Hueco Tanks, TX

El Paso, TX

On Monday we left Carlsbad, NM and headed back to the southwest on US 62, the same route we used a few days earlier to get to Carlsbad.  The road provides some great views as you pass down along the Guadalupe Mountains.

Us 62 in the Guadalupe Mountains

After about 140 miles we came to the entrance road to Hueco Tanks State Park and  Historic Site, just east of El Paso.

Hueco Tanks State Park and Historical Site has 16 RV and camping sites with water and electricity, many long enough for a large motorhome.  We just made the decision to come here over the past weekend and the reservation site was closed so we couldn’t be sure of getting a spot.  But we called the office in the morning before leaving Carlsbad and were told there were some spots available.  Once there we found they did, indeed, have a spot that would fit our motorhome.  After registering but before going to our assigned site, we were required to watch a 15 minute video about protection of the fragile resources of the park.  Once finished with registration and the video, we headed into the campground, stopping at a gate at the entrance to the campground section of the park that requires someone to manually open and close it.

The Gatekeeper

We found our site (#3) to be very long, with a covered picnic table.

This small state park is popular for birding and bouldering, and is culturally and spiritually significant to many Native Americans.  It contains over 2,000 interesting pieces of rock art, mostly hidden in small caves under huge boulders.  To protect the fragile environment the park only issues entrance permits to 70 people per day.  Ten permits are reserved for people in the campground on a first come first served basis but campers must present themselves at the park office by eight in the morning.  We had heard that these go quickly so we were up and at the office just a little after seven.  We were pleasantly surprised to find that the sun rises in the east about this time, and apparently does so every day!  Who knew?

There were only nine people seeking permits that morning so we could have waited to arrive until eight, but then we would have missed the sunrise.  Permit in hand, we headed back to the motorhome to enjoy breakfast and wait for the temperature to reach a reasonable degree.

Once up on the rocks our first goal was to find the Cave Kiva, a small, hidden cave with some interesting rock art.  To find the kiva we went to the park headquarters and asked for directions.  We were given a one page set of directions and were required to leave a driver’s license to secure its return.  The paper described two rock formations to follow after climbing a ridge behind a picnic shelter.

First you climb the ridge behind the picnic shelter

Up the ridge we go

After climbing the ridge we were instructed to find the rock formation that resembles a duck.  From there look to the right and find the rocks that look like an alligator.

Duck formation lower left (red arrow), alligator in the upper right (blue arrow)

Climbing straight up from the head of the gator we found the cave entrance under a huge boulder.

A veteran spelunker prepares to enter the cave

It’s a bit tight at first

Just a few more feet!

The rocks are slippery from all the traffic over the years

Once inside there was enough headroom to sit up and, in some spots, stand.  The rock art was on the walls right in front of us.  There were seven faces or “masks” to find.  We found all seven!

A young spelunker at rest

Backpacks at the entrance

We climbed out of the cave and made our way up the rocks to get a better view of the surrounding area.

Examples of the tanks that name the park

We were leaving the park the next day but, since check-out isn’t until two in the afternoon, we used the morning to take another short hike up into the rocks using the Chain Trail.

This area is very popular for bouldering, an activity where you just use your fingers and toes to scale the sides of large boulders.  You can identify these people heading out into the rocks as they carry what appears to be a doubled over mattress on their backs.  We sat for a while watching two groups to see them climb, but it is our observation that this sport involves a great deal of standing around talking.  Finally one young lady laid down on her mat, reached up to the boulder, pulled herself up, and quickly made her way to the top.  She was pretty impressive!

We spent some time looking for another small cave that had some artwork.  We had trouble locating the cave at first but spotted the entrance when we heard a group on a ranger led hike talking inside it.  Once they left we made our way inside.  One area had an inscription made by a local named Santiago Cooper in the late 1800s.

