Rolling into “The Big Easy”

And so begins our next big adventure. We have a job in Alaska this summer but we have to get there first. I spent weeks planning our route. Where to stop, what to see, how long to stay…all while keeping in mind we have to be in Moose Pass as close to May 1st as possible. If we had chosen to drive straight there from Daddy’s house, it would have been 4773 miles. Instead we decided to go west, then north, making the trip 6110 miles.

Our first big stop was The Big Easy, The Birthplace of Jazz, Crescent City, New Orleans, NOLA, N’Awlins, whatever you chose to call it, it is a happening place with so much to see! We only had time to stay 3 nights with our somewhat rigid timeline so we wanted to make the best of it. You could stay there a week and never get to take it all in. We used  Pontchartrain Landing as our base camp, only 15 minutes from the French Quarter. With our Passport America discount, it was only $41 a night.

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The first thing we did was drive by the house my dad grew up in. I hadn’t been there since I was about 5 years old and it didn’t look anything like I remembered, but lets face it, that was many years and several hurricanes ago! We wanted to check out some of the plantation homes gracing the banks of the Mississippi River, so we headed towards Vacherie. It was a little further than I thought, but it was a nice ride. Just before we got to Oak Alley Plantation, we caught sight of the Queen of the Mississippi

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We found a place to park and walked up to the bank to admire her. The Mississippi River is a busy river! All types of ships and barges travel it’s waters…

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After watching the river traffic for a while, we got back to the original reason we were there. Plantations! We weren’t going to have time to tour any of them, but we wanted to drive by and see as many as we could. Oak Alley gets its name from the 28 evenly spaced live oak trees lining the front walkway. These massive trees are thought to be about 300 years old, man, if trees could talk!

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My picture really doesn’t do the scenery justice! A bit further, we saw a single live oak in the field, with no one standing near it, it is hard to give a sense of scale, but it was a beautiful tree…

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Not all the plantations have been restored, some are in the works and others are in pretty poor condition. Sugar cane is still grown in the area and we passed lots of freshly planted fields…

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I had to ask Steve to turn around so I could get a picture of this oak lined driveway…

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A quick stop at another plantation…

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Then back to New Orleans and the French Quarter! Parking is very pricey in the French Quarter but I found a neat app called Spot Hero . With the app, I was able to find parking right on the edge of the French Quarter ($17 for 12 hours on a Saturday!) We hit the streets and tried to take it all in…

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There were all kinds of street performers. each vying for your attention (and cash)…

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Then, there’s the people watching! A never ending stream of people from all walks of life…

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At night, Bourbon Street really comes alive with music, neon and people…

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We stopped in at Ticklers and listened to the house band for a bit. I noticed the neon board and paid my dollar to change the phrase of the night…

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This should be quite a year to visit New Orleans as it is celebrating it’s 300th birthday…

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I never gave it much thought, but apparently getting married and parading down Bourbon Street is in!

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The morning we left, I climbed up on top of Waldo to get a shot of the park…

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We will probably go back to New Orleans when we can stay a little longer. There is still so much to see!

Have you ever been to the Big Easy? What was your favorite thing to see?

I’ve Had A Ball

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Diesel. This is a picture of me when I was just a young pup. It was taken a long time ago, 14 years to be exact. Wasn’t I cute? Back then I had boundless energy, but I loved to nap too.

I started out life in New Hampshire and life was good! I loved to go out and play with my dad…

I was about a year old when I got to go to the beach for the first time…

I have to say, I wasn’t a big fan of the salt water! Yuck! When I was a few years old, mom and dad got me a little brother. Look how sweet we were posing…

You must know, it’s only because mom was holding a cookie and we wanted it! My brother’s name was Turbo. Mom and dad thought they were so clever, now they had Turbo Diesel. Hahaha. Turbo didn’t hang around too long. But that was ok, I really liked being an only child!

