Wisconsin Maritime Museum

Two Rivers & Manitowoc, WI – July, 2016 Our next destination on the shores of Lake Michigan was Manitowoc and its close neighbor, Two Rivers. Our first stop after setting up at the RV park was the Point Beach State Park. The entrance fee we had to pay along with our campsite fee at the state park we had just departed was good at all Wisconsin state parks for the rest of the day. Otherwise we probably wouldn’t have visited Point Beach, but I’m glad we did.

The weather was blustery that day so we only walked along the beach briefly.

The Rawley Point Lighthouse is still very active so this is as close as you can get.

The lodge which now houses a store and nature center was built by the WPA, Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration. As always the stonework was the highlight.

Next we took a walk downtown in Two Rivers marveling at the many beautiful buildings. We especially enjoy the number of stunning churches.

The next day was warm and sunny again and we were excited to get an early start. I was pleased to find that the Lincoln Park Zoo in Manitowoc was free and that it opened at 7am. Zoos are a fun place to take a walk but I have been disappointed in our travels at how expensive most zoos are. So I was not about to pass up a free one.

We arrived about 8am and had the whole place to ourselves for an hour. We only saw one other human, a zookeeper feeding the goats. The zoo was small, as was expected, but we thoroughly enjoyed it.

The way they had everything fenced often made it impossible to get a good shot of some animals. The cougar exhibit had a glass viewing area inside a fake log for the kids. I climbed inside and Jim coaxed this beauty to walk in front of the glass a few times. She (I’m guessing) wouldn’t give me the time of day when I spoke to her but she responded to Jim and followed him back and forth.

I spent 5 minutes trying to get a decent picture of the bald eagle. Between the fencing and the bird that kept turning his back to me, I got nothing. But I walked away to try and spy a red tailed hawk in the next exhibit and the eagle started showing off for Jim, shaking out his wings and practically posing for him. He was able to lean forward and get a shot with his phone that didn’t include the fence.

Our next stop was the highlight of our weekend. The Wisconsin Maritime Museum was $15 and well worth the cost. One major focus of the museum was on the role of submarines in WW2. Manitowoc shipyards were refitted to build subs at the time and they are understandably proud of the way they came through for the war effort.

The submarine crews would come here to pick up their sub, finish their training, and sail down the Mississippi to the ocean. One sub, the USS Cobia, has returned to its place of birth and is on display. A guided tour is included with your admission to the museum.

Below is one of two hatches that the sailors used to enter the sub. They were also the only means of escape. Up to 5 men were expected to climb in there together.

It makes me claustrophobic just thinking about it. They then had to flood the compartment, open the outer hatch, and make their way up a buoy line to the surface with this crude rebreather.

They had to close the hatch behind them so the next group could go. According to our guide this was only attempted once in two hundred feet of water. Remarkably several men did survive the escape.

Understandably much of the tour focused on the 20 some torpedoes on board. I was more impressed with the number of switches, valves, gauges, and buttons. Every man on the ship knew how to operate every gizmo.

The tour was incredibly informative. There are way too many fascinating facts to share here. You can look up much of the info online by googling USS Cobia.

The rest of the museum was equally interesting. They have many great exhibits including a huge room full of beautiful full-sized boats.

We were slightly disappointed that there was not more information on local shipwrecks. There is a new exhibit opening August 12th that appears to cover this deficiency. But what the museum did offer was so much more than we expected.

We visited another free attraction the next day. The Rahr-West Art Museum is housed in this beautiful mansion. We were mostly interested in the architecture but they did have some nice collections that added to the experience.

We enjoyed our visit to this area immensely and felt that it was a real sight-seeing bargain including our campground. We stayed at Stop-n-Dock in Two Rivers. It was a nice small campground in a great location on the river. We got a full hookup site for $21 per night using our Passport America membership.

Charleston

Charleston, SC May, 2016 What a lovely city! We chose to visit for three days. I’m sure we could stay three months and not get bored.

We ventured out to North Charleston our first afternoon to search out a farmers market with live music. It turned out to be rather small but had everything we wanted and the performer was good. After checking out all the vendors and choosing some fresh vegetables, we still had plenty of time to spare so we set off to see what else the area had to offer.

