Dispatches from the Blue Ghost

As mentioned in a previous missive, I recently spent several days in South Texas with the extended family. While there, I took a couple of hours to visit the USS Lexington Museum in Corpus Christi, mainly because I’ve never been on an aircraft carrier before and thought this would be a good chance to do so.

A bit of background: The Lexington is an Essex-class aircraft carrier built commissioned in 1943 and, save for eight years after WWII when it was deactivated for a major refit, served until it was decommissioned in 1991, at which point it was converted to a museum ship. If you want to read its full history, Wikipedia has a nice write-up here, though it doesn’t explain how the ship earned the nickname “The Blue Ghost”. 

At any rate, I grabbed some snaps with my trusty iPhone 13 Pro Max and thought I’d share a few here in lieu of a travelogue of our entire trip as I did for Oregon/California earlier this year.

Upon arriving at the Lexington, you’re greeted by this retired Blue Angels A-4F Skyhawk “gate guardian“. The Blue Angels—the US Navy’s flight demonstration squadron—flew the Skyhawk from 1974 until 1986.

The ship is permanently moored with a nice, long, easy-to-walk ramp leading up to the museum entrance on the starboard side of the massive hangar deck.

The hangar deck, of which you can get a sense of the size in this photo of part of it, is somewhat massive, though I don’t believe it contained snack bar when it was in operation 🙂 

One of the guns on the starboard side of the ship. This one is a 3″/50mm anti-aircraft gun.

The antenna mast atop the ship’s island:

Always a good policy to follow

A AH-1 Cobra helicopter was adorned with this piece of advice that pretty much sums up why I don’t exercise 😛

The bridge of the ship was much-more spartan than I imagined. In my head, there were controls and information displays everywhere. Instead, the reality was much more basic:

Speaking of controls, there was no shortage of various valves, gauges and dials around the ship:

Including this mystery gauge:

One of the most-interesting things about the ship was that it featured an escalator:

The escalator was installed during the ship’s post-WW2 refit to allow the carrier air wing pilots to easily and quickly travel from their ready room to the flight deck. 

As a museum ship, there were plenty of recreations of various things from when the carrier was in operation, including this food in the galley/mess that probably looks more-appetizing than the actual food during the ship’s service:

The dental suite featured this uncomfortable-looking mannequin:

Several recreations featured figures with creepy projected faces as illustrated in this quick clip I shot:

Another area featured this war-era aircraft trainer that can best be described as an adult version of those kids’ rides that they used to have outside supermarkets:

All-in-all, it was an interesting, albeit hot, visit to see how WW2-era carriers were operated and laid-out. If you’re in the Corpus Christ area, I recommend taking a couple of hours to visit the museum. 

South Texas Sunrise

We recently joined the rest of my extended family (mom, brother, his wife, their two kids and our nephew from my wife’s side of the family) for our annual-ish beach Texas beach trip. Usually, we go to Galveston, as it’s fairly-accessible from the DFW area (5-ish hour drive) and we’re familiar with it, knowing the best places to stay, things to see and restaurants to eat at. 

This time, however, we decided to go further south, to the Corpus Christi area, and stay in Port Aransas. The onus for this change of scenery was to benefit my mother, as she grew up in Corpus and hadn’t been back in probably 30 years or so and wanted to see how things had changed. 

For me, however, it was the perfect chance to try out my new PlatyPod

The PlatyPod is a flat plate with legs that you can adjust in height and a screw mount for a tripod ball head that acts like a go-anywhere and not-take-up-a-lot-of-space tripod that can be wedged into the ground with its spiked feet or set on a car hood or roof with its soft rubber feet. There are also slots where you can thread straps for attaching to poles or trees or whatever.

As I was out early one morning shooting stills of the sunrise on the Port Aransas beach, I decided to use the PlatyPod and my iPhone tripod mount to capture a time-lapse of the sunrise. Using the spiked feet, I planted the PlatyPod into the sand, attached the iPhone, switched the camera to time-lapse mode and set back to let it record.

The results are awesome, as you can see below. The PlatyPod held the iPhone rock-solid and the low perspective gives the video, in my opinion, that “little bit extra”.

