Bonnie and Bill Neely

270 POSTS

0 1028

We were thrilled to be again at the Texas Motor Speedway just between Dallas and Fort Worth awaiting the start of the Firestone 600 Verizon Indy Car Series Race on June 11, 2016, celebrating the 20th anniversary of this 1.5 mile oval track. This was also the beginning of the 20th year for open wheel racing now called Indy Car on this track. Engines were scheduled to roar at 7:30 p.m. However, Mother Nature had other plans, as there were two downpours during the afternoon preparations, and the diligent staff worked for hours to dry the track. A banked oval track is too dangerous for possible hydroplaning if there is any moisture.

2   Indy Firehawk & Bonnie for online

The giant 40 foot high RoboSaurus Transformer Beast strolled over the track spitting fire as he crushed two old cars to the thrill of the fans, young and old. Firehawk wandered through the crowds greeting many and giving autographs. Thousands of fans filling the main part of the stands waited. I sat there amazed that the crowd were patiently and happily visiting with each other, overwhelming the concession stands, and peacefully awaiting the green flag. We were entertained by many previous racecar situations and races which played throughout the day and evening on the giant Big Hoss Screen near the RV Infield Parking. We also anxiously watched the Big Hoss to keep informed about weather warnings and what to do in case of emergency.  TMS is well prepared for any situation and takes seriously the responsibilities for everyone present.

3   TMS GARAGE for online

Everyone was hopeful until around 11 p.m. that the race would still happen, but no such luck. The cars and drivers had never emerged from the garages, but everyone with garage and pit passes had had plenty of time to roam and watch all the exciting activities there. After the postponement until the next day at 1 p.m. the crowds made their way to their domiciles, assured their tickets and parking passes would be honored then.

4   Indy Race TMS Garage for online

We returned about 11 a.m. to the fun of the garages and pits and watch all the new preparations, while dozens of track trucks with heater/blowers slowly made their ways round and round every inch of the track, just to be sure it was all safe and dry. We wondered what had occurred during the brief night and began asking the various staffers what happens behind the scenes at Texas Motor Speedway when things don’t go as scheduled. Some of the workers had spent the brief night there at the track, some even slept in their personal cars or RV’s at the track. Most who were in hotels or lived nearby went home to sleep a few hours and then return quite early in the morning. Regardless of whether they were part-time/race-day-only workers or fulltime employees of TMS, each and every one said something like, ”I love racing and I love working here. We all know weather can be a factor, so we just adjust.”  Many spoke highly of Louis Mora, who is in charge of all the staff for advance preparations and on race day and after.

From Security Guards to Restroom Attendants, Gate Keepers, Concessionaires, Caterers, Parking Staff, Police, Firemen, Photographers, News People, Rescue Workers, Ambulance Attendants, Indy Officials at each Pit, Ticket Takers…no one was complaining. And fans were very orderly and just as enthusiastic as the day before! What a testament to Texas Motor Speedway and Racing!!!  When we hear of violence in other places where masses gather, we were very thankful this event is so well managed and peacefully attended, even when everyone is disappointed and many are exhausted from heat and little sleep.

5 Indy Race TMS Andretti for online

Around noon the cars were brought out of the garages in almost parade style while many cameras clicked. Everyone was excited and the day was beautiful!  A little later the drivers came one by one on their small electric motor scooters and took their places beside their cars, ready in their pits at the track. Everyone awaited Mario Andretti to drive the Verizon double Indy Car with a fan in the first round of the track to begin the 1 p.m. race.  But we all held our breaths because two different times a race driver rode in the red corvette to check the track for any tiny patch of moisture and both times, as we watched, the blower truck, came onto the track to assure the tiny damp patches were safe. Finally, about 2 p.m. everyone cheered as Andretti sped away in the Verizon Car to open the race!

6   Indy TMS wreck 2016 for online

All the hopeful fans settled into their seats and eagerly watched just over 50 rounds of TMS track until there was a sudden crash as Josef Newgarden and Conor Daly collided and their cars overturned. Thankfully, both men survived without serious injuries, but it was another 45 minutes during the cleanup when the cars had to spend about 25 rounds of the track in Caution at low speeds, maintaining their respective positions. During this interval I learned that Indy Races must complete one half of a race plus one round of a track before being called complete. This track requires 248 rounds, and Mother Nature was Angry!  The black clouds quickly gathered and suddenly the downpour was like a massive waterfall. Drivers swiftly pitted their cars and Crew members ran out with tarps to cover the valuable vehicles while the drivers ran to cover in the garages.  The puddles in the grassy center of the track quickly became like swimming pools and several crew members began body surfing just for fun since they were all drenched anyway.  The fans stuck in the covered stands clapped and laughed.  Finally, the deluge let up and we were able to make our wet way to our cars.

Everyone plans to return for the finish of the race on August 27 at Texas Motor Speedway!

The Channel Islands Maritime Museum  at the Oxnard Harbor is a Must-See, not only for sea-farers and boat people but for history and art buffs as well.  This museum, until a few years ago, was crowded into a small space with the many exhibits cramped together. Now the wonderful museum has taken over a large property, which was formerly a restaurant right on the water front at the harbor with plenty of space to display the large collection of maritime paintings from European masters and the myriad of large, handmade ship models. Many of these are from the priceless collection of the Nelson Trust, graciously loaned to the museum for care and display.  I had expected just to see quickly a collection of boats, but what a joy to spend the afternoon with the excellent docent Mark Frees who shared his wealth of knowledge of each painting, including the background of the artist, the ship depicted, and the history of that ship’s time.  Every painting is breath-takingly beautiful with meticulous details, which are historic records of these ships from the 1500’s to the 21st Century.

