Sunday, January 31, 2010

From Alligators to Space Shuttle --- and more Alligators

Pack up and move on up the road to Titusville, FL
Jan 27th - Got a good start - no issues - leave by 9:00AM
Take #27 south to South Bay, turn east onto #80, through Bell Glade, and then turn north along Lake Okeechobee on # 441 for about 25 miles to Port Mayaca, and then east on #76 along the ST. Lucy canal for about 25 miles to join I 95 north. Stay on I 95 for about 100 miles till we turn off onto #46 and into the Cape Kennedy KOA in 1 mile. Check in and extend stay to two weeks, a little confusion there to get it all organized. A couple of returns to the office, but all works out well. Our site, #120, is under a very large oak tree, at least I think it is oak. It must be over one hundred feet high and a base of a 4 foot diameter.

Man, how I would like to get a chunk of one of these for turning!!! Will continue the search. Somewhere there must be some that have been cut down and are just cut up in pieces just waiting for someone to pick them up!
Jan 28th - Took a drive down through Mims and Titusville today to see if we could choose an optimum place to see the space shuttle blastoff on Feb 7th at 4:39AM from. Found quite a few places along the beach where the view of the space launch are is very good although almost 12 miles away.

Not sure how many people would be out there to view it, or how crowded the area will be, but found a cuople of parks where we should be able to park the jeep right up to the beach with unimpeded view from right in the vehicle. It is recommended to be there at least 2 hours previous to blastoff so it would be nice to be able to stay in the jeep until time.
Then we stopped and checked out a Space Park - another potential viewing site - lots of signs and Space info there - lots of photos!!

Drove west on highway 50 out into the swampland of the St. Johns wildlife Reserve. Checked into some details of another airboat ride
$35 for an hour with lots of animals and crocs to see. We may concider that another day!
Jan 29th - Went to NASA today. Fairly strict security at check in. I realize I had my jack knife in my pocket, so had to walk back to the jeep to leave it there, at least a half mile across their very large paved parking lot. They did search Denices purse too. Once, after purchasing $59 tickets, and inside we had a great time. (Tickets are for 2 days, but only one bus tour) Had only an hour before catching a bus tour of the complete facilities.

They took us out to Pad 39A where the shuttle is already in place. We were able to take some very good pictures.

Also took us to Pad 39A where the new concept launch vehicle Aries and cargo Transporter will be launched from, if Congress approves the expenditure. The Launch system is already in construction, but still need final approvals before it can become a reality. I'm sure millions have been spent already!!. Here is the launch pad and concept vehicle. More like the old capsuls, but more intuned to the requirements of tomorrows missions.

Latest Space Shuttle Schedule:

Date: Feb. 7
Mission: STS-130

Launch Vehicle: Space Shuttle Endeavour

Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center - Launch Pad 39A

Launch Time: 4:39 a.m. EST

Landing: Feb. 19 - 11:14 p.m. EST

Description: Space shuttle Endeavour will deliver the final connecting node, Tranquility Node 3, and the Cupola, a robotic control station with six windows around its sides and another in the center that provides a 360-degree view around the International Space Station

Had a very good guide, and he gave us detailed description of everything we saw. We plan on watching the launching on the morning of the 7th at 4:39AM from the beach along the Indian River at Tutisville. You can buy tickets to watch from the causeway to the island, but the guide said that there were 5000 tickets available for $60 a pop, but when they went on sale, online, two weeks ago, they were sold out in 90 seconds!! He also said if there is a delay in the launch, and you have to leave, that you get to keep the ticket as a Great Momento of this launch!!
Bus tour ended at Apollo Saturn IV Center where the were the complete Saturn IV rocket is kept for viewing. This site still has to complete Control Room with the original consuls that were used with the Opollo launches. Then a bus took us back to the Visitors center. There I took a tour through the shuttle Explorer. Amazed at the actual size of this machine!!

Need to return tomorrow to see the rest ---
Jan 30th - Back to NASA today by about 10:30AM

Started with the Blast Off Simulation Program. You are strapped into a module, supposedly in the cargo Bay of a shuttle, and then you experience the Blast off as you would in real life. The astronauts claim this is as close as you can get to the real thing, without being there.
Following this we took some more pics of the Shuttle Discovery and then did a walk around through the park and over to the "Mirror Wall", a memorial to all those who have lost their lives in the search for space exploration. This site is a huge slab of marble with all the names engraved on it, in a setting with a lake around it. And guess what? More Alligators wandering around and enjoying the warm weather as we were as tourists!
Then to two Imax movies with the 3D glasses. One was blasting off into space orbit, and the assembling the Space Station together. Fabulous experience, especially with the 3D. You are right there with the crew, and feel you can just reach out andhelp them with some of their tasks. The second movie, although I did not feel it as good as the first was a trip to the moon, but it still was very good. Surprisingly, the day was starting to come to an end, and we still needed to stop at the "Astronaut Hall Of Fame" back on the mainland. But first just had to stop at the "Space Gift Shop", the very largest of its kind in the world, with all the Space Momentos that you could imagine. Now the $59 ticket we purchased yesterday, covered all the rides and entries that we took in, but, of course the Gift Shop was designed to entice a fair amount of cash out of you, to help pay for your two day adventure. AND THEY DID!!!
One of the themes that was quite evident was that of cost cutting initiatives for NASA. At one time after John F. Kennedy announced the push for the moon, the budget for NASA was 7% of the total US Budget. Today it is 1/2 of 1%. So they stress that the whole visitor facility is self supporting, with no moneys from tax payers being spent.
We then left the Visitors Center and returned to the mainland 6 miles to the west and went to the "Astronaut Hall of Fame".

