Friday, December 22, 2017

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Roseate Spoonbill

After the rocket launch last weekend, we continued across the bridge from Titusville over to Merritt Island, where the Kennedy Space Center is located, as well as Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Our first stop was at the Visitor Center, where we picked up a map and chatted with one of the current RV volunteers,

Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center

Buzzards perched on the Visitor Center

and then took a stroll on the boardwalk behind the building.

We spotted buzzards perched on top of the building, and a small alligator in the pond.

Boardwalk Trail

Small alligator trying to stay hidden in the tall grass.

Small gator

The pond looked beautiful with the fluffy white clouds and blue sky overhead.

Pond behind the Visitor Center

The refuge has several hiking trails, and a couple wildlife drives.  We decided that it was a beautiful day to take a drive through the refuge with the top down on the Jeep.


We started out on Black Point Wildlife Drive.

Wildlife Drive

The drive is 7 miles long, winding through the marshes and ponds, with lots of opportunities for bird watching.

At our first stop, we spotted a Little Blue Heron, and a Snowy Egret,

Snowy Egret

Little Blue Heron

as well as a fairly big alligator.



As we got closer to the larger ponds, we started to see many birds flying overhead, including this cormorant,


and I caught a very quick glimpse of this pair of roseate spoonbills.

First glimpse of Roseate Spoonbills

There was an small parking area between two large ponds, so we parked the Jeep and took a short walk through the marsh to see what we could find.

There were lots of ducks in the ponds,


including a large number of these little black birds with short white beaks.  I looked them up, and found out that they are American Coots.


I also spotted this colorful bird, which at first I thought might be a Tri-Color Heron, but after looking it up, it looks more like a Reddish Egret.

Tri-color Heron

Another pair of Roseate Spoonbills flew over us, but I still couldn’t find them in the pond!  I was very anxious to get a picture, because in all our time in Florida, I’ve never seen one!

We got back in the Jeep and continued on . . . and then I spotted them!

Wood Storks and Roseate Spoonbills

There were a group of Roseate Spoonbills and Wood Storks perched in the mangroves . . . we stopped and I zoomed in to get a better view.  With the roof off, I could stand on the seat and get a nice view!


Several were flying around, and I got a couple of great shots!

Roseate Spoonbill

They are such pretty birds – I love the pink color!

Roseate Spoonbills

There was also a Great Egret looking for food in the pond, a little closer to the Jeep.


Once I had my fill of the Spoonbills, we continued on . . . and in another area of the marsh there was a large group of Egrets and Spoonbills gathering, and in the middle of them, a couple of wild hogs.

Wild Hogs among the birds

The birds didn’t seem to be bothered by the hogs at all.  Another spoonbill . .


and another small alligator!

Another little gator

The final area of the wildlife drive took us away from the marshes, and through an area of pine scrub.  We were on the lookout for Bald Eagles, but didn’t spot any.

The next wildlife drive ran parallel to the Atlantic Coast, along the edge of the Indian River.  We didn’t spot much wildlife along this drive, so it wasn’t nearly as interesting, but it did bring us out to the coast and at the end we just took a left turn and we were entering the Cape Canaveral National Seashore. 

Coming off the wildlife drive, we were actually already inside the National Seashore, and didn’t drive through the entrance gate (we saw it on the way out) . . . so that might be a little loophole for getting to the beach without an entrance fee . . . although technically you’re supposed to pay the entrance fee at the beginning of the wildlife drive, too.  Didn’t really matter for us – we have our annual pass anyway.

The national seashore encompasses 24 miles of coastline, with a dozen or so parking areas and walkways over the dunes to the beach.

Over the dunes 

Lots of open beach!

Playalinda Beach

Empty beach

It looks like a nice quiet place to enjoy some sun, sand and water . . . I’m sure we’ll be back!

Peaceful Beach

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Our first rocket launch

NASA's view of the launch

Photo credit:  NASA  (We weren’t THAT close!)

We’ve been settling into the RV Resort nicely, getting our Christmas shopping and decorating done.

