Posted by: Michigan Traveler | February 25, 2017

The Vandenberg – A Monster of a Wreck, Key West, February 2017

If you ever watched “Sea Hunt” with Lloyd Bridges as a child, you may have had a desire to SCUBA dive on a sunken ship.  Unfortunately that can be quite a dangerous event because of loose equipment on board, and damage that may have left sharp edges, just to name a few.  For many SCUBA divers an intentionally sunken ship, acting as an artificial reef, is the answer to that quest.

Marine resource managers create artificial reefs in underwater areas that require a structure to enhance the habitat for reef organisms, including soft and stony corals and the fishes and invertebrates that live among them.

Many reefs are built using objects that were built for other purposes, for example by sinking oil rigs (through the Rigs-to-Reefs program) or scuttling ships.   When ships are properly prepared to be sunk as a reef their hatch doors have been removed, extraneous equipment, and all electrical and hoist cables have been removed.  The interior spaces are cleaned of all debris that could pose an underwater danger.  All this makes entering the inside of an artificial reef much safer than entering a ship that was sunk by an accident.

Properly prepared artificial reefs help take human pressure off natural coral reefs and provide alternative structures for SCUBA divers to explore and additional habitats to increase marine life populations.

The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary contains several decommissioned vessels that were sunk in specific areas for diving or fishing opportunities prior to the area’s designation as a national marine sanctuary. One of the most famous is the USAFS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg.

The USAFS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg began her career as the USS General Harry Taylor, a transport ship that served from 1944 to 1958 when she was stricken from the Naval Register.  In 1961 she was acquired by the U.S. Air Force and renamed the General Hoyt S. Vandenberg.

The Vandenberg was used as one of ten missile range instrumentation ships. “Equipped with extremely accurate and discriminating radar and telemetry equipment,” she tracked and analyzed “re-entry bodies in the terminal phase of ballistic missile test flights,” carrying out those missile and spacecraft tracking duties in both Atlantic and Pacific waters until her retirement in 1983. She was ultimately stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 29 April 1993.

In 1998, some scenes of the sci-fi film Virus were filmed aboard the Vandenberg. The ship substituted for a fictional Russian vessel called the Akademik Vladislav Volkov, and some of the Cyrillic lettering applied for the film is still visible on the hull today.

On May 27, 2009, after more than a decade of planning and funding totaling $8.6 million, this ex-military missile-tracking ship, that once tracked space launches off Cape Canaveral, Fla., and monitored Soviet missile launches during the Cold War, was added to a list of military vessels purposely sunk off the Florida Keys to become artificial reefs, thus preserving a bit of U.S. history.  The Vandenberg was sunk seven miles south of Key West (N 24 28.164 W 081 43.468) and is the second largest artificial reef in the United States.

You can view a video of the intentional sinking of the Vandenberg by clicking on this link – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0RyFnoFgyQ

This year I made my seventh and eighth dive on the “Vandy” and I still haven’t seen it all!  She is 522 feet in length, sits in 140 feet of water, and her highest point is 50 feet below the surface.  On my last dive we teamed up with a guide from the local dive center who led us into the interior of the ship and we swam through a series of rooms until we exited 100 feet later – what an experience!  As I said in a Trip Advisor report, it is a monster of a wreck.  The three radar dishes that sat on the upper deck have now slipped off their masts and two rest on the main deck and the third is on the sea bottom.  My favorite picture is one of me swimming through the center of one of those radar dishes.

There is so much aquatic life on the Vandenberg!  It has become a haven for fish and other aquatic life.  There are sponges and coral growing on her hull, countless barracuda cruise in and out of her hatches, sea cucumber and frog fish attach themselves to her hull.  On my last dive a surprised a 500 pound goliath grouper resting inside one of the radar mast towers.

The Vandenberg has attracted divers from all over the world.  For a SCUBA diver, a trip to Key West is not complete without diving on the Vandenberg.  In my opinion, it is the best dive site in this end of the Florida Keys.

Posted by: Michigan Traveler | February 7, 2017

The Chickens of Key West, February 2017

As you wander through the streets of Key West you will see people in swimsuits, with red, purple and pink hair, and with multiple piercings walking next to people in business attire – men in sports coats and ties, or women in shirts with heels.  It is a place for just about everyone.  However, this every day acceptance is not limited to people, but also animals.  Welcome to the Gypsy Chickens of Key West!

