30 March 2006

Museums Everywhere

On Tuesday the 21st we woke up to snow….happy Spring! It wasn’t that much snow and it was actually really pretty. I was hoping for more because I like to look at it, but we only got a little bit of snow with a whole lot of cold. We spent Tuesday close by home and visited the Civil War Soldier Life Museum. A neat little place ran as a ‘mom n pop’ shop that was worth $4 to visit. (http://civilwar-life.com/) That and grocery shopping was all we did that day…oh, and it was cold!

Wednesday the 22nd we drove into DC and toured the Natural History Museum and the National Museum of American History. Both of these museums were really cool. It is a shame (and we’ve seen this everywhere we’ve gone, not just in DC) that people allow their kids to run around like wild animals in public places. I can’t tell you how many unsupervised children I saw (and was ran over by) in these museums, I remember when I was a child that there were rules about how you behaved in places like that. Ok, done with my rant for now. My favorite display in the Natural History Museum was the Gems and Minerals and of course being able to see the Hope Diamond. As for the National Museum of American History, there are two displays that I can’t decide between for favorite. They have on display the restoration of the American Flag that inspired the writing of our National Anthem , and an exhibit called The Price of Freedom: American’s at War. Both of these displays/exhibits really just took my breath away.

The Smithsonian Museums in DC are all free to get into, I guess they figure that driving and parking in DC is payment enough.

That’s all I have for now, we’ve done a ton of stuff in the last week or so and I’m trying to chip away at it a couple things at a time to get them posted.


26 March 2006

More DC Area

On Monday the 20th Bill drove me out to Great Falls National Park. (http://www.nps.gov/gwmp/grfa/) What a beautiful place. We spent a good long time wandering the trails and enjoying the scenery. This is a place that Bill used to train at so he knows it well. This was however, the first time he’d ever been there as a tourist and just walked around to enjoy the scenery. One thing I noticed that I really liked (being the rock hound that I am) is that there are large veins of quartz running through the hills and boulders. It’s everywhere. I told Bill they should have named the place Crystal Hills, not Great Falls. What’s also fascinating is the quartz looks worn, so you know it’s been weathered by many thousands of years. Bill said in the hundreds of times he had been there he’d never noticed the quartz before, not surprising, he’s always enjoying the scenery while I’m always looking at the ground to see what kind of rocks a place has.

On one of the trails we came across a pothole in the rocks, these potholes (according to the sign in front of them) were created when the area was under water (the river didn’t always run the course it does today) and the water would create vortexes and whirlpools that would weather the rock away more in some areas than others. This particular pothole was large enough to stand in…which is why I’m in there. And yes, it was really cold that day. As a matter of fact, that day was the Spring Equinox and it snowed. Happy Spring, have fun freezing your ass off. In case anyone cares, I have 5 layers of clothing on up top and my wool gloves in that picture. I really don't like being cold, the snow was pretty and I'll admit I wanted it to snow more than just the dusting we got, but I like watching it from the inside.

Great Falls isn’t just pretty scenery, like most of the east coast it has a rich history that was developmental for our country and our way of life, small steps along a rough and long road. If you are really interested in the history of the park, read about it here: http://www.nps.gov/gwmp/grfa/falls/grfahist.htm This picture is of the first of a series of locks that used to lift and lower boats along the 75 foot Great Falls of the Potomac River.

After the Great Falls we drove to the National Zoo, it was a quick trip. Ok, getting there wasn’t a quick trip, being there was a quick trip. They only three parking lot’s open, they were all jammed packed and the exhibits we could see from the parking lot’s weren’t all that. So, we drove in, toured the parking lots, and left.

