Category Archives: Photography

Posts that have something to do with our interest in photography, including technology, techniques, locations, and images.

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NOTE:  This post contains 20 photos with captions and some narrative.  All photos were taken by me (Bruce) using a Google Pixel 6 Pro, except for the last one, which was taken by Linda with a Google Pixel 6.

 

March 2024 — Return to normal home life; tree pruning and house/home/family stuff

Upon returning from our Disney DREAM family cruise at the end of last month, we quickly settled back into the routine of normal home life.  Besides the usual chores of cooking, laundry, paying bills, and tending to the cat (Cabela), this included extensive work catching up on blog posts (which included processing a LOT of photographs), making and attending appointments (medical/dental, automotive), providing child care (Ann Arbor public schools were on spring break the last full week of the month), hosting or attending get-togethers with friends (walking, dinner, phone chats, and ZOOM), doing some travel planning (for the fall and next year), and a few special projects.

Special projects included the following:

  1. A chat with Phil Jarrell of Precision Grading to firm up trenching and grading work he will do for us this year, including a French Drain and sump drainage in the back yard.
  2. Taking delivery of the new furniture that we ordered last month for our recreation/TV room.
  3. Purchasing comprehensive travel insurance from Allianz.
  4. Getting CoVID-19 booster injections.
  5. Successfully booking a full-hookup site at Wilderness State Park (Michigan) for a couple of weeks this September.
  6. Meeting with Dan from Everlast Doors & More to firm up our options for new garage doors.
  7. I (Bruce) also signed up for the MyUofMHealth Portal and completed a new patient intake ZOOM meeting with a social worker in advance of my early April visit with my new primary care physician in the Geriatric clinic at UofM Health in Ann Arbor.

Most of the photos that follow, however, relate to one special project on March 11 and 12.  Not too long ago we contracted with Davey Tree Service (DTS) for “dormant season pruning.”  This term applies to the pruning of trees that must be done between late fall and early spring; in our case, mostly Oak, Ash, and Maple trees.  (Elm trees, and perhaps some other hardwood species, also require dormant season pruning, but we do not have any of those on our property.)  We do have a lot of Oak trees, however, and we still have some living Ash trees.

It doesn’t hurt to prune other trees during this same period of time, so we contracted to have DTS do some fairly extensive trimming, including the large grove of diverse trees in the northwest portion of the property.  This stand of trees had not been professionally pruned under our ownership of the property, and I doubt that previous owners ever hired anyone to do this work.  Over the years, I have done what I could removing deadwood with a pole saw or chainsaw, but these trees are large/tall and needed more serious attention, especially higher up where I cannot reach.  We did not have DTS prune most of the pine and fir trees, however, as they can be trimmed any time of year, and I can usually do that myself.

In addition to the debris from their own work, DTS cleaned up most of the brush piles that we had created around the property over the last many years.  I think we had 13 of them, and they disposed of at least eight (8), but it might have been 9 or 10.  That meant we did not have to cut them up, transport them to our “burn pile,” and set them ablaze.  Money well spent, in our opinion.

 

A boom truck positioned to work on the Oak trees near of east driveway entrance.  The small tracked vehicle, left-center, has claws on the front for picking up limbs, branches, and other related debris and moving it to the chipper/truck.

 

The chipper and truck in the east section of the pull-through driveway in front of the house.

 

Looking west at the boom truck positioned in the street just beyond (west of) our center driveway entrance.  Most of the large trees that are visible here are Oak trees.  The crew has set out orange safety cones around the truck as well as “Workers Ahead” signs.  DTS is a very safety conscious company that uses good equipment and knowledgeable, well-trained crew.

 

The tracked brush loader moving limbs and branches to the chipper, visible in the lower right corner of the frame.

 

A view of the bucket truck looking east.  As mention in a previous caption, DTS is very safety conscious.

 

The crew leader studies the Ash tree behind our house.  The central trunk above the large branches is dead.  It’s unattractive and not good for the tree, so it will be removed.  DTS cannot get its boom truck back here without damaging the yard, so the crew will climb the tree using climbing gear.  DTS’s technicians do NOT use spikes to climb trees, something we very much appreciate.

 

This is the Tulip tree behind our house.  (These are often called Tulip Poplars, but that is incorrect as they are not poplar trees).  Again, climbing gear was used to get up into the tree.  This tree had a lot of deadwood to be removed.  Unfortunately, the entire southern trunk (closest to the house) is dead.

 

A wider view of the back of our house and the work being done on some of the trees.  L-2-R:  Tulip tree, Mountain Hickory, and Ash.  Barely visible at the left edge of the frame is our Crimson King Norway Maple, which also got some deadwood removal and decorative pruning.

 

The Locust tree at the SE corner of our house.  This tree tends to put out lower branches that swoop down, posing a risk to someone (like me or Keith, our lawn care guy) hitting their head when operating a riding lawn mower.  DTS has very nicely trimmed it up.  Not visible in this photo are the power and phone lines that are just out of the frame at the top and relatively close to the tree.  Dave is not allowed to work on any limbs or branches within a certain distance (10’ I think) of the power lines.  Again, it’s a safety thing, and might be a power company requirement.

 

Our small stand of Black Walnut trees in the yard ENE of the NE corner of the house.  Barely visible just below the center of the frame is a pile of logs, the remnants of a Pear tree that was long dead.  We try not to remove dead trees that show signs of use by woodpeckers, squirrels or other critters looking for food or shelter, but at some point they have to come down.

 

The nicely pruned Crimson King Norway Maple.  This is a beautiful tree when it’s leafed out, but they grow prolifically, and in a somewhat tangled way.  As such, they require a lot of maintenance to keep them under control and attractive.  They are also not native to this part of Michigan, and are considered somewhat invasive.  I do as much of that as I can with this tree, but it was nice to have the DTS professionals have a go at it.

 

I just liked the composition and exposure of this photo.  It’s hard to provide a context for it, but basically this tree had a long, large limb that was rubbing on the trunk of a nearby pine tree and damaging the pine tree.  Removing the limb ensured the health of the affected pine tree, and opened up the area where the limb had been to allow light to get to other adjacent trees.

 

A portion of the stand of trees in the northwest part of our property.  The crew leader and the newest hire are discussing how to approach pruning the tree closest to them.

 

The crew leader (L) explaining to the new guy (R) how to prune this tree.  I walked over and ended up getting a lesson in how to properly prune a limb or large branch.  Basically, an enlarged area called a “collar” forms around the base of the limb and, ideally, the limb needs to be cut cleanly right at the collar without cutting into the collar, and without leaving any of the limb protruding.  ABIR, the tree produces four (4) different types of growth to heal the wound left by the removal of the limb, and pruning it in this way maximizes the tree’s ability to do that.  Even with hiring DTS, I still end doing a lot of pruning every year, so I was grateful to have this in-person lesson.

 

The boom-truck and the chipper/truck combination have moved just beyond the third/west driveway entrance (by the barn) to work on the trees on the north side of the road.  The trees on the left side of the road (and the grassy area leading up to our neighbor’s pole barn) are also part of our property.  This portion of the property also includes a stand of large Oak trees, but it was not part of the work order for this job.  Next year, probably, maybe, hopefully.

 

Another view of the trees in the northwest portion of the property, to the W and NW of the barn, showing the telltale signs of having been pruned.

 

A wider view of some of the trees in the northwest portion of the property.  Showing this entire area required a panorama, which I could not take as the DTS crew was moving around as they worked.

 

The new furniture for our recreation/TV room.  L-2-R:  Metal end table with metal lamp, 3-cushion sofa with two power loungers (one each end), metal end table with metal lamp, 2-cushion love seat with two power loungers, metal coffee table.  We purchased custom cut protective translucent matts from Linovent for the top surface of each of the three tables.  The matts feature beveled edges and appear to be a high-quality product.

 

A panoramic view of the new furniture in the recreation/TV room showing its relationship to the repositioned television set and associated equipment.  As a result of this rearrangement, both of us now have the same viewing angle and distance from the TV, with no glare from the lighting, and much more comfortable/adjustable furniture to sit on.  We really liked our old furniture, but it was over 30 years old, and we were ready for a change.  The old furniture was still serviceable, and will be donated to the local Habitat For Humanity ReStore, if they will take it, or somewhere else if they won’t.

 

Linda provided childcare for a week at the end of the month while the Ann Arbor Public Schools were on spring break.  She snapped this photo of Madeline (L) reading a book about dinosaurs to Sadie (R) at their house.  (Photo by Linda)

 

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NOTE:  This post has 11 photos with captions interspersed with narrative.  The photos are in chronological order, but do not always correspond to the closest text.  Photos by me (Brue) taken with a Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

WEDNESDAY 28 February (T8-C6) — Debarkation & Flying Home

 

Cruises always end and, like any vacation trip packed with things to do, there is a sadness at it being over combined with a sense of relief (exhaustion?) that’s it’s done (for now) and the anticipation of returning to “normal” life.  We have always experienced that same combination of emotions at RV rallies, both small and large.

The Disney DREAM is back at the dock at the Disney Cruise terminal in Port Hollywood, Florida.  Looking aft from out stateroom balcony we see the RUBY Princess (Princess Cruise Line) at dock.  (In late January of this year we booked a repositioning and British Isles cruise on the REGAL Princess for April 2025.)

The Disney Dream returned to Port Hollywood early in the morning and was docked by sunrise.  Debarkation is generally less of a hassle than embarkation, which includes the check-in process, but it can also be somewhat abrupt.  One gets the sense of “here’s your hat, what’s your hurry.”  Or, as my parents relayed to us after their visit to Hawaii, where they were presented with leis when stepping off the plane and greeted with “Welcome to Hawaii, enjoy your visit, go home.”  (True story.)

A wider view of the Disney Cruise terminal at Port Hollywood showing some of the activity taking place on the dock prior to debarkation of passengers.  The full length of the RUBY Princess is visible.

Our stateroom on the Disney DREAM looking in from the balcony doorwall.

While Disney tries to make guests feel welcomed everywhere, and at all times, the reality of a cruise ship is that they need ALL guests off the ship as soon as possible so they can “turn it around,” i.e., prepare it for the guests embarking for the next cruise, which usually leaves that same day by late afternoon or early evening.  While guests are getting off the ship, large amounts of trash are being off-loaded, and large quantities of supplies—including food, beverages, and fuel—are being taken on-board.  It’s quite an operation, and I always find it interesting to get a glimpse of it.  For me, at least, seeing these operations does not detract from the “magic” or luxury of the cruise experience.  Indeed, one of the best cruise ship experiences I have had was the “behind the scenes” tour of the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) JOY on our Panama Canal cruise with Paul and Nancy.  Cruise ships are floating cities and amazing machines, with everything on-board to provide the necessities and comforts of life, including culture and entertainment.  How all of these systems function is fascinating to me.

The “bath” room in our Disney DREAM stateroom, which had an actual bathtub and included a sink.  This made perfect sense as these staterooms can accommodate more than two people, some of whom are often children, and younger children need a bathtub rather than a shower.

We were off the ship at 9 AM, the scheduled time for our debarkation group.  We claimed (found) our checked bags, and then cleared customs (since we had been out of the country).  We used our Trusted Traveler Program (TTP) Global Entry (GE) status for the first time.  (ABIR the entry process was fairly quick and easy, but I don’t recall the process ever being slow or difficult, except when re-entering the USA from Los Algodones, Mexico at a walk-through CBP station.)  Everyone else also got through Customs without any hassle or delay.

The “water closet” in our Disney DREAM stateroom.  Again, it has a sink.  We really liked the two room, dual sink arrangement.  The DREAM was the first ship we’ve been on that had this as part of a regular stateroom (not a suite).

All of our group was flying home from the Fort Lauderdale International Airport, with the Michigan contingent flying home on the same Delta flight.  Marilyn was flying back to St. Louis, Missouri and Katie to the research triangle area of North Carolina.  We proceeded to the Ride Share area of the cruise terminal and called the number for the van shuttle service that transported us from our hotels to the cruise terminal at the beginning of the cruise.

A view of the living room area of our Disney DREAM stateroom.

With regards to the preceding photo; The sofa was very comfortable and, as Disney does in its land-based resorts, the back folded down to make a single bed.  It was NOT a typical pull-out (articulated) sleeper sofa (which tend to be extremely uncomfortable) or a slide-out (trundle) bed.  The desk (left) was also a good size, and the desk chair was reasonably comfortable.  The table was small, but big enough for coffee cups, etc.  It would have been a bit small to dine comfortably, but we never ordered room service or brought food back to our cabin.  We also had two chairs and a table on the balcony.  Linda provides a sense of the scale of the room and the space available to us to move around, which was very adequate.  If our stateroom on the MSC Magnifica had been as nice/comfortable as our DCL DREAM stateroom, we would probably not have cancelled the World Cruise we had booked starting in early January 2025.  Alas, that was not the case.

Our flight back to Michigan was scheduled for early-to-mid afternoon, giving us plenty of time to get to the airport and take care of things there.  It meant we would wait a while for our flight, but better that than rushing to make the gate in time.

A better view of the desk and associated storage in our Disney DREAM stateroom.

At the airport, we self-checked our larger bags and proceeded to the TSA security checkpoint.  This was our second time using TSA Pre-check.  As before, DELTA had also tagged our boarding passes with “Digital ID.”  And, as before, the process was smooth and easy.  We waited for the rest of our party to clear through security and then proceeded to our gate and settled in to wait for our flight.  The timing was such that we got a light lunch well ahead of departure.

We had to vacate our staterooms early so the cabin stewards could start the process of turning them around, but had to wait a while for our scheduled debarkation time.  All of the other guests were in the same situation, and people found places to rest while they waited.  Sadie was a perfect fit for these porthole windows on the promenade deck.  (Photo by Linda)

The flight home was uneventful, the best kind, and we arrived back at Detroit Metropolitan International Airport (DTW) a little ahead of schedule.  (This is usually the case, as I think Delta publishes longer flight times than are required for their flights, giving them some wiggle room to arrive on time even if there are departure delays or weather routing delays.  I suspect that all airlines do this, as they get “dinged” for late arrivals.)

A wider view shows one of the lifeboats hanging above the promenade deck.  (Sadie’s eyes are open.)   Chris is in the chair at the left edge of the frame and some of our suitcases are just visible at the bottom of the frame.  (Photo by Linda)

We arrived at the gate at the DTW McNamara Terminal around 4 PM, patiently took our turn getting off of the plane, and made our way to the baggage claim area, where we retrieved our larger suitcases and then headed to the US Park shuttle area in the attached garage.  The rest of our party were not parked where we were, and made their own arrangements to get home.  Back at the US Park fenced/secure lot, we were dropped off at our truck, paid our bill at the exit gate, and headed for home.  We got home around 6 PM, and it didn’t take long for Cabela (the cat) to appear and come in the house.

Silly Sadie has re-awakened.  I think Chris was ready to go home.  He really enjoyed the cruise, but he has a very demanding job managing a restaurant in Ann Arbor, Michigan and had to check-in regularly to make sure everything was running smoothly in his absence; clearly more difficult and stressful than when he is there in person.  (Photo by Linda)

Linda had stocked microwaveable frozen meals before we left for the cruise to make sure we had something to eat upon our return that was quick and easy to fix.  We unpacked the essentials (technology, medications, toiletries) after diner, but not our clothes.  I like to launder all of our clothing after a trip, but that would happen over the next day or so.

A view of the area where our family hung out waiting to disembark the Disney DREAM.  Considering the number of passengers waiting to get off the ship, we had no problem finding a comfortable, quiet place for all of us to sit and wait.  Brendan grabs a power nap while Madeline uses Shawna’s phone.  Yup, that’s about right.  (Photo by Linda)

Was this family cruise/vacation all that we hoped it would be?  Yes, it was.  Would we do it again?  Absolutely, although we might not pay for (as much of) it as we did this time.  🙂  Cheers!