4   oxnard maritime museum boats

The fascinatingly intricate wood models are also part of the Harry Nelson collection and most were created by Edward Marple, world-renowned as one of the very best ship model craftsmen. Two models were from kits, but the other scores were crafted by hand from detailed architectural drawings of each of the historic ships. The minute details, from oars to guns, to sails, to riggings, to emblems and every part of the ship were possible because Marple was a dental technician and had access to fine tools of the trade and used them for the delicate carving.  We spent hours completely fascinated by all the amazing art and history of the world’s greatest ships, which were vital parts of the discoveries and wars ofhistory.  At one point, while we were admiring the gorgeous paintings, I glanced at what I thought at first was a giant and realistic painting and realized I was looking out the wall of windows at the beautiful boats in the adjacent harbor. Such a perfect place for this museum!5   out museum window

Upstairs are more ship models and paintings, one of which was a recent shipwreck near Oxnard. The ship’s wheel and other brass items are on exhibit here. We also saw the jaw bones and baleens of a whale displayed. In one cabinet is a collection of ships in bottles.  Bob Little teaches classes here periodically, helping anyone who is interested to create their own ship-in-a-bottle. You can make reservations for his classes by calling 1 805 984 6260.

Oxnard is a town we fell in love with the first time we were here and have returned to as frequently as possible. With wide streets, beautiful stucco architecture and orange tile roofs, palm trees all along the streets and lovely neighborhoods, the city is clean and has a very low crime rate, thanks to careful leaders and an outstanding citizens’ watch program. The downtown plaza has some great eateries, restaurants, shops, and really fun festivals. The third weekend in May hosts the Strawberry Festival. This area of California is famous for strawberries, vegetables, and many of the flowers which supply florists and grocery stores all over the USA.

Waterside Restaurant and Wine Bar overlooking the sunny,  Oxnard Harbor Marina. The restaurant has a full service bar, and on Wet Wednesday evenings has an unusual twist on dining out:

2    waterside restaurant patio(1)

The owners of Waterside Restaurant and Wine Bar have invited 10 food trucks to set up in the parking lot on Wednesday nights, so guests can purchase their choice of truck foods. Then they are invited to bring these meals to the Waterside Patio and order drinks, hors d’oeuvres and anything else they wish to eat.  Chef Frank Peralta also has created a quite enticing experience for Sunday brunch. He goes early to the local Farmer’s Market and selects all he needs to create a different array of meals from delectably fresh ingredients, different each week and ready to surprise and delight guests from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

During the California Strawberry Festival everyone has fun saluting the many growers who make all this possible. And just-picked strawberries are yummy in an array of different creations that will delight your taste buds! Everyone gets into the spirit of springtime with this joyous festival.

6     oxnard ca farming

In July is the Salsa Festival with more fun for all ages.  The festival is free and you can eat all the salsa and chips you desire to try for $5 at the Salsa Tent. Salsa is not just tomatoes and peppers.  You cannot imagine how many different ways these experienced local culinary artists and growers have devised to tickle you palate with their mixtures of the locally grown specialties.  There is a contest for the best!  Also a really fun event during the festival is Dancing With The Local Stars.  Mimicking the TV Show six professionals teach six local favorite “stars” to dance, and they have so much fun sharing their performance for the townspeople and tourists.  Six bands are playing music constantly on the Plaza, and the Kids’ Corner has lots of fun activities.  There is an International Food Center also.

In December the local Festival which draws attention from everyone is the Parade of Lighted Boats. Oxnard Harbor is filled with magical light, and appreciative spectators celebrate the season together.  Why not take a gondola ride around the harbor yourself and be serenaded! See all the things you can enjoy in Oxnard and make our plans through Oxnard Convention & Visitors Bureau at

1-800-2-Oxnard; www.visitoxnard.com . Come to Oxnard any time of year, and you will want to stay permanently! We wish we could!

1   emb suites  beach

When visiting Los Angeles area we love staying in Oxnard about 30 minutes out of the huge Los Angeles rush . We enjoy staying at Embassy Suites by Hilton Mandalay Beach Hotel and Resort on the beautiful golden beach coast. It is so pleasant to dine conveniently nearby.

Do you think, as we did, that NASA Space Program was pretty much a thing of the past and that private companies are only trying to make money off of the excitement, created years ago and in current movies, television, and books, by tempting multi-millionaires to pay exorbitant prices to take a ride into the vast unknown of the only frontier left?  Well, we were so mistaken.  NASA is alive and well and making great advances toward human beings traveling to and from and being able to live for a year and perhaps longer on Mars! And the time is only about three years away before the first steps toward that goal will be taken. The enormous Saturn V rocket, which will launch the Orion Space Ship on that venture, is what we learned all about and actually saw on our recent visit to Kennedy Space Center!  It was one of the most amazingly exciting learning and fun days we have ever spent. This is a GREAT trip of a lifetime.

