Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Picnic on the Beach at Anastasia State Park, St Augustine

We had another day in St Augustine, before we headed south and there was so much to do, should we visit another museum, go to the light house, explore more of downtown St Augustine, or perhaps have a picnic on the beach? The beach of course won out, as you guessed from the title.
So Renita packed our lunch and it was a short drive to Anastasia State Park. After paying the eight dollar entry fee, (a little high but it keeps people away), we parked in the mostly empty beach lot. It was a little cold, seventy five degrees, but the north wind wasn't very strong as we carried the lawn chairs across the long boardwalk.
The beach was really empty so we set up the chairs in the first spot we came to before heading out to walk the surf and high tide line. There were lots and lots of shells but the only ones being different were a narrow and thin razor like clam. Still Renita managed to add some to her collection.
Several horseshoe crab exoskeletons had washed up, they must be molting, and we even came across a threatening to-dee-loo crab, (called to-dee-loos because they usually run away when you approach).
This one stood and showed off its large single claw warning me to leave it alone.
It was safe however, too small for a crab boil, and we continued our stroll with Renita walking the high tide line and me wading in the warm waters. I stopped to look for sharks teeth but didn't find any even though others showed up and bent over scanning for the small brown fossils, (the ones here are brown instead of the black color we found in Aurora, North Carolina.
Returning to the lawn chairs we sat down and enjoyed our lunch before just vegging out. I almost fell asleep but I am leery of sleeping and getting a horribly sunburn. One time, in the Bahamas I actually forgot to put sunscreen everywhere and sunburned the bottom of my feet!
The sand here was squeaky clean and it actually squeaked as we walked in the dry windblown ripples. It was just the kind of day we needed before continuing down the coast and heading inland to the Peace River at Walchula. That's our last stop before we move to St Petersburg for the next two months. Clear skies

Friday, October 24, 2014

St Augustine, A Day at the Castillo De San Markos

From the moment we walked across the drawbridge we knew we were entering a special place. Having visited many other forts, here we were greeted by a volunteer/ranger who was dressed in a period Spanish soldiers uniform and throughout our visit walked the battlements, answered questions, and posed for pictures.
Our first stop was at the guard room and the carcel/prison. Hot air seemed to pour out of the enclosed structure and it was a cool day in St Augustine! It must have been insufferable duirng the hot months. The guard quarters were decorated by graffiti from bored soldiers. Among other things they had carved images of ships on the coquina walls.
We read that the fort had never been taken and had resisted several English attempts in the eighteenth century. It had only changed hands as the result of treaties although it was taken over by Union Forces when the frigate Wabash entered the St Augustine Harbor, (the Confederates had abandoned the Fort and the City and thank goodness no Parrot Cannons had destroyed its walls).
Each of the rooms in the lower level had a story to tell. Several described the imprisonment of Kiowa, Seminole, Commanche, and Apache. Another room contained the powder room, the next the treasury/bank and we both imagined the jewels, gold, and silver that must have been stored there, (ok we  are a bit obsessed with pretty rocks).
Every room contained great exhibits explaining its use. It was by far the best exhibits we have seen anyplace of the history contained in the stone walls.
 Climbing up the stairs to the battlements we were greeted with rows of guns all still defending the forts sides.
The brass guns and mortars were beautifully engraved and forged with whale shaped handles and dragons mouths. The name of the maker and the Spanish town were also preserved, The brass cannons had been captured in Sante Cruz, during the Mexican War and we wondered if Lee and Grant had ever admired their beauty.
One corner of the fort held a signal tower and another a sentry position. Several of the guns had been recently manufactured, in Spain, and were still being used and fired during demonstrations. Each had the fire hole protected with a leather covering and all the new guns pointed toward the harbor, still promising protection from pirates and the hated English.
We laughed as school buses unloaded groups of students who later ran and jumped down into the dry and grassy moat, ( remembering how we had led many field trips and the importance of wearing them out so they would sleep on the bus during the return).
It was another beautiful day in a magical place. St Augustine has captured our hearts and is a gem among gems. We are often asked if we have found a place to stop, when we finished our travels. The truth is we have found many special places and St Augustine is one of those. Clear skies

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Beauty of St Augustine, St Augustines Basilica and Memorial Presbyterian Church