Getting a view of some artwork

Getting in and out was a bit of a challenge

Once out of the cave we made our way back to the motorhome, packed up a few things, and headed down the road.  We really enjoyed our brief stay in Hueco Tanks.  We only hiked the North Mountain section of the rocks, as that is the only place open to self-guided hiking.  If you are really interested in rock art, climbing/bouldering, or birding, you can participate in some ranger-led hikes in the West Mountain and East Mountain sections.

OK, enough of Texas!  We are now off to visit Las Cruces, NM.  More on that later . . .

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Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM

Carlsbad, NM

The weather on Saturday was cold and misty, a perfect day to explore a large cave with a constant temperature of 56 degrees.  So we drove about 20 miles back down NM 62 from the town of Carlsbad to the entrance for Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

The entrance road gains a bit of elevation between the highway and the visitor center and we entered a thick fog as we drove up into the park.

Once at the visitor center we showed our OPNPP (Old People’s National Park Pass) and headed toward the cave entrance.  There are two self-guided tours available to visitors (you can also sign up for a ranger-led tour if you want a more extensive tour).  One is the Big Room Tour, a one mile loop accessible by elevator.  The other is the Natural Entrance Tour, a one mile tour that follows the traditional explorers’ route and enters the cavern through the large historic natural entrance.  The Natural Entrance route descends over 750 feet into the ground following a steep and narrow trail through a tall, open passage called the Main Corridor.  This route ends near the base of the elevator where you can then take the Big Room Tour.

The trail starts with a series of steep, winding switchbacks that reminded us of Walter’s Wiggles on the trail to Angel’s Landing in Zion NP.

Going down . . .

. . . and down. See the people far below ?

From early spring to October the area just below the entrance is home to a large number of Mexican free tailed-bats.  One of the most popular activities in the park during that part of the year is to sit in an amphitheater at dusk and watch the bats leave the cave.  But the bats are smarter than us and head to warmer places for the winter, so no bat show for us.

Looking into the bat cave

We spent the next couple of hours exploring the cave.  Pictures cannot capture the beauty we experienced, but we’ll share a few so you get a taste of what we saw.

 

Twin domes and giant dome

Hmmm?

Early exploration ladder

Rock of Ages

Draperies

As we began our descent into the cave, we volunteered to take a picture of a young lady taking the tour alone.  As we proceeded we engaged in conversation and ended up completing the entire tour with her.  Keishia is a military contractor currently working at Fort Bliss in nearby El Paso.  She works in logistics for the army and is heading for Kuwait tomorrow.  We found Keishia to be a wonderful person and really enjoyed sharing the cave experience with her!

Pam and Keishia

We really enjoyed our experience in exploring the caverns of Carlsbad.  It’s one of those places that everybody should visit at least once in their life.  The place is spectacular!

Today (Sunday) was cold and rainy so we spent the day watching hockey and football.  We leave Carlsbad tomorrow but are not quite sure where we will be tomorrow night.  Hueco Tanks State Park is located just east of El Paso, right on our route west.  We learned from friends that the park has some interesting hiking so we called to see if there is a site available in the campground.  But the campground office is closed on the weekend (we hope they answer the phone on MLK Day) so we’ll try in the morning.  If that doesn’t work out, we’ll continue on to Las Cruces.

More on that later . . .

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Crossing Texas

Carlsbad, NM

After two pleasant days in New Orleans we left Bayou Segnette State Park and continued our journey west.  With all the reports we read about the terrible road condition of I-10 from New Orleans to Lafayette we decided to take US 90 to Lafayette.  It turned out to be a good decision as US 90 is a smooth four lane road that only goes through a few small towns.

US 90 headed north

Rice fields along US 90

US 90 became a bit bumpy for the lasts ten miles or so as we approached Lafayette, but all in all it was a pleasant ride.  US 90 intersects with the interstate in Lafayette.  We turned west on I-10 and found the highway going into Texas to be in great shape.

Where else would you see a mile marker with a number this high but Texas?