When mom started her other blog, TouringNH I got to go to lots of places. It was my first experience in that thing the call Waldo.

As you can see, I took right to this camping life! They always took me swimming when we went camping. You know, swimming is one of my favorite things to do…

Laying on my couch is pretty good too…

But not near as good as getting on mom’s lap…

Mom loved making me sit nice and pose for her…

I loved winter in New Hampshire.

I would pester mom until she let me outside. I would pretend I needed to pee, but really I just wanted to eat some snow…

Because I’m a lab, I shed a lot! I mean a real lot! But mom helps me to my shedding outside. Can you tell I REALLY enjoy it?

When I was about 10 years, I got to go to Florida then on to Arizona. Before we left, mom bought these silly booties for me. She thought my feet would get hurt out in the desert, but I fooled her, I wouldn’t wear them…

Weren’t they silly looking? While we were in Arizona, I got to play with my grandpa’s dog Molly. She sure likes to play tug of war!

She sounds all vicious when she tugs, but it’s all an act…

Last year, mom and dad decided we were going to move into Waldo full time. They had a lot of things to do to the house before we could leave, here’s me helping…

Ok, maybe I wasn’t helping that much. At first I was a little sad we were leaving, but I got over it…

We spent some time in Florida, then we got to go to Texas. Woohoo, a new place to swim. Did I mention I love swimming?

And I got to go for rides on the golf cart…

So, now we are back in Florida. I’m getting old and tired. When we went to see the nice vet lady, she said I have bulging discs in my neck, I guess that explains why things hurt more than they used to. Getting old ain’t for sissies! Next week, mom and dad are going to start their trip to Alaska, I won’t be going with them. My story ends here, in Florida. But don’t be sad cause I’ve had a ball!

The End of the Road

In the middle of our Big Cypress adventure, we decided to take a road trip. Yes, we were already on a road trip, but this time we wouldn’t be taking Waldo. According to the map, Key West was only about 4 1/2 hours south. A little long for a day trip, but not quite long enough to make it worth packing up Waldo for an overnight. It had been about 25 years since I had been there and Steve hadn’t ever been there. I didn’t really give much thought to how much thing change in 25 years. Mistake number 1!

With Waldo safely tucked in at Burns Lake Campground, we set off early in the Jeep for our trip south. Key West, here we come!

Once we got south of Homestead, traffic began to back up. We crawled along as the scenery changed from mangrove swamps to views of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other. We stopped at a pull off and saw the remains of the old bridge to the Keys…

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Many of the old bridges have been converted into fishing piers

There are over 1700 islands in what is collectively known as “The Keys”. The road through the Keys is called The Overseas Highway, also known as US Route 1. Seven Mile Bridge being the longest of the 43 bridges along the way. If you glance towards the Gulf of Mexico while you are on Seven Mile Bridge, you will see Pigeon Key. Notice the gaping hole in the old bridge. Pigeon Key is now a marine research facility and only accessible by ferry.

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There was still plenty of evidence of the destruction caused by hurricane Irma, travel trailers on the side of the road and boats yet to be recovered.

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Finally, we made it…Welcome to Key West!

 

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We spent the first hour or so just driving around. We drove by the marker for the southern most point in the continental United States. I snapped a quick picture with my phone, thinking we would come back to it later for a proper picture. It’s a good thing I did because when we drove by the following day and the line to get a picture was huge.

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Since we had been driving for hours, we decided to find a place to park and walk around. We found a spot in Old Town near the Waterfront Brewery.  I loved the murals on the building…

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The wall of the Cuban Coffee Queen building offered tourists a neat place for a photo op.

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The waterfront was packed with shops and eateries. So much to see…

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And all types of boats line the docks at the marina…

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Instead of thinking about where we were going to spent the night, we headed over to Duval Street, probably the most famous street in Key West. It runs north/south and stretches from the gulf to the ocean. Stretches may not be the right word since it is only 1 1/4 miles long, but what makes it so famous is the fact it is lined with bars. Both sides of the street, for its entire length – bar after bar after bar! Every kind of bar you can think of, from an upscale piano bar to a gentleman’s club. Duval Street has it all.