2   Kennedy Space Center astronaut

Kennedy Space Center is built for families to be entertained through learning.  Each of the experiences provided at the different buildings is wonder-filled and wonder-full!  Located about an hour from Orlando’s Disney World, the center is just as enjoyable in a different way.  When you are in Florida a full day (or more) at Kennedy Center on Cape Canaveral is a MUST!  The drive out along the causeway is beautiful, as Atlantic waters are on each side of the highway, and Kennedy Space Center is surrounded by a natural wildlife preserve, so be on the lookout for hundreds of species of birds and for alligators and other wildlife.

If you visited Kennedy Space Center years ago, this is a MUST to visit again, as enormous strides in space exploration and inventions occur every day, and new exhibits here are on-going and dynamic. We recommend arriving at 8:30 A.M. to get the best parking spots at the huge parking lot. Purchase tickets on-line ahead or as you arrive. KSC is open every day year-round; gates open at 9 a.m.  Closing time is about 6 p.m. depending on time of the year.

3  rocket garden small file

At the Rocket Garden we learned about all the various rockets since the inception of our USA Space Age in the 1960’s and many of these giants ended their use in this beautiful garden for us to see and enjoy. Next we took the comfortable, narrated bus ride a few miles beyond the Center to see the actual place where the rockets are built, and we were lucky enough to get a glimpse at the Saturn V because one of the huge doors of the building was open. We saw the authentic launch pads used for sending up previous space ships. And to our surprise we learned that unmanned rockets are being launched frequently for testing, for sending up satellites, and trips to the International Space Station and Hubble Telescope.  We missed seeing the most recent launch by only a few weeks.

4   launch pad small file

When rockets go up we have seen the “smoke” billowing out and I always felt concern about this hazard for people’s lungs, but we learned it is not smoke but steam created by the enormous water tanks spilling water on the ground at the moments of ignition. This is not to put out the fires we see beneath the rocket but to cushion the enormous sound emitted by the rocket launch, which is so powerful it would literally stop the heart of anyone nearby. (Astronauts are on top of and leaving the sound behind, so it does not harm them). This sound is the reason viewers at a launch must see it from three miles away at the safe viewing area.

5 atlantis small file

There are many buildings in which we saw actual retired rockets and space modules. We saw the life-sized model of the Saturn V and its modules which will accommodate four astronauts who will live in it on the six-month trip to Mars. It will take all their provisions and necessities, including tools, for a full year of the most comfortable existence possible there and for the six month return trip! The film showed the twelve years of scientists and engineers imagining and developing the vast number of necessities for life and making them small and lightweight enough to be carried and used in such tiny space and in zero gravity. We learned that thousands of the items we use in everyday life were created by NASA geniuses for other space expeditions. These items include microwaves, cell phones, GPS, long-range communications, freeze-dried foods, solar panels, artificial limbs, ski boots, fire- fighting equipment, Teflon, UV glasses, Velcro, memory foam, and so much more, which you can find here.

I-MAX Films showing astronauts at work in zero gravity were fascinating, and we got to experience some of their difficulties in the hands-on exhibits. We squeezed into the actual seat of one space module; saw the toilet system explained and learned how an astronaut has to go to the bathroom in zero gravity. We saw actual astronauts in outer space cook and eat their food, which was humorous with food floating around in front of them.

There are computers set for a visitor of any age to stand in a specific place and experience the difficulty of an astronaut’s training. By moving my hand around in the air I tried to use the on-screen tool to repair a screw in zero gravity. It let us know the difficulty of doing this for an astronaut floating around and in gloves equal to us wearing five pairs of earthly gloves. There are many other similar experiments to try to gain understanding and appreciation for those who dedicate their lives to courageous careers as astronauts. These simulated tasks were amazingly difficult and nearly impossible but fun for people of any age to try.

6  in capsule

There is a fascinating and fact-filled exhibit and film which entices young people to choose the path to a career as an astronaut. NASA needs engineers, physicists, computer experts, chemists, lawyers, accountants, and many other well educated and dedicated young men and women. Look at the NASA career opportunities and requirements here.  Many of the retired scientist, technicians, and volunteer workers are at Kennedy Space Center to answer any questions about career choices or about their experience building rockets, space ships, and shuttles.  One live astronaut is there each day to give a talk, to have a face to face encounter and answer questions, and you can even purchase tickets to have lunch with him or her.

We are glad we chose to stay in our RV at the quiet KOA in Titusville beneath giant hardwood trees with scenic Spanish moss trailing down. It is only a half-hour away from Kennedy Space Center and from the Merit Island National Seashore and Playaland Beach. And if you do not have camping equipment you can rent one of their excellent cabins or deluxe cabins.

We had made reservations for the boat trips from the Everglades National Park and we had paid in advance the steep price for The Mangroves boat trip and on the next day the 10,000 Islands Boat Trip. We knew there were no refunds or cancellations, no matter the reason.  If you are staying in the Everglades National Park Flamingo campground check your map because we made boat reservations thinking they were near the campground. We were not aware that the ones listed on the National Park website which we purchased are at the North Entrance to the Everglades at Everglades City, about a three-hour drive from the Flamingo campground, at the bottom of the park.  However, there are other boat trips you can arrange out of Homestead, or near Flamingo RV Camp in south of the Everglades. Just be careful when booking from the National Park site lists.  We found out our trips were from Everglades City and could not be changed, so we changed our camping reservations.

