My Great American Road Trip

To Americans, there’s nothing that holds more appeal than the classic road trip.

Moody Mansion, Galveston, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Moody Mansion, Galveston, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the ’20s, the car was a symbol of freedom—a chance to escape your small town or rural America.

As the highway system was developed in the ’50s and ’60s, a wave of young people set out on the road to explore the country, giving new life to America’s car and road trip culture.

And to this today, Americans have an ongoing love affair with the car and great open road. And no road trip holds more mystery and allure than traveling cross-country. It’s the king of all road trips.

In 1986 on a working road trip across the U.S. we drove our truck and fifth wheel trailer across the U.S. from west to the east and back west again.

Leaving our home in the Northwest we spent over eight months traversing the country, getting as far east as Virginia Beach, the Outer Banks, Charleston, Savannah,  and Jacksonville, and as far south as Orlando, Miami, the Everglades, and Key West before turning back west, driving across the southern states with numerous stops along the way including Pensacola, Mobile, Pascagoula, Galveston, San Antonio, El Paso, Las Cruces, Tucson, and Phoenix. But we barely scratched the surface of what America offers. We saw and experienced a lot—from the Rocky Mountains, to the Black Hills, across the Great Plains.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights
Our Grand Circle tour included Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights

But you don’t realize just how vast the U.S. is until you’ve been driving for twelve hours and notice you’re still in Texas.

The U.S. is big and there is still so much more of it to see.

During the past 18 years, we’ve driven over 130,000 miles in varied RVs as we explored America from the Oregon Coast to the Charleston and from the Upper Peninsula to the Rio Grande Valley.

We have traversed the U.S. along varied interstates and scenic routes and byways further exploring the beauty and uniqueness of this vast country. There is prodigious variety in the cities and towns and scenic attractions and offerings in various regions, a country of many impressions.

From Memphis to Montana, Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon, the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians, Wine Country in California, Utah’s Grand Circle Tour, Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Mobile, and much more, we continue our exploration in our trusty and comfy motorhome.

“What’s your favorite place to go?”

Sedona and Red Rock Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sedona and Red Rock Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course that’s what we’re asked. It’s the polite thing to ask, after all. People like to seem as if they’re interested in what you do. In this case, the question also always has a twinge of yearning.

I always give the same answer. I find something I like nearly everywhere I go, and it’s hard to pick just one or even two places.

People hate that answer.

“Come on. If you could pick just one place, where would you want to go again? Just one place.”

They all want to hear something exotic and bucket-listy. They want to hear the Key West or Santa Barbara, the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone, Sedona or Santa Fe, Charleston or Savannah. They don’t want the truth. Can they handle the truth?

The truth is, we have visited 34 states and 4 Canadian provinces in the past 18 years, and found something that we adored in every one of them.

Our decade and half of RV travel stoked a love affair with American and Canadian attractions and historic sites, local towns and cities, and national and state/provincial parks.

Historic Downtown Charleston has stood throughout Charleston’s history as the cultural capital of the South and is considered by many to be a living museum, with a wonderful variety of things to do and see. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Historic Downtown Charleston has stood throughout Charleston’s history as the cultural capital of the South and is considered by many to be a living museum, with a wonderful variety of things to do and see. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I did begin rereading John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley — an incredible rumination on the America that he experienced as he took a road trip around the country with his wife’s standard poodle as a companion. Steinbeck was 58 years old in 1960 when he began his journey, and he felt compelled to get out and really see the country for the first time in a long time. He said he felt like a criminal writing about a country that he didn’t know enough about anymore.

After all these miles and varied experiences, I still feel the same way.

The “Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise”, the best is yet to come as I have quite the long route in front of me. Please stay tuned!

Worth Pondering…

You’ve heard the old Willie Nelson country music song with the lyrics, “On the road again. Just can’t wait to get on the road again…” We’ll be singing this song for sure.

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9 Haunted Halloween Road Trip Destinations

Every town has a ghost story or two, but some places seem to attract more ghostly activity than others.

Salem Haunted HappeningsThe following four destinations are perfect choices for a spooky Halloween road trip this month.

Salem, Massachusetts

There is nowhere in the U.S. like Salem on Halloween! It’s got it all: fabulous fall foliage, New England charm, a horrifying history, and tons of Halloween events and activities.

This town was made famous by its witchcraft trials in 1692, where twenty innocent people were executed on charges of witchcraft. Salem pays tribute year-round to the history of the town with benches commemorating the dead and historic sites detailing the trials and events leading up to them.

Salem goes all out—there are haunted houses, special events at the Witch Museum, the House of Seven Gables, and the Witch House, street performers (often dressed as witches), parades, costume balls—so much is going on.

With most of the revelers dressed up in costumes, every inch of the town decorated for the holiday, and great themed events, you’ll feel like you’ve landed in Halloween Land! It truly is the most Halloween-themed of all of the Halloween destinations out there.

Tombstone, Arizona

Although Tombstone drips of tourism, there are ghost stories to be found.
Tombstone still looks the part of the Wild West when you walk down the old dirt road. Though the town shuts down early, you may be able to see where ‘the Swamper’ lived if you just ask.