We drove through their historic downtown, which looks like it is worth a stop on a future visit, and made our way to Riverfront Park. It’s a big, wonderful park with lots of beautiful art.

It also contains the Greater Charleston Naval Base Memorial. This is an excellent memorial that recounts the history of the Charleston Navy Yard that operated here from 1901 to 1996. They had several nice bronze statues. The one in the front is “The Lone Soldier”.

My father was stationed here aboard the USS Adams in the mid 1960’s and both my older brothers were born here. So I found it especially interesting.

The next morning we were raring to go visit downtown Charleston. I suspected parking downtown could be a nightmare in our monster truck, so the plan was to get there early on a weekday, scope it out, and hopefully snag some free on-street parking. The plan turned out to be a good one.

We were downtown about 8am. As suspected many streets were extremely tight. The parking garages we saw had clearances between 6 and 7 feet (our truck is exactly 7 foot tall and we wouldn’t chance a garage that didn’t have at least 7 ½ foot clearance). But we easily found street parking with a 2 hour limit at White Point Garden at that time of day.

This park was at the top of my must-see list. My family visited Charleston when I was a couple years old. Here’s me on my first visit to this park.

And me on our most recent visit.

I have a picture of myself, my brothers, and our cousins lined up on the larger cannon in the right of this photo. So even though I don’t remember that visit, the pictures are part of family lore, and it was a nice place to visit and get some perspective. We then set off to see as much of the downtown as we could in two hours.

We were blown away by all the beautiful homes.

And the amazing architectural details.

I loved peeking into the gardens.

But the churches were the most impressive.

The Circular Congregational Church on Meeting Street was my favorite.

It is also a cemetery and the graves are crowded into every available space, even right up against the building all the way around it.

Waterfront Park with its iconic pineapple fountain was a must stop.

Then we walked back to the truck along the waterfront. We didn’t manage to make it back downtown during this visit as we had planned but I know we’ll be back here again and again over the years. We will likely take a cab or public transit downtown if we ever visit on a busy weekend. They also have lots of metered street parking that didn’t appear to take a credit card. So if we came armed with enough quarters we might find a spot to park eventually.

We chose to go to Folly Beach on Saturday. I felt like we got a late start, arriving on the island about 11 am. All the parking lots downtown were pretty close to full. I was expecting to pay for parking but shocked that one lot was actually charging $20. The town also has small lots beside many of their beach accesses that charge $10 but we didn’t fit in their spaces. There is a lot of free on street parking as well but the only spaces we found would have required quite a walk to get to an access. We finally made our way to the county park at the south end of the island and if we go again we’d head straight there. It was $10 to enter put had spacious parking and good beach access.

We spent a pleasant couple of hours sunning and people watching. Even on 85 degree days those cool ocean breezes make it impossible for me to enjoy a dip. I’ve only immersed myself one time this spring, and that was after a morning jog. After a walk on the beach we headed back to camp.

Thank goodness we hadn’t gotten there any later. The line of traffic to get on to the island was now literally 5 miles long. Though traffic was heavy when we got there, it was never at a standstill.

We loved the campground we chose for our visit. Lake Aire RV Park was an easy 15 mile drive all the way to the downtown waterfront, but it felt very remote. It was $28 per night for full hookups with our Passport America discount. It had a large pond with a few of these adorable looking ducks. This mommy had 10 ducklings.

Sunny And 75

It’s a holiday when we’re together, I wannna stay with you forever. Somewhere, somewhere sunny and 75…” Joe Nichols

Riviera to South Padre Island, TX – January/February 2016 We had two weeks of pretty perfect south Texas weather. All but a couple days were sunny and mid 70’s. Better yet the nights were mild and rarely got below 50.

We arrived at Seawind Campground on the banks of Baffin Bay exhausted from three long days of driving. We were greeted by a warm wind and flowering trees. Seawind is right next to the bay with only a public park separating it from the water. We had a good view of the bay from our site although we were separated from it by a tall chain link fence.

We were soon walking along the shore enjoying the balmy afternoon. When we awoke the next day to a 65 degree morning we couldn’t even wait for daylight to get moving and put in a couple miles.

