Olympic Mountains

Our journey continues

Index of Stops - September 15, 2009 to November 11, 2009

**********states covered

Sept. 17, 2009 New Orleans French Quarter, LA

We were scheduled to take a cruise on the only authentic stern wheeler Steamboat, the Natchez, but first we wandered around the French Quarter for a couple of hours. It was pretty shabby with all their stores selling the same cheesy clothes and trinkets, but the architecture and grille work that is still in evidence is absolutely stunning. The streets are very narrow and the sidewalks are a mess. My scooter really took a beating. The variety of eateries and their decors were very worth seeing and Bob had a typical New Orleans lunch (I stuck to Nachos). I tasted his (I hoped nobody saw my face when I did), but there is no way I could ever get used to their local food. The Natchez took us down the Miss River, but all we saw was tons of barges, tug boats and wharves. No pleasure crafts – just industrial. They did have a bar though and I got a really good Margarita. By the time we got off, Bourbon St. was starting to come to life so we drove the entire length. I have never seen anything like it – anything goes. The girls in front of Larry Flynt's Hustler Club were very scantily dressed and left nothing to the imagination and several clubs catered to your every whim. It was really fascinating and we would have liked to stop take in the local flavor, but it was getting late. We had wanted to take an overland tour, but all they had was ½ tours and we already saw more of the French Quarter than they were going to. The French Quarter was not damaged by Katrina, but the more low-lying neighborhoods were inundated by flooding with the collapse of their levies unlike Biloxi that was flattened by the winds and floods.

Sept. 17, 2009 The Mississippi River tour of New Orleans, LA

Our riverboat tour of the Mississippi was interesting. We sailed on the Steamboat Natchez. Which is the only true steam powered Riverboat in New Orleans. There are other riverboats but they are diesel powered. The tour was interesting but basically the only thing on the river is industry. Very few residences and they were mostly crammed in between other industrial facilities. There are no bridges on the Mississippt River below New Orleans so any cross river traffic is by ferry. The ferries are mostly real small and only hold a very few cars or are passenger only. The cruise lasted about an hour and a half and went about six miles down the river from New Orleans. The Miss River has its headwaters in Minn and meandering through the heart of America, flows 2,348 mi to the Gulf. It borders 10 states, while draining water and sediment from 31 states and two Canadian provinces. Taken as a whole, it approaches 12,350 mi in length; it includes the Missouri and Ohio rivers and is by far the work's longest river system. The Miss River Valley is approx 35,000 sq mi in size and 600 miles long. The basin covers 41% of the continental US, more than 1,245,000 sq mi. It is the 3rd largest drainage basin in the world, after the Congo and Amazon rivers.

The history of LA and New Orleans is fascinating so I decided to send it on to further your education so here goes: The first Europeans to venture to the lower Miss. Valley were the fearless Spanish explorers Cabeza de Vaca and Panfilo de Narvaez. More than a century later the Frenchman Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle traced the entire length of the Miss. River, claiming the contingent area (827,192 square miles, out of which 17 states were later carved in whole or in part) for his homeland in 1682. He christened the vast expanse “Louisane” in honor of Louis XIV, the Sun King. A Scot, John Law, entered the scene in 1717, having obtained a charter to exploit the Louisiana Territory with the aid of Philippe d'Orleans, regent to Louis XV. Law in turn sent another Frenchman, Jean-Bapiste le Monye, Sieur de Bienville, to establish a settlement, De Bienville selected a location on the east bank of the river, 110 mi from the Gulf, building a tiny outpost on low-lying land which he named in 1718 “Nouvelle Orleans”. What was later anglicized to “New Orleans” became capital of the entire territory in 1722. Its inhabitants exported tobacco, indigo and naval supplies; however, since the value of such cargo at that time did not match its bulk, French ships were reluctant to call at New Orleans so France ceded its unprofitable port and the Louisiana Territory west of the Miss. to Spain in 1763, under the terms of the Treaty of Paris. Spain maintained control of the area up to 1800 when it was secretly returned to France. Distrusting and fearing Napoleon, Thomas Jefferson instructed his minister in Paris to negotiate the purchase of New Orleans, but Napoleon did not decide to sell the city until 1803 when news arrived that a French expeditionary force in the Miss. Valley had been wiped out by a combination of yellow fever and bad weather. He threw the entire Louisiana Territory into the bargain for the price of $15 M. New Orleans was incorporated as a city in 1805 and LA joined the Union as its 18th state in 1812.

