July 2006               


            July 1 and the NASA Shuttle launch is scheduled for today.  We packed us a lunch, Millie grabbed her knitting and we drove to Titusville.  Dick had printed off directions from a TV station website that told us where to get a good view of the launch.  We arrived at the first place on the list and found a parking place.  The area was already jammed with people and it was over three hours until launch time. 

          We set up our chairs and umbrellas, Millie broke out her knitting and we waited.  The launch was set for 3:48 PM and by shortly before, the area was packed with people.  We had the radio set for a station that was broadcasting from the Cape and the word came over that the launch was scrubbed for today and rescheduled for tomorrow.  We will come back.

          Traffic was unreal trying to get back to our RV park.  It took us nearly an hour to go 4 miles!  A lot of vehicles and not much traffic control.

          We got up on the 2nd of July, and got ready to go to the launch again.  It was scheduled for about 3:28 PM today.  We packed our lunch and left about 11:00 as we wanted to get one of the better parking places we had seen yesterday.  We were able to back the truck right up to the water with a good view across to NASA.  We visited with a young man who came over to talk.  He had driven 1000 miles to be there and was staying in the parking area.  The crowds were not here today, most people seem to have moved on.

          We had our lunch and read the paper.  More and more the launch was looking like a scrub, as the sky was getting darker and darker and the lightening was beginning to streak down. 

          Mary called Millie and she said that they were watching the NASA TV channel and the astronaut crew was being loaded into the shuttle.  She wanted to know how the weather was looking.  Shortly afterwards, the rain started. 

          While we sat in the truck, watching the rain, the scrub of the launch was announced.  We were disappointed, but surely not as much as those 7 people who were sitting on the launch pad. 

          The next projected launch is July 4.  We will go that day and hope things go well.  If not, we will be moving on north.

          July 3 was not an exciting day.  We did grocery shopping and Millie worked on her quilt.

          Things were looking better on the 4th for a shuttle launch.  Mid-morning we had rain, but it wasn’t storming, just a nice summer rain.  We loaded up our lunch, camera, etc and drove to Titusville.  There was a larger crowd than for either of the other attempts.  It really looked like it was going to happen.  The clouds began to clear out and the rain chances were down to 30%.  Everyone seemed to be in high spirits.

          We had the truck backed up to the river and it gave us a good view of the launch area.  We climbed up on the back about 20 minutes before the liftoff time.  Things were progressing and we finally knew Discovery was going to launch!

          It is impossible to explain how wonderful it is to see a shuttle launch in person.  Discovery climbed into the sky and the roar was tremendous.  One thing that struck us was how much slower it climbed than we imagined it would and how long you could see it.  This was the first ever July 4 launch and we can’t think of any better way to spend our nation’s birthday.  As the Discovery’s commander said, we had a great view of “the rockets red glare”.

          We left Titusville on Wednesday, July 5, moving north to St. Augustine.  We had some rain in a couple of spots, but other than that it was an uneventful drive. 

          St. Augustine is the oldest European settled city in the United States, founded in 1565.  It was founded by the Spaniards who named the peninsula La Florida, possibly because of the many beautiful plants they saw.

          On the 6th we went into the city and located the Visitor’s Center.  We picked up information on what to do here and then ran some errands.  We made a visit to the new Camping World store and got us a couple of new outdoor chairs.  Our old ones are beginning to look pretty shabby. 

          Friday the 7th was a rain day so we pretty much stayed home and watched some TV.  Millie worked on getting her Traveling Threads newsletter finished up and ready to print.  We had dinner at the Pizza Hut.

          The rain moved out and Saturday was cool and sunny.  We drove south on Highway A1A to Fort Matanzas National Monument.

          Fort Matanzas was built in 1740-42 on Rattlesnake Island as a defense for St. Augustine.  Although the city had Castillo de San Marcos, it was discovered that it could be attacked by coming up the Matanzas River and the fort was built to protect the city from that area. 

          As the fort is on an island, the National Park Service runs a small ferry to it.  We viewed the film at the Visitor’s Center and then waited for our ride to the fort. 

