Thursday, July 31, 2014

Sparky and Eldo Meander on the Way Home

Isn't it great to be retired and go anywhere you want to, when you want and for how long you want? After leaving seeing Kelly off, Sparky and Eldo were headed to the Blue Ridge Mountains, at last report. This time, we were absolutely sure that's where we were going. (See yesterday's post) But then again, you never know with Sparky.

Well, we sort of knew we were going....west, towards the Blue Ridge Mountains. Where to stay? We stopped at a beautiful welcome center in North Carolina, gathered up a bunch of brochures (Sparky likes to collect them, you know....) and were on our way...
entrance coming up to the Blue Ridge Parkway
A trail near the parkway visitor center
A few hours later, we stopped in Boone, North Carolina...a beautiful town nestled up against the Blue Ridge Mountains. The entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway was nearby, and after we got settled in our hotel room, we decided to venture out on the Parkway for awhile before it got dark. The Blue Ridge Parkway spans 469 miles and wends its way through 29 counties in Virginia and North Carolina. It connects two popular national parks--Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are nine official parkway campgrounds along the way, but since we no longer have our motorhome, (sniff sniff), we stayed in a hotel in Boone. There are more than 200 overlooks and 26 different tunnels, and some gorgeous waterfalls and fabulous hiking trails, so this is an amazing greenway to explore, and one of America's most popular scenic roadways.  We stopped along one overlook, and Sparky saw an entrance to a trail. It looked so inviting, but it was getting late in the day, and not the best time to go.....We didn't have the proper shoes or our poles, either, so we weren't going to head out today. We will definitely come back to this area....It was beautiful!

We stopped at overlook after overlook, each one just as beautiful as the last......

The temperatures were dropping into the very pleasant low seventies and high sixties....What a relief from the Florida heat! As the sun started to set, we headed back to the hotel. We had one day left to explore the area, and we were going to make the most of it! Time to go back and plan an excursion as we only were going to spend one more day in the area before heading back to Florida....

Back at the hotel, Sparky started investigating and reading all the info we had gathered...


Linn Cove Viaduct in the Fall
  • Grandfather Mountain at Milepost 305
  • Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center at Milepost 384
  • North Carolina Arboretum at Milepost 393.6
  • Folk Art Center at Milepost 382
  • Mt. Mitchell, the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi, Milepost 355.4
  • Craggy Gardens picnic area and hiking trails at Milepost 367.6
  • Pisgah Inn, an inn and restaurant, at Milepost 408.7


  • Cold Mountain overlook, the namesake of the best selling novel and movie, at Milepost 412
  • Looking Glass Rock overlook, a distinct rock formation named for the way water and ice reflects off mountain's granite surface, Milepost 417
  • Graveyard Fields overlook, the barren scenery is reminiscent of the moor of England, Milepost 418.8
Here's a link to the hiking trails near Boone, NC. Sparky is definitely going to save this for a future trip to the area. We hope to maybe go back next summer and stay for a little while.

We decided to head to the Mile High Bridge on Grandfather Mountain the next day.....See you there!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Goodbye (sniff, sniff) and Good Luck to Kelly!

Our final day with Kelly, was spent at a local school where they were holding a deployment ceremony to say good bye to the soldiers....The governor of Virginia was there, along with other important dignitaries.

Kelly is headed to Fort Hood for a few weeks to get ready for deployment overseas....It was hard saying goodbye, but it sure makes a mom and step dad proud....

We took several photos...Sparky loves this one of Kelly and Eldy....
And mom has to be in the photo, too...

It's hard to watch your son or daughter leave for a difficult assignment in a difficult area, but we will have lots of prayers headed Kelly's way as she fulfills her duties. Sparky had her Kleenex out as the bus pulled out of the parking lot. It's just as hard for officers and enlisted men and women to leave their families and be gone for many months. It takes courage to step up and serve your country. She's a great officer and a great leader. We are very proud of her!

Our plan was to drive back to Florida the next day in Kelly's car. We are going to take care of it for her while she's serving her duty.  So we started out down the road....Eldy and Sparky discussed taking our time going back, and maybe we would take a side trip before heading back to HOT, HOT, HOT temperatures. How about the Blue Ridge Mountains? I was thinking Asheville, N.C., suggested Eldy.  SURE! says Sparky...Since Kelly's car has OnStar, we called them and had them program a route for us to the Blue Ridge Moutains, or at least to Asheville, N.C. Well, one hour into the drive, and Sparky is looking at a map, the old fashioned way of navigating.