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NOTE:  This post mainly consists of 33 photos with captions.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro, unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

TUESDAY 27 February (T7-C5) — Castaway Cay; Last Night on the Ship

 

Today was our second, and last, port-of-call.  Like many cruise lines that sail the Bahamas, Disney Cruise Line (DCL) has a private island here.  It’s named Castaway Cay, and we spent most of the day there.  The day started in earnest, however, with the Meet the Princesses event onboard the ship.  Sadie got to meet the four princesses shown in the following eight photos.

 

At age 5, Sadie understood that these were not real princesses, just actresses in costumes.  Or did she?  Here she is in her princess outfit, very much in the moment.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Sadie meets Aurora, who has the same color outfit.  They are obviously having an important conversation.  Like her older sister, Sadie is very comfortable talking to adults.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Sadie possess with Aurora.    (Photo by Linda)

 

Next up was Belle from Beauty and the Beast.    (Photo by Linda)

 

Another photo with Belle.

 

Sadie with Mulan and Commodore Donald Duck (statue, in the background).

 

Another photo with Mulan.    (Photo by Linda)

 

Sadie poses with Rapunzel.  (Photo by Linda)

 

While we were docked at Castaway Cay, some of the crew took the opportunity to deploy and operate some of the life boats.  One is already in the water and another is in the process of being lowered.

 

A closer view of the mechanism for lowering and retrieving the lifeboat.

 

Madeline (L) and her mom (R) on the outside aft section of the Cabanas Buffet.

 

Madeline (L) and Sadie (R) on the outside aft section of the Cabanas Buffet.  Sadie was still eating her breakfast, and didn’t fully appreciate Madeline’s proximity.    (Photo by Linda)

 

Part of Castaway Cay, Bahamas (Disney’s private island) as seen from our stateroom balcony.  (Photo by Linda)

 

The port-side bow of the Disney DREAM with multiple shore lines securing the ship to the dock.  Part of an anchor is visible at the lower right on the frame.

 

A view from the dock looking aft along the port side of the Disney DREAM.

 

The stern of the Disney DREAM as seen from the dock.  Note the large 3-D characters hanging off of the stern on either side of the DREAM emblem.  This is a hallmark of all DCL ships.

 

As shown in this information sign, all of the guest areas on Castaway Cay are to the left of the dock, with most of them located along the shore.  Much of the island is actually not accessible, at least to guests.  The long horizontal yellow line is the centerline of a runway/airstrip which is still used if/when needed.  All guests arrive on cruise ships, however, and there are no overnight guest accommodations on the island.

 

One of the activities on Castaway Cay is a 5K walking/jogging circuit.  Shown here is the sign designating the official starting (and ending ?) point.  We did at least part of the circuit and, ABIR, Meghan and Chris did the entire circuit.

 

I think this is an actual Beechcraft Model 18 twin-engine airplane, or what is left of one.  It’s long decommissioned, of course, but is one of the classic/iconic aircraft in the history of flight, along with planes like the DC-3.  It is, appropriately, displayed adjacent to the airstrip and speaks to the historical commercial use of the island for a long period of time before it was purchased by the Disney Corporation.

 

A display of a DCL anchor and mooring balls somewhere along the 5K walking/jogging circuit.

 

A panorama formed by stitching together (compositing) nine (9) separate images from my SONY a6400 using the Microsoft Image Composite Editor (ICE) software.  The photo is 1920 x 345 pixels, and can be displayed full-size on a suitable display.  This image was taken from the top deck of the observation tower along the 5K walking/jogging circuit.  Most of Castaway Cay looks like this, and is not accessible by guests.

 

Me (Bruce) with some additional decorative/thematic elements along the 5K walking/jogging circuit.  I presume the wood barrel represents the storage and transportation of rum.  (Photo by Linda)

 

One of the shuttlebus-trains on the runway.  As shown in a previous photo of the island map, there is an “adults only” beach area at the far end of the road system, and the farthest point from the dock.  “Adults only” in this case simply means no guests under a certain age.  This is Disney, after all, so nothing risqué going on there.

 

Whether on a cruise ship, or at a Disney resort, being there with younger children, and first-time visitors of any age, lets you experience it through the wonder of their eyes.  While Disney certainly caters to families with younger children, they are also very much aware of their adult guests (who pay for everything) and provide plenty for them to do on their ships and at their ports-of-call.  The one thing that is missing onboard their ships, however, is a casino.  That was just fine with us, but it is something Meghan and Chris would have enjoyed.  Would we do another Disney cruise without out grand-daughters?  Probably.  The ships are nice and provide a nice experience.

 

This photo provides a sense of the size of the runway/airstrip; it’s wide and long and can handle larger aircraft.  The sign at the left says “BEWARE of Low Flying Aircraft.”  It’s decorative in its appearance, but it is an actual warning sign.  Not that aircraft are likely to land here while guests are on the island, but we could imagine that they might, for instance to affect an emergency medical supply or evacuation.  Linda is visible at the right edge of the frame (white hat and towel draped over her shoulder).

 

Another Beechcraft Model 18, underscoring the iconic nature of this aircraft and its importance in the history of commercial aviation and its use in the Caribbean.

 

All of the architecture and décor is suitably Caribbean, as you would expect from Disney.  This building is a gift shop.

 

Another view of the main beach area on Castaway Cay as we walk back to the dock.

 

A marker buoy on display labeled “Castaway Cay.”  I think this is positioned so that it’s one of the first things we passed as we headed down the dock onto the island.  We did not photographer going onto the island, so snapped a shot on the way back to the ship.  I do not know if the Latitude and Longitude are correct for the buoy’s current location.

 

This is a panorama of the main beach area of Castaway Cay.  Notice the absence of people.  It was taken moments before 4 PM, which was probably the “all aboard” time.  One of the things you do not mess around with on a cruise is the all-aboard time.  The image is a composite of three photos from my (Bruce) Google Pixel 6 Pro.  The resolution is 1920 x 548 pixels.

 

A photo of the TV in our stateroom showing 5:00 PM in the upper right of the screen.  The map display shows the location of Castaway Cay, essentially due east of Miami Florida.  The light blue color is the continental shelf, where the water is relatively shallow.  The dark blue is where the continental shelf ends and the ocean depth plummets.  The left side of the screen shows that the ship is located at 26 deg 04 min North latitude, 077 deg 32 min West longitude.

 

Sadie and her mom posing with tonight’s dessert choice, featuring “Mickey ears.”  This is our final dinner meal aboard the Disney DREAM, and our only meal in the Enchanted Garden dining room.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Enough with the photos, lets dig in.

 

I think our final towel art animal was a dog, but you can decide for yourself.  I also think these are my reading glasses, which I must have left out in the room.  Very clever on the part of our cabin steward to make use of them.  (Photo by Linda)

 

One of the things that happens on cruise ships is that you can put your luggage outside your stateroom door the night before you debark, and the stewards will move it to an area of the ship where it is off-loaded to the terminal and set out in a large baggage claim area.  Alternatively, you can keep your bags in your stateroom, and take them with you in the morning.  We have always set out our larger suitcases as it makes debarkation the next morning much easier for us.  The staterooms have to be vacated fairly early, and this way we do not have to take them with us to the buffet for breakfast.  It is important, however, to NOT pack anything in those cases that you turn out to need the next morning, like medications, ID cards (cruise, passport, driver’s license, etc.), wallets/cash, or even the clothes you plan to wear.  We typically each have a smaller, carry-on, suitcase which we do NOT put out or check when flying.  This suitcase has an essential change of clothing, all of our technological gadgets, medications, and any other small items that we cannot afford to lose.

Since we would be flying tomorrow we were allowed to check-in online within 24 hours of our scheduled departure time.  We always do this with our phones, if we can, so we end up with the QR code boarding passes on our phones.  We also take a screen shot of the boarding pass so we don’t have to actually be online to use the airline app to display it.  I do not recall how we managed to get connected, but I suspect we did this while the ship was still at Castaway Cay.

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NOTE:  There are six (6) photos in this post, all taken by Linda using a Google Pixel 6.

(Edited on 13 June 2024 to correct information related to “Dress like a Pirate night.”)

 

MONDAY 26 February (T6-C4) — At-Sea; Bibbidi, Bobbidi, Boutique; & Pirate Day At Sea

The Disney DREAM left Cozumel, Mexico yesterday around dinner time, eastbound for Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas, with arrival scheduled for early tomorrow morning.  That meant we would again be at sea for almost 36 hours, including all 24 hours of today.  It was also a second full day at sea.  (Note:  We were wearing our pirate t-shirts at dinner last night which, according to our trip planner (Linda) was indeed “Dress Like a Pirate Night”, although we do not have many pirate-related photos.)

Based on the photos I have available, the big event today was Sadie’s visit to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.  She had her hair done (including extensions), a manicure, nail polish, and makeup (that included glitter).  She also got a princess outfit and matching accessories.  Tomorrow would be “meet a princess” day, and she had a reserved time for her turn.  The Boutique was a big deal for Sadie, as shown in the following few photos.

 

Sadie already has her princess dress on, with a flower crown and a cape protecting the upper portion, while her stylist applies nail polish.

 

Sadie discusses the finer points of princess styling with her Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo stylist.

 

Thanks to the opposing full-length mirror, Linda’s photo shows the front and back of Sadie’s princess dress and the matching multi-colored hair extensions.

 

Sadie, fully princessed with a matching carry bag and wand.

 

Sadie (left edge of frame) overlooks the main/center lobby of the Disney DREAM.  The costumes being worn by the Disney characters on the balcony appear to all be nautically themed.

 

Nothing to do with Pirate Day, or princesses, but one of the things that often happens on cruise ships is that the cabin stewards, when preparing the room for sleeping, make animal characters out of some of the towels.  We don’t always photograph these, but Linda thought this elephant deserved to be shared with the world, or at least remembered by us.

 

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NOTE:  This post contains 30 photos with captions.  Photos taken by me (Bruce) with a Google Pixel 6 Pro unless indicated otherwise.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

SUNDAY 25 February (T5-C3) — Cozumel, Mexico; Shore Excursions

 

Meghan and Chris take in an early morning view of  Cozumel, Mexico from their stateroom balcony; the first time either of them has seen the island (or perhaps any part of Mexico).  Cruise ships do provide good views of ports-of-call.  It’s 7:30 AM, and Meghan already has her morning coffee.

 

The first stop on our shore excursion was San Gervasio, an important Mayan archeological site managed by CozumelParks.  This racoon-like mammal is a Coati (Nasua narica, AKA coatimundi).  It is native to Mexico and Central America and belongs to the Procyonidae family, which also includes raccoons.  (Photo by Linda)

When we arrived this morning, around sunrise, at the downtown cruise port/dock for the island of Cozumel, Mexico, we had been at sea for over 36 hours since leaving the Disney cruise terminal in Port Hollywood late in the afternoon of Friday, February 25th.  We had a great time on the ship while at sea, but Cozumel was the first of only two ports-of-call for this cruise, and we were all looking forward to going ashore.  Linda had signed all of us up for a shore excursion that lasted about six (6) hours and included three different venues/experiences.  We had to be off the ship and at the meeting point by a certain time, so we all got an early start to our day and had breakfast in the Cabana buffet.  Based on our apparel at dinner, it was also (apparently) “dress like a pirate” day.  Additional details about the day are in the captions for each photo.

 

Madeline, Sadie, and Shawna (mom) at the entrance station to the San Gervasio archeological site.  (Note the boot on Madeline’s left foot.  She injured it not long before the cruise, but it did not slow her down.)  This site has the remnants of a large village that was one of the centers of pre-European Mayan culture.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another photo of the Coatimundi.  It did not seem to be fazed in the least by the large group of people passing by and stopping to take its picture.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As soon as we reached the first ruin in San Gervasio, we encountered Iguanas and other lizards.  Things like Coatimundi and Iguanas underscored that we were someplace very different from where we live.    (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The remains of a fairly large structure.  The roof is a modern construction to help preserve the underlying stone work, but something like this might have covered the original building when in use.  Wood and palm fronds, however, do not survive the ravages of time.    (Photo by Linda)

 

This photo of an elevated platform provides a sense of the number and size of stones that had to be quarried and moved for its construction.

 

The base of another ruin and its modern protective roof.

 

For most of our time at the San Gervasio Mayan Village, we were on a guided/narrated tour.  The tour guide explained what archeologist think each of the buildings were used for, but I had no way to capture that information for later recall.

 

I do remember that this was one of the entrance gates to the Village.  Note the road/path leading up to the gate from the forest in the center-right of the frame.

 

I don’t know if the Iguana pictured here understands or appreciates the historical significance of the stones on which it is sunning itself, but it certainly picked a good spot, and seems unconcerned about the many human guests to the site.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over many years, this tree took root and grew around a crumbled part of what remains of this building.  The modern roof was constructed around the tree.

 

Remnants of yet another building at San Gervasio.

 

 

One of the stone walkways that connect the various buildings at the San Gervasio archeological site.  Note the drainage ditches along each edge.  When the Mayan Village was inhabited, archeologists claim the space between the stones was filled with something like a limestone grout, resulting in a smooth surface that would have been easy to walk on, and permitted the use of wheeled carts.

 

Another Iguana photo because … well, just because we find them fascinating.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A map of the San Gervasio archeological site with all of the buildings identified.

 

 

This map highlights the Mayan Areas of Cozumel, Mexico in a darker green color.  The next photo indicates that San Gervasio is the highlighted area near Acalán.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a photo of a map that shows the full extent of the island of Cozumel, Mexico, its location relative to the rest of Mexico (just off the coast of the Yucatan peninsula), and the location of the San Gervasio archeological park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second venue on our Cozumel shore excursion was The Mayan Cacao Company, located at the Playa Mia Grand Beach Park.  Shown here is the entrance sign.  Note the Macaw on the perch, upper right, which is protected by a thatched roof.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A closer view of the entrance sign and greeter macaw at The Mayan Cacao Company.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like San Gervasio, this was also an educational experience.  This display is about cacao beans as a form of currency, and how it compared to other things that served the same purpose.  (From my Money and Banking course at the University of Missouri – Columbia, “Money is anything that acts as a store of value and a medium of exchange.”)

 

Part of the Mayan Cacao experience was a demonstration of the processing cacao beans to make “hot chocolate.”  This was followed by a tasting.  (It was not sweet, but it was very tasty.)  (Photo by Linda)

 

For the third and final venue/experience of our Cozumel shore excursion, we got to hang out at the Playa Mia Grand Beach Park.  I believe this park is open to the public but has an admission charge.   Besides an extensive beachfront with lounge chairs, umbrellas, and cabanas, the park included some play structures in the water as well as food and beverage stations.  Brendan and Sadie are in the foreground with their backs to the shore/camera.  Katie brought her snorkeling gear, and was already out in the water somewhere.  (I think Brendan and Sadie might be looking in that direction, but they might just be eyeing the large play structure in the water.)    (Photo by Linda)

 

The seating/sunning area at Playa Mia Beach Resort in front of where I happened to be sitting.  (I am not a “sun bunny,” and require shade in places like this.)

 

 

L-2-R; Katie, Linda, and Marilyn with what I think is the Disney WISH in the background, tied up at the dock for the Punta Langosta Cruise Terminal.  There is another cruise terminal down the coast toward Playa Mia Grand Beach Park that is used by Carnival and other cruise lines.