The Swamper was a man in Tombstone who dug a tunnel through his living quarters into the mines to find silver. He was eventually caught and murdered.
In addition to the Swamper’s trail, visit the Bird Cage Theatre for a ghostly experience.

Sante Fe, New Mexico

There have been reports of Julia Staab descending this stairway dressed in black
There have been reports of Julia Staab descending this stairway dressed in black.

Santa Fe is full of ghosts. Some you hear about and some you don’t. One of the most famous is Julia Staab, who lives in, or more correctly, haunts the upscale hotel, La Posada. The beautiful Julia was the wife of wealthy Santa Fe merchant, Abraham Staab.

The Staabs were prosperous and abundant. They had seven children. Things went downhill when the eighth child, a son, died soon after his birth.

Reportedly, Julia went into a severe depression and may have even lost her sanity. Her hair is said to have turned white overnight. After several subsequent unsuccessful pregnancies, she took to her room and died in 1896 at the age of 52.

Julia is said to have loved her magnificent home and if you believe the stories, she is still there roaming the halls. Julia is a playful ghost and has been known to turn the faucets on in the bathrooms and move glasses around in the bar.

To read about our Ghost Walking Tour of Santa Fe, click here.

Galveston, Texas

Ashton Villa
Ashton Villa was built by James Moreau Brown, beginning in 1859. The family occupied the house by 1861. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston is full of ghosts, but the best place to get a good dose of them is at the amazing Ashton Villa mansion. Built in the 1860s by James Brown, the 6,000 square foot home is one of the few historical buildings to have survived the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. Even so, the Brown family watched as the water rose up to the tenth step of the grand staircase and flowed through the house like a river. Later it served as a Confederate hospital.

Sounds attributed to the ghost of Jame’s daughter Bettie are a frequent occurrence. Sometimes visitors on tour will hear her playing the piano. Beds will unmake themselves and chests will randomly lock and unlock. Some people claim to have witnessed ghost soldiers marching through the house. A caretaker once reported waking up in the night and witnessing a conversation from the past about marriage from two ghosts, and furniture will sometimes move.

Note: Ashton Villa is now home to the Galveston Island Visitor Information Center

More Haunted Destinations

Here are five additional spooky Halloween holiday destinations.

LanternResvFormLogoIn Decatur, Illinois, the ghosts of bootleggers and theater stagehands haunt buildings throughout the city.

In Athens, Ohio, a former mental hospital is packed with the ghosts of disgruntled patients.

And in Paulding, Michigan, locals report a mysterious phenomenon called the Paulding Light.

The religious separatist community of Zoar, Ohio, disbanded in the late 1800s—but resident spirits remain, at least according to guides with Lantern Tour of the Ghosts of Zoar, who lead haunted walks through town on Fridays and Saturdays through November 1.

Add some extra chills to an already thrilling zipline experience at ZipZone Canopy Tours near Columbus, Ohio. Freaky Flight Nights run Tuesday through Friday, October 28-31, at ZipZone, located at Camp Mary Orton near Worthington.

There is a cursed locale somewhere near you. So, pull out your costume , dust off your GPS, and grab a bag of fun-size candy bars for the road—it’s time for a haunted Halloween road trip!

Be safe and responsible during Halloween fun and travels.

Worth Pondering…

‘Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world.
—William Shakespeare

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RV Around Texas

With 267,000 square miles of amazing opportunities and unforgettable destinations, an RV visit to Texas is always exciting.

Our Texas RV Travel Bucket List continues.

San Antonio River Walk

The River Walk has grown to a stunning eight miles and will stretch to 15 miles by 2013. Each part offers a unique look and feel. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The River Walk has grown to a stunning eight miles and will stretch to 15 miles by 2013. Each part offers a unique look and feel. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The famed San Antonio River Walk is 2½ miles of beautifully landscaped waterfront with hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, and shopping and is one of the main tourist attractions in the state of Texas. Historically, the waterway was used by Spanish explorers to provide water to their missions. In 1929, Robert H.H. Hugman submitted his design plans to turn the area into a beautiful urban park with apartments, dining, shopping, and boat rides.

Since 1938 the River Walk has been a hub of culture for San Antonio. You can learn about San Antonio’s history aboard a river cruise, people watch as you enjoy delicious food on many of the restaurant’s outdoor patios and simply enjoy this beautiful piece of the Lone Star State.

The World Birding Center (WBC)

The World Birding Center (WBC) is a network of nine unique birding sites in the Lower Rio Grande Valley along a 120-mile corridor following the Rio Grande from Roma to South Padre Island.

The mission of the WBC is to protect native habitat, while increasing the understanding and appreciation of birds and wildlife.

Combining Birding and Photography with our life on the road is like enjoying pecan pie with Blue Bell ice cream for dessert following a turkey feast on Thanksgiving Day! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
In addition to nearly 30 bird species found nowhere else in the US, the Lower Rio Grande Valley is home to an astonishing concentration of more widespread birds. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive through subtropical Texas to share the borderlands mix of Texan and Mexican heritage, and take time to look for any of the more than 500 bird species that have been documented in the region.