More on New Orleans: The early inhabitants of New Orleans were a lively mix of rough Canadian frontiersmen, craftsmen and troops from John Law's Company of the West (which ruled he area until it reverted back to a French crown colony in 1731), convicts and black and Indian slaves. In 1727 some 88 women freed from Parisian prisons arrived to become the colony's first brides, chaperoned by 8 Ursuline nuns. The intrepid nuns established themselves on what is now Chartres Street; they had a convent designed and built it further down the same street near today's French Market. It was begun in 1745 and is the only surviving New Orleans bldg from the period of French domination. Adventure loving and opportunity seeking Frenchmen and other Europeans soon followed in the footsteps of the original settlers. The word “Creole” coined and used in the French West Indies, was carried over to LA to indicate a person born there of pure French blood. The derivation and concept came from the Spanish term Criollo, which distinguished the first generation in the New World born of Spanish parents. Later, it referred to the proud descendants of the first settlers, in many cases of mixed French and Spanish origin. The Spanish did not turn up in New Orleans until 1766, a full 4 years after ascending to power. After effectively quelling a revolt they quietly settled down to leaving their imprint on he city's architecture and way of life. Around the same period a group later called “Cajuns” made its way to New Orleans. They were the descendants of French colonists who had settled in Arcadia, later the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. The British took command of the region by force in 1715, inaugurating an era of strife between the Protestant rulers and the Catholic population. The British finally expelled the “Cadians” in 1755; some returned to France, others made their way down to Louisiana. The Spanish later arranged to bring to New Orleans several thousands of those exiles who had gone back to France. The Cajuns' inimitable zest for living would soon be absorbed by local culture. The “Americans” came next. During the Revolutionary War, the “Kaintucks”(not necessarily from Kentucky, but those who went downriver on a raft and back again) began floating cargo to New Orleans. The Spanish rulers had to suspend their use of the port more than one occasion because of their rowdiness, but persevered. Many of these “Kaintucks” were Celts, that is Scots-Irish and their presence was not initially looked upon in a kind manner by the aristocratic Creoles so they settled in the French Quarter. The land dividing the two sections was intended to be a drainage canal; it was made into a wide boulevard with a medium down the center nicknamed “neutral ground”. Natives still call any medium “neutral ground”. The mid-nineteenth to the early 20th centuries brought native Germans, Irish and Italians. The African American heritage is also a deep-rooted and intense one. Before the Civil War, “free men of color” were musicians, journalists, poets, businessmen and landlords. Blacks earned a fine reputation for their artistry and workmanship in the fields of iron grill work and carpentry that is still clearly in evidence.

We finally heard from Chris and Lisa. Evidently, her original e-mail didn't go through, but she e-mailed us as soon as she got my letter so all is well. Can't wait to get there to here how their move went, etc.

Nothing more to report from here and we leave in a couple of days for Texas so will close for now.

Sept. 24, 2009 Baton Rouge (More Photos)