 

The sign welcoming us to the Punta Langosta port area.  It is the closest cruise terminal to the main/downtown area of Cozumel City.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pirate Sadie with buccaneer Ama (Linda) at dinner in the Animators Palate, the second of our three dining rooms.  (Friday and Saturday we were in the Royal Palace dining room, Deck 3 midship; Sunday and Monday we were in the Animator’s Palate dining room on Deck 3 aft, and Tuesday we were in the Enchanted Garden dining room, Deck 2 midship.)  This restaurant had amazing visual technology.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

L-2-R; Madeline, Meghan, and Marilyn at our dinner table in the Animators Palate dining room.  We had a table for 10 every evening for dinner, and it was always table number 81; our waiter and assistant waiter moved with us when we changed dining venues.  Our dining time was always 6 PM (first seating).  Linda selected this time because Sadie was only 5 years old, and it allowed members of our group to seek out various entertainment venues after dinner and still get to bed at reasonable times.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pirate Brendan and his buccaneer dad (me, Bruce, Apa, grandpa, etc.) in the Animators Palate dining room on the Disney DREAM.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shawna and Brendan share a moment while we wait to order dinner.  Our children both have wonderful spouses and our three grand-daughters are a delight.  We are very fond, and proud, of all of them; they are all a great source of joy in our lives.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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NOTE:  There are seven (7) photos in this post.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

SATURDAY 24 February (T4-C2) — A Marvel(ous) Day At Sea

 

Today, I was up earlier than I intended to be.  I thought my phone said 6 something, but it was actually 5 something.  I was tired of lying down anyway, so I got up and finished working a Multi-Sudoku puzzle.  It was still dark, and Linda was still asleep, so I worked on drafts of the blog posts for this trip/cruise.  At some point I heard voices outside.  Brendan, Shawna, and Sadie were on the balcony along with Meghan.  Meghan gets up very early and had already been out to get coffee.  Madeline joined the group shortly thereafter.  This is the first cruise we’ve been on with family/friends in adjacent cabins.  Yesterday, we had our cabin steward open the dividers between the four balconies so we could visit easily.  It was a nice arrangement.  We had a brief discussion about breakfast but failed to coordinate a plan.  Other than meeting for dinner every evening, our group took a “freestyle” approach to the cruise, which was great for everyone.

Sadie sits in a large, blue, throne-like chair by one of the two impressive mosaics with themes related to fairytales (prince/princess) that ended up in animated Disney features.  The mosaics were located in one of the elevator/stairwell lobbies on one of the decks, but I don’t recall which one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sadie in the other (red) throne-like chair by the other mosaic.

It was Marvel Day at Sea, so we got dressed with our Guardians of the Galaxy t-shirts and went to Cabana’s (the buffet) for breakfast.  We thought our son’s family was also headed there, but we somehow missed them while walking around looking at food.  Our son saw us go by, however, and found us to let us know where they were sitting.

 

 

Breakfast at the Cabana’s buffet offered a lot of choices, and we all found something that we liked.  The things I chose were well-prepared and tasty.  While both of us appreciate the finer dining in the restaurants, neither of us object to the buffet food, and appreciate the convenience of many hours of availability with the attendant flexibility to eat when you want, and choose from a broad selection of food offerings.

Chris and his daughter, Katie, at one of the shuffleboard courts on the exterior promenade deck.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Meghan and Chris at the same shuffleboard court.  Chris is sporting his “Star Lord” t-shirt for Marvel Day At Sea.  (Photo by Linda)

Today was Marvel Day At Sea, and there were many special activities taking place around the ship.  These included photo opportunities with official costumed “crew” members.  Perhaps surprisingly, we did not get photos of any of these events.  While that might seem strange in retrospect, the members of our party who were most excited about the day where our daughter, her husband, and his daughter.  I don’t recall specifically what Linda and I did all day, nor do I recall what Marilyn or our son and his family did today, nor would I even know if they off doing things on their own.  What I do know, is that Madeline had already become very comfortable with the “Edge Club,” a dedicated/staffed space for guests ages 11 – 13.  At age 11, she places a high value on any independence she can negotiate.

 

Sadie with her great-aunt, Marilyn.  Sadie is seriously focused on whatever Marilyn is showing her on the phone.  Based on Sadie’s attire, it appears that she went swimming today.  Not surprising; if there’s water available, Sadie is usually in it.  (Photo by Linda)

The Disney Cruise Line (DCL) app includes a messaging feature that allows guests to message one another without purchasing a “Internet” package.  The feature requires guests to establish connections, so Linda took care of linking her phone with at least one phone from each of the other cabins in our group.

Fairly quickly, Madeline took possession of her mom’s phone and accomplished her number one goal for the cruise; to be allowed to roam around the ship on her own as well as come and go from the Edge Club at will.  This actually worked out very well, and she made several friends her age.  ABIR, Sadie continued the who-dun-it game with her mom and/or dad.

 

Yes, Sadie is using crayons on the white linen tablecloth at dinner.  But it was okay.  Our assistant waiter, Trevor, was the first to do this at dinner last night as he set a puzzle for Sadie (and the rest of us) to solve.  After that, it was “game on” for the remainder of the cruise!  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to well-prepared and tasty dishes, dinner was always nicely presented.  This photo is typical of how desserts were plated.

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NOTE:  There are 13 photos in this post.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)  Photos are chronological and captioned, but are interspersed with some narrative.

 

FRIDAY 23 February (T3-C1) — Disney Cruise Line (DCL) DREAM, Embarkation and Sail Away

 

It’s around 1 PM; we are all on the ship and busy doing things.  Meghan helps Sadie figure out how to play the who-dun-it/discovery game while Marilyn looks on.  Clues were hidden in electronic pictures.  Displaying a game badge would “open” (change) the picture and reveal a clue.  (Photo by Linda)

I was up early and met up with our daughter (Meghan) in the elevator on our way to get coffee.  I rarely get to chat with her alone, and enjoyed a relaxed conversation over coffee.  Linda joined us a bit later.  Meghan eventually took coffee and muffins back to her room for Chris.  Linda and I got breakfast and chatted until she went back to our room to take a shower.  I returned to our room after finishing my meal, got my shower, and got dressed for the day.  We then repacked our suitcases before Linda went back to the lobby to join Meghan, and others, who were having breakfast.

 

 

 

 

Brendan helps Sadie with the who-dun-it game in the lobby of the ship with the Golden Mickey statue in the background.  Having been to Walt Disney World several times, the look and feel of the interior of the ship was familiar and pleasing.  (Photo by Linda)

Everything up to this point had been fairly routine travel—planes, taxis (ride shares), and hotels, with some walking thrown in, either to find food or just because—but with a certain added anticipation of things to come.  Today started in the usual way, but was soon new and different for most of our party.  Indeed, even for us, as we had never sailed on a Disney cruise ship and so had not experienced a ship with soooo many children.  Not that we have never been with large numbers of children; we presumed that it would be similar to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, and there is a certain positive energy associated with so many children having such a good time.  Indeed, it even seems to bring out the child in many of adults.

 

 

 

It didn’t take long to discover the self-serve soft-serve ice cream station on one of the upper/open-air decks.  This turned out to popular with everyone in our party and, apparently, most of the other guests on the ship.  L-2-R:  Meghan, Sadie, and Brendan.  (Photo by Linda)

When we arrived at the Hyatt Place hotel on Wednesday, we signed up for a shuttle to take the six of us staying here to the port at noon today.  We did not get a shuttle at exactly that time, but they were scheduled to arrive at the hotel approximately every 10 minutes.  It was at most a 10-minute ride to the port, and only that long because of traffic, so we were still there ahead of the 1 PM check-in time for us (the rest of the group had 1:15 check-in times).  It turned out that these assigned times didn’t mean much.  We dropped our checked luggage with the porters at the curb and then walked some distance into the cruise terminal building.  But the line moved along at a reasonable pace, and various adults took turns keeping Sadie occupied, which is the key to a happy life.

 

Linda on the main top deck. (There are additional small decks at the front and rear of the ship.)  Camera is pointed aft.  The enclosed water-slide is prominent, with the main swimming pool to the right and down one deck.

Looking forward, the large screen on the forward exhaust stack tower, indicates that the ship is “Sailing Away.”  “Sail Away” is a big, festive deal on cruise ships.  Many guests gather on the upper/open decks, while others go out on their stateroom balconies, to watch the ship pull away from the dock and head out to sea.  In some ports, there are crowds on-shore waving to the ship.  The time-stamp on this photo is 4:29 PM, but I don’t think the ship has left the dock yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two other cruise ships are visible from the port side of the ship.  ABIR, the larger one is a Royale Caribbean ship (emblem on the lower rear hull).  The smaller one was from one of the luxury or ultra-luxury cruise lines, but I don’t recall which one.  Note that our ship is in its berth bow first, with the dock on the other/starboard side.  Our ship had to back out of its berth and make a 180-degree turn (pirouette) before heading out to sea.  The maneuver was precisely and smoothly executed.  The maneuver was very smoothly and precisely executed.

 

Soon enough we were all checked in and were headed onto the ship a bit before 1 PM.  There were a couple of things about the check-in that were different from our previous experience.  For one, they did NOT issue us our cruise cards and said they would be waiting for us by our cabin doors.  For another, they checked every page of our passports, at least for the adults.  I asked why and was told “because there are children on board” but the boarding agent could/would not tell me anymore.  Our presumption is that there must be something in passports for individuals who are not allowed to be around children.  Further research, however, did not provide any additional information.

 

A view looking NNE of the Intra-Coastal Waterway (ICW) and a bridge to a barrier island, as seen from the starboard rear upper deck of the Disney DREAM.

Some of the adult members of our travel party, L-2-R: Chris, Marilyn, Meghan, Linda, and me (Bruce).  Not shown are Brendan, Shawna, Katie and the munchkins (Madeline and Sadie).  I do not know who took the photo with Linda’s phone.  The previous photo was taken around 4:33 PM and this one was taken around 5:22 PM.  This and the next photo indicate that the ship is backing out of its berth.  Thus, logic tells me that we must have departed at 5 PM (cruise ships tend to keep a tight schedule) or we departed at 6 PM and all of my photos are off by one hour (but I don’t think so), or we departed at 4 PM and I have no idea what’s going on.

Our staterooms (on Deck 9) would not be available until 1:30, so some of the adults went with Sadie on an exploration to solve a “crime” while I stayed with Madeline, who needed to sit and get off her injured foot.  (She strained or stressed a growth plate in her left foot a week ago while ice skating, and got fitted with a boot yesterday morning before flying to Fort Lauderdale.)  DCL uses a system to control room access that we had not seen before.  When Madeline and I tried to use an elevator to go from Deck 5 to Deck 9 around 1:20 PM, it would not open the doors at Deck 9.  Clever Disney.

 

The Disney DREAM is definitely underway as it has backed out of its berth into the Intra-Coastal Waterway (ICW) where it backed around to port (behind the camera) into a “turning pool” and swung around to point into the channel leading to the sea, as shown here.  Cruise ships have both bow and stern thrusters, smaller propellers in tunnels that go through the ship sideways.  Besides moving the front or rear of the ship to the left or right, their coordinated use can move the ship sideways, such as towards/away from a dock, or turn it around its mid-point, such as it will do here.  Many cruise ships, especially newer ones, also have “Azipods,” a steerable propeller  mechanism, for propulsion rather than aft-facing propellers and one or more rudders.

 

Our first dinner together in the Royale Palace dining room aboard the DCL DREAM.  We had a table for 10 every evening for dinner.  Our table number was 81, and remained so for all of our dinner meals, regardless of which dining room we were in.  Shown here is our son’s family, L-2-R:  Shawna, Brendan, Sadie, and Madeline.  I think Sadie was just tired, not unhappy, as she really enjoyed the cruise.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

L-2-R:  Cousins Madeline and Katie at the dinner table.  (Photo by Linda)

Once in our room, we scoped out the available storage and started unpacking.  Our balcony stateroom had plenty of storage; hanging closets, drawers, and shelves.  It also had the usual safe, and our wallets and passports went in there right away.  We used to turn our cell phones off and put them in the safe as well, but these days we put them in airplane mode (to turn off the cellular radio) and turn on the wi-fi radio to connect to the ship’s wi-fi system.  On the DREAM, this allowed us to use the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app, which was our access to any/all information about the ship’s activities, including menus for the restaurants, reservations (if needed), and our account.  (Most cruise ships now operate this way, so you really cannot go on a cruise these days without a smartphone.)

Linda poses with a statue of “Captain Duck” in the main lobby of the Disney DREAM.  Or perhaps it was “Commodore Duck”?  (I presume this is Donald Duck.  I have no idea what the name of the statue is, if it even has one.  Nor do I know the context of this particular outfit.)

 

 

 

We watched the safety information on the TV in our stateroom.  At 4 PM we went to our assigned assembly station (DCL does not call them muster stations) for the mandatory safety check-in and presentation.  Unlike our other recent cruises, where our muster station was on an outside deck near the lifeboats, we were seated in the large Walt Disney Theater.

 

 

 

 

 

Marvel Day at Sea was still to come, but this display was already up, and Chris is a big fan of the Marvel series.  Disney has a way of bringing out the kid in all of us.

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Note:  There are four (4) photos in this post.  Photos taken by me (Bruce) with Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

SATURDAY 06 – THURSDAY 11 January 2024 — A quick trip to Florida in advance of a short cruise

Back in February 2023, we were waiting for a couple of days before boarding the NCL Joy for our trip with Paul and Nancy from Los Angeles , California to Miami, Florida via the Panama Canal.  While Paula and I were our buying some beverages, Linda and Nancy found an “around the world” cruise on the MSC Magnifica for what seemed to be a very good price.  Paul and Nancy had never sailed with MSC, but we had on two previous occasions (2012 and 2013).  We were on the MSC Poetia both times and had a good experience each time.  These were the first cruises we were ever on, and they were special Holistic Holiday at Sea programs organized by Taste of Health out of Miami, Florida.  The program featured plant-based food and provided its own ingredients, executive chef and assistants to supervise the regular kitchen workers.  It was basically a floating educational experience.  As best we could recall, the ship was very nice, the service was fine, and the staterooms were comfortable.  Indeed, we had a waiter who was outstanding!  We did not, however, have any experience with the usual ship food or entertainment, nor had we signed up for any shore excursions.  It had also been 10 years since with sailed with MSC, so there was a lot we did not know about what it would be like to be a regular passenger on one of their ships.

The world cruise was scheduled to depart Genoa, Italy on 6 January 2025 and take 116 nights to circumnavigate the globe back to Genoa, much of the trip south of equator.  Sailing west from Genoa through the western Mediterranean Sea and the Strait of Gibraltar into the Atlantic Ocean, the itinerary went to South America, around Cape Horn, and up the west side of South America before heading off to French Polynesia and points west, with stops in New Zeeland, Australia, and Malaysia, eventually coming up the Suez Canal into the eastern Mediterranean Sea and back Genoa.  21 countries and 50 ports-of-call.

We have never been south of the equator, and this seemed like a unique opportunity to visit places me might likely never get to otherwise.  And the price seemed really fair—almost too good to be true—but even “value for money” involves money, and it was enough money that we had our concerns about whether we would be comfortable and enjoy being on this ship for this long.

Sometime in the intervening months, Linda found that the MSC Magnifica was doing a 3-night round-trip sailing on January 11-13, 2024 from the Port of Miami to Nassau, Bahamas, and back.  The cruise started on a Friday afternoon and returned on Monday early morning.  The timing meant it was going to be a bit of a “party cruise” as people local to the area could take Friday afternoon and Monday off from work and go to the Bahamas on a big cruise ship.  That was not really relevant to us, however, as we wanted to check out the general condition of the ship, especially the staterooms, as well as the food, entertainment, and service.

On January 6th we flew into Tampa – St. Petersburg International Airport, where Paul and Nancy picked us up and drove us to their new home in the Mount Olive Shores North (MSON, pronounced “Moe-son” or “Moe-sen”) development in Polk City, Florida.  MOSN is an RV community that includes several lakes.  Some of the lots are just RV pads, with perhaps a small storage shed and/or a gazebo, while others lots have large homes with carports or garages for maximum-size Class A RVs.  This fenced/gated community has a strong HOA.  The homes and properties all have a certain look, albeit a nice one, and are all well-maintained.  Class A motorhomes and large 5th wheel travel trailers have to be under cover or inside while smaller motorhomes must be inside (out of sight).  Travel trailers are not permitted.