We were rewarded with a beautiful sunrise. The park has a long fishing pier and a little strip of beach that disappears when the tide is high.

After two nights and one full day of rest we were ready to move on to our original destination. Our plan was to stay just north of Brownsville for a few nights at Palmdale RV Resort while we explored the area and decided where we wanted to spend the time we had. We really enjoyed this park. It was friendly and had a great heated pool.

It was only 26 miles to South Padre Island so we considered staying there and driving to the island a few times. The reality was that the drive took forever with all the speed zones. We drove out first thing to check out the available campgrounds and knew we didn’t want to make that drive more than necessary.

We decided to move to the county’s Isla Blanca Park for the few days that promised the best weather. They have sites from $30-40. We were surprised to find a premium beachside site available and gratefully accepted it. It had full hookups and included cable.

Our only concern about this park was that several reviews mentioned an odor. We checked it out on our first visit only briefly and agreed there was a slight odor we could live with. After getting set up we took a stroll around the park and quickly found the smell we had read about.

On the bay side of the park is a fenced in area where I presume they treat the sewer. It reeked and we walked quickly away and avoided that side of the park the remainder of our stay. If we had gotten one of the sites on that side of the park we would have complained about the odor too. Actually we would have moved, to the mainland if necessary. It was nasty!

But on our side of the park the world was lovely. The ocean breezes smelled sweet, the sun shone, the beach was a short walk away, and it went on for miles. There was no end to the beachcombing that could be done here.

On the very southernmost point of the island, inside the park, is this beautiful memorial to all the seamen that have sailed out of this port and never returned.

Jim finally succumbed to the call of his rod and reel. There was a long jetty at the end of the beach that was said to have good fishing.

He set off to the end of the jetty the first morning. He returned a couple hours later having enjoyed his outing but with only one fish story to share.

He hadn’t gotten a single nibble and the other fishermen didn’t appear to be having any luck either. However at one point several of them started catching pufferfish. Since the spines of the puffer are poisonous he was entertained watching them try to get them off their lines and return them to the water without getting stuck.

Just north of town is an area where you can drive on the beach. We loaded up our chairs and a cooler and headed there in the afternoon. We pulled out onto the beach and soon staked out a great spot. It was a gorgeous 75 degree afternoon. The wind was a bit chilly but I planted our chairs beside the truck and it blocked most of it.

It was a fun beach with people driving by and a couple kite surfers floating by. This sand surfer had a very interesting homemade, wind powered contraption.

We had a great afternoon and managed to get a little sun.

The next day we put our kayaks in on the west side of the island in the Laguna Madre, a coastal lagoon. The weather was warm again without a cloud in the sky. We paddled up wind for a mile or so then let the wind blow us back past our put in. The water was surprisingly clear and despite paddling quite a ways from shore I don’t think it was ever over our heads. Jim saw a ray and a few fish jumped around us.

On Monday the weather was expected to be rainy and cold on the island but only 26 miles inland it reached over 80 degrees. We moved back to Palmdale first thing that morning before the rain came. It was a good deal at only $23 PN for full hookups with Passport America. The residents were entertaining and we had a fabulous afternoon visiting with them around the pool.

We explored the Brownsville area. Other than pretty decent shopping options I wasn’t terribly impressed. We drove out to the Brazos Island State Park which is the southernmost beach in Texas. It goes all the way to the Mexican border at the mouth of the Rio Grande River. It was a pretty and fairly deserted beach you can drive on. We chose to walk the beach as the tide was coming in and it was pretty narrow in places.

Since we eventually have to make our way north we decided to spend a few more days at Seawind, another great deal at $18 PN Passport America. It is only 8 miles off the highway and we really liked it there. We enjoyed more long walks along the shore. There were lots of birds.

None particularly special but entertaining none the less.

We had lots of colorful visitors to the fence outside our kitchen window. They would not come around when we were outside so I finally shot some through the glass.


We had a lovely two weeks in southern Texas. Almost every person we met exclaimed about the great weather they are having this year. Apparently the last couple years weren’t this pleasant. We are grateful to be living the way we are so we can just move when the weather doesn’t suit us.

