Camping with crocodiles! In Florida, there are a plethora of alligators and we had a camp spot right next to a river where they live. This meant keeping a close eye on the pups, especially at night which is when they eat. It’s a myth that alligators hibernate, but they are less active when the weather cools down. We didn’t see any alligators in the few days we have been here, but the RV park personnel say they are here and to beware.
One of the the fun experiences we had in Ft. Meyers was shopping (yesssss!!) and the mall had this great restaurant, Ford’s Garage. Henry Ford had a summer home in Ft. Meyers where he worked on inventions with Thomas Edison (his next door neighbor). They were working on developing a plant based rubber, and both of their homes are now a museum. This restaurant was so fun, the door handles and bathroom faucets were gas pump handles, even the napkins were “shop rags” with hose clamp napkin rings. The food was really good as well, gourmet burgers, pulled pork sliders, and a huge selection of beers. Joel had a local Ft. Meyer brew and really liked it. A fun spot!
We spent a week in New Orleans and were so excited to be joined by our friends from Orange County, Ben and Maureen. It was Ben and Maureen’s first visit to the Big Easy, so we hit up as many tourist spots as possible – so this will be a long post! Instead of chronological order, I am going to start with our most favorite adventures and work our way down.
World War II Museum
Yes, this was top of the list for everyone! Surprising? Yes!! Unfortunately, we had no idea this museum would be so interesting and extensive, and only set aside the afternoon from around 1:00 pm to 5 pm (when it closes). The time went by so quickly, and none of us made it through to see everything.
What was really unique and interesting about this museum, is that the stories are told through first hand accounts and historical footage. The exhibits are very interactive and emersive. This museum does the best job of any museum I have ever visited in emersing visitors into the atmosphere that the exhibits are depicting. In conjunction with current day interviews, historical footage, and historical reproductions of the scene, this museum walks you through two different fronts of the war; first was the battle fought with Japan and second was the battle fought with Germany.
I felt like I learned more about World War II in this one afternoon then I did in any history class throughout high school or college. Am I a history buff? No. But you don’t have to be a history buff to thoroughly enjoy this museum. It will give you a whole new appreciation of the massive suffering and incredible bravery of the soldiers and civilians alike. You cannot go through this museum without a profound gratitude for our present day freedom. Do not miss it !!!
Cafe du Monde
What can I say, this is a classic “don’t miss” of New Orleans. There is nothing like live street musicians and the smell of fresh beignets hot out of the fryer and loaded with powdered sugar. We visited several times, and this is the one thing I always miss most once we are gone.
Creole Queen Paddlewheel Cruise
This is a tour that was made so much better by the amazing narrator, Charles. He was well versed in New Orleans history – right up to the present day to include Hurricane Katrina. The cruise was peaceful and relaxing, we stopped at a battleground site from the War of 1814 when the British attempted to take the port of New Orleans. This cruise has several options, we took a two-hour narrated cruise, but they also offer a dinner jazz or brunch cruise.
We did not take a formal tour of the plantations, but rather drove out to the the Mississippi River where many of the plantations are located. The plantations themselves offer their own narrated tours and each plantation charges around $20 admission per person. My favorite is Oak Alley. This plantation is fronted by two long rows of 300 year old oak trees. The oaks themselves are an amazing sight to see and provide welcome shade and a light breeze from the Louisiana sun and humidity. It is easy to picture yourself as a Southern Belle (or gentleman) rocking on the front porch on a hot day with a cool glass of lemonade. Move over Scarlet O’Hara!
Hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s
Of course no visit to New Orleans would be complete without a visit to Pat O’Briens bar for an authentic hurricane next to their fire and water fountain. The brick patio so perfectly captures the essence of New Orleans, and the hurricanes are ice cold and tasty. I am not a big fan of rum drinks, but Ben, Maureen, and Joel thoroughly enjoyed them. My favorite picture from the entire week was taken here 😎.
Visiting in mid-October, Halloween was right around the corner. There are a lot of “haunted” cemetery tours, but we opted for a rather tame daytime visit. We took the Charleston Street trolley to the Garden District. There is a large cemetery located there which you can visit without charge (unlike the downtown cemeteries that charge $20 and require an escorted tour guide). Additionally, it was interesting to walk along the beautiful historic homes of the Garden District. Riding the trolley was enjoyable, especially sitting next to a wide open window where you could catch the afternoon breeze.
Lastly, this brings us to the swamp tour. We had an authentic Cajun tour guide and he should have come with subtitles, as it was very difficult to understand most of what he said. I am rating this last, because even though we saw many small alligators, our tour guide’s enthusiasm for trapping and killing them (yes, still allowed for one month every year) was disenchanting. Alligators are not aggressive towards humans and mostly want to be left alone as long as you leave them alone. This was proven by our tour guide’s own admission that he is not aware of a single alligator attack as long as he has lived in the area. I am an animal lover and would rather see them minding their own business in the swamp, rather than on a handbag or a pair of shoes.
