Saturday, October 29, 2011

October 29, 2011

Sam Houston

About an hour west of Livingston is Huntsville, TX.  This is the city(town) that Sam Houston called home when he wasn’t otherwise occupied fighting (and defeating ) Santa Anna, being President of the Republic of Texas, senator, governor of two states, and a number of other roles important to the establishment and early protection of the state of Texas.  There is a college/university here named for him that is the oldest college west of the Mississippi. 

Several years ago, local civic clubs and a noted sculptor/artist erected a small tribute to him.


It is 67 feet high and stands on a 10 foot base.  Tallest statue of a hero in the world.

On the grounds of the school is a park like area that contains his house and outbuildings, the house he died in, a blacksmith shop and store of the period and several other log homes from the area of Houston’s home.  There is also an excellent museum that traces his very full life from birth to death.  He did a LOT.  Without him Texas well would not be.

Several blocks away is the cemetery where he is buried.  Very interesting to walk through.

October 28, 2011

Rainbows End

One of the national RV clubs we belong to, The Escapees, is based in Livingston, TX in conjunction with a RV park called Rainbows End.  I guess It was from this park that the whole Escapees club/concept/movement started.  Many people retire there. People speak of it as though it was some sort of Mecca.  Not in a fervent sense but a point of interest.  It was only a 45 mile side trip and we have done far longer diversions so why not? 

Nice park.  Somewhat older than I expected but very well maintained.  Three (actually four) sections as though it was added to in phases.  We stayed in the oldest section which was very nice.  Large, open, sites with lots of tall trees to give shade with filtered sun light.  Feels like camping in a national park or forest. The newer sections have smaller but adequate sites and no trees.  Very much a parking lot feel.  Much like retirement and snowbird communities in the Southwest, there are a large number and variety of things taking place throughout the week.  Crafts, exercise, computer to to, cooking, etc.  No golf courses nearby though.

Nice to visit.  They need to upgrade a couple of things to make it a place I would want to return to. (Present WIFI is VERY limited and costs $$.  Need trees through out park.)

Now to figure out how to productively use a couple of days before somehow sneaking around Houston to find a home base for 4-5 days.

October 27, 2011

Johnson Space Center

Spent the last two nights in Dickenson, TX in a small park several miles off the freeway .


Sunrise over south east Texas

This morning we packed up and drove twenty minutes north to the LBJ Space Center and Space Center Houston (the tourist site for the Space Center).   Arrived a little before it opened and walked right in when the doors opened.  (Off season has its’ benefits)

First thing was a tram tour of the Space Center campus.  Several stops.  First was to view mission control – actual control center for all space flights until several years ago. 


New mission control is one floor below old.  Very knowledgeable tour guide gave a much abbreviated but informative talk on past, present, and future of NASA programs.  Next stop was building housing large array of simulators.  All aspects of space program have simulators for astronauts to train on.  Each piece of the International Space Station, various parts of the shuttle, lunar rover and proposed descendants, even the Russian space craft. 


Simulators for various Space Station modules.


Green object in center is actual Russian space craft still being used.

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Simulator of US space craft just retired.  See any difference?  :)


Last stop was building holding Apollo 18.  Actual rocket and spacecraft that was next to go before congress cut funding to entire project. 

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One BIG rocket.  Next generation will be even larger.

Back in Space Center Houston we toured many informative displays, sat through several live presentations, and watched four movies (including an Imax).  We spent over six and a half hours there and could have spent much more if we had been more informed going in as to what to expect and had had a plan and had not needed to push on to our camp spot for the night.  The locals have a really good deal available to them.  For three dollars more than the price of a regular admission you can get a season pass.  (Season is a whole year).  I can see using it fairly often as some displays and presentations change.



To complete our day we had an enjoyable (NOT) forty mile, nearly three hour drive into and out of Houston during afternoon commute.  We did fine.  Just get in one lane and watch for the turkeys weaving in and out in front of us.  Sure was nice to settle down in a quiet, dark, spot for the night.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

October 25, 2011

Trip to Galveston


Sunrise yesterday over Port Arthur


From Port Arthur there are two basic ways to get to Galveston.  The first is to take an expressway north to I10 and then I10 west to Houston and then another freeway south and over a bridge to Galveston Island.  The second heads west and south over bayous and flatlands ‘till it reaches the shoreline.  It then goes west along the coast to the end of a spit.  At the end of the spit there is no bridge.  A ferry instead.  And it is free!  Guess which way we went. 

Neat drive through little shoreline towns and small neighborhoods.  EVERY house is built off the ground on pilings.  Car parking on the ground, ‘deck’ on the second level, and actual house on the third level.  And all houses painted in a variety of bright colors.  Don’t think we would want to see the conditions that dictate this type of construction.