          The boat ride was a short one across the river.  We walked up the short path to the fort, climbed the stairs and were greeted by a Spanish soldier of the day.  Kevin (our re-enactor) gave us a short presentation on the history of the fort and how life at the fort would have been for soldiers who were stationed here.  Then we were invited to spend some time exploring the fort for ourselves. 

          Dick elected to climb the vertical ladder to the roof for a view of the area.  Millie checked out the rooms in the fort and enjoyed the view from the lower level. 

          Fort Matanzas is constructed of coquina, a very unique type of stone.  It is comprised of shells that have been compacted over time.  When first mined, it can be cut easily and broken easily.  When it dries out, it becomes hard and can be used for building.  There are only 2 forts in the world constructed of this material and they are both here in St. Augustine.   A side benefit of coquina that the Spanish were unaware of was that it does not shatter like other stone when hit with cannonballs.  The cannonballs simply bounced off of sunk in a little ways. 

          Soldiers of the fort were stationed there for 30 days at a time, being sent down from the Castillo.  There were only a few there at a time and their families (if they had them) remained in San Augustine. 

          We returned on the ferry to the Visitor’s Center and drove north on A1A to tour the Castillo. 

          It was around 1:30 when we arrived at the Castillo and very crowded.  We circled the parking area a half a dozen times looking for a parking space before giving up and leaving.  We will make another attempt tomorrow, earlier in the day. 

          On Sunday, we left early and arrived at Castillo de San Marcos and were able to find a parking place.  The Castillo is a National Park.  We are really enjoying having our Golden Eagle Pass to see our National Parks. 

          We walked around the courtyard of the fort, and then made our way to the roof for a demonstration of the firing of a cannon.  It was a great demonstration, with an explanation given in English, then, due to the fact that it was a Spanish fort, the firing sequence of orders was given in Spanish. 

          Following the demonstration, we walked around the roof perimeter of the fort, and then walked back down to the courtyard. 

          Dick ran out to feed the parking meter and when he returned, we joined a ranger led program about the history of the fort. 

          After that program, we made our way to the theater where we watched the film on the fort’s history. 

          We left the fort and crossed the street to the old section of the city.  We had lunch at a little café there. 

          Following lunch, we went to the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse in the U. S. for a tour.  The little schoolhouse was built over 200 years ago of red cedar and cypress, with wooden pegs and handmade nails and has never been reconstructed.  Students were charged 12-1.2 cents a day for classes.  The schoolroom is set up with lifelike students and teacher who give you a recorded presentation on what it was like to go to the school in the late 1800’s. 

          It is interesting to note that the little building is chained down with huge chains.  This has been done to prevent strong winds from pushing it down.  The separate kitchen building is also chained down, but we decided that it was probably to prevent the chimney from falling. 

          The schoolmaster and his family lived in the upstairs of the school building.  The detached kitchen was used by the family; the students brought their own lunches. 

          We walked through the narrow streets, browsing in some of the little shops before driving to our next destination, the Oldest House Museum

          Archaeologists can document continuous occupancy of the Oldest House site from the early 1600’s.  The present house was first built as 2 rooms of coquina with tabby floors in about 1702.  In 1723 the Thomas Gonzalez y Hernandez family was living in the house.  The family lived in the house for 40 years, leaving in 1763 when Florida was ceded to England by Spain. 

          About 1775 the house was purchased by a retired English officer, Major Joseph Peavett and his wife Mary.  Joseph died in 1783 and Mary remarried not long after.  Her new husband, John Hudson was a younger man who did not have much money sense and soon bankrupted his wife. 

          The house was auctioned off in 1790 to pay off Hudson’s debts and Geronimo Alvarez.  The Alvarez family lived in the house for nearly 100 years.  In 1882 the house was again sold and was occupied by various occupants.  The Historical Society acquired the house in 1918.  Of particular interest was a “water cooler”.   The bowls are made of stone, with water from the well being placed in the top bowl.  The water filters through the stone, dripping into the bottom bowl for drinking.  This offers clean, cooler water.  We had never seen one of these before.

          The Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park is the site where Ponce De Leon came ashore in 1513;   It is the site where Pedro Menendez would found the first city, St. Augustine 52 years later.   The park has various sites to visit. 