We highly recommend taking both boat tours: Mangroves and 10,000 Islands and also the local air-boat tours. Each is a different and unique tour. If you wish to stay in a campground nearby there are several in Chokoloskee Island or Everglades City. The 10,000 Islands tour boats hold so many and go so frequently each day that you can buy those tickets on the spot, but the Mangroves tour holds only 6 passengers and these tickets, the true Everglades experience, should be purchased ahead of time because they go in any weather except severe lightning and hurricanes.

2  white pelicans flock

From the dock at the National Park Museum/Office we took the 10,000 Islands Tour in pouring rain, but we enjoyed it. The overhead cover is for sun protection and does little for rain, since it blows in. The 90 minute ride is on an outboard motor boat which holds 49 passengers and goes about seven and a half miles out among the many, many mangroves small islands all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. We saw various birds braving the downpour and numerous dolphins playfully jumping up into the raindrops. It was fun, especially seeing the huge flock of white pelicans on the sandbar, huddling together with heads tucked.

At the Everglades City National Park Museum and Visitor Center we arrived 45 minutes early for our first Mangroves Boat tour. It was a good thing because, although we were told to go to the dock at the Observation Tower, there were no signs there and the tower office was closed. We asked the nearby store and restaurant, but it was still confusing to find the correct dock with many boardwalks to get through the dense mangrove forest to the water.  Finally, we saw the boat arriving.

3  entering mangrove tunnels

The comfortable boat has only 6 individual and padded seats. The motor can travel in low tide in only three inches of water if it attains enough speed to lift the motor above the muddy bottom. So the boat speed varies due to tides and whether in large open waters or in the very narrow canal tunnels, which are natural and created by the mangroves. David was an excellent tour guide, very considerate in taking photos of tourists at particularly good places, and able to answer all our questions. We cannot imagine how these captains keep from getting lost in the maze of mangroves surrounding the protected waters of the National Park.  Sometimes they have to rescue lost tourists who cannot find their way back in rented kayaks and canoes.

4  white ibis in red mangrove roots

David slowed or stopped the boat to identify and tell the habits of each of the different birds we saw in both the Turner River and within the National Park waterways. This is a birders’ paradise with hundreds of different species either living here or migrating through. He knew so much about each one and gave us ways to identify them in flight or in trees. This made the trip so interesting. We learned much about the mangrove jungles:  Three of the world’s 50 species of mangroves live here. The black mangroves are identified by the straight up trunks and black bark. Their roots, called snorkels, grow straight upward out of the water like thousands of spikes. The white mangroves also grow straight and tall with roots like normal trees, which go into the ground and are not exposed.  The red mangroves are the ones whose strange and eerie roots create the natural tunnels. The roots grow downward like vines from the upper parts of the trunk, and when they reach water they appear to make the tree walk. The lower roots grow downward like long clusters of arms balancing the tree and firmly grounding it to the soil.  These make the thousands of red mangroves begin to bend over and create weird tunnels above natural brackish water channels.

The 90 minute trip through these mangrove tunnels is fascinating! Although there are thousands of mosquitoes year-round, they only bothered us when the boat stopped for photos or narration. But repellent and sun protection are absolutely necessary. The quiet outboard motor boats (instead of noisy air-boats) on these tours by private concessionaires are the only ones sponsored by the National Park. The noise pollution of the air-boats is considered to be detrimental to the wildlife, and since we heard many of them at our RV Park we know the noise is very loud, even a fairly long way away.

5 gator at everglades

We saw a very large American alligator lying placidly in the only sunny spot on this cloudy day. The only other land mammals which live in this jungle are the nocturnal bobcats, “tide-turnal” raccoons (come out at low tide), and mangrove squirrel. The Everglades are the only place where both American alligators, who live in fresh or brackish water, and the American crocodiles, which live in salt or brackish water, share their habitat peacefully. There are many kinds of lizards, spiders, snakes, and crabs.

6  stone crab

This is the stone crab capital of the world. To eat these delicious offerings is environmentally friendly because the crabbers only remove the leg with the largest claw from the stone crab and return the crab to the water. Within a short time the crab grows another claw leg and the next year the largest crab claw leg is harvested. The crabs can live healthy for many years going through this process of re-growth. I was so relieved to know no animal had sacrificed its life for us when we enjoyed our first delicious stone crab at the restaurant known as the local best of Everglades City: City Seafood. This is a modest establishment that serves terrific homemade seafood meals. You can select alligator, conch, stone crab, frog legs, and the other traditional fruits of the sea like scallops, shrimp, other crabs, many fish, all caught locally and served fresh from the day’s catch.  Delicious!! We highly recommend this restaurant!

We drove about halfway down the west side of Florida and easily followed the KOA signs from just below Naples. The Marco Island/Naples KOA  Kampgrounds are surrounded by a thick boundary of beautiful forest of mangroves, palms, pines and other trees I do not know. These form a protective barrier and beautiful backdrop for any activity, keeping the camp very quiet.  Grassy areas were between each of the level and well-groomed gravel sites, and many have palm trees or beautiful flowering shrubs.  The park is beautiful and the large staff friendly and helpful.

2 Marco Island Koa park is beautiful

The large, sparkling swimming pool behind the office is a popular place for most of the day and evening, especially since the temperatures here on New Year’s Eve are about 85 degrees, setting most records. These warm temperatures are welcome, especially by the Snow Birds, who come here from colder climes to winter. About half of this KOA is for these semi-permanent owners and migrators. They seem to make good friends and everyone keeps his site clean and tastefully decorated for the holidays. Most of these have lanais (screened porches) so they can live outdoors-in.