"You mean, it's all the way over THERE??" she says, pointing to the far eastern corner of Virginia and North Carolina, or somewhere thereabouts. (sigh....says E.) Yep, says E. "How long is it going to take?" Sparky starts realizing she's going to be stuck in the car for a VERY, VERY, long time. "I told you this was going to take X number of hours," says an exasperated E. This little Pontiac G6 ain't no spacious motorhome. OK, maybe we better switch plans. Eldo asks Sparky if she's sure this is what she wants to do. Of course, she is sure---for the moment, anyway.

Kelly's car has OnStar, so we call and say we've changed our minds and send us a route to "take us home". Eldy heaves a big sigh....They say ok, and send the route. The route was to KELLY'S home in Virginia.  Call OnStar back. We get that straightened out. Twenty minutes later, Sparky and Eldo are discussing the route home, and Sparky changes her mind again. We're in no hurry, let's go to the Blue Ridge Mountains after all. It's COOL there.....Call OnStar again....they change the route. Only this time, the three times plus route change has befuddled the system, and the route is unable to be sent to the car. Call OnStar again....they trouble shoot...

In the mean time, we missed an exit we were supposed to take and had to call On Star AGAIN. By this time, Sparky is having friendly conversations and dialogue with the OnStar people, we're on a first name basis now....It turns out that Kelly's car needed an update, and that's why the system couldn't accept a BUNCH of route changes in a short period of time. Sparky laughed and told the OnStar rep, "It seems we can't make up our minds where we want to go today!" But finally, the system updates were performed, the rep called us back and stayed on the line while he made sure that the updates took care of the problem. They offered several different ways to guide our traveling while the system was being updated. We were very impressed with the OnStar service. It was very cool and easy to use. A little weird having a disembodied voice talking with you that's not family or somebody on a phone! There's all kinds of cool stuff that comes with the OnStar service, like they can unlock your car for you if you lock yourself out, and of course, everybody has heard the radio commercials where someone has been involved in an accident and OnStar immediately comes on and takes care of notifying emergency vehicles, etc. A very personalized trip service! Great for single individuals who travel alone, too.....

On to the Blue Ridge Mountains!......

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Washed Ashore and More....

Sparky and Eldo are lucky to have a super duper aquarium called Mote Marine in Sarasota that is just hard to beat! But, the Virginia Beach Aquarium Marine and Science Center is awesome! There are two buildings to visit with this aquarium, and the smaller section has a new zip line activity part to it. Both are accessible on the trolley line stopping points. The main aquarium was particularly awesome because it had a special exhibit of sculptures made from trash that has washed ashore, calling attention to the garbage in the oceans, and Sparky really was looking forward to seeing that....The exhibit was titled, appropriately enough, "Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea". In addition to some wonderful hands on exhibits, there's an IMAX theater there, with other cool things to see....There is a kaleidoscope hallway that you walk through to get to the IMAX theater and it's full of eye popping color and effects, reflecting what you are wearing along with colorful signs of the aquarium's exhibits!

Admission pricing was 8.50 for seniors for the IMAX movie experience, and 22.00 for general admission to get in. Kinda pricey, but, Sparky had never seen an IMAX 3D movie so we did both! The IMAX movie was COOL! A 3D movie called "Under the Sea". Sparky had trouble with getting the 3D glasses to sit right on her face, working with her bifocals, but there were parts that had her practically jumping out of her seat to get away from some sea eels!

There's a harbor seal tank outside the aquarium where you can see trainers working with seals, and for an extra charge, you can stand in the tank with the trainers and have the seals come to you. Sparky hates unnatural environments like that, but understands the need for the aquarium to make money to support all their expenses.

Sparky liked the "Under the Dome" section of the aquarium. Not the TV show which Sparky wants to check out anyway some day, but a plastic bubble in the komodo dragon exhibit. Take your kid with you to observe from the protection of the domed enclosure while the dragon walks around you, and scares your kid half to death!

Kelly enjoyed the rays touch tank...
And so did everyone else!

And now, for the "Washed Ashore" exhibits....This art project was started by artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi, who used to ignore the trash she encountered while enjoying the healing properties of the ocean--the smells, the soothing waves, the motion of the water, things we beach lovers hold dear to our hearts. One day her eyes opened to the trash around her, and she decided to use her artwork to bring attention to a very serious problem, the oceans of trash surrounding and engulfing our marine life and environment. Each sculpture tells the dangers inherent to our ocean inhabitants, and what washed up trash was used to make each sculpture.

First, Lydia, the seal...made out of plastic lids, synthetic rope, foam and little plastic pieces--all things that seals have been known to get tangled up in or swallow that have washed ashore....Kind of ugly, but that's the point!