The next stop was Arlington Cemetery, this wasn’t a quick trip in any way, shape, or form. First we got turned around two different times because of construction and bad directions. We finally got there and proceeded to spend several hours there. This place is incredible, I’d say it’s cool but that seems disrespectful to the dead, it’s just amazing. Awe-inspiring might be better, but I’m not sure. There are hills and hills of white stones, all veterans and their spouses who gave their lives for our country and our freedoms. Arlington has, on average, 100 funerals a week; during the few hours we were there we saw between 5-10, I lost count. It’s incredibly humbling. We didn’t take pictures of the cemetery because there’s just something a little off about it being a ‘touristy’ kind of thing. As if the dead are a novelty. I did however video the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was really something to see. Bill had never seen this ceremony in the winter, with the soldiers in their winter uniforms. We also toured the Arlington/Lee house that is a tour that is full of history and interesting little tidbits. If you want to read more about Arlington, do so here: http://www.arlingtoncemetery.org//visitor_information/101st_army_airborne_division_memorial.html

You really need to experience Arlington to understand, it was sad to see teenagers there on fieldtrips acting like jackasses and not really caring, because no one made them care. What are we developing in our youth as a nation?


23 March 2006

Arrival DC

We arrived in the DC area on Thursday the 16th and spent the remainder of the day, after an 8-hour drive, setting up. Friday we spent just driving around and Bill showing me, and reacquainting himself with, the general area. We hadn’t planned on driving all the way into DC, but we did. We spent a couple hours walking around the Capital Mall and seeing some of the Monuments and Memorials. We didn’t have the cameras with us, so I don’t have any pictures of this yet. We saw the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Wall, the Washington Monument, walked by the White House and the Smithsonian’s and just kind of tooled around the area for a couple of hours. It was nice…cold….but nice. We went from walking barefoot on the Atlantic Coast to freezing temps with light snow..awesome!!

DC is kind of a magical place and Northern Virginia is beautiful. I don’t think I could live here just because all the people here are crazy. There are a TON of people and they are all in a hurry, like their asses are on fire, to get to where they are going, or to earn more money to have more stuff. I just don’t understand that. Why race around like a crazy person just to end up giving yourself a heart attack at 35. Why bother collecting all that stuff when you won’t live long enough to enjoy it, or be too busy getting more stuff to enjoy the stuff you have. Crazy. If it weren’t for the people…I’d live here.

It’s been just too cool to drive around and see all the history. On Saturday the 18th we went to the Fredericksburg Battlefield http://www.nps.gov/frsp/fburg.htm and took a tour of the Chatham House http://www.nps.gov/frsp/chatham.htm , you can read about the history of both yourselves. Again we forgot the cameras, and I have to say that it was nice to not feel obligated to record every step of the way, but to just wander and learn and enjoy. This whole area of the country is awesome and stacked with history and cool stuff. I highly recommend making and effort to visit here if you have any interest in our nations history, but don’t do it in the summer, you’ll never see anything or get anywhere through the seas of people. I would also recommend doing lot’s of research and planning, the traffic here truly sucks and if you don’t know what you are doing or the best times to be on the road the only parts of the areas you’ll see…will be the concrete of the freeways, and I’m not even exaggerating. I can’t even express how nice it is to be able to see these areas with a ‘native’. Bill lived and worked in this area for years and knows how to get around.

I think that’s all for now, we have done a ton of stuff just in the week that we’ve been here and only had the cameras with us for a little part of it. My next post will be about Great Falls Park, The National Zoo, and Arlington Cemetery.


20 March 2006

Sunrise Over the Atlantic

For my last post about Myrtle Beach and the Atlantic coast I’m mostly going to let the pictures do the talking. We woke up extra early on Thursday the 16th to catch the sun rising over the Atlantic Ocean before we left and drove to the DC area.

We can both now say that we’ve seen the sunrise over the Atlantic and set over the Pacific. Need I say more, these pictures really tell the beautiful story.

The picture with the geese, we really didn't expect to turn out. Bill wasn't even snapping pictures at the time, I saw the birds flying through the sunrise and pointed it out. Bill quickly took a snap before they were gone but figured it would be all blurry since it was a rushed shot, we were pleasantly surprised to have it be one of the best pics taken that day.


