A Winter On The Crystal Coast

Oceana Pier On Atlantic Beach, NC

Winter On The Outer Banks

Along The Crystal Coast

We arrived at Cape Lookout National Seashore in early November 2017. This would be our home for almost 5 months while we volunteered as Visitor Center docents for the National Park Service. The main Visitor Center is located on Harkers Island, North Carolina and the National Seashore  protects the southernmost islands of the Outer Banks: North and South Core Banks and Shakleford Banks. The  iconic landmark for the Cape Lookout is its black and white diamond painted lighthouse. The seashore is also well known as a shellers haven and for the wild horses that live on Shackleford Banks. This part of the North Carolina coast is called the Crystal Coast because of the beautiful beaches, ocean access and numerous bays and rivers. East of the town of Beaufort to Cedar Island (where you catch the state ferry to Ocracoke Island) is referred to as “Down East” with a unique culture and way of speaking due to being isolated well into the 20th century. We don’t have space enough to detail all that we did here but we hope there is enough so you’ll come visit yourself.

Cape Lookout Lighthouse And Assistant Keepers Quarters

A lot of people ask “Why do you want to go to the beach in the winter?” Our reply is because everyone else doesn’t! The pristine beaches you can walk for miles and rarely see anyone else, after a storm the shells are washed up and ready for the taking and in town you can walk in to a restaurant or find free parking without the hassle. One other reason: Steve hates heat and humidity so he’d never go in the summer! I lived in North Carolina for 20 years and had gone to the northern Outer Banks but never to this area. I couldn’t believe what I’d missed!

CALO Visitor Center In Beaufort

 

Oil Shed And Summer Kitchen Near Lighthouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we started work as volunteers both the Harkers Island and Beaufort Visitor Centers were open so we had days at both. The Beaufort VC is located in the old post office building with some city offices. The building was a WPA (Works Progress Administration) project in 1937 during the Great Depression. In the lobby are four murals painted by Russian born artist Simca Simikovich representing life and history of this sea oriented area. One shows range markers used to guide ships into Beaufort harbor. Because of the shifting shoals and sandbars Cape Lookout and the Outer Banks were called “The Graveyard of the Atlantic”.

Mailboat Mural

Another mural shows a mailboat headed for Cape Lookout lighthouse. Due to rivers, bays and marshes the Down East area had no roads or bridges until the 1940s so all transportation and commerce came and went by boat. The mailboat was the link between the isolated communities and town.

Live Decoy Geese Mural

A third mural shows geese that were raised from eggs by the Ca’e Bankers of Portsmouth Village on North Core Banks. They imprinted on the villagers and stayed. The birds were used as live decoys to bring in migrating wild geese for hunters.

Shackleford Ponies Mural

Of course there is one of the Shackleford ponies. At an average of 44-48″ at the withers they are between pony and horse so both terms are used. DNA tests link these horses to Spanish horses but no one knows just how they got here.

The last mural depicts the famous wreck of the Chrissie Wright. It is placed over a doorway. When this ship foundered on the shoals  off Shackleford Island during a winter storm all but one of the crew froze to death while islanders watched helplessly from shore. This tragedy led to the establishment of a lifesaving station on Cape Lookout two years later. Even today locals will refer to a cold stormy day as a “Chrissie Wright Day”.

Chrissie Wright Mural

The town of Beaufort was the third town established in North Carolina and dates to 1713. History abounds all through the area and we took full advantage of learning as much as we could from tours, special events and lectures. 2018 is the 300th anniversary of Blackbeard’s capture and the sinking of his ship, The Queen Anne’s Revenge, nearby. One of the most interesting locations was the Ann Street Cemetery. If you love old cemeteries this is one you need to see. The self guided tour brochure details many stories from the unmarked graves of settlers killed in the Tuscaroran War in the early 1700s to the little girl buried in a cask of rum when she died at sea to area privateer turned statesman Ottway Burns.

Chari At The Veterans Day Parade

Shortly after we arrived Cape Lookout was represented in the Morehead City Veterans Day parade. So we rode in one of the NPS boats and showered the kids with candy. We learned that because of the area being home to several military bases this parade is one of the longest in the country. We also did the Down East Christmas parade and served as Santa’s sleigh!

Have You Been Naughty Or Nice?

Another holiday event was the Beaufort Candlelight Home Tour through private homes and buildings in the historic district. The Beaufort office was open that night. We worked a few hours and also had time to tour. On Christmas Eve we attended services at the Ann Street Methodist Church built in the 1750s and still in use.

 

Christmas On Harkers Island

 

 

Crab Trap Christmas Tree At Core Sound Museum

We enjoyed touring Harkers Island to see the holiday lights. Several of the homes displayed the area’s symbolic anchor outlined in lights. We decorated the interior of our Visitor Center and strung lights on the anchor from the Olive Thurlow, a shipwreck near cape Lookout, that greets visitors to the Harkers Island location. The Cape Lookout lighthouse is normally open for climbing mid May to mid September. So we were very excited when a New Years Day climb was scheduled and we were to be working. In preparation, we learned the history of the lighthouse, interpretive points and climbed it – all 207 steps! The view is fantastic! Unfortunately Mother Nature didn’t cooperate and the climb was cancelled.

Hackers Island Visitors Center

 

View From The Top Of The Cape Lookout Lighthouse

For Thanksgiving we took a harbor cruise aboard The Crystal Lady around Beaufort Harbor and had Thanksgiving dinner. A great way to spend the holiday when you are in a new area. A special holiday celebration was our trip to New Bern, NC to take the city tram tour and visit Tryon Palace. We highly recommend the tram tour. Our guide was excellent and gave us insight into this historical city. It is said that houses have moved more in this city than anywhere else as the city expanded and developed. As we observed several times when the guide would say “This house used to be over there.”  One house has been moved 5 times! The original Tryon Palace burned down and the current structure is a replica built from the original plans. New Bern was the capitol of the colony of North Carolina and Tryon Palace served as the Governor’s palace. Each December for two weekends they hold a candlelight tour of the palace with living history skits done in several locations. Outside on the grounds are tents with period entertainment and in front of the palace black Americans perform the traditional song and dance of enslaved people called Jonkonnu.