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When people in earlier times migrated to Key West and being aware of its isolation from food sources, they brought their own chickens with them, providing eggs, meat and of course reproduction of the species.  As Key West became more connected to the rest of the world and with the advent of local markets and supermarkets carrying these products, some people quit raising chickens and they were more or less released.  No longer being fed by their owners, the chickens were able to survive off of the native insects, lizards, scorpions and worms around town. It is said that the chickens have helped to minimize cockroaches in tropical Key West.

By 1860, Cubans began to move to Key West and, it is said, that they brought their love for cock fighting and their Cubalaya chickens with them. By 1890, more than half of Key West’s population was of Cuban origin.

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Luckily, the southernmost city outlawed cockfighting in 1970’s, putting the Cubalaya chickens out of business, and out on the streets of Key West. Domestic chickens on the island were losing their homes at the same time when their owners moved away. Now the roosters & chickens were left to roam free, and nature took its course. So, some forty years later, you now have what are called “Gypsy Chickens.” Like in the 1970’s, they are still protected, and make Key West the truly unique place that it is!

It is against the law in Key West to kill the local chickens.  Local folklore says the law dates back to voodoo practices involving the sacrifice of chickens.  And while the chickens make Key West a unique place, some of the locals are very unhappy with them.  Over a period of time, chickens roaming freely and “letting nature take its course” can make for a lot of chickens.  The following is taken from Sarah Goodwin-Nguyen’s blog concerning the “gypsy chickens”:

Key West’s city government, beset by calls from disgruntled locals, have tried several times to “downsize” the chicken population.  In 2004, the city hired local man, Armando Parra, a barber and self taught bird catcher, to serve as “chicken catcher”.  The birds were supposed to be “relocated” to a free range farm in Miami-Dade.  Amid speculation that the birds were secretly being killed, local pro-chicken factions began tampering with traps and Parra was dropped from the city payroll.  In 2008, Assistant City Manager, John Jones, made some comments to the local paper urging fed-up locals to “humanely” break the chickens necks, outraging animal lovers.

Since then the City has formed a symbiotic relationship with the Key West Wildlife Center.  In exchange for financial aid, the KWWC, which aids in the rescue and rehabilitation of local birds and other wildlife, serves as a holding center for “nuisance” Gypsy chickens that have been trapped and brought in (traps can be borrowed from the center for a deposit).  The birds are adopted out to people outside of the Keys, who must sign an agreement stating that the birds are for pets and not meat.  Adopted chickens come with a signed letter from the City Mayor attesting to their authentic breeding as “Key West Gypsy Chickens.”

So be forewarned while you may pay $250 a night for that classy resort room, your alarm clock may be in the street below your room and go off at the oddest, most inconvenient time.  Don’t be surprised if the waiter at your table is accompanied by a strutting rooster.  Welcome to the Conch Republic!

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Posted by: Michigan Traveler | January 30, 2017

Kayaking in the Florida Keys – January 2017

Kayaking in the Florida Keys is a unique experience.  You can paddle into the Atlantic Ocean or in the Gulf of Mexico and sometimes during the same trip.  If you don’t have your own, there are more places to rent canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards than I can list.

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You can launch from several marinas and paddle into the Atlantic Ocean side of Key West or into the salt marsh behind Key West International Airport.  Paddling along the canal to the Salt Marsh, you get the chance to see a variety of homes in Key West, some are fulltime residents and others are vacation homes or rentals.  There are points where you can leave the channel and paddle back into the salt marsh and enter an entirely different ecosystem.  Here the mangroves have created small islands of nothing but roots.

20150302_113914  The root system comes off the branches to reach down to the water instead the typical root ball that you find in normal plants and trees.  (The iguana also like to sunbathe on them!)  Typically you will see heron, sea gulls, and cormorants back in the marsh.

One favorite site in the Key West area is Geiger Key.  There is a public launch site just past the Geiger Key Marina and RV Park that is very convenient.  A system of islands just off shore give you a break from some of the winds blowing in from the Atlantic Ocean.

It’s always a good idea to check the tide tables for the area as some of the channels are only a few inches deep at low tide.  Believe me when I say dragging your kayak to deep water on a mushy bottom is not fun!