Henderson Swamp west of Baton Rouge (More Photos) It was a long drive across LA, but the scenery was good – We left at 9:00 and got into TX at 5:00. We crossed the Miss River at Baton Rouge and got a few good pictures, but when we went through Lake Charles the batteries in the camera went dead and while I was fooling around with it I also missed the view – I was not a happy camper. There was a 20 mi bridge across the Atchafalaya Basin which consists of the huge Henderson Swamp and various bayous. Pampas Grass must be native here as it grows everywhere and in great abundance which is a change from the flowering trees we had been seeing. We finally crossed into Texas and the terrain changed – not as green, lush and forested as we were used to. It is more ranch land so open and sparsely treed. We got off onto county roads which were nicely kept up, but traffic was slow as nobody seemed to be in any great hurry. The small towns were pretty grubby looking, but cowboy towns usually are. There was even a berg called “Cut and Shoot” and by the looks of it I decided it meant I will either cut my throat or shoot myself if I can' get out of here. Actually, (Wikipedia), According to one local legend, Cut and Shoot was named after a 1912 community confrontation that almost led to violence. According to differing versions of the story, the dispute was either over: 1. The design of a new steeple for the town's only church, or 2. The issue of who should be allowed to preach there, or The conflicting land claims among church members.Whatever the circumstances were, a small boy at the scene reportedly declared "I'm going to cut around the corner and shoot through the bushes in a minute!" This statement apparently stayed in the residents' minds and was eventually adopted as the town's name.It was overcast and drizzly so that didn't help

Sept. 24, 2009 Castaways RV Resort, Willis, TX (more Photos)

Our map took us the wrong way from the park and when we discovered it Bob tried to turn around in a small strip mall. Well, we couldn't make it so had to unhook the truck, which was at a right angle and took some doing to get the tow bar undone, but finally got going the right way and arrived at Castaways RV Park in Willis TX which is located on a huge lake called Lake Conroe (21,000 acres & 21 mi in length). It isn't all that large of a park, but they have a lot of activities. They have had so much rain most of the sites are fairly boggy, but we finally one that wasn't too bad. We did leave a couple of big ruts before we found solid ground so they had to come out this morning and re-level that portion. There isn't much around here to tour, except Houston and NASA Space Center so this 2 weeks will be fairly uneventful. This is one of our “free parks” which is why we will be here that long. At least the temps are lower and not as humid which really helps Bob's asthma. I even got a virus that was going around that was just like bronchitis, but I was only bad for 4 days. It got cool enough that we were able to turn off the air conditioner. – the first time since Maine – and it felt so great at first. We are parked near a field full of field grass and my sinuses are really bad again with the hacking and coughing – very unpleasant. Oh well, winter is coming.

I will really miss my ducks. They got plenty of bread from me (they preferred English Muffins, but Bob took exception to my using his muffins). When I would sneak the muffins, mama duck would get right in my face and tried to grab it out of my hand as I fed the others. She got me a couple of times, but it didn't hurt. They were so ugly they were cute.

Sept. 30, 2009 Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX (more Photos)

Sept. 30, Wed. we headed to NASA's Johnson Space Center which took us through Houston so we can at least say we saw the city – a lot of skyscrapers and horrible traffic. Even though it was only 10 there there was a traffic jam going into the city. The Space Center is about 20 mi south of Houston (120 mi round trip from the park) so it was a long drive but worth it. In the visitor's center is Space Center Plaza that features hands-on and interactive exhibits for children and also a space related play area. The Space Center does nothing but support the International Space Station and all launches are done at Cape Kennedy but controlled from the Mission Control Centers here at Johnson Space Center.

Our first stop was the “Living in Space” presentation with a mock-up of the living area of the space station. To sleep they have to get into a mummy type bag and strap themselves in, including the head or else it would bob all night. There is no way I could sleep like that so I guess I am out as a candidate. Then came the toilet on which you have to put your feet into straps and then padded bars holds you on and you do your business in a funnel type apparatus. Water in space becomes a ball and just floats around and is in very limited use and taking a shower consists of catching a water bubble and having to vacuum the soap off so they found taking a sponge bath is much faster and easier so shower stalls aren't used anymore. There used to be only enough for 3 astronauts, but they perfected a way to reuse all waste waters (yes, including urine) into usable water and therefore accommodate more people. They finally engineered a small refrigerator so when a new shuttle docks they are able to store the fresh vegetables and fruit they bring. There is also an exercise machine which they must use 1 ½ hrs a day. Also, the astronauts cannot see stars in space which has something to do with the lack of gravity and ability of the eye to adjust. I didn't understand all of it, but an interesting fact anyway. Next we took a tram tour that took us to the actual working Space Center and our first stop was at the actual Mission Control Center and we got a lengthy presentation of its history and function. They are now in new quarters, but still use this room for training purposes. It was really awesome to see the actual room that we saw on the TV viewings of a launch. Our next stop was at the Space Vehicle Mock-Up Facility where we were able to view the actual area where the crews of the space missions spend up to 100 hours in training of all phases of the flight. There was actually one of the astronauts in training. It was totally unreal. Our next stop was Hangar X were one of the last Saturn 5 Apollo missiles is housed. Totally awesome! This is one of the 3 that were never used because of the outbreak of Viet Nam and the program was suspended. This thing was 363.5 ft long and the thrusters were big enough to house several people. Without seeing it in person it is unimaginable. We went by a stand of Oak Trees that is planted in honor of every deceased astronaut with an accompanying plaque. We stopped for a moment of remembrance. Our last stop was back at the Space Center where we were able to see actual modules, etc., moon rocks and exhibits. The re-entry modules back then were very small. I would totally freak out if I was stuck in one of them in the middle of the ocean waiting for pickup. We also got to go through a mock up of the original Skylab.

