Fort Myers, Florida

We thought most of our possessions were gone when we started our travel experience. We did have a small storage space with what we thought was just enough stuff to set up a small apartment. However, when the boxes and furnishings came into our new house we were overwhelmed. We had planned to keep traveling Florida because we had all our winter reservations made, but we gave in and decided we needed to unpack first.

As it turned out that worked out well. I needed to fly to Rockford, Illinois to be with a daughter having surgery and our son and wife came to visit us for Christmas and friends stopped by as they moved south. I love how God orchestrates everything.

Florida Christmas Tree

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Okay, things were settled in the house so we traveled on to Fort Myers. But the real story is our experience at Fort Myers Beach RV Resort, an Encore park. The location was close to everything so that was great. However, arriving we could see everyone was squeezed in very close and tight. The streets were one lane and old trees canopied the turns. We unhooked the Jeep and a worker led us down the first lane through mobile homes and trailers. At the end of the street there was a sharp turn. Two men saw we were going to need to make a sharp turn where someone’s house sat and a large tree hugged the road. I was reminded of my angel lady in the forest who magically got Jim past a ditch and through the trees. Were those guys going to be as proficient? They all tried and tried but 42’ was not intended to make such a tight turn. Finally, some other people who had parked with large motor homes said he had to go to the end of the road and come through another street, drive through one parking place that was open, across to the next street to get into our place. How exhausting. Who needs the pressure? No sooner were we in than our thoughts turned to how we would ever get out. So to all you large motor home people we want to alert you to stay away from this park. There is a lovely newer RV park down the street behind the new Wal-Mart. More expensive but worth it.

Anyway, the Fort Myers area has lots to offer. We only had a few days but were able to connected with the people we hoped to see including Jim’s brother. We checked out Sanibel Island and Captiva Island. The roads were packed with people enjoying the weekend. Many people were fishing and looked like they were having a really good day as we saw fish swinging from rods all along the way. My favorite mental picture was watching two men standing by what looked like a little lake with their lines out of the water as they watched a school of what looked like white bass, jumping everywhere. Maybe it was such an amazing sight they didn’t want to disturb them by fishing.

We quickly learned The Love Boat Ice Cream Parlor, next door to the RV Park, was the place for ice cream. They had long lines every evening. We recommend it too. Warning, or nice surprise, a small ice cream cup is four scoops.

I see I left you hanging by not telling you we did get out of the park just fine. Fortunately, the spot we drove through to get in hadn’t filled so Jim was able to back up to turn. As I took the car to the exit I stopped by the office and asked for another spotter. Just as needed, a worker showed up and asked our neighbor to move his car so we had more room and we drove right out (never to return).

 

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The Villages, Florida

Our blogs have been delayed because after visiting The Villages two more times we were hooked. The more we learned the more impressed we became with the way someone had created a beautiful town catering to retirement age people with such excellence. We continue to be impressed.

We found a house that was just perfect for us in the new area they are building and bought it. Here are a few pictures of some of the activities we enjoyed while waiting to close on the house.

They have a beautiful polo field where they compete in the spring and fall. When its not being used people fly model airplanes or kites overhead.

We had never seen a game so had to check it out. Golf cart drivers showed their skills with synchrinized driving at … I guess halftime. They even had senior cheerleaders, although we didn’t see any big jumps or cartwheels. Everyone was invited onto the field to press down all the divots, and Champagne was served in the center of the field for motivation. I guess it’s a big deal if you get one of the polo balls. A woman crawled into the bushes below us to capture one that was out-of-bounds. As we were leaving a few minutes before the game was finished, and before happy hour began, a ball was shot into the parking lot where our car was parked. We were curious to see exactly what the ball looked like because the referees picked them up with a hook on a long stick and the players bounced them on the end of their polo stick. (Hope polo players don’t read my description of their game) As I picked up the ball in the park lot people passing in golf cars cheered as if I had captured a prize possession. Who knew.

