Thursday, February 28, 2013

To Betty's in LA & Cookin Cracklin

Our 430 mile personal record day was really not too bad, just long.   Four hundred of the miles were on I-10 and with the exception of about 20 miles in Louisiana the road was in good shape and there was almost no construction.  We even managed to arrive in time for Betty's famous Happy Hour. Here are a couple of sites from along the road.
We passed through (and under) Mobile and could see the vomit comet, Carnival Triumph, in the repair facility.  Makes us wonder if we will ever go on a cruise.
We always know we are close to Betty's when we cross the Atchafalaya Basin just east of Breaux Bridge.  This is an impressive 18 mile stretch of elevated highway.  The water in the basin was very high from all the winter rain they have had. 
One of our favorite things about being at Betty's is the great food.  On our first day almost everyone went to Chef Roy's in Rayne.  The food was fantastic and a fun time was had by all. 
We have always wanted to go to Touchet's Cracklin Cookin' Party, but it is usually in January when we aren't here.  This year it was delayed because of the weather so we got to go.  We were not disappointed as it was a wonderful day of food, drinks and music.
There were about ten cooks who all prepared cracklin using their secret recipes.  Cracklin is deep fried bits of pork rind and fat that each cook spices their own way.  They also all cooked other delights.  Top right is a big pan of beans and sausage, left is some boudin, bottom is cracklin with spicy powder and fried beef.  There were also wings, meatballs, sausage, sweet potato chips and many other tasteful treats, and it was all free.  Gotta love this place.
Nanc with Irene and Merlene.  Here is a tater tot with cheese and jalapeno that was wrapped in bacon that I enjoyed with a beer.  All before 10AM.  The afternoon cholesterol seminar was not well attended:)
Patty, Paul, Dan, Marvin, Merlene and Peggy from Betty's at the party.
John and Jan enjoyed some fried goodies.
At Touchet's this is know as the horny corner.  Here are John, Peggy, Carol, Jan, Wendy and Ray.
Celine and Jean Paul, our friends whom we visited in Quebec after meeting them at Betty's, enjoying the music.
Me with Betty.  I got this pic off Ruth's blog, Home is Where We Park It. You can check it out for more pictures of the activities at Betty's.
Gervais, Claude, Diane and Jocelyn at Touchet's.
Dan and Merlene looking to see what is happening inside while all the cookin was happening outside.
And there was plenty going on.  This is one of three bands that played non-stop all day.
The place was packed with dancers and partiers having a great time.
 We are looking forward to more fun times here in LA.
I added three more blogs to my blog list, Ruth's, Home is Where We Park It, Dan and Merlene's, Goan's On, and Ray and Wendy's, Anywhere USA.   We met Ruth, Dan and Merlene at Betty's on previous stays and have been enjoying reading about their travels.  When we pulled into Betty's this time Wendy and Ray, who are new fulltimers, recognized us from reading our blog.  On another note our blog passed the 50,000 hit list this week.  We are now usually averaging between 40 and 50 readers a day.  Thanks for reading and for the positive feedback. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

More FLA with Friends

We continue to explore the Gulf Coast of Florida with Mike and Sherri with visits to Sanibel, Captiva, Fort Myers Beach and the Edison & Ford Winter Estates. The weather has continued to be shorts and tee shirt quality.
Sanibel is all about collecting shells and here are Sherri and Nanc doing the Sanibel Stoop looking for the treasures in the water while Mike enjoys soaking his toes.
They were not big, but Sherri did find a few neat shells.
A must see on Sanibel is the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The variety of birds in one place is stunning. Here are white pelicans, a variety of gulls and others all gathered in a good feeding area.
While we were watching three spoonbills flew in to join the others. Ding Darling is a great place to easily get up close with many birds from the comfort of your car or it's a great bike ride if you so desire.
We visited the Edison Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers.  I love this huge banyan tree that was only 4 feet high and 4 inches in diameter when it was planted by Edison in 1925.  It now covers more than an acre even after it was trimmed to conform with the insurance company requirements.  This tree was part of an Edison, Ford, Firestone project to find a new source of rubber for car tires. 
Edison built a winter home here in 1886 and Ford purchased the adjacent property in 1916.  This is the Ford home.
Here is Mike with Henry.  Mike is a big Ford fan who has owned a Model A, still has a 1950 beauty and drives a Fusion. 
Edison's home included a main house and identical guest wing that are connected by a breezeway.  Compared to other homes we have seen, including Ringling's, these winter homes where very modest.
Here is Tom by the banyan tree.
The Edison  Museum includes many of his inventions like the phonograph, generators, movie projectors and a juke box.  Edison truly was a brilliant man.
Here we are with Mike and Sherri at a rooftop restaurant in Fort Myers Beach where we went to enjoy the sunset.  It sure has been great having visitors to share our lifestyle.
I am a bit behind with the blog.  After Mike and Sherri left we tried to hook up with our PA friends John and Patrice who were in Florida, but it did not work out.  We moved to the Escapees park in Bushnell where we gave Opus a much needed washing and waxing which almost instantly brought rain.  Oh well, as least it was clean, so the rain was not a big deal.  While there we got together with Nanc's sister Judy and her husband Bill along with their friends, Velma and Joe, but I failed to get a picture.
We did get to spend some time with Wallace and Wanda.  They were the very first Escapees who greeted us with big hugs at RV Boot Camp in 2007.  It is always fun seeing them and we had a nice evening at our own happy hour and dinner.
As I write, we have arrived at Betty's in LA for a two month stay.  We got here in only two days from Bushnell, including a day of driving 430 miles, a new personal record for us.  We only did it to beat a weather front that was moving in and it was the right idea as the next day would have been windy and rainy.  The fun times have already started here and more posts will be following soon.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Greatest Show on Earth with Friends

