Sunday, May 25, 2014

USS Lexington, Corpus Christi, Texas


USS Lexington, nicknamed Lady Lex, is an aircraft carrier that served in World War II in the Pacific, and is now berthed in Corpus Christi and serves as a military museum. She is a massive ship, 880' at the waterline, 910' on the flight deck, which is 52' above the water. Her beam (width) is 196' and has a draft (depth) of 30'. The Japanese had nicknamed her The Blue Ghost, since she was reported sunk multiple times, but yet she kept re-appearing.

I took the self-guided tour, everything is labeled and explained, with signs pointing the way to the next exhibit. As you can imagine from the specifications above, the ship is gigantic and has multiple levels. One level to another is by way of steep open stairways, like you'd see in old war movies. The tour took me about 3 hours and I didn't stop to read all the exhibits, there wouldn't have been time in one day to do that.

Working areas were set up as they were when the ship was in service, with mannequins in appropriate areas, such as the work shop that held large lathes, drill presses and other equipment. The dental area was set up with the dentist, and his unhappy-looking patient in the chair with his mouth wide open. There was even a surgeon in full surgical garb standing in the operating room waiting for his patient to be brought in.

On the flight deck were many vintage war planes, as well as large gun mounts. One of the gun mounts was open and you could go inside to see how the servicemen operated these weapons. They had very cramped working conditions, and it would have been hot in there also. I have made a slide show of the planes on deck, which can be seen at

If you're ever in the Corpus Christi area of Texas, this is definitely worth a visit. Plan to spend a good part of the day there.


Monday, May 19, 2014

Aransas Pass to Port Aransas


Today I took a trip from Aransas Pass  to Port Aransas to visit the National Seashore in Texas.  Port Aransas is quite a large area and can only be reached by vehicle ferry.  They have numerous vessels of different sizes that run simultaneously so that there is only a short wait time.  The trip itself, once the vessel is loaded, is probably about 5 minutes and the service seems to be efficiently run.  The best part of it is that there is no charge. 

Port Aransas is a typical tourist beach town, similar to ones you'd find in Florida or other tourist areas.  The main area was full of restaurants, tee shirt shops, and other beachwear shops.  One difference that I had not seen in Florida was the large number of golf cart type vehicles that were available for rent. 

I drove south and finally ran into Padre Island National Seashore, a massive park that includes more than 60 miles of beach on the offshore island.  They allow driving on the beach, but post signs that only 4 wheel drive vehicles should attempt the drive after the first 6 miles.  I decided my truck didn't need to be in that corrosive environment, so I parked at the visitor's center and walked the beach for a while.  I figured this might be the last time I'd get my feet in sea water for quite a while - until I reach California or if I go to Mexico to the Sea of Cortez.


As you can see from the picture above, it's seaweed season in south Texas now.  There was seaweed for miles in both directions, piles of it sometimes over 2' high.  On another more public beach near town, I saw hills of seaweed where they had cleaned it off the beach.  It does add a certain fragrance to the beach.  Further inland from the beaches, the sand dunes are covered with vegetation, which helps to keep them from eroding during storms. 

This was a great way to spend a warm, breezy, blue-sky day and as a bonus, on the ferry back, I saw dolphins rolling in the water in front of me. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Love Bugs! And Museums


Today I arrived in Rockport, Texas, a small town on the Gulf of Mexico.  After the long drive yesterday, I had a colony of love bugs smashed all over the front of my 5th wheel.  The truck wasn't so bad because I had cleaned the windshield the previous night so I could see to drive today.  After I set up and unhooked the trailer, I got in the bed of the pickup so that I could stand comfortably to try to get the love bug guts off the fiberglass.  For those of you who don't know about love bugs - you are SO lucky!   These bugs float through their lives blissfully connected to a mate - until they meet with a passing car, truck or RV.  For some reason, they dry into something that could pass as blobs of crazy glue - the residue is that tenacious.

I was up there rubbing all sorts of fluids on this mess to see what would remove them and not damage the finish.  A neighbor came over to see what I was working on and said he had something that would work.  He brought back a spray bottle and a rag and proceeded to demonstrate that it was actually removing the dried mess.  OK, I like that, still lots of rubbing, but it looked like it was working better than what I had.  Of course, it was in an area that I had already attempted with some of my stuff, but  I have no idea if that helped or not.  Then he showed me the spray bottle - a spray on wax for vehicles.   OK, I'm game, I'll try anything if it works - but that required a trip to the store. 

On my way to the store, I saw the Maritime Museum that I planned on seeing while I was here.  Big decision - get the wax and work all afternoon, or wander around a museum about ships and oceans?  No contest.  I pulled in the parking lot nearby and went over to the museum. 