Our next stop was south of Houston in Stafford, TX where we would stay overnight in the Elks Lodge.  We headed there to have a brief visit with friends, Paul and Marsha Weaver (Where’s Weaver), who have been staying in the Elks for the past couple of months.  Marsha advised us to get through Houston by 3:00 PM to avoid heavy traffic so we left Bayou Signette very early in the morning.  Unfortunately, about 20 miles into Texas traffic in both directions came to a complete stop due to a terrible accident (with two deaths).  After two and a half hours to move three miles we finally cleared the area of the accident and resumed normal speed.  But the delay caused us to go through the center of Houston at the worst possible time!

Downtown Houston skyline

Driving through an unfamiliar city in a large vehicle during rush hour after dark is not our idea of a good time!  We could just imagine what all those commuters in a rush to get home were saying about a 40 foot motorhome in their path!

Yikes, what are we doing here?

But we arrived at the Elks safely and were greeted by the Weavers, who showed us the great site they had reserved for our use.  Once we were set up we walked over to their RV and enjoyed a wonderful meal that Marsha had prepared.   After a wonderful home cooked meal and some great conversation, we returned to our motorhome tired from our long (11 hours and 376 miles) day’s journey.

Paul, Marsha, and Bella

The next morning they drove us to a nearby chain coffee house so we could pick up a treat for our next journey.  Then after saying our good-byes we headed on down the road.  Paul and Marsha will be traveling west next week, and we plan to meet up again in Arizona.

Leaving Stafford we headed west on Us-90 through the town of Sugarland.  US-90 runs parallel to I-10 so we took it thinking it would be a nice alternative to traveling interstate.  But after about 20 miles we were glad to drive a few miles north and return to I-10.  A strong crosswind and heavy construction trucks speeding by us in the opposite direction made the ride on US-90 a bit uncomfortable.  But I-10 is in great shape so we continued west with only the crosswinds making things a bit of a challenge for the driver.  We took a beltway (TX-1604) around San Antonio and re-joined the interstate continuing on to the little town of Junction, where we had a reservation at Junction North Llano River RV, a nice little park just south of the highway.

North Llano River RV

The next morning we left Junction and continued west on I-10.

West of Junction the scenery began to get interesting

After about 200 miles (our shortest drive in this trek across Texas), we stopped for the night at Fort Stockton RV Park, about five miles east of Fort Stockton.

Fort Stockton RV Park

After setting up we unhooked the Jeep and headed into Fort Stockton to buy a few groceries.  While passing through town we spotted something interesting, a giant roadrunner statue.  The bird even has a name: Paisano Pete.  Built in 1979, Paisano Pete was for many years the World’s Largest Roadrunner.  At 22 feet long and 11 feet tall, he’s still pretty big.

Paisano Pete

The next morning we planned to complete our trek across Texas and drive to Carlsbad, NM.  We intended to take the most direct route, US-285, for a drive of about 150 miles.  But a Facebook post from our friend, MonaLiza (Lowes RV Adventure), warned us that we might want to reconsider.  She and Steve had taken this route a couple of years ago and said it is the worst road they had ever driven in their motorhome (and they have driven to Alaska!).  The road passes right through an oilfield and the pavement has been severely damaged by heavy truck traffic.  The truck traffic is still very heavy with the large vehicles traveling in both directions at high rates of speed.  We’ve experience this type of thing in North Dakota (in a car) and didn’t want to do it again.  So we took another look at the map and decided to take a much longer (about 240 miles) but safer route.  For the first leg of the journey we continued west on I-10 for 125 miles to the town of Van Horn.   In Van Horn we turned north on TX-54 for 55 miles.

A little art work in the middle of nowhere along I-10

TX-54 turned out to be a very nice route with almost no traffic.  It also had the nicest scenery we have seen in our trek through Texas.

Mountain views along TX 54

Long straight path on TX 54

The north end of TX-54 terminates at US-62 where we turned north for the final 50 mile leg of our trip to Carlsbad, NM.  The highway soon went up a fairly steep grade as we entered the southern edge of the Guadeloupe Mountains before leveling out the rest of the way to Carlsbad.

