Our travels west through Tornado Alley – 2017

It’s been a while since we posted, and we apologize to those who look forward to them.

So here we go, it’s catch up time!

Just a note, there are many pictures in this post, and you can click on any picture on the page to see a larger version of that picture.

Our travels west through Tornado Alley – 2017

Our travels west through Tornado Alley – 2017Since leaving south Florida on February 21st,  we ventured west and stayed in the southern states, mostly to avoid the cold and stay warm as we head back toward Junction City, Kansas for the last of our RV warranty work.  If someone would have told me ten years ago that I would visit the state of Kansas as many times as I have in the last 3 years I would never have believed them!   And this is the second time in the month of April, which is “severe weather month”.   That alone makes me laugh even harder!  You all know by now that I am not a fan of tornados, but then who is?

After leaving Ft. Myers we made a stop for a few days in Lakeland, Florida.  The RV park that we stayed at had many acres of beautiful trails along a river bed that had swampy coves throughout.  Someone pointed us in a direction to go if we wanted to see “big” alligators.  And yes, we saw big alligators!  Not only were alligators in these places (which is where they should be), the RV park housed a few in and around the 4 ponds within the park.  I didn’t mind seeing them in their natural environment, but walking through the park and seeing them sunning themselves along the beach line was a little to close for comfort.  However, they didn’t bother anyone and no one bothered them, so I guess they were ok making the RV park their home.  Right before we got to Lakeland, a video was making the rounds on the internet about a giant alligator – well, this giant gator was in Lakeland!  It was right down the road from where we were staying according to the locals.

 

We also went to a spring training game while in Lakeland.   We got to see one of Lebanon’s finest, Derek Fisher, in a game between the Houston Astros and the Detroit Tigers.
He played very well, he will be in the “Bigs” this year for sure!  He’s ready!

After leaving Lakeland we continued through the Florida panhandle and on to our next stop, Navarre, Florida.  Navarre is slightly west of Destin and east of Pensacola.  It’s very easy to get to the Gulf Islands National Seashore, which I think it is one of the cleanest, unspoiled beaches I’ve ever seen.  We did venture into Destin during our stay, and especially enjoyed the Harborwalk Village. We’ve  decided that on our trek back to Ft. Myers in the fall we’ll stop and stay in Destin.  It seems like a really cool area!  We also went into Pensacola and visited the home of the US Navy’s Blue Angels.

From Navarre, Florida,  we drove west and landed in Waveland, Mississippi at Buccaneer State park.  The Gulf of Mexico was about 50 feet from our RV site, and it was certainly a beautiful view and  a nice and relaxing stop.  This was my first time visiting Mississippi, but for Kevin his second time.  He was there for Computer tech school in Biloxi(Keesler Air Force Base) while in the Air Force way back in the day.

After our stay in Mississippi,  we continued on to a place I have always wanted to visit, New Orleans.   I was a little unnerved on our way there, as the  RV park where we were staying, The French Quarter RV park, is literally walking distance from the French Quarter.   I’m thinking how in the world are we going to navigate(64 feet of truck & rv) on the tight roads in the city of New Orleans?   Well we made it,  and let me tell you this was quite an interesting RV park.  Part of the park is right under an I-10 interstate overpass,  complete with a giant billboard in the RV park advertising the Power Ball payout!

This park was like a little oasis!  It was exceptionally well maintained and well run I might add. It had a pool, workout room, uber pick up and drop off at your rig if desired, and most importantly, nice big sites to park both the RV and the truck and believe it or not, grassy areas.  Oh and I might add, it also had a 8 ft. block wall with barb wire spikes for security!  Interesting!  As I imagined New Orleans did not disappoint.  So much history, food and drink and much more!  I cannot wait to return at some point in time during our continued adventures.

Onward to our next stop in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  Neither Kevin or I had ever been there, so we weren’t sure what to expect.  This was a short stop to visit with Kevin’s cousin, Claudia, who Kevin had not seen since childhood.  So it was “catchup time” for Kevin and Claudia!