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If you had one beverage at every establishment, 43 drinks later, you would have completed what is known as the Duval Crawl. We didn’t crawl!

With sunset coming quickly, we walked through Mallory Square and found a place to enjoy it…

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After sunset, we began to think about a place to spend the night. 25 years ago, there were lots of, how should I put this, hole-in-the-wall places. You know, the kind that line every beachfront everywhere. Well…not anymore…not in Key West! A quick internet search told us the average price for a room in the cheapest of hotels was going to run us about $400 for ONE NIGHT. I almost choked on my beer! We talked about driving north until the prices dropped some. Another internet search told us that wouldn’t happen until we were off the Keys. It was getting late, we were tired and I was getting a little cranky. This all brings us back to that mistake number 1. After 25 years, things change! Finally, with the help of my Hotels Tonight app, we pried $300 out of out wallet and got a room at the Margaritaville Resort. It was a nice room, not $300 nice but that was better than the regular price of nearly $600.

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The view from our room

Wanting to make the most of our last day, we booked a trip with Fury Water Adventures and it didn’t go out until noon and the resort was nice enough to let us leave the Jeep there. We walked around Mallory Square and killed time until the trip went out. Pride of Key West is the name of the glass bottom boat and we found it at the dock…

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After we boarded, Steve and I split up. He stayed on the upper patio and I was lucky enough to get a spot at the bow. This lady held the other great spot on the bow…

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As we were going out, we passed another Fury boat heading in…

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Once we reached the coral garden, the captain did a great job of drifting us over the sea floor and the presentation given was excellent…

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On the way back to shore, Steve and I posed for this picture before relinquishing out spot on the bow…

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Although we still had over a 4 hour drive ahead of us, there were a couple places we wanted to hit before we left the island…

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Is it the end of the road?
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Or the beginning?

I guess it all depends on if you are going north or south. The other place we wanted to get a picture of was the lighthouse…

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Our Key West adventure was over and it was time to head back to Big Cypress. Here is where we made mistake number 2. We hadn’t listened to any local news. If we had, we would have been forewarned about the wildfires. The traffic came to a complete stop when we got to Key Largo and we had no idea why. Up ahead, we could see flashing lights and detour signs. Route 1 was closed – completely! But we still didn’t know why. We followed the traffic and found ourselves on Sound Card Road, the only other way off the Keys. We soon discovered the source of the problem, a wildfire…

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I sincerely hope it is the only wildfire we ever drive through! It was more than a little scary since the top was off the Jeep, as were the doors. Smoke blanketed the road. We could feel the heat and hear the crackle of the flames. I read later, there were actually 2 separate fires and we lucked out because both Route 1 and Sound Card Road had been closed earlier. Had we checked the news, we would have known.

It was late when we finally made it back to Waldo, but we made it. We really had a good time in Key West, but learned a little planning goes a long way and nothing stays the same for 25 years!

Have you ever been to the end of the road? Or done the Duval Crawl?

 

 

 

Exploring Big Cypress National Preserve, part 2

If you missed part 1, you can find it here. Big Cypress encompasses several different environments, and they each require a specific mode of transportation. Many places are accessible with your own vehicle, despite any warning signs you might see…

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Many of the roads are hard packed sand and are easy to navigate…

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They offer a stunning array of scenery and wildlife opportunities…

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Other areas can only be reached via hiking trails. We started out on the Gator Hook Trail. At the start, it looked something like this…

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With scenery like this…

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Then it became a bit muddier…

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As you can see, Steve is having second thoughts about this hike. And with good reason, the rest of the trail looked like this…

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We hadn’t really planned for a wet hike, so we decided to head back and check out some of the other trails. One of the neat things about Big Cypress is they have several boardwalk hikes. Most are less than a mile and are wheelchair accessible. You can see almost all of the same scenery, but with dry feet.