Going up the edge of the mountains

The road we just traveled is way out in the distance

Rain is in the forecast for the next couple of days so we are settled in at the Carlsbad RV Park.  But the rain will not bother us much since we are here to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  It shouldn’t be raining inside of the caves.

Carlsbad RV Park

More on our visit to Carlsbad in our next post . . .

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The French Quarter

New Orleans, LA

The second day of our brief visit to New Orleans dawned sunny and much warmer than the previous day.

Bayou Signette site 53

It was a perfect day for a walking tour of the French Quarter.  So we went to the web site of Free Tours on Foot and booked a 10 AM tour.   This is our first time using this company, and we found it to be an excellent experience.  The company operates on a pay-what-you-want model.  There is no fixed cost for the tour so at the end you pay the guide what you feel the tour was worth.   This guarantees that the guide works to give you a great experience.  Our guide, Sean, met us promptly at 10 o’clock, organized the small group, and began the tour.

Classic photo: Andrew Jackson statue in front of St. Louis Cathedral

Sean begins our tour

Our group along Pirate’s Alley

Classic French Quarter scene

Sean has lived in or near New Orleans all his life and has a good grasp of the history of the city.  He did a great job and we are sure he was well rewarded for his efforts (at least from us).  He left us at the French Market, where we purchased a couple of pralines for a later dessert.

Delicious pralines

During the tour, our guide, Sean, pointed out a nice little restaurant on St. Peter’s St. that served some of the best gumbo in the French Quarter.  So after the tour we made our way back to the appropriately named Gumbo Shop to test his recommendation.

Gumbo Shop Restaurant

John had a bowl of the Chicken Andouille Gumbo while Pam had a gumbo sampler.  Sean was correct, the gumbo here is delicious!

The gumbo sampler

As we headed down Royal St. we found they had blocked the street from traffic to allow for some music.  Since it was a bit early for most of the party-loving population of the area, there was only one band playing.

New Orleans is very famous for its beignets, deep-fried pastries covered with powdered sugar.  Again we followed Sean’s recommendation and made our way down Bourbon Street to the Cafe Beignet.

Delicious! Sean was right again

After our beignets we needed to walk off a few calories so we made our way over to Canal Street, a wide boulevard that separates the French Quarter from downtown New Orleans.

We then walked through the Quarter for a visit to Armstrong Park, a public park that honors the jazz great Louis Armstrong.

Louis (Satchmo) Armstrong

Jazz sculpture in Armstrong Park

Inside the park is an area known as Congo Square.  In Louisiana’s French and Spanish colonial era of the 18th century, enslaved Africans were commonly allowed Sundays off from their work (the Christian thing to do).  Many would gather in the Congo Square area (a clearing outside the town at that time) to socialize.  The music played there became the foundation in the development of Jazz.

Congo Square sculpture

We returned to the Jeep and drove a few miles to the east of the French Quarter for a brief visit to the Ninth Ward, a poor residential area destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.  Today the scars from the flooding are still evident in the many abandoned lots.

Only steps remain from one house with a rebuilt house in the background

We then drove west of the French Quarter to visit the Garden District, stopping for a few minutes to visit one of the cemeteries with their above ground vaults unique to the low land of New Orleans.

We enjoyed driving around the Garden District looking at the many beautiful homes.

Although the visit was brief, we managed to slip in just about everything we wanted to see (or eat) in New Orleans.  Now it’s time to continue our journey to the west.  Next up is a quick stop to see friends in Houston.

More on that later . . .

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World War II Museum, New Orleans

New Orleans, LA

After an all day rain in Foley, AL on Thursday and freezing temperatures during the night, we awoke on Friday to clear skies and sunshine.  We planned for an early departure but it took a while for us to prepare to leave as John had to get the ice off the slides and slide toppers. Ice! What’s up with that?

