Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bent's Old Fort 4th of July 2011

A press release from the National Park Service (see our BoF image galleries here):

Celebrate the 4th with a Bang at Bent’s Old Fort

Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site will commemorate our country’s birth
with a bang during an afternoon celebration on Monday, July 4. A cannon
firing at 12 noon will kick off the festivities.

“Bent’s Fort was known as a ‘cultural crossroads’ where U.S. citizens,
Native Americans and Hispanic peoples came together in business,” said
Chief of Interpretation Rick Wallner. “One visitor in the 1840s wrote of
hearing seven languages spoken within the fort walls.” To honor that
multicultural aspect, the fort’s 4th of July celebration will include
American, Native American and Hispanic traditions.

Besides cannon firings at 12 and 2 p.m., other scheduled events include the
Koshare Dancers interpreting Native American dances in the plaza at 1 p.m.;
a raffle at 2:15 of an 1846 flag that has flown over the fort ramparts; an
1840s frontier burial at 2:30; a debate on issues of the day in the dining
room at 3 p.m.; and a piƱata break in the plaza at 3:45. A final cannon
firing at 4:20 will signify the end of the celebration.

All during the afternoon demonstrations will be ongoing throughout the fort
including cooking in the kitchen, games in the billiards room, and traders
in the trade room.

Regular fees of $3 for adults (13 and over), $2 for children (ages 6-12),
free for children 5 and under and all National Park pass holders will apply
during this event. Visitors are advised to be mindful of the heat this
time of year and bring sun protection and water.

Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site is located 8 miles east of La Junta
or 13 miles west of Las Animas on Colorado Highway 194. The site is open
from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily through the summer. For more information,
go to the park website at or call (719) 383-5010.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

After we dropped off the red-headed stepchild at Golden Bell (where he did in fact pass his louse-check), we took a side-trip over to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. It falls under the National Park Service.

We were sitting there snuffling our Walmart deli roast beef sandwiches. Leece had also packed some grapes and Ranier cherries. I started pitching cherry pits and stems at a squirrel (see the gallery) when ... a ranger materialized next to us.

"Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to stop throwing refuse on the ground."

"Huh? Hey. They're cherry pits and stems. Natural vegetable waste," I protested. But not too vigorously.

"They aren't natural to the site, sir. You're going to have to cease and desist."

"But the squirrel ... he's gobbling 'em up. There's no litter ...". My protest sounded lame even to me.

"Don't feed the animals, sir. They can become dangerous when overly acclimated to humans.I'll have to ask you to step away from the cherry pits, sir. Please keep your hands where I can see them."

Nah. It wasn't like that but my imagination was running wild. The Florissant rangers were as we have experienced at every National Park Service site: friendly, professional, helpful, and quite well-informed.

We had a good time though we didn't have much time. We hiked over to Big Stump, the fossilized remnant of a redwood estimated to be at least 230 feet tall at the time the volcanic outbreak got it. This is not one of those 'dinosaur' parks. These fossils are from a period well after the dinosaurs shuffled off this mortal coil. The fossils are of plants and insects.

There are 14 miles of hiking trails here; it's well worth a visit. There's a slight fee but we had our America the Beautiful Old Farts' pass (you can get one out at Bent's Old Fort). Picnic areas are well-maintained and clean, as are the outhouses. There's a flush toilet and running water sinks in the visitors' center.

Florissant is 8400 feet above sea level. The air is thinner than you think. Drink lots of water, and take it easy, even if you do think you're in pretty good shape.

Hornbek Homestead is on the grounds of the national monument; it's an interesting side trip. There is a small parking lot near the homestead site, just off the highway.

We have a gallery up here:

Mike and Leece's image galleries

under the "Road Trip" heading.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sweatin' it out ...

So while Leece was working on her sermon for tonight, I took a ride out through The Holy Land.

It's hot. 103. Africa hot. Well, maybe not that hot; the humidity's down to 5%. You can feel your bodily juices being sucked out like in a Grade B mummy flick.