          Our first site was the springhouse, which contains the Fountain of Youth spring and a cross which made of stones used by Ponce de Leon to mark the spot.  We were given a presentation about the landing and offered a drink from the spring.  (Looks like we are going to live a long time!)

          The next site was the Explorers Discovery Globe, a presentation using a huge revolving globe showing the first 100 years of exploration of New World.

          We then attended a program in the Navigator’s Celestial Planetarium sowing the night skies during Ponce de Leon’s time of navigation.  This is one of the oldest manual planetariums in the country still in operation.

          Other sites on the grounds include archaeological excavations and the site where the Ponce de Leon came ashore. 

          We visited the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, which was founded in 1893.  It is an AZA accredited park.  Exotic birds and a variety of monkeys are also on exhibit.  It is the only place in the world where all 23 species of crocodilians are on display. 

          We first saw a display of American Alligator yearlings, these little guys are small when first hatched, but grow quite fast their first year.  Our next stop was to see the white alligator.  This beautiful guy is from Louisiana. 

          The Alligator Lagoon contains many large alligators.  We were amazed to see how large some of these guys were!  We watched a feeding demonstration.  We never realized how far they can jump. 

          We walked through the many exhibits of the different species of crocodilians.  We then we visited Maximo.  He is a saltwater crocodile form Australia and is 15 feet 3 inches long and weighs 1250 lbs.  Saltwater crocodiles are the larges of all crocodiles and sometimes grow to be 18 feet. 

          We walked along the boardwalk through the alligator swamp and wading bird rookery.  Herons, egrets, ibis, spoonbills and wood storks come here to roost in the evening, knowing that tree climbing predators are kept away by the alligators.  The trees were full of birds and nests as this is the nesting season.

          We moved north of St. Augustine to Kingsland, GA.  This was a good place to base while visiting Jacksonville and the lower GA coast.  As we were still experiencing brake problems on the trailer, Dick called Moryde and was referred to Kodiak, who was the manufacturer of the drum, which was going to have to be replaced.  We will stay here until the part arrives and is installed. 

          Our first visit was to Fort Caroline National Memorial.  Fort Caroline was established by the French, their first attempt to settle in North America.  The first village and fort was built in June of 1564, but the colonists were near starvation by the following spring.  Some sailed off to make their own fortune and were eventually captured by the Spanish.  In August 1565 a relief expedition arrived with more settlers and supplies.

          The French tried to attack the Spanish at St. Augustine but the ships were scattered by a hurricane.  The Spanish used this opportunity to march north and attack the colony at Fort Caroline, and massacred 140 of the settlers, sparing only about 60 women and children.  Another 50 managed to escape and sail for France.  The Spanish then marched back south, where they found the shipwrecked Frenchmen, took them prisoner and at Fort Matanzas he killed 350 of them.

          The French then took revenge, attacking and burning Fort Caroline.  The National Park service has reconstructed the fort and has a museum at the site. 

          Exhibits also explain the Timucuan Indians who lived in the area and helped the French when they first arrived in Florida.  These native people lived in Northern Florida and Southern Georgia.  There are no known Tumicuans alive today.  They numbered probably in the thousands when Europeans first arrived on this continent and only about 550 were still alive in 1698.  These tribes could not survive contact with the diseases brought by the settlers and attacks by other Indians. 

          Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island is also part of the park.  The plantation takes it name from Zephaniah Kingsley who owned it from 1814 to 1837.  The main crop was Sea Island Cotton. 

          The main house faces the river.  It dates to 1798 and is the oldest plantation house still standing in the state of Florida.  It faces the river and was designed with windows on all sides would catch the breezes.  Unfortunately, the house is under renovation and we were unable to see the inside.  We did view the stable and the exhibits contained there. 

          The slave quarters of this plantation are undergoing restoration also.  There were about 30 cabins here, built of tabby and were the homes for 60 to 80 slaves families.  Each home had a fireplace and kitchen and a room for sleeping.  The quarters here are unique, in that they are laid out in a semi-circle.  Larger ones at each end of the row were given to the Driver and his family. Some skilled craftsmen were also given larger cabins. 