Once on the road we drove north about ten miles to I-10 and headed west.  After a few miles on the interstate we came to the Jubilee Parkway, a 7.5 mile bridge across Mobile Bay.  Traffic was light but a strong cross-wind made for an interesting ride.

Jubilee Parkway with the city of Mobile in the distance

At the west end of the bridge we quickly crossed Blakely Island and entered the George Wallace Tunnel going under the Mobile River.

At least there is no wind in the tunnel

Once clear of the Mobile area we continued on I-10, crossing into Mississippi 25 miles later.

Seventy-five miles further west we crossed into Louisiana.

About 15 miles into Louisiana we came to the I-10 Twin Span Bridge, a nearly 6 mile causeway officially known as the Frank Davis “Naturally N’Awlins” Memorial Bridge, which crosses the eastern end of Lake Pontchartrain.

The “Naturally N’Awlins” Bridge with New Orleans in the distance

We left I-10 as it passed the Superdome in New Orleans and took US-90 across the Mississippi River.  We continued on US-90 headed for our home during our stay here, Bayou Signette State Park.

We only scheduled two days for our visit to New Orleans with one day planned for a tour of the French Quarter and another for a visit to the National WWII Museum.  Since it was going to be cold and windy on our first day (Sunday), we decided to visit the museum (it’s indoors!).

Upon entering the museum and paying your admission fee you are given a swipe card called a dog tag.

As you proceed through the museum you can swipe the card at five stations along the way and follow the continuing story of one person who served during the war.

Pam’s “dog tag” identified a man named E. B. Sledge who served with the Marines in the Pacific Theater.

Near the admissions counter you enter a train car that simulates leaving a station in a city in 1942, just like so many young men of that era experienced as they headed off to war.

In the same large room as the admissions counter and train car is a re-creation of a Higgins Boat, a landing craft used extensively in beach assaults, most famously in the Normandy assaults on D-Day.

The Higgins Boat is one of the reasons this museum is located in New Orleans.  Higgins Industries is located here and built about 20,000 boats during the war.   Next to the Higgins is a German 88 mm anti-aircraft and anti-tank artillery gun.  It was widely used by Germany throughout the war, and was one of the most recognized German weapons.

Higgins Boat and German 88-mm gun

Hanging above the Higgins Boat and the 88 is a Douglas C-47 Skytrain, a transport aircraft used to take paratroopers behind the lines in Normandy just before the D-Day landings.

We then entered the Solomon Victory Theater to watch a video, Beyond all Boundaries, narrated by Tom Hanks.  The video, about 30 minutes long, uses various modalities (the seats shake during explosions) as it reviews key events of the war.  The video is excellent and provides a great overview of the war, very helpful to someone who doesn’t know much about it (i.e. Pam).

Following the video we entered a two story building housing the “Campaigns of Courage: European and Pacific Theaters” exhibitions.  We remained on the first floor and made our way through The Road to Berlin exhibition trail.

Using a combination of life-like displays and brief videos, the exhibition takes you from the invasion of North Africa (Operation Torch) through the fall of Berlin.

Operation Torch display

American defeat at the Battle of Kasserine Pass in North Africa

Short video about the fall of Berlin

One year John had a student named Andy Pergrin in one of his history classes.  During a discussion of the Almedy Massacre during the Battle of the Bulge, Andy raised his hand and said that his grandfather was in that battle and was near the massacre (German troops executed a group of American prisoners and left the bodies frozen in the snow).  Since he didn’t know much about his grandfather’s participation, the discussion just moved on.  That night John did some research on the grandfather and discovered that Lt. Col. David Pergrin found the only survivors of the killing just a short time after the massacre.  He later commanded an engineer battalion in the construction of a bridge across the Rhine River.  John was watching for mention of the bridge as we moved through the exhibition and, sure enough, he came to a plaque with a picture of Lt. Col. Pergrin and an explanation of his feats!

How cool ! !

After touring The Road to Berlin we moved upstairs and took a similar walk through exhibits and videos in The Road to Tokyo.

Next we visited the US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center which houses a display of aircraft and a few military vehicles.