Cruizin’

Los Angeles, CA – January, 2016 So here we are outside LA. Some may wonder why we went from San Diego to Yuma then back to Los Angeles so here is the explanation.

One of our dream scenarios for living on the road involved hanging out in cruise ports and being ready to jump on a cruise ship with hardly a moment’s notice in order to get that dream vacation for a song! That’s not exactly how it panned out, but there is always next year!

I started pricing cruises from southern California in the middle of November. I watched many sailings come and go on the websites and all the available cabins disappeared around $500 per person. Many promotional offers also came and went. The one that held the most appeal for us was the unlimited drink package.

Since the last time we cruised (2010) many cruise lines have started offering beverage packages that include all you can drink for one low price. This is sometimes offered for free as an inducement to book a cruise. I was waiting for the price of one trip to go down but the free drink package was taken off the table. I called Norwegian Cruise Lines and was informed that this promotion was generally only offered on cruises booked 30 days in advance.

So I started looking at cruises sailing in early January. This is when we decided instead of hanging out in SoCal waiting for our cruise to leave we would drive a few hours over Yuma way and take care of those errands across the border (dentist, prescriptions, glasses).

I finally booked a 7 day cruise from LA sailing on January 3rd. I made the leap on black Friday and got both the unlimited drink package and specialty meals package, gratis. We ended up spending $1709. We prepaid all our gratuities so we could conceivably walk off the ship without owing them a single penny. Here is how it broke down:

$1098     Cabin with porthole at $549 pp

$188     Tips on the beverages/$161 and meals/$27 (they were free but you still have to tip the waiters and bar staff)

$189    prepaid service charges (they charge you $13.50 pp/per day to tip everyone else)

$234    Port fees and taxes

If you happened to have read my post on Budgeting and Such you are probably saying “wait a sec, where’d they scrape up $1700 to go on vacation?!?” Well, here’s the best part. We budget $20 per day for campground fees. As an additional inducement for us to stay under this budget, I have planned all year to do something special with whatever we had left over. After guestimating our lot rent through our one year anniversary, I expect to be $1300 under budget.

I had hoped to find a cruise for under this amount (which I almost did if it weren’t for those pesky tips) but decided to go for it anyway and squeeze the remaining cost from my grocery and entertainment budgets for January (and February if necessary). We’re going to need to diet for 6 weeks after the cruise anyway!

We got a very nice surprise a couple days before we sailed, an email that said we could upgrade to a balcony room for $100 per person. I called them immediately and took them up on this. Balconies make a cruise so much more enjoyable. I’ll happily sacrifice another $200 from somewhere in our budget for that luxury.

The cruise turned out awesome! Not having to worry about a bar bill when we disembarked made it a lot more relaxing.  Plus, we were free to try some cocktails we wouldn’t have otherwise. The food was amazing! I wouldn’t have normally paid to visit the specialty restaurants since they generally charge at least $20 pp but we got 4 meals free and it really added to the variety of food and our enjoyment of the cruise.

Cabo San Lucas was our first and favorite stop. Here is the entrance to the harbor with their famous arch all the way to the left and the town on the right.

We arrived in port at noon and since they have no pier we had to wait our turn for a tender to take us to shore. We finally arrived about 1:30. We walked about a mile to a great beach.

It was right in town but just about perfect. The water was surprisingly clear. Part of the beach was very crowded but a short walk got us away from the crowds and we enjoyed a couple hours of swimming and sunning before taking a water taxi back to where we could catch a tender to the ship.

Mazatlan was pretty great also. They had a pier so we were able to get off the ship almost as soon as we docked. We walked straight to the historic district and explored it and its very large market all morning. They have the most stunning cathedral.

This city has done a great job of making visitors feel welcome. The expats have formed a volunteer group of tourist aides. They wear blue shirts and introduce themselves as soon as you get off the ship. They are located throughout the city and offer assistance often and are never far away if you have a question or problem. We have never felt safer or more welcome in a foreign city.

Puerto Vallarta was our final stop. We got off early again but they don’t really have much of interest within walking distance of the pier. It’s a 7 mile trip to downtown and the nearest beach. So we went back to the ship and after lunch we asked a taxi to take us to the downtown beach. They dropped us in the shopping district and it was an easy walk to the beach.