My new wool habit – a little wooly pine tree,

Wooly Pine Tree

and a Nativity runner for my kitchen counter.


We have just a few Christmas touches around the RV, but some people have gone all-out with lights!

Takes the prize for Christmas decorations

Tom and I have a rather large Christmas gift for each other this year – somewhat unexpectedly . . . Tom and the boys have always wanted to get new wheels and tires for the Jeep, but Tom figured that we should get some mileage out of the existing tires before we replace them. 

We had just started talking about trying to get that done this spring (maybe on the way back up to Virginia), when last week on our way to Sanford we heard a “Pop!” and the tire monitor on the dash started flashing at us!

Tom pulled over to the shoulder and, sure enough, we had a flat!

Uh oh!  Flat tire!

Tom got the old one off and the spare on in its place!

Getting the spare put on

It was actually pretty easy, and we were back on the road in about 45 minutes!  So now we’re running on the spare and have the flat tire on the back of the Jeep . . . and we’ve been shopping wheels, and tires, and lift kits . . .  We finally ordered the wheels and tires, and are waiting on the lift kit until we see the Jeep with them installed.

Tom decided to wash the Jeep to get it ready . . .

Washing the Jeep

now it’s all clean and ready for new shoes!

Clean Jeep - waiting for new shoes!

We’d been hearing about the upcoming SpaceX launch since we arrived here, and when it was re-scheduled for Friday morning, we decided to go into Titusville to watch.  There are lots of locations for a good view of the launch sites, and we ended up picking a parking lot on Highway 1, directly across from the Vehicle Assembly building and the launch pads.

A good location for viewing the launch

There were already several cars there when we arrived, so we figured it must be a pretty good spot.

It was definitely a beautiful morning for a launch!



We had our chairs, two sets of binoculars, and the long lens on my camera . . . we were ready!

A beautiful morning for a rocket launch

We weren’t looking at quite the right location across the river, but as soon as takeoff occurred at 10:36 am, we spotted it!

Take Off!

We watched as the rocket rose into the sky over Cape Canaveral,

Still going up!

and as it disappeared into the clouds!

Watching it disappear into the clouds

Funny – it sure looked like it was going in a straight line as it rose into the sky!

Looked like a straight path to us!

It wasn’t until the rocket had disappeared into the clouds that we finally heard the roar from the take-off! 

Residual clouds

Just a few minutes later, as we were watching the residual fluffy clouds from the take-off disperse,  we spotted the first stage of the rocket returning!

Rocket landing!

We watched the fireball lower towards the ground, and heard the sonic boom soon after it disappeared from view, but couldn’t see the actual landing from our location.  I borrowed a photo from SpaceX that showed the landing – pretty cool that they could bring it back down with such accuracy!

SpaceX view of the landing

It was a pretty cool thing to see, and we heard that night launches are even better, so we’re hoping for another before the end of January!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Moving south for the winter

Hunting lizards

With Nicolas’ camper all ready for the winter, it was time for us to move on toward Florida . . . we’d had enough of that chilly Virginia weather!  We were ready for the warmth and sunshine of Florida!

Our ultimate destination for December was 725 miles away, so we planned 3 stops along the way.

North Carolina

Our first driving day of almost 200 miles got us to Fayetteville, North Carolina, where we stayed 2 nights at the Fayetteville RV Resort.


It was a very nice RV resort with a nice area of transient sites (long pull-thrus) and a large pool, pavilion, and even a miniature golf course.  There’s also a large monthly area – probably twice as big as the part of the campground we were in – with their own pool, bath house and laundry.

We had a long pull-thru right across from the office.

Fayetteville RV Resort

We’d never been to this area before, so we took a drive into Fayetteville to look around.  It’s a small town, with a nice business district in the old center of town.

Old town

Town Square

There were several nice shops around the square, and some cute sculptures around town.

I think those dogs have been sitting there for a while!

Our next travel day took us an additional 200 miles south, to Walterboro, South Carolina, where we got our first real improvement in weather – open windows in the afternoon when we arrived, and no heat needed overnight!