Three Texas state parks are part of the WBC. They contribute to the Valley’s reputation as a nature destination where visitors come from around the world. Like us, many stay for months at a time, to enjoy the climate, culture, and access to hundreds of species of winged creatures.

The WBC’s network of nine nature sites include Roma Bluffs, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Quinta Mazatlan, Old Hidalgo Pumphouse, Edinburg Scenic Wetlands, Estero Llano Grande State Park, Harlingen Arroyo Colorado, Resaca de la Palma State Park, and South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center.

Galveston

The Bishop’s Palace is recognized as one of America’s finest examples of Victorian exuberance and Gilded-Age extravagance. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Bishop’s Palace is recognized as one of America’s finest examples of Victorian exuberance and Gilded-Age extravagance. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the oldest cities in Texas and a major port, Galveston sits on a barrier island two miles offshore, surrounded by 32 miles of sandy beaches, numerous attractions, and one of the largest and best-preserved concentrations of Victorian architecture in the United States.

Once known as “the Wall Street of the Southwest,” Galveston later became the site of the worst natural disaster in U.S. history.

But the Hurricane of 1900 changed everything. Galveston’s prosperity suddenly came to a halt on September 8, 1900, when the deadliest natural disaster in United States history hit Galveston Island.

Centerpiece of today’s city is the Victorian restoration, in which many neighborhoods have been restored to their 19th-century splendor.

Galveston boasts four districts on the National Register of Historic Places: The Strand National Historic Landmark District, East End National Historic Landmark District, Silk Stocking District, and Central Business District. Galveston is home to three National Historic Landmarks: Tall Ship Elissa, East End, and The Strand. There are approximately 1,500 historic buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.

One of the most popular of these landmark districts is The Strand National Historic Landmark District, formerly known as “Wall Street of the Southwest” and now home to more than 100 shops, antique stores, restaurants, and art galleries. The Strand has one of the largest and best preserved concentrations of Victorian, iron-front commercial architecture in the United States.

Today, this barrier island city, situated approximately 40 miles southeast of Houston, is a living history adventure.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Please Note: This is part 2 of an on-going series on our Texas Bucket List

Worth Pondering…

Winter Texan is Better Than No Texan

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Cool, Crisp Camping Weather Major Texas State Parks Draw

With summer vacations a distant memory, cooler temperatures on the horizon, and foliage morphing into dazzling shades of crimson and gold, autumn promises optimum camping conditions in a Texas State Park near you.

Whether you’re a novice to the outdoors or seasoned camper, there’s no better time of year to pitch a tent or park your RV on a sunny beach, beneath towering pines, or overlooking a sparkling lake at such destinations as Galveston Island, Buescher, and Possum Kingdom state parks, according to a news release.

“Fall’s a perfect time to camp out because of cooler evenings, but daytime temperatures typically remain warm enough to enjoy water-based activities like canoeing and fishing,” says Ky Harkey, Texas State Parks outdoor education team leader.

Harkey recommends campers focus on three priorities: safety, Leave No Trace camping practices, and simply having fun.

He says for visitor safety and the protection of the environment, set up camp only in designated camping sites. Campfires are great for enjoying quality family time, but to keep the forest healthy avoid collecting firewood. Don’t forget the marshmallows and playing cards to complete a perfect evening.

For those who have never camped or haven’t done so in many years, Harkey suggests participating in the Texas Outdoor Family program. Since its launch in 2008, the program has grown to include state parks across Texas and its workshops have expanded to meet the interests of curious campers.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is a huge, pink granite exfoliation dome, that rises 425 feet above ground. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The goals and objectives of the Texas Outdoor Family Workshop program include:

  • To teach traditional outdoor skills in a relaxed and pressure-free environment
  • To promote family-oriented recreation
  • To teach responsible use of city, county, state, and federal parks
  • To lead novice families in a genuine camping experience
  • To encourage volunteer teaching and sharing of experiences by local outdoor enthusiasts
  • To promote healthy, active lifestyles in our citizens

For only $65, families up to six can try a two-day workshop held at state parks throughout Texas that focus on teaching families how to set up a tent, cooking in the outdoors, and learning valuable outdoor skills, such as paddling, geocaching, and fishing.

Upcoming Texas Outdoor Family learn-to-camp programs include:

November 17 — Dinosaur Valley State Park (near DFW) – Special Theme – Dutch Oven Cooking

November 17 — Stephen F. Austin State Park (near Houston) – Special Theme – Buffalo Soldiers Living History

November 17 — Lake Casa Blanca State Park (South Texas)

December 1 — Enchanted Rock State Natural Area (near Austin)

December 1 — Brazos Bend State Park (near Houston)

December 8 — Enchanted Rock State Natural Area (near Austin)

December 8 — Lake Mineral Wells State Park (near DFW) – Special Rock Climbing Event & Cowboy Christmas celebration!

December 8 — Brazos Bend State Park (near Houston)

Details

Texas Outdoor Family (TOF)

Additional information and a complete schedule of the winter/spring Texas Outdoor Family program are available on the website.