We were familiar with the Polk City area and MOSN, having wintered three times at the LeLynn RV Park and visited Paul and Nancy at MOSN when they had their previous Winnebago Tour motorhome on a lot there for one winter, and again when they had the American Coach Eagle motorhome on a different lot there.  But this was our first opportunity to see the lakeside house/property they had purchased.

 

L-2-R:  Paul, Nancy, and me (Bruce).  In the central plaza at Disney Springs.  The stairs to the closest parking garage are to the left.  (Photo by Linda)

We spent five (5) nights at Paul and Nancy’s home.  We had just spent all of November with them at Luxury RV Resort in Gulf Shores, Alabama, but it was nice to see them again.  As usually happens when we are together, Nancy and Linda did joint menu planning and took turns as chef and sous chef.  Paul and I did our part, and ate whatever we were served.

 

Almost every store at Disney Springs is interesting.  Some are unusual, and a few are amazing.  The M&M Store, was all three!

But first on the list of things to do was a visit to Disney Springs.  When we get together with Paul and Nancy in this area, we always visit Disney Springs at least once.  Once turned out to be all the time we had for this visit, but we did manage to find some things at the Marvel Studios store for our cruise in February on the Disney Cruise Line DREAM.  After all, the cruise included a “Marvel Day at Sea” and a “Pirates Day” themed events.  We had dinner there, somewhere close to the Cirque de Soleil building, but I don’t recall exactly where or what we had to eat.

 

L-2-R:  Paul, Linda, and Nancy pose in front of the Sorcerer Mickey LEGO statute in front of the Disney Springs LEGO store.  The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is still my all-time favorite Disney animation, but I grew up involved in classical music, so …

Marty and Pat, our friends and fellow Great Lakes Converted Coaches (GLCC) and Converted Coach Owners (CCO) members from Michigan, were at LeLynn again this year, so we arranged to have them over to Paul and Nancy’s one evening for dinner.  It was great to see them, and everyone seemed to enjoy the evening.  Our GLCC friends from northern Indiana, Pat and Vickie, were also in the area, staying at Walt Disney World’s Fort Wilderness campground resort, as they do every January (and have for quite some time).  We drove up there one day to visit with them.

 

 

 

 

 

The LEGO Store at Disney Springs has an amazing outdoor display of life-size and greater-than-life-size, figures.  Star Wars is heavily represented in this collection, but this serpent in the water has always been a favorite of mine.

Those are the highlights of these six (6) days; a bit of running around and socializing, with plenty of time to eat, relax by the lake, watch Morning Joe, and chat about RVing and cruising and being (mostly) retired.

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Note:  There are 19 photos in this post.  Photos by me (Bruce) were taken with a Google Pixel 6 Pro or SONY alpha 6400, unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

TUE 21 – WED 29 November 2023 — Luxury RV Resort — 3/3

 

This post covers our last nine full days at Luxury RV Resort in Gulf Shores, Alabama.  Our reservation was through the night of the 30th with departure on December 1st but we left on 30 November, one day early, to try and get ahead of a weather system that was moving our way.  Up to that point, however, the weather had generally been very nice.  Gulf Shores is a lovely place, climate-wise, in the late fall and winter.

At the Sunliner Diner in Gulf Shores, Alabama.  Counter-clockwise (L-2-R) around the table:  Evan, Anne, Paul, Robert (obscured, at his request), Linda (behind Nancy’s arm) and Nancy.

We continued to visit with Paul, Nancy, and Robert and occasionally also Kate and Charlie from the nearby Escapees RV Club Rainbow Plantation RV Park.  This small group of people are very much kindred spirits; each of them very much of the same mind as us when it comes to religion and politics and food (by and large), which makes for a comfortable and enjoyable time together.

This antique car is inside the Sunline Diner.  The doors on the passenger side have been removed to make a dining booth.

 

Paul makes a final inspection of the layout of our Thanksgiving dinner food in the Luxury RV Clubhouse in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Paul and Nancy’s son, Evan, and his wife, Anne, drove down from Ann Arbor, Michigan and joined us for the Thanksgiving holiday.  Nancy arranged for the use of the Luxury RV Resort clubhouse on Thanksgiving Day, which allowed us to share a meal in comfort with plenty of space to lay out the food, arrange seating at tables, and not be concerned about the weather.  Everyone attended, including Kate and Charlie, and shared the work of putting together a nice meal.

 

 

 

 

The first of two tables for Thanksgiving dinner.  L-2-R, counter-clockwise around the table:  Robert (obscured), Nancy, Anne, and Evan.

 

The other table for Thanksgiving dinner.  L-2-R, counter-clockwise around the table:  Charlie, Paul, me (Bruce), Linda, and Kate.

 

Me (Bruce) sitting on the sofa in our Airstream travel trailer and using my iPad Pro.  Since Bella is also on the sofa, we were probably dog-sitting while Paula and Nancy were doing something that precluded taking their dog along.

We made a couple of visits to the Sunliner Diner during this time, and visited Historic Fort Morgan at the tip of the peninsula that extends west from Gulf Shores into Mobile Bay, stopping for lunch at a bayside restaurant.  Nice weather and dramatic sunsets continued during these nine days, with the later eventually portending of approaching weather.

 

 

 

A view of Fort Morgan, Fort Morgan State Historic Site, Alabama.

 

One of the entrances to the interior of Fort Morgan SHS.  The rectangular block centered above the opening says “Fort Morgan 1830.”  The two parallel lines on the pavement are embedded railroad ties.  My presumption was that these made it possible to use trollies with railcar wheels to move heavy loads in/out of the Fort.

 

 

The previous photo, this photo, and the next two (2) photos were taken at the Fort Morgan State Historic Site.

 

From Wikipedia:  Fort Morgan is a historic masonry pentagonal bastion fort at the mouth of Mobile Bay, Alabama, United States. Named for American Revolutionary War hero Daniel Morgan, it was built on the site of the earlier Fort Bowyer, an earthen and stockade-type fortification involved in the final land battles of the War of 1812. Construction was completed in 1834, and it received its first garrison in March of the same year.  …  Fort Morgan is at the tip of Mobile Point at the western terminus of State Route 180 (Alabama). It and Dauphin Island, on which Fort Gaines is situated, enclose Mobile Bay. The Alabama Historical Commission maintains the site.

 

An interior view of part of Fort Morgan, clearly showing the masonry construction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another entrance tunnel into Fort Morgan.  I thought the way the bricks were arranged to create the arch was architecturally interesting, although I presumed that they were set this way for fundamentally structural reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back at the Sunliner Diner for breakfast before Robert checks out of Luxury RV Resort and heads for points West.  From L-2-R, counter-clockwise around the table:  me (Bruce) taking a selfie of the group, Robert (obscured). Nancy, Paul, and Linda.

 

Robert’s class B motorhome and Jeep in front of the office at Luxury RV Resort while he connects them together in final preparation for his departure from the resort.  The foreground is a sitting area with a firepit.  To the left are some holiday decorations that are featured in the next two photos.

 

Linda provides a sense of scale for the Christmas holiday decorations at Luxury RV Resort; a travel trailer pulled by two Flamingoes.  Two lawn chairs and a Christmas tree with wrapped presents are also visible.  [Note that the door of the trailer is on the “driver” side, which is incorrect.  The main entrance doors of all commercial RVs are on the passenger/curb side, with the utility connections (hookups) on the driver/street side, and RV parks and campgrounds are built around this conventional arrangement.]

This photo of the other side of the trailer decoration shows more clearly that the trailer is a large/round straw/hay bale and that the trailer has tires.  A doll (or small mannequin) that is approximately half normal human-size, is holding one end of the brown sewer hose which runs down into the “dump” connection.

 

We were treated to a nice sunset on our final evening at Luxury RV Resort.  This view is looking southeast, so I could catch the sunset reflecting off of the windows in our travel trailer along with the general soft pink illumination of the aluminum siding and the effect of the color on the clouds to the southeast.

 

The play of light on the clouds seems to say “look at this trailer,” so I did.

 

A composite of four images creates a panoramic view of our final Gulf Shores sunset as it provides a wonderful backdrop for our travel trailer.

 

A composite of three images produces a panoramic photo of an amazing sunset behind some of the tall buildings in the downtown/beach area of Gulf Shores, Alabama, as seen from our travel trailer at Luxury RV Resort.

 

One of the three images used for the previous composite photo highlighting the letters A I R S T R E A M across the rear of our travel trailer, just above the awing over the large/opening window.

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Note:  There are 13 photos in this post.  Photos by me (Bruce) were taken with a Google Pixel 6 Pro or SONY alpha 6400, unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

SAT 11 – MON 20 November 2023 — Luxury RV Resort — 2/3

 

Magnetic Minnie Mouse name placards for Madeline and Sadie’s stateroom door on the Disney Dream.

During our second 10 days in Gulf Shores, Alabama, we did a variety of things.  Linda brought accounting work for the bakery, of course, and spent some time on that.  She also walked almost every day, and we went on a few hikes together.  Linda also spent time planning and preparing meals with Nancy and Robert, and the five of us (the three just mentioned plus Paul and myself) dined together almost every night.  We also continued to make plans, and purchase odds and ends, for the Disney cruise Linda booked for late February next year.  The two younger grand-daughters did not find out about this until Christmas, but I wasn’t posting in real-time anyway (obviously).

 

Our walks along the marsh and over to Gulf State Park afforded a variety of views.  I am always on the lookout for nature images that have an element of abstraction and this caught my eye.

 

As seen from this vantage point, the marsh surrounding Luxury RV Resort extends well to the north and east to Gulf State Park

 

We ate well during our time at Luxury RV Resort, which is to say, healthy, delicious, and attractive.  The dishes shown here are an amazing salad and a pear upside down cake.  Yummy.

The sunrises and sunsets in Gulf Shores can be spectacular, and we had several of each during these 10 days.  Our trailer was parked with the rear end pointing slightly east of south, so the large wrap-around rear windows provided good views of both the sunrise and the sunset; good enough at least to see that something was happening and get outside with the phone and/or camera if called for.

 

 

Our travel trailer and truck against a beautiful sunset, but this turned out to just be the warmup for what was to follow.

I suspect that most photographers take sunrise and sunset photos (and flower photos, etc.), always hoping to capture something stunning and unique.  They can be a bit of clique; I lay no claim to unique, and stunning is rare.  But one of the first photos I ever took that I thought was worth printing and looking at was a sunset I saw while stopped for the night in Breezewood, Pennsylvania.  I was on my way from my parents’ house in St. Louis, Missouri to Red Fox Music Camp, in southwest Massachusetts.  It was the summer between my junior and senior year in high school, and I was making the drive by myself, so that probably had something to do with why I liked the photo.  I still have the print, matted and framed, and on display in our rec room.  I have been interested in sunset (and sunrise) photos ever since then.

 

Ooh, that’s nice!  But wait, there’s more!

 

And here it is!  Sometimes you have to go wide, and sometimes you have to zoom in.  The photographic capabilities of the Google Pixel 6 Pro smartphone really are impressive.  And, most importantly, I always have it with me, which cannot be said for my SONY cameras, as much as I enjoy using them and like the results.

 

Robert (out-of-frame to the left, Nancy (right) and me (center) making pasta for dinner.  (Robert does not like his image displayed in social media, so I have tried to respect that in my posts without ignoring his important presence in our group.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I thought this more subtle, pastel sunset was worth capturing and sharing.  Pretty isn’t always dramatic.

 

Again, zooming in and isolating the most important features of the scene resulted in a stronger photo, IMHO.  But hey, it’s my photo and I get to make that decision.

 

Linda was out for a morning walk and captured this image of work being done to restore the beach in central Gulf Shores, Alabama.  These large pipes were serving a dual purpose, being used here to drag and smooth the sand.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Another photo from the same vantage point as the previous one.  A bulldozer is moving larger quantities of sand.  (Photo by Linda)

 

The other use of these large pipes was pumping sand onto the beach from the dredging barges used to collect it just offshore, up and down the beach for quite some distance.  This stretch of the shore at the northern extent of the Gulf of Mexico is subject to serious weather during hurricane season and the attendant beach erosion.  Nice white-sand beaches, in pristine condition, are central to the economies of the many towns that dot this coastline, and to the region in general.  As such, considerable effort and resources are put into their maintenance.  (Photo by Linda).

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Note:  There are 13 photos in this post.  Photos by me (Bruce), unless otherwise indicated, were taken with a Google Pixel 6 Pro or SONY alpha 6400.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

WED 01 – FRI 10 November 2023 — Luxury RV Resort, Gulf Shores, Alabama (1/3)

This is the first of three (3) posts that cover our time in Gulf Shores, Alabama during the month of November, 2023.

We arrived at Luxury RV Resort in Gulf Shores, Alabama on November 1st per our reservation, which was for the entire month (we got a better rate that way).  We had stayed here before at the suggestion of our friends, Paul and Nancy, who now keep a 5th wheel trailer here during the winter, with their Goldendoodle, Bella.   Robert, our new friend from this past summer, and his dog Buddy (an English Retriever), were also there for the month.  Our friends, Kate and Charlie, were at their place at the Escapees Rainbow Plantation RV park in Summerdale, so not too far away.  Having explored the area on our previous visit, we were looking forward to just having some time to relax and enjoy the pleasant weather in the company of these friends, including walks to the nearby seashore nearby (~1/2 mile), along with occasional visits to a few of the many things to see and do in the area, such as Fairhope, Alabama.

 

Our first sunrise in Gulf Shores, Alabama (for this visit) as seen from the rear windows of our 2020 Airstream Flying Cloud 27 FBT travel trailer at Luxury RV Resort.  The weather was generally good during our visit; not too much rain with mild temperatures and some nice sunrises and sunsets.

 

The passenger/curb side of our travel trailer parked in our site for the month at Luxury RV Resort.  Spacious enough site with a concrete pad/patio with a picnic table and good utility hookups.

 

 

A view of the beach and Gulf of Mexico looking east from the central beach plaza where Hwy 59 ends between E Beach and W Beach roads.

 

A view to the west from the same vantage point as the previous photo.

 

Gulf Shores is a somewhat quirky beachside town that trades on its location.  It’s a well-maintained and attractive place, with beautiful white sand beaches, restaurants (with fish and seafood on offer, of course), night life, surf shops, t-shirt shops, and quintessential “tourist” shops, as well as a very nice state park and lots of nature and history in the surrounding area.  It is a pedestrian and bicycle friendly place as well.  The central beach area was approximately a 1/2 mile walk from the RV park.  The photos that follow highlight a few of these things.

 

Souvenir City on the west side of Hwy 59 in downtown Gulf Shores, Alabama.  Linda is standing in the mouth of the giant shark “sculpture,” which is where the entrance to the store is located.  This place is definitely a “beach town” souvenir shop, and we spent an obligatory amount of time exploring all that it had to offer, which was impressive for its sheer quantity and diversity.

 

The “kitsch” at Souvenir City didn’t end with the entrance shark.  This fiberglass model of the head end of a hammerhead shark was setup for photo ops, and we used it in accordance with the mandatory rules of  tourist etiquette.

 

We only got the entire group together a few times during the month, but Nancy arranged for the use of the RV park clubhouse on Thanksgiving Day so we could share a meal with plenty of space to lay out the food, arrange seating at tables, and not be concerned about the weather.  Everyone attended and shared the work of putting together a nice meal, but a bit more on that in post 3 of this set.

 

What would a tourist/beach town be without a diner?  Hungry, I suppose.  Not a problem here.  The Sunliner Diner might not be authentic, in the sense of having been around for a long time, but it definitely had the look and feel, with some nicely preserved/restored old cars thrown in.

 

Just south of Luxury RV Resort, a major marsh extends east from Hwy 59 all the way to Gulf State Park.  This boardwalk provided walking access to the Wade Ward Nature Park part of it.  Linda walked almost every day while we were camped in Gulf Shores, Alabama, and I sometimes went too, along with Paul and Nancy.

