Saturday, March 24, 2012

Houston, San Jacinto & NASA

Tue, March 20th - Sun, March 25th

Tuesday was a rainy day. We just stayed home and read and watched TV. Wednesday we drove into Houston. This is the Astrodome which was considered the "8th Wonder of the World" at the time it was built. It was the largest dome built in 1600 years, since Roman times. Now right behind it is the Reliant Center, which is even bigger.

This is Memorial Hermann Park in downtown Houston. Some millionaire with no family in the early 1900s gave all his money to the city to build a hospital and park for families. That hospital has now grown to the largest medical center in the country and the park is comparable to New York's Central Park.

It has the reflecting pool, fountains and monuments above and this lake where you can rent paddle boats. It has the Houston Zoo, a golf course, skate board park, tennis courts, hiking trails, a bayou, etc...over 1,200 acres total.

Along one end of the lake they have this row of animals from the Chinese calendar. Do you know what year you were born in? I was born in the year of the rabbit.

Check it out. Were you born in the year of the rat, tiger, horse...?

These are Texas Bluebonnets, the state flower, growing along Buffalo Bayou that runs along the south end of the park all the way thru the city 35 miles to the bay. They are everywhere down here, road ditches, open fields, woods, etc.

Thursday we crossed this bridge on our way over to San Jacinto, site of the decisive battle where Texas finally won their independence from Mexico.

This is the monument that was put up in 1936 on the 100th anniversary of the battle. There were supposed to be no monuments taller than the Washington Monument at 555 feet. So they built the monument exactly 555 feet and then set it on top of a 15 foot base, inside which is the San Jacinto Museum. There's always a way to make sure you have the biggest.

Just to give you an idea how big this is, John is standing on top of the 15' base right next to the monument with the reflecting pool behind him.

Views from the observation deck 489 feet up in the monument. The San Jacinto Battleground State Historical Park is on 1,200 acres of coastal prairie, tidal marsh and bottomland forest. It is surrounded by water, harbors, and petro chemical industry. Houston is 50 miles from the sea, but dredging of the 75 mile long Buffalo Bayou starting as far back as 1869 resulted in the Houston Shipping Channel thru the city to the San Jacinto River in 1914.

This view shows the shipping harbors and the Battleship Texas just to the right of the end of the reflecting pool. It is a museum and is the only survivor of the pre-World War I dreadnaughts, serving in that war and as a flagship in the WWII D-Day invasion. It is 573 feet long, 3 feet longer than the monument is tall.

This view is from down by the Battleship Texas looking back at the San Jacinto Monument. The Texans were so fired up after the Alamo, Goliad and Refugio where Santa Anna executed all the Texans left alive after those battles. Sam Houston led about 700 men against him here. Taking the Mexicans by surprise, the battle lasted about twenty minutes. When the Mexicans retreated, the Texans pursued them for an hour driving them to the water killing about 630 and capturing even more. When Santa Anna was captured and brought before Houston the next day, he signed a surrender to save his own life. When Texas joined the Union two years later, we annexed what is now Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah, parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas and Oklahoma (almost 1/3 of our country, nearly a million square miles). Imagine if they had lost that battle and all of that was still part of Mexico.
I guess their claim to be the "Birthplace of Texas" is well-deserved.

This book of poetry written by Mirabeau Lamar, commander of the cavalry unit under Houston, was on display in the museum open to this page. I thought the poem about marriage was interesting.

On our way back home, we stopped at Kemah Boardwalk. We passed on the rides and just walked along the boardwalk watching the sail boats, and couldn't pass up the seafood buffet. No wonder my clothes don't fit anymore. No more buffets for me!

In 1961 the port facilities here were a major factor in the selection of Houston for NASA. At low tide the Houston Shipping Channel is 40 feet deep and 700 feet wide. It ranks first in the U.S. for foreign tonnage and second in total tonnage. They get 5,500 ships a year with foreign trade alone of 70 million tons, more than $33 billion.

