Monday, May 30, 2011

Gulf Coast Katrina After effects & Vicksburg, MS--LOTS of Flooding!

We enjoyed our time on the Mississippi coast, but were amazed at the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina (now some 6 years ago) that is still visible today. The University of Southern Mississippi Gulf coast campus is located in the town of Gulfport, MS and has a beautiful ocean front location. Unfortunately, this area was heavily hit by the hurricane and much damage remains. This building is typical and is now only a shell.

Here, you can clearly see the broken windows that were shattered by the huge storm surge. While you cannot enter any of these buildings for safety reasons, you can see the severe damage inside in this video. This damage is typical of most of the original buildings on campus and much rebuilding remains to be done.

Driving around the area revealed many foundations-- with no house, such as this one. We were told that rebuilding is very slow due to property insurance problem. We wondered how long this will take and when this beautiful area will fully recover.

We left Gulfport and headed up to Vicksburg, MS. We had heard that the Mississippi River was in heavy flood stage, but after calling the Ameristar RV Park were assured they were open for business. While the RV Park was in great shape, closer to the river found heavy flooding.

This building is the original Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad station -- now underwater. We have visited this area before and would estimate that the river is a good 40' above where we saw it before.

The depot was not the only building under water! This large hotel/casino is usually well away from the river. Now, it is closed as the river literally runs through it.

This closeup of the casino shows how much of the building is in the water. We were told that over 2 million cubic feet of water per second is running through the river now!

We can't imagine how much damage this flood will cause or how long it will take before the water finally recedes. We certainly wish the folks who live in this area the very best for the future.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A visit to Beauvior - Jeff Davis's House.

Near Biloxi, MS, is the retirement home of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America. The house is the location that Davis used to write his memoirs and had many interesting historical facets for use to learn.

The house was built the mid 1800's right on the Gulf of Mexico and had a beautiful setting. However, this setting also was vulnerable to hurricanes and Hurricane Katrina caused extensive damage to the area and the house in specific as you can see from the picture. The storm surge was over 15' high and blew through the entire house, while the wind removed part of the slate roof.

Amazingly, the house was fully restored after this disaster and once again shows how Jefferson Davis lived in the 1870's period.

One of the most remarkable things about the house is the painting that was done inside. The ceilings were carefully painted and gave the impression of a tiered ceiling. The spectacular painting took a couple almost three years to complete (which is about the same time that it took the original artist to do when the house was first built.

There are two cottages on the property, one that was used for a guest house and the other for Jefferson Davis's office where he worked on his writing. The view over the bay is fantastic and you could easily imagine Davis reflecting on the Confederacy and the related challenges in his life.

Orinda thought this staircase was just about right for her next house! Hard to imagine that the flood waters from Katrina were well above the top of the stairs. We were very happy to see the restoration work going so well. In addition to the house, a Presidential Library is being completed to house Jefferson Davis's papers. Davis was a very accomplished statesman in addition to serving as the head of the Confederacy. He graduated from West Point and after his military service, served as both a senator and congressman from Mississippi.
This gives you an idea of the magnificent beach that runs over 25 miles from Bay St. Louis to Biloxi. While the beach is in great shape, many of the homes and businesses near the beach were destroyed and have not been replaced. We hope that the recovery in this area will continue in the future.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Pensacola Naval Air Museum -- The Recent Years

The Cubi Bar -- as recreated in the Pensacola Naval Air Museum -- We had a great lunch in the recreated Cubi Bar which was originally in the Philippines When the base was closed, the entire collection of the bar, including the tables, was sent to the Museum and faithfully restored here. This is a great place to go and experience the naval air environment for off duty personnel.

We loved exploring the early aircraft gallery of the museum, and then strolled through the more recent area. This gallery starts with WWII and moves forward. The Skyraider above saw extensive use in Korea and Vietnam and is one big plane!

This is the famous Hellcat from WWII and is one of the best fighters from the war. The Hellcat was more than the equal to the Japanese Zero and helped established air dominance in the Pacific.

One of the biggest functions of this museum, in addition to the display of the planes. is aircraft restoration. We were able to take a tour (also at no charge) of the flightline and the restoration area. This plane, an F4U standing nose down, is now being restored after spending 60 years at the bottom of Lake Michigan where it crashed during a training exercise. The plane is in remarkable good condition and the tour guide said it was due to the cold water at the bottom of the deep lake. Hopefully, we will see it restored in a coming trip.

Of course, the Pensacola Naval Air Base is more than just a museum -- it is also the base of the Blue Angels! This fantastic air show team practices here during the week (unfortunately when we were not going to be there), but the museum shows a number of displays on these great planes.

Of course, Rick was eager to see how he would look as a Blue Angles member! After this picture, I am sure he will get a call soon to join up!

The Museum recently completed a major enlargement and has a large, new hanger featuring some very unique craft. The large flying boat above is the largest seaplane ever used by the Navy and is huge as you can tell by comparing the people in the picture with the plane.

This shows a small portion of the hanger. The red aircraft in the upper left of the picture was used in the Antarctica, but was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina. The fact that the plane now looks new gives great testimony to the capability of the restoration folks!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Pensacola Naval Air Museum -- The Early Years

We enjoyed our quick visit to the Pensacola Forts, but were eager to get to the Naval Air Museum just down the road. We had visited this museum about 10 years ago, but had heard that the museum was expanded and enhanced, so were curious to see it. The Naval Air museum is free to visit and spectacular. This plane greats you as you arrive and is a very early Curtis (1911) seaplane and was one of the first in naval service. The pilot sits out on the front edge of the wing and is completely exposed to the elements (and bugs!). At least he had a wonderful view.