You can always count on seeing a variety of trash that is washed up on the shore in the low hanging braches of shoreline trees.  While this bothers me, it doesn’t as much as it used to.  Some of this is not due to people dumping their trash overboard, a lot if it is gear that has been washed off decks in high winds and seas, as well as lobster buoys that have been torn from their moorings.  I always carry a few plastic grocery bags to pick up and dispose of as much as I can on each trip.

dscn1625  Sometimes you will see complete boats that have floundered and washed ashore.

On our last trip we were fortunate to see a good number of sea birds, pelicans, ibis, blue heron, egrits, and anhinga.

Back in northern Michigan we will see shacks or old hunting cabins and various states of disrepair.  Well, in Florida, they have houseboats.  In the Keys, there are permanent moorings that you can rent, but you can anchor almost anywhere you want at no charge.  On our paddling we have seen several houseboats anchored in the mangroves and this is one of the nicer ones.

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You’re supposed to pay someone to come out and pump out your waste holding tanks, but it wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of these ocean “squatters” just dump their tanks into the water.  If they get caught there are big fines, but the Sheriff’s Marine Division can’t be everywhere.

One nice thing about kayaking at Geiger Key is you can always stop at the Geiger Key Marina and Fish Camp for lunch or a quick drink before heading back to the RV.

Posted by: Michigan Traveler | January 7, 2017

Tampa and Home for Christmas, 2016

Tampa has a lot of good things going for it as a place to stay in December.

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  1. It’s warmer than North Carolina (which we left the end of October).
  2. Our niece, Robin, and her two kids live here.
  3. The RV park at MacDill Air Force Base is a convenient place to stay.
  4. It’s on the way to Key West!

Seriously, we enjoy staying in the Tampa area for all of those reasons and more.  We always enjoy spending time with Robin, Destiny, and Jeremiah.  The fulltime RV lifestyle makes this a lot easier.  You can see your family as much as you, or they, want and you don’t have to move in with them to do it!

It may have been warm in Tampa but the Christmas celebrations were in full swing.  We saw lights and decorations throughout the campground and base housing areas and participated in the annual lighting of the base Christmas Tree of lights.  The place was packed with base families.  There were free Christmas cookies and drinks, the base elementary school chorus entertained us, and Santa rode up in a fire engine!  It was a unique and enjoyable experience.

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Robin took us to visit the Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo.  Every year the Gardens are decorated with Christmas lights.  It was fun to stroll through the display of lights and see how creative they were.  Pat even saved Jeremiah from being eaten by an alligator!  I was surprised to discover that the Florida Botanical Gardens were also responsible for the Weedon Island Preserve where we have enjoyed kayaking among the mangroves.

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On December 16th we flew back to Michigan for the holidays (and for doctor’s appointments!).  The flight was uneventful, but the weather was a bit of a shock to our system.  We left Tampa with daytime temperatures in the high 70s and we were met in Detroit with temperatures in the high 20s!  However,  we were ready for it and I was looking forward to the possibility of some cross-country skiing.

We were, once again, welcomed by the Aten family to stay with them while we were in Lansing.  We had a chance to see our son, Dave, on several occasions, got clean bills of health, and saw some old friends at Central United Methodist Church in Lansing.

Susan and Gary Aten have a Christmas tradition of having the whole, extended family over to decorate Christmas cookies and we joined in the fun.  It’s great to watch their grandkids decorate, some are quick and others are detailed.  However, Gary sets the standard for creative cookie decoration.  What a wonderful Christmas tradition!

On December 21st we were on our way to Bad Axe for the Smith family Christmas holidays.  We picked up our daughter, Elisabeth, at the Flint Airport where she flew in from Raleigh, NC.  Bad Axe didn’t have the amount of snow that we had in Lansing, but I found there was enough to ski on.  I dug my skiis out of our room in the old farmhouse and took a nice cross-country ski around the family farm.  One part of the farm has been left to grow natural grasses and Pat’s brother, Geri, had mowed some paths through the area in the fall that made for some perfect ski trails.  It was a good thing I got the skiing in when I did because it rained the next day.  You have to love Michigan weather!

The next several days were spent getting ready for Christmas.  Pat’s sister, Mary Lee, and her family arrived the day after we did.  We all had gifts to wrap as the TSA doesn’t recommend that you travel with wrapped gifts.  We all pitched in to help Marcia and Geri with their preparations.

