Hearst Castle

Today we ventured up the coast on Hwy 1 to Hearst Castle, a former getaway residence of William Hearst, a newspaper mogul. It was very overcast and rainy which made things seem extra spooky.

The first thing we saw was the giant Neptune pool that was being renovated outside. It was being tiled with a mix of white and blue tiles. We then went into a large sitting room in the main building. The sitting room had priceless sculptures and tapestries from centuries ago. Next, we went to the dining room which had a very long table and Italian horse racing flags to give the room some color. Some of the guests to his lavish parties were Woodrow Wilson, Charles Lindbergh, and FDR.

Later we went to an elephant seal rookery where we saw hundreds of seals. Most were sleeping but some were very active. One made it up the ridge and onto grass very close to us. We saw males roaring and scaring off other males.

We checked out the tiny fishing village of Morro Bay. It was very foggy and overcast, much different the yesterday when my parents visited and it was sunny! We went into a fish market and I bought some Thresher Shark. I ended up pan frying it at home and it was fantastic!

Later tonight we went to a local brewery for trivia where we ended up finishing in the middle. The toughest round for us was one with Irish related action films. Everything else we did great with, it was a good team effort for the game and the day.((AT)

Universal Studios

Today we went to Universal Studios in Universal City. As we were walking in we saw the iconic rotating globe. Once we were in we walked down the red carpet and straight to the Harry Potter part of the theme park. There, we got on a ride that took us through Hogwarts. The ride was a mix of videos that gave us simulated motion and brought us through some of the iconic parts of Harry Potter like the Whomping Willow and the Quidditch match where Dementors came in. I really liked that ride and I ended up riding it 6 times. Next we went to the other Harry Potter ride which was very small but was the closest thing to a conventional roller coaster there. My brother got some frozen butter beer that we shared and it was very good. We then went to the studio tour.

The tour said it was going to be guided by Jimmy Fallon but was instead guided by a guy who was more of a try-hard Jimmy Fallon. We got to see the filming of a Spanish music video and we got to drive by the set of Psycho and Jaws. I was surprised when a shark popped up and got me soaked. We also got to go in a sound stage that was meant to look like a subway but almost immediately things went wrong. There was an earthquake, things went on fire, and because the water lines broke there was a flood. Luckily we were able to get out before we got impacted.

After the tour we waited in line for the Simpsons ride which was not as cool as we thought because we were just in a little car that shook while a video played on the hemisphere screen that went all around us.

We went down a couple of escalators to the lower lot where they had more rides. The transformers ride was similar to the Simpsons ride because we mostly just sat in a shaking car while a video played on a big screen, the Despicable Me ride was also the same thing. I really liked the Revenge of the Mummy ride where we sat in a car and went through the pyramid. Suddenly the car shot forward and went super fast with twists and turns. It then stopped and it felt like beetles were coming up my leg when really it was just puffs of air. It then went backwards until the ride was done. After that we did the Jurassic Park ride where we went through the jungle with dinosaurs and we went down a big drop with water splashing us.

Later in the afternoon we went to the Walking Dead attraction which was basically a haunted house with Walkers. It was scary but it wasn’t too bad because the zombies didn’t pop out at me – but they popped out at my mom! I thought the “hospital” we walked through was cool because all of the equipment that was in it was very accurate. When we were done with the park we walked through the shopping mall adjacent where we had supper and after that we went home and fell asleep almost immediately.

On another note, a professor of anthropology from Tennessee recently re-examined bones found on a pacific island that were determined in the 40s to belong to a man and he found that they were actually Amelia Earhart’s bones. He also had his findings published in the University of Florida’s Forensic Anthropology Journal. These bones along with other artifacts found on the island that were thought to be on Earhart’s plane will help in piecing together this mystery. (AT)

Tucson, AZ

On our way to Tucson for the day, we stopped at Saguaro National Park where we saw a high concentration of saguaro cactus’s. There were cacti all over each other.

We also stopped at Pinal Airport which is a general aviation airport that is also a large boneyard for old airliners. Additionally, it has Marana Army Airfield, where British Army and Army National Guard pilots learn how to fly attack helicopters. It is also a home to CIA operations and US Special Operations Command parachute training. After that, we continued our way into Tucson.

In Tucson, our first stop was at a food truck where we tried the Sonoran Dog. It was a bacon wrapped hot dog on a grilled bun with cheese in it. It also had beans, grilled onions, tomato, and fresh onions. I’m not a hot dog guy but I would definitely get that the next time I am in Tucson.