Travels from Portland to San Francisco, Part 2

In my previous dispatch, I covered the first half of our recent adventure driving from Portland to San Francisco, specifically the drive from Portland to Eureka, California. In this post, we’ll wrap it up with the drive from Eureka to the Bay Area.

Day 5

On this day, we left Eureka and continued south on Highway 1 towards that night’s destination of Petaluma.

Our first destination was a drive down the Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. This scenic drive winds through the redwood forest and is a former alignment for U.S. Highway 101.

No Ewoks to be seen!
These trees are incredibly massive!
No Ewok village up there, either!

Unless you’ve visited Northern California and have been amongst the Coast Redwoods, it’s hard to comprehend how massive they are. While hiking through the forest, when coming across a felled tree, it was often quicker and easier to climb over it rather than walking all the way around it.

The visitors center at the park has a cross-section from a tree that gives you a sense of how old these giants are:

After leaving the state park, we continued south and soon found ourselves pulled in by roadside attraction signs, in particular, the Chandelier Tree in Leggett, California. This tree is one of the few remaining that one can drive through, so we did the touristy thing, paid our admission fee and got in line to drive through.

The car in front of us going through the tree. It was a very tight squeeze that required us to fold in the side mirrors. I was super-anxious about scraping the sides of our rental, but made it through without a scratch

After leaving Leggett, we cut over to the Shoreline Highway (US-1) and began our epic, harrowing drive down the curviest road I think I’ve ever driven. This segment of the drive hugs the coastline and it constant turns with very few places where the speed limit exceeds 35mph. Adding to that, there’s few guardrails or shoulders, the road is narrow and, at some points, is over 600 above the rocky beach below. We stopped at a few places along the way, but were mostly-content to enjoy the view and try to stay on the road!


Hardy Rock

We got a much-needed respite from the scary drive when we arrived in the coastal town of Fort Bragg, where we spotted this somewhat-impressive railroad bridge over the beach:

This 527-foot-long structure is known as the Pudding Creek Trestle and was built in 1915 to carry lumber from logging sites north of town to Fort Bragg for processing. It was abandoned in 1949, but still stands as a testament to its solid construction.

Fort Bragg is also known for Glass Beach. This beach is famous for the large amount of sea glass that can be found there. The sea glass is the result of years of dumping trash in this area of town in the first-half of the 20th Century. Today, it’s a tourist attraction rather than an environmental catastrophe and is worth the visit to look for sea glass.

Our next stop was Mendocino, a well-known small town that sits on a headland surrounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean.

The most-interesting thing I learned about Mendocino during our brief stopover there was that it stood in for the fictional Cabot Cove, Maine, for filming of the 80s TV series Murder, She Wrote. 

After stopping to take photos, see the sea and buy some chocolate, we returned to the harrowing highway southward. Unfortunately, there are very few places along this stretch of road to safely stop to stretch your legs, relax and take some photos, so we were happy when we finally reached Gleason Beach for a rest.

Once we left Gleason Beach, we headed inland towards Petaluma, where we would have some of the worst Chinese food ever, but have a great night at the Hotel Petaluma in the historic downtown area.

Day 6

This day was always intended as a restful day of an easy drive through the North Bay countryside, stopping at a couple of local places before ending up for the night in San Rafael.

Our first stop of the day was at Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese (my wife loves cheese almost as much as Wallace from Wallace & Grommit). Here, a rather curt worker begrudgingly sold us some cheese and sausage to sample and sate our hunger, so I don’t have a lot of praise to heap upon it, but I can say that they had happy cows that had a great view of the Pacific Ocean to look at as they ate their grass.

We then drove through the countryside, taking in the sights and losing count of how many foxes, coyotes and lynx we saw before coming across Tony’s Seafood Restaurant in Marshall, along the coast of Tomales Bay (incidentally, the San Andreas Fault runs right down the middle of the bay—luckily, it behaved itself while we were there).

Stopping for lunch and a couple of pints, I have to say that the oyster sandwich I had there is easily in my top ten meals I’ve ever had. The local oysters were incredible, with a vastly-different flavor than the Gulf oysters we usually get at home in Texas (probably because they have a much-lower percentage of petroleum!). 

After lunch, we started making our way towards San Rafael. We wanted to check in early to rest and were pleasantly-surprised to find that the hotel—an Embassy Suites—featured an awesome Eighties hotel atrium!