19 March 2006

Brookgreen Gardens Zoo

On the 15th we went back to Brookgreen Gardens to tour their zoo area. It was a nice day and we enjoyed walking through the area they have set up for the animals. The first place you walk through is one of the aviaries they have set up. It’s interesting to see the swampy area with the birds hiding out in the trees, and on the ground.

There was another walk-thru aviary that was supposed to have the raptors in it, but the only thing we saw where vultures. Those you see everywhere, these guys aren’t even a part of an exhibit, they just like it here. Before the walk-thru raptor aviary they had the birds that were supposed to be in there in individual cages. All these birds are from animal rescues and things like that. The bald eagles for instance, one is blind and the other is missing half of a wing. Same with the red-tailed hawks, they are birds that can never return to the wild. This redtail was showing us his pretty wings. One neat story about the hawks, they bred in captivity and their babies could be released into the wild.

We took a picture of this guy because they have a habitat set up for Alligators in their Zoo, we did see one way back in the back, but only saw his tail, it was still impressive, he/she was a big one. Other than that we only saw signs warning us about the alligators. Hi’iaka (the hula girl) wants to remind everyone to think of safety first in foreign areas. I was continually looking over my shoulder while Bill snapped this picture, he thought I was running away once he was done, but I was really skipping over a hole in the ground…I swear!

The Gardens are beautiful and the Zoo area is pretty neat. Brookgreen Gardens is a great place to visit if you are ever in the area. It costs $12.00 a person, but your tickets are good for 7 days and you can go back as many times in that 7 days as you want. You’ll definitely want more than one day to see everything.


18 March 2006

Full Moon over Atlantic

Tuesday night the 14th of March we watched the Full Moon rise over the Atlantic while we were still in Myrtle Beach. There was a partial eclipse that we were supposed to be able to see around dusk. Bill took these pics of the moon and you could kind of see the side of it being eclipsed. We went out later that night and watched the Full Moon reflecting on the water of the Atlantic, we didn’t take any pictures, Bill wasn’t sure it photograph well. I don’t really know either, but it sure was bright and it was nice to just stand and enjoy it together.

More later.

16 March 2006

Brookgreen Gardens Part 1

On Monday the 13th we visited the Brookgreen Gardens just outside Myrtle Beach, SC. (http://www.brookgreen.org/index2.html These gardens are absolutely amazing. Brookgreen sits on over 9000 acres that used to be several different plantations. The Sculpture gardens are just that, full of sculptures at every turn. There is no way for me to possibly share all the photos of all the sculptures that we took and we only took pictures of a fraction of the stuff there. We spent over three hours just walking around the sculpture gardens and had to go back another day to check out the zoo area, which I will post about later. I’m going to have a hard enough time keeping this shorter than a novel.

I really enjoyed the entire garden, and the Children’s Garden is no different. It was fun to wander through the smaller, stone lined, trails of the Children’s garden and see the sculptures they have in that section.

And of course I had to take the opportunity to be a dork while in the gardens. We were wandering through the gardens looking at sculptures at every turn, and then we happen upon this base with no statue, so I jumped up on it and had Bill snap a quick shot. I showed it to a friend of mine who made the comment “huh…I don’t even see any pigeon poop.’ There were no pigeons at Brookgreen, massive amounts of vultures and turkey vultures, some hawks and other misc raptors, but no pigeons, the Alligators probably ate them, but that’s a story for the next post. However there is nothing wrong with the lizard population at Brookgreen, these guys were everywhere. The picture of the guy with the pinkish sac under his head is what we believe is a male, there were smaller brown lizards around him that we think he was trying to impress...boys are funny!

Along one of the outer trails Bill snapped this picture and I wanted to share it because he really liked the way it turned out. It was a cool statue, life-size and the water pool that she stands in was pitch black, looked like liquid obsidian. The other one is of St. Something’s (can’t remember) Triad. I really like the juxtaposition of the geometric shapes with the human form, very appealing.