I pedaled out to Road CC, then over to 24 and to CC.5, there by the Newdale Pheasant Pharm and the Newdale School (built 1914). From there, straight across to 22, stopping for a swill. The water, which had been ice cold leaving Swink, was warmer than blood now. Then, south to CO 10. Back to 23, and down to the intersection of 23 and BB, the corner where Tab Ramsay lives. Nice horses there in the pens right by the road.

Due east on BB to 24.5, and north on that back into Swink and the homestead, for a 10.5 mile toodle.

There were some military aircraft droning back and forth between well south of us, to north, on a northeast/southwest track. They were pretty far out and it was hard to tell, but the larger of the two may have been a C-130 variant. They seemed to be doing aerial refueling training.

The distinctive odor of growing corn permeated the air. Lots of birds; no shortage of red-winged blackbirds in the alfalfa and wheat fields.

The heat was a serious beat-down. I've been guzzling ice water since returning.

Felt good, though. Real good. Um hmm. Ooorah.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Ted's Lemon Pie

So on the last trip to eastern North Carolina, we were treated to several versions of this lemon pie while we were in Davis. All of them were excellent, especially the one where the chef included some pulp from the lemons in the pie filling.

This one is "Ted's Lemon Pie," from the "Ladies of the Church" cookbook, a compilation of fine cooking from the ladies of Davis First Baptist Church, published by Morris Press. The recipe was submitted to the book by one Becky Smith:

  • 2 cans sweetened condensed milk (we used Carnation rather than Eagle, it was a buck cheaper a can and worked just as well)
  • 1 can 100% lemon juice (we wondered what '1 can' was; we finally ended up using 1 cup)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 sleeve Ritz crackers, crumbled
  • 1/2 stick butter, melted

The meringue requires 2 eggwhites, 2 tablespoons sugar, and 1 teaspoon of real vanilla extract.

The process: To make the crust, mix the crumbled crackers and the butter. Press into a pie dish (we used a 9-incher). Stand whole crackers around the edge.

Now, combine the condensed milk, lemon juice, and egg yolks, and stir until well blended. Pour this onto the crushed cracker crust. Hang on to the standing crackers as they tend to get away during the pouring and flowing.

Beat the egg whites until fluffy. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue beating until peaks form. Spread over the top of the pie.

Bake at 400 degrees 8-10 minutes or until lightly brown.

This is really good. As you can see, it's another heart-stopper, what with that condensed milk and butter. Sweetened condensed milk runs 1300 - 1800 calories per can depending on brand, and butter ... well, it's butter, what else can we say. And the egg yolks, of course.

But it's really good. Restraint is a must, unless you have a fatalistic view about cardiac health.

It's really good.

Burrell's Shady Wildflower Mix

We were out doing some grilling this morning. While the goods were cooking, I did some weeding in Leece's wildflower garden. It's coming along nicely, with some of the plants beginning to bloom.

We use Burrell's Shady Wildflower mix. It's ten bux for a quarter-pound package of seeds. That covers a lot of ground.

Burrell's also offers dryland and other wildflower mixes. You can find them listed on page 76 of their catalog.

Burrell's is our favorite seed supplier. Their website is here:

Burrell Seeds

and you can download their catalog in PDF format here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Jalepeno Popper Burgers

Here's another Taste of Home recipe that we tried this evening:

Jalepeno Popper Burgers

This one took 2nd place in the Taste of Home "Blaze of Glory" grilling contest. It's a heart-stopper worthy of Guy Fiero's meatily choleric snuffling on "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives." You know where he puts away ten or fifteen thousand calories per visit to said eateries, causing cardiologists across the country to either cringe in horror, or send him a business card in anticipation of some serious medical business.

We couldn't keep the grill lit with the wind howling out of the north as it is this evening. WeatherUnderground says the wind is puffing at 6 mph, but it has our cottonwoods bent over like Kevin Bacon getting whacked in Animal House.

So we broiled them.