The popular clubhouse was filled for the New Year’s Eve party, which was fun for all. Everyone enjoyed food and drink and music of the Dock Boys Band. On all Saturday mornings breakfast for a nominal fee is served here from 8 – 9 a.m.

3 Marco island koa pool

There are many beaches, boat rentals, fishing charters, shopping, museums, restaurants and entertainment quite nearby, and the west coastal barrier islands are beautiful to discover by land or water. We highly recommend this KOA to anyone who loves warm weather activities. In addition to RV sites there are tent sites and cabins, a few of which are for sale for permanent residents.  Come play in the sun!  (Phone: 1 239 774 5455 or  FAX 239 774 0788 or email: naples@koa.net Address:1700 Barefoot Williams Rd. Naples, FL 34113)

KOA Near Orlando Attractions

4 Titusville FL koa

TITUSVILLE/KENNEDY SPACE CENTER KOA, FLORIDA  is a park perfectly located just off highway 95/46 and only a few minutes’ drive to the National Park Seashore’s beautiful public beaches (and also a nude beach!)  There are so very many attractions near this quiet KOA it is hard to imagine that this location is so peaceful.  Our destination was Kennedy Space Center at NASA’s Cape Canaveral, which was just a few minutes’ drive away. The many attractions in Orlando are just a bit farther, but the savings you have in staying at this KOA are great, and we know from experience you can be staying in nearby hotels or RV campgrounds just a few miles away from destination theme parks and it can take over an hour to get to those parks. There is no way to avoid traffic jams in Orlando, so you will benefit from staying in this peaceful KOA and enjoy the savings!

5 playground titusville koa

This KOA near Orlando is beautiful with its numerous ancient hardwood trees towering overhead, their Spanish moss hanging down in weirdly soft, welcoming fashion. If you have never seen these aerophytes growing on giant trees, this park is worth the stay just to enjoy this typical Old South sight.  You will like the asphalt drives and cement pads for your vehicles since the grass is all around for walking and playing. The large swimming pool is heated by the solar panels above it, so it is comfortable even in winter. (Yes, Florida can have very chilly winter weather and temperatures can fluctuate widely from week to week.) For couples or families traveling without a camping vehicle we recommend the lovely smaller cabins or the larger deluxe cabins. They even have Kamping Lodge for larger groups. Please call first to see what furnishings are provided in each. (Phone: 1 321 269 7361  FAX  1 321 269 1123  Email: 1koa@capekennedykoa.net  Location: 4513 W. Main Street, Mims, Florida 32754.)

6 titusville koa gameroom

Of course you’ll have easy access to a clubhouse, game room, and huge, clean laundry facilities. You will even find a beauty shop on site! Children enjoy a wonderful playground and the Pet area is very clean and well-kept. The store is adequate with necessities, and the staff is friendly and helpful. We had come from the Everglades where we were eaten up with insect bites, but we found no mosquitoes or other pests here. Thank goodness!!!

There is a large, adjoining area for long-term campers who stay for more than six months and seem to have a friendly community of group get-togethers, with large gathering places and covered picnic area to use. Of course all the facilities and amenities are open to any campers, for long or overnight stays. We found this KOA to be an excellent choice for the conveniences of home while having access to some of the most famous attractions in the world.

After a long, dreary landscape of hot desert and nothing else you climb to about 7,000 feet to the Eastern side of Flagstaff, Arizona and find the welcoming cool of the pine forest. This KOA Campground has been here since 1960’s and is determined to keep its camp atmosphere and not be turned into an RV Resort.  It has all the clean accommodations you expect in KOA campgrounds and a wonderful family atmosphere similar to camping in National Parks.

2     Flagstaff playground

The very large playground is the site of many squeals of fun and laughter. Kids revel in outdoor play when camping, often quite different than what they do at home. Flagstaff KOA is adjacent to Coconino National Forest, so you can go through the little gate to walk on the trails there or hike up the mountain. The high mountains behind the campground were still snow-capped in May and reached far above us at this 7,000 feet high KOA!

3   Flagstaff cabin

This KOA has hundreds of sites for rigs of all sizes, some KOA cabins, and large clean tent sites. There is no swimming pool, but the office has an array of souvenirs and some foods, beer, and other snacks, and the mall and points of interest for Flagstaff are just a short drive away.

4   environment tips

KOA Kamp Kitchen is a little food truck located on site for your freshly prepared-to-order breakfast from early to mid-morning each day for an extra fee. Delicious!  One of the unusual features of this KOA is the Environmental Impact Educational Park for kids and adults. There are signs telling many ways to help the environment by making very small changes in our daily habits. It is well worth reading all the information with your family and walking through the little garden here. Children may even be able to use this knowledge for school projects later.

5   grand-canyon from south rim

We found Flagstaff KOA a comfortable, friendly, well-located site. It takes about 90 minutes to drive to the South side of the Grand Canyon, which is why most people stay here; others come just to find a cool, full shade respite from blistering summer heat and to kick back and have a wholesome, fun, camping experience. The smell of campfires and meat cooking while families gather around their own picnic tables at most sites imprints your memory with happy reveries. Plan to arrive early instead of peak check-in time in late afternoon because the driveway entrance is sometimes bumper to bumper and extends into the edge of highway traffic.