Later, we went to the Pima Air Museum, the largest private air museum in the US. They have over 300 aircraft there. I really liked the helicopters and my favorite ones were the MH-53 “Pave Low”, the Mil Mi-24 “Hind”, and the CH-37 “Mojave.” I also really liked the B-24 that they had in one of the hangars. While these were my favorites, I definitely really enjoyed seeing them all.Pima4pima2Pima5Pima3pima1

At the museum we saw A-10 Warthog planes flying in formation right over. This reminded us that we were right outside of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. This base is home to a large boneyard of aircraft that we got to drive by. I think we saw 2,000 C-130s, 300 C-17s, 1,000 F-4s, and an array of other aircraft. I had a lot of fun checking all of this out in Tucson.


On our way home, we stopped by a friend’s winter home. Our family knows Jo from summers at Ottertail Lake. She had the most green grass we’ve seen in months and the largest grapefruits I’ve ever seen. (AT)bio5

Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Cavern

At Guadalupe Mountains National Park, the campground is actually the same as the hiking trail parking lot. We stayed for 2 nights and relied on our camper batteries and propane heater. Thankfully there was a bathroom nearby.

When we arrived on the first night my Brother, Dad, and I went on a hike called The Devil’s Hall. My mom didn’t come with because dogs aren’t allowed so she stayed with Gunner. On the Devil’s Hall trail we had to do a little bit of rock climbing on a dry riverbed to get to the beautiful Devil’s Hall.

The next day we went to Carlsbad Cavern where we hiked a few miles down the natural entrance to the cave system. I liked seeing the endless pit because it really looked like it went on forever. I also really liked seeing an old ladder that went down another seemingly bottomless pit. https://youtu.be/jkpLz6tfUSY

This morning we woke up to see a large group of CBP Special Operations Officers getting ready to train on El Capitan. These guys were probably from Fort Bliss, their headquarters. They had a bunch of climbing gear on so I bet they were either going to be rappelling or climbing up the hill. That was pretty exciting for us guys so that was a great start to our day.

Boquillas del Carmen

We started the day off with a dip into the hot springs on the banks of the Rio Grande. The natural hot springs were very warm but because it was a warm day I enjoyed quick dip in the cool Rio Grande as well. After that, we drove to the border crossing/Port of Entry where two rangers gave us information about things we can and can’t do/buy in Mexico.

When we made it to the river there was a man in a rowboat that brought us across the river. After that, we got a ride on a burro to town. When we got to town we saw many people lining the street all selling bags, coozies, and wire sculptures. There were two restaurants, one on either street. We ended up going to the one on the south side which was named Boquillas restaurant.

For lunch we had tacos, tamales, and enchiladas. This was my first time having tamales and I can say that I will definitely have them again. We walked down more streets where we saw the school, clinic, and the many solar panels provided in part by the UN. Woody did his blog out on the balcony of another restaurant that provided a great view.

When we were about to leave we saw a Mexican Army Humvee come rolling through the town. Woody and I both thought that was super cool. We found a house that sold snacks and other food. We bought a bunch of candy and my favorite one by far was the soft chili tamarind candy. Our burro ride back was fun and when we got back to the U.S. side, at the Port of Entry there was a machine with a camera and a telephone that we used to call immigration officials in El Paso. I had a lot of fun during my first time in Mexico.(AT)

Fredericksburg, TX

Today we made a stop in Fredericksburg on our way to Big Bend National Park. In Fredericksburg we stopped at The National Museum of The Pacific War. It had a museum all about Admiral Nimitz and his family because Fredericksburg is his hometown.

There were many parts to the museum but we started at the biggest museum-like part first. It started out with information on many factors that led to war. Then, they had exhibits on almost everything that happened during the war. My favorite ones were the ones on the fight for the Aleutian Islands and the OSS officers that parachuted behind enemy lines in China to liberate POW camps.

After we were done there, we went to another museum building all about Nimitz and his career, including the time when he was court-martialed. After we were done there, we went to the Pacific Combat Zone. There, we saw a TBM torpedo bomber just like the one George H. W. Bush flew and a PT boat just like the one John F. Kennedy commanded. After that, we saw the combat zone which was a replica battlefield that was made to look like one of the islands during the war. Here, reenactments are carried out almost every month of the year for people to see.

(((Maureen here. While the boys found yet another amazing military museum, I found out Fredericksburg is nestled in the hill country with over 40 wineries! There were tons of cute stores downtown just next to the museum, so I took a “me day”, said goodbye to the boys, shopped, and even did a wine tasting while they were at the museum. Nobody missed me at all believe it or not!)