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Sunset over our new neighborhood. Of course our house has a west view. I think it even rivals all the beautiful sunsets I enjoyed in Texas

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One of the driving ranges. Sometimes the little island is white with golf balls.

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A darling little roadster golf cart complete with hood and trunk.

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Wildwood, Florida

Sandhill cranes greeted us in the park surrounded by palm trees and tropical foliage. Outside that area cattle roamed on the nearby farms. I’ve only visited the southern and east coast in the past so was surprised by the beautiful horse pastures around Ocala and the rolling green hills everywhere. I thought everything would be flat. The area is called Lake Country which is very appropriate. There are so many lakes it appears everyone could have a lakefront house if they wanted to.

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We drove to Crystal River to see where the Manatees come in from the Gulf in the winter. A few stay there all year. The town is tiny but the area’s many lakes and scenic drive was enjoyable. We’ll go back again later to get out on the water.

The highway sign outside our RV Park said The Villages was a town three miles away. Some of the other campers said we needed to go there so, of course, we did. Jim had trained their pilots, who had tried to describe what it was, so he was curious. We learned they call it Disneyland for seniors. Great title. As we entered we started smiling like a kid heading for a thrill ride. Golf carts of all sorts whizzed by on special roads everywhere. The people can pull out of their golf cart garage and drive to the doctor, the grocery store, Walmart, the golf courses, or to a few of the 2500 clubs and activities they offer. We were hooked.

There are three town centers decorated with different themes. The newest is Brownwood which has a western theme. Of course we have seen a lot of western living in Texas but this place was over-the-tops Texas.

Here are some pictures of the golf carts parked along the streets. The three town centers have live music and entertainment every night of the year. Many people show up to dance. The impressive horse and cattle sculptures run along the Brownwood entrance.

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Another town square is called Sumter Lake which is decorated to represent towns from the northeast. From the old boat that sunk in the lake to the shells in the concrete walks they outdid themselves. The homes are clapboard and some have widow watches as a top floor. Very cute. To finish off our walk along the lakes boardwalk a bunch of large turtles were swimming along a pier. They were so graceful moving along together. Jim commented he had finally seen a herd of turtles.

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Destin, Florida & Miramar Beach, Florida

Miramar Beach/Destin, Florida

As many times as we’ve visited Florida I’d never heard of Destin until we lived in Texas. People there raved about the beautiful white beaches, saying it was a wonderful place to vacation so we needed to see this place for ourselves. They were not wrong. Oh, my goodness.  Called, “The Emerald Coast,” the white sand beaches ran for miles skirting the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The sand is so fine it felt like sugar.

We stayed in Miramar, which is one of those places that has everything you could want including the nations largest designer outlet center. There are souvenirs at Alvin’s but the area isn’t overrun with tourist stuff like Destin.

After walking the beach and watching sunsets we were curious if the beaches in the other beach towns were as spectacular. Our little trip to find out became a fifty-mile delight. (I regret I didn’t take pictures. Maybe we’ll go back) The Don Allen area had a campground with a tram to run you to the beach, the highest dunes around, and three dune lakes which are said to be very rare.

At the little town called Blue Mountain we found the same beautiful beaches as Miramar, and the water was extremely calm. Where the stairs descended to the beach, butterflies were swarming some wild flowers. They were so pretty.

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Next, we drove to Grayton Beach that is described as a laidback organic beach town with a hippy vibe. It reminded me more of an old fishing village until we saw the multicolored hand painted ragged planks nailed to poles as the street sign. Those beautiful white beaches have a place for everyone.

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The community of Seaside is described as a family place where everyone takes a personal interest in keeping their town beautiful. Pastel beach homes are surrounded by white picket fences. Very cute. They also have permanent lunch wagons along the town square that is surrounded by classy apartments and condos. I understand the trucks were feeding beachgoers long before the buildings blocked their view of the beach so they got to stay, which makes a nice excuse to hang out and meet people.

Alys Beach was another totally difference community. Driving into town the road suddenly became surrounded by large, perfectly manicured, green shrubs and white pillars. The feeling was as if we were entering a grand villa in the Mediterranean with its turquoise beaches.

