Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Day 57 - St. Andrews State Park. FL

I was startled to see only one high and one low tide yesterday. How can this be?

Here's how:

In general, there is one dominant high energy tide per day, at any location; this occurs typically 1 to several hours after the Moon sets at your location (this one has the greatest tide height).

A smaller energy tide (with lower tide height) occurs several hours after the Moon rises. The size of the tides and timing is dependent on the position of the Sun also.

East and west facing locations directly on the large oceans (Atlantic, Pacific, etc.) consistently experience two high and low tides per day because the path of the tide is not hindered.

If your location is within a bay with a narrow opening, such as is the case of St. Andrews Bay for Panama City, it takes a long time for the bay water level to respond to the high energy high tide in the Gulf of Mexico; note that the Aug 1 Panama City high tide occurs some 2 to 3 hours after the Panama City Beach high tide. St. Andrews Bay then starts emptying, working towards low tide, but, again, it is delayed in doing so by the narrow bay opening and so Panama City experiences low tide hours after Panama City Beach.

Only 5 hours later, on August 2 early morning, Panama City Beach has low energy high and low tide within a couple of hours of each other (2:47 and 4:44 respectively), which are hardly different in height. It's impossible for St. Andrews Bay to respond to these quick and small tide changes, so the low energy high and low tides simply do not occur at Panama City. In reality, the low energy high tide serves only to keep the water level in St. Andrews Bay higher overall between high energy high tides, than would occur if it could respond to the low energy tide.
It was windy the last few days and all the boats stayed home. Winds have died down and there is a lot more to see on our stretch of waterfront. I got up early this morning and was thrilled to see lots of birds fishing and a school of dolphins on parade. No need to pay $15 for the dolphin cruise AND I won't get seasick here. I inherited a propensity for mal de mer from my father. His all time low was 16 days in a troop transport to the South Pacific in WWII. My most humiliating was a flat calm day on a Casco Bay Lines ferry. And yet I keep returning to the water as if it will just go away. It doesn't.

We went out to pick up the bicycle this morning. It is all fixed up now and only cost $20. On the way we noticed a produce stand and decided to stop. This was almost 11am and the owner said he was just getting set up for the day but invited us on in. We did the requisite chat and then bought eggs, tomatoes, new potatoes and a jar of Tupelo honey. Omelets perhaps?

We've been meaning to get our flu shots since September but somehow never did. Today was finally the day. I was surprised when they said our insurance didn't cover them. Really !?!
They'll pay for the hospital visit if you get the flu but not the shot to prevent it.? So we paid out of pocket and I'm going to be writing to UHC.

It is 71 degrees this afternoon and very little wind. Seemed like just the right day for some lounging around. A camp site on the water, some shade, a book, a cup of coffee and a lounge chair sound perfect to me.

Brett is putting the seats on the bike. It must be time for some recreating. We pedaled all around the campground and then visited the interpretive center down by the ranger station.

 The art in the wild for today is titled "Al Fresco Sea Turtles".  I don't think I like that title.  It sounds like we will be eating the turtles.
 They have wonderful exhibits explaining the flora  fauna &of the area. There are also several exhibits with archaeological artifacts-arrowheads, potsherds and the like. It was well worth the visit.
  Then we made our way over to St. Andrews beach. This beach was named the most beautiful in America in 1995. It is still very beautiful. It certainly fits more with the Florida of my imagination. There are lovely dunes with sea grass, white sand, boardwalks and a sparkling sea with only a hint of high rises in the distance.

The wind was in full force Gulf side. The flags indicate medium hazard conditions due to wind or current and dangerous marine life. I think the marine life might have been jelly fish.  We may have seen a jellyfish next to the campsite or maybe it was a plastic bag...

 This boardwalk leads out to one of two gun emplacements that were built here to defend against German submarines during World War II.  The other one is buried in the sand dunes somewhere to the west of this one.  They were decommissioned after about a year with no shots being fired.

After our pedal we sat at our campsite, had a margarita and watched the world float by.
Very worthy day indeed.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Day 56 - St. Andrews State Park

Lest everybody think that I find nothing nice about Florida I will note some things I like about it.

  • Pelicans. They look like the B52's of the bird world to me. How can a creature of that size skim so close to the water without tripping? And I love watching them dive bomb for fish and make that huge splat. Brett says they aren't fishing They are flying distracted and just keep falling into the water.  I could pelican watch all day long. 

 Brett had to do a little trickery to get these guys to come over for a photo.  We are standing at the spot where the fishermen usually clean their catch.  Brett started running the water and the birds came over to see what was for snackies.

  • Soft white beach sand. Love the stuff. Odd because I am not a sun loving beach goer. I'm more of a beach appreciator.

