Monday, March 26, 2012

Bataan Memorial Death March

Date:  March 25, 2012

Location:  White Sands Missile Range,  Las Cruces, New Mexico

Participants:  Bernie, me, and 6,700 other marchers, including military, civilians, kids, seniors, retired military,wounded warriors and 12 survivors of the Bataan Death March in the Philippines during World War II.

Purpose:  March 26.2 miles (the full route) or 14.2 miles (the honorary loop) to remember and honor the men and women who marched in the Philippines.

A quick and easy flight from Austin to El Paso got us to White Sands well before noon on Saturday.  The architecture and feel of the base is very much like Moccasin,  a company town.  Totally self sufficient with stores, schools, recreation.  No color though,  all very bland to blend with the desert.


We waited in a long line at the Community Center to begin the registration process.


Honorary Loop (14.1 miles) folks like us received numbers and chips,  but were not entered into the competition.  That was for the folks doing the marathon (26.2 miles), some as individuals, some as teams and some of each as 'heavy'.  Heavy means they were carrying at least 35 pounds.  Many of military were carrying their packs with regular gear.


It was dark when we arrived at the base on Sunday morning.  As we got parked and hiked across the base to the Opening Ceremonies and the starting line the sun began to shine on a huge American flag and the Organ Mountains.



Like all marathons,  there was a special starting order for the marchers.  This time, it was the Wounded Warriors out front,  then elite runners,  military guys with heavy loads,  light marathon people and finally us honorary marchers. 
  

The line of marches snaked along on paved roads for a mile or so until we left the developed section of the base to enter the desert.


The loud speaker playing "The Eye of the Tiger", and marching along with that group got us into a fast pace that we maintained for several miles.  The weather was brisk, the air was beautiful, everyone was happy and excited.  

As we marched, the groups became mingled so we ended up marching with some heavy military.  More often, they were jogging past us. Often a hole would develop in front of us; we would step aside to allow folks to pass.  That's Bernie in hat and CamelBack (it hold 2 liters of water with a suction tube to access).


It took 4 or 5 miles for the line of marchers to really spread out.  This section of the route was mostly flat; luckily there was on rise where we got a good view of the marches stretching far out ahead.


The desert was awash with acres and acres of poppies along this section of the route.  They are very like our California poppies, expect that they are only a few inches tall. 



We took a break at Mile 7.  Every couple miles the race organizers had water, gator aid, portapotties, etc.  We took advantage of every water stop AND drank most of the 2 liters we carried in our packs.

The route up to Mile 8 was a long but gradual climb.  I was getting tired and discouraged not realizing we were actually climbing.  After a rest at the top I felt much better!

We exchanged a photo stop with another mother/daughter team at Mile 9.


Next up was the infamous Sand Pit.  So called due to the long climb in deep, loose sand.  It was feeling like a march to me by this point; having abandoned the idea of a fun hike in the desert back on the hill past Mile 7.  Bernie was a great hiking partner, still full of pep and always encouraging.


A blooming cactus was a bright spot of color and a welcome break on the march up the Sand Pit.


Full marathon runners had been passing us for awhile.  A couple heavy teams finishing their marathons caught up with us before the end.  They. Were. Amazing.

The last two miles were rough for me.  No body parts were injured or even hurting much, but I was getting really really tired.  We had made only brief stops, and twice I sat down for a couple minutes.  We finished in between 5 1/2 and 6 hours.   Happiness is a daughter who matches her pace to mine!

Finally, Mile 14 and the end was in sight.


We crossed the finish line to cheers of spectators.  Both trying not to cry as we shook hands with the Bataan survivors.  It was an unbelievable honor to speak to Ben Steele whose story was told in 'Tears of Darkness".  

We made our way out past the finish area wondering where in the world our car was parked.  At the same moment we saw the Shuttle Bus back to the parking area and took off running to catch it!  Soon we were headed over the summit of the Organ Mountains and back down to Las Cruces.  It could not have been a better day!
















Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Blue Ghost

Four times during World War II the Japanese, specifically Tokyo Rose, reported sinking the USS Lexington.  Four times they were wrong.  That propaganda and the blue color (not green!) of the Lexington was the origin  of her nick name....The Blue Ghost.

My first sight of Lady Lex (another nick name!) was while crossing the bridge over Corpus Christie Bay.


We visited on a quiet Monday morning, snagging a parking place just across the street from the entrance.  The Lex was built in 1943; decommissioned in the late 80s; and came to Corpus Christie Bay in 1992 to become a living museum.  A small staff and an army of volunteers keep her 'ship shape'! :)

                                   


Walking up a long ramp we entered the Hanger Bay across a big bridge like structure.  Later, up on the Flight Deck I learned from a Volunteer that the bridge we had crossed was really an elevator that is used to raise the planes from the Hanger Bay to the Flight Deck!

Looking up at the flight deck from the elevator....


The Hanger Bay is HUGE!  They have created all kinds of interesting displays.  I wish Super Nephews could see the  jet engines with interiors open and individual parts painted different colors.


The ship is divided into sections of individual tours.  The tours are all self guided.  I bet for many people the first choice is the Flight Deck.  It was for me!  There are many fascinating planes on display; a whole other topic and post.


Short steep ladders provide access to all parts of the ship.  A later modification was an ecalator that was used by pilots to access the Flight Deck when carrying their heavy packs and equipment.


I picked up a book about the Lex so I would know some details to tell you; sorry to say,  I mailed it off to the Super Nephews before starting this post.  Still,  I can tell you that the bridge is really high and provided excellent visibility  of the Flight Deck and off into the ocean.   With happy serendipity that offered an excellent perspective of size and distance, a oil tanker ship passed by while I was sitting in the Captain's chair on the bridge.



The bridge is packed with all kinds of fascinating equipment,  gauges, and controls.  I think I saw the wheel that steers the ship;  but don't know for sure.  It didn't look like I expected!  The 2 throttles were easy to identify and took on added meaning when I got down to the Engine Room.


One friend had told me that it easily required 2 visits (if not more) to see everything on the ship.  A couple hours into my exploration I believed it and quickly headed down to the Engine Room.  

The Engine Room was not as big as I expected and absolutely crammed with pipelines to transport fuel and steam.  I can't begin to imagine what it was like to work in that environment with two hugh steam engines running at full throttle.  Sorry to say the Volunteer in that area didn't quite get it that I was really interested in the systems; sometimes that happens.  

Still, it was fascinating.  And the direct connection to the Bridge was the Throttle Board!


Again, thinking about working conditions,  the 'guardian' valve for the main steam shut off valve is OVERHEAD!
It must have been a bugger to close one of these under pressure!


Zipping through the middle section of the ship I saw the food services, berths, doctor office and hospital ward, dentist, library, and on and on and on. It's really a city,  I didn't realize.  

Deep in the middle were some of the most interesting areas:  Air Operations Center and Air Traffic Control.
It seemed very strange that these were located in the deepest darkest places.  That must have been for security and protection?  A touching display was the 'Ready Room'.  It was easy to imagine the pilots getting their orders in this quiet room.


Visiting the USS Lexington was truly an amazing experience.  I think I got to almost all the areas open to the public.  I didn't take time to soak in the exhibits.  Next time.
















Sunday, March 18, 2012

Aransas Pass OR Port Aransas?

 Before my week on Mustang Island I didn't know the difference between Aransas Pass and Port Aransas or if there was a difference!  Not only do I now understand that Aransas Pass is on the main land and one crosses the water on the ferry to reach Port Aransas which is it's own separate town;  but I also know the difference between Mustang Island and Padre Island.   Just to finish the loop,  one crosses a bridge from Padre Island back to Corpus Christie on the main land.  

Most of my time at Port Aransas was either eating really really fresh and delicious seafood or seeing many many beautiful birds.