We missed some of the beach town and finished our tour in Panama City knowing we must go come back again.

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Tallahassee, Florida

Tallahassee was surprisingly impressive with its rolling hills and prosperous looking city center. As the capital of Florida the downtown government buildings rise above impressive Cascade Park, which makes a nice outdoor retreat for workers on their lunch hour to walk, have a chat with friends, and a bite of lunch. The community can also boast of a new outdoor theater in the park. We always enjoy the chats we have with people along the way. A young mom with her baby at the parks bubble fountains was a delightful encounter.

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Just a few blocks further is the campus of Florida State University. Florida A and M University also calls Tallahassee home.

Jim even spotted a Whataburger near us. We haven’t seen one since we left Texas and I think he was having withdrawals. They must be expanding to Florida now. Just in time for us. Anyway, Tallahassee is a great town.

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Woodbine, Georgia

Spending a few days near the Cumberland Island National Seashore, the largest barrier island in Georgia, we did a little exploring. The town of Saint Marys rests quietly along the water’s shores. Although it seemed old and worn out, some of the old antebellum homes have been restored as Bed and Breakfast for those who want to get away from it all. The owners placed plaques dated early 1800s on their buildings. To us Americans that’s really old. A little research revealed the areas amazing history. A Timucuan Indian village first sat where the town was founded in 1787. The area was considered so strategic the English, Spanish, French speaking Acadian refugees, called Cajuns, and Americans battled over the land. The War of 1812, the American Revolution, and the Civil War were fought there, plus raids by smugglers and Native Americans.

Now, Kings Bay Navel Submarine Base is home to eight of America’s Ohio-class submarines. Hopefully, the one in the grass wasn’t one of them.

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Ohio-class nuclear-powered submarines are the largest built for the US Navy. In Georgia they have fourteen ballistic missile subs and four guided missile subs. I feel a little like I might be sharing national secrets, but this is obviously public knowledge. Learning about our military protection always makes me think how much I take for granted the people and equipment protecting our country.

 

Amelia Island, Florida

Driving twenty miles south, we were in Florida. Jim heard Amelia Island was a nice place and it was charming. The original town buildings were across the road and railroad tracks from the waterfront. People slowly strolled by and into the unique shops filled with interesting treasures.

Eight flags have flown over the Island with a history of war as far back as the 1500s. Today the little waterfront town has two lumber mills, a very nice channel where brilliant white boats wait along the dock. A waterfront restaurant had a continual crowd so after checking out the community we decided to join them for a late lunch. The weather was perfect for sitting outside on the deck overlooking the channel, and watching the boats came and went. I loved the movement of the white fluffy clouds against the bright blue sky, and the variety of sea birds that swooped past.

Our server suggest blackened Mahi Mahi and shrimp on rice with red peppers and … It was so delicious that when we finished and he told us about the peach bread pudding, we tried it too. After all, it gave us an excuse to linger at our table in the beautiful Florida breeze a little longer.

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Excited to finally be in Florida we drove into Jacksonville for church and shopping.

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Yemassee, South Carolina

At twenty-five feet above sea level in rain-drenched South Carolina we found the dark woods again. Stopping at the Visitor Center, which was an old plantation home, the 250 years old tree out front was weeping with Spanish moss, and the trunk of it had a bearded face.

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The ladies shared with us that the Parris Island Marine Base was having a graduation the next morning. As a Marine, Jim went through Boot Camp in San Diego about 48 years ago. He thought it would be interesting to see the east coast base, so we went. It was my first time on a military base so I especially enjoyed seeing the hundreds of graduates and their proud families, the campus, the marching platoons, and the obstacle courses. Jim pointed out they had real swamps all around to practice crawling through mud. Yuck.

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We were also close to Hilton Head. The golf courses there are world famous. An area called Sea Pines was lovely. Canopies trees cover the streets of homes and condos. People on bikes enjoyed the beautiful day all along the community bike paths. A lighthouse reigned over the harbor at the end of the road and pristine white boats and yachts waited patiently in the marina.