Also covered with our initial entry fee. Here more rides, a simulated roller coaster with 3D vision in front of you, Simulated Shuttle landing with you at the controls, lots of space type experiments, a movie with the screen being a large sphere representing the earth or the moon or other planets. This was just opened and we were the first to see it! Really neat! Also a large part dedicated to past austronauts and to those that have given the ultimate sacrifice to the Space Program. Another Great Day completed. Something you just do not want to miss if you are within the area!!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Billie Billie Bayou

Last full day at Okeechobee and last chance for a swamp buggy and airboat ride, so we acted apon that desire and drove down to the Seminole Reserve. We both are feeling somewhat better today and we did want to go back to Swamp Billies again.

Left about noon and drove the 40 miles to the Seminole Reservation, and to the Swamp Billie complex. A word about the Seminoles, if interested go to:
where you will find their whole history
While there we went on a Swamp Buggy tour through their wildlife Safari Property -

Lots of wild animals and crocs. Many of these animals were not really native to the area. Some were from Africa, and other warm countries, so the tour was more like through a zoo, but never the less entertaining and fun. Nice to see how all those there could intermingle without conflict.

Then we went on a 1/2 hour airboat ride through the hanging everglades. This is what I had always invisioned as what the Everglades would be like. Hanging vines, mangrove trees and swampy conditions.

Enjoyed this very much well. Saw more crocs and lots of water birds as well as a couple of racoons.

Actually, as a whole, the most of the southern part of Florida, called the Everglades, is comprised of Sawgrass swampland, and low bush type vegetation. I guess the impressions I had of the area was from movies that highlighted the hanging mangrove type of envirionment. African Queen was one that came to mind.

Then we stopped at the gift store!!!!!
Denice found a real nice blouse made by the Seminoles.

I mean really nice, if you know what I mean! We thought the day would cost at least a 100$, well ------------- Even Denices mouth fell open when they told her the price! She looked at me, and I at her, Oh what the heck, go for it!
I also bought a good leather Safari hat for 45$. Pale alongside of a Seminole Blouse!!!
Returned to ELTORO to end a successful day.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Keys to Florida

Fine weather in Florida now!!
Just kick back and enjoying it!!
Some days just rest and do absolutely nothing, but a couple of others were able to see some neet things. Denice wanted to see the Butterfly World in Fort Lauderdale, so off we went on the 19th. Just scheduled in address of Butterfly World on jeeps GPS, and Suzy led us right there, although she did take us on a route via a Toll highway. Only a dollar for a car so not too bad. Many of the highways here are Toll, so you need to have your dollar ready, although they do have people manning the booths for change if need be. But be sure to go through the pay booth and not through the SunPass lane, ---- as I did on the Bay Bridge at Destin. Still have not paid that $2.50 bill. Wonder whats going to happen with that!! Anyway, back to Butterfly World.
Denice especially loved it, but me too. All kinds of butterflys there and colors and sizes, Also exotic birds, humming birds, and lots of others that very colorful.
Took lots of photos. There also was a Lorikeet enclosure, with about 25 of them there. Of course they want to land on you, and check you all out.
One was real interested in my camera, and put his head right inside the lens cap. Denice's pictures of same.
Then there were Macaws, about a dozen of them, also colorful and interesting.Another part of the complex was dedicated to exotic and sub tropical plants and flowers. Althogh not too many were in bloom, there were still enough to give an indication of the beauty in them. You could only imagine when they were in full bloom. There was a "Bug" house but we did not go through i as it held little interest to us. On the way home we took a short trip out the a conservation area off highway 27, right out in the Sawgrass Everglades. Interesting! Returned home a took a few more sunset pics. Always great with palm trees in forground.
After that busy day had to rest up until the 21st. On this day we headed down the Keys.
Left Okeechobee early in the morning and went south on Highway 27, and then 997 to Homestead, and then onto Highway #1
Drove all the way to Key West, a distance of about 120 miles over many,many bridges, the longest at 7 miles between the various Keys.

Arrived at Key West about 4:00PM, and checked into the Days Inn there. Seems clean and OK, but for $149, I guess it should be. Had a couple of hours until sunset so drove the outer perimeter highway around the Key, about 4 miles. Stopped at the most southerly point in the USA and took some pictures of the monument there.
Then sunset pics on way back to motel and dinner. The next morning drove along beach at sunrise to try for some sunrise pics. Some OK, but not earth shattering.

Then to breakfast at the Waffle House at Days Inn. Circle the Key again, and then head back along the Intercoastal Highway.
Several photo op stops along the way
Had planned on taking in a glass bottom boat ride at Key Largo, near the mainland, but it became increasingly clear that we would not make it for the 3:00PM sailing for a two hour ride, so we elected instead to visit the "Theater of the Sea" in Islamorada.
It was a 2 1/2 hour show that featured Parrots, Dolphins, Sea Lions, Alligators, Crocs, turtles, and more.
We had concidered staying a second night in a motel in Homestead, and then driving to Flamingo in the Everglades National Park, the farthest point south in the mainland USA, but Denice was contacted a rather nasty cold and I could feel one coming on so we just headed home to Lake Okeechobee. The next two days were a bit of a wash as we both came down with colds, an just felt Blah. Didn't feel like doing anything so we didn't.