We also saw Lyndon B Johnson’s “Texas White House”. It is where he was born, lived, died and is buried. It was cool to see the runway they built adjacent to the house when he was senator, and it currently has on display “Air Force 1 1/2”, a JetStar that could land him on the shorter runway. We even saw the president’s grandson flying his helicopter around. We also got to see someone skydiving, landing just 100 feet from us in a field. I thought that was especially cool because going skydiving is definitely towards the top of my bucket list, so is being the President.(AT)

College Station, TX

Today we ventured to College Station, Texas, home of the Aggies to visit the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library. At the library we learned all about Bush’s life. When he was a young pilot in the Navy, his TBM crashed after taking enemy anti-aircraft fire. He was the only one who survived bailing out in the water and he was stranded for a few hours. During that time, a few Japanese boats were trying to get to him but another plane was able to turn them away. Eventually, a US submarine emerged from the water to rescue him.

When he returned home from the war, he met his future wife and married her soon after. Later, he ran for senate and ended up serving in many political positions including CIA Director and Ambassador to China. During his race to presidency he was at the bottom but when Ronald Reagan won he made Bush his Vice President. After Reagan left the Whitehouse, Bush ran for the presidency and won.

Throughout his life he wanted to parachute again, this time for fun. He has been skydiving many times with the Army Black Knights skydiving team, most recently four years ago for his 90th birthday!

For lunch we went to Hullabaloo, a diner that was featured on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives.” My dad and I had the Redneck Philly which was a Philly cheese steak with 1/2 of a pound of beef and bacon. My mom and my brother had the green chili burger which was a burger inside of 2 tortillas and smothered in green chili sauce. It was a great day trip in Texas.(AT)

NAS Pensacola

Today we went to the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola and it was a blast! It was probably the biggest air museum I have ever been to. My favorite plane was the OV-10 Bronco because of its range of uses. I thought it was super cool to see a captured Mig-15 because I have read a lot about that plane and its story . I could go on about every single aircraft in there, but I think my day would be better shown with pictures. (A.T.)

Louisiana to Florida

Starting in Louisiana, we set off this chilly morning for Destin, Florida. Our first stop was in Biloxi, Mississippi where we made a stop at a national seashore. We weren’t there for long because we wanted to have enough time for the USS Alabama in Mobile.

The USS Alabama was really cool because it was surrounded by tanks, small boats, and many aircraft. Our favorite helicopter was the odd looking CH-21, or the flying banana. Our favorite plane was the A-12, which looked just like a SR-71 Blackbird. My favorite part though was when we actually got to go on this massive battleship.

We were able to see almost every part of the ship. From the ice cream parlor to the inside of one of the giant naval guns. My favorite part was the view from the deck on the 9th level. Next, we were able to go inside the large submarine that they have there. It’s named USS Drum. Inside the sub, things were very tight. The doorways were only 3 feet tall! We finished off our time in Mobile by checking out all of the artillery and armored vehicles they have. I had a lot of fun here and luckily I only banged my head on the metal ceiling once. I think I may end up being too tall for the silent service.

World War Two Museum

We started our day off by driving over lake Pontchartrain to New Orleans again. We brought Gunner to a boarding place for the day so we wouldn’t have to worry about him at all. We then went to the WW2 Museum where we would spend the rest of our day.

I had a lot of fun at the museum where I saw things like the M1 rifle, the C-47 Skytrain, and the Higgins landing craft, made in New Orleans. In the building full of planes, I saw a B-17 Flying Fortress, that reminded me of the true story of a plane called “Ye Olde Pub.”

Charlie Brown was flying his plane on a bombing raid over Bremen, Germany when he fell out of formation and went on his own. A dozen Nazi fighters were attacking it for nearly 10 minutes when his plane went into a flatspin, causing everyone onboard to pass out. Luckily, Charlie was able to regain consciousness and keep the plane in the air. Everyone onboard was injured and their tail gunner was killed. Thinking they had downed the plane, the Nazi fighters went back to their base. That’s when Luftwaffe ace Franz Stigler comes in. He came up behind the plane and faced a big decision. Shoot down the crippled bomber or let it fly away. Franz Decided to help. He flew up on the side of the plane and caught Charlie’s attention. He escorted him back past a coastal flak battery. After that, they saluted each other and each went their own ways. After he landed in England, Charlie told others about what happened but it went against almost all propaganda teachings of the time so it was covered up for almost 40 years.

In the mid 1980s Charlie was at a combat pilot reunion where he was asked to share some of his stories. He thought for a minute but then he decided to share this story. When he got home, he decided to look for that pilot that saved his life many years ago. He searched through records upon records to try to find out who that pilot was but he wasn’t turning anything up. He then decided to write a letter to a combat pilots newsletter and a few months later, he received a letter from Stigler saying he was the one. When they spoke on the phone, Franz recalled what happened and that was all Charlie needed to know. They met up and became good friends until they both died within weeks of each other in 2008.

In all, I had a great time at the museum and I would definitely go again.