 

 

The marsh mentioned in the previous photo caption clearly had some open water as well.  We were always on the lookout for wildlife, especially alligators, of course.  We saw birds and waterfowl and small animals, but never spotted any “gators.”  The Luxury RV Resort office building and a few RVs are visible, center right in the photo.

 

Our travel trailer, center-frame, with the bathhouse to center-right.  It was close enough to be really convenient.  Also, the clubhouse was just across the street, and it also had bathrooms with showers.

 

This photo was taken some four (4) hours after the previous one.  I think Linda is looking out over Mobile Bay as enlarging the photo faintly shows tall buildings on the distant horizon (in the direction of Mobile, Alabama).  But don’t hold me to this.

 

 

The Gulf of Mexico from the beach west of the Gulf Shores, Alabama.  Even when the weather was not all sunshine and unicorns, it was interesting and sometimes dramatic.  A couple of oil platforms are just barely visible on the horizon, center and left in the frame.

 

Another photo from the same place on the beach.  From left-to-right:  Buddy, Robert, Linda, Nancy, Paul, and Bella.  There was a small parking area out-of-frame to the left, with public access to the beach.

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Note:  This post contains 17 photos with captions, and some minor narrative.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

TUESDAY 31 October 2023 — NTNP 14 of 14 — End of the Trace:  Emerald Mound (again) and the Town of Rocky Springs, near Natchez, MS

 

The only remaining wall of the Elizabeth Female Academy in Washington (West Natchez), Mississippi.  (See the next photo and caption.)

 

ELIZABETH FEMALE ACADEMY information sign.  Paraphrased from Wikipedia:  The Elizabeth Female Academy, founded in 1818 in the town of Washington (West Natchez), was the first female educational institution in Mississippi. It was named after Mrs. Elizabeth Roach (later Greenfield), who donated the land on which the school was located. The school closed in 1845, due in part to the relocation of the state capital from Natchez to Jackson, the general shift in the center of population, and several epidemics of yellow fever in the area. The site was reduced to ruins by a fire in the late 1870s. Part of a brick wall is all that now remains of the Academy buildings.

Learn more at:  Elizabeth Female Academy – Wikipedia

 

The small sign post at the lower left of the photo says Old Trace with an arrow pointing to the right.  This section of the old (original) trail starts at the opening on the left. 

 

We walked on identified sections of the original (old) Trace when we could.  We enjoyed the short hikes and admired the natural beauty of these places but also thought about the arduous journeys that so many people made along this trail so many years ago and the history that surrounds it.

 

Over time and thousands upon thousands of footsteps, the path of the Trace gradually wore down below the surface level of the surrounding landscape.  As shown here , the depth at this point is over twice Linda’s height.

 

EMERALD MOUND NATIONAL HISTORIC LANDMARK plaque.  We returned to Emerald Mound today as we only had a brief visit yesterday, mostly the find it.

 

 

The trail leading to the top of Emerald Mound was paved but steep.  This photo gives a sense of the height of the mound from the parking lot.

 

Linda on top of Emerald Mound heads towards a smaller mound and information sign.

 

This information sign and graphic provided a visualization of how archeologists think the structures atop Emerald Mound were arranged, appeared, and used.

 

Another section of the Old Natchez Trace.  Sections like this are sometimes labeled “Sunken Trace,” but if that was the case here, I did not document it.

 

A picture of me for scale (and just because) at a point where the Natchez Trace splits into two paths.  We rarely saw splits like this, and have no idea how common or rare this was on the original trail.

 

LOESS BLUFF information sign.  The loess bluff is the shear area behind the sign,  From MS Edge (Co-Pilot):  A loess bluff is a fascinating geological feature formed by the accumulation of windblown sediment known as loess.  Loess (pronounced LOW-ess) is a type of fine-grained, silty soil composed of particles deposited by the wind. It’s typically light yellow or tan in color.  During the Ice Age, glaciers covered the northern half of the United States. As these glaciers receded, they left behind vast expanses of bare land.  Continuous dust storms swept in from the western plains, carrying fine particles of dust and soil. These winds deposited the loess layer over the landscape.  The result?  Bluffs—steep, elevated landforms—made up of this windblown topsoil. Loess bluffs can be found in various regions around the world.  …  Mississippi also boasts its own loess bluffs, where nearly continuous dust storms during the Ice Age created a layer of sandy soil 30 to 90 feet deep.

 

THE TOWN OF ROCKY SPRINGS information sign.  The town was first settled in the 1790’s.  In 1860 it had a population of 2,616 people spread over a 25 square mile area.  Over 2,000 of those people were slaves who tended the fields of cotton, the main crop that made this town possible.

 

The historic Methodist church in Rocky Springs, Mississippi is the only remaining structure of Rocky Springs and continued to hold Sunday services until 2010.  The site and church are now maintained by the National Park Service.

 

MAGNUM SITE and GRINDSTONE FORD information sign.  The Magnum Site is a prehistoric mound and the Grindstone Ford was the threshold between civilization and wilderness on the Old Natchez Trace.

 

MAGNUM MOUND information sign.  Archeological excavation of this mound revealed much evidence about the prehistoric Plaquemine culture that was the precursor of the modern tribes of Louisiana and Mississippi.

 

A view of Magnum Mound from near the information sign.

 

GRINDSTONE FORD information sign.  The FORD marked the end of the old Natchez Trace District and the beginning of the (wilderness of the) Choctaw Nation.  But it was only “wilderness” in the eyes of the Europeans who were moving into and “settling” the area.

 

And that is the end of my 14th and last post on our trip down the Natchez Trace National Parkway.  It was a trip we had long talked about doing, and even planned for, and we were pleased to have finally done it.  Up next, our month in Gulf Shores, Alabama hanging out with friends.

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Note:  This post contains four (4) photos.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

MONDAY 30 October 2023 — NTNP 13 of 14 — Emerald Mound and the Grand Village of the Natchez Indian, Natchez, MS

 

When we planned our trip, the itinerary included a 1-night stop for 31 October 2023 at The Great Mississippi Tea Company, another Harvest Host location, near Brookhaven, Mississippi.  We had stayed there once before and thoroughly enjoyed it.

 

EMERALD MOUND information sign.  Built on top of a hill, this flat-topped 8-acre mound was in use from 1300 to 1600 AD by the Mississippian Indians, predecessors of the Natchez Indians.  It supported temples, ceremonial structures, and burials for the civic and religious leaders of a complex society.  It is second in size only to Monks Mound in Cahokia, Illinois.

 

Besides being a nice place to camp for the night (strictly boondocking), the hosts/owners of The Great Mississippi Tea Company were delightful and very welcoming.  We were given a tour of the place—including the tea plants in the fields and the processing facility—and bought some things in their gift shop (of course).  But they also brought us a tea service in the morning of our departure.  That was a nice touch, very nice.

 

Another view of Emerald Mound from the parking lot and entrance to the trail that leads to the top.

 

We were very much looking forward to returning to The Great Mississippi Tea Company, but canceled the stop based on the weather forecast, which called for temperatures near freezing the night we would be there.  In previous posts, I have mentioned the various reasons we can’t really boondock in our Airstream travel trailer, but I didn’t mention one of the most important; it’s really not that well insulated, and that is especially a problem in cold weather.

 

In another part of Natchez, MS we visited the site of the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians.  The smaller mounds found at sites like this could be easily overlooked if care was not being taken to preserve them and tell their story to any/all who visit.  To learn more, visit the Wikipedia entry at this link:  Grand Village of the Natchez – Wikipedia

 

Before canceling our HH stay, however, we checked with the office at the River View RV Park & Resort to make sure we could extend our stay, as we could not check in at Luxury RV Resort in Gulf Shores, Alabama until Wednesday 01 December.  The park was not full and there was no difficulty extending our stay for an additional night (3 total).

 

A banner sign on the museum wall at the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians.

 

With that change in plans, we now had two full days to explore the southern end of the NTNP and the area around Natchez, Mississippi.

 

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Note:  This post contains nine (9) photos.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

SUNDAY 29 October 2023 — NTNP 12 of 14 — Natchez MS and Vidalia LA

 

Our truck and trailer backed into our wooded Boondockers Welcome parking spot at The HatchPad Off The Trace in the Farmhaven area of Mississippi.  No epic views, but a lovely, quiet spot in the woods that suited us just fine.  Our hosts’ house is farther back in the woods at the end of the driveway.  While not really visible in this photo, there is a shed to the right of their house with a washing machine and a dryer.  We were invited to use, and took advantage of the opportunity.  (Most commercial RV parks have laundry rooms, so we made use of those when available when needed.)

 

Today we completed our north to south transit of the Natchez Trace National Parkway at the south terminus in Natchez, Mississippi and then on across the Mississippi River to the River View RV Park & Resort in Vidalia, Louisiana, immediately across from Natchez.  In total, we drove all but about 10 miles of the 444-mile-long road, and that was only because a 10-mile stretch in/near Tupelo, MS was closed for construction/repairs.

 

Another view of our truck and trailer in our BW parking spot.  Barely visible near the center of the right edge of the frame is the electrical box where we were allowed to hook up to shorepower.

 

While not an “epic” trip, in comparison to some of the national scenic roads we have driven, it was a wonderful journey at a leisurely pace with light traffic and a nice mixture of scenery, culture, and history.  I mean, we took nine (9) days to pull our trailer from one end to the other a distance that we could easily have covered in two (2 days,) even with the trailer, or one (1) day without it.  But not on the NTNP, of course, which has a maximum speed limit of 50 MPH, with lower limits in some places.  No, this trip was an intentionally “slow roll” and was a kind of “bucket list” item that we had been trying to do for a while.

 

Natchez, Mississippi as viewed from Vidalia, Louisiana across the Mississippi River.  Most of the “downtown” area is to the left of the bridge.  The River level was very low.  The sand bar in the foreground is usually underwater and not visible.

 

As much as we would like to have the ability to dry-camp, our rig is only capable of doing that comfortably for a very short time in a very narrow temperature range.  We have two solar panels on the roof, but we do not travel with a generator, and our battery system is insufficient to run big loads.  We have propane for cooking, refrigeration, hot water heating, and forced-air space heating, but the last three appliances use DC power to run their control circuits, and the fan in the forced-air furnace is a real energy hog, precluding it’s use in cold weather precisely when we need i.  At the other extreme, we have two heat pumps which function as air-conditioners for cooling or can heat the rig efficiently in cool weather as long as it’s not too cold.  But they are 120VAC devices, and they still use a lot of power/energy.  Making the rig truly off-grid capable is something we discuss, but have not reached a conclusion on whether we will undertake the necessary modifications and upgrades.

 

There was a very nice walkway that went along the River by our RV park.  It extended up to and beyond the bridge, so we went for early evening stroll.

 

A closer view of the bridge with part of Natchez, MS visible on the horizon.

 

A barge being pushed (upstream, from right to left) by a tugboat (which seems backwards) passes under the bridge, being careful to stay in the center of the River in order to have sufficient underwater keel clearance.

 

Just beyond the bridge (on the north side) was the Vidalia Convention Center, a very nice-looking facility.

 

A selfie by the Vidalia Convention Center with Natchez, MS in the background.  I think the reason I never smile in selfies is that I am concentrating on framing the shot and also trying to remember to look at the lens, something both of us seem to have difficulty doing consistently.

 

Our site at River View RV Park & Resort on the western shore of the Mississippi River in Vidalia, Louisiana across the River from Natchez, MS.  And no, the name of the town has nothing to do with the onions, which get their name from Vidalia, Georgia.

 

While we were done traveling the NTNP with our travel trailer in tow, we were not quite done exploring the Trace, which I will cover in the post for tomorrow and the next day.

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Note:  This post contains 11 photos with captions and a little narrative.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

SATURDAY 28 October 2023 — NTNP 11 of 14 — West Florida Boundary and Vicksburg Civil War sites

 

Heading south on the Natchez Trace NP from our Boondockers Welcome site, our first stop was the West Florida Boundary parking area.  It was also a trailhead for a section of the Natchez Trace.  This photo provides a sense of scale to the trail and surrounding forest.

 

WEST FLORIDA BOUNDARY sign.  This image file is 1200×675 pixels and can be viewed a full-resolution on a suitable device.  The sign on the right with the map shows the territory known as “West Florida.”  The lower lower/narrow strip along the sea was the extent of the territory as of the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, at which time Great Britain gained control of the lands west to the Mississippi River.  The northern boundary of this area was set at 31 deg N latitude.  The region was quickly considered too restricted for settlement, and a year later (1764) the British (unilaterally) moved the northern boundary to 32 deg 28 min N latitude into the lands of the Choctaws and Creeks, approximately tripling its size.

 

This photo was taken at the Reservoir Overlook for the Ross R. Barnett Reservoir just on the NTNP near Ridgeland, Mississippi.  Our BW location was a bit northeast of here, closer to Canton, Mississippi.  The reservoir is on the Pearl River.  The photo is a composite of five images taken with the SONY alpha 6400.  It is 1200×327 pixels and can be viewed at full-resolution on a suitable device by clicking on the photo.

 

Another composite image from the Reservoir Overlook, this one taken with a Google Pixel 6.  (Photo by Linda)

 

The RESERVOIR OVERLOOK information sign.  The Ross R. Barnett Reservoir is formed by a large earthen dame and covers 50 square miles.  It is administered by the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District, an agency of the State of Mississippi.

 

Although our focus for this trip was the Natchez Trace National Parkway, we realized that we were close enough to Vicksburg, Mississippi that we decided to detour over there and have a look.  One of the major tourist destinations in the Vicksburg area is the Vicksburg National Military Park and the Vicksburg National Battlefield.  Once we were there, we discovered the USS Cairo Gunboat and Museum site within the NMP, and checked it out.  The museum was not open when we visited the site, but we found the ship, as shown in the following four photographs, fascinating.

 

USS Cairo Gunboat, Vicksburg National Military Park (NMP), Vicksburg, MS.

 

USS Cairo Gunboat, Vicksburg NMP.

 

Paraphrased from Wikipedia:  The USS Cairo was the lead ship of the City-class casemate ironclads built at the beginning of the American Civil War to serve as river gunboats for the Union.  Cairo is named for Cairo, Illinois. In June 1862, she captured the Confederate garrison of Fort Pillow on the Mississippi, enabling Union forces to occupy Memphis.  As part of the Yazoo Pass Expedition, she was sunk in the Yazoo River (a spur of the Mississippi River) on 12 December 1862 (near Vicksburg), while clearing mines for the attack on Haines Bluff.  Cairo was the first ship ever to be sunk by a mine remotely detonated by hand.  The remains of the Cairo can be viewed at Vicksburg National Military Park with a museum of its weapons and naval stores.

 

USS Cairo Gunboat, Vicksburg NMP.

 

USS Cairo Gunboat, Vicksburg NMP.

 

The remains of the ship were discovered in 1956 and salvaged in 1964-65.  It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on 3 September 1971.  By 1980 Congress had authorized the National Park Service to accept the boat, move it to the Vicksburg NMP, and put in on display in conjunction with a museum to house the recovered artifacts and tell the story of the boat and its role in the Civil War.

 

One of the bunkers at the Vicksburg National Battlefield site.

 

This photo has nothing to do with the Civil War.  I’ve outlined the fuel economy readout on our F-150 instrumentation cluster.  Folks, you can’t make this stuff up; it really does say 29.1 (miles per gallon).  We had recently filled up the fuel tank and only traveled 39.3 miles, as shown in the lower left, so this was obviously light travel and slightly downhill.  Although this MPG is not sustainable under normal driving conditions, the number in the upper right indicates that we could travel another 747 miles before running out of fuel if we could maintain this MPG.