On Christmas morning our family exchanged gifts and then joined the extended Smith family for the traditional Christmas dinner (and unofficial family reunion) at the Civic Center in the town of Elkton.  The family outgrew anyone’s house decades ago and this is often the only time some of the family sees each other.  As someone who grew up in a relatively small family in the suburbs I am always impressed by this gathering that has had from 80 to 100 family members attend.

That evening, back at Geri and Marcia’s we exchanged gifts and played games well into the night.

All good things must come to an end and on December 30th we flew back to Tampa.  A special thanks to our good friends, Rich and Marti Witkop who took time out of their day to drives us to and from the airport.

This year our idea of celebrating the New Year was grocery shopping and getting a good night’s sleep before we hit the road for a two-day trip to our next stop, Key West, FL!

Posted by: Michigan Traveler | December 27, 2016

The Search Party

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Posted by: Michigan Traveler | December 17, 2016

Thanksgiving in Savannah, November 2016

savannah-mapI once told someone that Thanksgiving was my favorite family holiday.  I still have fond memories of past Thanksgivings at my grandparent’s home in Flint and playing with my cousins.  Now our parents have passed on and our children are scattered across the country.  Still Thanksgiving is for families and we had a family (somewhat reduced) Thanksgiving in Savannah, GA.

We camped at the Biltmore RV Park in Savannah and it is a delightful, little park.  We were placed in what I thought was the best spot in the park.  We were in a back corner, well away from the busy road, with plenty of open area to each side.  Our daughter, Elisabeth, drove down from Raleigh to join us, so we DID have a family Thanksgiving.  It was a lot of fun, we baked the turkey and fixed all of the trimmings.  Pat did most of the cooking and I enjoyed watching the mother and daughter bonding.  It was a wonderful dinner and made for some great memories.

Friday, we blew off Black Friday shopping and toured Historic Savannah on Old Town Trolley Tours.  They provide a terrific jump on, jump off tour experience, and even provided a free shuttle right from the RV park.  Pat and I had toured Savannah a few years ago, but we enjoyed it just as much this second time around.  Savannah was Georgia’s first city.  I continue to be 20161125_125857impressed with Savannah’s preservation of historic buildings.  It all began with a group of seven ladies who didn’t want to see a historic building get torn down to make room for a parking structure.  It goes to show a few determined people can make a difference.  This preservation work has continued and makes Savannah a unique city to tour.  We stopped for lunch in a cafe in the City Market and enjoyed a nice meal while listening to a small band that serenaded the crowd.  After lunch we walked along the waterfront before heading back to pick up the shuttle to the RV park.

20161126_165344Saturday we drove to Hutchison Island to watch the annual Boat Parade of Lights, sponsored by the Savannah Harbor Foundation.  We watched it from the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort.  Inside the Westin were Gingerbread houses made by local youth.  We were all impressed by the imagination used by these kids in creating these edible models.

20161126_195355Highland pipes and drums entertained the crowd until “General James Oglethorpe,” founder of Savannah and the Colony of Georgia, read a proclamation calling for the Boat Parade and the lighting of the Christmas Tree.  While these events were going on we watched many of the boats prepare for the parade.  Some of the boats just hung lights wherever it was convenient, others had invested a substantial effort into dscn1456making something unique and representative of the Christmas holidays.  About 7:00 they assembled in the Savannah River and were led up and downstream by paddle-wheel tour boats.

We weren’t able to tour the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist on Friday because of Mass, so we went back on Monday morning.  This is the only church in Savannah that allows tourists to go inside and what a sight it was!  Originally established by French and Haitian immigrants in the late 1700s, the cornerstone for the current church was laid in 1873.  In 1898 much of the church was destroyed in a fire.  dscn1453The rebuilding began immediately and the first mass was held in the rebuilt cathedral on December 24, 1899.  The last major renovation was completed in 2000.  While the cathedral is fascinating, what impressed me most were the statues on the north and south walls.  Each scene depicts Christ’s journey from his indictment by Pontius Pilate to his crucifixion and, internment in the tomb.

The last place we visited was the Colonial Park Cemetery.  After General Sherman captured Savannah, troops were encamped in the cemetery and entertained themselves by changing the engraved dates on some of the tombstones so they showed that people died before they were born.  Many of the tombstones were moved and after the war the city tried to put them back, but many were unclaimed and are mounted on the back wall of the cemetery.dscn1461

With a long drive ahead of us, we got an early start on Tuesday, November 29th.  Next stop – Raccoon Creek RV Park at MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa, FL.