Geez, there are still so many images I want to share of Brookgreen but there just isn’t room, I could make a book out of them, except that they don’t allow that. There are signs all over their welcome center that say photography for commercial purposes if prohibited. One funny bit, on one of the last trails we walked was a large sculpture surrounded by ponds and flowerbeds, very pretty. On the bank of the ponds were turtles, they all had their heads out and they all looked the same, so I said, “Look, they even have turtle statues.”…then they moved. Those turtles are crazy; don’t they know they are swimming in Alligator infested waters? Oh well…all part of the circle of life.

That’s all for now, maybe later I’ll put up a post of nothing but more pics from Brookgreen. I’ll also be posting about the Full Moon over the Atlantic, and our second trip to Brookgreen later. Currently we are on the road, heading to Virginia. I likely won’t get this posted until later tonight once we are there and set up.


14 March 2006

Charleston, SC

Sunday the 12th, Bill and I drove into Charleston, SC to visit Patriot Point Naval and Maritime Museum as well as to check out historic downtown Charleston.

Patriot Point is home to the USS Yorktown (aircraft carrier), DD-724 Destroyer Laffey, Coast Guard Cutter Ingham, and the SS-343 Submarine Clamagore. We walked through all of them, although they weren’t set up as nice or as informative as the Alabama was. At the Point they also have a mock-up of a PBR Vietnam Base Camp.

The Yorktown was probably the most informative of all the ships, they have different tours you can take and the Hangar deck is set up as a museum. In the hangar deck they have several displays including aircraft and some memorials. Probably the best set up they have is the Medal of Honor Hall, it’s nicely done. We don’t have any pics of the Hall, when you walk in it’s very quiet with an almost reverent feel to it.

On the Flight deck of the Yorktown they have some various different aircraft set up, again without any explanation of what they are or what the significance of them are. However, Bill read in the paper a bit about the F-14 Tomcat that I thought was pretty cool. The day that we visited the Yorktown and saw this F-14, was the same day that the last two combat squadrons of F-14s were returning to Norfolk to be decommissioned. The F-14 Tomcat will never again fly a combat mission. They are being replaced by the F-18 Hornet, the jet’s that the Blue Angels currently fly. I thought that was pretty cool.

After tooling around Patriots Point we drove through Historic Downtown Charleston. Other than some of the most beautiful houses that I’ve ever seen (that are private residences that you can’t walk around) I don’t really see the draw to this area. You have to find parking (good luck) than walk around the area and deal with crowds to really see it, we opted not to deal with that and just drove around. Neither Bill nor I really like large groups of people just to find out that really the only thing there was shopping and eating.

On our way out of Charleston we stopped at the KOA that we had originally stopped at and only stayed the overnight before pulling out and heading into Myrtle Beach. This is the sign I saw while standing right on the water line of the lake…that rules!

We returned to Myrtle Beach very glad, on multiple levels, that we decided to leave Charleston and stay at the Beach instead. We’ve really been enjoying Myrtle Beach and will gladly return here if we ever find ourselves on this side and in this part of the country again.


13 March 2006

Atlantic Coast

We arrived in Myrtle Beach on March 9th, set up relaxed, drove around the area trying to find the stuff we would need while we where here. The 10th was my first ever day on the beach of the Atlantic Ocean. Bill snapped this picture of me while I was picking up a rock or shell or something. Shortly after he snapped a pic of both of us from arms length.

The Atlantic Coast is SO much different than the Pacific in so many ways. It’s extremely developed, really crowded in the public areas and mildly crowded in the private areas. The beach we are on is considered private, there is no public access, and only people staying in the resort along the coast have access to our portion of the beach. We are very close to the beach where we are parked; you could through a baseball from our house to the sand. We’ve spent a good portion of time so far walking on the beach, it was a bit of a novelty for me to be able to stand in the surf and let the water wash over my feet and not have them turn blue. The average water temperature for this time of year is about 70 degrees, whereas the Pacific is like 40…BBRRR. Bill thought it was funny for someone who grew up around the water to have that be a novelty, for which I looked at him and asked, “Do you remember how cold the Pacific is? The Puget Sound isn’t much better.” We did run into a character on one of our walks…this guy wasn’t giving up ground at all, we almost stepped on him. The seagulls here are about the size of crows in the Pacific NW, roughly half the size of the seagulls you see in Washington and Oregon.

