Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Smokies and Mammoth Cave

After Walt Disney World we drove up to the Great Smoky Mountains and the southern bit of the Blue Ridge Parkway. In the afternoon the haze does make the distant mountains appear bluish. An amazing statistic is that this national park by far is the #1 most visited park in the country- far beyond the Grand Canyon or Yosemite. While it is nice, it is not nearly as dramatic as most of the western national parks, but as we drove through the adjacent towns of Galtinburg and Pigeon Forge it made more sense. There are no less than 15 go-kart tracks, at least 30 mini-golf courses and dozens of pancake houses. Don't forget Dollywood and uncountable numbers of dinner shows and the fact that this is the only mountain range in all of southeast US. Most of the visitors come in fall to see the changing colors.

Next up is Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. At 357 miles of known contiguous cave it is the longest in the world. We toured about 7 or 8 of those miles in 3 different tours. The best by far was the Wild Cave tour where they take you through undeveloped sections of the cave and tight squeezes about 10 inches high. This cave is notable for its lack of stalactites and stalagmites so looks a lot different from Carlsbad but no less impressive.

Walt Disney World

What can we say? We're ashamed that we spent a full week here, but there is a lot to do. Our favorite was probably the water parks. One had a 120 foot plunge at 60 mph while another had 3 drops. You can get a couple inches of air on the last one. We hit all 4 theme parks, 2 water parks and DisneyQuest which is a building full of video and sports games- all of which are free (after admission).

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy Space Center

The White Behemoth (our camper) finally landed at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It has some great exhibits on the Shuttle, the Space Station and a full replica of the Saturn V rocket. The shuttle is already on the pad for a late May launch but we could only see the orange nib of the large fuel tank. Betsy was amused at the model of a shuttle toilet. You'd think if a toilet comes with handles you'd also hope it had a door.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Keys

The Florida Keys were a primary destination in our planning and it delivered on some counts but not others. Thumbs up: Nice views, long scenic bridges (we somehow feel compelled to rewatch "True Lies" again), great water, interesting characters. Thumbs down: lots of traffic, tough to find sandy beaches, expensive accommodations, not nearly as flamboyantly gay as hyped up to be. Now that we've hit this corner of the country, we're on our long way up northeast to the next.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Swamp things

Alligators are easy to find- just look for a pond or small river. Lots of other creatures too, including mosquitos that laugh at t-shirts and socks with their disproportionately large sucking devices.

This dragonfly shot is our ticket to work for National Geographic and travel for a living.
[[cricket sounds......]]

Swamps etc.

After Louisiana, it only takes 3 hours to cross Mississippi and Alabama's dangling appendages to get into Florida which, while we're on the subject, is sometimes known as "America's Wang". Emboldened by this fact, we cruised along the coastline as much as we could. The Gulf's waters are brownish along the Texas and Louisiana coasts but once in Florida it starts to clear up and turn a nice greenish blue. The shores of St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay are resort quality. But we were on a mission to see the steamy swamps of southern Florida and the Everglades. An airboat ride took us through mangrove tunnels.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Louisiana and New Orleans

Once in Louisiana we entered swamp country. A good 20 mile section of the I-10 west of Baton Rouge is entirely on cement stilts over water through various swamps and lakes. Quite impressive and scenic. There's a good handful more around New Orleans as well. If it isn't the 8th wonder of the world it certainly should be crowned the One wonder of Louisiana. We then did the touristy thing around the French Quarter and friends, if you see a sign for "beignets" then know they are delicious pillow shaped donuts hot out of the deep fryer. Do stop for a few.