Website: tpwd.state.tx.us/outdoorfamily

Worth Pondering…

No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength.
—Jack Kerouac

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50 American Gems

You might have seen it on a shelf and thought, “I should pick that up.”

The guided tour of the Moody Mansion includes a history of the Moody family in the context of late 19th and 20th century Galveston and Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The guided tour of the Moody Mansion includes a history of the Moody family in the context of late 19th and 20th century Galveston and Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s the national bestseller, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.”

Sometimes the best adventures are those in your own backyard.

Here, in alphabetical order, are 50 things to do or see in your RV before you die:

The Florida Keys & Key West, Florida

The Florida Keys are a 106-mile-long chain of islands that begin at the very bottom of Florida’s mainland. Often referred to as America’s Caribbean, these islands are surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other.

Key Largo is the first island south of the Florida mainland, and Key West is approximately 100 miles south of Key Largo on Overseas Highway. In between are the lovely islands of Islamorada, Long Key, Marathon, Big Pine Key, and many more. But only in Key West does the sun shine the brightest when it sets. Everyone gathers for the never planned, always varied Sunset Celebration on the Mallory Dock.

Galveston, Texas

One of the oldest cities in Texas and a major port, Galveston sits on a barrier island two miles offshore, surrounded by 32 miles of sandy beaches, numerous attractions, and one of the largest and best-preserved concentrations of Victorian architecture in the U. S.

Galveston boasts four districts on the National Register of Historic Places: The Strand National Historic Landmark District, East End National Historic Landmark District, Silk Stocking District, and Central Business District. It is home to three National Historic Landmarks: Tall Ship Elissa, East End, and The Strand. There are approximately 1,500 historic buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.

Continue reading →

Glacier National Park, Montana

Encompassing over 1.2 million acres, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers unparalleled opportunities for water-based & backcountry recreation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Encompassing over 1.2 million acres, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers unparalleled opportunities for water-based & backcountry recreation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Glacier National Park borders Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada — the two parks known as Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park were designated as the world’s first International Peace Park in 1932. Both parks were designated by the United Nations as an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976, and in 1995 as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

One defining feature of Glacier is the engineering wonder known as the Going-to-the-Sun Road. This spectacular 50-mile highway clings to the edge of the world as cars—and bikes—cross over the Continental Divide at Logan Pass.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona & Utah

Lake Powell is the second largest man-made lake in the U.S. stretching 186 miles across the red rock desert from Page, Arizona to Hite, Utah.

Access to Lake Powell and Glen Canyon by road is very limited. Activities are concentrated at the western edge, near Page, where various beaches, resorts, marinas, and campsites are found along the shoreline. At the far northeast end of the lake there are basic services and a few tracks leading to the water at Hite. The only other paved approach roads are to the Bullfrog and Halls Crossing marinas which are opposite each other and linked by ferry.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park encompasses 1,218,375 acres and lies on the Colorado Plateau in northwestern Arizona. The land is semi-arid and consists of raised plateaus and structural basins typical of the southwestern United States.

A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drainage systems have cut deeply through the rock, forming numerous steep-walled canyons. Forests are found at higher elevations while the lower elevations are comprised of a series of desert basins.

The Grand Canyon is considered one of the finest examples of arid-land erosion in the world. The Canyon, incised by the Colorado River, is immense, averaging 4,000 feet deep for its entire 277 miles. It is 6,000 feet deep at its deepest point and 15 miles at its widest.

Continue reading →

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina & Tennessee
Amid the majestic southern climax of the Appalachian Highlands, Great Smoky Mountains draws more than nine million adventurers and sightseers each year. And for good reason—the Smokies are within a day’s drive of a third of the U.S. population, and very few places in the East are in their league as an outdoor-recreation destination.

Great Smoky Mountains protects one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, a place that supports more than 4,000 species of plants, approximately 100 species of native trees, 66 mammals, and 240 species of birds.

Continue reading →

John F. Kennedy Space Center, Florida

NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center has helped set the stage for America’s adventure in space for five decades. The spaceport has served as the departure gate for every American manned mission and hundreds of advanced scientific spacecraft. From the early days of Project Mercury to the Space Shuttle Program and International Space Station, from the Hubble Space Telescope to the Mars rovers, the center enjoys a rich heritage in its vital role as NASA’s processing and launch center.

Please Note: This is Part 4 of an 8-part series on 50 Places to RV Before You Die

Worth Pondering…

There is something very special about the natural world, and each trip outdoors is like an unfinished book just waiting for you to write your own chapter.

—Paul Thompson

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I Dream of Galveston: The Strand & Texas Seaport Museum

Today we conclude the series on our favorite Galveston attractions.

Strand Historic District

Entrance to tThe Strand Historic District. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Entrance to tThe Strand Historic District. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston’s Strand was the city’s primary commercial area during the second half of the 19th century, when its star was bright and full of great promise. A thriving, energetic, and prosperous district, the Strand developed alongside the shipping channel and port that helped make the city the largest metropolis in the state.