From Baton Rouge it was on to Galveston, Texas(and yes, we kept singing the Glen Campbell song on the trip there)!  Again, a first visit for us both.  We were so very anxious to see Galveston, and we truly enjoyed the area, but the beach was not for us.  The beaches were not well maintained, the sand was dirty and the ocean along the beach had an off color and smell.  They were in the middle of a process to add sand to the beaches by dredging sand from the port channel and pushing it by pipes to the beach area.

However, the Galveston area is rich in history which we enjoyed.  We also had an excellent Italian dinner at Trattoria La Vigna, in the historic section of town.

We took a day and drove up to Houston to visit the Johnson Space Center. The Johnson Space center is NASA’s manned spacecraft center, where astronaut training, research, and ground control are conducted. It is a huge complex, comprising of 100 buildings and employing 3,200 workers, including more than 100 astronauts.

It has served as mission control for the Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Apollo–Soyuz, and Space Shuttle missions, and also handles ground control for the American portion of the International Space Station.

The Rocket Park is a must-see. The two rockets pointing skyward—a Mercury Redstone and an Apollo capsule on a Little Joe II booster—are impressive enough. The real treasure, however, is in the long shed or hangar next to them: a Saturn V, the rocket that launched

the Apollo missions to the Moon. Of the three surviving Saturn Vs, it is the most complete, with the most stages, plus its Apollo capsule (Command Module) and escape tower.

Several historic space capsules are on display at the Space Center Houston visitor site.  They include the Faith 7 Mercury capsule flown by Gordon Cooper; Gemini 5, flown by Gordon Cooper and Pete Conrad; and the Apollo 17 Command Module, nicknamed America, flown to the Moon and back by Gene Cernan, Ronald Evans, and Harrison Schmitt.  In addition, NASA’s latest-generation space capsule, Orion, is on display at Space Center Houston.

After a week in Galveston we headed to San Antonio by way of  Houston.  This trip was a challenge to say the least!  Many of you may have seen the video from our dash cam that Kevin shared on FaceBook, if not click on the video below.

Yes, the storm was ugly and there were sirens and tornado warnings screaming from my emergency phone app telling us to “take cover now”!  WTH do you do when there is no place to go except straight into it!  We followed along with everyone else at least knowing we wouldn’t be alone if we were to face this impending tornado.  I thank God, well I would say we BOTH thanked God and a whole lot more for getting us out of that storm cell unscathed.  I don’t ever need to see Houston again in the spring!

San Antonio is a must place to visit.  Kevin has been there many times for work conferences and I was there once.  It’s unique and has a character all it’s own.  If you are looking for a nice trip and you’ve never been, head to San Antonio.  There are many things to do there.

Continuing on,  Austin was our next stop.  Traffic, traffic, traffic and the highway system there is like a labyrinth.  I certainly would not want to drive that everyday.  The one day we visited the Lyndon Johnson Presidential library at the University of Texas in Austin.  We are trying to visit as many Presidential libraries throughout our travels.  Each one is so very unique and interesting.  We also went to see the South Congress Bridge Bats one evening.  At dusk the bat population (estimated at about a million and a half) that lives under this bridge, all take flight for their nightly feeding.  Most bat colonies of a million or more can consume up too 250 tons of a variety of insects in a given night. This unique event takes place from mid March to the beginning of November.

Tornado warnings once again confronted us while in Austin.  Our emergency weather radio and my phone app once again telling us to take shelter.  The shelter in this particular campground?  A bath house!  Sounds safe doesn’t it?  But it is better than being in an RV surrounded by trees!  We huddled in the shelter and once the warning was over we ran, with Stella, in pouring rain back to the RV.   Ok, I’m about done with tornados.  Get me out of Texas!!!  But wait, we are heading to Dallas!

On a side note, we’ve been looking for some kayaks to buy, and found a nice used one here in Austin, on Craigslist!  One down and one to go.

The Vineyards Campground

Glad to leave the traffic and highways of Austin, we moved on to an RV park in the town of Grapevine outside Dallas. What a GEM of a city RV park!  We were right on a lake, had a spacious site and a gorgeous little town full of neat stores and wineries!  Now we were happy campers!

The sky was blue with no clouds to be seen and there are shops and wineries.  It’s all good… until…yes, you guessed it.  Saturday I was having my coffee at the computer and all of a sudden I hear the loudest siren I’ve ever heard.  Yep, that’s a tornado siren!  However, the sky is blue and the wind calm.  Ahhhh….it was the weekly emergency test.  False alarm, ok, we can deal with this one!