  • Public fishing piers. These are such friendly, industrious places. We usually meet people who are more than happy to talk about their catch of the day. Usually. Maybe the chilly temperatures made people less talkative today. My "watcha fishin for" got only a one word reply. Mullet.

  • Riding a bicycle here or walking (if it isn't too hot). Florida is very flat. Once you get moving it doesn't take much effort to keep moving. 
 The tandem needed some repair work done.  Something about bearings and that Brett didn't have a gear puller so we needed to find a shop that could do it.  They called us a little while ago to say that it is ready and we can pick it up tomorrow.  I expect wheel do our exploring via bicycle tomorrow rather than on foot.

We walked down to one end of the park today and discovered an old, rebuilt turpentine still with interpretive signage.  This isn't even shown on the park maps so I doubt that many people go to explore it.  It was very timely to find this.  The book series that I am reading takes place in part in North Carolina at a plantation that has a turpentine still and a saw mill.  Now I have the scenery firmly fixed in my mind.  This must have been dreadfully uncomfortable work in the hot Florida sun.  It was interesting to learn that the trees could be slashed for about 3 years and still produce the sap for turpentine.  I believe this is why the particular tree is called a slash pine.  After the turpentine was done the trees were cut down to be used for lumber. 

Brett spent some time checking out the old saw mill.

The campground is full of slash pines.  These are definitely not first growth as most of this area was turpentine and lumber producing.

We needed to go out for a drive this afternoon in order to deliver the bicycle to the repair shop.  So we thought we'd take a look at some of the area.  Five miles or so down the Front Beach Road was enough to confirm that Panama City Beach is much like all the other beach towns we have been through.  It doesn't seem to be too crowded and we were trying to figure out when the high season is here.  There were several businesses with signs saying "see you in March".  Brett has just about finished up all his reading material so we needed to find a book store.  We tried to find something locally owned but nothing.  So we ended up driving into Panama City to a Books-A-Million.  We should now have enough books to keep him busy for a while. 

I happened to notice this billboard while we were out and about and I'm going to give it my most amusing sign of the day award. Because the last word is spelled "ME." rather than "me." I read it as something that the Maine tourist board might have erected to get those wayward southerners to come on back home.  We will be returning to ME but not just yet.  There's still a lot of exploring left to do.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Day 55 - Pensacola, FL to Panama City Beach, FL

We only had about 110 miles to travel today so we made a leisurely morning out of it and did not leave the campground until 11am.  Today's drive took us along US98.  This took us through quite a few beach towns such as Destin and Fort Walton as well as the intriguingly named towns of Mary Esther and Watercolor.  John Newton (a minister and teacher) settled in the area now called Mary Esther during the mid 1850's.  He seems to have named the town after family members (either his wife or two daughters or some combination thereof).  Watercolor is an unincorporated master planned community near Destin.  I haven't been able to learn how it got the name.

On the political front - early voting is underway in Florida.  We saw many polling places on our drive today and all of these places were packed with cars.  There is a whole lot of voting going on in Florida.

I am not going to say that I thought any of these towns charming.  I want my Florida beach drives to look like this view at the National Seashore.

But most of it looks like this; featuring high rise buildings built improbably on little spits of sand.

Or this with more high rises built cheek by jowl with shops and amusements taking every last bit of land right up to the edge of the sea.  I believe this is Destin.

So my quest during my visit to Florida is to seek out places that do not look like the above but better suit my own imagination.  That is one reason why we have been trying to stay at the state parks.  They tend to be located in more remote or natural settings which we prefer.

Today we came to St. Andrews State Park and scored what I think is a very nice campsite.  We had to do some unorthodox parking but managed a lovely view of the Grand Lagoon.

I think that I can successfully ignore the high rises on the other side of the water.  We had time to take a little bit of a walk around before it got dark.  The campground seems quite large and, as seems true for most of the parks during the week, not too crowded.  Some of the sites have nice buffers of trees between them and others (mostly the pull thrus) are more open with less privacy from your neighbors.  I think that ours will do very nicely for the next 4 nights.
This is the view of moonrise as seen from our dining room this evening.  I am a happy camper.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Day 54 - National Naval Aviation Museum

Today started late but that's okay because we are retired.  I haven't found too many places on our travels that make very good crusty bread.  Since I had half a loaf of not very good crusty bread left over, it was French toast day!  My back was still tender but doing well enough that it was time to go explore a bit more. 

First up was a drive to go get some fuel.  It is much less expensive in Alabama than in Florida so we drove to Alabama to get some.  This isn't as big a deal as it might sound since the border is only about 10 miles from here.  I'd wanted to drive over the bridge and see what was over there so this was a good chance to do it. 

