September 21, 2006
Our stay at Patrick Air Force Base has been filled with activities. When we were planning the trip we thought we would try to get over to Orlando and the surrounding area. We thought that with two weeks in one location we may get a little bored and have to expand our search grid in order to continue to have fun. We were wrong, but on a positive note, we did not invest any money in tickets to Orlando attractions that would have gone unused.
I told you about the shuttle launch in my last post. Today I was talking to a new neighbor. She told me that she and her husband were here for the launch on the 4th of July; I think that was last year. At any rate the base commander made a big deal of the launch and threw a big party. Of even greater news, the flight path at launch brought the Shuttle to the southeast allowing the base residents to stay at home to watch it. How neat is that? The launch that Connie and I watched went north. Had we not been on the beach I am sure we would have missed it because we would have had no idea where to look for it in the sky.
The Space Shuttle launch was a part of only one day of our stay here. We spent most of the rest of that day just driving along the coast enjoying the weather and scenery. That drive and several others that would follow ultimately confused us when we were looking for specific businesses that we had seen on one or another of our drives. At any rate, we were able to find the three nearest Starbucks Coffee Shops and over the stay we visited each of them one time.
Our friends Trish and Jay were going to be here for a long weekend starting on Friday the 15th. Trish wanted to do some birding while they were here. So, Connie and I went to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (MINWR) on Monday the 11th to do some scouting for the weekend. Naturally we did not get up and get out of here at a very good time, so we once again found ourselves birding starting at or very near noon. Of course at MINWR you can see a lot of birds any time of the day. By getting there late we eliminated the need to look in those locations that may harbor small song birds. We went, instead, to the wetlands and surprised ourselves by sighting some 26 species. I guess the bird of the day would have had to have been the Bald Eagle. However, we got some tremendous looks at nearly all the North American egrets and herons. By the end of the drive along the wetlands we were exhausted and exhilarated from our efforts. It was a great afternoon of bird watching.
Connie and I played a morning round of golf on Tuesday. It was fun, golf always is. However, the wind was not our friend and we chased a lot of balls. We should have taken our binoculars to the golf course. The birds were wonderful there, much better than our golfing.
I spent the better part of three mornings hand washing and drying the motorhome. This is a task for the young and restless, not a mid fifties guy who would rather be drinking an iced tea while watching someone else do the work. However, the experience allowed me to get up close and personal with the coach and sort of look into its youthful past. It seems that at some point following assembly our motorhome was parked in area near some road construction where there was a lot of red dirt and sand. The roof which took one entire morning to clean was completely covered in this sandy clayish stuff. I scrubbed and scrubbed some more trying to restore the original white surface. It is now much improved, but more work lies ahead. In that first morning’s effort I was able to clean the love bugs off the front as well as the roof. The next day I tackled the curb or right side of the coach. Even I was surprised at the difference a hand washing makes. I have to tell you though, I was not looking forward to the other side. My shoulders and arms felt as though I had been lifting too much weight too often. So, between Wednesday and Thursday I was able to get all but one side of the motorhome clean. Friday was a day off in anticipation of the arrival of Trish and Jay.
Trish and Jay arrived early in the afternoon. So, once they got set up, we had a late lunch or early appetizers in their camping trailer and planned where we would go for dinner. That seemed like a lot of work, so we all retired to our own rigs and rested (napped) through the afternoon. This sort of behavior reminds me of living in Italy. Not much happens between about 1PM and 5 in that country. Now that I have the time to live that way, I understand the advantage. One needs to rest in order to fully enjoy the evening meal. No sense eating while tired, you may not appreciate what you’re eating. To take the philosophy a step further, we ate dinner at an Italian restaurant that was really just too good.
Saturday was a full day of birding watching at MINWR. Since we were able to get up there a good bit earlier, we were able to see some different birds. We did see the Florida Scrub Jay which does well on the refuge, but not in many other areas of Florida. Unfortunately, only Jay and I were brave or stupid enough to continue to walk along the Scrub Jay Trail to find them. The next day Trish was able to see them up close.
We spotted 45 species that day and were mightily exhausted when it was all done. We celebrated by going to Dixie Crossroads for dinner. Dixie Crossroads is one of those must-go-to places in every tourist guide of the area. It is a huge seafood restaurant specializing in shrimp. However, they sell Maine lobster cheaper there than you can get it in Maine. The food is reasonable, the prices are even more reasonable and the atmosphere is what you go there for. For my Maine and New Hampshire readers this place is a lot like Warren’s Seafood Restaurant in Kittery, Maine without the great salad bar.
On Sunday we all went to brunch at the club on base. Allow me some editorial babble here. This is the second Air Force Base that Connie and I have stayed at since my retirement. Two out of two have operational clubs. Two out of two have figured out how to get people to eat at their clubs. I cannot remember a Navy club in the last ten or so years that was or is making it. What can the difference be? While I am on this rant, while we were here Connie got a library card for the base library. The Navy is closing libraries and the Air Force has award winning libraries. Again, what can the difference be? Talking about the library, Connie had a book out that she completed this afternoon. Since we intend to leave the first thing in the morning, she wanted to make sure it got returned to the library before they closed this afternoon (Thursday). I had done most of the pre-underway chassis checks right after lunch. By the time I got them done and had showered it was getting towards 3:30 and Connie was worried that the library would be closed. About then she got a phone call and I could tell it was not going to be a short one, so I took the book to the library. It does not close until 7PM. I then went by Outdoor Recreation to pickup a Brevard County Fishing Map. I just knew they would be closed. Turns out they are open until 6PM every night but Wednesday, including weekends. At my last duty station when I was the guy sort of in charge of these sorts of activities I could not keep these operations open due to money. Again, I don’t understand the differences in the services. I know that outdoor recreation office and the library are not money generators for the Morale Welfare and Recreation folks, so how can they support the hours of operation they have?