 

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Note:  This post contains 8 photos.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

THURSDAY 26 October 2023 — NTNP 9 of 14 — Choctaw Boundary

 

The JEFF BUSBY PARK information sign told us that Thomas Jefferson Busby, U.S. Congressman from Mississippi, introduced a bill on February 15, 1939 authorizing a survey of the Old Natchez Trace.  This was a direct result of the research and persistent lobbying of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) to create the Natchez Trace National Parkway and resulted, four years later, in the historic road being designated a unit of the National Park System.  This park commemorates his role in the Parkway’s establishment.

 

 

Our explorations today of the Natchez Trace National Parkway (NTNP) included some of the section between Tupelo and Jackson, Mississippi, within reasonable driving distance of the campground, which is near Ackerman, MS.

 

 

 

 

 

These are Swamp Tupelo trees.  There might also be Bald Cypress trees in this swamp, at least we recall seeing both at one point along the NTNP.  The name Tupelo is of native origin.  From the National Forest Foundation website:  “The name “tupelo,” a common name used for several varieties of Nyssa trees, literally means “swamp tree” in the language of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation (ito ‘tree’ + opilwa ‘swamp’).”

 

CHOCTAW BOUNDARY  The map on this information sign shows the territory ceded to the USA when “…tribal leaders in central Mississippi signed the Treaty of Doak’s Stand, ceding rich cotton lands in the delta region east of the Mississippi River for approximately thirteen million acres in the Canadian, Kiamichi, Arkansas, and Red River watersheds in southeastern Oklahoma.  The history of the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma began with the signing of this treaty on October 8, 1820 and ratified in Congress January 8, 1821.  To a much greater extent than we realized when planning this trip, the history of the Natchez Trace includes the history of the native people who occupied this land for a very long time prior to the arrival of Europeans in what became known as North America.

 

A trip down the NTNP is a trip through more than just American and native history.  Before the British and the eventual founding of the USA, the French and Spanish were here, as the following photo explains:

 

PEARL RIVER  This information sign tells that Pierre Le Moyne (Sieur) d’Iberville (a French soldier, explorer, colonial administrator, and trader) sailed into the mouth of this river in 1698 and discovered pearls, thus the origin of the name.  A hundred years later, the Natchez Trace avoided marshy lowlands by following a route between the Pearl and the Big Black Rivers for about 150 miles.  Since 1812, the last 75 miles of the river have served as the boundary between Mississippi and Louisiana.  D’Iberville is noted for founding the colony of Louisiana in New France.

 

Here’s the information sign explaining the TUPELO-BALDCYPRESS SWAMP.  These trees take root in summer when the swamp is mostly dry, but the seedlings have the somewhat unique ability to survive and thrive in water that that is deep enough to kill other plants.

 

CHOCTAW BOUNDARY (complete sign).  This image is 1200×742 pixels, and can be viewed full size on devices with suitable screen resolution.  In addition to the map shown in the third photo in this post, it includes the two wing signs, labeled INDIAN TREAT and DOAKS STAND.  The sign on the left indicates that a line of trees crossing the (now) Parkway just to the left marks part of the boundary that was agreed to in the aforementioned Treaty.

 

This FRENCH CAMP information sign tells yet another story of how a place got its name.  Around 1812, Louis Leflore first traded with the Choctaw Indians in the area northeast of the Trace.  Because he was of French nationality, the area was referred to as French Camp.  The name stuck and is still used today.  Interestingly, he married a Choctaw woman and their son, who changed his name to Greenwood Leflore, became a Choctaw Chief and a Mississippi State Senator.  The City of Greenwood and the County of Leflore are named for him.

 

This panorama shows another view of the Choctaw Lake Campground while Linda and I are out for an early evening stroll following our day exploring another section of the NTNP.

 

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Note:  This post contains 7 photos.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.

 

WEDNESDAY 25 October 2023 — NTNP 8 of 14 — Choctaw Lake Campground, Choctaw Lake Recreation Area, Tombigbee National Forest, US Forest Service (USFS)

 

Our very generous campsite backed up to a spur of Choctaw Lake in the Choctaw Lake Recreation Area.  Our trailer rear bumper was still quite a way from the water and the site was elevated well above the Lake level.

If you look carefully, you will see a “walking stick” on the trunk of this tree, mid-frame.  I did not have a convenient way to show the scale of this insect, but I estimated it to be 6” – 8” long.  I have always been fascinated by these creatures.

 

Many years ago, when we were much younger, we were tent campers.  On a few occasions we camped in national forest campgrounds.  Some of these “campgrounds” were remote and very rustic.  While that is no longer “how we roll,” the campgrounds in some of the national forest recreation areas are a bit more developed.  Our basic requirements are: 1) a relatively level, and sufficiently large, site (but not necessarily paved); 2) Electricity at the site, and 3) a dump station.  A bathhouse is appreciated, but an outhouse (pit toilet) in place of a dump station is a “no go.”

 

 

 

Choctaw Lake CG more than met our basic requirements.  As with all of our camping spots, we stayed here for two nights, and used the full day to continue exploring the NTNP.

 

Another view of our site at Choctaw Lake CG.  Both the USACoE and USFS campsites included substantial concrete picnic tables.  This site also had something we had not seen before.  Note the black, upside down, “J-hook” at the left of the image.  Every site had one of these.  There were for hanging a camp lantern.  We didn’t have a camp lantern to hang (or didn’t want to dig ours out), but we thought this was a nice amenity that all campsites should adopt.

 

And another photo of our site at Choctaw Lake CG, taken by Linda and featuring yours truly.  (Photo by Linda)

 

And yet another shot of Choctaw Lake while strolling the USFS campground near the shore.

 

We have no idea what this was, and the staff at the Choctaw Lake CG didn’t either.  It was clearly some kind of living organism, and the staff indicated that biologists have been here to study it, but also didn’t know.  I am not one for swimming in lakes, rivers, or oceans, but if I was, I would have given this lake a pass.  Even so, I thought it was visually very interesting.

 

This gravel path extended along the lake shore for quite some distance.  The developed area actually wraps around Choctaw Lake far to the right, out of the frame.

 

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Note:  This post contains 8 photos.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

TUESDAY 24 October 2023 — NTNP 7 of 14 — Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield

 

Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield sign.

The Natchez Trace National Parkway (NTNP) passes through a part of the “deep South” that was heavily impacted by the Civil War.  From Wikipedia (paraphrased):  Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield site memorializes the Battle of Brices Cross Roads in which a U.S. Army force was defeated by a smaller Confederate force commanded by Major-General Nathan Bedford Forrest on June 10, 1864, but nevertheless secured Union supply lines between Nashville and Chattanooga, Tennessee.  The 1-acre site is a grassy park with a flagpole, a memorial monument, two cannons, and some information signs.  The monument and site are very similar to that at Tupelo National Battlefield.  Brices Cross Roads, however, is the only component of the National Park System designated a “battlefield site.”  I felt that last point was interesting in and of itself.

 

 

WITCH DANCE information sign.  The site of local lore, also part of the history of the Natchez Trace.

 

LINE CREEK information sign.  A long time ago a nearby creek that flows through this valley was accepted as the boundary between the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations, and remained so until both tribes moved to Oklahoma in the 1830’s.  The course of the creek has changed over the years, but the name has stuck.

 

OLD TRACE information sign.  A 200+ year old section of the “Old Trace” is preserved here, and we walked it.  The sign describes the difficulty of creating and maintaining a nearly 500-mile-long path through the wilderness and how readily nature seeks to reclaim the ground, as shown in the next photograph this section of the trail/road.

 

Maintaining this 10-foot-wide section of the Old Trace involves constant work.  Without continuous human intervention, nature would, it its own time, completely reclaim this path.

 

Elements of Exchange.  Although the type is too small to read in this photo, the map highlights the territories of the Eastern Woodland nations and discusses the materials that served as “currency” for trading purposes.

 

These are obviously mounds, and the photo was taken about 4 minutes after the previous one, so I know they were in the same general area, but we failed to photograph a sign telling me about their significance.

 

OLD TOWN CREEK information sign.  This gist of the historical factoid reported here is that in the early 1800’s ordinary Americans could not be bothered to learn the Chickasaw names for their villages and other landmarks and features.  Thus, a nearby village was dubbed “Old Town” and the name eventually became attached to the creek that runs through the valley.

 

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Note:  This post contains 6 photos.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

MONDAY 23 October 2023 — NTNP 6 of 14 — Piney Grove Recreation Area, Tennessee -Tombigbee Waterway, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

One of the many responsibilities of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACoE) is the construction, maintenance, and operation of infrastructure on domestic inland waterways for purposes of transportation, power generation, and recreation.  The Tennessee–Tombigbee Waterway (aka the “Tenn-Tom” abv herein as “TTW”) is an example of this mission in action.  The Tenn-Tom is a 234-mile (377 km) artificial U.S. waterway built in the 20th century from the Tennessee River to the junction of the Black Warrior-Tombigbee River system near Demopolis, Alabama.

 

The Freedom Hills pullout along the NTNP.  (Photo by Linda)

 

The recreational use is a byproduct of the first two and primary concerns, but they are very popular with the public, such as boaters, hunters, fishermen (and women), and campers, including RVers.  We had been aware of the USACoE campgrounds for many years, but this was the first time we stayed at one.

 

Our trailer tucked into our site a Piney Grove CG, Piney Grove Recreation Area, USACoE.  (Photo by Linda)

 

The Piney Grove Campground met our expectations based on prior experience with state and federal camping and recreation facilities.  It was wooded, with spacious paved sites and interior roads and well-maintained trails.  It had beaches and boat launches, and functioning/clean restrooms, some of which is illustrated in the following photographs.  Not luxurious, of course, but the somewhat rustic appearance/nature of such a place is part of its charm, at least for us.

 

 

This sign indicates that we are 177 miles from the North Terminus (southwest of Nashville, TN) and 267 miles from the South Terminus (in Natchez, MS) of the Natchez Trace National Parkway.  That makes the NTNP 444 miles long, although I usually report it as 440 miles.

 

The sign at the entrance to USACoE Piney Grove Recreation Area heading in to the campground and boat launch (I think).

 

Another view of our truck and trailer in our campsite at the Piney Grove Recreation Area campground, USACoE.  If deforested commercial RV parks are not your thing, perhaps USACoE (and US Forest Service) campgrounds might be appealing (along with National Park Service campgrounds, of course).

 

A panoramic photo of a finger of the Tenn-Tom as seen from the Piney Grove Recreation Area campground, USACoE.

 

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Note:  This post contains 13 photos.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

SUNDAY 22 October 2023 — NTNP 5 of 14 — Tennessee-Alabama-Mississippi State Lines

Today was our full day at Fall Hallow CG/RVpark/B&B.  The weather was nice, and we took advantage of it to further explore the section of the NTNP from here south a way, having explored from here north yesterday.  Fall Hallow CG is in Hohenwald, Tennessee, but traveling south from here, the Trace cuts across the northwest corner of Alabama.  The first photo below is for Pharr Mounds in Mississippi.  Subsequent photos show the signs for the Mississippi and Alabama sides of their common border along the Trace.

 

PHARR MOUNDS information sign describing the largest and most important native American archeological site in northern Mississippi.  The pre-European tribes in this area where part of the much larger and more extensive Mississippian mound culture, whose center was in Cahokia, Illinois.

 

Ancient mounds co-exist with present day agricultural use of the land.

 

Part of the dashboard in our F-150.  Yup, it shows an average fuel economy of 28.4 MPG.  The F-150 is capable of this when not towing the trailer, the fuel tank has just been topped off, good driving, light traffic, and flat roads with no stops.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Crossing into Mississippi from Alabama on the NTNP.

 

I walked to the other side of the road to photograph the matching sign entering Alabama from Mississippi on the NTNP.

 

The terrain in this area was not all flat, and afforded views like this on occasion.

 

Information sign for ROCK SPRING TRAIL which crosses Colbert Creek and meanders through woodlands to get to Rock Spring.  The sign indicates that since 1977 numerous beaver dams have been built here and subsequently destroyed by high water.

 

This panorama of Rock Spring is a composite of four images made with Microsoft Image Composer.  The resolution if 1200×360 pixels, and can be displayed at full resolution on a device with a suitable monitor.

 

This is a bicycle repair station at one of the rest areas in this section of the NTNP.  It has a “rack” for hanging the bike, all of tools one might need (suitably tethered to the post), and an air pump with integrated air pressure gauge.  Although not yet mentioned in this series of blog posts, bicyclists were much in evidence all along the NTNP and this was not the only such repair stand that we saw.  Most of the cyclists were self-contained.  Some of them camped in the NTNP campgrounds while others stayed in motels just off the Trace.

 

A all-purpose, 3-way water/drinking fountain at the same rest stop as the bicycle repair stand; Left portion for filling water bottles, center for drinking, and bottom right for “Fido.”

 

 

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STATE LINE information signs.  This set of signs describes the boundary between Tennessee (right, north) and Alabama (left, south).  The image is 1200×675 pixels, and can be displayed at full size on a device with appropriate resolution.

 

McGLAMERY STAND information sign.  It says that “a stand was an inn or trading post—sometimes both—established along a well traveled route.”  The one here was established in 1849.  It did not outlast the Civil War, but the nearby village still retains the name.

 

Linda picks her way carefully across a stone portion of trail where it crosses a very wet area.

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Note:  This post contains 7 photos.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.

 

SATURDAY 21 October 2023 — NTNP 4 of 14 — North end NTNP and Meriwether Lewis

Today was a relocation day in which we moved the travel trailer from the Grand Ole RV Resort in Goodlettsville, Tennessee to Fall Hollow Campground, RV Park, and B&B in Hohenwald, Tennessee.  Again, we camped here for two nights.  As RV parks go, this was not a great place and we did not have a great site.  But we had a FHU site, and the campground was located the desired distance from our previous RV park, so it served its purpose of moving us on down the road and using the full day (tomorrow) to explore the next section of the Trace within reasonable driving distance of the RV park.

 

The Meriwether Lewis Memorial.

 

A reproduction of the Grinder House (I think) where Meriwether Lewis met his demise.

The Natchez Trace National Parkway is not just a pretty drive on a nice paved road; it is that, but it is much more.  Although 440 miles long between it’s northern and southern termini, it is sometimes narrow enough that you could throw a ball across it.  In the wider sections, it is still rarely even a mile wide.  It is also a trail (Trace is French for trail) through history, and that history includes the indigenous people that lived in this part of what became North American long before Europeans arrived on the continent, and were still very much here as the USA expanded westward in the many decades following the War of Independence.

 

A plaque marking the site of the actual Grinder House where Meriwether Lewis died.

We quickly discovered, but were not surprised, that the National Park Service had done their usual exemplary job of making an overarching view of this history available to those travelers who were willing to take the time to read information placards, walk the trails, and ponder the few remaining remnants of a past era.

And, as history is want to do, there were intersections with other aspects of USA history that we did not know about or expect.  One of those intersections had to do with Meriwether Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and the Louisiana Purchase.  Lewis, who was President Thomas Jefferson’s private secretary, ended up in this area of the Trace, very much in debt as a result of the expedition.  Despondent about the inability of the Government (congress) to reimburse him for expenses, he took his own life on October 11, 1809.  Perhaps we learned this in our high school American History class but if so, I did not recall it.  We did not learn why he came he, so that is a question left for the reader.

The following photos highlight a few additional aspects of this portion of the NTNP.

 

Information sign for the STEELE’S IRON WORKS site.  Dating from 1820, a charcoal burning furnace located here was used to make pig iron.  Metal Ford crosses the Buffalo River just beyond this sign.

 

Metal Ford was a natural rock ledge that made it possible to cross (ford) the River at this place by the Steele’s Iron Works.  Crossing creeks, streams, and rivers was one of the many challenges of transiting the Trace.

 

Linda captures a picture of me positioning myself to get a photo of Metal Ford at the Steele’s Iron Works site, NTNP.  (Photo by Linda.)

 

And here’s the photo I took of Metal Ford at the Steele’s Iron Works site, NTNP.