These are some seriously tasty works of culinary art. We served them on whole wheat ciabbata rolls. We didn't put the pepper jack cheese or the guacamole on top, in the interests of healthy dining. I did consider some extra sharp cheddar, since the real reason, in my case, is that I just don't like pepper jack. But Leece the Conscience won out ...

We had them with some red potatoes fried in the bacon drippings. The potatoes were especially good, since they were left over from a Low Country Boil (Frogmore stew) we did up last week. We can thank Louie for that, since he introduced Leece to this culinary wonder on our recent trip Down East.

This is definitely a do-again.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fusion Burgers and Camel Dung

We tried a Taste of Home recipe this afternoon. "Fusion Burgers." They are a light turkey-based burger served with crispy veggies over a piece of nan bread.

Nan bread is found throughout southern Asia and into the Indian subcontinent. Here is an article about it.

It's traditionally baked on a tandoor (Afghanistan, similar in some respects to the horno, which you can see out at Bent's Old Fort.

In many parts of the world, camel dung can be used as fuel for a tandoor and for baking nan. In his novel "Caravans," James Michener describes this.

Leece mixed the turkey patty ingredients, and I grilled 'em. The patties are quite soft and mushy compared to ground beef, and even plain ground turkey without the added items. This made grilling them a challenge, but with some care they turned out well. Next time we'll use some foil on the heat. Indirect heat works pretty good, too.

Goat cheese is a bit too 'muttonish' for my taste. I would have preferred feta cheese. But that's a small point. The finished product was delicious and is a definite do-again.

Leece substituted broccoli slaw for cabbage, as America's Favorite Place to Shop was out of cabbage slaw. Perhaps the truck was held up at the border with the 'hecho in Mexico' cabbage variety. In any case, we think broccoli is a better choice.

It was a gas grill, BTW, and we skipped the camel dung, though Leece was thinking about some horse poop from one of our neighbors ...

Friday, June 17, 2011

New Bern churches

We have a gallery up for some of our favorite churches in New Bern.

Here are the church histories from their websites:

First Presbyterian

Centenary Methodist. Francis Asbury preached here several times. Asbury Theological Seminary is named after him.

Christ Episcopal, where George Whitefield, the great evangelist and founder of Methodism, preached in 1765. He had previously preached in New Bern, at the courthouse on Christmas Day, 1739: The Rev. George Whitefield, (1714-1770), the famous Methodist divine, “unequalled prince of pulpit orators,” arrived in New Bern on Christmas eve in 1739. On Christmas day he preached in the courthouse. An account of his visit related that “Most of his congregation was melted to tears. Here he was grieved to see the minister encouraging dancing, and to find a dancingmaster in every little town. ‘Such sinful entertainments,’ he said, ‘enervate the minds of the people, and insensibly lead them into effeminacy and ruin’.” - "Crown of life; History of Christ Church, New Bern, N. C., 1715-1940", Gertrude Sprague Carraway.

Old St Paul's, North Carolina's oldest Catholic church.

Temple B'nai Sholem

And the gallery is up here:

Mike and Leece's image galleries

under the Eastern North Carolina June 2011 heading.

Willow Pond

Willow Pond is part of the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center on Harker's Island.

Here's a slide show about the pond, how it used to be, how it was more or less destroyed, and how it was brought back:

There's a flock of American white ibis that hang out just to the left of and across from the blind that has been set up for bird watching and photography. Every time we've been to Willow Pond, the ibis have been there. There's no shortage of egrets, herons, blue herons, little blue herons, gulls, and other birds, including, of course, the usual selection of ducks and geese. Some of these are seasonal depending on migratory habits.

Willow Pond is almost at the eastern end of Harker's Island. The only thing further down the road than Willow Pond and the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum is the Cape Lookout National Seashore visitors' center.

There's a set of trails, short ones, around the pond. You can pick up the trail by going out the back door of either the museum or the visitors' center.

The museum also has a Facebook page.

Our gallery of Willow Pond photos, including some shots of a Little Blue Heron, is up here:

Mike and Leece's image galleries

under the Eastern North Carolina June 2011 heading.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Fort Macon

Fort Macon state park is the second most popular state park in the North Carolina parks system.

