Friday, December 28, 2012

Two reasons to love Louisiana: lots of unique culture (Cajun/Creole) and its beauty.  The night we got to Lafayette we ate at Prejean’s, a Cajun restaurant where we had a variety of crawfish dishes and listened to live Cajun music.  It was enjoyable on both counts.  Saturday morning we went on a swamp boat tour.  The swamp was alive with beautiful birds, like egrets and herons, turtles, and alligators too.  That evening was another cultural experience: laundry at the Wash-A-Teria.  What better way to spend a Saturday night? 
Sunday morning we enjoyed an excellent Christmas program at Lafayette Ward.  On Monday we went to New Iberia to tour the oldest rice mill operating in the US.  We also went to Avery Island where Tabasco sauce is made.  The factory tour was closed for Christmas Eve, but we toured the beautiful gardens there with magnolias, bamboo, and a wide variety of plants. 
Christmas Day we skyped with the kids and grandkids, then we went for a drive to St. Martinville.  It is a quaint town on the Bayou Teche that was made famous in the epic poem “Evangeline” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  The Acadian people (Cajuns) had been exiled to this area from Nova Scotia in 1755, bringing their French/Canadian culture.  We also drove past sugar plantations and crossed many bayous.
Wednesday we went to Vermillionville, a collection of 18th century homes that recreate life in early Acadiana.  Docents explain the history and culture of the area.  We got back to home-sweet-trailer before the pounding rains began.  The weather fronts that come through are much more severe than we Californians are used to, with strong winds and rain that pass through quickly. 
Swamp tour

An egret

turtles basking in the sun

Alligator looking at the tourists

Evangeline Oak

the mighty Mississippi

Old Governor's Mansion in Baton Rouge

Thursday we drove to Baton Rouge.  A good portion of the drive is on raised highway because of the swamps of the Atchafalaya Basin.  Coming into Baton Rouge we crossed the bridge over the Mississippi River, quite a sight to see.  One feature that stands out here are the beautiful old oak trees that sometimes make a complete canopy over the streets.  We drove through the pretty LSU campus to arrive at our destination, a campground at a pristine equestrian center.  Today we toured the Old Governor’s Mansion, built in 1929 by Governor Huey Long.  He had it designed to resemble the White House.  We also took a stroll through the Mall of Louisiana, which is much like the mall of anywhere else.  But dinner at the VooDoo BBQ Grill had some food not like anywhere else.  Tomorrow we’re off to the Big Easy – New Orleans, to enjoy another week of Louisiana adventures. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Astronaut training center
More Texas!  The Houston area is quite nice, but the weather can change very quickly.  The first few days were quite warm (80-ish) and humid, and we had a day of pouring rain.  Then it got colder and we had some strong winds that kept us from leaving until Friday.  But there is plenty to do in the area. 
First we went to the Kemah Boardwalk and ate at T-Bone Tom’s (a “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” recommendation).  The rainy day we went to a huge mall and watched the Christmas shoppers.  The next day was beautiful, so we went to Galveston.  I’m posting a picture of the Gulf Coast as well as a sample of how they build homes on the second story because of the possibility of hurricane flooding.  The area underneath is parking.  There are lots of old, historic houses on the island.  Some are very nice, but there are also many homes that are in disrepair or abandoned.  It’s certainly different than the beach towns of Southern California.  Tuesday we went into Houston to Bayou Bend, an estate and gardens built by Houston philanthropist Ima Hogg.  The estate is now a museum – Ima never married so she gifted her home and property to the city.  Her family made their fortune in oil, an industry that is very visible in the area.  We also went out to the Battle of San Jacinto monument.  It is on the site of Sam Houston’s victory over Santa Anna several months after the defeat at the Alamo.  Were it not for Houston’s success, the whole southwest might have stayed part of Mexico.
The other important site in the area is the Johnson Space Center.  The museum and exhibits are excellent, but we especially enjoyed the part where you get to go inside the NASA facilities there.  We saw the control center used in the Apollo program, the astronaut training center, and some of the actual rockets and space capsules. 
Today we drove to Lafayette, Louisiana, so next week I’ll have Cajun adventures to report on.  Until then, we wish all our friends and family a very Merry Christmas!
Kemah Boardwalk

Gulf coast at Galveston

Galveston coastal style house

Bayou Bend estate

Apollo space capsule  

Friday, December 14, 2012

    This week we stayed at a lake just south of San Antonio.  On Monday we went to the Alamo.  Chuck was surprised at how small it really is (I had already told him this since I’ve been before).  Still it is a special place to visit.  We also went to the Riverwalk.  We went one night again because it is beautifully lit for Christmas.  Besides all the restaurants and shops to look at, we took the boat tour that goes along the river route. 

   We also went to Austin to see that city and the state capitol.  Between Austin and San Antonio there is a really good car museum that we had to go to, of course.  We also enjoyed more Texas bar-b-que, and Mexican food at Taco Cabana.  We finished off the week by seeing the movie “Lincoln”.  Then we headed east today to Houston.  We will be here until next Thursday, then we plan on leaving Texas (it has been a long drive to get across this state) and on to Louisiana!
Remember the Alamo


My next car, a Dusenburg, haha

Texas State Capitol building

Friday, December 7, 2012

This week we drove a lot and did some cool stuff too.  On Saturday we went to the White Sands Missile Range.  On the Army base they have a museum with a missile park displaying most of the missiles that were developed by our military in the 50s, 60s and 70s.  One, (AIM-9) I even remembered from my days working in the Hughes Aircraft Radar Systems Group.  Then we went to the White Sands National Monument.  It is almost 300 square miles of very fine gypsum sand.  It looks like a scene from Star Wars.  Okie enjoyed running on it.  Sunday we enjoyed church meetings at a Las Cruces ward.  Then on Monday we headed out for Carlsbad, New Mexico.  We made a stop in El Paso, Texas, to have lunch with Theresa’s sister-in-law, Ginger, and son Grant.  Theresa’s brother was at work; he’s stationed at Ft. Bliss, and their daughter was at school.  But it was fun to visit part of the family.
We spent most of Tuesday underground.  Carlsbad Caverns National Park is an enormous cavern, and we only saw parts of it.  We did the self-guided tour, then a ranger led tour to a deeper part of the caverns.  It’s not quite as colorful as Kartchner Caverns, but the size of it is colossal. 
Also enormous are the miles and miles of boring sagebrush that comprise west Texas.  We spent Wednesday and Thursday driving east with an overnight at an RV park by I-10 in the middle of nowhere (Ozona, TX).  By Thursday afternoon we arrived in the Texas hill country town of Fredericksburg.  It is a very charming town that was settled by German immigrants in the mid-1800s.  The old buildings now house many shops and restaurants. (More below.)
White Sands Missile Park

Chuck and Okie on the sand

White Sands National Monument

Carlsbad Caverns


National Museum of the Pacific War

Fredericksburg, TX

Christmas Parade
The reason we had chosen to stop in Fredericksburg is because we’d read about the Museum of the Pacific War that is there.  I think it is the finest museum I’ve ever visited, including the Smithsonian.  The whole background, battles, and related topics about that part of WWII were superbly displayed.  And by our own dumb luck, we were there for the commemoration of Pearl Harbor Day, 71 years ago.  They had a program that included a warbird fly-over and honored four Pearl Harbor survivors that were present. It was stirring to see them; there are very few of them left now.  The evening was finished off with some Texas barbeque and a town Christmas parade that had everything from decorated tractors, horses, and pickups towing floats from every organization and business in town.  Great Fun!  Tomorrow we’re off to San Antonio.