B-24D Liberator Fuselage “Over Exposed”

F4U Corsair

The National WWII Museum is a “can’t miss this” stop in a visit to New Orleans.  It is so good that even a non-history person will enjoy it.  Pam doesn’t really like war museums and thought about finding a Starbucks to sit in while John visited the museum.  But she decided to go with him and found she really enjoyed the experience!

Next up for us is a visit to the famous French Quarter.  More on that later . . .

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A Stop Near Gulf Shores, AL

Summerdale, AL

We left Holiday Cove RV Resort in Cortez, FL on New Year’s Day and drove north a hundred miles to Hudson, FL to have our small kitchen window repaired at Suncoast Designers.  Suncoast does a great job cleaning and re-sealing dual pane windows, but there are a couple of areas in the process where improvement is needed.  One area is communication with the customer as to the process.  An example is that there is no information on what time they would begin working on your coach.   The office hours are listed as 7 am to 3 pm and during our first visit someone came to us at about 7:15.  On Tuesday morning there was a loud pounding on our door at 6:30 am by a worker with paperwork!  Someone then came at about 7:15 and removed the window.  With the early start and just one little window to fix we thought they would complete the job during the morning.  When 2:30 came with no sign of our window, we went to the office to be sure they hadn’t forgotten about us.  We were assured that they worked until all jobs to be completed that day were finished and, sure enough, they came and re-installed the window at about 3:30.  They also re-caulked the five windows that leaked after the November repairs.

As we reported in a previous post, Suncoast did a great job on cleaning and re-sealing all our windows in November.  But we later found numerous spots where damage was done during the re-installation process, and we found that five windows leaked during a downpour while in Cortez.   Looking back on our experience we think part of the problem was that Suncoast overbooked work for the week of our visit.  They estimate that repairing more than seven windows will take 4+ days so we made our appointment for a Monday and planned to stay there all week.  They did not work on our coach on Monday.  All thirteen windows were removed on Tuesday.  On Wednesday we spoke with another customer and found that the parking area was scheduled to be re-graveled on Friday so all coaches had to be gone by then.  We inquired at the office and were informed the information was accurate but they were sure our work would be completed by the end of the day on Thursday.  We could remain in the lot Thursday night but had to be gone by 7:00 Friday morning.  Great, our reservation in Cortez was to begin on Saturday!  Fortunately, our spot at Holiday Cove was unoccupied so we were able to arrive a day early.  Again, a little communication would be helpful!

We now think that two things contributed to the poor reinstallation process.  The first is that they were in a hurry to get all jobs completed by the end of the day Thursday.  The second is that we didn’t remain in the coach during the process to look over their shoulder.  We shouldn’t have to do this but apparently it was necessary.  On our return visit this week we went into the office and suggested someone with authority might want to take advantage of our visit and eyeball the damage.  One of the managers came to the coach that afternoon and appeared to be very embarrassed by the poor work.   He also stated that they were changing some procedures and that someone from the office would inspect each coach at the completion of the project before payment was made.

So we left pleased with the overall repairs and will live with the areas of damage, most of which no one but us would notice (Suncoast offered to pay for any repairs).  We would use Suncoast again but would be sure to supervise anyone working in the coach.  John did this during our second visit and feels they did a good job.

We left Hudson on Wednesday morning a bit later than planned after waiting out some rain showers.  Our next stop was Summerdale, AL for a brief visit to the nearby Gulf Shores beaches.  Summerdale is 440 miles from Hudson,  double the 200 miles we usually  travel in one day.  But since there was nothing in between that we wanted to see, we decided to just make the long drive.  Leaving Hudson we took US-19 north for about 180 miles.  The road is a beautiful four lane highway that goes through a few small towns.  But for the most part it goes through empty forest and swamp with very little traffic.  Just east of Tallahassee we turned on to I-10 and began our journey west.