Thanksgiving Day Dinner Cruise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tryon Palace Living History Dancers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jonkonnu Singer

 

 

 

Jonkonnu Dancers

 

 

 

 

 

 

Performer Signora Bella Does A Comedy Juggling Routine

During the winter the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort holds monthly lectures on Wednesdays. Since we were off the lectures became a highlight of our time here. We attended four lectures on topics from Native people of the area and the Tuscaroran War, whaling on Shackleford Island, the story behind the sperm whale skeleton and heart on display at the museum and Churchill’s Pirates (a British fleet sent to the USA to patrol the Outer Banks against German U-boats). There are three NC Maritime Museums but the Beaufort location is the largest. It houses displays and relics from the Queen Anne’s Revenge, about the Civil Air Patrol in WWII, the Menhaden fishing industry and sea chanteys, and boating/recreation in the area.  After the lecture about the sperm whale Steve and I got to hold the plastinated heart which weighed in at 55 lbs. This museum is a must see if you visit.

That’s A Whale Of A Heart!

Speaking of must see brings us to another wonderful museum, the Core Sound Waterfowl and Culture Museum. The museum is dedicated to preserving the history and folkways of the Down East communities. The Core Sound is the body of water between the mainland and the Outer Banks. Each November the CSM and the Decoy Carvers Guild sponsor the Core Sound Decoy Festival. Thousands of folks attend. We worked one day at a NPS table with a kids fishing activity and one day in the VC but we did have time to see the festival for a few hours. I never realized there were so many types of decoys! Decoy carving is still active and the best carvers are true artists. The second floor of the museum is dedicated to telling the story of the independent and hardworking people who lived on the islands and mainland Down East communities. They were a self reliant, closely knit and religious people whose way of life is but a memory. Don’t miss this either.

Jellyfish Dancing

The Aquarium Dive Show

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other great places to visit are the North Carolina Aquarium in Pine Knolls Shores and Fort Macon State Park. Fort Macon has a wonderful beach area and provided a place for us to go when the ferries weren’t running. The Fort itself has a lengthy history from the mid 1800s thru WWII. Rooms are set up with interactive audio and displays of the various historical periods. The Pine Knolls Shores Aquarium features fish and reptiles of the NC coast. It is one of three NC aquariums. Both Fort Macon and the Aquarium have extensive programing so be sure to check the website before your visit.

Fort Macon

We’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about the great restaurants in the area. Seafood lovers rejoice! Not only in the restaurants but we found fish markets galore. We ate our fill and then some of red and black drum, sea trout, shrimp, scallops and oysters. However once in a while we took a break and pigged out at Grumpy’s in Morehead City. Known for the in house cured corned beef, we highly recommend the corned beef hash and reuben sandwiches. Another seafood break spot was the Seaside restaurant at the Citgo station on Harkers Island for the best fried chicken. We toured areas up to two hours away. When we went to Kinston, NC to see a Civil War era ironclad we also dined at The Farmer and The Chef of Food Network fame. A higher class restaurant than we normally frequent, it was a superb meal. Another trip took us south to see Moore’s Creek National Battlefield. They were renovating the Visitor Center and we had postponed the trip hoping it would reopen before we left. That didn’t happen but we did walk the trail and read interpretive signs. That gave us an appetite (doesn’t everything?). We looked on the GPS and picked a spot called Something Fishy just based on its name. When we walked in we saw Guy Fieri’s poster on the wall. This was a DDD spot he’d been too just 3 weeks prior. The evening I am writing this blog we saw the episode including Something Fishy. Let’s just say we never had a bad meal!

Dinner At The Farmer And The Chef

Moore’s Creek National Battlefield

January and February are the slow months for the national seashore and we worked 2-3 days a week. This, according to locals, was the coldest winter they had had in 30 years. We had not one but two snowstorms albeit not more than four inches of snow. However for this area that was a lot and we got “snow days” off from work. There were several days when winds would be too high and the ferries to the islands wouldn’t run. On the days they did run we took advantage and enjoyed combing the beach without crowds. A home school group came and the equine biologist did her Horse Sense tour for them to Shackleford Island. Did we want to go along and take photos for the park? How fast do you think we said yes? Dr. Sue is so informative and gave a great tour. This tour is given monthly in the summer and fall. We highly recommend it. You need to sign up for it as space is limited. During our workdays Steve and I enjoyed doing research and read extensively. We were able to develop some outlines for Shade Shelter talks to be given by staff during the summer. Topics we learned about were the history of lighthouses, types of sailing ships, WWII along the Outer Banks, the Menhaden fisheries, the Winter of 1918 when Core Sound froze over and stories of Down East plus a great book called The Paper Canoe.

The Welcoming Committee

Banker Horse

Snow At The Seashore

That’s Not Sand!

When we arrived five months seemed a long time but oh, it went so quickly. We had a wonderful time and best of all the staff said we were welcome back anytime. OK, twist our arms! We take with us wonderful memories! So long Cape Lookout! So long Crystal Coast!

Worth Getting up Early To See

Steve At The Top Of Cape Lookout Lighthouse

South Core Banks Pier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave Only Footprints

 

What’ s So Hot About Hot Springs?

Hot Springs NP, Arkansas

The View From Bathhouse Row

Before we wind up falling further behind in posting than we already are, here’s a post on our time in Hot Springs. Arkansas from January-March 2017. Our first visit to this area was in 2010 before we were full time RVers. Still dazzled by the splendor of the western parks we were very unimpressed with Hot Springs and left wondering why this was a National Park. A National Historic Site or even a Monument but a National Park? We are so glad that we had the opportunity to return, spend time and learn about both the national park and the city. We really had missed the boat the first time around! So if you come here be sure and take the time to do tours and come prepared to learn. Both the park and the city have lots to offer but you can’t do it by whizzing through in a day or less. It is like an iceberg. There’s what you see above the water but when you start looking deeper there’s more and more.

A Tub In The Fordyce

Fordyce Music Room

The Quapaw Bathhouse

Us At Work In The Fordyce

 

 

Chari’s Reflection In The Hale Bathhouse Window

 

 

Monument To The First NPS Ranger Killed On Duty

 

We were working at the Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center, the museum and information center for Hot Springs National Park on Central Avenue in the historic district. There are 8 remaining bathhouses along what is known as Bathhouse Row in the national park and 6 of them are open to the public: the Fordyce visitor center, the Lamar gift shop and the Ozark art museum for the park, 2 operating bathhouses (the Buckstaff and the Quapaw) and the Superior microbrewery. So here’s some of what we learned and shared during our tours.

