Sunday, January 23, 2011

Galveston, Texas

The journey from Baldwin’s to Texas required a stop in Huntsville, Alabama to visit Kathy Gallagher Lundy and old childhood friend who works at NASA. We arrived in Huntsville on Thursday the 13th , three days after the city had a nine inch snowfall, a record for that local, and it was still on the ground due to continued low temperatures. The night we stayed at Kathy’s the temperature dipped to nine degrees, also a record for Huntsville. Kathy wanted us to stay longer than one night, but she had plans with her grandson who was coming for the weekend and we were looking to get closer to warmer weather, so we moved on.

Bob and Glen Baldwin, Frederick, MD

Kathy Gallagher Lundy with her NASA Alabama license plate

3 days after a 9 inch snowfall in Huntsville, AL

Snow on Alabama roads as we drove out of town

An overnight stay in Vicksburg, Mississippi tempted us with an ad for the “World Famous Southern Fried Chicken” specialty at the Walnut Hills Restaurant. This establishment is billed as a Vicksburg icon for authentic Southern plantation cuisine served in the atmosphere of an 1860’s home. The Walnut House was built after the Civil War in 1869 by a prominent lawyer and today it houses a restaurant and bakery. Marlin’s craving for good home cooked fried chicken was well satisfied and I consumed the best steak I have had in a long while.

Vicksburg is a charming city situated high on the bluffs above the Mississippi River, which made it a strategic area during the Civil War. So strategic that its National Cemetery encompasses 116 acres and the National Military Park 1800 acres, all commemorating battles that determined the fate of the nation. Several years ago we spent a day touring this cemetery and military park. Monument after monument evokes the feeling of how devastating the Civil War was in terms of casualties and Vicksburg was only one of multiple battle sites.

We arrived in Galveston during a drenching rain, about 4:00 on January 16th and got settled in a nice dry motel for the night before we went to eat at the Salt Grass Restaurant. We took the next day to get settled at Galveston State Park by stocking up on groceries, organizing the laundry and taking our first long walk on the beach. We then made a list of city highlights that we wanted to take in.

Our first excursion landed us at the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum that offers quite an education regarding off shore drilling. The Ocean Star is an actual retired “jack up” drilling platform converted into an interactive museum with exhibits that explain how oil and gas are located and the many different types of drilling practices and platforms used to gain access to oil deep beneath the sea.

The "jack up" oil platform museum in Galveston

A “jack up” rig is just what the name implies. The rig is floated out to the desired location, three or more legs are lowered down to the ocean floor, stabilized and then the rig is jacked up to a level above the water where wave action does not impact the rig platform.

One video station allowed a choice of 12 interviews with workers on a drilling rig, ranging from a geologist who interprets data transmitted from the well, a “tool man” who is in charge of the drilling operation, the rough necks that do the physical jobs, to the head steward in charge of kitchen and cleaning staff. The exhibit also had introductions to many other jobs necessary for the platform to function 24 hours a day. It was an eye opener to see how many experts it takes to put the operation together and make it work, and this rig is outdated by many years.

An aquarium included a model of what the "jack up" platform looks like on the ocean floor

This museum presented a good overview of how the off-shore drilling has evolved along with advancements in technology. Information about the first off shore rig designed in 1947 that drilled in 12 feet of water, to today’s rigs capable of drilling in 5,000 feet of water. The three story platform/museum presented audio, video and visual exhibits that helped you understand how extremely complicated the entire process is and how carefully each aspect of the operation must be constantly monitored. The information helped me to comprehend bit more about the devastating well blow-out that occurred last year in the Gulf.

This exhibit showed how one well can drill into many different pockets of oil that occur under water

The "Christmas Tree" is used to close off different well heads and prevent blow outs.

Where oil in the water originates. Guess this percentage would be different since the spill

Video displays showed how each type of platform was made, moved, and installed

A view up the derrick that is part of the jack-up platform

Entrance to Galveston State Park where we camped

Winter flowers on the beach

We walked miles of sand beach, no people in sight

More beach flowers

Another day we visited Sea Wolf Park and the two World War II ships located there. A submarine and a destroyer are permanently stationed there as museums which are privately funded. Part of the park displays a standing plaque for each submarine lost during WWII along with a list of the number of men on each vessel, the missions undertaken, and where it was lost. It was a very moving display.

Galveston was hit by hurricane Ike in 2008 and although much of the damage has been repaired there are frequent reminders of the destruction the storm caused. Many old Live Oak trees throughout the downtown residential area were blown down. A campaign was initiated to have local artists carve statues from the wood in the remaining tree trunks. Many are visible from the streets and fortunately the city published a list of where they could be viewed. We traveled only one street to view the art work, but what we saw was beautiful.

You can see the size of the stump at the base of this statue

We had a list of many more attractions in Galveston that we planned to visit. However on Thursday morning we had a call from our friend Linda Miles in Florida telling us that John was in the hospital in Naples. We knew we needed to be there to support them both, so we packed up our rig and headed for Florida. Long story short, we have been in Naples, FL since Friday night. John is doing well and is expected to return home tomorrow, Monday January 24.We expect to be here for a week or so and then travel west again. Stay tuned, you never know where we will end up.

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