6   Flagstaff  traffic bumper to bumper

In the city of Inverness the historic castle is used today for government business. It is a focal point of the pretty city, strategically placed long ago on the promontory over the River Ness. Traveling from Inverness toward the Isle of Skye in the western Highlands of Scotland, we came around a curve near the village of Dornie and pulled into the Lay-by for a picnic lunch and were surprised to view a large castle not far away at the convergence of three sea lochs: Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh. Then we discovered we could tour this enormous dwelling! We were delighted, and my childhood fairy tale dreams of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella sprang to life.

2   Eilean Donan castle

EILEAN DONAN CASTLE was first inhabited in the 6th Century and finally fortified in the 13th century. Because of many clan feudal uprisings it has been partially re-built in four different versions since then. In 1719 The Jacobite uprising destroyed this castle, which lay in ruins for the next two centuries. In 1911 Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap bought Donan island, since it was part of his MacRae heritage, and spent 20 years rebuilding it to its former iconic image and added a footbridge to connect it to the mainland. There are forty National Scenic Areas in Scotland, and this is in the Kintail area.

The part of the castle open to tourists is furnished with historic pieces and very interesting information about this clan’s history and the castle. The castle furnishings are beautiful and the docents explain the way of life of the centuries past. One of the most amazing rooms is the lavish grand dining room, but perhaps the most memorable is the huge kitchen in the lowest level where manikins and an array of “foods” are set up as if the staff is busy preparing a banquet. It was very, very interesting and worth the price of under 10 pounds, depending on your age.

3    one rose with kilts

Members of the large clan of several living generations still come here on holidays and keep part of the castle for their private use. They are insistent that no one take photos, so we reluctantly complied. The family was in residence while we were there, and as we left I saw two very Scottish men dressed in Kilts and the full and genuine Scottish garb of their clan. I asked them if we could take a picture, and they said, “Sure, two crusty old chaps, but we need a Rose between us old thorns.”  They must be members of the MacRae Clan, but I did not ask.  There are many steps to climb, so the Visitor Center offers an excellent video for the convenience of those who cannot climb.

From the 13th century the castle belonged to Clan Mackenzie and Clan Macrae. Today Eilean Donan Castle is owned by the Conchra Charitable Trust, which opens the castle to visitors from whom the money collected goes to preserve and maintain the historic edifice. The Trust was established in 1983 and the Trustees have personal and family connections with the Castle and the area. Historically the MacRaes are hereditary constables of Eilean Donan Castle.  Mrs. Marigold MacRae is president of the Clan MacRae and her daughter Baroness Miranda Van Lynden is head of the MacRaes of Conchra.

4   Dunvegan Castle Entrance

DUNVEGAN CASTLE on the rocky shore of Loch Dunvegan is a MUST SEE in the southwestern area of Isle of Skye. It is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland and has been the ancestral home of the MacLeod Clan Chiefs for over eight centuries. The elegant rooms are high-ceilinged with magnificent furnishings, priceless paintings by masters, incredible tapestries

5   Dunvegan Castle waterfall

This impressive castle has an amazing five acres of formal gardens, dating from the 18th century and well-maintained to charm visitors with its unique beauty. The gardens were designed as many unique areas. These include the Walled Garden, Woodland Glades, Waterfalls tumbling into gurgling pools and Streams flowing to the sea just beneath the gardens. The Water Garden is set with ornate bridges and islands planted with a large variety colorful species. Even in the rain we enjoyed wandering through these and the formal Round Garden. Our eyes delighted in the diverse range of plants and flowers and the cool water lily pond.  There is a seal colony and a boat to take visitors to view it. You can rent lovely holiday cottages on the property, or take a clinker style boat on a day fishing excursion. And you can choose one of four restaurants in which to dine. Many distinguished and noble guests have visited here, including Queen Elizabeth II. And you can too!

6 lovely Isle of Skye

Be sure to purchase your Clans and Castles Heritage Pass before you go to Scotland for a discounted price to tour many of these amazing historic places.  The passes are not available in Scotland.

0 1365

Hotel Nuevo Boston of the Husa Hotel Chain is the perfect hotel near Madrid Barajas Airport. We arrived weary from 35 hours with no sleep. Our GPS, which did not recognize one-way streets, had led us on a merry chase in a maze of one-ways for an hour, even though this wonderful hotel is only five minutes from the airport!  The staff immediately recognized how tired we were and showed us to one of the loveliest rooms we have ever stayed in in Europe.

2    Nuevo Boston our room

We were too tired to try to go out for dinner and crossed our fingers that the restaurant in the hotel would be OK, but it was SUPERIOR! Of course, our hunger schedules were still on American time, and it was Siesta Time in Spain, but the hotel Bar was ready for such travelers.  We had a large and varied menu from which to order, and it was not just bar food but also included hot meals. Bill chose a wonderful meal of fish and vegetables and was so pleased with it.  I am a hamburger junkie, and the burger I ordered was one of the best I ever had, with unusual seasonings and toppings that were delicious!  The chef is quite talented and everything on the menu, which was in Spanish and English, sounded delectable with combinations we had never thought of. The pleasant and efficient waiter brought our meals much more rapidly than we had thought, and each plate was a picture, even though it was a bar!! We watched as they made preparations for the grand buffet in the adjoining dining room for several hours later. We would like to be awake next time for that experience of fine dining.