One of their major exhibits was about a French ship named LaBella that came over in 1684 with 3 other ships.  It sank in Matagorda Bay during a storm and was not found until 1995, in only 20' of water.  They excavated parts of the ship, many artifacts, cannons and other weapons, as well as the remains of a human.  Some of the artifacts are in this museum, while others are housed in other museums. 

Other exhibits included information about warships used in the area, information about offshore oil and gas exploration, lighthouses and many others such as fishing equipment and antique outboards, such as the 1950 Chris Craft shown below.

Remembering my mission to get the wax for bug removal, I left there and was walking to the truck when I noticed that there was an aquarium nearby that I had been planning to see.......

Monday, May 12, 2014

USS Orleck, Lake Charles, Louisiana



Today I toured the USS Orleck, a Navy destroyer that was built for World War II - but it was completed and put into service about two weeks after the end of the war.  It did see service during the Korean and Vietnam Wars.  After that, she was sold to the Turkish Navy in the 1980s.  There are still labels inside the ship in Turkish.  She came back to the states in 2000 and ended up in Lake Charles, Louisiana where she is today. 

As with all boats, the project list is never completed.  She has a steel hull, which means there is continuous maintenance needed to keep the rust at bay.  At almost 400' in length, she needs to be towed if she is to be moved.  Her engines are no longer working and her props had been damaged in hurricanes after she was returned to the states.

On the forward deck, as well as the aft deck, she has massive fire power known as 5/38 gun mounts, that required multiple personnel to handle the gunpowder, the projectile, and to fire them.   The barrels are 5" wide, and over 15' in length.  There had been other weapons on board, which have been removed.

On the back deck there is a small helicopter, as shown below.  I was told that this is one of the first drones.  It was operated remotely, with no personnel aboard.  It's from the 1960s and was not original equipment.  Originally, that deck had multiple weaponry installed, but has since been removed.

The bridge was filled with original equipment.  Having lived on a boat, I marveled at the size of the depth sounder, compass and other equipment - extremely massive compared to today's equipment.  The radio room had an unbelievable amount of equipment.


There are plans to have it brought to the Lake Charles waterfront, which will be located close to town, which will make it more convenient to tour.  If you're in the neighborhood, it's worth a visit.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Pretty Rocks


I visited the Lafayette Science Museum in Louisiana the other day. There were various exhibits including space travel, fossils and dinosaurs. They also had a display of framed photographs of penguins, very well done.

What caught my attention probably more than anything, except maybe the penguins, was the display on rocks. Well, they weren't just rocks, they were crystal formations, quartz, calcites, some gemstones and geodes. Geodes are round rocks that had a void space inside that allowed the formation of crystals that cover the inside of the rock. If they had been allowed to keep growing, the crystals would consume the entire interior of the rock. They could be different colors, as seen below.


Also on display was a piece of tree trunk that was petrified, as well as a slice of a tree trunk that showed the interior. Surprisingly, you can see that it looks more like a rock than part of a tree. Throughout the time it petrifies, water flows through it and minerals replace the organic matter of the tree. Different colors are formed by different minerals.


One of the prettiest was a piece of opal, in rough form, but you can recognize the gemstone that is used in jewelry.


This was a small museum, and I found myself wishing it had more minerals, quartz and other pretty rocks to display. I'm sure in my travels, I'll find another museum with rock displays.


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Street Musicians

New Orleans is home to all sorts of musicians.  Some play near the park and on various streets in the French Quarter, with all sorts of instruments.

One group playing early one morning near Jackson Park really impressed me. This group was playing a jazzed-up version of a Michael Jackson song and had quite a crowd gathered, as early as it was. I stood and watched them for a while - the keyboard player looked like he was playing with his eyes closed, his head keeping the beat from side to side, with a large smile on his face. 

Each of the of the musicians had long dreadlocks or braids and were very talented, it seemed like they had been playing together for quite some time, since they sounded so good. I think this group has the talent to go far. They're in the right place to start out, since New Orleans seems to cultivate musicians.

Check them out at www.NEOJAZZ.NET - they're called The Yisrael Trio. They also have a Facebook page, which I haven't looked at since I have very limited internet at this time

Sunday, May 4, 2014

New Orleans Cemeteries

Louisiana cemeteries contain mostly above-ground tombs, especially the southern part, since the water level is very high. Some of the monuments are from the early 1800s, such as the one pictured above. Quite a few of these are very elaborate and probably cost more than some houses. Some of the larger ones have spaces for multiple family members, or they could be for just one person.

There are multiple cemeteries in the New Orleans area and there are guided tours for them, which are popular with the tourists. I didn't go on a tour, just wandered about by myself. I was surprised at the number of these elaborate tombs that had stained glass panels, mostly on the back side, as shown below.

There were a couple that looked like small houses, complete with a granite "fence" and landscaping such as small shrubs and flowers or plants.



One was in the shape of a pyramid.....

And this area reminded me of a row of houses in a neighborhood.....