We moved on to North Fort Myers for a week of exploring and a visit from Mike and Sherri.  We love sharing our RV lifestyle with friends and having the opportunity to tour new things with them.  We drove to Sarasota to visit  The John & Mable Ringling Museum.  Sarasota was the winter home of the circus and the Ringlings built a beautiful house here.  The site is now a museum of circus memorabilia and a art museum housing the works they collected.
This sure sums it up.  You have to love the circus.
This mural of famous circus performers is in the entrance of the Tibbals Learning Center, a building dedicated to the history of the circus through the years.
Here are Sherri and Mike "clowning" around.
I got into the clown car and Nanc did a bit of bareback riding.  It was great being there when there were no kids giving us competition getting to these fun, interactive exhibits.
A highlight for me was the Howard Bros. Circus Model, the world's largest miniature circus.  The model, which includes eight tents and 42,000 objects that cover 3,800 square feet, was created by Howard Tibbals. 
A few pictures of the back lot.  There was everything from the motor pool, to dressing rooms, to dining halls.  In those days the circus often stayed in town for only one day and everything was set up and torn down each day.  The kitchen, which was the first thing set up as they fed 1,100 people three meals a day, was torn down and moved to the next town before the performance was over.  
The midway with the ticket wagons and all the sideshows.
Since there were few zoos that people could get to, the menagerie of all the animals was a major draw.  When the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey combined in 1919 the circus train had 100 railroad cars.
And under the big top was the three rings of performers.  The last performance of the Greatest Show on Earth under the big top was in Pittsburgh, PA in 1956.  Since then the big circus is held in a large arena, but there are still smaller circuses that perform under the tent.   
This sure shows why the circus is exciting with so many things happening all at once.  This reminded Nanc and I of the first year I taught and we took my class on a field trip to see the circus.  The look on all the kids faces was absolutely priceless. 
Part of the display of ad posters that the advance teams would plaster all over town in the weeks before the show arrived.
 Pictured at the bottom are old circus wagons.  The cannon truck at the top was used by Bruno Zacchini, the human cannonball. They had a picture of the truck when Bruno performed at Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh, a show that I saw.  How neat. 
Ca' d'Zan - House of John, was the home of John and Mabel.  It was built in the Mediterranean Style and was based on buildings in Venice and Seville.  The house faces the river and is quite impressive.
The interior had all the opulence you find in the homes of the rich.  That said, John was wiped out by the 1929 crash and died penniless.
There is also an art museum that we did not get to visit after spending so much time at the circus exhibits and the house.  These are a few of the outdoor sculptures on the grounds.  We loved the one that has been almost completely covered by the banyan tree.
A visit to the Ringling Museum should be on your to do list for the Gulf Coast of Florida and make sure you allow for plenty of time to see it all.  We were there over four hours and didn't have time to visit the Museum of Art.  Well, I guess we will just have to make a return visit.  The circus has a way of bringing out the kid in all of us.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

No Sharks in Shark Valley

We moved from the Elks to the Miccosukee Casino for two nights.  A great South Florida stop that offers free dry camping, $25 free play for first timers and 2 for 1 buffet coupons.  We drove to the Shark Valley entrance of Everglades National Park.  There are no sharks here but there are many gators and tons of birds.  The valley gets its name because it is only 7 feet above sea level much lower then coastal cities Naples to the west and Miami to the east.  Early explorers found sharks where the fresh water flows into the gulf, thus the name Shark Valley.  At this entrance there is a 15 mile loop trail where you can walk, bike or take a tram.  We opted for the tram as we were not prepared to bike. 
Anhinga soaking up the sun and drying its wings.
An egret with its bright yellow feet.
A mother gator protecting her young (find it), which are a favorite food of big males and the invasive Burmese Python.  The pythons have become a major problem and have almost wiped out the small mammals and deer in the park.  They had a hunt this year and several hundred hunters were only able to kill about 40 snakes.
A flock of wood storks, that are no longer on the endangered list, gather in the Everglades river of grass.
Nanc at the tower where you have a great view of the vast expanse of the Everglades.
This is what you see when you look down from the tower.  There are eleven gators gathered in this spot and many more are all around.  I'm glad we were in the tower.
A stupid tourist getting too close.  I told him I know gator hunters Liz and Kristie, but.....
....he was not impressed and got up and took a walk on the path toward me before turning back to the water.  Needless to say I moved along quite quickly.
Look at those teeth.  They have 80.
Nanc's favorite, the Great Blue Heron.
Another egret and gator.
This big guy was about 10 feet long.  The ranger said they can run 40 mph for a short distance, so remember the rule when getting close to one, make sure you can run faster than at least one of the people who are near you.  Actually, attacks on humans are very rare.
A Tricolor Heron doing a little fishing.
Here a tortoise, gator, moorhen and egret are all sunning along the water.  
Up close with an egret.
Up close with a moorhen.  Shark Valley is a wonderful place to see a large variety of birds and to get really up close with gators.
When the Tamiami Trail was built across the Everglades in the early 1900's it blocked the flow of water through the Everglades.  As they have learned the devastating effect this has had on the ecosystem, they have decided to build several miles of elevated highway to improve the flow to more historic levels.  Hopefully, this will work to restore the area to its historic water levels.