All in all I’m really enjoying the Myrtle Beach area. The place we are staying is more family oriented so whereas there are a lot of people here for spring break, we’ve so far (knock on wood) avoided the drunken, rowdy college kids.

The same day we took these pictures we had an awesome dinner at a restaurant called SeaFare. It’s an all you can eat buffet, but is so much nicer than any buffet style restaurant I’ve ever been to. You are seated by your server who brings you your drinks and keeps cleaning your table and refilling your drinks. Their buffet was full of awesome food. I stuffed myself with crab legs, crab cakes; crab stuffed portabellas…are you seeing a trend? They had live music and a live mermaid in a pool; the buffet itself was shaped like a ship complete with masts and rigging, really a neat place. If you find yourself in Myrtle Beach, eat at SeaFare and ask to be seated in Betsy’s area.

That’s all for now, it’s beautiful here in the mid to upper 70s most days.

10 March 2006

Catching Up Pensacola

Ok…behind again, big surprise. March 1st we drove back into Pensacola to hit the Naval Museum for the second time, to take the tour and so we could get pictures. This Museum is so awesome, we went a total of three times and I still could have kept going back, it is SO jam-packed with cool stuff.

They pay such attention to detail in their exhibits that you actually feel like you are going back in time. I know this blog will be primarily pictures, but it’s just so hard to describe how cool this museum is…and it’s free!

I liked the Blue Angels exhibit, on the tour we learned that our tour guide had once asked one of the Blue Angel pilots if they really flew as close as the planes are hanging in the hall, he said “no, we’re closer”. When they are ready to start their air show tour, they are about 18” apart or closer. That is amazing! Bill and I watched the IMAX show ‘The Magic of Flight’ in this movie they talk a bit about the Blue Angels and what they have to go through to fly they way they do, they make it look so easy, but nothing could farther from easy than being a Blue Angel pilot. Incredible.

I have a bunch of other pics of the museum and I could go on and on about it, but mostly…you just have to see it all for yourself. Maybe I’ll post more pics about it later, but we’ll see. I really liked the Pensacola area and would love to go back someday.

On Friday the 3rd we drove into Mobile to try to tour around the Historic areas and stuff like that. Our experience of Mobile is that they haven’t gone to lengths to make it very user-friendly. We went to tour Fort Conde that sits in the middle of downtown Mobile, and there really isn’t a whole lot of information about it. There’s a gift shop where you can buy a bunch of crap and a visitors center that tells you all about the shopping and dining and misc crap in the area, but still isn’t very user-friendly. The exhibits they have in the Fort don’t really tell you what they are or any history about the place…maybe we just weren’t looking in the right place, I don’t know. We left the fort a bit disappointed, and went to the Bragg Mitchell Mansion. This was worth the $5 per person for the tour. It’s a beautiful house and the tour told us lots of cool stuff about the furnishings, but the best part was our tour guide. About two sentences into his spiel Bill had to interrupt him and ask if he was from Pennsylvania, you can tell by the way they talk, and low and behold…he was from Pittsburgh. That made the tour that much better. After the Mansion we went to the Mobile Botanical Gardens and apparently this is not the time of year to visit there…it was lame. And that about says it all about our trip to Mobile!

Tuesday the 7th we spent our last day in Pensacola, we went back to the Museum to watch the two Imax shows we wanted to see then went to Pensacola Beach. We had one more surf burger, and walked along the beach for a bit. Pensacola Beach is BEAUTIFUL!! White sand beaches that feel like walking through slightly gritty powder, turquoise blue water….can’t beat it, I love that area.