I've been going out to Fort Macon since the late fifties. Maybe before that; I just don't remember. Over those decades, the state has done a fine job in restoring the fort and improving the public beach access and services. On our trips to eastern North Carolina, the park has become one of Leece's favorite spots as well. The park offers good, clean beaches, which though sometimes crowded on weekends and especially on holidays, are generally much less so than other public beaches during the week.

The park also has a very well done new visitors' center.

Back in the day - Blackbeard's day - the port of Beaufort and the surrounding area was quite vulnerable to attack from the sea, by either pirates or enemy naval forces. Not much was done about fortifications that far back, but by the early 1800's, the threat from the Royal Navy (remember that War of 1812?) was looming large. So a small fort was built out on the tip of Bogue Banks. Too far out, and not very well constructed, since it washed away by the mid-1820's. You can see a diorama of that fort in the park visitors' center.

The current fort was constructed between 1826 and 1834. But they had problems with erosion along the beach which threatened the stability of the fort, so along came Captain Robert E. Lee of the Army's engineers. Yep. That Robert E. Lee. He constructed a system of jetties which are still in use today, and that greatly relieved the situation. Those jetties are a popular fishing spot, and I've caught more than a few bluefish from those rocks.

The fort was the scene of a battle in April of 1862 - all part of a larger campaign beginning at New Bern the month before - and was taken by Union forces after a short siege. This was one of the first uses of rifled cannon against such fortifications. The brick structure proved no match for this new weaponry. The fort's armament also included some rifled cannon. Today, donations are being sought to purchase a Parrott for the fort. As a side note, you can find a listing of surviving Civil War artillery pieces here.

The fort served during both world wars. Coastal artillery was emplaced there as late as the World War II era. That may see odd, but remember our posts on Cape Lookout and Operation Drumbeat. No one would have been surprised then to have seen a U-boat come sailing into Port of Morehead City to pot a few freighters. If Gunther Prien could sink HMS Royal Oak in Scapa Flow, why not expect to find another enterprising young submariner in the Beaufort inlet shipping channel, which was far less challenging.

Here is a more detailed history of the fort.

We have a gallery of images of the fort, and a couple of the beach area (but not the beach access itself, which has a large parking lot, a well-maintained bath house, and boardwalk beach access), here:

Mike and Leece's image galleries

under the Eastern NC June 2011 heading.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Shackleford Banks

Shackleford Banks is one of the barrier islands that protects the North Carolina mainland from the sea. On one side of the island lies the open Atlantic Ocean; on the other, a shallow sound. That sound might be considered an extension of southernmost Core Sound, but it's "Back Sound" on maps.

The sound is full of seafood: blue crabs, shrimp, jumping mullet, flounder, oysters, clams, Norfolk spots, croakers, and closer to the inlets, bluefish and Spanish mackerel. Some fairly hefty sharks find their way into the sound as well; you should not be overly shocked to see the odd 8-10 foot bull shark paddling around. On our visit last year, Leece was treated to a very nice specimen of a bonnethead shark swimming by just a few feet from the soundside beach.There is also this gallery of photos of dozens of what appear to be bull sharks just off Carrot Island and Bird Shoals, inside Beaufort Inlet, in August 2009.

The island is named after John Shackleford, who was deeded the property sometime around 1713-1723. The land was transferred among the Shacklefords, eventually leaving their hold around 1805.

Now, it's part of Cape Lookout National Seashore, and lies in close proximity to the Rachel Carson National Estuarine Reserve. Rachel Carson, you will recall, is the author of "The Silent Spring". She did much of her research here.

The westernmost end of the island forms one side of Beaufort Inlet. The other side of the inlet is formed by Bogue Banks, with Fort Macon State Park and a Coast Guard station right at that end. (That link is dated - the cutter Chilula was decommissioned in 1991 - but the history is interesting.) The Newport River empties into the inlet; with the river outflow and tidal changes, the water is often very "active" even without wind stirring it up. There is a shallow bay on the sound side of the island, just up from Beaufort Inlet. This is a great place for wading and finding and observing critters, though at low tide is it is mostly out of the water. At the eastern end of that bay a maritime forest begins to rise, growing into extensive forest growth in the middle of the island. Leece has some great shots of moss-covered oaks, yaupon, and other vegetation in this forest.