          Cumberland Island National Seashore is located off the coast of Georgia.  It is accessible only by ferry from St. Marys.  As there are a limited number of spaces on the 2 ferries daily, we got our names on the list for Monday.  After looking at the displays in the visitor’s center, we walked across the street to the tiny St. Marys Submarine Museum.  The museum contains models of subs, some displays on early subs and the control panel and other equipment from a submarine.  St. Marys is home to one of our countries submarine bases.

          After our museum visit, we walked up the street, looking at some of the many quaint shops in town.  Our next stop was the Cumberland Island Museum where we saw exhibits relating to the island and watched a very interesting film on the history of the island. 

          Finds of pot shards have shown that Spanish soldiers and missionaries were on the island in the 1500’s.  Revolutionary war hero Nathanael Greene purchased land on the island in 1783.  His widow constructed a four story tabby home that she named Dungeness.  This structure burned. 

          In 1884, Lucy Carnegie, wife of Thomas (of the steel family) visited the island and fell in love with it.  Her husband purchased the island as a gift for her and she began building a mansion on the ruins of the original Dungeness.  She moved her family of 9 children here to live and built homes for several of the children when they were grown.  Several of these homes have burned, but Plum Orchard and another house still stand.

          The family closed the main house following their mother’s death, but they still visited the island.  During one of the visits, Dungeness mysteriously burned, leaving only the shell.  These ruins are part of the park. 

          When the taxes and upkeep costs became too expensive, the family donated most of the island to the national park service.  The island is very primitive, no food or drink concessions and the only motorized vehicles belong to the park service. 

          Cumberland Island is the home to around 175 or so wild horses who roam the island.  It also beautiful beaches and areas to ride bikes or hike.  We walked this beautiful island, enjoying the quiet.

          Fort Frederica is located on St. Simon’s Island. This fort and town flourished here between 1736-1749.  The fort commanded a point of land on the Frederica River, with a view on the river on three sides.  It was built by the English as a defense along the Georgia coast. 

          The town of Frederica was founded by Oglethorpe with “worthy poor”.  It was an English town with wide streets and substantial houses.  Houses were built of tabby, tabby and brick, brick and wood and brick.  We took an interesting tour with a park ranger, focusing on the taverns in the town.  Taverns were not only places to drink, but meals were also served and mail was delivered to the taverns.  They were gathering places for the townsfolk to catch up on events.  The town contained many such establishments. 

          After the need for military units in Georgia, the fort was abandoned and the town gradually died.  A fire in 1758 finally sealed it death.  No buildings are left, but sites have been evacuated and some dwelling sites are identified.  

          After having lunch we went to the St. Simons Island Lighthouse Museum.  The first lighthouse was erected on this site in 1807.  It was destroyed in 1862 by the Confederates so it could not be used by the Union as a navigational aid. 

          The present lighthouse was constructed in 1872.  It had 129 stairs to the top.  The light is still operational.  The keepers dwelling has been restored and is used as a museum.  We watched a film on the lighthouse and climbed the stairs to enjoy the view.

          The historic Coast Guard station at St. Simons has been turned into a museum with exhibits that take you through what life at the station was like in 1941 and is an interesting place to visit.

          Folkston, GA is the gateway to the Okefenokee Swamp.  The swamp is a National Wildlife Refuge.  We made a stop at the Richard Bolt Visitor Center. The animated “storyteller” told about the history of the swamp.  Afterwards, we took a boat tour of the swamp.   Our guide for the tour was very knowledgeable about the area and we enjoyed his presentation.  We saw many alligators along the way.  It was interesting to see how the gators would swim in front of the boat for a while, and then swing off to the side to see if the boat motor had stirred up any fish.  We saw several gators jump up out of the water, which we were not aware of them doing. 

          We also saw many birds, including wood storks, egrets and ibis. 

          After we departed the boat we drove the Swamp Island Drive and stopped at the Chesser Island Homestead.  The homestead was the home of early settlers in the area.  Unfortunately the house was not open but we walked around and looked at the buildings. 

          Jekyll Island is the location of the Jekyll Island Club.  The club, founded in 1886, was a winter retreat for some of the elite families of the era.  The original club house, grounds and cottages are now a National Historic Landmark District. 

          We took a tram trip through the district, hearing stories about families with names like Morgan, Astor, Rockefeller and Vanderbilt.  We toured one of the cottages, Indian Mound.  It is a beautiful area and we can understand why this people enjoyed their winters here. 

