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Monday, October 31, 2016

Naval Aviation

28,297 miles  9:30AM  70°F
In less than half an hour we were at the Pensacola Naval Air Station gate.  Stating our intention and showing our drivers licenses to the guard, we were quickly waved through to visit the National Naval Aviation Museum. This free museum blew us away. We ended up spending five hours wandering the excellent indoor exhibits. Many of them are presented in context with artifacts and short videos explaining the history of each plane.

We started with a docent tour led by a retired helicopter test pilot. We highly recommend taking this type of tour in any museum as the personal stories bring history to life.  Following that tour, we took a bus tour to the restoration hanger and outdoor storage areas.

If you can be here on a Tuesday or Wednesday, the Blue Angels practice field is right next door. Viewing is up close and free. Check the museum web site for more information.

Halloween proved to be a uncrowded day to visit as there were no school groups. We had no trouble finding a shaded spot to park.
Our docent explaining how important the technology was that prevented machine guns from shooting off their propellers.
First airplane to cross the Atlantic. One of three that attempted it at the same time. One crashed and aborted, this one made it in the air, and a third landed mid-atlantic and finished the crossing as a boat.
  Ford Tri-Motor
My initials are on the tail of this Constellation. I laughed when we saw the name on the nose, as it was named for hurricane Brenda, which just happens to be my sister's name.
 Flying boat on the tarmac.
Two more are on display indoors. One is a cut-away of the fuselage, set-up with a crew as if they were on a mission.
Beth emerging from a former presidential helicopter.
The last "flying boat" used by the US Navy.
Several airplane cockpits are available climb in. Had to try this one as it is my birthday number.
Lots of modern jets are in the newest hanger. This one is displayed with the refueling wand deployed.
Several jets have engine examples alongside. Cutaway displays are great for future aviation engineers.
Several planes are displayed on, and over, the deck of a WWII aircraft carrier.
Portions of the second floor recreate the feeling of being on an aircraft carrier. I had to capture a photo of the photography quarters.


We thoroughly enjoyed our time at this museum. Our only regret is not staying another day to see the Blue Angels practice.






28,373 miles 5:14PM  81°F

Here's the view behind our bed at site #35 at the RV Resort in Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. We border a small pond with the swimming pool beyond. At $46.62 for the night, it is the most expensive State campsite we've found.
A tram takes visitors to the beach. We hurried to see if we could catch the sunset.


Just a few minutes too late, there was still a little color in the sky.


Sunday, October 30, 2016

Crossing Mobile Bay

The trawler fleet was underway about 0530 here on Dauphin Island. I swear we could feel the vibration from across the road. 

After breakfast we enjoyed hot showers, but I received two more mosquito bites. The bath house does not have screens! It appears there is a foundation and blocks next door for a new facility. It is time for a little modernization.

Today is Sprinter Van Intuition's first time on the water! We arrived 45 minutes early to find no one in line and the ticket both closed. Taking the  time to drive a little more around Dauphin Island, we were back 30 minutes later and the scene had not changed.
The aptly named Fort Morgan, arriving on time from Fort Morgan, docking at Dauphin Island.


Boarding first, we were followed by four bicyclists. After the gates closed, a pick-up truck arrived and the crew opened up again,  doubling the motorized vehicle load.


Leaving Dauphin Island we get a good view of the public boat launches from the water side.
Fort Gaines slips into the distance.
 Underway with lots of unused capacity.

The $40 fee was collected mid-bay. The Crew on the Mobile Bay Ferry were friendly and efficient.
We passed several rigs that provide natural gas. I wouldn't want to be sailing around here in the fog without good radar.
 Our captain announced that we would be turning the ferry around and running across the bay backwards. This allowed them to shut down the aft engine so they could change a belt while underway.

Jon J, "Crewman No. 2" unlocked the door to the engine room below us. He was back in twenty minutes and we had two working engines again.

Crew duties are posted.
People often ask lots of questions about our van. Beth gave a tour to a curious cyclist during our crossing.
 Passing another gas rig.
A freighter crosses our stern as it heads out into the Gulf of Mexico.
These interesting folks are taking a break from peddling. Leaving San Diego a month ago, they expect to reach Fernandina Beach in another ten days to complete a coast-to-coast journey.


28,201 10:15AM 72° F
Disembarking from the ferry, we drove around the grounds of Fort Morgan and checked out a Kayak launch site.

28,238 11:40AM 80°F
Arriving in Florida, we stopped at the Perdido Beach Visitor's Center where friendly volunteers urged us to stay in the area and enjoy the local cuisine.
28,234 11:58
Arrived at Big Lagoon State Park. Our site has privacy, is close to the bath house (which has screens in the windows), and backs to a small pond. Sites with electric and water are $22.30 per night.

We like the view out our back window at Big Lagoon. The site has a nice fence that will keep us safe from the alligators and other local fauna that live in the pond.