The Buckstaff, The Lamar and The Former Army-Navy Hospital (now ACTI)

Hot Springs National Park is the smallest of the 59 National Parks and the only one with a city completely within its borders. The geology of the hot springs is special because it is one of only 2 in North America not heated by volcanic activity. The rainwater takes 4,400 yrs. to travel over a mile and a half into the earth reaching 150 degrees but returns to the surface in about a year thus retaining its heat (139-143 degrees). So when you drink from the springs you are drinking water that fell as rain at the time the Egyptians were building the pyramids! That’s another big difference. Most national parks warn you to not take anything while Hot Springs NP encourages you to drink the water and take some with you by having drinking and jug fountains all around. In fact the original legislation protecting the hot springs states that the water will forever be free to the people.

Historic Hot Springs, Arkansas

 

It Is Always Spring Time In Hot Springs

 

Filling Up At The Jug Fountain

 

The Stevens Fountain

Old Hot Springs Artwork At The Ozark

The springs yield, on average, 700,000 gallons per day. Of that the park collects and distributes about 250,000 gallons. People come from hours away to fill pickup trucks full of bottles with the mineral rich water. Don’t want to drink hot water? There are two cold springs from another source as well. However, don’t expect to dip in the springs outside. They’ve been covered up for over a century to protect them from man-made and natural contamination. We occasionally had the opportunity to assist the water technicians as they tested the springs each week. The park contains the oldest land in the world ever set aside by a government to protect a natural resource. That was in 1832. If they had named it a national park back then, Hot Springs rather than Yellowstone would have been our first national park. Instead it was called Hot Springs Reservation and did not come under the NPS until 1921 as the 18th national park.

Volunteers Help With Water Testing

Recording Water Quality Data

So what is a bathhouse? In the days before modern medicine (post WWII) as we know it, people had few medications and surgery was very risky. So they depended upon the curative properties of heat, light, water, exercise and later electricity. The bathhouses were the rehabilitation facilities of the day. We told visitors that coming to Hot Springs was coming to the Mayo Clinic on one side of the street (Bathhouse Row) and Las Vegas before Las Vegas existed in the city. Hot Springs was also the primary spring training area for major league baseball before it relocated to Florida. Other sports stars like Jack Dempsey trained here. Babe Ruth hit his longest home run here (over 500′). Follow the signs on the Baseball trail to learn more.The museum is filled with interesting old equipment.The Fordyce featured the best appointed gym in Arkansas when it opened in 1915. A few items like the Hubbard tank from the 30s and the Hoyer lift from the 50s I used during my career as a physical therapist. Well, not those models but a generation later. Once again I’m seeing my life in a museum! Make sure to take the guided tour and hear some stories. When that’s done, take a hike or drive and check out the view from the observation tower. Steve was reading in preparation for our next volunteer job about some of the ways Lewis and Clark handled medical issues using Indian sweat lodges and alternate heat and cold. Equipment may change but principles stay the same.

Fordyce Gym

Indian Clubs

The Hubbard Tank Room

Chari and Steve Hiking On Hot Springs Mountain

The city is just as interesting. Gambling, bootlegging and other carnal activities were the main business. While never legal it flourished d/t payoffs to police and government official until the mid 1960s. When Winthrop Rockefeller was elected he vowed to clean up corruption and gambling. He did. Learn more at the Ganster Museum. We enjoyed the tour there and as you can see hammed it up a bit with some pics. At the same time the golden age of the bathhouse was declining. Hot Springs fell on hard times. In the late 1980s the NPS remodeled the Fordyce Bathhouse into the Visitor Center and repurposed others. This was no small task. Today you can visit the Fordyce and see the most opulent of bathhouses restored to its former beauty. Don’t miss the beautiful stained glass on three of the four floors or ride the original elevator car. Only the Buckstaff never closed its doors. Today you can experience treatment as if it were one hundred years ago at the Buckstaff or enjoy the mineral rich spring water at the Quapaw Baths spa pools. We did both and came out feeling like a piece of cooked spaghetti each time! I (Steve) had a bad cold and went to the Quapaw. Almost immediately I could feel the congestion in my chest lessening. I do believe soaking in the water cut the length of my cold in half. 

Make My Day! Steve At The Gangster Museum

This Lady Is Serious!

 

Stained Glass In The Fordyce Women’s Bath Hall

Skylight In The Music Room

Neptune’s Daughter

The architecture of the town from the 1890s-1940s is terrific and makes for some great photos. Like to shop? Only your credit card limit will dictate where and how much. Hungry? We enjoyed numerous good restaurants in Hot Springs. A few of our favorites were McClard’s for BBQ (also Bill Clinton’s), Colorado Grill for Mexican, Rolando’s for Ecuadorian, buffets at the Arlington Hotel, a Southern Living best breakfast winner Colonial Cafe and the Ohio Club where you can rub elbows with Al Capone (or at least his statue). For fun in the evening catch the monthly free performances of the Jazz Society, attend a show at the Five Star Dinner Theatre or feel like a kid at the Maxwell Blade Magic Show. Garvin Gardens was just as magical in the Spring as it had been at Christmas with a sea of tulips at peak bloom. We didn’t go to the horserace at Oaklawn but it is a big attraction from late winter through April. In summer there is the Magic Springs amusement park and all the water sports of lakes Hamilton, Catherine and Ouachita plus the Belle of Hot Springs riverboat.

Exterior Window At The Fordyce

The Arlington Hotel Lobby

 

Stairway At The Ozark

Volunteers And Ranger Touring The Archives

Ranger Leading A Guided Tour

Best Breakfast In Town

The Name Says It All

Tasting A Flight At Superior Brewery

When all is said and done it is the people from Hot Springs National Park we will remember. We made new friends with several volunteers. The Rangers were fantastic. They coached us and taught us so that we could hone our interpretive skills. They made it possible for us to visit places not open to the public such as the water distribution system, the Hale and Maurice Bathhouses and the museum archives. They thanked us for our time volunteering at least once a day. While we enjoy new experiences by volunteering at different parks or for different agencies, if we ever do repeat a job this will rank high on the list. Thank You Hot Springs National Park for a fabulous three months!