Remaining buildings, many of them restored in recent years, display the range of architectural styles popular during the Victorian period. Notable buildings include Hendley Row, adjoining buildings constructed from 1858 to 1859, now the oldest commercial buildings in Galveston; the 1870 J. S. Brown Hardware Company Building, at one time the largest hardware firm south of the Mason Dixon line; the Rosenburg Building which housed the largest dry goods store in Texas in the 1870s; and the 1884 W. L. Moody Building, built by cotton broker, banker and state legislator Colonel W. L. Moody.

Features that give the Strand its unique charm include the high curbs, the overhanging canopies that were meant to shade the streets, and the horse drawn carriages that pass slowly in the streets.

The Strand Historic District, a National Historic Landmark, is roughly bounded by Avenue A, 20th Street, the alley between avenues C and D, and the railroad depot. The Galveston’s Strand neighborhood was never revived after the devastation of the 1900 hurricane, but it was part of a restoration project in the 1970s.

Today, it remains a popular downtown retail center featuring art galleries and studios, specialty shops, restaurants, pubs, delicatessens, and historical exhibits within a 36-block area. The Strand is also the center of Mardi Gras celebrations, Dickens on the Strand festivities.

The Strand remains a popular downtown retail center featuring art galleries and studios, specialty shops, restaurants, pubs, delicatessens, and historical exhibits within a 36-block area. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Strand remains a popular downtown retail center featuring art galleries and studios, specialty shops, restaurants, pubs, delicatessens, and historical exhibits within a 36-block area. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In this part of town are the Galveston County Historical Museum, the Mardi Gras Museum, the Railroad Museum, and the Grand  1894 Opera House.

The Strand, once the Wall Street of the Southwest, is one of the finest concentrations of 19th-century iron-front commercial buildings in the United States.

Website: thestrand.com

Texas Seaport Museum and 1877 Tall Ship Elissa

Indeed, the restoration of this graceful barque of 1877 (Elissa) is reckoned by many to be the finest restoration of an active sailing ship extant.

—Peter Stanford, President, National Maritime Historical Society

The Texas Seaport Museum tells the story of a rich legacy of seaborne commerce and immigration.

The museum holds two floors of exhibits, historic photos, and displays. First-floor exhibits show some of the people who worked on Galveston during the 19th century, when it was a busy seaport. In addition to sailors and ship owners, there were 13- and 14-year-old apprentices training to become officers in the merchant service.

On the second floor, an exhibit highlights Galveston’s importance as a port of entry for immigrants during the 19th and 20th centuries. The city was once known as “the Ellis Island of the West.”

The Texas Seaport Museum compiled a computerized list of immigrants to Galveston for the period 1846 through 1948. Visitors can use computer terminals in the exhibition area to view the list. The database includes the names of passengers and other information retrieved from ships’ passenger manifests. The names of more than 133,000 passengers are entered.

Elissa is a three-masted, iron-hulled sailing ship built in 1877 in Aberdeen, Scotland by Alexander Hall & Company. She sailed with a crew of about a dozen, hauled up to 430 tons of cargo in its belly, and carried nineteen sails covering over one-quarter of an acre in surface area. The 134-year-old tall ship, which after 32 years as centerpiece of the Texas Seaport Museum, has drawn tens of thousands of passengers who simply want to walk the decks.

Share the adventure of the high seas at the Texas Seaport Museum, home of the celebrated 1877 tall ship Elissa, a floating National Historic Landmark. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Share the adventure of the high seas at the Texas Seaport Museum, home of the celebrated 1877 tall ship Elissa, a floating National Historic Landmark. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tall ships are classified by the configuration of their sailing rig. In Elissa’s case, she is a ‘barque’ because she carries square and fore-and-aft sails on her fore and mainmasts, but only fore-and-aft sails on her mizzenmast. From her stern to the tip of her jibboom she measures 205 feet. Her height is 99 feet, nine inches at the main mast and she displaces about 620 tons at her current ballast.

At the end of its working career, it sat for years, minus its sailing rig, in a Greek scrap yard.

Marine archaeologist Peter Throckmorton saw it in 1961 and identified it as an old sailing ship. Plans were put into motion to try to save it. Eventually the Galveston Historical Foundation bought it for $40,000. Its hull, made of riveted iron, had to be patched with steel to make it seaworthy enough to be towed from Greece to Galveston, where it was restored.

Old pictures, plans, and documents were consulted during the five-year restoration, which cost about $4 million. Much had to be re-created, but most of the hull and framework are original.

Informational plaques aboard ship identify various features and give their history.

Admission includes self-guided tours of the Texas Seaport Museum and Elissa, a theater presentation, and access to the Galveston Immigration Database.

Admission: $8

Location: Pier 21, Number 8, Harborside Drive

Information: (409) 763-1877

Please Note: This is the eighth in a series of stories on favorite Galveston attractions

Texas Spoken Friendly

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

Worth Pondering…
Galveston, oh Galveston, I still hear your sea winds blowin’
I still see her dark eyes glowin’
She was 21 when I left Galveston.
—Glen Campbell

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I Dream of Galveston: Seawolf Park

Seawolf Park, a popular fishing spot, features a three-story pavilion, the USS Cavalla, the USS Stewart, a fishing pier, and a children’s playground. The park was built on an immigration station site.