 

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Note:  This post contains 13 photos.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.

 

FRIDAY 20 October 2023 — NTNP 3 of 14 — Natchez Trace National Parkway (NTNP), North Terminus

 

Yesterday afternoon, we arrived at the Grand Ole RV Resort in Goodlettsville, Tennessee with a 2-night reservation.  We have stayed here before, and really like the park.  Prevost’s “Nashville” service center is actually in Goodlettsville, just a mile or so from the RV park, and that is what originally brought us here.  It’s about 12 miles to downtown Nashville, so on previous visits we used the RV park as a base to explore the city, something we did not feel we needed to repeat this time, even though it is a vibrant and interesting town.  Our focus on this visit was on the Natchez Trace National Parkway.

 

The NTNP has quite a few bridges and overpasses, either for the parkway itself or for highways that cross it.  This one was located by the north entrance sign and was a wonderful piece of civil engineering.

 

Timberland Park and the Natchez Trace Trail.  The NTNP is a long, slender unit of the National Park Service with a paved road running its entire length.  Within the boundaries of the NTNP, however, are historic sites as well as hiking and equestrian trails.  A few sections of the original Natchez Trace (French for trail) still remain and can be hiked.

In planning this trip we discovered that transiting the NTNP while camping in a larger RV, and/or not being able/willing to boondock (dry camp), would be a challenge.

There are National Park campgrounds within the boundaries of the Parkway, but they are:  1) designed for small vehicles; 2) only available on a first-come/first-served basis (no reservations); and 3) only setup for boondocking (no hookups at any of the sites).  Years ago (over a half century), when we were newly married, these are the kinds of campgrounds we sought out, but we were tent campers back then, and places like this allowed us to avoid motorhomes and trailers and have a more rustic experience.  Not anymore.

 

Entrance sign at the north terminus of the NTNP.

The combination of our 2020 Airstream Flying Cloud 27 FBT (front bed twin) travel trailer with our 2019 Ford F-150 XLT short-bed FX4, is 49 feet long.  (Our bus/car combo was about 60 feet long and the bus/truck combo would be about 66 feet long if we ever decide to use it that way.)  At this point in our lives’, that’s just too much vehicle to not have a guaranteed place to park it each night where we know it will fit.  We are also not really set up for boondocking in the TT, except in very moderate weather, so we like to at least have electricity available.

 

The NTNP winds through hills and across flat lands over its length.  The northern end, in particular, was hilly and often afforded views such as this.

As for our exploration of the NTNP, we were unsure about whether we would find pull-outs and parking lots that could accommodate the length of our rig.  With that in mind, we decided we would use our planned overnight “stopping spots,” not all of which were campgrounds, as bases from which to explore the NTNP in detail using just the F-150.  And that is what we did with our first full day at the Grand Ole RV Resort.  Following are a few photos of things we saw on the northern end of the NTNP.

 

The information sign for THE GORDON HOUSE, one of the few relatively intact historic structures remaining along the NTNP.  This is the style of sign used within the NTNP to explain a site of historical interest.

 

 

A view of the Gordon House from a slight distance.

 

OLD TRACE WALK information sign.  A few sections of the original trail remain.  Pull-offs and parking lots were located to park and walk these sections if desired.  We did so at most opportunities, unless they were wet/muddy.

 

Linda stops for a photo on a section of the Old Trace.  The trace was originally a foot path from Natchez, Mississippi to the Ohio River near Cincinnati, Ohio.  As such, it was not very wide.  Log rafts were constructed near Louisville, KY and Cincinnati, OH to float cargo down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to Natchez.  In Natchez, the cargo was sold along with the rafts, and the traders walked back to do it again.  It was eventually widened and improved for military and commercial use, but remained a rustic trail through the wilderness.

 

TOBACCO FARM – OLD TRACE  As the area through which the Trace passed became more settled by Europeans, farms and business, such as inns, mills, etc. grew up along its length.  Being in the south, tobacco was a major crop.  This sign marks the site of tobacco farm.  To the right of the sign is a tobacco barn (shed) with tobacco drying in it which allowed a glimpse into the past.

 

I believe this is a replica of the original tobacco shed that was here.

 

The title of this information sign is “Cherokee Removal Routes.”  The area through which the Trace passed was occupied by native Americans, and had been for a very long time.  A big part of the history of the Trace has to do with these people; their histories, cultures, and ultimate treatment at the hands of European settlers and the US Government.  In its usual fashion, the National Park Service (NPS) tells this story as part of the NTNP experience.

 

There were a lot of small creeks, drainages, and streams in the Parkway.  Footbridges like this one were placed on trails where needed, making for a nice hiking experience for modern day visitors.  Linda stops while I take a photo.

 

Turnabout is fair play.  I pose on a footbridge while Linda takes my picture.  (Photo by Linda)

 

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NOTE:  This post has eight (8) photographs with captions and some narrative.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with SONY alpha 6400 (A) and Google Pixel 6 Pro (B).  Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6 (L).

 

WEDNESDAY 04 October to TUESDAY 17 October, 2023 — At home between trips (again), and a birthday

Upon our return home from our outing to Frankenmuth Jellystone Family RV Resort, we spent the first half of October 2023 finalizing our plans for driving the Natchez Trace National Parkway with our Airstream Flying Cloud 27 FBT travel trailer.  This included decisions about where to make overnight reservations, find fuel, and what we might see and do while traveling the full length of the Trace from North to South.  We ended up booking a combination of commercial RV parks, US Army Corps of Engineers and National Forest Service campgrounds, Harvest Host sites, and a Boondockers Welcome site.

In the two (2) weeks available to us before departure, we had to prepare the trailer, F-150 tow vehicle, house, barn, property, and ourselves to be away for about six (6) weeks.  Grand-daughter Sadie’s 5th birthday/party was the highlight of this period.  When possible, we delay leaving for the winter until after her birthday.  Following are a few photos covering these two weeks.  The auto-feeder for the cat was working well, and we arranged again for our neighbor, Mike, to keep an eye on the house and check on the feeder while we were away.

 

Cabela resting on her “princess pillow” on the sofa in the living room.  She might not be our cat, but we have clearly become her caretakers, and we enjoy having her in our lives.  We are trying to figure out how best to make this work long term.  Even if we could get her to be an inside only cat, we doubt that we would be able to acclimate her to RV travel, and we would still be left with how to provide for her care while we are away on a cruise.

 

Cabela is not the only outside cat in our neighborhood, but she is the only one we are prepared to care for.  This beautiful cat showed up one day.  I was only a few feet away when I took this photo, so clearly not a feral cat.

 

Sadie opens one of her gifts at a family gathering on her birthday.  (A friends’ party was held on a more convenient time on the weekend.)

 

Sadie shows off her Love Pop birthday card from Nancy and Paul.

 

It wouldn’t be a birthday party with a birthday cake.  Sadie seems pleased at the sight of this flaming treat.

 

If you can see her face clearly enough, this is the look of a young lady determined to blow out all of the candles on the cake.

 

One of the small improvements I made to our camping situation was to purchase and install a Mopeka tank level sensor system for the two propane tanks on our Airstream travel trailer.  Shown here is the remote indicator that I mounted in the bedroom at the front of the trailer.  (The propane tanks are just on the other side of this front wall.)

 

The day before our departure for our trip down the Natchez Trace National Parkway we finished loading the F-150.  I always photograph the bed of the truck so I can make sure everything fits back in.  And yes, it is actually in the garage!

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NOTE:  This post has 22 photographs with captions and some narrative.  Photos were taken by me (Bruce) using a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

WEDNESDAY 27 September to  TUESDAY 03 October, 2023 — Jellystone Family RV Resort, Frankenmuth, MI

Our dear friends, and fellow “bus nuts,” Bill and Karen from Ontario, Canada have been visiting the Jellystone Family RV Resort (JFRVR) in Frankenmuth, Michigan for many years during the mid-September to mid-October timeframe.  There are a number of reasons they do this.  They have other “bus nut” friends in the area (besides us), and they like the town.  The downtown area is quaint, has shopping and dining options, and is a walkable distance from the RV park, if one so desires.

They also like the RV park, in part because of the indoor swimming pool, which the owners maintain at a pleasant temperature.  They both like to swim, and the first half of the morning is reserved for adults.  They have gotten to know the owners quite well over the years, and always book the same site, in the first row right across from the entrance to the indoor pool, before they leave each year.  (I think the owners hold this site for them.)

But this time of year, the Park does something special; a hay-wagon ride and Trick-or-Treating every weekend (on Saturday), starting with the last weekend in September or the first weekend in October, and leading up to Halloween.  The park is well known for this, and these weekends must be reserved well in advance as there won’t be any vacancies.  Bill and Karen enjoy supplying treats for the kids (and some of the adults) and in recent years have taken to giving out juice boxes rather than candy.

Last year (2022), we booked a spot spanning the last weekend in September to early October while Bill and Karen were there.  We took the Airstream travel trailer and had our son bring his daughters up on Friday after school to stay with us for a couple of nights, with us returning them home on Sunday.  They enjoyed the park and the pre-Halloween activities, so before leaving the park we booked a spot again for the same time in 2023, near Bill and Karen’s site.  We drove up on Wednesday 27 September, and the grand-daughters got delivered to us on Friday 29 September after school and work.  They stayed with us in the Airstream travel trailer until we took them home on Sunday afternoon October 1st.  Bill and Karen enjoyed spending time with the girls, but we booked our stay for a Tuesday 03 October departure so we had some additional adult only time before and after the girls were there.

Anyway, that’s the context for the photos which follow:

 

Sadie, who just turned 5 years old, is a very energetic young lady, seen here exiting the bounce house.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Sadie moves across the bounce pad with speed and determination.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Madeline enjoys a conversation with Karen.

 

Sadie decorates a pumpkin.

 

Sadie poses for a photo with Yogi Bear.

 

Madeline and Sadie on the Royal Chair by one of the shops in downtown Frankenmuth, Michigan.

 

The hay wagon ride at Jellystone Family RV Resort.  Linda, Sadie, and Madeline are on the ride with their backs to the camera.  Linda has a yellow ellipse around her.

 

Our Airstream travel trailer at JFRVR.

 

Bill and Karen’s 1960’s GMC TDH-5301 “New Look” (aka “Fishbowl”) bus conversion.  This bus was in service with Toronto Transit Co.  Bill bought it, in open auction, when it was retired from service and converted it into a motorhome.  He drove this exact bus briefly during is 30-year career with TTC.

 

Linda escorts Madeline and Sadie during trick-or-treat at JFRVR.

 

Bill and Karen with their juice boxes set out by their bus for the trick-or-treaters to pick up.

 

Sadie makes a scary (?) Halloween face.

 

Sadie proudly displays her Apa (me) sporting her “Super Sadie” cape.

 

I use Linda’s phone to capture Sadie proudly displaying her Ama (Linda) sporting the “Super Sadie” cape.

 

Bill and Karen’s juice boxes notwithstanding, the girls collected a fair number of sweet treats.  Far less than they could have, however, had been allowed to.  The RV park as approximately 215 RV sites and 16 rental cabins and every one was occupied and every one was giving out treats.

 

Madeline’s trick-or-treat makeup.

 

The earlier photo of their “sweets haul” did not tell the whole story.

 

Madeline models a chef’s Hat on our visit to N’orlins Café in the Frankenmuth River Place Shops complex on the south end of downtown Frankenmuth, Michigan.  A stop here has become a tradition for us.  They are known for their beignets and chicory coffee.  From MS Edge Co-pilot regarding beignets:  These delightful French fritter-style donuts, known as “ben-yays,” are a specialty at N’orlins. They’re made fresh to order, served hot, and generously dusted with powdered sugar (and they are available with several different dipping sauces).

 

Madeline expresses her fondness for N’orlins beignets by mirroring the shape of one of them.

 

Sadie was as fond of her beignet as the rest of us.

 

The munchkins have been returned to the parents and I (Bruce) catch the moon rising over the RV park.  Some of the other campers were still in the park and had not yet taken down their decorations.  The extent to which some families decorated for the weekend was impressive.

 

The girls collected enough sweet treats to get enough Snickers Miniatures to spell it out.  (We did not realize this was even a thing until now.)

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Note:  This is the 16th of 16 posts about our 21-day trip that included a 17-day (16-night) cruise on the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) ship SPIRIT from Vancouver, British Columbia north along the inside passage to Sitka, Alaska, and then across the North Pacific Ocean to the Hawaiian Islands, before ending in Honolulu, Oahu.  This post has 13 photographs with captions and some narrative.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

FRIDAY 15 September 2023 — (T20-21,C17) Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii and home

This was the 20th day of our trip, and the 17th and final day of our cruise.  We arrived in the early morning hours at the cruise port in Honolulu, Oahu, our final port-of-call in the Hawaiian Islands.  (It was a 21-day trip in total, as we would not arrive back at our home in Michigan until the following day, but I cover a few highlights of that at the end of this post.)

On the last day of a cruise, passengers must disembark fairly early in the day so the crew can “turn the ship around” and get it ready for the next set of passengers, who will start their embarkation by late morning.  When leaving from and returning to ports in the continental USA, we can usually arrange flights back to Michigan that allow us plenty of time to get to the airport without having to wait too long to board our plane after getting there.  In the case of this cruise, however, the most “reasonable” flight we could book departed at around 5 PM local time.  That meant we had to figure out what to do during the day, which included what to do with our luggage, a not insignificant issue.

The easiest solution was to book a motorcoach shore excursion that included transportation to the Honolulu International Airport, with our luggage safely stored onboard the motorcoach until we were dropped off at our terminal.  Yes, pre- and post-cruise shore excursions are a “thing,” as are pre- and post-tour transportation options.  Actually, any service a cruise line can provide, or product they can sell, to extract a bit more money from their customers is a thing.  In this case, however, it was an excellent option for us.  Although we had been to Pearl Harbor on our last visit to Hawaii, it was the shore excursion that best met the needs of passengers, like us, with flights departing after 3 PM local time.  And so, we went to Pearl Harbor.

Although still very much an active military base, the Pearl Harbor National Memorial is an interesting, historically important, and somber place that draws some 2 Million visitors every year.  Perhaps we were just tired from the cruise, but it seemed like half of those people were there today, or perhaps just half of the people from our cruise ship.  They weren’t, of course, but the place did seem crowed.  Since we had already seen many of the major sites that make up the National Memorial, we were not motivated to spend more money beyond our entrance fee just to stand in lines and deal with crowds to try to see them again.  We decided to just stroll the grounds instead, read placards, take a few photos, and find something to eat.  Our biggest problem was finding someplace to sit (at all, never mind comfortable) and stay out of the sun.  As we’ve gotten older, however, I think we’ve gotten better at just quietly “passing the time” when we find ourselves in situations that require it, or at least benefit from adopting that attitude.

Here are a few photos from that day, followed by an epilogue to wrap up our 21-day trip.

 

Our ship was already at the dock when I took this photo around 6 AM local time.

 

I am always interested in structures, machines, etc.  Shown here is a service ramp that has already been deployed from the terminal to the ship.

 

The famous Diamond Head (extinct volcano) at the far east end of Waikiki Beach, backlit by the sunrise around 6:30 AM.

 

Another view looking towards Diamond Head, which is towards the right edge of the frame at the horizon, showing some of the skyscrapers in this part of Honolulu.  These could be hotels, apartment/condos, or office buildings.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Since we had to disembark early, we were up and dressed early to get a bite to eat and have one last stroll around the ship.  At ~6:30 AM we had the walking track on Deck 13 (ABIR) to ourselves.  The pool has been covered with netting to keep people out, or catch anyone who might fall in.

 

A panorama composited from five (5) images of the harbor off the port side of the ship.

 

Another early morning photo from the starboard side walking track with the harbor behind Bruce.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Yes, this is a photo of the TV screen in our stateroom.