The End!

Paradise Is Summer In The San Juan Islands

Orcas Island, Mount Constitution

The View From The Summit Of Mount Constitution On Orcas Island

We are now in the last week of our time in the San Juan Islands. It will be with mixed emotions that we board the ferry from Friday Harbor for the last time. How do we find words for this place? Magical. Enchanting. Romantic. Musical. Breathtaking. We may return some day but for now it’s on to another adventure. When we made the video we had to leave out several things or risk turning it into a mini series! So the still photos touch on a few of the places we had to exclude.

A bit to familiarize you with the islands before you view our video. San Juan Island is the second largest of this 85 island archipelago. The Washington ferry system serves only four islands so private boat transportation are like cars here. The only town on the island is Friday Harbor. It was named for one of the Hawaiian shepherds who worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company Bellevue Sheep Farm. His name meant Friday in his native language. So yes, there was a man Friday. It was originally called Friday’s Harbor but in the 1950s when the post office changed to automated address readers the machines couldn’t handle apostrophes. So all towns with ‘s had to change their names. Same with Vancouver Island which was originally Vancouver’s Island. On the north end is Roche Harbor. Originally it was the company village for the Lime Kilns. They were the largest lime works west of the Mississippi River. After the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, lime from San Juan was used in the concrete to rebuild the city. In the late 1800s the Hotel Haro was built. Today you can tour the lobby and see the guest register signed by Theodore Roosevelt. Today, Roche Harbor is a resort, marina and very upscale housing area. The Madrona Grill was one of our favorite restaurants. The mussels in Thai curry coconut milk are to die for!Mount Baker, Washington, scenic drive

When we came to the islands, we thought we might get island fever. For folks who think a day trip is 250 miles we wondered if we’d tire of a 16.5 by 6 mile area. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We only returned to the mainland twice in four and a half months. Now we see why the islanders average mainland voyages only 2-3 times a year. When we did get back, besides running errands, we visited Mount Baker, North Cascades National Park and met up with a fellow Red Rock Lakes volunteer who lives in La Conner.

The people you see in the video are Rangers from San Juan Island National Historical Park, fellow volunteers or visitors. Events range from the Memorial Day and July 4th parades to the annual Encampment weekend, weekly Living History and/or our off time activities. On July 4th you are either in the parade or watching it. This year’s theme was Hollywood movies. I’m sure you won’t have trouble picking out our favorite entry. We hope you enjoy seeing the video. It’s no wonder we woke up every morning singing Camelot!

Floating Down The Rainbow

Cracker, living history

Cracking The Whip

festival, Florida

Florida Cracker Festival in Dunnellon

Living Off The Land

Living Off The Land

Posing As A Cracker

Posing As A Cracker

When we decided to spend Winter 2014 in Florida one location we definitely wanted to see was the Crystal River area and the manatees who also flock here. This area is known as Florida’s Nature Coast. Well, we never made it to Crystal River but the beautiful spring and river at Rainbow Springs State Park was an excellent choice. Once a privately owned RV park that has been renovated this is one of the few state parks offering full hookups. Our site was roomy, private and had great satellite reception. The RV park is about two or three miles from the State Park. During the warmer months when the river is a popular tubing area a tram runs between them. For now, we’d have to drive, bike or walk. The only problem was we hit a cool, rainy week.

Honoring Florida Pioneers

Honoring Florida Pioneers

We were to have met up with friends from North Carolina but last minute illness caused them to cancel. As luck would have it, Steve struck up a conversation with neighbors shortly after setting up. A couple from the Buffalo, NY area, Ann and John became new RV friends and we spent several evenings together. They told us about the Florida Cracker Festival at Rainbow Springs and said it was very interesting. Off we went the next day.

music, Florida

Music Filled The Air

Chatting With Neighbors

Chatting With Neighbors

The Blacksmith

The Blacksmith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Biscuits Over The Open Fire

Biscuits Over The Open Fire

Our thought was that the term “cracker” was a bit of a derogatory term akin to redneck. Not so. People descended from the Georgia pioneers who drove their cattle into northern Florida are proud of their heritage. The term “Cracker” we were told may have come from the whips used to drive the cattle and/or their use of cracked corn as a staple grain. Several living history venues were set up explaining the history of the area, the way food was prepared, how they lived, their music and even the Catahoula Leopard.

dog, Catahoula Leopard

Catahoula Leopard

The Catahoula Leopard is a working (herding) dog breed thought to have descended from the wolfhound. Named for a parish in Louisiana they were used by the Crackers to round up stray cattle in the swamp. A common feature of this breed is a “glass eye” where they have one blue eye with a distorted pupil.

We also learned how the Florida Crackers were the main source of beef for the Confederacy during the Civil War. With ports blockaded by the Union imports were limited. The cattle from Florida could be driven back through Georgia to the Carolina’s and Virginia to feed the troops.

Crackers As Cattlemen

Crackers As Cattlemen

music, harpsicord

Mary Playing The Harpsicord

We strolled around the festival chatting with the participants, bought stone ground grits and listened to two harpsichord players. While listening the husband of one of the players noticed my camera harness and we began discussing photography. Then we learned they are RVers too who spend summers in the NC mountains. Within five minutes we’d made new friends. Soon an invitation. “Would we like to take a ride on the river in his boat?” Yes, yes, yes! The following video is a sample of the beautiful Rainbow River and the many birds and other wildlife we saw. We also stopped at a riverside eatery called the Blue Gator. I had scallops and both Steve and Frank had fried oysters. We ended the afternoon with a visit to his home where he shared photos of their recent trip to China and of NC wildflowers they’d found while hiking.. They were hoping to go to Russia in 2014 but with the current political climate that most likely won’t happen. Once again we find that RVing is much more than the places we go. It is the wonderful people who enrich our lives along the way.