          We again moved up the coast to Richmond Hill, near Savannah.  The trailer brakes had been repaired and everything is now working flawlessly. 

          Savannah is a beautiful old city.  It was founded in 1733 by James Oglethorpe.  He laid the city out in a series of squares that form lovely tree lined parks every few blocks. 

          We took a trolley tour of the city.  Our guide, Angela was great and gave us a lot of information on the city.  A number of movies have been filmed here, the most notable one being Forrest Gump.  The famous scene with Forrest waiting on the bus with his box of chocolates was filmed at Chippewa Square.  (The bench was placed where the flower bed is now located and the one way sign was turned around the other direction.  Hollywood likes to change things.)

          Another famous book and movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, also takes place in Savannah.  The Mercer house was the home of songwriter and Oscar winner Johnny Mercer.  After his death, it was the home of Jim Williams and the scene of the murder of Danny Hansford.  It is a true story. 

          The Mercer House was on Millie’s list of places she wanted to see, as she had read the book and seen the movie, but when we discovered the price for a tour, she decided it was too steep.

          Another character in the book was attorney Sonny Seiler, whose law offices are located in another of the beautiful Savannah mansions.  On the cover of the book is a statue “Bird Girl” that was located in Bonaventure Cemetery.  Unfortunately the statue had to be removed and placed in the art museum due to people chipping off pieces for souvenirs.

          Forsyth Park is the location of a beautiful fountain, an replica of one in England, only this one was ordered from Sears and Roebuck!

          We visited the Roundhouse Railroad Museum, the major repair facility for the Central of Georgia Railway.  The facility was begun in 1851 and seventeen of the original structures are still standing.  A 125’ brick smokestack was a landmark in the city. 

          The Central of Georgia Railway as the longest continuous rail line under one management in the world in 1843.  Sherman followed basically this rail line as he made his march to the sea. 

          The museum is busy restoring some steam engines and has some restored equipment in its facility.

          The Savannah History Museum is housed in an old railroad passenger train shed.  We enjoyed an interesting film on the city and toured the exhibits.  The steam locomotive, displays of 19th and 20th century clothing, Johnny Mercer’s Oscar and the bench used by Forest Gump are all housed in the museum.  It was a great place to spend a very hot afternoon.

          Fort McAllister Historic Park is located on the Ogeechee River and is the site of a preserved earthwork fort of the Confederacy.  Attacked 7 times by Union ironclads, it did not fall until captured by General Sherman.  It guarded the river and prevented the Union ships from attacking Savannah.  The earthworks were frustrating to the ironclads, as the cannonballs would just bury themselves in the fort and any damage done one day would be repaired by shoveling the dirt back in by the next day.  Fort McAllister was the end point of Sherman’s march, after it fell the Confederate troops withdrew from the city of Savannah. 

          Fort Pulaski National Monument is located on Cockspur Island.  It was constructed between 1829 and 1844.  One of the engineers for the fort was West Point graduate Robert E. Lee.  The walls are 7-1/2 feet thick and were considered unbreachable. 

          The army had not occupied the fort in 1861 and it was seized by the state militia.  The Confederates controlled the fort until April 1862 when Union troops on Tybee Island began a 30 hour bombardment of the fort.  The fort sustained much damage, one section being completely opened.  Some of the damage to the fort can still be seen, along with several of the shells imbedded in the walls. 

          The fort was abandoned around 1880 and became a national monument in 1924, with restoration beginning in 1933.

          Tybee Island is a barrier island and is home to the oldest and tallest lighthouse in Georgia.  It is 154 feet tall and has 178 steps to the top.

          Whew!  July was one busy month; we hope you enjoy all the photos.  Be sure to look at the picture pages as there are lots more than we have linked to.  Frankly, there are lots more than we even have on the site; we took over 200 photos this month.  Sorry, we couldn’t put them all on here, but you wouldn’t want to spend time looking at all them anyway.

          Next month we move up to South Carolina, then to Ashville, NC and Helen, GA.  See you then.


            Take care and we will see you again next month. 


(Lots of new photos in the gallery, take a look.  We couldn't link to all of them.)