When you entering the first gallery, you realize that there are aircraft everywhere! In fact, there are two collections -- one at floor level and the other suspended from the ceiling in flight mode. This picture shows some of the upper collection which you can see up close from the second floor balcony which runs all the way around the two main galleries. This yellow aircraft was called the "Yellow Peril" since as a basic trainer, it was a peril for the new flyer and all those around him.

Naval aviation started just after the Wright Brothers learned to fly in the early 1900's and there are many excellent early aircraft on display. One very interesting one is this JN4, Jenny made by Curtiss for training pilots during WWI. The really interesting facet of this plane is that it is in cut-away form so you can see how the plane is built. Constructed of wood and fabric, which was typical of the era, this plane is very much like the radio controlled models that Rick builds!

Here, Orinda checks out a French Nieuport 28, which was a front line fighter in WWI. It is interesting to compare this plane with the Curtiss seaplane above and then recall that only 6 years separate them. Aviation technology really moved forward at a rapid pace in the early days.

Speaking of hi-tech, this is a Liberty 12 cylinder engine which may have been America's biggest aviation contribution in WWI. Capable of generating an unheard of 400hp, it was designed and engineered in only 5 days. Over 20,000 of these were produced by the end of the war and they powered aircraft for many years into the future.

This amazing plane used the Liberty engine and was the first plane to fly across the Atlantic Ocean way back in 1919. Due to engine problems, weather, and other issues, it took 19 days for the crew to cross to Portugal from their base in Long Island. This Curtiss plane was built only 7 years after the frail original seaplane seen above -- this plane is huge in comparison and is powered by 4 - 400hp Liberty engines.

Here is an early seaplane that is a converted Camel fighter. This aircraft was used in WWI as well.

The Navy experimented with Dirigibles after WWI and one such ship was called the USS Akron. This huge lighter than air ship would have been very vulnerable to fighter attack, so this plane, the N2Y was developed to be carried inside the Akron and released to protect it. After flight, the N2Y would come back to the dirigible and connect to a trapeze device in flight and then be winched up into the airship. Akron carried 4 or 5 of these -- WOW -- think of an aircraft carrier in the sky. It was interested to read that "landing" one of these by hooking to the trapeze was very difficult --click here to see how this was done!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Fort Barrancas at the Pensacola Naval Station

We have traveled to Pensacola, FL to visit the excellent Naval Aviation Museum located at the Pensacola Naval Base and as we entered through security onto the base, we noticed this old fort next to the road. Of course, we had to pull over and take a look!

This is actually part of a large fortification facility that guarded Pensacola Bay in the mid 1800's and what we first thought was the major fort, was in fact, called the Advanced Redoubt and was the forward part of the Fort Barrancas facility located close by. We were surprised to see these major forts and made sure to stop at the National Park Service area to learn more about these.

You can see that quite a bit of thought was put into the design of the fortification. The "moat" area was designed to be a dry crossfire field of fire where attackers would face fire from protected soldiers from all sides. Each window in the wall could allow rifle fire at close range. This is part of the advanced redoubt which was actually attacked by the Confederates in the early Civil War period, but Union troops successfully defended it.

This is a picture of the actual Fort Barrancas as it looks out over the bay. During the Civil Way, no ship could survive the fire from this fort, and the others across the bay. The white area seen above is called the Water Battery since it was located close to the water line and could fire at a low angle of attack into the wooden ships of the time.

Orinda was very impressed with the Fort and was surprised to learn that the original Water Battery had been built by the Spanish in the later 1700's to defend their colonial goals in Florida. They ceded Florida to the United States in 1821.

The Fort had a number of guns like these ready for action, but after the Civil War, the fort became obsolete by advances in naval gunnery and was abandoned. Today, it is a fascinating insight into a period of US history that is often overlooked.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Florida Carriage Museum -- Very Nice

We have been meaning to visit the Florida Carriage Museum in the Lady Lake area of Florida for several months and finally decided to take a look. We were amazed at the quality of this museum and the wonderful displays of all sorts of beautiful carriages. Not surprisingly, horses play a major role in the museum, so it is fitting that a sculpture of a horse ready to pull a carriage meets us as we enter.

Carriages were the main form of travel for thousands of years and the museum shows all kinds that are fully restored and in period display. It was easy to imagine living 150 years ago and climbing into this beautiful carriage for a trip to town.

Carriages were used in all phases of life, just as cars and trucks are today. This collection of commercial wagons was very interesting and showed how life was lived -- and indeed, these were the pickup trucks of the day.

Rick really liked this one -- the peanut wagon that was used in the Barnum Circus. It would have been fun to see these carts rolling down the street and smelling the wonderful oder of popcorn and peanuts.

This carriage was used in England as a stagecoach and was the mass transit of the era. The expensive seats were inside while the low dollar transportation was out on top!

Carriages all kinds of accessories, just as our cars have available today. This one, however, was unique. Called the "Urchin Guard", it is mounted on the back rail of this carriage as pointed out by Orinda. It consists of a number of gold-painted spikes to discourage kids (urchins) from hopping on the back of the carriage while underway. I have not seen one of those for our Buick!

This is everything the well dressed socialite might need. The classy dress, the formal carriage and no doubt, a spirited team of horses outside with the stable hands.

Rick liked this carriage. In the seat in front, and in several compartments on the coach, are golf clubs! Called the golf carriage, this transported the golfers to the course for a great round of play. Wow -- golf carts have sure changed!

We would certainly recommend the Florida Carriage Museum for a great trip back to the past. Who knows, as gasoline gets ever more expensive, maybe we will be using these carriages again someday!