Why don’t hotels have atriums anymore?

After a light dinner, we settled in for the night, enjoying a deep, restful sleep to recharge our batteries for the final push into San Francisco.

Day 7

This day would find us exploring the North Bay/Marin Headlands before venturing across the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco.

Our hotel in San Rafael was adjacent to the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Marin County Civic Center. This structure is probably best-known among sci-fi fans as the filming location for Gattaca and George Lucas’ THX-1138, his first feature-length film.

After pausing to admire the architecture, we drove into China Camp State Park, named for the historic Chinese-American fishing village that used to be located on the San Francisco Bay there.

We met a dog named Roscoe!

After China Camp State Park, we headed back towards the Pacific and Red Rock Beach.

After Red Rock Beach, we traveled a bit further up the coast to check out the town of Stinson Beach before backtracking to Muir Beach:

You can just barely see San Francisco’s Sutro Tower through the haze at the upper right!

We then headed south back into the Marin Headlands and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Our first stop was Point Cavallo at Fort Baker, which offers this great view of the Golden Gate Bridge:

It also offers snakes, but luckily this one was a harmless gophersnake, Pituophis catenifer:

Snek, aka Nope-Rope
A bit closer to the Bridge

We then headed up the hill terrain on the west side of the Bridge, where we were treated to a great view of the structure and the San Francisco cityscape:

We then headed across the bridge into San Francisco. After giving my wife a brief tour of some of the major sights in the city, we headed towards Fisherman’s Wharf, where we were staying for the next two nights. 

As we were hungered, we settled on The Grotto for lunch, where we had a so-so meal, an excellent waiter and great beer.

Anchor Steam

After lunch, we went to one of my favorite places at Fishermans Wharf, the Musée Mécanique, which features old coin-operated amusements and arcade games, including this bit of nightmare fuel:


We then wandered around Fisherman’s Wharf for a bit:


We then checked into our hotel for the evening, the quirky Hotel Zephyr. Amongst the quirkiness:

A giant Popeye mural
A fire pit that looks like burning computers (aka what happens to your PC when you have too many Chrome tabs open)
A classic camper repurposed as a food truck in the hotel’s courtyard
This bird sculpture in the lobby

We finished out the day with a small meal in our room and an early night of watching TV and getting some needed rest.







Day 8

The last full day of our trip, spent entirely in San Francisco.

In the morning, we walked to the nearby San Francisco National Maritime Historical Park, which features several old ships and boats that you can explore:

1886 Square-rigger Balclutha
1907 steam tug Hercules & 1890 steam ferryboat Eureka
1914 paddlewheel tug Eppleton Hall

The park also offers a great view of Aquatic Park Cove, Ghirardelli Square and Russian Hill:

After visiting the park, we wandered over to Pier 45 to see the S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien—one of only 2 remaining fully-functional Liberty Ships leftover from World War 2—and the USS Pampanito, another World War 2 vessel—a Balao-class submarine that served in the Pacific:


Next was a quick stop at the Pier 43 Ferry Arch, which originally housed hoists for loading and unloading rail cars from ferries, but is now a historic site:

A quick walk then took us through the most-touristy part of Fisherman’s Wharf—Pier 39. I accuse it of being the most-touristy due to the fact that it features these traps:

  • Both an Alcatraz Book Store and an Alcatraz Gift Shop
  • An aquarium
  • Bubba Gump Shrimp Company
  • Build-A-Bear Workshop
  • A candy store
  • Hard Rock Cafe
  • A magic store
  • A Lids hat store
  • A least 8 San Francisco-themed gift shops
  • A fudge store
  • A sock store
  • A Sunglass Hut
  • A pretzel shop
  • A Dreyer’s ice cream shop
  • A Mrs. Fields
  • A “7D” theatre
  • Caricature artists
  • Carnival rides
  • Escape rooms
  • Street performers
  • A VR theatre

Seriously, there’s a lot going on here. Check out their site for a complete list of crap. The best part, of course, was more sea lions!

After a lunch at one of my favorite places to eat1 at Fisherman’s Wharf—Chowder Hut—we retrieved our car and made our way back towards the Golden Gate Bridge.