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What do you think of this in black and white?

The boardwalk at the Kirby Storter Roadside Park has a chickee near the beginning of the trail…

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As the boardwalk meanders through the forest/swamp, you can’t help but notice the changes in the landscape. Cypress knees begin cluttering the forest floor…

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Most of the cypress trees were logged out during the late 1800’s. But every now and then, you can find one that has been around a while. I have no idea how old this tree is, but the plastic water bottle near the base of it gives something for scale. (There was actually very little litter in the preserve)

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The boardwalk ends at a large viewing platform with several benches…

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While Steve was talking with another visitor, I watched the anhinga looking for its lunch…

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Another day, Steve and I hiked out to Deep Lake. Since we were there during the dry season, the path was pretty easy to walk. There were a few places where getting wet was the only option. At least we were prepared this time…

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Deep Lake is a naturally occurring sinkhole lake and is over 90 feet deep.

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How many alligators do you see? Hint, there are more than 5

One of the benefits of hiking versus driving, is you can just stop and check things out. You will see things you would have otherwise missed. Like the neat pattern the fungus made on this tree…

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Or the blooms of the bromeliads…

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Or the lizards,

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A strangle fig with its victim,

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A squirrel hiding in a tree,

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Or a liguus tree snail…

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For me, kayaking is probably the next “slowest” way to take in the sights.

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I imagine during the wet season, all of this is underwater.

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Other ways to get into the “back country” are airboats…

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And my personal favorite – swamp buggies…

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There are lots of places you can take airboat or swamp buggy eco tours, but we opted not to on this trip. Maybe next time!

Until then…

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We say “Thanks for coming along!” and we always love reading your comments!

Exploring Big Cypress National Preserve, part 1

Everyone has heard of “The Everglades National Park”. But did you know there is another , equally beautiful, tract of land just east of the Everglades called Big Cypress National Preserve? What’s the difference between a national park and a national preserve? Land use is restricted more tightly in a national park, for example you can not legally hunt in most national parks, but you can in national preserves. Big Cypress was the first national preserve, established Oct. 11, 1974.

The concept of a Preserve was born from an exercise in compromise. Everyone saw the importance of protecting the swamp, but many did not want this region merely added to nearby Everglades National Park that was created in the 1940s. Many felt that national parks were managed in a restrictive manner and access to the swamp would be lost. The resulting compromise created a new land management concept – a national preserve. An area that would be protected, but would also allow for specific activities that were described by Congress within the legislation that created the Preserve.”

Steve and I recently spent 10 days exploring Big Cypress. We stayed at Burn Lake Campground which was a perfect jumping off spot for our day trips. There are no services at Burns Lake (electric, water or sewer), perhaps that is why it was so much less crowded than some of the other campgrounds. With only 10 RV sites (sites 1 & 2 are reserved for camp hosts) and 6 tent sites crowding is seldom an issue. Several nights during our stay, we were the only RV in the campground other than the camp hosts.

No matter where you travel within the park, you are guaranteed to see 2 things – alligators and birds!

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Frequently near each other. These wood storks aren’t paying any mind to the alligator on the shore. I don’t know how often a bird becomes a snack but…

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This vulture was more than happy to feast on these alligator remains, while the rest of the flock waited their turn…

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While many of the birds are out in the open and easily seen…

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Others challenge you to find them…

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Some birds strike regal poses for you…

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While others appear to be having a “bad feather” day…

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And speaking of feathers, I loved the way this one was drifting along in the current…

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Some of the other birds we saw…

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But, the most exciting bird encounter we had was at nearby 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Steve and I had been there several days earlier, but wanted to go back for a sunrise view from the observation platform. While the sunrise was beautiful, I didn’t really get any images I thought were spectacular. Not wanting to waste our visit, we walked along the refuge’s Marsh Trail. We stopped for a time to enjoy the peaceful surroundings…