Posted by: Michigan Traveler | December 10, 2016

Wreckage and Raptors – Myrtle Beach, November 2016

myrtle-beach-mapWe stayed in Myrtle Beach in April a couple of years ago and thought a fall visit would be fun  on our way south.  November is definitely “out of season” for this area.  The crowds were almost non-existent. There are many beach side camping resorts in Myrtle Beach, and this time we choose to stay at the Myrtle Beach State Park – what a great choice!  As opposed to the commercial RV resorts that seem like parking lots, this is an actual campground!  There is plenty of room between sites and lots of trees, a typical camping experience.  It is like a nature oasis in a desert of commercial development, in fact, part of the state park is a nature preserve.

20161115_153650Hurricane Matthew had passed through this area a month ago and you could see the results of the storm.  The two nature trails were closed due to downed trees, although one of them was reopened while we were there.  Two of the parking lots were full of cut up trees that had been blown down by the hurricane.

For the last month and a half we had been doing our exercise walks on the roads in the campground.  It was different to walk on the boardwalks and along the beach each morning – a pleasant change of pace. Instead of deer, we saw seagulls.

The Myrtle Beach commercial airport used to be an Air Force base and the former base area has been developed for commercial use.  The nearby Commons Market was once part of the base and honors the history of the base with interpretive signs about the base, some of its key leaders, and those responsible for its development.  It was an easy bike ride from the park for shopping and a great place to do some Christmas shopping!

dscn1358You can’t be this close to the water and not go kayaking.  We really had no desire to paddle our kayaks (they are built more for rivers, than oceans) in the Atlantic Ocean.  Consequently we looked at inland waters and estuaries. Murrells Inlet was a short drive down the coast and offered us some nice kayaking along a protected shore.  We were able to kayak to the boundary of Huntington Beach State Park and dscn1377walk along the shore.  On one sandy beach we were able to see a crab running from his hole when we walked up and surprised him.  As we paddled along the shore we could see some of the damage left from the storm and the repairs being completed as the sound of power saws echoed across the water.

A couple of days before we left, the park sponsored a presentation on raptors, birds of prey, by the Center of Birds of Prey from Charleston, SC.  We were able to see a Barn Owl, Harris Hawk, and a Black Vulture.  It was interesting to see the birds flying, on command, from station to station as we heard a description of how they seek and hunt their prey.  The birds used in the presentation have been “humanized” and cannot be released back into the wild.  The goal of the center is to take injured birds, keep them from being humanized, and after rehabilitation, release them back into the wild.

dscn1408We weren’t so busy that we didn’t have time to just relax.  Over the last few months we have been fortunate to stay in parks that allowed ground fires. There are a lot of parks that don’t allow campfires at all, so this is more of a treat than one would imagine.  I love sitting by a campfire, it puts the “out” in the “outdoors.”  There is nothing like reading or playing my guitar by the fire to make my day!

On Tuesday, November 22nd, we were on our way to celebrate Thanksgiving in the first city in Georgia – Savannah.

Posted by: Michigan Traveler | November 12, 2016

State Fairs, Halloween, and Backpacking – Raleigh, NC

dscn1327In our travels we have attended state fairs all over the country and we make a point of attending the North Carolina State Fair whenever we are here in the fall.  I don’t suppose that there is anything special about this state fair compared to the others we have attended, but it is fun.  dscn1304One exhibit that we have not seen in other fairs was the lawn exhibits, part of the Flower and Garden Show.  The garden and lawn exhibits showed some real creativity.  There were also volunteers available to offer advice to amateur gardeners.

We toured one unique hall, the Village of Yesteryear, filled with artisans specializing in trades of years gone by – potters, woodworkers, tin workers, makers of musical instruments, and weavers to name a few.  I just loved wandering through this place, admiring the products of these craftsmen.

dscn1307Another unique performance was the Folk Music Festival.  The performer I liked the best was Jeff Robbins.  He played a selection of Appalachian music on a number of homemade instruments, such as a banjo made from a fruit cake tin.  He even showed how to make a one string guitar from a soup can, 1 X 2 board and a old guitar string.  He was a great show!dscn1317

We enjoyed some of the rides, checked out some of the animal buildings and watched some of the competition.  I think the most fun was the pig races.  We saw pig races for the first time at the Florida State Fair and made a point of seeing them again here. Even though it’s called the pig race, there were pigs, chickens, and small goats as well.  Each section of the crowd has its champion and cheered them on.

