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Road-trip 2017, Days 27 – 30

In the home stretch of our month long road trip, we headed into familiar-to-us territory in the Florida panhandle, but not before checking out a new-to-both-of-us area, Pensacola, Florida.  Pensacola is the westernmost city in the Florida panhandle, nearly 832 miles by road from Key West, or 524 miles by water.  Pensacola’s big claim to fame is Naval Air Station Pensacola, the first naval air station commissioned by the US government back in 1914 and home of the Blue Angels.  We spent the entire day exploring the area, including the Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum, the National Naval Aviation Museum and Fort Barracas, all on base at NAS Pensacola.

The Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum was quite interesting.  My favorite source for all things lighthouse, LighthouseFriends.com, has some history.  It is one of few that was actually occupied by both the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War.  The tower and the Keeper’s Cottage nearly became casualties again in the early 70’s when there was talk of it being an obstacle for the nearby jet traffic on the naval base.  Preservation-minded folks prevailed, and today the lighthouse complex as well as the nearby forts are protected as part of the Gulf Shores National Seashore.  A most pleasant surprise during our visit was the “Women Who Kept the Light” exhibit, showcasing not just the women keepers at Pensacola but across the country.  It was an exceptionally well done exhibit and in my humble opinion, too much of a well kept secret, even on the lighthouse’s own website.

 

P1050771 Jeremiah Pelican Lighthouse Keeper

Jeremiah Pelican Lighthouse Keeper

Outside I was captivated by yet another creatures-as-public-art-project, this one entitled Pelicans in Paradise.  This was one of a flock of 41 5 ft tall 70 lb birds, hatched in 2004-2005 and scattered about Pensacola as a fundraiser for the local newspaper’s Newspapers in Education literacy program.  I’m not certain how many of them remain (though I was tempted to seek a few more out), but Jeremiah seemed to be in fine shape, obviously a well tended to bird.

The nearby National Naval Aviation Museum was at the same time impressive and a bit overwhelming.  With 350,000 square feet of exhibit space on a 37-acre campus, they obviously covered some history.  The chock-full space and the shear volume of exhibits made photography more than a bit challenging, at least for yours truly, but I couldn’t resist a shot of a few Blue Angels.  I loved that so many of the aircraft were shown suspended.

P1050777 Blue Angels, Museum of Naval Aviation, Pensacola FL

Blue Angels, Museum of Naval Aviation, Pensacola

Having spent way more time at the museum than we’d anticipated, we had only a short time to explored Fort Barrancas and none at all for nearby Fort Pickens.   Still, I was able to grab a few photos and Mike was recruited to help the onsite park ranger take the flag down at days end.

 

LS_20170424_140846 Hamaknockers BBQ, Crawfordville FL (so of Tallahassee)

Hamaknockers BBQ, Crawfordsville FL

Leaving Pensacola, we opted for the scenic route which took us through the Florida portion of Gulf Shores National Seashore. We spent a couple of nights at (Lori’s) Mom’s place in Panama City Beach, catching our breath, doing some laundry, generally slowing down a bit.  Mike’s nose found some good eats at Hamaknockers BBQ one afternoon on our way to Gainesville where we visited with friends for a bit.

 

On our last stretch from Gainesville to our Cheshire in St Augustine, we decided to stop and check out our new hometown so to speak.  We’d recently signed up for a mail handling service, officially known as St Brendan’s Isle, who handle mail for literally thousands of cruisers, RVers and others who travel.  They grew so much over the years that they outgrew their storefront (see Mike in photo below), but the post office (wisely) didn’t want to change their street address.  The little vertical bit between the windowed storefronts below is technically where we live.  We stopped by their new facility just outside of town to pick up our mail, along with that of a number of our friends, which saved us all some forwarding charges.  While we were in town, we also picked up library cards for our new city of residence.  Truth be told though, I’m not excited about Clay County Library’s e-book collection… it’s just not that big a population, but thankfully we’re also able to keep our cards for the Gainesville/Alachua Co Library which is awesome.

And thus ends another successful road trip.

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Road-trip 2017, Days 25 – 26

Many moons ago, Mike and I used to be regular visitors to New Orleans, LA.  Our general travel philosophy didn’t allow much for repeat visits to any one place, what with so many new-to-us options, but NOLA was different.  We’d return every 2-3 years for stretch.  Then Hurricane Katrina whacked this fine city in the fall of 2005.  We’d not been back since.