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When to our amazement, an osprey decided to search for breakfast right next to us! The scene went something like this. The osprey flies in, literally, not more than 20 feet over my head…

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Sees something good to eat and prepares to dive…

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Gaining speed…

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I lost sight of him in the brush, but I heard the splash.  Then he re-emerges and flies off with breakfast…

Osprey Hunt-5130Steve and I were stunned to witness this so closely! On our way back to the Jeep, we stopped at the observation platform and I think this picture is perfect. To me it shows what a wide variety of people enjoy the refuge…

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Ok, so about those alligators. There are signs everywhere, warning people not to feed or harass the alligators. In the visitor’s center, they tell you to stay at least 10 feet away from them. That’s it? 10 feet? Hmmm, okay. My picture…

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Sorry, wrong one. My picture…

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And my proof I was 10 feet away…

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We happened upon lots of gators soaking up the sun…

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One of the hardest animals to get any photographs of were the turtles. Yep, the turtles! Nearly every time I would see one, Steve would stop the Jeep and they would disappear into the water. I did manage to get a few images…

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If you are lucky, you might get a chance to see some of the other animals in the preserve. While we did not see any bears or panthers, we did see a few deer off in the distance…

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What else is there to see and do? Stay tuned for Part 2!

Thanks for coming along!

Not nearly long enough!

You’ll have to forgive me as I go back in time a bit. I know I already did my 2017 in review post, but I have to tell you about the last weeks of 2017.

As you know from my Goodbye Wind Point Park post, we left Lone Oak, Texas, but I didn’t give any hint of where we were heading. Galveston! My parents really enjoyed staying at Galveston Island State Park (GISP) and since we were ready for a bit of down time that’s where we went. We arrived after hours and found our site number tacked to the bulletin board. Setting up in the dark isn’t my favorite thing to do, but we managed…

I was quite surprised when I woke up in the morning and realized we were right near the water’s edge…

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As you can see, the skies had cleared and the weather looked promising. I grabbed my camera and set off to explore a bit since Steve was still sleeping…

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Funny, our address in Lone Oak was State Park Road 55

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When I got back from my walk, Steve was up and about ready to roll. Since it was our first day, we figured we’d just drive around and make note of things we wanted to go back and explore. We stopped at the visitors to get a map and learn a little more about the island. Our friends had given us lots of suggestions of things to do and places to see, but no one told us about the Tree Sculpture Tour. Since we were already right near the beginning of it, we decided to do that first. The artistry is amazing. I’m not going to post pictures of all 24, but here are some of my favorites…

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Steve getting the shot
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This tree had 17 birds carved into it
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Getting into the holiday spirit
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Very cool mermaid
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The only one we found which was painted
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So much talent!
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Probably the most intricate of all and definitely my favorite.

The next day, I wanted to find some of the places where you can drive on the beach. We headed to the west end of the island and after a few dead ends we found a neat little place to do some birding…

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The pink bird is a roseate spoonbill, they are so cool!
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I saw this one later at the campground
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The sound was incredible when this flock of birds took off
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Heading out for some surf fishing

From here, we headed to Fort San Jacinto Historic Point on the east end of the island. It is a great place to watch the ships come into Houston Bay and do a little fishing…

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Then it was (literally) on to East Beach…

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I loved the designs in the sand made by the waves.

Since it was getting on toward dinner time, we looked through the coupons we had gotten at the visitor’s center and decided to do the totally touristy thing to do. We ate dinner at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. I my opinion, the meal was completely forgettable and over priced, but that what you get for being touristy!