Our next stop was “Blast Off” where you experience what it feels like when 7 mill lbs of thrust pushes a 4 ½ mil lb vehicle skyward. After which we went into a theater where there was a mock-up of the Space Shuttle and an update on current and future missions. There was an update on the civilian that paid millions to go to the Space Station. He was the founder of Cirque Du Soleil so has the money. He plays poker so we have seen him several times on TV poker coverage. There won't be any other “hitch hikers” in the future. They deeded a portion of land to the FFA (Future Farmers of America) where they can raise their cattle for show. One of longhorns there was beautiful and worth $500,000!

You would have to spend a couple of days in order to see everything, but we did all the main things and it was around 5 when we left, which, of course, got us into the after work traffic in Houston. At least heading into the city wasn't near as bad as the stopped traffic leaving. It appears most of worker bees live south of the city and we were heading north, but we still had slow downs and didn't get home until 7:30 which made an 11 hour day. We did stop for dinner at a little place in a strip mall that offered various menus. It wasn't a very big place and it was jammed the whole time we were there and we soon found out why. The food was delicious and the service impeccable. Bob kept talking about his lasagna all the way home. There were signs of the economy by the empty car lots, semi-malls and retail stores. Really sad. At least gas is cheap here ($2.19).


Oct 3, 2009 Galveston, TX

Wed., Oct. 3, I really wanted to see Galveston so we left early as it was a long rive and again had to go through Houston, but it was worth it. There weren't any tours this time of year except an hour harbor cruise which was more fun than educational. It is a very busy shipping harbor so it was very crowded, but we got to see a lot of dolphins and a bog flock of Frigate birds. They are rarely seen this time of year and they were a lot of fun to watch. They do not dunk for fish themselves but wait until the Terns get one and then steal it. They don't mess with the pelicans. We went by Seawolf Park that is home of the USS Stewart, Destroyer Escort 238 and the USS Cavalla, SS244, a Gato class submarine that is the only remaining ship from WWII era that is credited with sinking an aircraft carrier. In the harbor is the fully restored Brig sailing cargo ship of 1877 named the Elissa and is absolutely beautiful.

Galveston became a town in 1838 when it was purchased from the new Republic of Texas. Its name refers to Count Bernardo de Galvez, viceroy of Mexico (the earliest human visitors were Karankawa Indians – 1490 to1556). The history is divided into 3 parts: The first involves the establishment of a portt and its importance as a gateway for commerce, mainly cotton, and people. During this time Jean Laffite, the”Pirate of the Gulf” used Galveston as a base until the US Navy ran him out. There were many nationalities and influences in its history and a lot of epidemics, which brought he city its most prestigious institution, the University of Texas Medical Branch (a teaching hospital) in 1884. Their main street, the Strand, was known as the “Wall Street of the South”. This era ends with a hurricane in 1900, the deadliest natural disasters in the history of the US. There had been many storms over their history, but this devastated the island and few bldgs survived except “Old Red” the first bldg on the campus of the Medical Center. The storm killed 6,000 people.