For all of our visits though, we’d never ventured out to Avery Island, home of the famous Tabasco Hot Sauce.  This trip, we decided it was worth a bit of a detour.  Beyond the spacious country store where one can purchase all things pepper sauced, we took the self-guided tour of the factory.  Despite signs warning of bears, we saw no wildlife in the vicinity of the factory.

Adjacent to the world famous Tabasco facility is the lesser known Jungle Gardens of Avery Island where Edward McIlhenny helped to save the snowy egret from extinction.  In the late 1800’s when the snowy egret was being hunted to near extinction for its plumage, he built an aviary on the island.  He would capture and raise these wild egrets, and after they raised their hatchlings, he’d release them in time for migration.  They apparently returned the following spring and every year thereafter, bringing some of their friends along as well.  The garden also features lots of gorgeous live oak trees, a sunken garden, several stands of bamboo and even a Buddha.  And of course there are alligators.  It’s a bit kitchy, but was worth wandering though.

 

From Avery Island we headed to Houma, LA which is nowhere really, but put us striking distance from NOLA.  Pizza at Redfish Pizza was quite good. The following morning we drove into the city.  Breakfast at Cafe DuMonde was of course obligatory.  After meandering the historic district for a while, we encountered long lines/waits at a couple of our favorite spots, settled on a new-to-us place that ended up being nasty.  Who knew you could get bad food in NOLA?

At the end of the day, we decided that as much as we love this city, it’s not at all the same on a day trip.  Or maybe it was the shock of city after several days in the back country.  Either way, next time we’ll plan better.  But for now, we needed to be making tracks.  We drove on to an uneventful night just outside of Mobile, AL with a plan to explore the Pensacola area of the FL panhandle the following day.

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Road-trip 2017, Days 22 – 24

For our eastbound trip through Texas we were on a bit more of a fast track than we’d been on our way west.  We did pause for an evening in Houston though where we caught up with some of Mike’s family, his sister, two nieces, a niece’s husband whom we’d not yet met and a couple of wee ones.  It was fun to catch up and I’m kicking myself that no one though to take any photos.

Leaving greater Houston, we’d slow way down again.  We took to the backroads through Port Arthur and into the bayous of southwest Louisiana to pick up the Louisiana Outback Creole Nature Trail.  I had a number of National Wildlife Refuges in my sights.

We hit one of the Visitors Centers in the area to pick up some maps, grabbed a late lunch at the Anchor Up Grill in Cameron and spent the late afternoon into early evening exploring the Pintail Wildlife Drive and adjacent boardwalk at Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge.  Birds and other wildlife were abundant.  I’ve managed to id most of them, but input and/or corrections are welcome.

 

A number of alligators were also out and about, perhaps scouting their evening meals.

 

Out of daylight, we headed for the Lake Charles area where we’d grab a bite to eat, spend the night and get a jump on another day of bayou exploring.

The following morning’s exploration of the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge gave us another opportunity to stretch our legs a bit.  We saw some different birds than we’d seen the previous day, along with some other creatures, and while there were several signs for gators, none were visible this morning, likely waiting for afternoon to sun themselves.

Mid-day we headed back into Cameron for a bite of lunch at T Boys, followed by a spur off of the Creole Nature Trail in search of the Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge. Eventually located, it proved to be more for fishing access than it was birder-friendly.  No worries though; after a pass though, the late afternoon light fast approaching, we headed to our last stop of the day, the Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge.  A couple of creeping slow loops around the Wildlife Drive here proved to be a beautiful way to wind down our day.

From the swamps of southwest Louisiana, we’d head to the Big Easy.

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Road-trip 2017, Days 18 – 21

Having gotten our fill of urban exploring, we headed out of LA and back into the deserts.  After a stop at Coco’s Bakery & Restaurant (a western chain) for a bite of breakfast, we motored on to Mohave National Preserve in southeastern California where we spent a perfectly delightful few hours hiking about.  The preserve is expansive at about 1.6 million acres.  We could have spent a lot more time here, but the Grand Canyon was calling.

Motoring on, we paused for the night in Williams, AZ, staging for an early morning visit to Grand Canyon National Park.  This stop was on our “must do” list for this road trip as neither Mike nor I had been here.  It would not disappoint.