Friday we went to Space Center Houston, the Official Visitors Center of NASA's Johnson Space Center. They have all kinds of space craft, space suits, flight simulators, five different theaters, 800 pounds of lunar rocks and a 90 minute tram tour around the whole space center which covers 1,600 acres and employs over 14,000 people.

The tram tour took us thru the factory area where they are building new space crafts. Here the astronauts were doing demo walk-thru in their new space suits.

This was a display with the Lunar Roving Vehicle.
In the Blast Off movie, you get to see, hear and feel what it's like when 7 million pounds of thrust push a four and a half million pound vehicle skyward.

This shows a guy weightless inside the Sky Lab. The circle of white panels are lockers that the astronauts would use like a track and run around it for exercise. Their plates had velcro on the bottom, so they could fasten them down when they put them in the microwave. They had to strap themselves against the wall when they went to bed, so they wouldn't be floating around. The bathroom had vacuum hoses everywhere, so you could suck stuff away as fast as your body excreted it.

This is the Saturn I in a building that seemed about the size of a football field. We spent the whole day here and I think you could spend two, if you were really interested. It cost us $17.00 each (buying tickets ahead on the internet, $27.00 at the door), but they do have a $90.00, 5 hour behind-the-scenes tour, if you're really into it. One of the things we watched about the Space Station said they would see 16 sunsets in 24 hours as they floated around up there.

Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin, Jr. made the first step by humans on the moon July 20, 1969.

Here are a couple of quotes I especially liked.

"... when I first looked back at the Earth, standing on the moon, I cried."

Alan B. Sheperd, Jr.

"We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth." William A. Anders

And a couple I think everybody remembers.

"Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."

Neil A Armstrong

"Hey Houston, we've had a problem here."

James A. Lovell, Jr.

We've had a problem, too. Not enough time. Houston is the largest city in Texas and the 4th largest in the country with over 2.2 million people. From our campground in League City we drove about a half hour south to Galveston. When we left on Sunday, we drove north for an hour before we left the metro area. There is so much to see and do here. I hope we get a chance to come back sometime.

A couple things I forgot to mention in earlier blogs. The Texas litter campaign is "Don't Mess With Texas" $1,000.00 fine. Signs along the highways with an outline of the state and a big red DWI across it and "You Can't Afford It", while at the same time, they have big drive-thru liquor stores everywhere. And a t-shirt I saw in one visitor center that had a six shooter on the front and said, "We don't call 911 in Texas".

We have found everyone to be very friendly and helpful and they love the Winter Texans down here, especially the Canuks, of which there are so many, eh?

Sunday night we left Texas and landed in Hope, Arkansas, just north of Texarkana. We will be here two nights and then on to Little Rock for a few days.

More in a few days.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Galveston Island, Texas

Mon, March 19th

"Galveston, oh Galveston, I still hear your sea winds blowing...." And boy were they blowing today! But there were still quite a few people playing on the beach and in the water. Galveston is a 30 mile long barrier island, one of several that edge the Texas coast and protect the mainland from the sea. 650 miles across the Gulf lies the Yucatan peninsular area of Mexico. This statue was put up in memory of the Great Storm of 1900. It was the deadliest natural disaster in our nation's history killing at least 6,000 people. With a population of 40,000, Galveston was a major center of commerce, the most important seaport in Texas at the time. The hurricane completely covered the island with water from the Gulf of Mexico on the south to the bay on the north. There is a great book, and documentary about it on the history channel, called Isaac's Storm. They have since built a 17 foot concrete seawall and hauled material in to raise the island by 13 feet. In over 111 years there has been only minimal damage and loss of life in the many subsequent storms.

This Tall Ship Museum "Elissa" is in the harbor on the north side of the island. It is in sailing condition and sails on special occasions. She sailed under the British flag in the 1880s, loading Texas cotton for the mills in England.