Related image

A few miles after entering Alabama we turned south on Baldwin Beach Express for about ten miles to Emmaus RV Park.  This is a very nice little RV park with about thirty paved back-in sites at a Passport America rate.

Site 108

Our plan was to stay here for two nights, giving us a full day to drive down and explore the beach area.  But with heavy rain scheduled for Friday we decided to extend our stay for the day and wait to continue our travels on the sunny day predicted for Saturday.

Thursday was a beautiful day so we drove twenty miles south to Gulf Shores.  The road along the shore of the Gulf of Mexico is filled with a mix of older small beach houses, newer multilevel rental units, and new high rise condos.  The beach houses are all well-maintained and painted in a variety of colors.

The beaches here are beautiful, with very white, fine sand.  This time of year they are almost empty, but during the season they are filled with vacationers from as far away as Atlanta.

We stopped for lunch at The Hangout, a large beachfront restaurant with a small patio.  As with the beach,  the place is mobbed during the season, but for our visit the main dining area was empty and a small number of people were enjoying lunch in the warm sunshine on the patio.

A young coed contemplates returning to class for the upcoming semester

While we ate lunch we participated in a trivia contest for patrons on the patio.  One section of the competition was history, so we had a pretty good chance of doing well in the competition.  While most of the questions were pretty easy, two separated the wheat from the chaff.  The first was the name of the British Liner sunk by a German u-boat off the coast of Ireland in 1915.  The other is the name of the explorer and mapmaker whose name became synonymous with the New World.  The results were collected and tabulated and the winner of the competition was announced, “Pam!”  We suspect she had a little help from someone at her table.  The prize for the winner was a new baseball cap!  It turns out the hat was made by a company called Legacy in Hanover, PA, located just a few miles from our home of 25 years!  Small world . . .

On Saturday we’ll pull up the jacks and head to New Orleans for a brief visit.  More on that later . . . .

Oh, we know almost everyone knew the answers to the trivia questions,  but just to confirm your responses the ocean liner sunk by the Germans was the Lusitania and the explorer was Amerigo Vespucci.  But you knew that ! ! !

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Quiet Days in Cortez, then Wedding Bells

Cortez, FL

It has been a while since our last post, but we really haven’t done much during our stay along the Gulf of Mexico (except for one big activity during the last week of December, more on that later).  We did manage to get in a daily walk along the beach or bike ride around nearby Anna Maria Island (followed by a stop at one of those chain coffee houses).

Walking the Gulf on Anna Maria Island

John did fit in some preventive maintenance on the roof during our stay

We did enjoy a couple of visits with former colleagues of John’s from his working days.  Brian Cashman was the high school principal at the end of John’s long tenure as a middle school principal.  Brian was willing to take a chance on an old teacher when John asked to return to the classroom for the last few years of his career.  Brian and his wife, Judy, have moved to nearby Parrish, FL so we invited them to join us for lunch at nearby Star Fish Seafood.  Judy was not feeling well that day, but we met again the next week in downtown Bradenton so we could visit with her.

Brian and John exchange stories from the good old days

That same week we found out that Jill Ellis, a former teaching colleague of John’s, was staying with her husband, Jamie, and daughter, Paige, on nearby Longboat Key for a few days.  We had a very nice lunch with them at a restaurant in St. Armand’s Circle.  Jill has made this blog a couple of times previously as they now live in Indianapolis and we have stopped there twice as we passed through on our travels east or west.

Jill, Jamie, and Paige

Our slow paced stay in Cortez began to pick up speed on Christmas Day when our daughter, Jessica, arrived at Tampa Airport with her fiance, Dan, and his daughter, Ella.

Welcome to Florida!

During our visit to York, PA in September, Dan popped the question.  This allowed for some intensive planning sessions and the scheduling of a small wedding at the beach on Anna Maria Island.  The timing and location were perfect for the week after Christmas since we were already going to be in that area and Dan’s parents, Paul and Janice, recently purchased a winter home in Ft. Myers, just a hundred miles to the south.  The night before the ceremony the wedding party enjoyed a nice dinner at The Waterfront in the village of Anna Maria.