The following morning we drove up to Tusayan where we parked the car and caught the free shuttle into the National Park.  Though our schedule would not allow for a hike all the way to the bottom of the canyon (Mike’s edit: nor would our old legs), we thoroughly enjoyed our morning trek from the south rim, part way down the Kaibab Trail and back up.  Our afternoon was spent shuttling about the central part of park, walking part of a paved rim trail and generally gawking at the views.  Back in Williams, we had dinner at the Historic Brewing Barrel and Bottle.


The following morning we were up and out early for a drive back into the south end of the park, and out towards the east end to explore the Desert View area.  We enjoyed more amazing views of the canyon in the morning light, poked around the Tusayan Museum and took in the architectural detail and fascinating artwork of the Desert View Watchtower.  The tower was designed by Mary Colter, a renowned architect of the time; find more history and some photos, including of the interior,  on the NPS page for the tower.

As with other places we’ve visited on this road trip, we could have lingered a lot longer, but we’ve got miles to cover and some more family visits on the calendar.  We headed out of the park at mid-day, stopping for lunch at a little Mexican place by the airport and some photos ops in downtown Winslow, AZ.

From here we picked up the pace to cover some miles.  After an overnight near West Mesa/Albuquerque we enjoyed a lovely Easter Sunday Brunch at the Slate Street Cafe, took a quick pass though Albuquerque’s Old Town (mostly closed on this holiday morning) and headed on into the vastness of Texas.

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Road-trip 2017, Days 11 – 17

LS_20170410_073226 view from patio at D&D's

view from Duncan & Daniela’s

Finally we reached our western-most destination for this road trip, Los Angeles, CA.  Our week would be a combination of hanging out and sight-seeing with family and doing some exploring on our own.  What follows are some of the highlights.

A day spent in nearby Pasadena included a tour of the Gamble House, an American Arts and Crafts style home built in 1908 for the Gambles of Procter & Gamble fame.  It’s now a National Historic Landmark.  Indoor photography was not permitted on our tour, but the Gamble House website has extensive photos as well as information about the restoration.

A completely unexpected bonus to our trip to California was that it coincided with what’s referred to as a super bloom.  An unusually wet winter resulted in a spectacular explosion of wildflowers across much of the California deserts.  We would catch the tail end of the show.  Below are a few shots from our hike about Point Mugu State Park near the coast.  I couldn’t even begin to identify all of the wildflowers, so I didn’t even try.


Mike and I again braved the traffic of LA for a drive over to Venice, FL for a walk about the canals.  We enjoyed a leisurely stroll around the canal district, along waterways lined with small but beautiful homes fronted by meticulously tended gardens and a few unusual watercraft.  After lunch a bite of lunch of course we had to dip our feet into the Pacific Ocean.  A building at the south end of the Venice boardwalk sported a most unusual mural, the Luminaries of Pantheism (photo below).  Turns out the building is headquarters to a nonprofit organization called the Paradise Project.  I quote from their website regarding the mural: “The mural was completed in March 2015, and features famous scientists, philosophers and poets who have espoused pantheistic views of the world — views that everything that exists consititutes a unity, and that this all-inclusive unity is divine (frequently described as “Everything is God”). Put simply, these great thinkers saw beauty in the connection of the universe. The Paradise Project, an organization dedicated to this ideal, is proud to honor these wise men and women for their contributions to human evolution and culture.”  An awesome bit of public art!

One of the things we love about visiting major metropolitan areas is the multi-cultural vibe.  It won’t be a surprise to those that have know us for a while that we decided to take a day to explore LA’s Little Tokyo.  We love opportunities to be reminded of our time in Japan and this day was no exception.  Appropriately, we opted to take advantage of the metro system which was quite handy.  We spent several hours exploring the Japanese American National Museum.  In addition to their permanent collection, we caught a couple of temporary exhibits that were particularly compelling and relevant in our current times.  “Instructions to All Persons: Reflections of Executive Order 9066” reflected on the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII.  “Only the Oaks Remain: The Story of Tuna Canyon Detention Station” featured bits of reconstructed buildings from a detention camp along with the personal stories of some who held there.   On a bit lighter note, the final exhibit exploring the life and career of George Takei was also quite good.

Our brains full from the museum, we enjoyed a wander about the Little Tokyo neighborhood. We slurped a couple of bowls of ramen from Ramen Maruya, reminisced our way through a department store that could have been lifted from our neighborhood in Japan and last but not least, I was successful in my quest for a favorite but hard to find Japanese treat, black sesame ice cream, which tasted exactly as I’d remembered it!