The most fun about attending the fair is the food.  We strolled past many food vendors before making our decision. You haven’t eaten at the state fair if you haven’t had a funnel cake!

20151024_175312Camping in a state park does not facilitate door to door trick or treaters.  The staff and the Friends of Falls Lake put on a Halloween Party in the campground.  There was face painting, popcorn, nature talks, and ghost stories at the campfire followed by a spooky night hike. All had a great time!

The Mountains to Sea Trail is an extended trail that runs from the Smokey Mountains to the Atlantic coast.  A major section of the trail traverses the Falls Lake State Recreation Area.  20161025_094739In the last two years I have backpacked different sections of this trail.  This year I started near the Falls Lake Dam.  The weather was perfect for backpacking – cool, but not cold.  The clear, sunny sky made for a beautiful day.  The trail closely parallels the shoreline of Falls Lake.  As I hiked I searched for geocaches, which were in abundance along the trail.  In fact there were so many that I had to stop trying to find them or I would run out of daylight before I reached my campsite for the night.  With the fall color change, the forest was colorful.  I’m not sure what the other sections of the Mountains to Sea Trail are like, but this stretch is beautiful.  The sun was fading as I arrived at my campsite and I worked quickly to get my hammock set up and water bottles filled before it was too dark.  Consequently I fixed and ate dinner by the light of my small campfire.  As inconvenient as that may have been, there is something special about being alone in the woods, surrounded by darkness, being able to relax and focus inward without distraction.  The night was on the cold side, but my hammock system worked well and I was comfortably warm all night.20151014_072911

The next morning I was up early and had a relaxing breakfast while waiting for the morning chill to pass before I resumed my trek.  It was a bit cooler than the previous day, but just as beautiful.  I found a few more geocaches along the way and finished up at the Barton Creek Boat Launch where Pat picked me up.  I look forward to exploring other sections of this trail in the future.

Posted by: Michigan Traveler | October 22, 2016

Riding Out Hurricane Matthew – Raleigh, NC October 2016

As we drove south from Michigan we saw reports of Hurricane Matthew forming in the Caribbean.  We arrived at the Holly Point Campground on Tuesday, October 4th to serve as Camp Hosts.  Ranger Dave Mumford (our boss) stopped by to give us our keys and go over any changes since the last time we were here.  He said they were closely watching the development of Matthew and would let us know if they had to close the campground, and if they did we would have to evacuate.

hurricane-matthew-4By Thursday we were starting to get some rain, although it looked like North Carolina would be spared as the track was forecast to turn east into the Atlantic Ocean. We started to get some moderate rain on Friday from another weather system.  By Saturday morning it was raining hard!  While the treetops were swinging back and forth in 10-20 foot arcs, we experienced only light winds at ground level.  We weren’t too concerned about families that were in trailers or motor homes, but there was one family camped in a tent in one of our lowest sites that I checked on throughout the storm.  Fortunately they stayed dry but they must not have had too much fun being cooped up in a tent for the weekend.20161008_133537

By Saturday afternoon the area around our trailer was flooded with 2-3 inches of water and we had been “hunkered down” watching the 24-hour weather coverage.  Our campground is on a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood damage reduction project.  The Falls Lake Dam was 20161010_103404built to reduce the downstream damage from flooding on the Neuse River.  As we walked around the campground we could see the water level rising on Falls Lake as the dam held the storm waters back.  By the end of the storm it had completely covered both swimming beaches and the boat launch.  There were several campsites 20161010_111225on the shore that were also flooded.  The Rangers had to move one motor home out of a site as the water was rising higher into their site.

Finally the rain stopped early Sunday morning.  We were so glad to see the sun shining.  I had never been in a storm with continuous rain for that long!