USS Cavalla

Seawolf Park as seen from the Galveston-Bolivar Ferry. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The USS Cavalla is berthed in Seawolf Park as a memorial to the lost submarine USS Seawolf. The Cavalla was a Gato class fleet sub, designed and built in the summer of 1943 by the Electric Boat Company and launched on November 14, 1943. She was commissioned on February 29, 1944. On June 19, 1944, on her maiden patrol, she sank the 30,000 ton aircraft carrier Shokaku—a veteran of Pearl Harbor and Battle of Coral Sea. This earned her the Presidential Unit Citation.

The Cavalla was decommissioned after the war (1946). She was brought back to service in 1951 and assigned to the Submarine Squadron 10 in New London, Connecticut. To meet the Soviet threat, she underwent conversion in 1952 to a new class of American sub—the SSK (hunter/killer).

On January 21, 1971, the U.S. Navy transferred possession of Cavalla to the Texas Submarine Veterans of WWII. The Cavalla was then delivered to her permanent berth in Seawolf Park.

USS Stewart

One of only two surviving destroyer escorts in the United States, the USS Stewart is berthed at Seawolf Park alongside the historic submarine, USS Cavalla.

Built at Brown Shipbuilding Company in Houston, Texas in 1942, and commissioned May 31, 1943, the 307 foot destroyer escort USS Stewart, is the second ship named for Rear Admiral Charles Stewart, commander of the USS Constitution from 1813 to 1815. Stewart began her service as a school ship, training student officers prior to escorting President Roosevelt in the presidential yacht down the Potomac River to rendezvous with USS Iowa in the Chesapeake Bay for his mission to Casablanca and Tehran.

Seawolf Park as seen from the Galveston-Bolivar Ferry. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

She commenced North Atlantic convoy operations in 1944, making 30 crossings with occasional enemy submarine and aircraft encounters. Stewart was moved to the Pacific theater in 1945, to conduct training exercises out of Pearl Harbor until the end of the war.

Decommissioned in late 1945, she was formally donated to Seawolf Park in 1972.

Phone: (409)797-5114

Website: cavalla244.org

Admission: $6/vehicle; seniors $3/vehicle

RV Park

Plans are moving forward for an RV park at Seawolf Park, a project estimated to cost nearly $2 million.

Seawolf Park as seen from the Galveston-Bolivar Ferry. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Park Board of Trustees approved $120,000 from Federal Emergency Management Agency public works funds to pay for an architectural company’s engineering and administration fees to get the project started.

In a budget update to the park board, Randall-Porterfield Architects estimated the RV campground will cost $1.89 million and include 44 RV spaces.

It is expected that within the next six months, the park board will be ready to accept bids on construction of the RV Park. The RV site will be developed on about 4 acres left of the entrance to the park and west of the parking lot at Seawolf Park.

Please Note: This is the seventh in a series of stories on favorite Galveston attractions

Texas Spoken Friendly

Let your memory be your travel bag.

Worth Pondering…
Galveston, oh Galveston, I am so afraid of dying
Before I dry the tears she’s crying
Before I watch your sea birds flying in the sun
At Galveston, at Galveston.

—Glen Campbell

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I Dream of Galveston: Pier 21 Theater, Seawall & More

Following are more of our favorite Galveston attractions.

Pier 21 Theater

The Pier 21 Theater features two theatrical presentations about Galveston’s historic past: The Great Storm and The Pirate Island of Jean Lafitte. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Pier 21 Theater features two theatrical presentations about Galveston’s historic past: The Great Storm and The Pirate Island of Jean Lafitte.

The Great Storm is a 27-minute, powerful, wide-screen multi-image presentation of the greatest disaster in Galveston history, the 1900 hurricane in which an estimated 6,000 people lost their lives. Photographs, eyewitness accounts, and dramatic sound and light effects honor the indomitable spirit of Galvestonians, who refused to accept defeat and rebuilt their city. Showtime is every hour on the hour.

The Pirate Island of Jean Lafitte tells the story of early island inhabitants and the pirate captain Jean Lafitte. Was the famous islander a pirate or patriot? Smuggler or businessman? Merciless murderer and thief, or hero in time of war? These are the contradictions of the legendary Jean Laffite, and the premise of this 18-minute film directed by C. Grant Mitchell. Showtime is every hour on the half-hour.

Admission: The Great Storm $5; The Pirate Island of Jean Laffite $4

Location: Pier 21, Harborside Drive

Information: (409) 763-8808

1859 St. Joseph Church

1860 St. Joseph’s Church is a deconsecrated historic church building managed as a community and historic resource by Galveston Historical Foundation. (Credit: galvestonhistory.org)

The oldest German Catholic Church in Texas and the oldest wooden church building in Galveston, St. Joseph’s was built by German immigrants in 1859-60. Bishop John Odin, the first Catholic bishop of Texas, recommended that a church be built for the German-speaking Catholics of the growing city. The church was dedicated in April 1860, to St. Joseph, the patron saint of laborers.

The building is a simple wooden Gothic Revival structure, rectangular with a square bell tower with trefoil window. The softly painted interior features a coffered ceiling with painted quatrefoils and other Gothic symbols.

