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Thursday, November 29, 2018

Exploration Tower and Anastasia

The folks at Jetty Park gave us a discount coupon for the new Exploration Tower at Port Canaveral, so we decided to check it out before leaving town.

The lobby has creative marine life mobiles constructed from beach trash.
At seven stories tall, the views of the port area from the top floor are great. Here's what the Carnival ship that slipped by us in the wee hours of the morning looks like in the daylight.
Docked just across the channel, Of Course I Still Love You is the autonomous drone ship where reusable SpaceX boosters land.
I have no idea what this Navy ship is, but it looks like something out of Star Wars. Please leave a comment if you can help identify it.

The towers in the distance are launch complexes at Cape Canaveral.
Here's the panoramic view from the seventh floor balcony. It is a great place to get an overview of the port. Click on the image to zoom in.
Working our way down the tower, each floor focused on a different subject.
6th: Air and Space Port
5th: Navigating Port Canaveral
4th: Meeting Rooms
3rd: Leisure and Recreation
2nd: Environment
1st: Cafe and Gift Shop

This sign explained the history of one of our favorite restaurants. If you like lobster, you should really try rock shrimp.
This photo showing the cruise ship terminal also shows the recreational harbor where we checked in when crossing home from the Bahamas in sailing vessel Intuition way back in 2007.
The tower wasn't crowded. We had an entire parking area to ourselves. It looks like all our solar panels are clean.
We made lunch in the parking lot with a view of the Exploration Tower.  I wouldn't make this a destination, but if you are in Port Canaveral it could be a fun diversion.
One of the exhibits in the tower mentioned a nearby Sands Space History Museum. It was only open until 2, so we headed across the bridge to find it. Just before the gates to the Air Force Base, the museum is nestled into a small complex behind the SpaceX Launch & Landing Control building.
Only a tiny museum, it did have rocket parts and control systems from several launches. A volunteer who had worked on the base gave us an enthusiastic tour of the facility. In contrast to the amazing and expensive Kennedy Space Center Visitors center, this place was free and only had a few guests. The volunteers were happy to spend as much time talking and answering questions as you like.

As an example of the displays, this control panel from launch complex 19 was used for Titan rockets which served as the boosters for Gemini missions.

With all our space launch questions answered we resumed traveling north along the coast.

Daytona Beach was open for vehicular traffic, but we weren't about to risk having our home on wheels stuck in the sand.
Just south of St Augustine Beth noticed a powered parachute approaching from the north.
Snapping some photos with the 200mm lens she could see how minimal the powered part of this parachute really was.
Anastasia State Park was our overnight destination.
Looking in the rear view mirror I noticed we were being followed by a very familiar looking vehicle. Another 2018 Lexor TS pulled into the check-in parking area right beside us. This makes three days in a row we've parked near another Lexor!
Shade and sand awaited us in site #70. Trees between sites offer good privacy.
Sunlight illuminated the spanish moss hanging in the trees as we walked the campground roads in search of the ancient dunes trail. Turning off the road too early we walked another trail that ended up in the backyards of a nearby subdivision.

Retracing our steps we returned to the road and found the correct trail entrance less than thirty yards down the road.
Sand dunes undulated through Live Oak forest making the trail different than we expected - there were actually changes in elevation! This resurrection fern was nestled in the crook of an oak tree. They can shrivel up and go dormant during droughts, but "resurrect" after a good rain.
Back in the campground we visited with Andy and Eileen from Virginia at their van named "Board Games on Board." It is always fun to compare how folks decorate and pack their vans. The same year Lexor as ours, the only exterior difference was they had painted bumpers and moldings.
After a quiet night in the woods we woke to 47 degrees. Utilizing the campground showers in buildings with open screen windows proved "refreshing." We should have showered yesterday!

The main attraction at this campground is the beach, so we had to check it out before leaving.
Boardwalks connect the parking lot to the beach and protect the dunes from erosion.
Gentle waves rolled in from a calm Atlantic ocean.
Striding through the surf on long legs on this Willet kept a wary distance from us.
It is fun to watch tiny Sanderlings like this one run was running in and out of the surf in search of food. They summer and breed in the high arctic, so the cool morning in Florida probably wasn't an issue.
The natural beach gave way to a fishing pier at the southern end.
By 1330 we were packed and ready to resume the trek towards home.