A turtle made of balloons...Hundreds of balloons were found on just one small Virginia beach. Balloons are most likely to end up in the water or on beaches because our planet is what, 72% water? To marine animals, balloons look like food--jellyfish, squid, or other prey. The balloons lodge in the stomach or intestinal tract and then the animals may starve. Dead whales have been found with balloons in their stomachs. The strings attached to the balloons can hurt animals, too. The birds might use the strings for nesting material and the strings can get wrapped around the young babies and cause death.

This is the flip flop fish.....Cool looking as a sculpture, but highly dangerous to marine life.....
Made from discarded flip flop shoe parts, which are sold to fishermen around the world and used for buoys,  the pieces break off and end up littering the ocean. Invasive species can "ride" the ocean currents on these pieces, birds take bites to sample. Flip flops are made from polyurethane and cannot be recycled.

Related to the flip flop fish is the "fish bite fish". This sculpture is made all out of plastic pieces that marine animals have taken a chomp out of. Plastic pieces are often made of toxic materials. Mistaking the plastic for food, the debris can cause death by blocking breathing or intestinal systems.
Sparky learned about gyres, which are slowly moving water columns from the ocean currents and trade winds, which in turn make the oceans like a big soup of plastic beads. There are five gyres and all together, trash from all the continents of the world is being circulated through the oceans from top to bottom.  Here's another viewpoint from YouTube:

Here's a sculpture of a whale skeleton.....Think about everything you know about how whales feed.....with their mouths open, right? Right through polluted waters.....70% of the pollution sinks towards the bottom of the ocean, where gray whales feed, for example. In this part of the exhibit, the sign said that a whale was found dead on the coast of Washington with surgical gloves, plastic bags, towels, a pair of sweatpants, a golf ball, fishing line and duct tape in its stomach....And this is not uncommon, to find dead whales and fish with debris in their stomachs......How sad.....

And finally, here is a collection of masks made out of brittle photo degraded plastic pieces found on beaches to symbolize putting a face to the problem of a deteriorating planet---humans--who are the ones causing this terrible destruction of our planets' animal habitats through irresponsible use of plastics.

Thank you to Virginia Beach aquarium and to artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi, for opening our eyes to the disaster that is occurring in our oceans..This exhibit had quite the impact on Sparky, as you can probably tell.....We can only hope to make some noise, take some action, change our plastic reliant lifestyles now and change our life's dependency on plastics for future generations....It doesn't look too good, does it?

Thanks for reading......

Monday, July 21, 2014

Virginia Beach with Eldo and Sparky, Jr.

Our first day occupying ourselves while Kelly was at work was to visit Virginia Beach....a nice beach with a long boardwalk...and of course, tons of touristy shops and restaurants along the boardwalk and close by....

The beach was nothing special...when you have the white quartz sands of Siesta Key, Holmes Beach and Anna Maria Island on the home front, any other beaches pale in comparison with their brown sand.

But we enjoyed our walk along the boardwalk very  much.....There's a cool HUMONGOUS statue of Neptune on the boardwalk...And everybody tries to climb on part of it to have their photo taken even though there's a sign that says "please do not climb on the statue."
The boardwalk is like a mini walking tour with signs along the way and places to stop and explore, like this coast guard station.....
And this memorial tribute to the branches of the military with cool laser (?) photographs on marble, whatever the latest monument technology is....There were people sculptures of the different branches of the service as well depicting military scenes, a father coming home to his family, a women officer working alongside the men, etc.
Each side street feeding into the walking/jogging path of the boardwalk (which is paved) had unique artwork.
Sparky liked the shells along one side street....
And here's something new....because there are a fair number of homeless people in the area apparently, a meter was erected near the boardwalk to encourage direct donations to provide a more permanent solution with services and shelters, instead of doling out money here and there to people on the street, which encourages more panhandling.

Later, Kelly joined us for a cool concert on the beach called "Sandstock", a three day show, which featured some excellent bands, all free. This is an annual event. Sandstock is Woodstock inspired and held on the beach. This year regional and local bands covered everything from Pink Floyd to Journey to the Allman Brothers, Pete Seger and Steely Dan . So we got our mojo on for a little bit.....
This gal was definitely channeling the Woodstock era...

But here, Eldy is just chillin' with Kelly.

Kelly took Sparky on a pedicab ride, a first for Sparky. It was really fun, and the guy pedaling the "cab" was really fast! Up and down the boardwalk we went for about 15 minutes. No charge, you just pay the guy what you think the ride is worth for however amount of time you ride.
Pedicab selfie

On our way back to the trolley ride back to the campground, we saw lots of street entertainment. Every group playing on the street had these "Beach Street" signs behind them. What was really different about the usual "street fare" music was, no open guitar cases for tips. The city apparently hires the groups to play and you're not supposed to tip. This was a ukelele duo who were awesome!