Best Of Times, Worst Of Times In Key West

Off we go to the southernmost point on the continental US, Key West, Florida. Finding an RV site nearby was a challenge.  We really wanted to stay at Bahia Honda State Park but that’s like winning the lottery. So we reluctantly settled for a commercial park, Boyd’s Campground, on Stock Island just north of Key West. This turned out to be every reason we hate commercial parks: overcrowded, expensive, unpleasant neighborhood and noisy. Had it been just us, we might have cancelled and walked away from our deposit but we had a good friend from Charlotte flying in to join us.

Boyds Campground in Key West

Too Close For Comfort

The site we were given was so tight that it took three park employees to guide Steve in and at least twenty back and forth moves to get in place. At one point our rig was so close to a palm tree that only the fronds kept us from rubbing against the trunk. If the site across from us hadn’t been empty we would never have gotten in. Once in our site, the box on the rear was in the bushes. We couldn’t have gotten our bikes off even if we wanted to ride them. The site was unpaved and unlevel. The “sitting area” barely held three chairs and our slide was only 18″ from our neighbor’s sewer connection. Oh yes, to add to the ambiance we were in the flight path for the Key West International Airport and Boca Chica Naval Air Station where they train the Top Gun pilots. The surrounding neighborhood was industrial buildings mixed with rundown mobile home parks (slums). Finding a place to walk Opal was a challenge for sure.  All this for four time so what we normally pay.

Having gotten most of “the bad” covered, we’ll go on to the “the best” part.

birds, Audubon, Key West

Audubon Print Of White Crowned Pigeon

birds, Audubon, print

Original Audubon Print Of A Cormorant

Key West today is geared to tourists but still has the flavor of bygone pirate and starving artist days mixed with “Margaritaville” and grand old homes. When you find a parking place (all are paid spaces) you stay there and walk…and walk…and walk. One of our first stops was the Audubon House. John James Audubon stayed here during his trip through Florida in 1832. At that time the property was owned by a wealthy harbor pilot and master wrecker, John H. Geiger. The property remained in the family for four generations but fell into disrepair by 1958 as the family fortune dwindled. When the last owner, a Howard Hughes type of recluse, died the property was scheduled for demolition. Through the efforts of a local benefactor the property was restored and now showcases life circa 1850 with eighteen original Audubon prints on display. One, the white crowned pigeon, was painted using the tree that still stands in the front yard. This painting had special memories for me as my Mother, an avid bird lover, had this print and the one of wild turkeys in the dining room of my childhood home. The gardens around the house are beautiful and a wonderful introduction to subtropical plants of the area. There is a brief docent lecture then you continue on a self-guided tour. Photography is allowed but no flash inside the home.

Audubon, Key West

Audubon’s Workshop

Audubon, garden, orchid, photography

Orchid In bloom In Audubon House Garden

Audubon, garden, fern

Backside Of Fern Leaf In Audubon House Garden

bromeliads, garden, Key West

Bromeliads In Bloom In Audubon House Garden

Key West, Mel Fisher, museum

Mel fisher Museum In Key West

Stop number two was the Mel Fisher Treasure Museum. Located in an old firehouse near the cruise ship pier it is a must see stop for anyone who has ever dreamed of finding buried treasure. Two ships of the Spanish treasure fleet, the Nuestra Señora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita were enroute from Havana to Spain in 1622 laden with gold and silver bars, coins and wealthy colonial passengers.  Their treasure was desperately needed by the royal treasury to offset the cost of the Thirty Years War and Court expenses. The two ships carried over a million and a half pesos which in today’s dollars would be over 400 million. The Atocha was fitted with twenty cannon and sailed in last position.  The fleet sailed in September, six weeks late, at the height of hurricane season. Caught in a storm just off present day Key West they sank taking their treasure with them. Of 265 passengers only five survived. The Atocha treasure would not see the light of day until relocated by Mel Fisher and his team on July 20, 1985, sixteen long years after the search started. If you want to read more about Mel Fisher or the treasure ships visit http://www.melfisher.com. If you are a certified scuba diver perhaps your bucket list would include the vacation package to dive The Atocha.

Atocha, sunken treasure

Photo Of Diver At Atocha Treasure Site

Mel Fisher, Spanish Treasure Fleet

Drawing of Mel Fisher At Work

For us landlubbers, a visit to the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum must suffice. There you will find conserved artifacts of gold, silver, porcelain, emeralds and religious items along with maps and photos of the recovery site. But we went further than just seeing the artifacts behind glass. We took the behind the scenes tour to the conservation lab. It costs ten dollars in addition to museum entry and is offered Monday-Friday. Schedule your visit ahead as only small groups are taken into the lab on each tour.

shipwreck, treasure, museum, behind the scenes, tour

Artifacts In Conservation Lab Tank

conservation lab, Mel Fisher museum

A Cast Being Made From A Horseshoe

shipwreck, artifact, tour

Tour Guide With Brain Coral Encrusted Hammer Artifact

No visit to Key West is complete without playing tourist as you stand in line waiting to take a picture of yourself at the Southernmost Point in the USA Marker. While there we learned about the cable hut in the same location. This was transported to Key West by Flagler’s railroad. Its job was to protect the connection between the land line and the 125 mile underwater telegraph line between Key West and Havana, Cuba.

Old Town is filled with funky shops, restaurants, sidewalk vendors and the ever present Key West chickens. Everyone gathers at Mallory Square and Sunset Pier for the spectacular orange sky sunsets.

Southernmost Point, Key West, Florida

Chari And Steve At The Southernmost Point

Key West ,Telegraph

Telegraph Cable Hut

lighthouse, Key West

Key West Lighthouse

KW Street Musician (aka "No, I don't know where you can get pot!."