While in the Dallas area, we went to the Stockyards  in Fort Worth.  Had a great lunch and saw the sights!   Lots of fun!  We even got to see a traveling display of Roy Rodgers’ Trigger and Bullet!   You probably have to be over 60 years old to know who that is!  LOL!

We also went to see the George W Bush Presidential Library on the campus of Southern Methodist University.   It was interesting to compare the Lyndon Johnson and George W Bush Libraries – Different times and generations – a big contrast in styles!

Ok, out of Texas and follow the path right up through, you guessed it, USA tornado alley,  Oklahoma here we come! I’m thinking, a person has to be insane traveling in these areas during spring.  April is “severe weather month”! I can tell you that Oklahoma is far more prepared for this kind of severe weather.  You know you are in Oklahoma when you see storm shelter doors leading into the ground(think the Wizard of Oz)!

We were headed to Clinton, Oklahoma for an appointment at Sportchassis to add a side camera connector to the truck.  We were there for an uneventful 2 days and then off to Oklahoma City.

 

For those of you who are our friends on FaceBook, I am sure you saw the pictures of our visit to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum.  We were only in Oklahoma city for 2 days and nights so we picked one place we wanted to see and we chose the memorial.  WOW is about all I can say!  Remembering that day seems like yesterday, yet ages ago.  If you are in the area, it is a ‘must’ see!

Perpetrated by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the bombing killed 168 people,  injured more than 680 others, and destroyed one-third of the building.  The blast destroyed or damaged 324 other buildings within a 16-block radius, shattered glass in 258 nearby buildings, and destroyed or burned 86 cars, causing an estimated $652 million worth of damage  Extensive rescue efforts were undertaken by local, state, federal, and worldwide agencies in the wake of the bombing, and substantial donations were received from across the country. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) activated eleven of its Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces, consisting of 665 rescue workers who assisted in rescue and recovery operations.  The Oklahoma City bombing was the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil until the September 11 attacks six years later, and it still remains the deadliest incident of domestic terrorism in United States history.

After leaving Oklahoma City we headed an hour north to Stillwater, Oklahoma home to Oklahoma State University.  We wanted to stop and visit with a friend, Karyl Henry, who we met during our son Todd’s football days at the University of  Maryland.

Karyl left Maryland 10 years ago to join the football staff of Oklahoma State University.  We had a great tour of the campus,  the football facility and even met up with head coach Mike Gundy.  Mike was an assistant coach at Maryland when Todd was at UMD.   We also stopped for lunch at “Eskimo Joes”.  I never heard of it until that day, but apparently it is very popular in Stillwater.

From Oklahoma City it was  off to Junction City, Kansas, home of New Horizons RV.  We were there a week (unlike last years 1 month),  had a few minor things done to the RV and continued west toward Colorado.   We were soon out of tornado alley, but not yet!  Yes, for those of you who follow weather,  eastern Colorado does fall in the tornado alley zone.  I’m just glad we are moving ‘away’ instead of ‘towards’.

Before getting into Colorado, we took a break, and had a 2 night stay in western Kansas, in the town of Goodland.  This is right on the border of Kansas and Colorado.  It is the home of the largest easel in the World!?!

It is also flat and tornado plagued.  And yes, you guessed it, we had a tornado warning while we were there!  We headed to the shelter which was attached to the home of the park owner.  We were the only ones heading there and when we get there the door is locked.  Why?  The warning app on my phone was howling “tornado warning take cover”!  Not to mention the nasty looking sky.

So off to the office we go to take cover.  At the office the very kind owner explained to us that if the tornado warning was for this particular area, the siren on the pole along side the road would go off.  The warning we are getting on our phone puts out a general warning for the area.  But if a tornado is evident in a particular area, then the sirens in that area will sound.  Ok, mark that one up for a lesson learned.  However, we both prefer to be proactive.

Amazingly, we did get out of Kansas and through tornado alley unscathed physically, not so sure about emotionally.  And as far as I’m concerned, I never have to see any of the tornado alley areas again especially during the spring!

Colorado here we come!

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