A fun day, a fun night, and tomorrow, Sparky is going to go to the Virginia Beach Aquarium with Kelly!  Bye for now......

Friday, July 18, 2014

Sparky Visits Captain Sparky, Jr.

We were home just two days when we had to scurry to Virginia Beach. Sparky's daughter, Kelly was deploying overseas and the ceremony was to take place in four days. We flew to see Kelly and then were going to drive her car back to keep it for her while she's away.

Kelly booked a stay for us at the Virginia Beach KOA campground, in a deluxe cabin, just minutes away from her work at the Virginia Army national guard, and a trolley ride away from the boardwalk, aquarium, restaurants and other wonderful places there. While she was at work, we could hop on the trolley (1.00 for seniors one way) and be at the boardwalk in about 15 minutes. The trolley makes stops at the other campgrounds and the aquarium on its way to downtown Virginia Beach. How convenient! And, we could revisit what it was like to stay in a campground instead of a hotel, which Sparky just loves and truly misses--(she means the camping explains E.)
KOA Virginia Beach has beautiful grounds
The KOA at Virginia Beach is a great place to stay for families, (although it's not cheap). This one was exceptionally nice.....It had a beautiful big main pool, a smaller pool with a water slide for kids, at least two bounce pads for kids, a great camp store, a nice laundromat, a playground, a big sand pile play area and beautiful forested grounds.

The deluxe cabins were really great...a queen size bed in the master bedroom, bunk beds in another bedroom, and one of those partially coil/innerspring inflatable beds in the living room. We had one of those in the motorhome, and it was VERY comfortable.  Here is the front view. The deluxe cabins were kind of in a circle, like a little neighborhood, so you could see other "campers" as well but they were not too close, so that was nice...a little "neighborhood" space.....

The whole cabin was paneled in knotty pine, and it was cozy! Microwave, coffee pot, little fridge. We were set!
Not only did we have cozy accommodations inside, our cabin had a nice big concrete patio, a fire ring, and a little gas BBQ grill! AND air conditioning! Whew! Sparky DEFINITELY is going to have a campfire while we are here, even if it IS hot!

Sparky tried to get out and walk a few times around the park...The roads weren't so hot--potholes and gravel, not paved....She thought about a big rig getting around the park, and yes, there were big rigs in there, but a lot of the sites were not level and a little on the tight side in some parts of the campground. The smaller cabins do not have bathroom facilities so you have to use the main shower room instead....Of course, RVers have their own facilities!
There was a big mix of RVers in the park, from tenters, to travel trailers to some class A's and lots of 5th wheelers. Luckily, there were cabins available for us to be close to her work and her departing ceremony. The only negative we could see, and that really wasn't a problem for us, was due to the proximity to the Norfolk naval station, navy jets flew over the campground on a regular basis. We were actually thrilled to see them and Sparky tried to get a photo but couldn't. Not as many fly overhead at night, so we didn't have any problems sleeping.

Sparky and Eldy are really glad to be here so Sparky can see her daughter and be present for the ceremony. Kelly and Sparky, and Kerry, too, have many fond memories of our camping days when the girls were little. Sparky was really happy to be "glamping" again.....(Glamping means camping with all the comforts of home..."glamorous camping" they call it.)
Sparky and Sparky, Jr.
Time to explore Virginia Beach tomorrow! It's a fun place! See you there!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sparky Gets Seasick

Our day viewing the glaciers was just an amazing experience....Sparky is so glad she got to see some glaciers in her lifetime...The temps were wonderful, it was refreshing, Sparky got to go for a hike, and our last day on ship was to be spent on open ocean waters, which meant no more protection of the land on both sides so MORE movement on the ship!