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Charleston

Charleston is the fourth busiest container port in the nation. The ruins of Fort Sumter lay off the coast a few miles. It is said the first shot of the civil war took place there. A museum along the coastal waters has done a good job telling the civil war story without having any bad guy. The sadness of a nation fighting itself, slaves needing to be free, and a President that carried the whole burden on his shoulders, was carefully depicted.

Charleston is so “Southern.” It was Labor Day weekend and couples holding hands wandered through the streets of the beautiful old home, along intriguing shops and restaurants, and through the French Quarters. This is the kind of place it would be easy to stay a few days.

We had lunch on the marina. The menu offered shrimp and grits, and okra soup. I’m continually inspired by the variety of American foods across the nation.

 

Savanna

Several people told us not to miss Savanna, Georgia. Now I know why. It’s going on the “One of my favorite spots” list. Savanna, Georgia has more than 2,300 restored colonial and Victorian homes and buildings. They offer trolley tours so we decided that would be the simplest way to see the area. Almost every block of the historic district had a park, or square, in the middle of the homes.

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Our favorite (of course) was the Davenport home built in 1820 by Isaiah Davenport. He was a Master Builder so he used his house as the model home to showcase his skills while raising his family of ten children. His home was the first saved for restoration and is now a museum. They ask all the Davenports who visit to sign a guest book, and we were shown a copy of Isaiah’s branch of our family tree (it is on-line at davenporthousemuseum.org).

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Isaiah Davenport, born 11/3/1787 died 10/16/1827. Married Sarah Rosamond Clark, born 2/22/1788 died 8/7/1869. The article states the first family’s first member to come to America was Thomas Davenport who was born in Dorchester, England in 1615 and died in Dorchester MA in 1685. His great-great grandson, Jonathan Davenport, was a Revolutionary War soldier and father of four sons. He apprenticed in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

We headed over to the riverbank where the cotton was once loaded on ships for overseas. The river wasn’t very wide so I was surprised when a huge cargo ship moved through. I love that they have left the cobblestone streets in front of the ancient buildings that are now shops and restaurants. It felt like a little bit of Europe.

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We chose The Shrimp Factory for lunch and there it was again, shrimp and grits. This time it included maple bacon and some kind of amazing sounding sauce. I thought if I was ever going to try shrimp and grits that should be the place. There were several delicious sounding choices but our waitress said shrimp and grits was the “don’t miss” item on the menu. Totally Delicious.

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I just had to save a picture of the recipe on the placemat for Chatham Artillery Punch from 1786 that the bar still serves. The story goes that a gentle lady made up the first beverage as lemonade, and then the officers sneaked in and added this and that.

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On the trolley we passed an ice cream parlor with a long line of people waiting. The driver said there is always a line waiting to get into Leopold’s Ice Cream shop, which was established in 1919, and is on “The Top Ten Best Ice Cream In The World” list. As we finished our day we drove by again and the line prevailed. Sometimes we know we better not miss the one time opportunity so we joined the crowd. I tried Rum with Macaroons and Honey Almond Cream. Jim had Coconut, with real strings of coconut, and Chocolate Chocolate Chip. The unique flavors were a delicious finish to our day.

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This blog sounds like Savanna was all about the food. Although they do have a reputation for delicious food, the arts reign, too. Many of the old business buildings around town have been purchased for the University of Art and Design. The old railroad depot is a historic museum for the area. Good job city leaders.

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Jackson Springs, North Carolina and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Jackson Springs, North Carolina

Sycamore Lodge Resort (Coast to Coast Deluxe) was very nice but a long way from a town of any size. Sand covered the ground and when it rained the granules bounced up and stuck to everything. Tall pine trees created shade but didn’t block the light like other places we’ve been. Instead of having a lot of mowing to do the workers picked up all the pinecones that fell overnight. The pine needles that covered the flower gardens seemed a perfect natural ground cover. Later, while driving behind a truck loaded with what looked like bales of hay, we realized it was bales of pine needles. I enjoy seeing how clever everyone is in using their natural resources.