As soon as we reached the downtown area we both almost forgot about anything else but the charm and beauty all around us. Our daughter had told us we needed to visit St Augustine and especially to take the time to view some of the churches. Luckily finding a parking space for our truck, (it doesn't fit in the visitor center parking garage), we grabbed the cameras and headed for St Augustine's Basilica and then the Memorial Presbyterian Church.
We love to view stained glass windows, stunning architecture, and exquisite stone and wood work and the two churches we hoped to visit, promised lots of both. Traveling like we do has given us the opportunity to visit  many of the beautiful churches in the United States..
So when we approached the exterior of the Basilica we saw a sign for a temporary entrance to the side of the church and then another sign that told of the current restoration project. Still we were able to enter and enjoy the beauty of the altar area and the side chapel of Mary. Taking a moment to say a prayer of thanks for our safe journey, we enjoyed the beauty of the ceilings frescoes and the intricate detail of the stained glass windows.
Deciding that we need to return after the restoration has been completed we next headed to the Memorial Presbyterian Church. As we passed by Flagler College, classes were just getting out and we both remembered how busy it was at the University we attended.
Enjoying the beauty of the College we both stopped as we came in sight of the Memorial Presbyterian Church. We had read that the church was ranked as one of the top ten architectural designed small churches in the United States and we could see why. Constructed of cement mixed with local coquina, the church did a great job  of hiding its inherent  strength with stunning arches and a central dome.
As we walked outside a beautiful sundial stood in a small alcove, its tarnished brass crying for the sun, (a tree has grown and hidden it in shade). The dome itself and all the exterior gutters are a beautiful example of incorporating the tarnishing properties of copper, (one of the reasons we love working with untreated copper and brass in some of our jewelry designs).
Stepping inside the darkened church we were dazzled by the richness of the dark woodwork and the brass cross fixtures hanging from the ceiling. Once they had been lit with gas, and there is a cross left with the original gas vents in a side room, they shone brightly above the dark wooded pews.
The lectern was an exquisite carved dais that stood centered in the arms of the cross like structure, (many churches are built in either a cross or an ship/arc pattern).
The curator explained the significance of the dome symbols and explained that the ceiling had been restored and changed after moisture had damaged the original design. Side areas held displays of stunning examples of antique furniture. One in particular held curved designs of shaped and polished brass decorations, while another held a case enclosing a bible with a sterling silver decorated cover.
Returning outside, we walked around the church and every side of the exterior made us pause and drink in the flowing lines and intricate details. The church was built by Flagler as a monument to his daughter after she had died during childbirth and you could see he spared no expense.
If you are ever in St Augustine the historic downtown and the two churches are a must see. We know that we will want to visit here again and when we do we will definitely return to enjoy both of these churches.  It has been a special blessing to enjoy such beauty. A special thank you to all the churches that allow guests to view their interior areas. Clear skies

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Savannah Georgia, Tybee Island Lighthouse, Tybee Beach, and Fort Pulaski

We left Winterville, North Carolina, to continue our southern trek. Our next stop was only two hundred miles down the coast at Savannah, Georgia. Now we had already visited Savannah, and while we loved the historic old town, we decided to check out the areas history by visiting the Tybee Lighthouse, Fort Screven and Tybee Beach, and Fort Pulaski National Monument.
Driving to Tybee Island took us through the city and down a beautiful oak lined street. Spanish moss draped the trees and nothing else makes you feel like being down south than being under the bearded oaks. Renita drove and while she struggled a bit with our large truck she did an admirable job and made it down the shaded avenue.
Soon we were crossing marshlands and tidal flats, much like the Louisiana coast. The main visible difference was the elevated boat docks lining the waterways. Here the tidal range is much greater, its the Atlantic Ocean after all, and as we reached Tybee island we spotted the  Lighthouse standing proud above the trees.
Renita parked the truck at the Lighthouse parking lot, one of the few places free with a light house tour ticket, It was nice to see the senior rate and as parking on the island costs two dollars an hour it was like getting to see the lighthouse for free. A volunteer described the lighthouse grounds and museum and gave us all a warm welcome to the place.
Heading to the light house we were soon climbing the one hundred and fifty plus steps, pausing at each window to enjoy each view.  It was a lot easier than hiking up Clingmans Point, and we quickly reached the top. The access to the Fresno lens was restricted but we were able to walk outside on the circular ledge surrounding the top.
Feeling somewhat acrophobic, (I prefer solid mountain tops to man made structures), I forced myself to look down the Towers side. Renita never made any comments about the height and easily walked along the outside of the narrow metal grate and handrail.
The descent was obviously much easier and after watching a short film of the history of the lighthouse we toured the First Light keepers house. The house has been refurnished with the actual furniture from the last light keeper with all the pieces being classic early twentieth century. One piece really stood out, an art deco clock and radio, and really caught our eye.
Next we headed over to Fort Screven and Tybee Beach. Some of the fort was actually sold and converted to private residences, but we were still able to tour a small museum and stand on top of the fort. .It must have been a dull existence for the men assigned to guard the mouth of the Savannah River.
Walking the beach, Renita commented on the scarcity of shells, but still managed to glean a few pieces for her ever growing collection. Still shells are kind of like rocks, you can never have enough,
and there is always room somewhere in our traveling house.
The last stop of the day was at Fort Pulaski. It was a beautiful example of the last of the brick made forts and was finished only fourteen years before the start of the civil war. Constructed with twenty five million bricks and mortar, it only lasted thirty hours against the Union's new rifled parrot guns.
The rifled Parrot guns had the ability to reach the fort and blasted holes through the thick walls. When one shell passed through the breach and  exploded setting fire to the gunpowder magazine, the Confederate commander, who had proudly stated that,  'He had been put in command to defend the fort not to surrender it!", wisely ran up a large white flag.
The Union Commander actually freed the slaves, captured with the Confederate forces, and later enlisted them into the Union forces. It was a bit of history that we had read about but standing in the fort helped us to realize the importance of that decision.
Returning to Savannah we just missed the rush hour traffic It had been a good day, as every day retired has been, and who could ask for more than a day visiting a light house and a day of history in Savannah, Georgia! Clear skies