Still early in the day, we drove into Pensacola for lunch. Passing the crowded parking lot at Joe Patti's Seafood, we did a U-turn to see what was so popular.  Turns out that the restaurant is closed on Sundays, but the seafood market is open every day.  The counter had a HUGE selection of fresh fish and shellfish.

We didn't leave hungry, as there is a both selling made-to-order beignets. These deep fried pastries dusted with powdered sugar were a treat.

Driving into downtown Pensacola, we did find a few restaurants open in the historic district. With the warm weather we opted for a sidewalk table at Hub Stacey's. Tasty, large sandwiches were big enough to save half for later.

 Much of the historic district is closed on Sunday, but the Wentworth History Museum was open.

This unique map shows Lake Superior with an inset of Florida and the Bahamas. Published in Venice, Italy in 1778, it shows for islands in Lake Superior that don't really exist.
Not quite sure why this was in the museum collection, but it hails from my home stomping grounds in northern New York. My sister, who still lives in the area, reports that she has seen a few folks try Saratoga spring water out of a fountain and immediately spit it out.


Finding the other parts of the district, including the railroad museum, closed up for the day, we headed back to Big Lagoon.
A part of the Florida Bird Watching trail runs through the park and culminates at this tower. Beth, who isn't fond of heights, made it to the top.

The view is worth climbing the stairs. Back towards shore we could see Intuition alone in the parking lot.
Looking seaward, we could see boats traversing the Intracoastal Waterway, protected barrier islands, and the Gulf of Mexico beyond. The sailors liked the spot, taking down their sails and anchoring shortly after the shutter snapped this photo.
Back down the stairs on her own, Beth thought the views of boats and birds were worth the climb.
A kayaker fishes between a barrier island and the park.
We love watching pelicans glide and dive. In addition to the birds, we observed a few planes, flying in pairs from the nearby Pensacola Navel Air Station, our destination for tomorrow.



Saturday, October 29, 2016

Buccaneer to Dauphin Island

Sunrise made us very happy to have moved to a "front row" site at Buccaneer State Park.
 Sunrise view from the van.
Simply a field with hook-ups by the street, these sites do provide a great view and easy access to the gulf. Just cross the street and you are on the seawall. A small sand spit is a two minute walk if you want to put your toes in the water.

Buccaneer has an extensive water park, so is probably a hopping place in the summertime.
Hurricane Katrina destroyed most of the structures here in 2005 with a thirty foot storm surge. It took eight years to rebuild the park with storm tolerant structures like this elevated tower for electrical boxes.

Heading east along the coast brought us to Bay St. Louis where a slight elevation had prevented much of the hurricane damage.

A restored train station housed the visitor's center
and a surprise display of local Mardi Gras costumes.
Smiling fish sculptures adorned the park next to the train station.


This oak tree saved four people and a dog in Hurricane Katrina. They "...held on for several hours as the waves washed over them, until the eye passed, and they were able to jump down and find shelter for the night." The tree didn't survive and was later carved into this memorial.
New construction along the shoreline has buildings elevated in anticipation of future storms.

Plaques show where the high water of past storms would have reached on this new bath house.

Continuing east to Long Beach, Beth directed us onto the grounds of the University of Southern Mississippi to see the "Friendship Oak," one of the oldest and largest oak trees.
Dated to 1487, this impressive old tree comes with a legend saying "Those who enter my shadow will remain friends through all their lifetime."


The Biloxi lighthouse is hard to miss as it sits in the middle of a divided highway.
A nearby parking lot allows access to the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art
and the Biloxi Schooner Pier where two schooner replicas take the public out to experience a different era.
I coaxed Beth to wandering out on the pier, where the waters were teaming with schools of mullet.

28,188 miles  2:00 PM
Reached our spot for tonight at Dauphin Island Campground. Our neighbors are in the smallest class C camper we've seen yet, traveling from Germany with two boys.

There are lots of mosquitos here so we are going to walk out to the water where the breeze from the bay might keep them away.
We're here so Intuition can get a chance to sail on the Mobile Bay Ferry tomorrow. The ferry departs right across the street from our campground. The ticket agent assured us that there would be no problem getting aboard in the morning and reservations are unnecessary in October.

Dauphin Island has several attractions surrounding the campground. Between a bird sanctuary, fort, and Estuarium (brackish water aquarium), we elected to visit the Estuarium where we met this lobster and enjoyed watching an octopus.

Fort Gaines was hosting a Society for Creative Anachronism event so looked crowded and had a high entrance fee for the short time remaining today.
The Dauphin Island Sea Lab was a bit of a disappointment and could use some clean-up and more funding. I don't know how much damage has been suffered from hurricanes. We're spoiled from visits to the NC Estuarium in our home state.

After the estuarium, we walked out to the fort and checked out the extensive boat launches available adjacent to the campground.



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