My walks around the small lake and through any route I could find to catch another pretty scene were picture worthy.

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We found a good church in Southern Pines and took a day trip into Uwharrie National Forest. The visitor center offered a good map of the parks Jeep trails so we headed out to find some bumpy roads. Turning into the first dirt path we found on the map we climbed and wove through the forest. The fun had begun. A little later the terrain headed upward, and the rocks got bigger, until we were facing a wall of boulders. We have climbed such trails before but only at the Jeep Jamborees where we had a spotter helping us know where to put the tires so we didn’t fall into a crevice and never come out. Not really, we would come out. But it might be after being winched or rolled right side up.

We sat staring at the wall. I was probably holding my breath because sometimes Jim has said, “Hang on, we’re going up.” Thankfully he was thinking. We agreed it would not be wise to take our stock Jeep on giant rocks with huge spaces between them since we were alone, with no spotter, or someone to strap us out. We had only seen one truck since we entered the forest so help was very unlikely if we got stuck. Jim backed down the rough mountainside as I rechecked the map to see if there was any information I had missed. The trail we were on was the only one marked “Very Difficult.”

We chose other trails and enjoyed a beautiful day in the woods. Great Job to the two Jeep Clubs in Southern Pines who maintain the trails. They were clean and very well marked. I regret I didn’t take a picture of the challenging wall. (Really, that thought didn’t cross my mind at the moment.)

Tree ripe peaches were in full season. Wow! They were juicy, sweet, and satisfying. The taste I’m always hoping for at the grocery store, but never find.

 

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Briarcliffe RV Resort (Coast to Coast Deluxe)

 

Myrtle Beach is “Everything Touristy.” There are one hundred (literally) golf courses, shows, food, and shopping over the top. However, in my opinion, the beach is the best of their treasures. The miles of beautiful pure sand were free of jellyfish, seaweed, and rocks. Only ocean surf chased up the shore in the bright sunshine. Wish I had taken some sand castle toys.

We especially enjoyed the RV parks huge pool. Very few people used it while we were there so it was ours, and it was so big we swam our laps across the nine-foot deep end. The inner coastal waterway ran along the property so we watched the boats pass from the pool. Again, I didn’t take any pictures. I’ll do better

Several evenings there were firework displays right above us.

I also want to document that we filled the RV with diesel for our best price yet. $2.25 a gallon.

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Statesville, North Carolina

We turned inland to visit Jim’s co-worker, Frank and his wife Dana. They lived in Rockford, IL when we did and the guys flew all over the U.S. and other countries together for twenty years, so there was much catching up and reminiscing to do. We enjoyed being with them again.

The Mooresville area is known as home for many of the successful Nascar race drivers. Those who enjoy boating have huge Lake Norman for water sports.

Charlotte is about thirty miles south so we picked out a couple of spots to visit as tourists. First stop was the Billy Graham Library. We had no idea what to expect. The whole experience was first class from the guy who greeted us at the front gate to the good-byes as we left. A cow introduced itself and welcomed us.

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We moved room-to-room experiencing the years of Billy Graham’s ministry. But the whole experience was never about the man as much as how God used a man who was willing. My favorite part was the room with the Berlin wall. I didn’t know God used one of Billy Graham’s crusades to ignite the people to tear down the wall to be free.

The family home is one the property as well as the family cemetery.

We found the Nascar Hall of Fame in downtown Charlotte. Race fans would love the interactive museum. I’m not really a fan but I did enjoy seeing how they built the cars to protect the drivers, and all the protective fireproof clothing right down to the underwear.

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Prohibition and bootleggers racing through the mountains and back roads with their moonshine was the beginning of Nascar. The cars got faster and faster until (of course) they began racing at Daytona Beach. People would sit on the beach hills and watch. The crowds got so large organizers realized people would pay to watch them race. Nascar was born.