KW Street Musician (aka “No, I don’t know where you can get pot!.”

museum, Key West

Hustle And Bustle In Old Town Key West

Key West, Mallory Square

Pier At Mallory Square In The Evening

jet ski, Key West

Jet Skis Along Harbor In Key West

Old Town Key West Evening

Old Town Key West Evening

Key West Cigar Store Indian

Key West Cigar Store Indian

sunset, Key WestView From Sunset Pier

Everyone Crowds Sunset Pier

Everyone Crowds Sunset Pier

Chari And Steve Swimming In January At Bahia Honda SP

Chari And Steve Swimming In January At Bahia Honda SP

The Wharf, Florida Keys, restaurant

Steve At The Wharf

To give ourselves a break from walking, we took a day and drove to Bahia Honda State Park. This is the closest state park to Key West and Florida’s most visited state park. The water temperature was listed as 73 but oh it felt a lot cooler than that going over your stomach. However we were not going to come to the Keys and not go in the water. Mind over matter!! Once in it wasn’t bad at all. We drove over to the campground and checked it out for future visits. On our way out we asked the gate volunteer for a restaurant suggestion. He said a place called The Wharf was good. We can second that. After a relaxing day on the beach a good meal on an outdoor terrace was the cherry on the sundae. We even watched an iguana have dinner on leftover veggies from the restaurant.

iguana, Florida Keys

Iguana Joined Us For Dinner

More sightseeing took us to the Truman Little White House and Ernest Hemingway’s home. The Truman Little White House is located in the Truman Annex neighborhood of upscale homes and condos in Old Town Key West. Originally the home was built as officer quarters for a submarine base. Although it bears Truman’s name because he visited here more than any other President he was not the only President to come here. President Taft came enroute to his inspection tour of the Panama Canal. Taft was known for his love of driving the countryside. Each year the museum crafts an original Christmas ornament. One year it used the car Taft drove loaded with presents.  Thomas Edison stayed for 6 months while developing new weapon systems. FDR visited here several times. The Department of Defense was created here by the Key West Agreement. President Eisenhower stayed here to recuperate from his heart attack in late 1955-early 1956. President Kennedy visited twice in 1961 and 1962. The base was closed in 1974. Other Presidents who have stayed here after their term of office include Presidents Carter and Clinton. The property was deeded to the State of Florida and opened as a museum and historic site in 1990. A list of the most popular Presidents was posted and Truman ranked #5 after Lincoln, Washington, FDR and Teddy Roosevelt. Rounding out the top ten were Kennedy, Thomas Jefferson, Dwight Eisenhower, Woodrow Wilson and Ronald Regan. Bringing up the five least popular were Harding, Harrison, Pierce, Andrew Johnson and  Buchanan. We were given guest passes because of our connection with Dr. Watson that we mentioned in an earlier post. The tour was very informative. Having read Truman’s biography, we enjoyed our visit very much.

Truman, Key West

Truman At Dedication Of Everglades NP 1947

Truman, Little White House

Truman At Little White House

Kennedy, Hugh McMillan, Key West

Kennedy And McMillan Meet In Key West

Jimmy Carter, Key West

The Carters Spend Christmas At Little White House

Our last sightseeing stop was at the Hemingway House. This was the best tour we took. The stories the guide told were funny and informative. Hemingway was an enigmatic character: handsome, hard drinking, outdoorsman and philanderer. His books are classics as are the movies made from them. His home is also the home of over thirty six toed cats. One of the stories told is about the cat’s water bowl. Hemingway was a frequent face at Sloppy Joe’s Bar. When the bar moved from its original location he brought home a urinal from the bar stating “he’d pissed enough of his money down it to buy it.” His then third wife took it and after cleaning it up made it the cat’s water dish. Another story relates to a penny buried in concrete at the home. When his wife (can’t remember if it was number 2 or 3) installed a pool over his objection he threw a penny into the concrete saying she now had his last cent. This visit made me want to read more about Hemingway and his books.

Hemingway, author

Portrait Of Hemingway At Age 35

Hemingway's Writing Studio

Hemingway’s Writing Studio

The Hemingway House In Key West

The Hemingway House In Key West

Hemingway, Old Man And The Sea

A Painting Of Hemingway’s Old Man And The Sea

The Unique Garden Fountain And Cat Water Bowl

The Unique Garden Fountain And Cat Water Bowl

We decided to have dinner at Sloppy Joe’s and enjoyed the fish tacos and nachos but the key lime pie was terrible. It was prepackaged and the sugar wasn’t dissolved giving it a granular texture. Find your key lime pie elsewhere. Be sure to locate the web cams and call a friend who can go online and see you.

restaurant, Key West

Restaurant Poster At Sloppy Joe’s

Sloppy Joe's, restaurant

Sloppy Joe’s Is A Key West Icon

Hemingway, Sloppy Joe's

Painting Of Hemingway Fishing

restaurant, sailfish

Mounted Sailfish At Sloppy Joe’s

Now we return to “the bad” part of our visit. Steve had realized that Boyd’s Campground was so crowded we would not be able to exit following the proper direction of the road. That should speak a bundle about the poor design and crowded conditions at Boyd’s. We spoke to two employees who after looking at the situation agreed we’d need to go out the “IN” route. They said “don’t worry, we’ll get you out OK. We do it all the time.” The next morning when we were ready to leave we got them to assist us. One man drove a golf cart ahead to make sure no one entered while we were exiting. The other employee walked ahead of our RV and at each and every turn faced our rig and gave Steve verbal and hand signals to ease us through the tight turns. We’d made it to the last turn but there were times we’d missed cars by just inches. The last turn took us out of the campground and past the office. There were two RVs parked on the left in the waiting area and another car parked on the right at the laundry. This forced us to make a sharper turn than we would have preferred. At no time did the employees try to open up space by asking the RVs to back up, move the parked car or ask campers to move the cars in front of their rigs parked just inches from the road.  Any one who knows anything about trailers knows the tighter the turn the more the rear end of the trailer will swing. We were 90% through the turn when we heard the sickening sound of metal scraping. The right corner of the box on the back of our trailer had sideswiped a car. We stopped of course. Police were called but no citation given because the accident occurred on private property. We claim that we were under the direction of the park employee and that the park is at fault for not giving enough clearance for safe exit. They are claiming no responsibility. How this will end is unknown. We can only warn anyone considering a stay at this park, DO NOT COME!

RV accident, Boyd's Campground, RV parks Key West

Running The Gauntlet Through Boyd’s Campground

RV accident

RVs To The Left Of Us

RV accident

Cars on The Right Of Us

RV accident, Boyd's Campground

All We Needed Was A Few Inches To Get Through Safely

Happy 2014!

Happy New Year to all!  We hope you all had as fantastic a year as we did, and hope that 2014 will be even better!