Regarding the above photo, the left side of the screen clearly shows the time to be 17:01 UTC and the upper right corner shows the time to be 07:01 (local) establishing the 10-hour time difference between Honolulu and Greenwich, England (where Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and UTC are usually the same).

UTC (Universal Time Coordinated) is a time standard that never changes (no daylight savings time nonsense), while GMT is a time zone, in which Greenwich, England is located.  We live in the Eastern Time zone (EST or EDT, depending on the time of year), which is UTC minus 5 this time of year (Daylight savings time was still in effect in the USA).  By the time we arrived back in Michigan, our plane (and us) had been in six (6) time zones over ~ 9-1/2 hours in the air.

The screen also shows our position at 21 degrees 18.12 minutes North Latitude and 157 degrees 51.92 minutes West Longitude.  Linda captured an image (not shown here) of the lower left corner of the screen indicating that our total distance traveled (in the ship) was 4,502 nautical miles (5,180.8 statute miles).  The flight distance from DTW (Detroit) to YVR (Vancouver) is ~1,959 miles, and the flight distance from HNL (Honolulu) to DTW (Detroit) is ~ 4,475 miles.  Thus, the total distance traveled on this trip, not including excursions, was ~ 11,614 statute miles, or ~553 miles per day on average.

 

Welcome to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, which includes Memorials for the USS Arizona, USS Oklahoma, and USS Utah, all lost on the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

 

An anchor that was salvaged from the USS Arizona.

 

The low white building with the curved roof is the USS Arizona Memorial.  It straddles the ship in its final resting place and has a glass floor, allowing visitors to view the remains of part of the ship.  We visited this Memorial on our previous visit.  (Photo by Linda)

 

A circular courtyard that surrounds a relief map of Pearl Harbor, and has plaques with the names of the lost, provided some place to sit and contemplate the events of the day that pulled the USA into World Ward II.  (Photo by Linda)

 

A broader view of the grounds at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial.  The USS Arizona Memorial is visible at the left edge of the frame.  The site is beautifully maintained, as you would expect, and is accessible for those visitors with mobility issues.  I think the exception is the submarine tour, as it involves climbing stairs and, ABIR, ladders.  We toured the submarine on our previous visit to the National Memorial.

…..

 

Epilogue (T20-21) — Friday evening 15 September & Saturday 16 September

With our drop-off at the Honolulu International Airport around 3 PM, our NCL SPIRIT cruise was officially concluded.  We were no longer “cruisers,” just ordinary travelers waiting to fly home.  The drop-off point was a “back” entrance to the terminal and it was a bit confusing at first figuring out where to go once we were inside.  But we figured it out in short enough order, and began the process of checking our two larger suitcases, clearing through the TSA checkpoint, finding our gate, and waiting to be called to board the airplane.  The airport was busy;  the Hawaiian Islands are a popular tourist destination, and Honolulu International Airport is the major way most people arrive and depart.

Time zones are fascinating, and while travel across them can be interesting, it can also be challenging, especially as regards sleeping.  (As noted in several posts, I’ve also had an issue merging photos from three different devices in correct chronological sequence.  This has been due to different devices using different time references when naming and tagging image files.)  ABIR, our Delta Airlines flight was scheduled to depart at around 5 PM Honolulu time.  At 5 PM in Honolulu, it was already 10 PM in Detroit, Michigan, and within a couple of hours of taking off, it was Saturday, 16 September at home.

We had an approximately 4,500-mile trip ahead of us at an average (air) speed of ~500 mph, so roughly a 9-hour flight plus a 30-minute allowance for ground operations (takeoff and landing combined).  The actual time, gate-to-gate, could have been more or less depending on prevailing wind speeds and directions at flight altitude (which tend to be from west to east, so a favorable tailwind), or the need to detour around severe weather.  That put our estimated time of arrival at Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW) at 6:30 AM local time.  Realistically, that meant we should be off the plane, luggage collected, and ready for pickup by around 7:30 AM, but I no longer recall exactly what time we reached the gate.  Early, in any event, but not hugely inconvenient for our son, who lives about 30 minutes from the airport, and had agreed to fetch us upon our arrival.

As with past cruises, we had one of our children take us to the airport and pick us up upon our return.  That has usually been our daughter, but for this trip it was our son.  We drove our F-150 to his house on departure day and he chauffeured us from/to there.  Part of the reason for this, was that he and his wife wanted to get the truck “detailed” while we were away.  They had borrowed it during the summer, along with the Airstream travel trailer, to use for a family vacation and wanted to get it cleaned up as a “thank you” for letting them use it.  We did not expect them to do this, of course, but we were not going to say “no” either.  They also live closer to the airport than our daughter does.

Back at his house the rest of the family was awake, so we got to see our two youngest grand-daughters and tell everyone a little bit about our trip.  We eventually left for home and arrived to find Cabella (the cat who is not our cat, or so we say) waiting for us, even though she had lived outside for the entire duration of our trip.  (She is an outside cat who has become an outside/inside cat while we are trying to figure out how to take care of her in a way that works for her and us.)  Our neighbor, Mike, had kept an eye on the house (and the cat) while we were away, making sure she had water and refilling her automatic food feeder as needed.

I always like to launder all of the clothes we have had with us on any trip (short or long), but that was a task that would wait until tomorrow and get spread over a couple of days so as not to overload the septic system (or me).  What could not wait, was putting the water treatment system back in full operation.  I shut it off whenever we are gone for more than few days so the tanks do not regenerate, which puts a lot of water into the sump.  I recall that we talked about stopping at a Panera to get something to eat, but I don’t recall what we actually did for lunch or dinner.  I suspect we found something to eat for dinner in our refrigerator and/or panty as Linda usually plans for that when we go on shorter trips.  We had, after all, eaten out every meal for the last 21 days.  For longer trips, we try to use up any fresh food before we leave.

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Note:  This is the 15th of 16 posts about our 21-day trip that included a 17-day (16-night) cruise on the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) ship SPIRIT from Vancouver, British Columbia to Honolulu, Oahu.  This post has 20 photographs with captions and some narrative.  Photos taken by me (Bruce) with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

THURSDAY 14 September 2023 — (T19,C16) Hilo, Hawai’i, Hawaii and Mona Kea

This was the 19th day of our trip, and the 16th day of our cruise and saw us arrive in the cruise port at Hilo, Hawai’i (the Big Island), Hawaii (the State of).  Our main activity was a shore excursion that stopped at Rainbow Falls Lookout before taking us to the observatories atop Mona Kea (also spelled “Muanakea”).

At 13,803 feet (4,207.3 m) AMSL, which is also its “wet prominence,” the summit of Mona Kea (Muanakea) is the highest point of land in the Hawaiian Islands, and the second highest island mountain summit on earth.  From Wikipedia:  “Because the Hawaiian Islands slope deep into the ocean, Mauna Kea has a dry prominence of 9,330 m (30,610 ft) (it’s height if the ocean was “drained” of water. This dry prominence is taller than Mount Everest’s height above sea level of 8,848.86 m (29,032 ft), so Everest would have to include whole continents in its foothills to exceed Mauna Kea’s dry prominence. …”  The highest summit on an island is Puncak Jaya in New Guinea, Indonesia, which stands at an impressive elevation of 4,884 meters (16,024 feet) above mean sea level.

 

Our first view of Hawai’i (the Big Island) and Mona Kea.  This panoramic photo is a composite of five (5) images.  Mona Loa is just visible at the left edge of the frame.

 

Sunrise lights up Mona Kea as the NCL SPIRIT slowly motors towards the cruise port in Hilo, Hawai’i, Hawaii.  The photo is 900×678 pixels and can be viewed at full-resolution on compatible devices.  (Photo by Linda)

 

A selfie at Rainbow Falls Overlook in Hilo, Hawai’i, HI.

 

A flower along the trail at Rainbow Falls Overlook.  (Photo by Linda)

 

We always try to take a photo of signs to identify where we are.  If we can get a photo with a clock in it, so much the better as it helps me time sync photos to local time.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Rainbow Fall in Hilo, Hawai’i, HI.

 

I’m holding grand-daughter Sadie’s “Apa and Ama” artwork to mark our location at the Mona Kea ranger station / store (the building behind me).  We are already at/above the level of the clouds.

 

The Mona Kea ranger station/store/museum with our tour van in the front parking lot.  From a web search:  “The Onizuka Center for International Astronomy Visitor Information Station (VIS) on Maunakea is open every day of the year from 9am to 9pm.  Located at the 9,200 foot (2,804 meter) level, they provide health, safety, and other information about Maunakea along with access control.  The road up the mountain is open to any/all visitors up this building.  Beyond this point, permission is needed and a 4-wheel drive vehicle is required.  Our tour van met both of those criteria.

 

The VIS has a store with various Mona Kea and astronomy related merchandise.  It is also a small museum focused on telescopes and other things astronomical.

 

One of the radio telescopes on top of Mona Kea.  (Photo by Linda)

 

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a joint operation of several universities under the auspices of the National Science Foundation.

 

Our tour guide presents information on the various rocks that make up Mona Kea.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Our tour guide had a Mauna Kea (Mona Kea) sign for photo ops for his customers.  Linda is holding grand-daughter Sadie’s “Apa and Ama” artwork.  (Photo taken with Linda’s phone, but obviously taken by someone else, probably our tour guide.)

 

A panoramic view of several telescopes made using the panorama feature of the Pixel 6 Pro.   This photo file is 1080×271 pixels and can be viewed at full-resolution on compatible devices.

 

This is a composite of two (2) images, showing several different types of telescopes on Mona Kea, how they are situated, and the road(s) that are used to access them.  Not all of the telescopes have a 360-degree clear view of the horizon.  They are situated based on available real estate and what part of the sky they need to be able to see.

 

By now it should be obvious that we were there, but here’s another selfie, just to prove the point.

 

The same two observatories as the previous photo without us in the frame.

 

This panorama is a composite of eight (8) images.  The photo file is 1920×363 pixels, so there is a lot of detail that can be seen on a device with appropriate screen resolution.  There are at least 15 telescopes of various kinds visible in the image, along with a portion of the amazing road system that winds up to and around the observatories and support buildings.

 

Last, but not least, a photo of the actual summit of Mona Kea, several hundred feet above where we are standing, and higher than the highest observatory on the mountain.  Why?  Because the summit is a sacred site to indigenous Hawaiians that is used for special ceremonies throughout the year.  As such, it is not open to the public at any time.

 

We are back on the ship in the theater at the conclusion of the evening’s entertainment at ~10:15 PM.  If was the final ensemble performance of the cruise and featured most of the performers who had entertained us throughout the last couple of weeks.  The performances were of a high enough caliber that we were always entertained.  This final performance was over, so cameras where very evident as passengers tried to capture the celebratory moment.  I took this photo to provide some context for the look of the theater.

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Note:  This is the 14th of 16 posts about our 21-day trip that included a 17-day (16-night) cruise on the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) ship SPIRIT from Vancouver, British Columbia to Honolulu, Oahu.  This post has 20 photographs with captions and some narrative.  Photos by me (Bruce) using a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

WEDNESDAY 13 September 2023 — (T18,C15) Kahului, Maui, Hawaii

Our ship arrived in the harbor at Kahului, Maui early this morning.  As was well-reported in the news, Maui had recently suffered a devastating fire in and around Lahaina.  This obviously impacted some of the planned shore excursions, but we did not detect anyone being upset about changes in planned offerings.  Indeed, tourists were being encouraged to visit Maui and support the local economy, but the Lahaina area was obviously off limits.  Any disappointment for cruise passengers was inconsequential compared to the loss and suffering of the impacted islanders.

Our main activity today was a shore excursion with “Hike Maui” east along the first portion of “the road to Hana.”  We were transported in vans and had an excellent tour guide.  There was a lot of walking, but it was mostly easy and it was nice to get off the ship and use our legs to walk around town and in the woods.

 

The NCL SPIRIT approaches Kahului, Maui, Hawaii at sunrise.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Linda soaks up the sunrise as it floods the port side of the ship inbound to Kahului, Maui.

 

The mountains loom behind Kahului, Maui and make their own weather, as mountains are want to do.

 

This sign says it all:  “Aloha, Welcome to Kahului, Maui, Hawaii” with the NCL SPIRIT in the background.  We enjoyed our time on this ship.  It’s the smallest ship in the NCL fleet, but it’s still pretty big.

 

I hold Sadie’s “Apa and Ama” artwork by a large map of Maui, Hawaii.  Notice how the island resembles a person in lying on their side with the head at the upper left and facing down and slightly left.  The cruise port at Kahului is in the curve of the neck on the back (north/upper) side.  Most of the head is high mountains.  The town of Lahaina, which suffered the worst of the recent fire, is more or less directly opposite Kahului on the other side of the central mountains.  Travel to that area was not allowed, of course, as the area is still recovering and rebuilding.  (Photo by Linda)

 

From a web search:  Maui is an island formed by two volcanoes: Haleakala and Mauna Kahalawai. Haleakala is a 10,000 foot shield volcano that means “House of the Sun” and had its recent eruptions between 1480 and 1600.  Maui is an island formed by two volcanoes: Haleakala and Mauna Kahalawai. Haleakala is a 10,000 foot shield volcano that means “House of the Sun” and had its recent eruptions between 1480 and 160012. Mauna Kahalawai is an eroded shield volcano also known as the West Maui Mountains (the “head”) that last erupted 320,000 years ago. Maui does not have any active volcanoes, unlike Hawaiʻi Island, which has two of the world’s most active volcanoes: Kīlauea and Maunaloa.

 

We went on a shore excursion with “Hike Maui.”  Our first stop was the town of Paia.  From a web search:  Pā’ia is  a census-designated place on Maui, Hawaii with a population of 2,470 as of the 2020 census.  It is home to several restaurants, art galleries, surf shops and other tourist-oriented businesses. It was formerly home to the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Mill from 1880 to 2000.  Pā’ia is the first town on the Hana Highway when heading eastbound towards Hana.  It was cute, inviting, and very walkable.  “Surf shops” were much in evidence.

 

We came across a ukelele shop while strolling around downtown Paia.  Yes, Ukuleles really are a thing in the Hawaiian Islands, and this shop had a lot of them!  They were all exquisite instruments whose craftsmanship was obvious, and are sold to customers all over the world.  They ranged in price quite a bit but some of them were, as you might expect, very expensive.

 

The front façade of the Mele Ukulele shop.  I had a nice conversation with the owner, as much about photography and cameras (he was also a SONY shooter) as about ukuleles and living on tropical paradise island.

 

“Hike Maui” has taken us to a bamboo grove.  Much of the bamboo was very tall, as shown in the next photo.  The tour provided water and a light lunch, which was appreciated.

 

The tour guide used Linda’s Pixel 6 to take this photo in which we are dwarfed by a stand of bamboo.  It was nice to have a photo of the two of us that wasn’t a selfie.  (Photo by Linda, sort of)

 

The plant life in Hawaii is remarkable; unique, diverse, beautiful and fragile (to outside negative influences).

 

Our tour guide stops to explain some plant life along the trail.  (Photo by Linda)

 

I just liked this plant, photographically:  An interesting backlit pattern in contrasting shades of green.

 

We pause on our way to the waterfall and wading pool for photo op.  (Photo by Linda’s phone, but someone else obviously took the photo.)

 

On part of a hike to a small waterfall and swimming hole we had to go through this tunnel of twisted branches.  This was one of just many interesting things that were part of the hike.

 

We always appreciate good signposts to help us get where we need to go.

 

This view seemed to be quintessentially Maui; a rugged coast with a white sand beach set off by beautiful blue and green water and a blue sky with some puffy clouds.  If you look carefully at the white sand beach, you will also see a large gathering of very large sea turtles.

 

A zoomed in view of a section of the beach showing the very large sea turtles resting on the sand.  This section of the beach was closed off and posted “No Admittance” but we saw people ignoring that, both from land and from the sea.  (Photo by Linda)