Perdido Key looks like almost every other bit of coastal Florida that I've seen. Perdido is Spanish for "lost" or "hidden" and the name refers to a bay that explorers had been searching for. Way too many condominiums, expensive looking homes crammed next to each other on the waterfront or on canals and lots of real estate offices.  Most annoying to me were the many Keep Out, No Trespassing, No Beach Access signs along the way.  Again I say "thank you" for state and national parks.  At least there is some way for the average person to get to the beach.  In the case of Perdido Key this is two state parks and an expanse of National Seashore.  There are expanses of dunes with sea oats and other appropriate dune plants.  These look beautiful and are best displayed at the parks.  I can only imagine how much must have been destroyed to construct all the buildings that front the beach now.

Until this visit, I did not know that we had a National Naval Aviation Museum.  Obviously some people know about it.  The place gets upwards of a million visitors a year.  Admission is free.  There are about 150 aircraft here.  Since I don't normally get a chance to be so close  to airplanes, I found this quite exciting.

It was a feast for the eyes!  Airplanes everywhere I looked.  I like a place where you just can't wait to go see the next thing, and the next, and the next.  And this wasn't a stuffy "don't touch" kind of place.  In addition to a great area for kids to play, there were planes to climb into, movies to see, lots of displays to read and things to listen to.

Brett thought that it was fun getting to play in one of the Blue Angel  jets.  It was rather like having an 8 year old boy along (and I mean that in a good way).  I didn't sit in it but that's okay.  My wonderful brother-in-law Lee was an Air Force pilot.  A number of years ago while I was visiting he arranged for me to get to sit in a real FB111A.  So there!  But these were all great too.
I did especially enjoy the exhibits where there was a film with "I was there" interviews along with recreations and footage from events.

The Home Front, USA exhibit is a recreation of a typical Main Street scene as it would have appeared in most any small town during World War II.

Pacific Island recreates the environment of a jungle airfield in the World War II Pacific Theater.

There were many exhibits featuring the parts of a World War II aircraft carrier and another telling the story of the USS Enterprise.  And I cannot even comment on the stuff that we didn't see at all.  We both agreed that this would be a museum worth a return trip.

And here's my secret:  These museums always make me cry.  I don't stand in the middle of the room bawling my eyes out but I always tear up.  It happens when I see the old men who are reliving their own war time or service experiences.  We passed so many groups where the men were discussing what had happened to them.  It happens when I see the young service men looking at the historic aircraft or watching a video about the sinking of a carrier. And it happens when I see the little boys excitedly climbing into the Blue Angel jet and making "flying" noises.  I cry.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Day 53 - Big Lagoon State Park

I spent some more time staring at the ceiling today but fortunately not the whole day.  The ceilings of RV's are really very busy places.  We've got the 110volt ceiling fan and light, 12 volt lights, stereo speakers and the air conditioning vent all in this one little section.  Pity the ceiling doesn't have some sort of pattern in it because it does pass the time if you can look for weird faces.  I certainly won't be doing cartwheels any time soon (I  probably wouldn't be able to do them even when I am not having muscle spasms in my back) but I was able to get out and go for a bit of a walk around the park.

This coastal park sits on the northern shoreline of its namesake, Big Lagoon, which separates the mainland from Perdido Key and the Gulf of Mexico.  It is about 10 miles southwest of Pensacola, FL.  There are several miles of boardwalk paths throughout the park.  This one started just a little ways from our campsite so it seemed like a good one to use.  Without these paths I am afraid it would be one muddy, snaky, reptile infested slog through the jungle.  As it was, the day was lovely with temps only in the 70s and a nice breeze to go along with it.  It was not very crowded on the walking trails.

Got gators?  Why yes!  Honestly, if they didn't want the alligator to go swimming they should just move it somewhere else.  The Florida State Parks have a tag line "The Real Florida"  which is certainly appropriate.  I'm sure this is because so many people come to Florida and only see the very fun but very make believe theme parks. 

There are picnic shelters scattered all along the trails and at the beach as well.  These are very nice with ramps leading up to them and a wheelchair accessible spot at each table.  There are lots of opportunities for boating here as well.  We didn't bring our kayaks this time thinking that we wouldn't be able to use them for over half of the trip.  I think we will bring them along for the next adventure.

There is a large pavilion down by the beach that can be reserved for large groups.  This had been reserved for a wedding today but we were able to check it out before the setup had begun.  I'm afraid they are probably using the fireplace this evening.  The temp has dropped to 52 degrees with a 15mph wind off the water. 

I am so glad that Brett remembered to bring the binoculars along on this trip.  There have been so many times when they've come in handy especially when bird watching.  Also if there ever are any enemy aircraft overhead he will be one of the first to spot them. 
There wasn't much air traffic from the base today.  Maybe they take Saturdays off.