Last year, at New Year’s Day, we posted a blog entry listing our goals for 2013.  Well, here we are at New Year’s Day again!  How did we do?  Here’s a repeat of last year’s post, with our comments and goals for 2014.

In 2013 we said “We can’t imagine a year more exciting, challenging, draining and life altering than 2012. What could 2013 offer? We don’t know and that’s what keeps us on the move as we seek new places, new adventures and check off a bucket list item or two.

I’m not going to call them New Years Resolutions that way I can’t break them. I’ll call them goals instead.”

Here were Chari’s Top 5 For 2013:

1)   I want to develop our blog to be more user friendly, add new features and reach 5000 views. In 2012 after just 6 months the blog has 21 followers and reached 1,188 views. Now that’s nothing compared to some of the top rated blogs but we appreciate each and everyone who has taken an interest in Homeless and Loving It!

By New Year’s 2014 – To my utter amazement this was achieved and surpassed. We now have 69 followers on the blog and many more via Facebook, Twitter and Linked-in. We ended 2013 with 11,175 views. So where to go from here? Shall I really reach for the stars by saying I want 25,000 views? Yes.

2)   I want to ride a Segway on a tour in some city or other place. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time and now it’s finally reached the top 5. 

By New Year’s 2014 – Done and enjoyed in Savannah. Don’t have a new challenge selected for 2014 but I’m sure one will come along.

3)   I want to take a sailboat day trip. I’ve been on big ships and small boats. I’ve kayaked and canoed but I’ve never been on a sailboat.

By New Year’s 2014 – Didn’t get out all day but had a wonderful time on an evening cruise in Halifax Harbor.

4)   I want to continue seeing National Park sites toward our goal of seeing them all. I haven’t counted recently but I think we are at 60 out of 391. What are the chances of reaching 25% next year? That means 38 more places. Mmmm, a tough one. It’s not the count that matters but the fun and learning along the way.

By New Year’s 2014 – Made it to 22% and our count is 86 NPS sites. So let’s shoot for 30% in 2014. That means 123 sites but we’re heading west and there are more parks out there.

5)   See a moose in the wild when I have my camera with me. Two years ago I was kayaking in Idaho when I rounded a bend and came within 100 feet of a cow moose and her calf. I stopped and said “I won’t hurt you” meaning “and I hope you won’t hurt me.” She just looked, decided I didn’t need further investigation and walked away with the calf in tow. To this day I consider this the best wildlife shot I could have had, the one that got away.

By New Year’s 2014 – Saw 5 moose, once w/o the camera handy and 4 when it was too dark to shoot from our truck.

       New For 2014 – Two out of five from 2013 are moving forward to 2014. What else should I shoot for?

1)  Make myself use my tripod more often. I have a bad habit of just grabbing the camera and taking off.

2)   Keep current with our blog. Easier said than done!

3)   Get myself out of bed and do sunrise shots. For this I’ll pretend to be going back to work (yup I just said the W word). Definitely easier said than done!

Better not get too carried away I’ve already had enough self-improvement for today.

Here were Steve’s Top 5 For 2013

1-     I want an adventure.  Something I’ve never done before.  2012 saw two, flying in a hot air balloon, and flying in a sailplane.  Don’t know what this new adventure will be, just know that I want one!

By New Year’s 2014 – Well, I don’t know if anything in 2013 qualifies as a special adventure comparing to ballooning or soaring in a sailplane.  Guess I’ll have to keep working on this one.

2-    Just recently we’ve eaten a couple of meals that place first and second on my all-time favorites.  One was Emeril’s recipe for Shrimp and Grits, which we made with fresh caught Gulf Shrimp.  The other was our own recipe for Cajun style baked oysters.  Don’t know which one places first and which one second, it may be a tie, but at some point in 2013 I want to make and eat a meal that pushes them to second and third place!

By New Year’s 2014 – Finding the Atlantic Snow Crab processing plant in Nova Scotia definitely qualifies!  Buying crab right from the factory, bringing it home, making a salad, popping open a beer, and sitting outdoors dipping crab meat into a half dozen different cocktail sauces…  Ahh, Life Is Good!  And, this meal did double duty!  Putting all the shells in a pot and cooking them down made a great stock for a fish chowder!  (Or chowdah, as a certain sister-in-law might say)

3-    I want a “National Geographic Moment”.  I’ve experienced a few in my life, and Chari has had some.  One of mine was being so close to Northern Right Whales in the Bay of Fundy that when they spouted, I got wet.  Another was being on the fifty-yard line watching while two bull elk locked horns in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.  Chari and I watched enthralled as the bats flew in their hundreds of thousands from Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico and wound their way to the horizon in the twilight sky.  I’d like another “National Geographic Moment”.

By New Year’s 2014 – Let’s see…  would being up-close and personal with humpback whales in the Bay of Fundy qualify?  Umm…  YES!

4-    I want to experience a moment of pure wonder and serenity.  Once, I sat under a pine tree at the Grand Canyon, in the midst of winter, when the only other person in sight was my brother, who also sat under a pine tree about a quarter of a mile away, and watched while the canyon slowly changed colors as the evening sun sank into the western sky.  Another was sitting on the beach near the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse watching as the morning sun rose to my left, a thunderstorm raged to my right about a mile or so offshore, and a pod of porpoises played in front of me.  And watching a fantastic display of the Northern Lights while driving alone through the night across North Dakota was another.  I’d like to experience this feeling again.

By New Year’s 2014 – Driving along a coastal road in Nova Scotia, we turned off on a side road leading to a town called White Point.  It turned out to be a small fishing village, maybe a dozen homes and eight or ten fishing boats in the harbor.  At the far side of “town” was a path leading out onto a peninsula, about half open meadow, and half wooded.  The ocean waves swept the shores on both sides while seabirds soared overhead.  We walked passed a grave, marked “The Unknown Sailor”, and I told Chari that we found the place where she could scatter my ashes (hopefully not for another fifty years or so!) 

Also in Nova Scotia, near the town of Lunenburg, we kayaked in an area known as Blue Rocks.  Paddling through the calm waters, among rocks and islands covered with a golden colored seaweed was absolutely beautiful…  rivaling the Antelope Canyon paddle on Lake Powell as the prettiest paddle I’ve ever done.

5-    I’d like my life of wandering with Chari to go on forever.