Neighborhood on stilts


Two story house on stilts


Inhabitant must have physical disability


Town on stilts


Entire K-8 school on stilts

The ferry runs 24/7 allowing people to live on the spit and still have easy access to the touristy Galveston.

Pelicans waiting for the right fish

Pelicans at ferry terminal

 On the ferry

Carbus on ferry


Approaching Galveston

Ferry ride was about 20 minutes from load to unload.  We drove along the shoreline, parked, and strolled the beach for a bit. 

IMG_0040004 Pete at the beach in Galveston

Tourists on the Gulf of Mexico


Surf foam.  Note the brown tinge.

Then north 20 miles to an off the freeway RV park.  In the afternoon we visited several stores to complete a craft project we are working on and then mailed it.  We located the entrance to the Johnson Space Center, our goal for Thursday.  Now to find something for tomorrow.  Maybe back to Galveston.

Map of our trip to date.

Monday, October 24, 2011

October 23, 2011


So far on our trip the weather has been pretty much ideal.  We had one afternoon in southwest Wyoming where we had a few short periods of rain and that cleared quickly.  The rest of the time has been mostly sunny and mild with some windy days.  Today started much the same.  A little morning high cloudiness which left quickly and warm temperature.  As we headed west things changed some.  The sky north and west of us started to darken.  Not dramatically but noticeably grayer.  We had clear blue sky with lots  of sun.  We stopped about ten miles east of the Texas/Louisiana border for gas and when we left the carbus we felt the change.  The temperature was 85 and the humidity was well over 50%.  Normal for here but the first time we had seen it this trip.  You’d think that with high humidity and approaching threatening skies that some precipitation would follow.  Nope.  In Oklahoma, also experiencing drought conditions, the local news weather people were very enthusiastic when they could predict a chance of rain.  The weather people here have developed a different attitude.  Even with all the signs and instrumentation saying rain could happen their approach is more “I’ll believe it when I see it”.

Today we ended up in Port Arthur.  Pretty much the eastern end of the Texas Gulf Coast.  Y’all (that’s southern speak :)  )  probably remember that Port Arthur is the home town of Janis Joplin.  If you didn’t remember that, now you know.  This area was also home to several other notables including country singer/actor Tex Ritter and Mildred Ella " Babe" Didrikson Zaharias, perhaps the greatest female all-around athlete ever.

To get to Port Arthur we had to go over a bridge. 

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The Rainbow Bridge (right) has a 680 foot main span and a vertical clearance of 177.0 feet.  Built so that tallest US ship could go under it.  It never did however. Bridge on left with shorter span(s) and lower height was built after ship decommissioned I guess.  Neat to drive over .

October 22, 2011

Swamp Tour 2


Sunrise in southwest Louisiana


The first tour we took was good and we saw wildlife and local atmosphere but it had a bit of a Disneyland feel.  In fact the boat we were on was almost an exact replica of those on the Jungle Tour ride.  The tour office even has a gift shop where you can buy baby alligator heads.

We wanted to see if we could find a tour with a more close up feel.   In southwest Louisiana we found a swamp tour run by a guy with a biology/botany degree who grew up in the area.  This is his office.


His emphasis is not to show visual ops a la Disney (although they might happen) but to educate people about the swamp and let them experience it close up.  Our tour was done by his son who didn’t have the degree but had 20 years of OJT with his dad.  Great tour!  First, the boat.  Much smaller.  Held 12 people instead of 30.  Each person sits in own swivel chair instead of long benches down length of boat.  Very shallow draft.  The other tour boat was flat bottomed but this one could go in water 14 inches deep or less (we did).  This boat could go through trees no more than five feet apart (we did).  Full two hours of close up and hands on experience.  The other tour was on a river and up some large bayous.  This tour twisted  DEEP into the swamp through a continuous maze of cypress trees. 

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On the first tour we saw a number of swamp birds and several alligators at a distance sunning themselves on logs.  On this tour we only saw one alligator (it was a bit cool and cloudy).  The experience was vastly different however.  We twisted and turned way into the swamp and at the end of a small waterway we pulled up on a bank – into the opening of an alligator nest.  Complete with mother and babies.  Bow of boat was about six feet from mom.  Guide gently teased her a bit with an oar to get a little reaction for pictures. 


Mom in center.   Babies on bank behind and to left.  Guide figured mom to be 7-8 feet long.


Hi there!



Note oar


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Close up of some of the babies.  There are at least three in this picture.

We enjoyed the experience for a short while and then left them in peace.  Definitely not Disney.  The two tours actually complimented each other.  We saw more on the first but learned more and experienced more on the second.