The museum took us from the moonshine runners to the awesome trailer trucks that travel the race circuits today. They have all sorts of interactive activities I thought children would like but most everyone enjoying them was an adult.

Reading about Charlotte I learned it has the seventh busiest airport in the nation. As it turned out we needed to use it. Jim’s ninety-five year old aunt Vivian died. We were able to get tickets to Kansas City for her funeral. It is always a joy to be with our family and friends again, too.

We never know what each day will hold.

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Lake Gaston, Littleton, North Carolina

Turning into the RV Park we rambled through hilly curves into the deeply wooded campsites above very large Lake Gaston. Having large trees everywhere is not ideal for backing a motor home into a tight spot. After choosing the sight that looked the least challenging Jim pulled into the driveway across the road to have plenty of room to back up. As I tired to watch everything outside that he might not see I spotted the deep culvert next to his right front tire. We communicate by phone in these parking situations. I call the RV from my cellphone so his hands are free to maneuver.

Now, I don’t drive the motor home. I don’t even back up a car very well so all I could do was tell Jim there was a ditch six inches away, and that he needed to move to the left without turning the tire or he would fall in.

A car pulled up while we were blocking the road and trying to maneuver away from the large drop off while wiggle through the trees. A woman got out of the car, walked over and said, “I have a motor home, I’ll help him get lined up.” She repeated the ditch problem to Jim, and then began moving her arms like a marshaler with an airplane, saying back, forward, stop, two inches. Before we knew it were were all tucked into the trees. Ginger thanks for being our angel.

She told me it just takes a lot of back and forth to get out. All I know is before she came to help us leave Jim was an inch from scraping a tree and I didn’t have a clue how to help him get away from it. I could only tell him he was going to hit it. Not Ginger. She walked to the front, waved her arms to show him to turn the wheel right or left, then motioned forward, stop, back, and he pulled right out.

The trees were beautiful but I hadn’t thought just how dark a forest would be. The foliage was so thick above us that mornings were dark, we couldn’t see if the sky was blue, and we had to use lights inside in the daytime.

The lake seemed to be the only attraction in the area, but we heard about Sylvan Heights Bird Park. We traveled down country roads, past green fields, and golden leafed tobacco field, and there outside of Scotland Neck, North Carolina, population 2, 010, we were surprised to find the largest bird Sanctuary in the world. They breed endangered species and have some of the rarest birds in existence. Water foul are Mike Lubbock’s specialty and people come from all over to learn and train with him. He is the world’s leading authority on avian husbandry and waterfowl conservation. He has won 17 World First Breeding Awards, plus 15 awards for first breeding in North America-an unsurpassed accomplishment.

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On entering the first enclosure a beautiful Blue Crowned Pigeon greeted us. As we moved along he followed. When we stopped he stayed with Jim, walked on his shoes, and rubbed his feathery crown back and forth on his leg. We learned later Jim’s feathered friend is very rare. His mate died and they haven’t been able to find a female for him anywhere yet. He likes people and is happy to be with them.

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I enjoyed the Kookaburra bird from Australia. He looked us over and as we walked away he sang or laughed his song for us.

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The sandy area is peanut country so it was cute that when we stopped at the area visitor center they gave us a sample of the local peanuts.

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Our other surprise was Halifax, NC, which is near Scotland Neck. During the American Revolution, the North Carolina Congress met in Halifax to enact the first legislation by an entire colony recommending independence. It is called the “Halifax Resolve.”

When I think of those people huddled together illegally as they took steps to free a nation from England, their homeland, they knew what they were planning was mutiny against their King. If they failed they would be considered traders and die. The excitement of birthing a nation, and the fear of failure must surely have determined the words “Halifax Resolve. We will be free or we will die.

Halifax had wealth, power and influence due to the river traffic and railroad years after the Revolution. The tiny town, population 231 in 2013, has restored many of the homes of their 1700’s history. These small towns hold amazing history but over time the river and railroads dwindled and people moved away. Where would we be today without such amazing history?

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