Saturday, October 18, 2014

We Dig Aurora, North Carolina, A Visit to the Aurora Fossil Museum

Mike and Mona both mentioned the Aurora Fossil Museum as a place we would want to visit. So we loaded into their car for the fifty mile drive. There we not only wanted to see a phosphate mine, (Renita worked in a coal mine for twenty plus years), but more importantly we wanted to take a tour of the Aurora Fossil Museum and learn about the local fossils.
Arriving in Aurora we first headed down a road toward one of the local phosphate mines.
Unfortunately you really couldn't see a lot as, you guessed it, there are lots of trees in North Carolina. Still we could see some of the plant and a huge towering pile of material, scooped up with mammoth drag line shovels working the phosphate deposits. This material is rife with sharks teeth, vertebrae, and other fossils including marine mammals.
So after a few images and a brief walk in the ditches we were back to Aurora where we were greeted by the towns water tower which proudly proclaimed, 'I Dig Aurora". Driving past several rock piles we parked in front of the Museum. I was like a little kid and couldn't wait until we got inside, but I waited patiently for the others by studying the front window displays.
Inside we were warmly greeted by a volunteer who gave us a through explanation of the many fossil types we would see. He explained the nonprofit foundation, and kindly offered us a personal tour of the facilities.
One of the first exhibits was of a megladon jaw, allowing one to pose inside of the wide open rows of teeth. Hmm, it kind of makes you glad we only have to deal with great white sharks and grizzly bears. Other displays showed marine fossils including lots of fossil shark teeth, along with mammal teeth including fossil dolphin teeth, (Mona later found one).
Across the street was another building which, while filled with more local fossils, included rock and mineral samples. The guide told us that the local mine donated truck full of materials and that they had just turned it over so there were lots of fossil being found.
Taking us to the rock piles we quickly found sharks teeth and my brother held up a fossil dolphin vertebrae. Jealous, I looked for awhile before finding one myself but it wasn't as good as his and all I can say is hide it well dear brother, he never reads the blog so I can be speak my mind!
Mona and Renita found lots of small sharks teeth, solenardia coral, and everyone found fossil bone fragment. There were even small sponge fossils which are usually rare everyplace else.
After eating a quick lunch we headed back to other piles of rock scattered throughout the town and we found quite a bit more to add to our sacks. Time was running out and so we went back into the museum where we purchased a large megladon tooth along with some Ethiopean opal rough and Canadian Fossil Ammolites, opalized.
Of course we spent too much but the profits from the sales all went to the museum, it is a non profit after all. So if you are ever in this area of eastern North Carolina and you love fossils and rocks, be sure to visit the Aurora fossil museum and take some extra time to carefully dig through the rock  piles. Clear skies.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Drivng Across North Carolina and Resting Awhile in Winterville