The next day was “Showtime” on the beach at the end of White Avenue on Anna Maria Island.

Proud Papa escorts the bride out to the beach

 

The ceremony begins

Following the exchange of vows the wedding party moved to the shore for the Blessing Stones tradition.  In this tradition, which can replace the throwing of rice, each party made a silent wish for the new couple and threw a stone into the surf as a symbol of the wish.

Next, Jessica, Dan, and Ella completed the “Blending of the Sands” ceremony, an  alternative to the ” Unity Candle” ceremony.  Like a Unity candle the pouring of different colored sands together is used to symbolize the joining of the three as one family.

Blending of the Sands

We did it!

The wedding package included a photographer (you had to give her back after the wedding) but we knew we didn’t want to wait for her to send us the photos (Must be able to immediately post to Facebook!) so we asked our good friends, David and Karen, (Cody’s owners parents) if they would take a couple of pictures with our phone.  David took photos with our phone and Karen made a video with Jessica’s phone that she will play at a reception they will hold for friends in the middle of January back in York, PA.  We asked both of them to put down the phones and join the wedding party for a photo.

David, John, Pam Karen, Jessica, Dan, Ella, Janice, and Paul

They both did a great job recording the entire event.  In fact, David took almost all the wedding photos in this post.  Many thanks to both of them !

The Scott family begins their new journey

Following the ceremony and photos along the shore we headed for a reception dinner at the Sign of the Mermaid, an eclectic little restaurant on the island just a few miles north of the beach.

The Scotts just outside the Sign of the Mermaid

This small restaurant is located in an old (1913) beach cottage.  It looks a bit run down (we loved the atmosphere) but the food and the service were both outstanding.

Our table is ready (Pam made all the table decorations)

First champagne toast for the new couple

Following the dinner Dan and Jessica headed to Sarasota in our Jeep to enjoy a few days together at a hotel along Sarasota Bay.   Our son, Kevin, had planned to use his pilot status to catch a flight to Sarasota from Atlanta to attend the wedding.  But with all the bad weather in the north, the many flight cancellations and delays caused a backup and all flights south filled up.  But he was able to get a flight later in the week and joined us for an overnight stay.  The three of us (John, Pam, and Kevin) met Dan and Jessica at a restaurant in Sarasota and enjoyed a lunch together (forgot to take a photo!) before Kevin returned to the airport and we drove the newlyweds south half way to Ft. Myers.  We met Dan’s parents there and they took the newlyweds (and Ella) to the airport in Ft. Myers for a return flight home.

We took advantage of our last few days in Cortez to relax with a few bike rides and, of course, a visit to one of those chain coffee shops.  David and Karen often rode to Starbucks with us, but our last day David drove over in the car which allowed our good friend, Cody, to join us.

OK, where’s my drink?

Guess the conversation was a bit boring!

Our stay in Holiday Cove RV Resort ended on New Year’s Day and our plan was to head north to Tallahassee and turn west.  But first we need to stop back in Hudson, north of Tampa, for another visit to Suncoast Designers.  If you read the last blog, you may remember that we stopped there for a week in November to have our windows repaired.  One day early in our Cortez stay Pam looked up at the small window by the kitchen area of the motorhome and discovered that the inside pane of one side of the window had cracked into a series of spiderwebs.

That doesn’t look good!

We immediately called Suncoast and scheduled an appointment for January 3rd during our drive back north.  They will replace the glass and reseal four windows that leaked during a downpour we experienced in Cortez.  Suncoast was highly recommended to us by a number of people because of their excellent work.  Well, we must have caught them on a bad day in November as they damaged a number of small areas around the windows during the re-installation.  We have already shared our dissatisfaction with Suncoast and will show them the damaged areas during our “re-visit.”

Once the window is fixed we will head north to the Florida panhandle and begin moving west.  After several stops along the way, we will be spending February in Tucson.  More on that later . . .

Goodbye Florida!

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