from Florida. As we got further north, the accents became more noticeable and now I really, really have to listen to get everything! My first clue was when I was on the phone with the car dealer to arrange an oil change for the Denali - the guy told me they were "raht nixt to MAC Donalds"..

Monday, January 19, 2009

Fort Myers Beach, Florida

We've spent about 5 days here in south Florida. Our friends have a place on Estero Island - just south of the city of Fort Myers.
We've done lots of walking on the beach - it's a couple of miles long here and great for walking! We met this little Florida version of a snowman yesterday. We've driven down to Naples - a very upscale area - and through the city of Fort Myers. Thomas Edison and Henry Ford both worked out of Fort Myers, we'll probably stop there on our way out of town Wednesday. We've met wonderful folks from all over the country - Washington, Iowa, New York, Pennsylvania, and of course other Minnesotans. We haven't seen any dolphins yet, but Carol tells me they cruise by the beach here. We'll keep looking! They've had a bit of a cool spell here - just our luck! But we're not complaining.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Day Two

It was 30 degrees when we got up this morning, we were feeling pretty smug! But, listening to the radio as we left Illinois, all of the weather heads were talking about the extreme cold that would be “gripping’ the area this afternoon and tonight. Windchills approaching -10!!!! They were announcing that the Illinois Dept of Human Services offices would serve as Warming Stations during business hours for anyone who cannot afford to turn their heat up or who does not have appropriate heat in their home. Those folks were also invited to log on to “Keep Illinois Warm.org” for additional information. (Somehow, if you can’t afford to turn the heat up, I can’t imagine you’d have internet access!) Anyway, they’re in a tizz with the cold weather too! It’s all in your perspective I guess eh?

We got into Nashville about 9:30 - and got our first 32 degree reading in the car. The Nashville skyline is in the picture here. We also drove through Chattanooga and Atlanta. The Chattanooga area is very pretty, we stopped at Nick-A-Jack Lake on the Tennessee River.

Atlanta is HUGE, but the traffic moved quickly at 3:30 PM so we breezed through.

Tomorrow we have about 300 miles from here Valdosta, GA to Fort Myers, FL. It'll be a quick day compared to the last two.

My blogging will slow down once we get to Ft Myers - too much to do there! Take care all - stay warm!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Road Trip - Day One

We've finally begun our winter trip. We left at 6:30 this morning, it was -14 at our house.

We traveled 675 miles in about 11 hours. One stop at McDonald's for breakfast and one stop for gas & "facilities". We arrived here in the hoppin' town of Marion, Illinois just after 5:30. I took a few pictures out the car window. We saw the sunrise in Menomonie, WI and it was beautiful. That Wisconsin corridor along I 94 is really very pretty, lots of rolling wooded hills. When we turn south at Madison, we lost the hills and most of the trees -- big ol' farms from Madison down to Effingham. Then we got back into more trees and some lakes and rivers, and saw a nice sunset just before we got into Marion.
Critter watch: Just after sunrise we saw a flock of wild turkeys half in the field and half roosting in the trees. There was a buffalo farm just outside of Baldwin/Woodville. We also saw several grouse in a tree beside the highway and many, many hawks cruising the roadsides and sitting in the trees looking for lunch. Just after we got into Illinois we saw what we both thought was a coyote in the field!
Apparently there isn't much pedestrian traffic here in Marion. We went for a walk after we got here (had to stretch these old retired legs!). There are no crosswalks or sidewalks and the lights were short! We may not be in the prime neighborhood :-)

Tomorrow our drive time will be about the same - from here to Nashville, Chattanooga, Atlanta and then stop in Valdosta, Georgia.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Why Minnesotans leave/stay for the winter!

Talk about ambivalent! We've had snow and rain and cold in the past week, and it's getting colder tonight (-8), can't wait to leave, but we just spent 5 days enjoying Minnesota's beautiful winter!
We spent the past several days visiting our friends on Mille Lacs Lake. The guys spent a few hours each afternoon ice fishing and caught enough walleyes for a great dinner - and a few funny stories. This sunrise was this morning. Mille Lacs is an amazing lake but in the winter it looks pretty desolate.
We've added a couple of used snowmobiles to our toybox -- as long as we live in Minnesota, we need to do whatever we can to enjoy all of it's seasons. We rode mostly on the lake this weekend - there are no trees to run into out there. (Thanks John for the instructions - it's been many, many years since we rode Mom and Dad's SkiDoos!)
Lowell and John fished fairly close to home. They used a portable fish house, they pulled it out with the snowmobiles each afternoon and in at the end of the day.
One of the interesting features on Mille Lacs in the winter are the ice heaves. All around the shore there are berms of ice chunks that forms as the ice is freezing and the wind blows. Crossing these areas is a little tricky, but the cracks scare me more! We didn't see any big cracks where we were riding, but there were some slushy areas. Using snowmobiles or 4 wheelers seems to be the best way to get around, although some people and resorts plow roads out to the ice house villages.
So we've enjoyed winter and are now planning our escape! The "retired road" heads south next week.....