Thursday, December 25, 2014

Rain, Rain, Go Away!!

We moved from Alabama to northern Florida just in time for a big line of storms to sweep across the area. We drove in rain that varied from sprinkles to torrential, but got lucky and arrived at Ochlockonee River State Park south of Tallahassee in only light rain. Once we got set up it started to pour and didn't let up for about 36 hours. This area received about 7 inches of rain over the two-day period, so it's wet!!
Ochlockonee State Park
The surrounding area is Longleaf Pine forest.  It is burned regularly to maintain the habitat, so the understory is restricted to low growing Palmetto and grasslands.
Longleaf Pine Forest
One of the more interesting things here is a population of Eastern Gray Squirrels that are white. They aren't albino, but their fur is lacking most or all of the normal pigment.

White Eastern Gray Squirrel
The park is bordered by the Ochlockonee and the Dead Rivers. They empty into Ochlockonee Bay, and are tidally influenced. We've seen the river running both ways, depending on if the tide is coming in or going out.
Ochlockonee River
The sun finally came out on Christmas Day and we've had a chance to explore a bit. It isn't real birdy here, but we've seen a few.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - male
Eastern Towhee - female
Belted Kingfisher - female
Moving south tomorrow!!


Monday, December 22, 2014

USS Alabama

As we neared Meaher State Park near Mobile, Alabama, we saw this ship a short distance away and knew that we wanted to see more.
USS Alabama
It turns out that we are camped about 4 miles away from the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, which houses not only its namesake battleship but also a WWII ere submarine and dozens of aircraft.

As we entered the park we saw a wide variety of planes, ranging from an enormous B-52 bomber to this Coast Guard Seaplane.

This propeller, one of four that drives the battleship, gave a great idea of the size of the ship we were about to explore.
USS Alabama Propeller
The USS Alabama was commissioned in 1942 and saw significant action during WWII, serving in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The ship is 680 feet long, 108 feet wide, and normally had a crew of about 2500 men aboard. 

We've toured a couple of these WWII era warships and are always struck by how compact and utilitarian the interior is. Little room was set aside for berthing, especially for the enlisted sailors.

Enlisted Sailors Berth
This berthing area for enlisted men has probably 200 of these tiny little bunks. And the men took turns sleeping in them, so they didn't even have their own bed!!
Teri Sitting on Bunk
We decided that I was unlikely to fit, so Teri did the honors. Remember she is all of 5'-1" tall.

So Comfortable!!
Most of the room on the battleship was devoted to propulsion and guns. The USS Alabama sported nine, 16" main guns, and dozens of smaller guns. Check out our new header picture for an idea of the main gun's size. The projectile for those guns was huge!
16" Shell
We were surprised to see a large room of computers that were the fire-control system for the guns. They accounted for the speed and direction of the battleship, the rolling and heaving of the ship on the open seas, the distance to the target as well as the speed and direction of the target. Pretty sophisticated for the mid 1940's.
Targeting Computer for Main Guns
Once we finished exploring the battleship, we walked over to the much smaller USS Drum. This submarine was commissioned in 1941 and went to sea with a crew of 72 men. She made 13 patrols in the Pacific during WWII.
USS Drum
While we thought that the battleship was tight, this submarine was much more compact. It is hard to imagine spending months aboard such a small ship. 
Torpedo Room
It's hard to get inside pictures in the sub because it was so narrow, but here is a picture of the aft torpedo room. In addition to the four torpedo tubes, they stored ten torpedos in this space, and the mens berths hung from the walls!!

It is great to see this history being preserved and displayed. 


Saturday, December 20, 2014


We have made it to Mississippi. It is the first visit ever for both Teri and I.

Crossing the Mighty Mississippi River
We are staying at the very nice Roosevelt State Park, just east of Jackson, MS.

We are in a lovely, full hookup site that overlooks the lake.  The park is virtually empty, but unfortunately the weather has continued to be cold, rainy, and cloudy.

Roosevelt State Park is built around Shadow Lake. They have cabins, a waterpark, and two nice campgrounds. I imagine that summer is the busy season here. 
Shadow Lake
This park has an 18-hole disc golf course. We're finding that some of the state parks in Louisiana and Mississippi have embraced Disc Golf and installed courses.  I got to play the course once, before the rain started in earnest.
Hole 4
The picture above shows the required throw at Hole 4. 207' through the trees and across the water, to a basket placed on the other side. I'll bet that there are dozens of discs in that water!!  I managed to keep mine dry, but just barely...