The second part features the evolution of Galveston into a sin city based upon an illegal and immoral triad of drinking, gambling and prostitution. It was a rousing time of gangland killings, big band entertainment and mafia-like control. Their shoreline was impossible to control and illegal booze was brought in without any trouble. The crime family, the Maceos, ruled and Phil Harris, the famous bandleader, was the top entertainment. They built hotels, ballrooms, bath houses, etc. and and sin of every kind flourished. This era ended upon the death of the Maceos and the Texas Rangers came in and closed down all his “establishments”.

The third portion of its history runs to the modern time and a story of conversion into a tourist destination. After the fall of the vice triad Galveston was left with a declining port, a growing medical school (which paid no city taxes), paint-weathered Victorian houses, an abandoned downtown, intact, armored against hurricanes, a magnificent beach and good weather. The Chamber of Commerce and Historical Society decided tourism was their future and the worth of historical old bldgs was an added attraction and set about restoring them. It was a great gamble, but the arrival of Hurricane Ike in 2008 left a path of destruction. They have restored some of the major historical buildings, which are absolutely gorgeous, but have along way to go. It is really sad to see all the destruction still evident. The thing that really impressed us is at every historical block is a plaque depicting the original bldg and their history. At one section was a plaque listing all the downtown establishments and their locations. Very impressive! It definitely is a “must see”.

Of course, we hit Houston during rush hour and it was a long trip home. Tomorrow we leave for San Antonio to see the kids. I still have this bronchial thing going so I called before I got around 5 kids and spread anything, but it turns out they all have colds anyway..

I will close this for now because after San Antonio it would be too long to send.

Oct. 8, 2009 Fort Sam Houston Travel Park, San Antonio, TX

From now on just call Bob “Mud Dog”. We were all hooked up and pulling out when he took too sharp of a turn (it was a tight turn) and got bogged in the mud. It had rained so much everything was saturated. So we had to unhook the truck and I backed it out then he got the RV out, re-hooked the truck back up and off we went. It wasn't a long drive and at first the terrain was more ranching and prairie, then got more into rolling hills and trees. We arrived at the Army Travel RV Park on Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio which is a really nice park with lots of grass and long cement pads. Not many amenities except laundry and bathrooms, which is usual for base RV parks.

The kids came over for a short visit and their 5 kids have really grown (we haven't seen them for 1 ½ yrs) and so glad to see them. Chris is taking semester finals the next week and is studying so won't see much of him until next week. They are still adjusting to the difference in weather from WI to hot TX. They were able to get base housing and, of course, is much smaller than what they had in WI, but they are taking everything in stride. Lisa's mother flew down with her to help with the kids and everything went pretty smooth. Lisa still has to go back every so often to fulfill her doctor duties and her mother comes out to help Chris with the kids. The next time she is going to bring a friend. She is really liking staying home, but Chris is still trying to kick-start his brain again, especially with chemistry. It turned out he aced all his tests.

Fort Sam Houston is large (500 acres), established in 1876, is a historic landmark and one of the oldest military posts still in use, but they have $2B in construction projects going and you never know from day to day which roads are going to be closed and where the gates get moved to. It really is a pain and really easy to get turned around. The original barracks (still standing) is dated back to the 1880s and some of their housing is pre-WWI (still being used). Their main function here is all medically related and are building a huge new medical teaching facility and housing. San Antonio is also undergoing a lot of freeway construction so is just as bad. Parts are pretty, but a lot not so pretty. You can see the hospital from our RV, but to get there you have to go out one gate to go off base and then back in a different location making it 3 times as long to get there (I'll explain next how I know this). To get to the RV park we go by their cemetery and being a National Cemetery it is huge (around 6,000 acres) which is very impressive. San Antonio began as a Coahuiltecan village in the 17th century at the headwaters of the San Antonio River where the Alamo and La Villita are located today. The village was called by the name the Indians had given to the twisting, winding river “Yanaguana” or “drunken old man going home at night”. The Indians eventually disappeared due to diseases and repression brought by the Spanish in the 18th century. The Spanish Franciscan Padre Massenett arrived at Yanaguana in 1691 and promptly renamed it San Antonio. In 1718 the Spanish Governor Alarcon and Franciscan Padre Olivares established a garrison and mission. Spanish colonial strategy was based on “the cross and the sword” forced conversion of the indigenous population to Roman Catholicism and military defense against other Indian tribes and other powers, in particular the French. In 1724 the San Antonio Mission was relocated to the present site of the Alamo. Many missions were built and flourished in the 1770s and 1780s, but with increased Apache and Comanche resistance they entered into irreversible decline and were redistributed to the Native Americans living there and the bldgs slowly began to fall into ruins. In 1821, after 300 years of Spanish colonialism, Texas became a Mexican province and, after many battles, Texas became the 28th US state. Merry has developed some medical problems, heart, and so we will be staying in San Antonio until the problems are under control and stabilized. Fort Sam Houston is home to the Brook Army Medical Center, one of the largest military hospitals in the nation. They really have excellent care. So it is a good place to have this happen.

