For the first three weeks in February we completed our three month stay at the Escapees’ Rainbow Plantation near Foley, Alabama. These last few weeks were much like the previous two months, in that we did not do very much. Most of the time was again spent in the campground reading, playing games, and enjoying life. We did continue to spend a day a week at the Wind Creek Casino in Atmore, although we were not always able to find rainy weather to use as an excuse to go. We did not fair as well at the slot machines as we did earlier, but still managed to spend no more than $50 when we went. I also got out a couple of times to play disc golf, but other than that, we spent time just being “boring”, which was still a nice change from the hectic pace we had over the past 16 months.
I should mention that this was Mardi Gras season along the Gulf Coast with multiple parades in Mobile and surrounding communities. Some of the parades were in small towns with just a few floats and others were mega affairs. We were even surprised on Monday before Mardi Gras, with a small parade in the RV park. We were alerted by the sounds of sirens which turned out to be the local fire department making noise as they went around the park. The parade consisted of golf carts decked out with crepe paper, beads, and bangles and even a clown handing out beads to the residents. It was kind of cute, but got us interested in attending one of the parades. There had already been multiple parades all over the area for the past couple of weeks, but we decided to check out the parade in Gulf Shores on Fat-Tuesday morning. We arrived over an hour before the parade and it was a good thing we did, as the crowds were already lining up the parade route. We were early enough that we found a good place to park only a couple of blocks from the parade route. Although the weather was sunny, there was a biting north wind and temperatures were not going to get out of the 40s. Everyone was bundled up and we found a nice spot where the wind was mostly blocked by some bushes near the street. Once the parade started, this did not make any difference as everyone squeezes out onto the road in order to catch the “bling” thrown by the many floats. While not the largest parade, there were over 20 floats and everyone of them was throwing plastic beads, moon pies, candybars, plastic cups, and other paraphernalia. We managed to snag about 6 moon pies and over two dozen strings of plastic beads in a variety of sizes and colors. Like everyone else we proudly displayed our booty around our necks and laughed at each other. I was amazed how many of the kids along the parade we snatching up everything they possibly could to put into bags they brought for this purpose. I am not sure what they intended to do with a bag full of cheap junk, since it is not like Halloween where it could be eaten!! In any case, we enjoyed the hour long parade even though it was very cold.
On our last Monday before we left the area, we decided to visit the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola. We did not realize it was President’s Day, which meant it was a holiday and the parking lot was packed when we got there. However, the museum is spacious enough that you hardly noticed the crowd and since the admission was free, we were very glad to come. It is not nearly as large as the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum we visited last year or as impressive as the Aircraft Carrier we toured, but it was well worth the price of admission. The have over 150 restored aircraft from bi-planes and dirigibles to jets, helicopters, and space vehicles. The main floor of the museum is set up in roughly chronological order, so you start out with exhibits about the beginning of Naval Aviation in World War I with examples of both American and German aircraft, including a Sopwith Camel with Snoopy in the cockpit. The period between the wars saw a lot of advancement in aviation, the centerpiece begin the huge restored NC-4 float plane that was the first plane to cross the Atlantic. Of course it did not do it in one shot and there were multiple stops to repair the aircraft. Starting in New York City, they first went to Massachusetts, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland, before embarking on a 16 hour trip to the Azores in the mid-Atlantic. There were actually three float planes making the trip, but two of them had to land in the ocean due to heavy fog. The entire route was lit up by a string of Navy warships to provide visual guidance, especially with spotlights and flares during the night. The NC-4 was the only plane to make it to the Azores and after nearly a week of repairs, finally continued the crossing to Portugal and eventually to England. The plane dominates the museum due to its massive size with wingspan over 100 feat and 30 feet in height. The main floor continues with exhibits of a number of fighters and bombers during World War II, with major focus on those that launched from aircraft carriers, of which they have included a number of models. Finally there are a large number of helicopters, jets, and bombers during the Korean and Viet Nam eras. There are also a number of side exhibits that are well worth visiting including a very good tribute to the Viet Nam POWs, the Apollo Space Missions, the USS Enterprise (Lucky E), the Coast Guard, an art gallery, and dirigibles during World War II. We spent all day in the museum, including having lunch in their small cafe, and I would recommend planning on spending a minimum of 5 hours.