By New Year’s 2014 – Still working on this one, and now we’ve got another year under our belts! 

Overall, I’d say that four out of five is pretty darn good, and as for having a great adventure?  Well, Life is an adventure, and we’re having one every day, so I guess that makes five out of five! 

What are my goals for 2014?  I can’t think of any from last year that I would change.  Let’s just list the same goals again!

Here’s Opal’s Top 5 For 2013

1-   I want to actually catch a squirrel.

By New Year’s 2014 – Still working on this one.  But, I’ve come close a couple of times.  For 2014, I’m going to add “catching a pelican”.  Either one will do!

2-  I want to run and roll in the sand on 10,000 more beaches.

By New Year’s 2014 – Only 8372 to go!

3-  I want Mom and Dad to take me everywhere and not leave me in the stinkin’ trailer.

By New Year’s 2014 – We’re not making any headway on this one.  What does it take to educate those people?  Guess I’ll still need to keep rolling my big brown eyes at them when they look like they’re going to leave me alone.

4-  I want “people food” with every meal.

By New Year’s 2014 – We’re doing good, but we’re not up to 100% yet.  We’ll keep this one on the list too.

5- Just once, I want to be left alone after I’ve fallen asleep for the evening instead of getting woke up to go out and pee. 

By New Year’s 2014 – They actually did it!  Once.  Let’s shoot for two times in 2014.

P.E.I. Means Particularly Enchanting Island

Prince Edward Island, P. E. I.

A Mural Of Rural P.E.I.

We hadn’t originally planned to visit Prince Edward Island on this trip.  A call from some RV friends we’d met in Florida in 2011 changed our plans. They were work camping as hosts in Maine and wanted to visit P.E.I. before returning home to Pennsylvania.  Would we like to meet up? What are plans for if not to change? Prince Edward Island was named for, can you guess, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn (1767–1820), the fourth son of King George III and the father of Queen Victoria.

We picked a park close to the Confederation Bridge, Linkletter Provincial Park, for our stay.  Many of the P.E.I. parks offer full hook-ups.  The Confederation Bridge is the longest bridge in the world crossing ice covered waters. It opened in 1997 and cost one billion dollars to construct. When you cross the 8 mile Confederation Bridge in a car the concrete barriers block much of the view.  When you come over in a truck or RV you’re above the barrier and get a great view. There’s no charge to cross over from New Brunswick but going back with an RV be prepared for a hefty toll (almost $50 Canadian). While the park itself was very nice, if you were coming for the beach it isn’t the place we’d recommend. The beach is strewn heavily with seaweed and at high tide almost disappears.  As a base for sightseeing it worked just fine. Most visitors to P.E.I. come for the miles of red, sandy beaches. Unfortunately, we arrived the same time as a tropical storm worked its way up the coast. It was very rainy and windy the majority of the week.

Our friends had gotten tickets for a new play debuting this summer, Evangeline, a musical based on the Longfellow poem.  It was playing at the Confederation Center in Charlottestown, capital of P.E.I.  Other shows that play annually in Charlottestown are Anne of Green Gables and Ann and Gilbert based on the book, Anne of Green Gables. Evangeline was terrific! It was Broadway quality for the cast, scenery, choreography and music. If it is playing when you visit, consider this a must see. We wouldn’t be surprised if this show tours other cities in the US and Canada. We didn’t have time to sightsee in Charlottestown but would love to return.  Hey, give us credit, we haven’t said when we come back for quite a while!

The Bottle House

Entrance To The Bottle House

The Bottle House Through The Fountain

The Bottle House Through The Fountain

Flowers At The Bottle Houses

Flowers At The Bottle Houses

For a touristy but interesting spot to see go to The Bottle Houses. Long before recycling was in vogue, Edouard Arsenault, fisherman and carpenter of western P.E.I., transformed over 25,000 bottles into small buildings on his property in the Acadian town of Cap-Egmont.  His inspiration was a postcard from the bottle castle in Vancouver, British Columbia.  Unfortunately, this attraction no longer exists.  Between 1980-1984 he built six structures. The structures deteriorated after their creator’s death.  Not wanting them to disappear, his grandson lovingly restored them. The attraction is still owned and operated by his descendants.

Canada

Bottle House Church

Drinking In The View

Drinking In The View

Hydrangea In Bottle House Garden

Hydrangea In Bottle House Garden

Bottle House Bar

Anyone Seen The Corkscrew?

Another unexpectedly interesting place was the Potato Museum. PEI is flat and sandy and grows a lot of potatoes. So here’s the answer to our Roadside Trivia #6. The two places which were first to put slogans on license plates: P.E.I. and Idaho.  What did they have in common, potatoes, of course! While one side of the museum is about potato farming, the other side depicts life on P.E.I. between 1880s and 1950s. Here, you’ll find everything from old suitcases to an iron lung.  Of course, today potato farming and processing is done by large corporations and you’ll see huge processing plants as you travel the island. However, it hasn’t lost it’s rural charm.

Canadian Potato Museum on P.E.I.

This Spud’s For You

Harvesting Potatoes

Harvesting Potatoes

Picking Potatoes

Picking Potatoes

Potato Sacks

Potato Sacks

Potato Tools In Black & W

Potato Tools In Black & W

At least on the west side of the island, where we did most of our sightseeing, there are several Acadian communities. During the summer farm stands are plentiful and in the Fall new potato stands with honor system boxes take their place. If you like old churches or cemeteries you’ll find driving backroads enjoyable. We didn’t get to Cavendish NP or the east side of the island. Another trip?  Well, if you insist.

P.E.I. Landscape Photo

P.E.I. Landscape Photo

Picturesque Barn On A Backroad

Picturesque Barn On A Backroad

When you come to P.E.I. a must is going to one of the lobster suppers. Some are sponsored by local churches so just look for signs along the roadway. Others are commercial enterprises.  It really doesn’t matter. The meal is all you can eat save the lobster. That you order by the size you want. We had 1 and 1/2 pounders which was more than enough!

Notre Dame du Mont-Carmel

Notre Dame du Mont-Carmel

A View For Eternity

A View For Eternity

Guardian Angel

Guardian Angel

With this we end the posts about our glorious summer in the Canadian Maritimes.