There were still warnings not to drive in certain areas and to never drive through standing water as you never know how deep the water is and what damage may have been done to the submerged road.  It didn’t take long before we realized how lucky we were.  Many towns downstream from us, such as Lumberton, Kinston, Tarboro, and Princeton, were totally underwater.  It wasn’t until yesterday, October 18th, that the rivers started to withdraw to their original banks.hurricane-matthew-5

Being from the Midwest, I am used to tornadoes where the storm comes through and the next day people start making repairs.  Here, the inland flooding will keep people out of their homes for weeks or more, some maybe a year before they have rebuilt.  The poor town of Princeton was destroyed by Hurricane Floyd in 1999, was rebuilt and now has been destroyed again.  How would you like to go through two Hundred Year Floods in seven years?

Fortunately we have seen sunny skies since October 9th and there are only slight chances of rain in the forecast giving people good weather for the recovery to begin.

Posted by: Michigan Traveler | October 3, 2016

What the heck is GEOCACHING?

geocaching-com-logo-pinI learned about geocaching from a friend while camping in Key West, FL.  He and I traveled all over that part of the Keys, finding geocaches of various types.  It has become a fun hobby and I have searched for geocaches all over the country.  Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.

At its simplest level, geocaching requires these 8 steps:

  1. Register for a free Basic Membership at Geocaching.com.
  2. Visit the “Find a Geocache” page.
  3. Enter your postal code and click “search.”
  4. Choose any geocache from the list and click on its name.
  5. Enter the coordinates of the geocache into your GPS Device.
  6. Use your GPS device to assist you in finding the hidden geocache.
  7. Sign the logbook and return the geocache to its original location.
  8. Share your geocaching stories and photos online.

oregon-600tThe only necessities are a GPS device or a GPS-enabled mobile phone so that you can navigate to the cache, and a Geocaching.com Membership.  Geocaches can be found all over the world. They may be at your local park, at the end of a long hike, underwater, or on the side of a city street.

How did Geocaching begin?

On May 2, 2000, twenty-four satellites around the globe processed their new orders, and instantly the accuracy of GPS technology improved tenfold. Tens of thousands of GPS receivers around the world had an instant upgrade. Prior to this GPS signals had been “scrambled” for civilian users.

On May 3, Dave Ulmer, a computer consultant, wanted to test the accuracy by hiding a navigational target in the woods. He called the idea the “Great American GPS Stash Hunt” and posted it in an internet GPS users’ group. The idea was simple: Hide a container out in the woods and note the coordinates with a GPS unit.

Jeremy Irish, a web developer for a Seattle company, stumbled upon Mike Teague’s web site while doing research on GPS technology. Irish decided to start a hobby site for the activity, and created Geocaching.com and created tools to improve the cache-hunting experience. With Mike Teague’s valuable input, the new site was completed and announced to the stash-hunting community on September 2, 2000. At the time the site was launched there were 75 known caches in the world.  Today there are over a million geocaches around the world.

Geocaches vary greatly in size and appearance. You will see everything from large, clear plastic containers to film canisters to a fake rock with a secret compartment.

Micro – Examples: a 35 mm film canister or a tiny storage box typically containing only a logbook or a logsheet. A nano cache is a common sub-type of a micro cache that is less than 10ml and can only hold a small logsheet.
Small – Example: A sandwich-sized plastic container or similar.
Regular – Examples: a plastic container or ammo can about the size of a shoebox.
Large – Example: A large bucket.

In its simplest form, a cache always contains a logbook or logsheet for you to log your find. Larger caches may contain a logbook and any number of trade items. These items turn the adventure into a true treasure hunt. Remember, if you take something, leave something of equal or greater value in return. Quite often you may also find a Travel Bug, a sort of geocaching “game piece” that can be moved from cache to cache.

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When you find the cache, sign the logbook and return it to the cache. You can take an item from the cache if you like – just make sure to leave something of equal or greater value in its place. When you are finished, put the cache back exactly as you found it, even if you think you see a better spot for it. Finally, visit the Geocaching.com cache page to log your find and share your experience with others.

While I use a Garmin GPS device, I started with a GPS-enabled cell phone with a free GPS application.  As of the date of this post I have hidden seven geocaches and have found over 300.  I have often found that looking for a geocache will cause me to explore an area that I would have otherwise not visited at all.  This has been a great hobby and I encourage anyone to give it a try.  You never know what a cache may look like!

If you are interested in learning more about geocaching, or trying it yourself, check out http://www.geocaching.com and click on Geocaching 101 to learn more.

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