Onward to Alabama!!


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Spanish Moss and Cypress Trees

Welcome Sign Through a Wet Windshield
We've made our way into Louisiana, and are staying at Lake Bistineau State Park.  It is a beautiful wooded park, and we pretty much have it to ourselves as the weather has turned cold and cloudy since we arrived.
Lake Bistineau State Park
They have drawn the lake down to try to combat an introduced invasive species called Giant Salvinia. We have heard that this plant has also been found in Caddo Lake in Texas.  Once established it is apparently very difficult to manage, and impossible to eradicate.
Giant Salvinia
The view out our door is of Spanish Moss draped Cypress Trees. We've seen Downy, Red-bellied, Red-headed, and Pileated Woodpeckers, as well as Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. 
Cypress Filled Swamp
This looks like it would be a wonderful place to canoe or kayak, once they refill the lake. Gliding among the Cypress trees would be a fantastic experience.
Onward to Mississippi...


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center

While on our way to Tyler, Texas we passed a sign for the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens. This is Texas's state of the art warm water fish hatchery and we headed over to visit it today.

Before we even got inside we encountered the first pond exhibit. They have over 300,000 gallons of aquariums and pond exhibits in the Visitor Center. 

We headed to the auditorium to watch a short movie and view the Dive Show.  The movie gives a bit of background on the hatchery operations and the Dive Show features a diver in a huge aquarium feeding a bunch of different fish.

The diver had a mask that allowed him to speak to the crowd. He first released krill which are small crustaceans that many of the fish seemed to love. 
Love that Krill!!
He then got out some squid and concentrated on feeding the large Longnose Gar in the aquarium. He mentioned that he had to be a little careful as the gar can't tell his fingers from the squid. Ouch! There were also some large Blue Catfish in the tank, and they enjoyed the squid as well.
Feeding Squid to the Longnose Gar
Back in the Visitor Center we took in all of the other exhibits of fish, habitats, and old fishing gear. They had a huge female Largemouth Bass in an aquarium, and she seemed to want to say hello to Teri.
Well Hello...
The last tank contained an Alligator Snapping Turtle which was sitting in his "let me eat you" feeding position. No fingers in this tank, please!
Alligator Snapping Turtle
If you are ever up around Athens, Texas stop by the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center for a visit.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

On The Road - Our First Stop

We’ve been enjoying our time at home in Medina but it’s time to hit the road and head to our next volunteer assignment. 

We’ve been spending some time cleaning out clutter.  You would think there wouldn’t be much but we seem to keep finding things we haven’t used in a year or more.  One of the things we have wanted to get rid of is our camping gear.  We haven’t camped much since we retired and don’t really enjoy it as much as we used to.

We have really nice camping gear from REI and were having some trouble figuring out how to get rid of it.  We were running out of time to put an ad on Craig’s List.  Frankly, that was really too much of a hassle.  Mark decided to call the local Boy Scouts and see if they could use it.  Sure enough, the scout leader was very pleased to have it.  Turns out, his troop goes on a camping trip every month (rain or shine) and he has had to buy some gear with his own money.

We started gathering everything up and loading the car: 

It’s amazing how much stuff you can accumulate!  We got it all dropped off with the scout leader and are happy to find a good home for it.

Next up were a couple of “starter” planes that Mark purchased a couple of years ago.  The four planes he has now are more advanced and can do a lot more maneuvers.  So, on the phone again to the model airplane club he joined last year in Marble Falls.  Turns out, there are a couple of young people in the club that are saving up to buy their own planes.  These two planes will be perfect for them.

It feels good to de-clutter and help others out too!

We left Medina this morning.  We didn’t have very far to drive as our first stop is Inks Lake State Park in Burnet.  You might recall that we volunteered here January - March of this year and really enjoyed the park and the area.  The other couple that we worked with are back volunteering and we’ll get together with them for some disc golfing, trying out the local restaurants and just good conversation. 
Inks Lake State Park

We’re only going to be here for three nights before moving on to our next stop.  We’ll get to Florida eventually but we’ve got lots of stops before then.
Stay tuned!