The first birding stop was Paradise Pond.  A green and wet spot in the middle of town between a Mexican restaurant and a housing development.  It is the island's only freshwater wetland and a popular stop for migrating birds.
Even after almost ten years visiting Texas it's always a treat for me to see a cardinal.


Next up was the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center.  It's next to the water treatment plant so always has a good supply of water.  The board walk and observation tower offer great opportunities to see different water birds and ducks. Having a super knowledgeable friend along was a bonus for a newbie birder like me.

We watched a solo brown pelican fishing for his lunch.  They often are in groups, but this guy was happy on his own and quite successful!



I can't even guess how many different varieties of ducks were there that day.  I do know there were three different types of teals and that was a coupe for one day!  This is a Blue Winged Teal.....


Some of the most fascinating to watch were the Black Necked Stilts.  It's fun to see their long legs when they are standing on the shore; hopefully you can get the picture from this shot.


The flock flew back and forth over the ponds but eventually landed on the water.


So that's a sample of only two of the birding areas in Port A.  I picked up a map for future reference and after the big rains forecast for the next couple days in South Central Texas that will replenish the wetlands I think another trip to this area will be on my planning calendar!





Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Flying Trip to Goliad

I offered to help friends, Liz and Birdie, with a day of 'musical rigs'.  It started early in Austin, progressed through Kerrville and ended in Goliad.  We took a new to me route on mostly back roads.  Hitting some of the highlights....

What I thought was surely a ROUND barn caught my eye from the highway in Center Point on the Guadalupe River. A quick left and around the block to find a church!


I hurried around to see the barn and found the back of the church!  It would be fun to go back on a Sunday to see the interior.


Down the road in Devine another stop for this old mill.


A few short days after our visit to Devine a tornado did damage to part of the the town.  I bet they are ok though with an attitude like the one on the town logo.


In Jourdanton we got the history of the Atascosa County courthouse from Lonny, a local supervisor.  Trying to avoid all the cars out front my shot turned out kind of weird.  It really is one of the most interesting courthouses I've seen in Texas.


Along a very busy highway (forget which one!) we found a colony of Mallow growing under the oak trees.  



Another town, another courthouse,  this one in Beeville.  We barely got out of the van.  It was late and we were getting hungry.


It was close to 6:30 when we pulled into Encino Grande RV Park out in the country a few miles west of Goliad.


Nothing fancy here,  just a delicious lasagna dinner waiting for us (thanks Liz!)  and fields of wildflowers!  Nope, it doesn't get much better than that!






Monday, March 12, 2012

Mustang Island State Park

Last week I visited a new to me part of Texas.....Mustang Island State Park.  There are two routes to get out on the islands;  one across the bridge from Corpus Christie and the other on the ferry from Aransas Pass.  I picked the ferry!  


Members of  OARS (Open Road Singles) organized the GTG (get together).  The campground is in the distance behind the sign.  We had a great group;  15 people and almost that many rigs.  Lots of fun and good food too.


Every morning I walked 3-4 miles on the beach.  It was windy most of the week causing in big waves.


One morning it was too windy even for me.  I stayed long enough to snap this picture with my iPhone and headed back to camp!


Early in the week we all piled in the available 'toads' and headed for Padre Island National Seashore.  Three of our number had recently turned 62.  They got their 'Senior Passes' for National Park and other federal lands and facilities.  I had to wait! The Ranger was very clear about NO issuing of passes until the VERY day one turns 62.  But I'm going back soon!


Padre Island is the longest (50 mile) undeveloped barrier island in the world.  They allow driving on the beach but 4x4 is best so we didn't do much of that.  There is a nice Visitor's Center.  Farther down is a Sea Turtle Research facility.  I will visit that on another trip for sure!

The dunes are pretty much covered by low vegetation that will help protect them in case of a hurricane.  Along the highway there are several access roads to the beach,  but not so much for trails.  At the camp ground the beach not that far,  but no trails to get there. 


The gulls were playing musical pilings in the wind.  At some secret signal they would all fly around in a couple circles and then land on a different post!


Next up Port Aransas.