Also in this harbor is this Off Shore Drilling Rig Museum and Education Center.

We decided to take a walking tour of some of the historic neighborhoods. Most of the homes were destoyed in the 1900 hurricane, but surprisingly some of them have been here since before that storm. This one is now being used for the city Visitor's Center and below is the garden.

This one just down the street on the next block is the Chamber of Commerce.

I would love to live in one of these homes, but only if I could afford a maid and a maintainance man.

These are just a small sample of the pictures I took and houses we saw. Great fortunes were made on cotton plantations, ranching, banking, shipping, resort hotels, etc.

On June 19, 1865 at the close of the Civil War, an order was issued in Galveston that the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation was now in effect. It became known as Juneteenth, marking the end of slavery in Texas. It has been celebrated as a day of freedom since then and grew into an international commemoration. In 1979 it became an official Texas holiday.

Many of the homes had widow walks on top, so the women could watch for their men coming home from the sea (or not), thus the name. This one had a two story widow walk.

In 2008 Hurricane Ike covered most of the island in a tidal surge. This house that was at least 6 or 7 blocks from the beach, shows how high the water was with a white mark at the top of the foundation on the right corner. We saw another house at least 10 blocks from the beach that had marked the water level at the tenth step up to their porch.

A sign in front of this home said the block had 5 feet of salt water and they had 2 and a half feet inside their home. They were out of their home a year for repairs. A lady on their block wanted to save all the big old trees that were destroyed, so she instigated a movement to get artists to make sculptures from them. These herons are carved from an 80+ year old Live Oak. It took the artist one day to complete with three different size chain saws and a chisel.

Each home owner chose the subject for their own sculpture and paid the artist. She chose this Geisha for her tree because she loved the Orient and had made many trips to Japan.

These angels represent the home owner's two granddaughters and were carved from the top of the tree that the Geisha was carved from. It is one of the only sculptures that is not still rooted in the ground.

This one is a large pelican holding a fish.

I think this one is the birds of Galveston.

This one is a pod of dolphins and a mermaid, symbolizing the mother and her children in this home.

This one just looks like a dog sitting in the yard, but it is also carved out of a tree stump.

A pelican and two alligators with leftover Mardi Gras beads hanging on it.

This is an angel cradling a bunny watching over a yard that is a bird, butterfly and bunny sanctuary. The home owner rescued abandoned rabbits after the hurricane and continues to do so.

The sculptures represent a small percentage of the trees that Hurricane Ike destroyed. After the storm the citizens worked to ensure that 100% of the "Iked" wood was kept out of landfills and used for recycling projects. Over a 100 tons of trees were selected for restoration of America's only remaining whaling ship, another 200 tons went to Malaga, Spain to be used in the completion of a full scale replica of the Brig "Galveztown", a local lumber yard took several tons of wood to mill and dry for building projects and several art galleries are featuring and selling a variety of wooden art pieces. That seems like a very organized recycling effort.

More about the Houston area tomorrow.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

North Padre National Seashore, Corpus Christi & Magnolia Beach on Matagorda Bay in Texas

Wed, March 7th - Sun, March 18th

We camped five nights at Padre Island National Seashore just a few feet from the beach. This was a rainy, windy day. I took this picture thru the windshield while laying in the bed in the back of the camper. Great day to curl up with a good book.

Remember that Alfred Hitchcock movie "Birds"? This place reminded me of it. Birds everywhere. Lots of Laughing Gulls and little bitty birds called Piping Plovers. They chased the waves out and ran back ahead of them when they came in again, their little feet running as fast as they could. They tap their feet to make it sound like it is raining, so their food will come out of the ground to them.

I don't know what kind this one is, but I bet my granddaughter does, and she will probably let me know. I think it's a sandpiper.

These guys are called Least Terns, the smallest of the terns in America. In the late 1800s they were hunted by the thousands to use their feathers for ladies hats. They are endangered, but there doesn't seem to be any shortage of them here.