The principle wildlife feature has to be the wild horses. We got a lot of pictures of these beasts. If you go to the gallery about Cape Lookout, you'll see some of the horses swimming in the sound. These photos are from the other end of the island, near Barden's Inlet, on the east end of the island. The horses are descended from Spanish mustangs, possibly survivors of shipwreck or failed colonies.

At one time, a whaling community existed at what is now the eastern end of Shackleford Banks. The island was connected to Core Banks, as one island, until the hurricane of 1933 cut the island, forming a new inlet. Barden's Inlet is named after the state senator who obtained funding to dredge a boat (if not a ship) channel in the new inlet. Diamond City was essentially destroyed by the hurricane of 1899, and by 1902 was pretty much abandoned.

Today, you can get to Shackleford in the same manner as you get to Cape Lookout - small craft ferries, or private boat. We used Outerbanks Ferry Service in Beaufort, across from the North Carolina Maritime Museum.

Here is a good map and satellite shot of the Cape Lookout/Core Banks/Shackleford Island area.

We walked from the ferry drop off point along the sound side to the maritime forest, through the forest to the ocean side, and back down the beach to the ferry point. That route is about 7 miles, factoring in all the detours and side trips. It was a good hike, with lots of picture-taking opportunities along the way.

And our gallery is here:

Mike and Leece's image galleries under Eastern North Carolina, June 2011.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Cape Lookout National Seashore

No visit to "down east" North Carolina would be complete without a visit to Cape Lookout.

There is a great deal of history there. Blackbeard the pirate used to roam those waters; in fact, his ship 'Queen Anne's Revenge' is sunk not far off Fort Macon, which lies just across Beaufort Inlet from the western tip of Shackleford Banks. Blackbeard met his untimely end up at Ocracoke, but he was well known in the Beaufort area.

The Carolina capes were also known as "Torpedo Junction" during World War II, as German U-boats ran amok in the early days of the war with "Operation Drumbeat," torpedoing with near impunity tankers and freighters within sight of shore. Several wrecks of torpedoed ships lie in the vicinity of Cape Lookout, including the Papoose and W. E. Hutton. The ships - 2 of 48 sunk by U-124 - were torpedoed the same night.

Cape Lookout and Core Banks are also famous for loggerhead turtle nesting, birding opportunities, and some seriously good fishing.

Access to Cape Lookout is by private small boat, light aircraft, or ferries. Small vehicle ferries operate from Davis. Small people ferries operate from a number of places, including Harker's Island and Beaufort, as well as some of the villages east of Harker's Island. We use Harker's Island Fishing Center.

Our gallery of this year's visit is here:

Mike and Leece's image galleries

under the Eastern North Carolina 2011 heading.

We have a lot of lighthouse photos.

Footnote: What has long been called the Papoose wreck is actually the Hutton, and vice versa. The Papoose/Hutton is known for its sand tiger shark population. The actual Papoose wreck was broken up some time ago as a hazard to navigation. Here is a list of diveable shipwrecks near Cape Lookout, and here is a site that shows maps of wreck locations:

Wreck diving off the North Carolina coast

Update: Here's a link to our 2012 visit to Core Banks and Cape Lookout.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

USS North Carolina

We visited the USS North Carolina on June 7.

"The Showboat" is in Wilmington. You can see a photo gallery here:

 USS North Carolina: BB-55 

The ship is done up in a 'dazzle' paint scheme, based loosely on Measure 32 Design 18D. The main difference is that the dark bluish gray on the vertical surfaces of hull and superstructure should be dull black, and in her 'museum' scheme, she is done up the same on both sides. She 'wore' these colors from September 1943 till sometime in 1945. She would have been in this configuration at Okinawa, where she stood off kamikaze attacks and supported the landing operations there. BB-55 was a victim of 'friendly fire', when a destroyer, shooting at a kamikaze, hit one of the ship's aerial gunfire directors, killing three sailors and wounding another 44.