Although damaged in the 1900 Storm, the church was repaired, enlarged, and redecorated within the year, retaining its original architectural character. In 1905, St. Joseph’s was raised 2 ½ feet for $290. In 1968, the Catholic Diocese closed the church and sold the contents at public auction. Upon learning that the building was to be used as a warehouse, Galveston Historical Foundation stepped in and leased the property. Most of the original furnishings were recovered, re-installed, and the structure was stabilized.

Galveston Historical Foundation continues to maintain the building and opens it for special occasions, prearranged group tours, and private functions.

Location: 2202 Avenue K

Information: (409) 765-7834

1839 Samuel May Williams Home

This rare combination of Creole-plantation and New England architectural styles was built in 1838 for Samuel May Williams, secretary to Stephen F. Austin and founder of the Texas Navy.

City of Galveston co-founder Samuel May Williams built his house on a large lot, well away from town. Today, the city surrounds it. (Credit: galvestonhistory.org)

Williams played an important role in early Texas history. The son of a ship captain, he was born on October 4, 1795, in Providence, Rhode Island. He learned the trades of bookkeeping and international commerce while employed by his uncle in Baltimore. After working in Buenos Aires and New Orleans, Williams arrived in Mexican Texas in 1822, settling in San Felipe de Austin. In 1838, Williams, along with Michel B. Menard and other early Texas businessmen, helped found the Galveston City Company. A year later the city of Galveston was incorporated.

Williams died on September 13, 1858, at the age of 63, without a will. The four surviving Williams children divided the property and sold the house to Philip Tucker. The Tucker family lived in the house until 1953, when it was sold to the Galveston Historical Foundation. The foundation restored the house and operated it as a house museum until 2007. Today it is a private residence, and closed to the public.

Location: 3601 Avenue P

Phone: (409)762-3933

The Seawall

Running parallel to Galveston Beach and the Gulf of Mexico is the island’s famous Seawall that stretches for more than 10 miles and rises 17 feet above mean sea level. The Seawall was built to protect Galveston from hurricanes, following the Hurricane of 1900 devastated the island.

The Seawall is as much a playground as it a protective barrier for the City against the ever changing tides of the Gulf of Mexico. Whether you enjoy biking, strolling, or just people watching, the Seawall is the place to visit!

Please Note: This is the sixth in a series of stories on favorite Galveston attractions

Texas Spoken Friendly

My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been…

Worth Pondering…
I still see her standing by the water
Standing there lookin’ out to sea
And is she waiting there for me?
On the beach where we used to run.
—Glen Campbell

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I Dream of Galveston: Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum

Three floors of models and interactive displays illustrate the story of offshore oil and gas from seismic technology to exploration and production. Scale models of production platforms, actual drill bits, and remotely-operated vehicles as well as videos and exhibits explain drilling, geology, seismic, well servicing, and production.

The Ocean Star was a Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit, and as such it was towed from place-to-place to drill test wells in the quest for oil and gas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Following a leisurely tour inside the museum, visitors can take the skywalk out onto the drill floor of the rig, or visit the exhibits on the pipe deck from the first floor of the museum.

A former offshore drilling rig, the Ocean Star was built in 1969 at the Bethlehem Steelyard in Beaumont, Texas. The Ocean Star, with its large (210 feet x 170 feet) A-frame mud mat, was designed to work primarily in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Ocean Star was a Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit, and as such it was towed from place-to-place to drill test wells in the quest for oil and gas. Since its 234-foot-long legs had to reach the ocean floor, the Ocean Star was limited to working in a maximum depth of 173 feet. This depth left enough space for the required air gap (space between the rig and the ocean) of 25-30 feet. During its working life, the Ocean Star drilled about 200 wells.

Entering the Ocean Star you’ll learn how oil workers board the rig by way of a “Billy Pugh” personal basket. The remainder of the first floor highlights the sub-sea operations in offshore drilling.

An aquarium showcases two aspects of the offshore industry: a scale model depicting the Ocean Star’s legs and mud mat and the Rigs to Reef program, in which the offshore industry benefits marine life by converting obsolete platforms into artificial reef habitats.

The Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum and Education Center is docked at Pier 19 in Galveston. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Across from the aquarium is the Mitchell Energy Theater where you’ll view a 15-minute film “The Story of Offshore”.

Visitors continue their tour by proceeding to level 2—discovery and production. The purpose of a drilling rig is to drill a hole miles deep in the ocean floor in hopes of finding oil or gas. The Ocean Star’s role was merely to find oil. Once oil is found, a production platform is built to produce the oil.

As you continue through this level, you’ll learn how geological and seismic evidence are used to determine where oil and gas are likely to be found.

You’ll continue your tour by proceeding to level 3—life on a rig. Except for the control room, level 3 was added when the Ocean Star was converted into a museum. As well as affording a bird’s eye view of the seascape, this level has various models of rigs and ships used in the offshore industry.

You’ll conclude your tour by passing through the control room and crossing the skywalk onto the drill floor where the actual drilling work occurred. Standing under the 147-foot-high derrick gives one a sense of what it must be like to work on such an extraordinary piece of equipment.