3        Nuevo Boston room beckoned us

Our pretty blue and white room beckoned us with its crisp sheets and very comfortable beds. We slept our jetlag off peacefully with no outside noises, which have bothered us in other hotels when we go to bed early. In the morning we were refreshed and headed down for the included wonderful buffet of everything we had ever thought of for breakfast and a lot more! The big dining room is so pretty and the food was delicious. This is an excellent hotel for business, pleasure, Conferences and Weddings and Family gatherings.

4    Nuevo Boston breakfast

The facilities and well-trained staff can handle very large groups politely and efficiently, as they aim to please and to make each guest feel personally welcome.

5   Nuevo Boston Internet

At the comfortable Cyberpoint we checked our email on their free WIFI and got excellent fast reception.

5    Nuevo Boston pool

We enjoyed a dip in the garden swimming pool before heading out for the day. This is THE hotel we will return to again and again! We highly recommend it. Hotel Nuevo Boston is part of the Husa Hotel Group of world renowned hotels.

 

0 1490
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our grandson has been an avid NASCAR fan since he was three years old. When Bill was tired of playing on the floor he put him in his lap saying, “Let’s watch the cars go around. Which one will we cheer for: the M&M car or the Dupont car with the flames?” Nicolas quickly chose the bright fiery flames with Jeff Gordon as the driver, and that day he won the race! Nicolas was HOOKED!  As a pre-schooler he begged to watch every race on TV, and when he got his first email address he even used a clever derivative of Gordon’s name for his own email address, so with every email he sent or received he could promote his favorite star!

As a teen, Nicolas saved the money he earned all year to go to some NASCAR races in person at many different tracks. Having a father and grandparents who are also avid NASCAR fans, it was easy to persuade them to take him.  In November 2015 we were able to take him, now 20, to “Jeff’s Last Rodeo” at Texas Motor Speedway which is near our home.  We all were excited to cheer our favorite driver in his 334 laps at the TMS 1.5 mile track. Nicolas is a walking encyclopedia of facts about TMS, NASCAR, and Gordon. With his dedicated focus he reads all the race magazines and has never missed watching a NASCAR race in Jeff’s career. It was great for Nicolas to teach us more about the track, NASCAR, and Gordon.

Q:   So Jeff became your hero, and then what?

A:   My granddad and I had picked a real winner because he won that race I watched in ’96 and he was Champion ’97,’98  .  He averaged about 10 wins a year and 13 in some seasons.

Q:  The last time you were at Texas Motor Speedway at age 13 in 2008, I had orders to write five magazine articles about a young person who lived and breathed racing, so I had to pull some PRESS strings to get you into the HOT areas and to have a meeting with Gordon, your hero.  But I failed to ask the age limit or dress code. We arrived with you in sandals and shorts and had to scramble to find your tennis shoes, and you had to wear your granddad’s way-too-long running suit pants tied up at the waist!  What do you most remember about that weekend at TMS?

A:   Of course that was my first time and I was so excited!  I heard people say,  ”We know he’s not 18. How in the world did he get in here?”  It was really fun to be youngest in the Hot Garage.   It was very cold that day and threatened rain.  You had on your long black raincoat with a hood and we nick-named you the Grim Reaper. After the first time we passed through any checkpoint they remembered the Grim Reaper coat and my special HOT pass and just let us on through! It was so cool!

2  Getting Gordon autograph

Q:  I had arranged for us to have a Photo Interview with Gordon after the Time Trial on Saturday, so we were at his transporter waiting.  Do you remember what happened?

A:   I saw Jeff’s expression as he returned from the track and realized he had not had a good qualifying race, and I figured I would not get to talk to him.  But since we were there where he had to pass through us, I had my official red Gordon jacket and felt pen waiting and handed it to him, and you got a photo of him signing. I was elated! That jacket has been hanging on my bedroom wall ever since, and I never wore it…It was sacred and the center of my huge collection of Gordon memorabilia

Q:  What else was special about having the Hot Garage pass?

A:  Everyone was so open and interested in me since it was obvious I was a young fan and a curiosity there. I had read so many race magazines that I knew crew faces and names.  I had many questions I wanted to ask because at that time I wanted know how they got into a NASCAR career and what steps I should take to get there. Everyone encouraged me to get a full engineering degree, not just the 10 month program, because it is too specific and there are no other options if you don’t get the job.  But with an engineering degree you have options for other jobs.  They cared and put thought into their advice about what would be best for a young fan wanting to make a career in NASCAR.  No one gave me just glib fan answers. I was impressed and so happy to talk to each one, from garage crew, to pit crew, to NASCAR officials, to TMS workers.

3 Adult  Nicolas watching Gordon in hot pit

Q:  Do you recommend that fans buy the Hot Garage passes if they can afford to?

A:  Yes, it’s really cool to be in a NASCAR garage area.  I even recognized Bruton Smith then, owner of Speedway Motorsports, Inc. and got to talk to him. Even though I was a young kid, everyone does really care about fans and makes sure everything a fan could want is really accessible. I also got an autograph from the NASCAR Mascot Lugnut, a character in costume who always appeals to children.  Any sport thrives on a new generation coming in. NASCAR strives to be a clean, wholesome family event.

There is usually a Charity Walk early with some drivers on day before the NASCAR race, and in 2008 we walked with some of the drivers. Even though we had to get up in the dark to arrive in time, I loved it.  For a long time I walked beside the youngest driver of the Nationwide Race that day, and he told me all about his budding career and encouraged me, even though I did not want to be a driver. Later he spoke to me by name when he passed in a golf cart to the driver meeting.