Bike rack update: This aluminum 1Up bicycle rack is now four years old and is still the most stable rack we've seen anywhere. If you are considering a hitch mounted bicycle rack, they are really worth trying.

Jetty Camping at Cape Canaveral

We woke to a chilly 44 degrees in Hobe Sound so nixed the Scrub Jay walk and headed out. Time wasn't an issue, so we drove the coastal route north. Stopping at Fort Pierce marina to stretch, we found another Lexor in the parking lot. No sign of the owners though, they might be out sailing. Marinas tend to be good places to park.
A little further north we saw a sign for "Manatee Viewing." Following the directions we ended up at a power plant with a little canal next to the road. No manatees, but with the temperatures falling they are probably headed this way. Did see a few leaping mullet.
At Vero Beach we crossed over to the barrier islands and enjoyed the views of the Atlantic on the right and the Banana River to the left. Water views eventually gave way to runways as the road passed through Patrick Air Force Base before reaching Port Canaveral. I'd drive over here any time we are in the area just to see what interesting planes are viewable from the road.

Going until the road runs out, we arrived at Jetty Park Campground. This would be a great place to camp and view a rocket launch. Unfortunately we were a little early to see the next Falcon 9 head into space. That didn't mean there wouldn't be interesting things to see.
Jetty Park has spots right on the shore of Canaveral Inlet. We chose to be in the field ($42/night) where we could see all the ships come and go. Full service sites are further inland in a more protected area. We're fortunate not to need services.
Driver side looks out on the Atlantic...
...while the passenger side has a view of the port.
Here's a chart of the area. We are the blue triangle. The bay across from us is a Navy port where submarines are provisioned. This inlet is where we made landfall when we sailed back to the US in our little boat twelve years ago.
The bay behind us has a floating fence to protect Navy vessels.
Concrete piers stretch out into the ocean offering fisherman access. Walking out to the end gave us a view of the lighthouse and a couple of launch pads over on Cape Canaveral.
Gulls congregated on the beach side of the pier looking for dinner in the sand.
Pelicans glide by making flight look effortless.
This little guy was looking for scraps on one of the fish cutting tables.
Not just people, but terns and gulls were actively fishing around the pier.
A bundled up Beth remembered the binoculars. Not only did we spot birds, but a sea turtle, three dolphins, and a manatee swam by while we were camped here.
This vulture was tidying up the area after the fishermen headed home.
This osprey headed inland with a fish in its talons.
One last peak into the ocean as the sun sets over our shoulders.
Walking back to the van we were careful to maintain a slow speed.
0600 and we wake to the thrum of big diesel engines. Peeking out the window from bed we see Carnival cruise ship slipping behind us.
Since we were awake, I threw on some warm clothes and headed to the beach to catch the sunrise.
Boat traffic gets started early in the day. This fishing charter was headed out into the Atlantic.
Inbound traffic included a couple of sailboats that had been waiting offshore for daylight before coming through the inlet. The metal hulled cutter was from Germany.
And this pretty blue ketch was flying the French tricolor.
Beth was watching the action from the warmth of the van. I was thankful that she had hot coffee waiting for me.
After breakfast it was time to head out again and see who else was using the inlet. This heron was not sure he should trust me and my camera.
A casino ship docks next door to the campground. Gamblers are taken just offshore two or three times a day so they can be clear of state gambling prohibitions.
Hull maintenance doesn't seem to be the top priority for the floating casino.
Far better maintained, we watched the motor vessel Go Searcher practice retrieving a SpaceX Dragon capsule. They probably did ten retrievals over the course of the morning. What a treat to be able to see something that normally will be done way offshore!

NASA's huge vehicle assembly building is visible just over the trees.
When manned flights to the ISS start from the US again, SpaceX plans to be one of the companies providing rides. This vessel, and a sister ship on the west coast, will retrieve the manned space capsules.

The back of the ship has a specially designed crane. The white railing is around a circular helipad, and a full medical suite is below decks in case of an emergency.
Belching smoke and spraying water, this combination fire and tug boat came in the inlet practicing with their giant water gun.
Approaching a concerned catamaran crew, the tug turned off their spray just before the cat would have received a thorough dousing. We think someone was having fun.
By lunch time we secured everything and took one last look out the inlet. We hope to come back here again.



BonusPhone video through the back window at 0600:

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