Earlier, during the Guadalcanal campaign, she was struck by a torpedo from a Japanese submarine. That torpedo had actually been fired at the carrier Wasp, but missed. Six crewmen were killed.

During the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, she cranked out such a volume of anti-aircraft fire that Enterprise queried her, "Are you afire?"

Here is a YouTube video with WWII clips

She carries nine 16"/45 caliber naval rifles, 20 5"/38 caliber dual purpose (anti-aircraft/naval gunfire) guns, 60 Bofors 40mm "pompom" anti-aircraft guns, and 46 20mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns. Here is a ten minute USN training film from 1955: 16 inch gun turrets

She's a technological marvel, especially considering when she was built.

The aircraft is a Kingfisher OS2U, used as a scout plane. The ship actually carried three of them.

The memorial staff are friendly and helpful, particularly the maintenance crew. One maintenance man noticed Susie mopping sweat from her face - it was a really hot day - and fetched some towels for her.

The ship is very well-maintained and is a must see for any visitor to eastern North Carolina. There is stark contrast, however, between the ship and the gift shop. Here we have the state's memorial to all North Carolinians who died in World War II ... yet the gift shop is filled with trashy souvenirs made in China, almost all of Central America, Pakistan, and other Third World nations of less-than-sterling qualities. That includes ball caps for retired service members, and  t-shirts. It's actually something of an embarrassment, considering the nature of the memorial.

But she's a beautiful ship, and the staff does a fine job of keeping her up ...

Useful references:

US Battleships: An Illustrated Design History

USS North Carolina Squadron at Sea

USS North Carolina Technical Reference (this one has a nice set of drawings, but does not have nearly the number of photos as USS North Carolina Squadron at Sea)

USS North Carolina (Ship's data)

"Oh, that's good fish!"

We had come off Core Banks a few minutes earlier, having spent the morning and early afternoon on the beach, in the lighthouse, and in the maritime forest. We were sitting at a table in the Fish Hook diner, on Harker's Island, and chatting about our adventure. We had opted for the Spanish mackerel special. Leece was going on about shelling as the waitress brought our order.

Leece absently broke off a piece of fish as she talked, and nibbled it.

"Oh! That's good fish!" she exclaimed.

And it was. It was lightly breaded, and perfectly seasoned, and perfectly fried.The fish was moist and juicy without being greasy. It was, in fact, perfect.

I love Spanish mackerel. It had been a long time since I had snuffled some. This was high up on the list of the best I have ever eaten. I asked Miss Faye where she gets her seafood; she told me from "Mr. Big's Seafood", just down the street. That would be Eddie Willis. So her seafood is very, very fresh goods indeed.

The cole slaw and hush puppies were as good, too.

We went back a few days later for the clam chowder and crabcake sandwich special. Miss Faye doesn't skimp on the clams in her chowder, and the crabcakes were big enough to use as curling stones, though far more tender. The place was packed that day, and we had to park down the street. That seems to be par for the course.

Fish Hook Grill is run by Miss Faye:

It's not fancy dining. The tablecloths are black and white checkered plastic, and you'll be served on disposable tableware. There's a reason for that; it has to do with the Harker's Island waste water system. There isn't one. Everyone uses septic tanks, which in Fish Hook Grill's case limits the amount of waste water that can be properly handled. And the kitchen is right at the front of the place, just as you walk in.

We didn't find any of that objectionable; the waitstaff was friendly and provided excellent service, and Miss Faye is a downhome hoot. She's in her 80's, and recently left the Captain's Choice across the street to start up as the new owner of the Fish Hook. There are a number of stories about why she left Captain's Choice, and one or two of them may even be true.

One thing for sure ... if you want a really good seafood meal and can handle a bit of informality, you won't go wrong at Miss Faye's place. Her fried chicken is equally as good. We had some of that, picnicking at Shell Point on Harker's Island.