One of the best things about staying at a state park in Texas is you don’t need a license to fish as long as you are on the property. We decided to take advantage of that and get in some fishing. I was first to pull in whopper…

Okay, not really a whopper

The next big catch wasn’t exactly a keeper either…

Perhaps Steve would have better luck…

Looks impressive until you put it in the larger picture…

One of the places everyone said we needed to go was Moody Gardens. I checked it out online and it looked amazing, but I wasn’t sure we could really swing the price.  I pretty much put it out of my mind until I called my dad. He mentioned that when he and mom were in Galveston, they visited Moody Gardens and really enjoyed it. Then he offered to get tickets for us as a Christmas gift! Woohoo! Thank you! Since quite a bit of it is inside, Steve and I picked the coldest upcoming day to go. We woke up bright and early, had a good breakfast then headed out. It was only about a 15 minute drive and we had 10am tickets for the Ice Land exhibit. I know, I hate the cold, but who could resist a rain forest made completely of ice? If you want to read about the history and the how, click here, it’s definitely interesting! Here are a few of my favorite sculptures…

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The kids were having a blast on the ice slide

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Doesn’t Steve look good in blue?!?

Moody Gardens has 3 pyramid structures and each one contains a different theme. We started at the Discovery pyramid and enjoyed the Da Vinci exhibit. I never realized just how many things he was into. I didn’t take any pictures because it was fairly dark inside, plus, sometimes it is just nice to enjoy something without thinking about images for the blog.  Next we headed to the rain forest pyramid. After the near freezing temps in Ice Land, the rain forest seemed downright comfy!

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But, my favorite pyramid was the aquarium. Again, I didn’t take a lot of pictures, I just enjoyed…Moody Gardens-4339

It was starting to get dark by the time we left the aquarium.  We had almost an hour before our “sail” around the harbor on the paddle boat, so we walked around and checked out the holiday lights.

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Just before it got totally dark, a zip-liner went right over our heads…

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From the paddle boat, we had a good view of the pyramids…

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As we were getting ready to head back to Waldo, we noticed the Chinese lanterns.(these were done in honor of the Chinese ice carving team who made Ice Land into a rain forest, here’s that story) …

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Now, how it I get the title of this post? The next thing we knew, it was Dec. 26th and time to leave. 7 days is “Not nearly long enough” to see everything in Galveston! But we will definitely go back!  And once again, we packed up in the rain…

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Have you ever been to Galveston? What did you enjoy most?

 

A Year in Review

With 2017 and Peterborough in the review mirror, I realize just how much our life changed last year. When 2017 began, we were still living in a stick and brick home, we owned a business and we were still making our plan to hit the road. Then, something happened and it all changed. Accelerating our plan to move into Waldo full time a year ahead of schedule required quite a lot of work. First, had to decide what we wanted to keep and what needed to go, then we had to get rid of all our belongings that weren’t going with us…

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One of our many yard sales

We had to get the house ready to sell. Clean, paint, new flooring…

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kitchen cabinets

And, of course, the we had to wait for the weather to warm up…

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Sometimes, you just have to take a break!

Then, there was all the work we needed to do to Waldo before we could leave. My favorite “upgrade” was our new curtains…

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What do you do with family photos?
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You turn them into iron-ons and make curtains!

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We said goodbye to family and friends…

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Finally, Florida bound…

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By far, the biggest improvement we had to do was get a new roof. We decided Florida was where we should get that done. The benefit of being able to stay with my dad while the repair was done, made the decision an easy one…

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Steve began to adjust to not going to work every day…

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It was July before we truly ready to hit the road. We had a job waiting for us in Texas and it was time to go…

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Our first meal living full time in Waldo.

And then, our new temporary home in Texas…

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The next 5 months seemingly flew by, bringing us to December and the impending new year.

How things can change in 12 months! From this view…

snow

To this view…

Wind Point Park-2365

From using wood for winter heat…

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To using wood for camp fires…

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It’s been a year of major changes, all for the better. We’ve visited beautiful places and made some wonderful new friends. It means so much to me to have you along on our journey. Thank you.

May 2018 be your best year yet!