The drive across Tennessee had been horrible. Interstate forty was full of truck traffic and if that wasn't enough it rained hard most of the way. As we entered North Carolina the road wound through the Smokies and it was actually a pretty easy route. Sure there were some curved tunnels but the speed was reduced to fifty miles per hour. The roads got better and better and the traffic lessened as we headed east.
Arriving in Winterville we found a really nice rv park with a nice weekly rate, Calling my brother. Mike and his wife Mona, who recently retired from Connecticut, we were soon engaged in catching up on all the trials and tribulations of selling and moving.
After spending a day at their new house we decided to head to Washington, North Carolina, for lunch and a stroll and some birding, along the Pamlico Sound. The river is actually the Tar River, related to how the Tar Heels got their name, with the river changing its name at Washington, NC, to the Pamlico river as it enters the Pamlico Sound.
Our first stop was at the local Chamber of Commerce and if you travel like we do the local chambers are always a first stop for great information. The lady at the Washington Center was excellent and she showered us with her vast knowledge.
Eating lunch at The Grub, I had a catfish poboy and Renita opted for a healthy salad that was also excellent, it was evident we were finally down south. Fried food, fried green tomatoes, and even sugared deep fried sweet potato fries all threatened our waistlines but how can you resist?
After lunch we stopped at an antique store before walking down the street to the riverfront. It was the quiet time for the birds and we didn't see many but the turtles made up for it. Here they practically beg for food as they ponderously swim to each group of people strolling along the boardwalk.
It is so nice to be here after the twenty five hundred mile drive form our summer place in Thayne, Wyoming. We will spend a week before coasting down the southeast coast and crossing Florida to St Petersburg. That of course means family time and our own, nurse Jenny. Clear skies

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Day in Great Smokey National Park, Newfound Gap, Clingmans Dome and the Roaring Fork Motor Trail

It wasn't a race but time drove us eastward and so when we lost a day to a strong cold front, it meant we had one day less to visit the Great Smokey National Park., Our rig was too big to camp in the park and so Renita found a nice rv park near Cosby and we pulled in to a great spot for a two night stay.
The next morning found us at the visitor center where we bought way to many booklets but it provided us with info for three places to experience, Newfound Gap, Clingmans Dome and the Roaring Fork Motor Trail.
New Found Gap was so crowded that we barely found a place to park before strolling along the walkway. Artists were lining some of the good spots and we envied their ability as we imagined our friends Alan and Sharon among them.
Clingmans Dome is the highest point in Tennessee and any time we get to high point a state we just can't pass it up,(I did climb Mount Rainer years ago and we did hike up to the high point in South Dakota). Now the brochure promised a large parking lot next to Clingmans Dome and it was definitely needed as we had to make two circuits before I found a spot large enough for our truck.
It was cold and partly cloudy as we began our hike to the top. Visibility was limited but it didn't really matter as the whole purpose was to reach the top and so we started up the paved trail. Crowded with other hikers there were even people pushing their kids in strollers, even though it was not recommended.
Living at six thousand feet above sea level it was still a struggle for us to reach the top,( 6643' elevation), and so we stopped periodically and caught our breath. There were people a third our age who gave up and headed back down but you have to admire them for trying.
Reaching the top we were surprised to find that a cement tower had been erected to acomidate the throng and so we asked the volunteer where was true high point. He directed us to a spot next to one of the pillars and told us that we were now straddling the North Carolina/Tennessee border. He also told us that the geodesic marked had been removed.
After taking the mandatory picture we walked up the cement path to the viewing platform and squeezed in among the throng all trying to take a nice image. Strong winds gusted across the top and a cloud blanketed us so we could see about one hundred feet, (It reminded me of Rainer where we reached the summit the same time as a snowstorm and were trapped in a white out requiring us to retreat down the mountain and dig ice caves till the storm abated).
No ice caves were needed as we headed back down and of course it cleared off allowing us to appreciate the vast forest. The trees are just starting to turn and so we decided that some day we will return taking the Blue Ridge Parkway in a much smaller rig.
Still having a few hours  we decided to drive the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. It was Renitas turn to drive and so I got to enjoy the deep and dark forest as she tried to avoid the rocks and trees lining the narrow road. Stopping to take some images we were blocked in by some other cars and we had to wait till they left before we could carefully back out.Still Renita artfully dodged the obstacles and we continued down the winding trail.
There were other places to stop but there were so many vehicles parked that we barely made it past them and in places we made it by with only a few inches to spare, (we would not have made it with a dually and we had to fold in our mirrors).Finally reaching the end of the trail we found ourselves back in Gatlinburg and its throngs of other tourists.
Now our visit to the park was so short that Renita didn't even get a chance to shop but she didn't complain as we had enjoyed a nice and steep but short hike and a challenging drive down a narrow obstacle filled trail., A good day in The Great Smokey Mountains national Park. Clear skies.