We stayed at the New Green Acres RV Park, which was a quick stop off I-95 and advertised the “longest and widest RV sites east of the Mississippi!”

New Green Acres RV Park

They weren’t kidding – those were some big sites!  There were also giant pine cones, and I collected a few to take with me for my Christmas wreath!

In all of our visits to Nicolas in Charleston, and during our stay in Santee last fall, I always wanted to get to Walterboro and we never did.  It’s a cute little town, and although there are quite a few empty storefronts, there were a few nice shops to explore. 

That's a scary chair!

There was a nice Christmas shop where I found a few new ornaments, and an Antique Shop with some really interesting items – this creepy chair was just one example!

Interesting Antique Shop

Need a hat?

Walterboro is also home to the official South Carolina Artisan Center.

South Carolina Artisan Center

It was a nice shop featuring numerous artists from South Carolina.  We looked around, but there’s not a lot of room for art in a motorhome . . .

Our next travel day took us about 180 miles,

Leaving South Carolinaout of South Carolina,

through Georgia,

Passing through Georgia

and across the state line into the warm and sunny state of Florida!

Landing in Florida!

Our last stopover was a weekend in Jacksonville, at Pecan Park RV Resort.

Pecan Park

The park was very nice, with FHU pull-thru concrete sites . . . but right next to the airport!  I swear our site was right in line with a runway!  As planes took off and landed, they barely cleared our motorhome (or at least it felt like they barely cleared it!) When the Navy fighter jets got going, it really got noisy! 

Fortunately, things quieted down overnight, but I don’t think I would have wanted to stay there for an extended time.

On Saturday, we ran a few errands, and then took a drive out to Fernandina Beach to get some lunch. 


We had been to the beach there last spring when we met Nicolas for one of his 4-day weekends, but we didn’t go into the little downtown area.

Tom was in the mood for seafood, so we ended up at Timeto’s Seafood Shack, which had really good reviews.  It really was a shack – where you ordered at a counter and took your food outside to one of several large picnic tables on the patio – but the food was excellent!  Even my chicken strips were freshly made, and Tom said the grouper basket was excellent.

After our very filling lunch, we walked through the shops downtown – definitely more upscale than the last couple of downtowns we had been to – Fernandina was a really nice town.

Historic Home


It was a great town and a beautiful day, and after strolling through the shops we took a drive out towards the beach.

We drove past Fort Clinch State Park and decided to drive in and take a look around.  A couple years ago, we had an opportunity to volunteer there, but we didn’t take it because we heard that the Verizon signal in the area was weak.  We stopped at the ranger station and asked if it would be OK for us to take a drive through.

Our first stop was at the beach loop of campsites.  Nice!

What a classic campsite!

Bryce just happened to call me then, so I was able to try out the Verizon signal and it was fine. 

We took a walk on the beach . . .


At the beach


and caught the beginning of the sunset over the St. Mary’s River in the River loop of campsites.

St. Mary River

Fort Clinch was a really nice park, and we think we’d enjoy volunteering there, so on the way out we stopped in the Ranger Station again to get the volunteer coordinator’s contact info so we can send him an application.  Maybe we’ll spend a couple months there next year.

After our weekend in Jacksonville, it was time to finish our southern move.  We only had 145 miles to go, so we took our time in the morning and let the rush hour traffic clear before we got on the road.

We took the east beltway around downtown, which was a new route for us, and took us over a very high bridge!

Tall bridge

Driving around Jacksonville

From there we got back on I-95 south, and it was a trouble-free drive to Titusville, and the Willow Lakes Golf and RV Resort.

We’ll be staying here for December and January, and we have a very nice rental site in the resort.

Willow Lakes RV and Golf

We have a really nice patio, complete with an outdoor kitchen,

Outdoor entertaining area

Nice patio

and a nice view of the golf course!

We have a view of the 9th hole

I think we’ll like it here for a couple months!  Oh – and it was 83 degrees!!