Our last full day in LA found us on an urban hike in Griffith Park, a metro park sometimes referred to as the Central Park of LA. It was nice to stretch our legs and to catch a glimpse (though not a good photo of) the infamous Hollywood sign, the view of the LA skyline frankly made me want to hold my breath for a very long time.  Still, nice that they managed to carve out some 4300 acres for a public park instead of more buildings.

Having gotten our fill of the big city, we head back into the natural world, well kind of.  Next stop: the Grand Canyon.

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Road-trip 2017 Day 10

After a serviceable breakfast at the very retro Courtesy Coffee Shop (Lounge by night) in Blythe, CA, we headed on for a last bit of the wild before finishing up our drive into Los Angeles.  Joshua Tree started its life as a National Monument (proclaimed so by FDR in 1936) and was renamed/redesignated  Joshua Tree National Park in 1994, and protects 792,510 acres of mostly wilderness where the Mojave and Colorado deserts converge.  It proved to be a fine place to stretch our legs a bit.

We started our explorations in the southeastern part of the the park, part of the Colorado Desert, with elevations of less than 3,000 ft above sea level.  From near the Cottonwood Springs Visitors Center, we opted for the Mastodon Peak trail which did not disappoint.  Desert wildflowers and cacti blooms were abundant, although the intense sun of late morning made for some challenging photography. (ID help welcome!)

A few lizards also captured my attention.

 

As we made our way north and west in the park, we passed through what is referred to as a transition zone entered the Mojave Desert with elevations above 3,00 ft.  We stopped along the way for some shorter hikes.  It was at these elevations that we found expanses of the the park’s namesake, the Joshua Trees.  Tough and curious things, they’re not trees at all, rather belong to the yucca or agave family.  They have spiky succulent leaves that are kind of bayonet-shaped and every bit as sharp.

Of course in reading about the Joshua tree, I couldn’t help but stumble over references to the 1982 U2 album of the same name.  This Irish rock band was quite captivated with the deserts of the American southwest and found the landscapes to be quite fitting with the theme/songs of the album.  The cover photo however was not taken in Joshua Tree National Park, rather at another location in the Mojave Desert some 200 miles away.  While the actual tree fell some time ago, there is reportedly a plaque placed for those who go searching.

LS_20170405_171212 road snacks, Mexican-style

We left the park in the late afternoon with a plan to be at Duncan and Daniela’s place in LA for a late dinner.  A search for a milkshake or some such thing took us to a brightly lit place called La Michoacana in Beaumont CA where we picked up a couple of mangonadas, a kind of sweet, spicy, party-colored Mexican fruit drink with tamarind-coated straws.  Not bad really.   In any event, they quenched our thirst and tided us over to LA.

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Road-trip 2017 Day 9

Although much of this road trip is about exploring some new-to-us places, we made an exception passing through Arizona, opting for a repeat visit to an amazing place we’d first experienced almost exactly two decades ago while on a motorcycle trip.

LS_20170404_085337 breakfast at Baja Cafe, Tuscon

breakfast at Baja Cafe, Tuscon

Of course we started with breakfast, braving the traffic of Tucson to check out Baja Cafe. It was definitely worth a bit of a detour.  Portions were so generous we took leftovers home for another meal.  To our credit, we planned better, but they comped us a Snickerdoodle Pancake when they found out it was our first visit.  Every bite was delicious.

Fueled for the day, we headed on to the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum where we spent the better part of the rest of the day.  It was every bit as wonderful as we’d remembered.  It’s hard to think of this place as a museum exactly.  Their website describes it as a “98 acre… fusion experience: zoo, botanical garden, art gallery, natural history museum, and aquarium” which in my opinion is a spot on description.  Some of the creatures were quite captivating.  The big horn sheep  wee one was only a couple of weeks old at our visit.  The otter was also quite entertaining, but challenging to capture in a photo… it never stopped moving!  Of course prairie dogs always make me smile.  By contrast, the mountain lion was very very serious.

Of course there were lizards.

…and an aviary of birds, a couple of which were cooperative with my photographing them.  ID help welcome.

Our timing for this visit was most fortunate as the cacti were blooming riots of color. I’ll not even begin to be able to identify all of them, or even capture photos that do them justice, but it was a delight to spend an afternoon in their midst.

Having soaked up all we could of this place, we found a scenic bypass around the not-so-scenic Phoenix area and headed for the California border.

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