Now that my rant is complete, brunch was to die for. In fact I ate so much I thought that death may be the next event in my life. Connie and I had eaten the Sunday Brunch the previous week. I was able to maintain better self control that first time. The club really does a great job with their brunch. They have the typical salad bar, not too exciting, but it is there for those who want it. There is an omelet bar where you gather the ingredients for your omelet and turn them over to the chef. That is followed by a French Toast and Waffle station with all the nasty toppings to make them oh so good and gooey. Then there is the real food line. More breakfast foods such as scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, a featured vegetable dish, a featured meat dish, and a featured fish dish. If that were not enough, there is a carving station with a beef round and a ham. At the table is champagne and orange juice. Just when you think you may explode, someone reminds you that there is dessert. The standard is ice cream and all sorts of self serve toppings. But there is more. There is also a hot dessert like a cobbler or bread pudding just to make sure you suffer. I failed to mention the pastries. Believe it or not, I never visited that table in our two experiences. Needless to say, we all enjoyed brunch a lot and a lot of brunch was enjoyed.
I wimped out big time in the afternoon. Trish and Jay wanted to return to MINWR with their kayaks and do a little paddling as well as more bird watching. Since I didn’t really want to go, Connie opted to stay at the RV Park with me. Trish and Jay got great looks at the Florida Scrub Jays, so we were really glad they made the effort to return. I took a nap so I would be well rested for dinner, which I was and it was also very good.
On Saturday we had stopped so Trish could get a few pictures of a great looking Spoonbill. When she looked at the pictures on the computer that evening, she realized that the camera had focused on the background, not the bird. She was disappointed to say the least. One of the reasons for returning to MIWR on Sunday was so that she might get a better picture. Well, she didn’t see any spoonbills on Sunday. I share this with you because one of the things Connie wanted Trish and Jay to do on Monday was go with us to the Viera Wetlands. These wetlands are associated with a waste water treatment plant in the area. Like most wastewater treatment plants there are usually some great bird sightings here. Trish and Jay wanted to get an early start back home, so they opted to not go to the wetlands. Connie and I went alone (another afternoon birding adventure) and the very first bird I saw was a spoonbill. We weren’t even at the wetlands when I spotted it. So, I called Trish to give her a hard time. She responded with something to the affect of “take a picture”. Of course by then we were long past that bird. Once we got into the wetlands we were quickly put in sensory overload. Nearly every bird we had seen at MINWR was somewhere among the ponds and surrounding trees and bushes. It was amazing. Of course, some of them were even close. So, out comes the camera and to my surprise the battery was so dead it did not even power up long enough to tell me that the battery was dead. What a bummer. So, the photos are in my mind. Maybe I can coax one or two of them out through my fingers one lazy day. Anyway Connie and I bagged about 30 species at the wastewater treatment plant with the nice name and trish still has no in focus picture of a spoonbill.
In my last post I had mentioned that there was to be a military satellite launched this week before we leave. I was either misinformed or they changed the launch date. Some Titan Missile goes up this weekend and we will be gone. However, the Shuttle returned to the Space Center this morning. For those who don’t follow the news, the return was delayed a day due to some foreign material that got everyone concerned, as it should. So, being the good amateur space enthusiasts we are, we got up super early today to go watch the landing. Where Florida Route 50 intersects with US 1 there is a field that forms the bank of the Indian River. Looking across the river you can see the Shuttle Runway. Well, you cannot actually see the runway, but at 6:15AM you can see the tremendously bright lights that show the Shuttle crew the way home on that final leg of their million plus mile flight. So, the locals told us that this was the place to be. After we got there I immediately polled the group assembled to ascertain if we were in fact at the correct place and if we were, then where exactly should we be looking. To my surprise, everyone there was there for the first time. However, they all seemed to know exactly where to look. Once my eyes adjusted I could see the glow of those powerful lights I mentioned. So, we waited and we listened both to the radio and for the signature twin sonic booms that announce the near arrival of the Shuttle. The booms were easy to recognize. The rest, well let’s just say that we were there and had it been light out we would have seen one of the most spectacular sights known to man. Following getting thrust into space and traveling to and from the International Space Station and lightening the load by something like 19,000 pounds, this gigantic glider finds its way back to a relative postage stamp runway, with absolutely no opportunity for a touch and go and get it on the second pass if we don’t get it quite right the first time and makes it look easy. It looked especially easy to me as I saw it for maybe a second if I count the part I am sure I imagined. Coming out of the dark sky with not even a headlight, the Shuttle is nearly impossible to see from the great distance we were. I am sure it is spectacular to watch during a daytime landing. We will try to come back again. Anyway, we drove back to the base and watched the whole thing all over again several times from several angles on TV. The real lesson learned was night landings are really anti-climatic unless you are either in the Shuttle or really nearby.
We never had an urge to go to Orlando. In fact, we really didn’t do this area justice. I make that statement and this is probably my fourth or fifth visit to the area. There is so much to see here. If you get the chance to visit the space coast, take it. Try to plan to be here awhile and really explore the area thoroughly.
Tomorrow we return to Kings Bay for what is planned to be a one week stop for a few appointments.
Who knows where we will be for my next posting.