The beach was nice but the waves on this particular day were pretty fierce. So we commandeered lounge chairs at a beach restaurant, ordered some drinks, and spent a couple hours enjoying the sun.

The entertainment on board was exceptional. They had comedians, a magician, acrobats of the cirque du solei type, variety shows. Every night had top notch entertainment. Each show lasted about an hour and they had two shows a night at 7 and 9.

No blog about a cruise would be complete without a shot of the local wildlife.

We had a wonderful time and we felt our money was well spent.

A Cautionary Tale

Pismo Beach, CA November, 2015  We were so excited to find this awesome boondocking spot and I couldn’t wait to share it but first I have to admit some of the difficulties we encountered.

Just south of Pismo Beach, California, is the Oceana Dunes State Recreation Area. Jim found it while looking at a satellite view of the area surrounding the relatively expensive campground we were at in Pismo Beach. It sounded familiar to me and I realized a friend had sent me info on it several years ago.

We drove the beach one morning and it looked like a great spot. You can camp anywhere on the beach that you want after the first mile marker and the fee is $10 per night. It was only a few miles from our campground at Pismo Coastal Village where we had a midweek special of $40 PN for full hookups.

We were cautious so we drove over and checked it out again before moving our rig over on a Thursday morning. We drove to mile marker 4 (which is actually only 2 1/2 miles from the Pier Avenue access) and found a great spot. We made a U turn so our door would face away from the blowing wind and sand and got stuck mid turn. It was ridiculous how fast we got mired down in the loose sand!

We grabbed our travel shovel and several small pieces of plywood and started digging ourselves out. But I don’t think we ever would have gotten out of that first predicament on our own. Thankfully we didn’t have to as an awesome couple that was familiar with the area soon stopped, pulled out a tow rope, and started helping. Over an hour later we had disconnected the 5th wheel and reconnected at a 90 degree angle, another local good samaritan had stopped with a longer shovel, and we finally got out of our original dilemma. We gave huge thank yous all around and cash to anyone that would accept it.

We still had to do a U turn though to get into a good position to camp for the weekend and so we would be pointed toward the exit when it was time to leave. I’ll be darned if we didn’t get stuck again mid turn despite being on the more hard packed “road.” We were within sight of the original couple that had helped us. They were hooked up and getting ready to leave. It was embarrassing! Some other guys in 4 wheel drive trucks with big knobby tires stopped. We weren’t too far gone this time and they quickly pulled us out of that mess and gave us some more pointers about driving in California sand. I insisted they take some beer money.

The short story is that wet sand is our friend on this beach. Also we had to let our tire pressure down to 38 pounds despite what we had read to the contrary. I think the weight of our rig had a lot to do with it as she’s on the heavy side (don’t tell her I said so). After paying people to help us we figure the cost of camping here was $21 per night for our 5 night stay.

Although we had the best time camping here, I can only cautiously recommend it. People were getting stuck all the time! But others were always offering to pull them out. It was a real affirmation of the human spirit.

We spent a total of 9 days in the area and really enjoyed our visit. While at Pismo Coastal Village we walked to the pier every day where there is free fishing without a license.

We also walked to the Monarch Butterfly Grove where butterflies come to spend the winter.

And we enjoyed a visit to the Dinosaur Caves area in Shell Beach a few miles north.

But once we moved to Oceana Dunes we just settled in and didn’t get out much.

We walked the beach for miles. Jim surf fished. We had a campfire every evening. And we people watched. It was a bit loud on the weekend with tons of 4 wheelers and such. But we just sat in our chairs and watched the parade of people and machines with the ocean as its backdrop.

On our last night a couple pulled in next to us in a motorhome and promptly got stuck. They asked Jim’s advice and he said something like “looks like you’re home, come join us at our fire when you get set up.” So they did. We enjoyed visiting with them and the next morning we helped tow them back to the firmer sand before going on our way.

We had wondered all week if we were going to have any trouble getting out. It was like a small cloud hanging over the otherwise perfect days. We had aired our tires back up for a trip to the store and at first we tried getting out without letting the air out. But we finally had to air down. After that, a little digging, and the placement of plywood where necessary we were gratefully on our way.