Lots of herons and egrets here and this is where the whooping cranes come, but we were a couple weeks late to see their big migration.

While we were there, they had warnings out about the Portuguese Man-of-War jellyfish. Their sting is extremely painful. They are not a single creature, but a colony of smaller animals. The gas-filled float catches the ocean wind. Tentacles poison anchovies and other small fish. Feeding tubes digest the prey. Man-of-War Mackerel are immune to the poison and live within the protective tentacles. The common purple snail preys on the Man-of-War by floating on a bubble raft until it can attach itself.

Fortunately, the only jellyfish we saw were cannonball, sometimes called cabbagehead jellyfish. They don't have tentacles, but can occasionally sting and it's not too serious

There were quite a few of them washed up on the beaches here and at Magnolia Beach where we stayed next.

Here we were taking one of the ferries that connects the highways across to the many islands.

This one is Hwy. 316 to Port Aransas, Mustang Island and North Padre.

There are many causeways like this and ferries to connect all land areas over the mud flats, bays, etc. Notice the RV Park right on the beach of the bay. There are RV parks everywhere down here.

We didn't do much in Corpus Christi, but drive around the city a little. These were replicas of the Nina and Pinta built in Spain in 1992 for the 500th anniversary of the Columbus voyage. They toured American ports and now have a permanent home in Corpus Christi.

This is the USS Lexington Museum.

This is the beach on North Padre a few days before spring break. You can drive on the beach for something like 60 miles and camp free anywhere you like. We saw a few campers here and there, but it was pretty much deserted.

We came back on Monday afternoon and the scene was quite different. It looked like these pictures for miles and miles.

This was only Monday afternoon and they were just getting started. "Bottle of wine, fruit of the vine, when you gonna let me get sober..."

Ah, to be young and crazy, footloose and fancy free! It makes me tired just to think about it.

Tuesday we moved further north to Magnolia Beach on Matagorda Bay, near Port Lavaca. It is free camping on the beach here, also.

We parked right on the beach along with lots of other campers. Wildflowers in the grass, just like most of the highways in Texas, thanks to Lady Bird and her beautify America campaign.

We hadn't even been here a half hour when a big ship went by out in the bay. When the waves came in from the ship's wake they washed right up under the RV. So we moved back about six feet. After that, they came right up to our front step everytime a big ship passed by, several times a day.

I took this picture from the doorway of our mobile beach house.

Life is good on the beach. Can somebody bring me a margarita?

We were out for a walk, but John stopped to watch a big ship go by, while I was taking pictures. Down the beach in the background, you can see the beach campers, mostly Canadians speaking French. Way over half the snowbirds are Canadian.

We drove over to Port O'Conner for the Friday Shrimp and Fish Fry. Fresh seafood, yum! The barges were coming and going at a steady pace.

We watched the shrimp boats coming in with their day's catch. It reminded me of cows coming in at milking time. There was just a long line of them coming in from the ocean. The semis and smaller trucks were lined up waiting to be loaded with fresh seafood.

This is a pile of oyster shells next to the marina.

These brown pelicans and the dolphins just hang around waiting for the scraps.

I picked up shells at each beach that we stayed at. There were completely different kinds of shells at each beach. These are from South Padre.

There were hardly any shells at all at Padre Island National Seashore, just these little bitty ones that were only about a half inch or so across.

At Magnolia Beach, there were just millions of shells, but they were bigger and thicker and a totally different kind. I have a couple of buckets of shells stashed out of sight in the RV. I don't want John to be calling me Lucy (like Lucille Ball in "The Long, Long Trailer). If you've never seen it, it's hysterical!

One last picture as we leave the beaches. We left for Houston today. We are at a campground in League City for a week and will be sightseeing in the Houston area, before heading further north.

Looking forward to connecting with family and friends again about the first week in May.

Over and Out,