WELL! Sparky discovered that she is not immune to getting seasick...which totally shocked her. She used to sail on little Sunfish sailboats as a teenager, (we know, that's nothing, laughs E.) has been out on the water on other boats as well with quite a bit of movement, and never had a problem. All of a sudden, Sparky didn't feel so good....quite a bit of nauseousness. The water was a little rough, even the experienced cruisers were hanging onto rails, and lurching around the deck for awhile. Sparky learned that each ship has its own specific movement, and even if you don't usually get seasick, there's always the possibility that the ship you are on will confound your body! You know when the inside pool has whitewater and waves, you KNOW the boat is a-rockin'! And there's nobody in the pool right now!
And of course, we didn't bring any kind of medication because we didn't think either one of us would have trouble. There are a LOT of treatments out there, but we had none of them at our disposal...No pills, no Benedryl, no wrist bands, which some people swear helps by using acupressure on the wrist,  no ginger pills, so Sparky was miserable for a few hours. Finally, somebody said the main office on the ship has something for seasickness. TADA! They were passing out a little packet of two pills, called "Sea Calm". , 25 mg. of meclizine hydrochloride. That did the trick! But it made Sparky VERY tired! But, sleeping a little more when your stomach is very upset is not a bad idea.....Whew! For people traveling or cruising and worrying about getting seasick, there are MANY medications and over the counter preparations for that problem. Just Google it!
Entry way to one of the fields in the conservation park
Fortunately, we had one more wonderful place to visit before our trip completely ended. On the bus ride from Seward to Anchorage, where we were going to be catching our flight back, we made a stop (part of a final tour excursion for a very reasonable fee and well worth it) to the wonderful Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center. There were grizzly bears there, a moose, two moose calves, some musk ox, a herd of caribou, elk and wood bison, all within very natural spacious surroundings except for fencing to keep out the human visitors and well taken care of. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit there on our way to heading home. Since we couldn't visit Denali, this was a nice closure to our visit. Sparky got some great photos and could at least say she saw a moose and a grizzly bear in the wild!

Sparky was sad to leave Alaska. It's a wonderful place to visit, but very few people would want to live there unless they were cold loving, hardy people. Sparky USED to be cold loving and hardy, not so much any more....So goodbye to Alaska, we hope we might be able to go back some day, if not, it was on Sparky's bucket list, and Eldy was a sweetheart to arrange all this so Sparky could fulfill one of her dreams.....

We'll be home a couple of days, and then....Off to Virginia to visit and say goodbye to Kelly, for a little while, who is deploying overseas soon.....See you next time in Virginia Beach!

The End (for now)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Glaciers!

Our final stop wasn't a city, it was Glacier Bay...home of the Majorie Glacier located in Glacier Bay National Park. This area is also a United Nations biosphere reserve. Just 250 years ago, this was all glacier and no bay. Along the way there, we saw lots of glaciers or ice fields...Some were very dark, and some were very white..Most were a combination of rock debris and ice so that makes them look dirty. The glaciers also had a lot of blue in them, something to do with the light waves hitting them.

Here's a view of the Marjorie Glacier from a seaplane, courtesy of the internet.

Majorie Glacier extends for 21 miles long upstream and is about a mile wide...It's 250 feet high above the water, and extends another 100 feet below the water. It's total height makes it higher than the Statue of Liberty. The cruise ship was able to come in close to the glacier so we could get some photos. It stayed in the area for about an hour so we could watch for any action from the glacier. It is supposedly one of the most active glaciers for calving, which means a splitting and breaking off of large sections of ice. While we were stopped, Sparky heard the BOOM and CRACK from an explosion of one section of ice breaking off, but didn't see the piece fall. THEN, she DID see a HUGE portion of ice fall and crash into the ocean. The ice piece that fell off was as big as a house, and as it hit the water, a huge wave radiated outward towards the ship. It looked like a miniature atomic bomb hitting the water. The resulting wave was so big, it rocked the cruise ship!  WOW! That was a really exciting thing to see and feel!

We were on the top deck of the ship, so it's hard to get an idea of how high this glacier really is. It's as tall as about a 25 story building, they say.

But at the top of one of the glacier's highest pointy peaks, in flew a bald eagle. He landed on one of the highest ice peaks of the glacier. He stayed there for a long time. Sparky didn't have a powerful enough zoom to be able to capture him, but some people did. So here's a photo with a little arrow to show you where he was. And we were VERY close to the glacier, so it give you just a little perspective on how high this glacier really is!

After an hour, it was time to leave the bay and head for a day's sailing on the open seas. This was an AMAZING experience today and Sparky was extremely grateful and felt very blessed that we got to do this. It was a dream of a lifetime, and thanks to Eldy, Sparky got to experience this. Eldy had seen all this before, pre Sparky. He had done the seaplane trip to the fjords, and some other excursions quite a few years ago, and so this time we concentrated on just the main aspects of the cruise, due to budgetary constraints. Sparky didn't mind missing some of these other things, especially since they were so expensive! Both of us regretted not being able to visit Denali Park, but it just wasn't possible this time. We had to get back soon to get ready for a trip to visit Sparky's daughter, Kelly, who is being deployed overseas, and we didn't want to miss that.

It was time for the ship to leave Glacier Bay, to start heading past the inside passage for Seward and Anchorage, where we would be ending our cruise. Out to the open seas we went....Stay tuned for one more day with us in Alaska, it was pretty cool, too!