Our goal was to see the Fort Point National Historic Site—a Civil War-era fort that was preserved during the construction of the Bridge by building the bridge over it rather than demolishing it. Having visited the Bridge a few times, including walking most of the way across it, I’d always been intrigued by the Fort, but had never had a chance to visit it before.

Up and Over
The steel arch spans 318 ft (97 m) over the fort

After Fort Point, we took a relaxing drive around the city before returning to our hotel for dinner from Boudin Bakery Cafe, followed by packing and getting ready to return home to Dallas.

Day 9

Before heading to SFO to catch our flight, we drove down the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building to visit the shops there. 

Opened in 1898—a survivor of the 1906 earthquake—this ferry terminal has served the crossbay transit since then, though it’s now both a ferry terminal and a marketplace. 

Of course, my interest in urbanism, including the new urbanism of the 1960s, directed my attention across the street to the giant mix-used cluster of skyscrapers that is the Embarcadero Center:

One Embarcadero Center

More-interesting than the skyscrapers, to me at least, is the adjacent Vaillancourt Fountain. This fountain, which has a legacy of controversy due to its unfinished, modern appearance, punctuates the plaza between the Ferry Building and the Embarcadero Center. Having visited it a few times now, I’m still undecided whether I like it. 

Misfortunate? Or a classic example of modernism with a Brutalist influence?

After the Ferry Building, we made our way out of the city and down the 101 towards SFO. Our last stop before the airport would be lunch at Little Lucca in South San Francisco. I cannot stress how good our food was here. It’s a tiny shop with no seating and the line forms early and is long, but it’s so worth the wait. We each got a sandwich, but being that they were the size of my forearm, we couldn’t eat it all and should’ve split it.

This video does a nice job of demonstrating just how huge these sandwiches are!

After lunch, we made our way to SFO, checked in for our flight, relaxed a bit and caught our flight back to Dallas.

All-in-all, it was a great adventure. The problem is that every time we go on an adventure like this, we get home and immediately feel the need to travel again. Luckily, we already have a couple of more trips in the pipeline—an extended family trip to South Texas (mainly Corpus Christi and Port Aransas) to take my mother to visit her hometown for the first time in almost 25 years—and a long weekend adventure to Colorado to explore the mountains and see Nine Inch Nails in concert at Red Rocks.


Travels from Portland to San Francisco, Part 1

For a few years, we’ve been talking about doing a drive along the Pacific Coast from Portland to San Francisco. My wife has spent a fair amount of time in Portland and I’ve spent a lot of time in San Francisco, but we’d never connected the dots in between, taking the time to see the rugged Oregon and Northern California coastline nor the towering redwood trees that the region is famous for.

We finally decided to take the plunge once the world had forgotten about the pandemic, so we booked a flight, rented a car, booked some hotel rooms, confirmed our dogsitter’s availability and packed our bags.

As you probably know, other than doing software stuff, photography is my second life. So this would be a combination vacation/photo-adventure, so we made sure to plan a route that would maximize photo opportunities. I’ll be sharing photos from this journey for a long time on my daily photo site, 75CentralPhotography, so be sure to follow me there (I’d keep an eye on the Oregon and California categories).

However, this site isn’t geared towards sharing my photography, but more about random, ephemeral things, so I thought I’d share our route, as recorded by my GPS logger (along with a few shots I shot on my iPhone for context). I log my travels when out taking photos to ensure that I can later add a location to every photo I take and you can read more about this process at my rarely-updated photography blog here.

Day 1

Our first day entailed first flying from our home airport, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, to Portland International Airport. So, naturally, I fired up my GPS logger and was surprised that, for the most part, I was able to get steady GPS signals.

It’s always amazing to me, every time I fly out west and have a window seat, to see just how unsettled the western half (or even two-thirds) of the United States is. Lots of area to get lost or start a cult or militia or some other crazy group, or just see some amazing scenery.

The outskirts of Salt Lake City—one of the few signs of civilization on the air route between Dallas and Portland.

Once we arrived in Portland, our agenda was pretty simple for the rest of the day: meet my wife’s brother for lunch at McMenamins on the Columbia across the river in Vancouver, Washington, visit Powell’s City of Books (purported to be the world’s largest independent bookstore) and see the interesting architecture of the St. Johns Bridge at Cathedral Park.