Admission: $8; seniors $5

Location: Pier 19, Harborside Drive

The museum features three floors of models and interactive displays illustrating the story of offshore oil and gas from seismic technology to exploration and production. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Information: (409) 766-STAR (7827)

Website: oceanstaroec.com

Please Note: This is the fifth in a series of stories on favorite Galveston attractions

Texas Spoken Friendly

Too often we are so preoccupied with the destination, we forget the journey.

Worth Pondering…
Galveston, oh Galveston, I still hear your sea waves crashing
While I watch the cannons flashing
I clean my gun and dream of Galveston.
—Glen Campbell

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I Dream of Galveston: The Moody Heritage

Following are more of our favorite Galveston attractions…

Moody Gardens

The Rainforest Pyramid is now open after $25 million in enhancements. (Credit: drclue.com)

Surprises abound at Moody Gardens, a 242-acre wonderland just off Interstate 45 northeast of Offats Bayou. Lush gardens surround the 242 acre complex, which features three shimmering glass pyramids rising from the coastal flats that contain fascinating exhibits plus 3D IMAX Theatre.

The Aquarium Pyramid, the largest and arguably most remarkable exhibit of the three pyramids, boasts 1.5 million gallons of aquatic environments and houses about 8,000 specimens of marine life from the North and South Pacific, South Atlantic, and Caribbean. Sharks, sea turtles, eels, and thousands of beautiful tropical fish swim overhead as you navigate through an underwater tunnel completely surrounded by the exhibit’s one-million gallons of water.

Sharks In Depth, the latest exhibit in the Aquarium Pyramid, explores the mysterious and often-misunderstood world of sharks, from where they live and what they eat, to how they are designed for their environments.

The Rainforest Pyramid is now open after $25 million in enhancements that takes you closer than ever to the over 1,000 species of exotic plants and animals from the rainforests of Africa, Asia, and the Americas that populate the multi-level 10-story glass pyramid.

Your journey starts through the Rainforests of the World on a new walkway overlooking the endangered giant Amazon River otter exhibit before entering the pyramid at the canopy level, letting you explore the rainforest from the air and giving you a better opportunity to spot the birds, sloths, white-faced saki monkeys, cotton-top tamarins, and other free-roaming tree-dwellers.

Scarlet Macaw at the Moody Gardens Rain Forest Pyramid. (Credit: Dee Ann Pederson/art.com)

The canopy walkway also includes one of Moody Gardens’ most beloved features— a walk-in butterfly exhibit that lets you mingle with several species of beautiful butterflies.

And the pink-hued Discovery Pyramid offers a unique peek into the world of science, from the heavens to the earth. Spectacular traveling exhibits from around the country provide interactive demonstrations showcasing the world of science that surrounds you.

The current exhibit, “Bones: An Exhibit Inside You”, was originally developed by the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. The exhibit features exciting and interactive activities to teach visitors about bones. It examines bone biology, keeping bones healthy, and how bones are a part of cultures all over the world.

Admission: $49.95 (includes admission  to Aquarium Pyramid, 3D Theater, 4D Special FX Theater, Ridefilm Theater, Discovery Museum, and Colonel Paddlewheel Boat); two-day pass $64.95; discount available when purchased online

Location: One Hope Boulevard

Admission: (800) 582-4673

Website: moodygardens.com

Moody Mansion

Purchased by W.L. Moody six days after the 1900 storm (reportedly for “ten cents on the dollar”), this imposing 28,000-square-foot limestone and-brick mansion has 32 rooms filled with opulent furnishings and heirlooms from one of Texas’s most powerful families. Mr. and Mrs. Moody and their four children celebrated the first of more than eighty Christmas seasons in the house in December of that year. Built in 1895, the mansion remained home for Moody family members until 1986.

The guided tour of the Moody Mansion includes a history of the Moody family in the context of late 19th and 20th century Galveston and Texas.

The guided tour of the Moody Mansion includes a history of the Moody family in the context of late 19th and 20th century Galveston and Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The furnishings are all original to the family and to the house. Each room on the main floor is decorated in a different style. The house was meticulously restored in the late 1980s and first opened to the public in 1991.

When W.L. Moody died in 1954, Time magazine proclaimed him one of the 10 wealthiest men in the country. Moody’s philanthropist daughter, Mary Moody Northen, made her social debut in the mansion’s ballroom in 1911 and lived here until it was damaged by hurricane Alicia in 1983. It was subsequently restored with 1900- era furnishings.

During Hurricane Ike, five feet of water covered the main floor; however tours of Moody Mansion were able to be resumed the following Thanksgiving weekend.

Admission: $8.00; seniors $7

Location: 2618 Broadway

Phone: (409) 762-7668 or (409) 765-9770

Website: moodymansion.org

Please Note: This is the fourth in a series of stories on favorite Galveston attractions

Texas Spoken Friendly

Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.

Worth Pondering…
Galveston, oh Galveston, I still hear your sea winds blowin’
I still see her dark eyes glowin’
She was 21 when I left Galveston.
—Glen Campbell

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