Oct 18, 2009 River Walk, San Antonio, TX

The famous “River Walk” was right down the block so we decided to run down to see how doable it would be for the scooter. I thought it was going to be like the other “boardwalks” we have done – how wrong. Street level was one of the biggest malls in the US, but we could see tour boats going down the river, which would be perfect because Bob has trouble walking a long way with his knee (he really needs a knee replacement). The main problem was to find a way down to the river level. We had to go to the end of the mall where a major hotel was and we used their elevator to get down, which came out very close to the boats. They put up a ramp for me to get the scooter on and I gave them a thrill getting on. It had a sharp incline so I have to turn the scooter on high to make it and I went sailing on and stopped just short of the river side - they all thought I was going to end up in the river, but several of the guy said they were ready to save me (the water was only 5 ft however). The water winds through the heart of downtown for 2 ½ miles, some of which are man made canals and some of which is the actual San Antonio River and it was absolutely gorgeous. It is lined with European-style sidewalk cafes., multiethnic restaurants, fine shops, art galleries, night clubs and high end hotels. There are over 75 different types of trees with tall cypresses, older than the Alamo, as well as oaks, willows, crepe myrtle and banana palms line the walk. The river became the centerpiece of a complex water system built to supply the 5 Spanish missions that were established between 1718 and 1731 and is oldest and largest water system in the US. Because of continual flooding there was talk of paving over it and reroute it into a storm system, but Robert Hugman (Father of the River Walk) designed the beautiful place that is what is today. The whole walk is lighted at night. It was unbelievable so we were really glad we were able to see it.

>Oct 23, 2009 The Five Missions of San Antonio, TX

We finally got around to going through the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park that houses 5 missions built along the San Antonio River in the 1700s. Mission San Antonio “The Alamo” has been converted into a shrine to Texas state patriotism. The other 4 are protected as unit of the park. Not much remains of the Missions. However each one of the four remaining missions are still active parishes and have services every Sunday. The chapels of all four are still intact even though some of the rest of the building are pretty well gone.

n Jan 21, 2010, Campingworld, New Braunsfels, TX

We finally turned the motorhome to the North and headed for our next destination. Started out bright and early because we had an 8 am appt with Camping World in New Braunfels to have our ice maker checked and our right turn signal fixed, but the ice maker has a frozen tube and we will just have to take time to defrost it. They couldn't readily find the problem with the light and we would have to stay an extra day or two for them to troubleshoot it, but they found our back dual tires were pretty worn so we ended up getting 4 new tires. That was a blow to our budget, but knew it was coming sooner or later.

Jan. 24, 2010 Austin Lone Star RV Resort, Austin, TX

Since it was afternoon when we left we only made it to the Austin Lone Star RV Resort which was an okay park with long flat pull-ins, but nothing special. We went to a road house for dinner that had a bucket of peanuts at every table and you just throw the shells on the floor which was neat, except that I can't have peanuts anymore. Also, I forget that everything in the South is cooked over mesquite which I never could eat so they did a special order for me and fried a hamburger patty in a frying pan. They were very cooperative. Other than my foibles it was a neat place.

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