St. Johns Bridge at Cathedral Park

Day 2

We got up early the next morning and headed out. Our first stop was Multnomah Falls, east of Portland on the south bank of the Columbia River. The falls are 620 feet tall and are well-worth the visit:

Multnomah Falls

We then reversed course and went back through Portland on our way to Cannon Beach, most-famous for being the location where the final part of The Goonies was filmed. It’s also famous for the 235-foot-tall sea stack known as Haystack Rock:

After leaving Cannon Beach, we drove down the coast a ways before heading inland a bit to the Tillamook Creamery for a cheese snack, then head back out to the coast to Cape Meares for a quick stop.

Cape Meares

Other stops included Pacific City Beach:

Pacific City Beach

Siletz Bay:

Siletz Bay

Boiler Bay:

Boiler Bay

Rocky Creek State Scenic Viewpoint:

Rocky Creek State Scenic Viewpoint

Before arriving at that evening’s destination, Otter Rock. We stayed at the Inn at Otter Crest, which would’ve afforded us a great view of the sunset over the Pacific had it not been overcast at sunset, but otherwise offered great views of the rugged coast as well as a tasty pizza and local beers for dinner.

Day 3

Our third day’s journey found us doubling-back a bit to visit Depoe Bay and the coast north of there before heading back south to our day’s destination, Coos Bay.

Depoe Bay Harbor

Depoe Bay is known for its 6-acre harbor that is purported to be the world’s smallest navigable harbor. Interesting fact about this harbor is that it was was damaged by a tsunami resulting from the same 2011 earthquake in Japan that caused the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns.

Coastline north of Depoe Bay
Depoe Bay Scenic Park
Rocky Creek Bridge


The Inn at Otter Crest—our previous night’s stay—as seen from the nearby Otter Crest State Scenic Viewpoint

One of the more-scenic stops for the day was the Devils Punch Bowl—a large rock formation along the coast near Otter Rock:

Devils Punch Bowl

After leaving the Devils Punch Bowl, we continued south towards Newport, stopping for a bit in Beverly Beach:

Beverly Beach

Reaching the outskirts, of Newport, we stopped at Yaquina Head to see the lighthouse and surrounding coast.

Yaquina Head Light
Cobble Beach
Cobble Beach

We then drove the rest of the way into Newport, where we stopped to view the Yaquina Bay Bridge.

Yaquina Bay Bridge

We then stopped on the Newport Bayfront for lunch at the Rogue Brewery and the view the local residents:

Sea lions in Newport Bay

After lunch and a couple of pints, we got back on the road to our next stop, Cape Perpetua:

Cape Perpetua
Cape Perpetua

A quick detour then took us to Sealion Beach, which lived up to its name with an uncomfortably large number of sealions lying about:

Too many sealions!
Sealion Beach and Heceta Head Lighthouse

We finished our day by checking into the very-quirky Itty Bitty Inn in North Bend, which features themed rooms and some awesome murals:

Itty Bitty Inn murals

Followed by a couple of pints and dinner at the 7 Devils Brewing taproom in Coos Bay


Day 4

Day 4 of our adventure would find us wending our way down the coast from Coos Bay to Eureka, California.

Our first stop was in Port Orford, where we took in Battle Rock and the nearby scenery:

Battle Rock
Port Orford Lookout
Port Orford Lookout
The Oregon Coast south of Port Orford

Continuing south, we stopped at Gold Beach:

Gold Beach

Where we encountered this bit of Lovecraftian nightmare fuel:

Turns out, it’s a type of kelp

And then on to Sisters Rock:

Sisters Rock (I don’t have a sister, so I can’t speak to the fact as to whether they rock or not)

We then stopped at Meyers Creek Beach for a view of the sea stacks there:

Meyers Creek Beach

And then onto Ariya’s Beach at Gold Beach, Oregon:

Ariya’s Beach

The next stop, Natural Bridges, Oregon, offered an amazing, dramatic view:

Natural Bridges

Finally, we crossed the border into California and got our first good look at the giant Redwood trees we’d been yearning to see:

After exploring the Redwoods for a bit, we rolled into Eureka for the night, stopping for a bit to view the channel that leads from the Pacific to Humboldt Bay and it’s accompanying jetty:

That concludes the first part of our epic drive from Portland to San Francisco. Next time, we’ll cover the conclusion of our journey, driving from Eureka to San Francisco.