That’s about it for now. We left that area on Wednesday, drove 10+ hours to Charleston, didn’t like the place we were supposed to stay in Charleston so we only stayed the overnight then drove about 90min up to Myrtle Beach and that is where we are now. We are less than 100 yards from the Atlantic Ocean, and this is the first time in my life that I’ve laid eyes on the Atlantic. It has a completely different feel than the Pacific; it’s like a different world! I’m looking forward to our stay here, but I miss the Pensacola area and the park we stayed at in Milton, that place was awesome and the people were great.

One funny note about the place we were supposed to stay in Charleston. The morning after staying the night I went to take the trash out, the can was next to a cabin that was on the lake. It was really pretty, calm water, slightly chilly morning. I walked over to the dock to check out the dock and the little paddle boats and whatnot, was standing on the edge of the lake while I read a sign that said "No Swimming" and the sign below that which read "In Accordance with SC Law, it is unlawful to feed the Alligators" at which point I took two very quick steps back and decided it wasn't a bad thing that we were leaving. That and the warning sign on the office door to watch out for fire ants because of all the rain they had just recently had. Riiiight! Time to go!

More later

02 March 2006

USS Alabama

26 February 2006, Bill and I drove into Mobile, AL thinking we would spend the day in the historic sections of downtown. Silly us, we forgot about Mardi Gras, drove 90min into Mobile to sit in Mardi Gras traffic for 20min to make a U-turn and head back to the highway, on the way back out of town is the USS Alabama Battleship Park. We stopped and ended up spending several hours touring the USS Alabama and the Memorial Park.

According to their information at the park, the USS Alabama was commissioned on 16 August 1942, and is 680 feet in length, with a beam (width) of 108ft 2 inches. She is registered as 35,000 tons, but under battle conditions, she weighed in at well over 45,000 tons. Her assigned crew was 127 officers and 2205 enlisted, but she normally had a crew of 2500 men aboard. She earned 9 Battle Stars, and shot down 22 enemy airplanes during WWII.

The tour is a self-guided walking tour, you are given a guide and you follow the colored arrows and numbers around the ship and read about the different areas. Route A – Red Arrows – took you below decks, after part of the ship. Route B – Green Arrows – Below decks, forward part of the ship. Route C – Yellow Arrows – Upper decks up to level 0-8. It’s really a lot of fun to explore the ship; neither Bill nor I had been on a Battle Ship before, so it was nice to have it be new to both of us. I’m extremely glad they had the colored arrows and numbers all over the ship, everything looks the same and I think it would take a while to learn your way around and be confident about finding your way without the ‘breadcrumbs’.

They have the ship set up as a museum so some of the rooms have displays and stuff to read. Other parts of the ship were left, as they would have been, sort of a ‘living museum’ kind of feel. One of the more interesting points was the #2 Barbette. They have cut a special door in the outer section of the Barbette for civilians to be able to tour the inside of the Barbette; previously this was an area that only men aboard a battleship would have seen. The entire below decks portion of the tour smelled like diesel fuel and other things, like the smells had permeated the steel and just wouldn’t let go of the ship, each section had a slightly different smell.

The ship was also listing a bit and had hoses run all through to pump out water from Hurricane Katrina. The devastation you can still see in the area is terrifyingly amazing. At the Vietnam Memorial part of the park there used to be a Huey on a pedestal but only the pedestal and some torn wires still remain. The part of the park that used to be a picnic is just so much concrete and steel bits. There are tanks on display that were shoved off their concrete slabs and rammed into the dirt. The Aircraft Pavilion is closed to the public because the building sustained so much damage, so did the aircraft.

The Memorials themselves are awesome, they always are. The entire park is really worth a visit, even with the parts that are closed to the public. We spent several hours on the Alabama alone, we didn’t even get to tour the USS Drum Submarine because we ran out of time. It’s truly humbling to see these areas that are recovering. Only private monies and the costs of entrance fund this park, I was happy to pay the fee and know that it would help to keep it open, and help to rebuild.

I consider myself truly blessed to be able to experience the things that I have so far and look forward to experiencing more.