Well, this wraps up our week. We are heading to Florida next and the temps in this whole southeast have been unusually high. Hoping things cool off soon!
We landed in Houston, TX for a few days. Top on Joel’s to-do list was a visit to the Houston Space Center. Just 5 months ago we visited Kennedy Space Center in Florida, what a huge difference between these two! At Kennedy the overwhelming feeling was that the space program was dead or dying since the shuttle program stopped – honestly, it was more than a bit depressing. Not so at Houston, while they honored the past achievements, their focus was on the present (international space station) and the future (manned mission to Mars on Orion).
Orion is not expected to take off until 2023 at the earliest, but NASA in Houston is super excited about it. It will take the astronauts 6 months of space travel just to reach Mars. Even radio communications will have a 40 minute delay between time sent and received. Once they are on Mars they will live in an inflatable habitat, which seems a bit flimsy as living space goes. You would have to be an incredibly brave person to be willing to take that journey, definitely not on my bucket list!
One of the other fun things about Houston Space Center is that there are a lot of interactive exhibits. For example, the 747 and space shuttle are all completely accessible on both the exterior and interior. I can now say that I have been in a real space shuttle! While we didn’t go into space, we did get to sit in Mission Control – the actual real Mission Control used to land the first man on the moon, Apollo 13 and most of the space shuttle flights. What I found really fascinating is that the computers used to put a man on the moon in 1969 had less computing capacity than we have on our smart phones today. Amazing!!!
We had some strange weather at Sea World today. It was 81 degrees, thunder, lightening and off/on raining, so this is the reason for shorts and rain slickers 🌂. Despite a bit of a soaking, we had a fun day. The shows were really good, especially the diving/water acrobatics. We went on some rides and enjoyed the Halloween decorations along with kids dressed up for trick or treating. It’s hard to believe October 🎃 is here, but with Hurricane Matthew bearing down on the Florida coast and heading straight for one of our upcoming destinations – Charleston, SC – we might have to do some re-routing. I sure hope not because I was really looking forward to seeing Charleston for the first time and hope everyone is able to stay safe.
As promised, we had some authentic Texas BBQ. We found a well reviewed hole in the wall near our KOA campground and when we fist pulled up, Joel was ready to keep going. He kept asking me “are you sure you want to eat here?” It truly was a dive joint, but the food was good and neither of us got sick, so I consider that a success!
We love San Antonio, Texas!!! San Antonio is the 7th largest U.S. city and one of the biggest we have been to in the last month. It’s also home of the Alamo, the historic 18th century Catholic mission and site of the famous battle between the Mexican and Texian Army. Now it’s a gorgeous old building surrounding lush gardens and knarled old trees. The historic old church (no interior pics allowed) is so beautiful with soaring ceilings and wrought iron chandeliers. It’s strange that this landmark is located in the middle of downtown near the Riverwalk that fronts the San Antonio River.
After so many small towns, it’s wonderful for this city girl to be near a mall again 😊. Not just any mall either, but the Riverwalk fronts the beautiful winding San Antonio River that loops under bridges as two parallel stone sidewalks lined with restaurants and shops front either side. The toughest part of the day was deciding where to eat. The Riverwalk is lined with everything from authentic Mexican restaurants with serenading mariachi bands to high class hotel bars with yummy appetizers. We decided on Asian food because I was craving sushi. Tomorrow, for sure, we are going for authentic Texas bbq!
We are so excited that my Mom and her husband Bob decided to drive out from San Diego to meet us in Carlsbad Caverns, NM. There are two entrances to the caverns, the “natural” entrance is a huge hole in the ground that has a 1.25 mile 800 foot descent underground. The second entrance is an elevator that takes you straight down to the bottom of the Caverns where you can explore a huge variety of formations along a one mile (or so) loop. Bob is 83 and so we took the elevator the day we first visited and Joel and I did the natural entrance hike (down and back up again) the following day after Mom and Bob left to go back home.
The Caverns are stunning and a must see if you are ever in New Mexico. The sheer vastness is truly amazing, the size and scope of which cannot be captured in photographs which is why they must be experienced in person. My Mom and Bob were both blown away and said it was their best vacation together. We really enjoyed having them join us at the local KOA campground where they rented a cute little cabin right next to our RV space. We loved the gorgeous New Mexico sunsets and also got to experience the New Mexico wind. One minute the air is completely still, the next you think Dorothy and her house will come flying in – it’s crazy!!
In addition to the Caverns, we had a great time playing some pretty competitive games of Yahtzee, enjoyed lots of food and catching up, but the time together was too short — just a day and a half 😐. I was very sad when they had to head back home to San Diego. San Antonio, Texas is our next stop and Joel and I are excited to try some authentic Texas bbq.