Q:  What were the key things you found most interesting in 2015,”Jeff’s Last Rodeo?”

A:  It was cool to see that even though every week these guys are fiercely competing on the track, now that Gordon is retiring I saw how much of a family NASCAR really is because all the drivers congratulated him.  There is obvious respect for him in the NASCAR community as he retires. He is not only a huge name driver but also good guy and friend.  He ushered in the modern era of NASCAR as the first really young person to come to racing at the top level. When he was just 18 he flew from his home to compete and qualify for his first Xfinity race. He returned home to attend his high school graduation and then flew back the next day to race in the Xfinity Series. Dale Earnhardt,Sr, joked that he would be too young to have champagne at the award ceremony…Jeff would have to have milk.  So, at the ceremony Jeff toasted Earnhardt with a champagne glass filled with milk. The next year he was in 30 of the 31 Xfinity races, and his third year he won three of the 31 races and was ushered into his first NASCAR Sprint Cup race at 20, just my age now!

4.  Nicolas Always 24 Fan

Q:  In the future Gordon will be as a commentator for NASCAR. I know at one time you wanted to be a NASCAR commentator also. You would make a good one since you can remember so many facts about each driver, race, and track.  Do you have any desire to do that still?

A:  It could be another career choice, and I would jump at the opportunity, but now my main goal is to work for one of the many possibilities in the hospitality side of racing. I have completed two years at the world’s top hospitality school, Ecole Hospitalitier Lausanne in Switzerland, and I will enter Johnson and Wales in Charlotte, NC, in the spring to complete my degree. Since that is the home base area for NASCAR the opportunities will abound for me in the hospitality or public relations side of NASCAR.  I would also love to be a PR agent for a driver.

Q:  What positive influences has Gordon had on the public?

A:  He is an outspoken advocate of safe highway driving. This is very important for young race fans. He has two children and is aware of the potential dangers of young drivers wanting to race on a public road. A lot of kids look up to him and he says, “If you want to race, get on track and wear proper safety gear…never race on a public street; never drink or text while driving, and never smoke and drive.”

Gordon also has the first charity as a sponsor:  AARP Drive to End Hunger. A significant portion of all Gordon merchandise they sell goes to this charity. I think this is terrific, and my hero Jeff was the first to bring sponsorship in this new direction for creating charity awareness in the thousands of fans.

Jeff has this private charity Jeff Gordon’s Children’s Foundation.  NASCAR and its drivers are among the most charitable organizations in all of sports. And because racing is perhaps the most family-oriented sport, the drivers are encouraged to be upstanding in sports and in personal life.

5  Teen Nicolas With 24 room

Q:  Tell me about your Gordon memorabilia collection.

A:  Since all my family and friends know I’m basically race crazy, they have given me die-cast Gordon cars every year for birthdays and Christmas, and most of the money I earned mowing LOTS of lawns went to adding larger cars and other memorabilia to my Gordon collection. I have all the cars with all the different paint designs. And of course, the Gordon jacket he autographed. My entire room features Gordon: bedspread, curtains, shelves and cases of cars. I have many official track video games and spend a lot of free time racing, so I know each track, every turn very well.

But my best item in my collection is an official helmet.  When I was at the Charlotte track with you I was barely 16. I had worked for months to save quite a lot of money to spend on souvenirs at the track. We walked miles looking for an official, real helmet like the drivers wear and finally found one in the hot garage area, actually available for a driver who might need a replacement, but they agreed to sell it to me.  I took it to the garages and pits and asked many crew members to sign it. Even Bruton Smith signed it. We were talking to one of the official gate guards and he was very interested in such a young fan and saw my helmet and pen. He opened the gate for me to go into the area where the drivers were arriving for the Driver Meeting. I had learned not to be afraid of approaching these people and many drivers signed it for me!  It is my treasure!

Q:  How did you follow NASCAR when you were living in Switzerland?  Nascar has nice streaming platform, NASCAR Raceview, to which you can subscribe. The price was worth it for me to feel closer to home. It features a track map, animated cars, (no live stream out of the USA.)  I could keep up with NASCAR and follow it more in depth than on TV because of extras it has.  I could pull up for any of the drivers I wished and be as close to live as you can get. You can buy it at NASCAR.com .  It is great for those who have to work during the race or are not where you can see it on TV .

RaceBuddy is also a way to see drivers on eight cameras. This is free and you can change drivers each week so you can follow in the car, usually one who will likely be in top place.

6    Adult Nicolas and Granddad

Q:  When Jeff retires will you still be a race fan? Will you still choose 24 or another Hendrick Motorsports driver?

A:  Chase Elliott will now drive the number 24 car and race for Hendrick.  Definitely I’ll support him!  He’s young too. I’m sure he was influenced by Gordon coming in as the youngest driver 25 years ago.  The successful drivers were racing in small cars since preschool.  Gordon’s step father, John Bickford, had a  BMX two-wheel bike for him to race when he was a preschooler, but Jeff’s mom objected because it was not safe, so Bickford bought  him quarter-midget race car which had four wheels and a roll cage. Many good race drivers started that way and raced on dirt as young kids. Gordon was racing with older kids then and beating them. Jeff will always be my hero and remind me of my wonderful times with my grandparents!