In any case, it was an interesting afternoon, and a very quiet one after exploring the French Quarter and other areas of New Orleans the past few days.  For a slide show of more of my photos - follow this link -



Saturday, May 3, 2014

Museum Day in New Orleans

Today was museum day - I had 3 to check out and then the Battlefield from the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. I found out one of my selected museums was running a special just for today - closed. Bummer, I really wanted to see that one.

The first museum, Presbytere, had 2 polar opposite subject for their displays. Hurricane Katrina was the first display, amazing photos and I kept thinking of my close calls with hurricanes in the Caribbean. I'm not sure why anyone would stay and watch a storm of that caliber come at them and not leave to find a safer place. There's only so much you can do by staying put - you can't save your house.

The second display was a history of carnival, with costumes, jewelry and pictures from past years.  Happy times and fun providing a stark contrast to the heartbreak caused by Katrina. 

The other museum, Cabildo, was a history of Louisiana, including musical instruments, weapons and other displays. As a bonus, there was a display of the Secret History of Louisiana Rock 'n' Roll with photos from the 50's and 60's depicting musical history in this area.

The Chalmette National Cemetery and Battlefield is located near the Mississippi River. There is a monument, pictured above, was completed in 1908. There are 122 steps to a small area at the top with windows showing the view in all directions. This was the site of the historic Battle of New Orleans, which has been reported to last about 30 minutes.

The adjacent Cemetery contains remains of the Union soldiers from the Civil War as well as veterans from the Spanish-American War, both World Wars and Vietnam. 


Friday, May 2, 2014

Garden District, New Orleans

Today was supposed to be museum day in New Orleans for me. Before I started that, I decided that I'd take the trolley out to the ritzy neighborhood in the Garden District, just to see how the other half lives.

Little did I know that it would take up most of the day. Luckily, the first trolley, or street car as they all them, operator convinced me I needed a day pass, which was only $3. OK, I figured she knew best and she certainly did. It's not just one trolley that goes everywhere, but you have to transfer to other trolleys along the way. Then, in the ritzy neighborhood, they were redoing the track, so all riders transferred to the regular bus service - gratis.

The homes in this area were massive, ornate with leaded beveled glass doors and some with stained glass windows. Huge old sprawling live oak trees with Spanish moss lined the streets and yards were well maintained behind the pointed iron fences. A few of the larger ones had been converted to apartments, but most of them looked like single family residences.

It was so convenient to have the pass. When I got hungry for lunch I just got off, had lunch and then continued on where I left off, taking another trolley. I could tell there were other tourists on the trolleys that were just riding for the fun of it, I kept seeing the same ones and overheard that comment a few times. It sure was nice to have someone else doing the driving so I could concentrate on the sightseeing.

By the time I got back to the station I had left that morning, I had just enough time for a quick visit to one of the museums on my list. Tomorrow I have 4 more places to go, so I plan to get an earlier start than I did today. I have already had to extend my stay for tomorrow, and may extend for the next day. It's really nice to be able to reschedule when the mood strikes.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The French Quarter in New Orleans

The French Quarter of New Orleans -

Street musicians - a Rasta man playing guitar, a single man playing the saxophone, a group playing music with a woman singing, a man with an African bass harp accompanied by another man on drums. One black man was playing trumpet while another was singing, two oriental girls playing guitars and singing and another woman with a violin accompanied by a man with a guitar. And that's just the start....

The French Market, basically a flea market.  Some of the displays would be at what the islands call the "straw market".

Beignets at Cafe du Monde, warm French donuts covered in confectioners sugar, as mentioned by Jimmy Buffett in the song "The Wino and I Know".

Wrought iron balconies on buildings.

Fortune tellers, Tarot card readers, mimes and artists in the park - along with the street musicians.

Horses pulling carriages full of tourists.

Bicycles pulling carts of tourists.

Characters - a man painted all in silver, a girl on a multi-colored bike with multi-colored hair.

Doors to stores, bars and restaurants open with music spilling out.

Signs outside bars offering drinks to go.

A sign in a public restroom that states "Please use these sinks for handwashing only".

Signs in most shops and restaurants stating "No Public Restrooms".

Old homes and buildings with wooden shutters that are actually used.

Great paint jobs on these old homes and shutters.

Carnival beads hanging all over, even though carnival over was weeks ago.

I thought the French Quarter was unique, but today, my first impression was - it's very much like Key West. After walking around the area for hours, I realized that in addition to Key West, it reminded me of other places I've been - parts of it reminded me of the islands. One street in particular gave me a deja vu - it seemed that I was transported back to one street in Porlamar, a city on the island of Margarita, Venezuela.

The French Quarter is so large that it has way more ingredients than any one place and it's no surprise that it keeps drawing tourists from all over.

For a slide show of the French Quarter - follow this link -