We beamed ourselves into Roswell, NM (actually, it was a long, mostly boring drive from Colorado). New Mexico is an agricultural and farming state, so lots of fields and pasture land that goes on for mile, after mile, after mile – you get the picture! We are staying at the Red Barm RV Park which is next to a huge agricultural field, feels like a farm, but without the animals. The lady that runs the place, Lee, is so friendly and has really created a homey, welcoming place to stay. Joel had voted the restroom facilities to be the nicest on the trip and she gives a senior discount at age 50! This is the first time I have qualified for a senior discount and I think I am feeling a bit conflicted. I love saving money, but don’t want to be old!
Anyway, as you can see, one of the first things we did was visit the International UFO museum. Joel loved it and we bought an alien to bring home 👽 with us. We found so many fun alien-themed shops, we now have a new window sticker on the back of the truck (we aren’t really vehicle sticker type people, but this one was too funny to miss).
As for the dogs, they got an out-of-this-world bath and haircut at a local groomers. They were less than thrilled about it, but like any Mom, I made them pose for “after” pictures…..awwww aren’t they cute? 🐩
We drove up to Cripple Creek today which is tucked away in the Colorado Rockies. The fall colors were in full bloom and we could not have picked a better time to go. The drive was so beautiful and took about 60 minutes from Colorado Springs. We visited the Mollie Kathleen Mine which is a gold mining operation founded by Mollie Kathleen in September 1891. She was the first woman in this area to find “surface gold” which was in a piece of ore she picked up while out on a walk. Because miners were very superstitious and believed a woman inside a mine was bad luck, Mollie turned the operation over to her son. The mine continued to produce gold up until 1961.
The mine was originally built to harvest gold out of ore, but later found other precious minerals, some of which are now in the Smithsonian. The white stuff covering the walls in the upper corner picture is epsom salt, a naturally occurring formation as a result of water runoff over the minerals. In order to access the mine we tightly squeezed into the original mine shaft elevators where we descended 1,000 feet. Once we were in the mining shafts, we had an opportunity to view original mining equipment from the early days to the present. I can tell you, mining was a tough business and they had kids as young as 10 years old working, no such thing as OSHA back in the early days!
We also had a chance to ride in an air powered train which was originally pulled by donkeys (1,000 feet under ground, so they left them down there) until President Roosevelt visited the mine and deemed this treatment to be cruel (hello?!?!) and demanded they stop. The mining company set the donkeys free in the town and descendants of the original mine donkeys still roam the streets today.
We topped the day off with a prime rib dinner at one of the many casinos in town. At $5.99, we were not expecting much, but it was an excellent meal and you could add a lobster tail for an additional $10 – yes please!
We were really looking forward to riding the Royal Gorge Railroad and it did not disappoint! A 2 hour train ride along the Arkansas River (as it flows through Colorado), the train winds its way along sheer granite walls towering hundreds of feet straight up. It also travels over a “floating bridge” on tracks suspended by cables over the river. While traversing the floating bridge, the whole train sways from side to side.
There are three ticket levels, Coach, Club or Vista Dome, the latter is the only way to go, as the views are way better and more comfortable seating. They also have open air cars that you can go out on to really get a full view of the gorge. There is a full bar and food service, Joel really liked the chocolate fudge tort which was like eating a piece of fudge more than cake. On our way back to the campground we couldn’t resist climbing on the roadside “wildlife.”
We got lucky on our trip to Pueblo, CO and happened to be here the weekend of the Chile and Frijoles Festival, which happens to be a big deal around here. The Chile and Frijoles Festival is a giant street fair with huge metal bins of roasting chile peppers along with every other possible use of chiles. We bought jalapeño pepper jelly (great with cream cheese and crackers), chile pepper goat cheese, a giant sausage dog with roasted chile peppers and a big bag of chile peppers to bring home. I think we are pretty set in the chile pepper department around here!
Yesterday we visited the Ghost Town Wild West Museum in Colorado Springs, which is an 1800’s style old west ghost town. The museum itself is located in an old train station and train car round-about (an old brick building with large arched openings that once housed train engines) which now houses a microbrewery. The museum had a lot to see and we enjoyed a movie about how Colorado was populated in the 1850’s during the Pike’s Peak gold rush.
One thing I will say about our travels so far is that people are so nice!!! Seriously, so many total strangers have struck up friendly conversations with us or gone out of their way to provide directions, suggestions for places to eat, things to do, etc. It has totally renewed my faith in humanity. However, even with all the niceness, cheap gas, less traffic, and excellent weather that we have enjoyed so far, I can’t imagine living anywhere other than Southern California, it has my heart as home.