We are sitting at the little swimming beach near another picnic area.  There were a lot of families enjoying the park this afternoon.  We saw a little girl on her bike.  Some young boys asked her why she had training wheels.  She said very indignantly "Well, I'm SIX". 

We think that this is another nice state park.  The campground is quiet with lots of buffering between spaces and there is plenty of opportunity to explore the "real Florida".  The park is not really way out in the wilderness although you do get that feeling in the campground.  Once at the lagoon, you can see the high rises on Perdido Key.  We are less than a mile from a strip mall with bank, grocery store and such but I had no idea of that until we went out yesterday in search of a bank.  I'd say they've done a great job preserving a sense of the wilderness. 

I hope that I don't see anything TOO wild tomorrow. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Day 52 - Big Lagoon State Park, FL

It took 51 days to do it but we ran out of money. So the first chore was to go find a bank. Then go spend some at the Winn Dixie.

My back decided to remind me today that it can hurt any time it cares to. So my touring for this afternoon has consisted of lying on the floor. Hopefully all will be well soon.

Brett did explore the park a bit. There are boardwalks to the ocean and he saw birds, dolphins and turtles. I saw the ceiling.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Day 51 - Breaux Bridge, LA to Pensacola, FL

Morning in the Atchafalaya Swamp.  We started the day driving on I10 again.  The road crosses the swamp on elevated pillars on a continuous 18.2 mile bridge from Henderson to Grosse Tete, LA.  It is the largest swamp in the United States.

A swamp is defined as a wetland that is forested.  The water may be fresh, brackish or seawater. 

Knock, knock!  Hello Baton Rouge.  Is anybody home?

This is the Mississippi River for goodness sake.  Don't you think it would have been polite and possibly educational to put up a sign on your bridge to say "you are now crossing the Mississippi River"?  No?!?  I had to check the GPS as we were about to go over this huge bridge to see what river it was.  So this is my disappointing quick shot of the mighty Miss and one barge.  The folks along I90 westbound made a big deal out of this.  There was even a rest area where we could stop and admire the river. Phffffft!!!!!

The Mississippi Welcome Center was very nice.  The inside of the building was done up like a mansion and they gave everybody free coffee.  There were historic exhibits with plenty of paintings of Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis.

With the chandeliers and carpets and dark antique furniture it was like visiting an antebellum plantation.  I took the photo using the mirror so I could see the decorations and all the rooms behind me.

One of the displays featured a Katrina quilt with blocks done by children who were recovering from the storm.

There was a lot of driving through sprawl today.  And a lot of aggressive drivers to contend with.  And a lot of billboards to add blight to the landscape.  The majority of these were for casinos in Louisiana and Mississippi.  And oddly at the bottom of each was the notice "if you have a gambling problem then call us with a phone number listed".  Casinos must be a big draw here. 
This is downtown Mobile, AL.  See all the yellow arrow signs?  We'd been warned of a tunnel and the need to slow down through here. 

40 mph didn't feel quite slow enough and we had the vague sensation of being flushed down a toilet.

 Then in a few minutes you pop up into daylight and are greeted by the Gulf of Mexico and the USS Alabama in Battleship Park with her guns trained at you.  Brett says if you want something to happen just add water!

Signs of the day: 
  • "Do You Know Jesus?" was printed on small white signs and we saw several of these posted on trees by the roadside.  
  • "Why drive to Florida?"  Brett's response was "because it would be really hard to get this thing airborne".
  • "Nobama."  I thought we might be finished with political commentary as we had been seeing only signs that said "Conservative".  I was wrong.
  • And at Exit 35 we have "Baptist Pumpkin Center".  This is not a place for Baptist pumpkins.  It is advising you that you must exit here to go to the towns of Baptist and Pumpkin Center.  Still it made for an amusing few moments.
Also amusing was the F9 fighter displayed at the Florida Welcome Center near Pensacola.  Call me a whiner if you like but this doesn't look very comfortable to me.

 My art in the wild for today is the little bas-relief oranges on the pillars at the Welcome Center.

We will be spending the next 4 nights at Big Lagoon State Park near Pensacola, FL.  There is sand and there is beach.  That is all I know so far.  We did have to study the campsite selections rather closely.  Some are too narrow for slides, some are too short and some are too sandy to support big rigs.  Site #40 seems to be just right.  Brett had the idea of talking to each other on our phones while we got the whale parked.  This worked out very well and we were settled in no time at all.  We have a nice buffer of trees around us and it should be nice and quiet except for the planes coming and going from the Naval Air Station.  There are probably some Orions from the old BNAS flying over us too.  It will be just like home.