Monday, May 25, 2015

Hawaii to Houston

Following some more blissfully relaxing days at sea from Honolulu, we've arrived in the beautiful city of Vancouver, capital of British Columbia in Canada. Amazingly the seas seemed to go from calm to completely flat for the majority of this last leg of our passage across the Pacific however (not surprisingly) the temperature also started to drop dramatically as we approached the USA west coast. Since we packed for summer temperatures that put an end to wandering out on deck to enjoy the sea breeze. Someone in charge on board was very careless and we lost an hour each day almost every night of this last leg. Apparently it was to catch up to Pacific Daylight Time. 

Whale watching in luxury
One moment of special excitement in the afternoon of day 19 - we just managed to be in the right place at the right time on the Observation Deck to spot a pod of whales passing us. They were obviously heading for their summer vacation destination in Hawaii. One of the whales very obligingly breached completely our of the water within 100m of the ship!

Whales going on holiday to Hawaii
On our second last night on board, a small group of Piano Bar regulars schemed a little celebration to acknowledge all the fun we'd had with our Aussie pianist, singer and friend Paul. We were also celebrating the many friendships developed with the other of guests who also discovered and became regulars at this fantastic late night venue. Lots of towel animals escaped from their cabins to come and join in the singing on the top of the baby grand piano. 

Towel animals visit Paul C McD at the Piano Bar
Our short stay in Vancouver was chance to regroup and also to take in the whole of Stanley Park experience. On the three previous visits to the capital of BC we've not been able to undertake a thorough investigation of the park 's attractions, including its amazing views and its abundant wildlife. 

A visit to the Vancouver Aquarium was the highlight of day one in Vancouver.  Vancouver Aquarium is very impressive and features a large outdoor section - home to rescued penguins, seals and sea lions, dolphins and also a pair of Beluga whales. 

Beluga whales
The Beluga Whale was placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List in 2008 as being "near threatened".Of seven Canadian beluga populations, the two inhabiting eastern Hudson Bay and Ungava Bay are listed as endangered.

Beluga Whale being fed
Inside the main building a comprehensive set of tanks exhibited a comprehensive range of the diverse sea life from the numerous British Columbia coastal regions. I've also included some more detail about the aquarium in the side panel to the right.

We saved a Stanley Park exploration for day 2 and hired push bikes get around. A popular (apparently the world's longest uninterrupted) cycle and roller-blade track and footpath for walkers and runners follows the 8.8km seawall/waterline. In addition to this main access path the 400 ha park is criss crossed with walking paths all suitable for bikes and several sealed roads.

Cool Bike Chick
Prospect Point provides some amazing views of 473m main span Lions Gate Bridge (also called First Narrows Bridge) and Burrard Inlet. 

Bulk carrier Orhan passes under Lions Gate bridge bound for Turkey
There's lots of wildlife both native and introduced in the park. The Black Squirrel was introduced from the east coast in the early twentieth century.

Black Squirrel (introduced)
Stanley Park now has a growing population of black squirrels. The squirrels have also thrived and spread throughout the Vancouver area.

Canada geese and their offspring are a common sight particularly in the park lands around Lost Lagoon

Canada goose and goslings
In recent years, Canada goose populations in some areas have grown substantially, so much so that many Canadians consider this bird to be a pest due to their droppings, bacteria in their droppings, and their noise. 

Almost as common are the wood duck or Carolina duck (a species of perching duck found in North America)

Wood Duck (male)
Whilst exploring the dozens of internal trails amongst  the centuries old trees we learnt a little about one of the difficult management decisions in Stanley Park when we came across a pair of (introduced) white swans nesting on the edge of Lost Lagoon. The numbers of this territorial bird species has been expanding and has begun threatening the local fauna.

Nesting swan on shores of Lost Lagoon
The low impact conservation measure being used (we were told by a local "friend" of Stanley Park) was the removal of eggs to cut down on the growth of this species.

It was obvious from the dams being built that beavers are local resident in both Lost Lagoon and Beaver Lake although we weren't lucky enough to see any during our visit. Their natural behavior of dam construction in the watercourse flowing out of the two lakes in the park is having a dramatic impact on the fragile environment of this urban landscape. I've included some more detail about the local Beavers in the side panel to the right.

Stanley Park, Vancouver

Our hosts in Texas (Jeff and Laura) have a property in the far east of Texas on the edge of Caddo Lake. This freshwater lake is a network of bayous that eventually runs into the Mississippi River in Louisiana near Sheveport.

The area is extremely quiet and is popular as a fisherman's paradise and get away from everything holiday destination. The place is full of critters, many of which come close to the house. The bayou is home to alligators (Helen spotted a small one swimming close to the back verandah), snapping turtles and many varieties of fish including Largemouth Bass (a prized sport fish) and the American Paddlefish. On land around Caddo Lake there are deer, cougars, cottontail snakes, armadillos and squirrils just to name a few.

Big Cypress Bayou runs through Caddo Lake and once permitted commercial riverboat travel to nearby Jefferson from ports such as St. Louis and New Orleans via the Mississippi and Red Rivers.

Big Cypress Bayou

Native to the Mississippi River Basin the American Paddlefish are among the largest and longest lived freshwater fishes in North America. Fossil records of paddlefish date back over 300 million years, nearly 50 million years before dinosaurs first appeared.

American Paddlefish

Fishing on Caddo Lake

The property has a water frontage onto a backwater of the Big Cypress Bayou called Pine Island Pond. The pond is surrounded with Bald Cypress trees draped with Spanish moss. Spanish moss is an epiphyte which absorbs nutrients and water from the air and rainfall and is colloquially known as "air plant". Its presence on the Bald Cypress tree branches creates a stunning and somewhat spooky appearance of the silver-gray strands, hanging like natural Halloween decorations.

Pine Island Pond

The historic town of Jefferson - once a major inland port on Big Cypress Bayou was a thriving city - the sixth largest town in Texas just a few years after the Civil War.  The railway, amongst other things eventually forced the decline of river transport and the significance of the city.

Historic Jefferson General Store
Inside Jefferson General Store

Almost four years ago we visited Kennedy Space Centre (Cape Canaveral) in Florida. During this trip we've been able to also visit the Apollo manned Moon landing program facility in Houston, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) center for human spaceflight activities -Johnson Space Centre.

Johnson Space Center is home to NASA's astronaut corps and is responsible for training astronauts from both the U.S. and its international partners. It has become popularly known by its central function "Mission Control", from the Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle Programs.

One of the newest Space Centre Exhibits is the Space Shuttle mockup Independence (delivered from Kennedy Space Centre mounted on top of a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.

Space Shuttle Cockpit

A restored Saturn V complete with Command and Service Module is housed in a custom built building after it sat exposed to outdoor elements from 1977 through 2004. At almost 3,000 tonnes, 110m tall and 10m diameter, the Saturn V remains the tallest, heaviest, and most powerful rocket ever brought to operational status.

Apollo Command and Service Modules attached to Saturn V
Saturn V explained

Inside the Christopher C. Kraft Jr. Mission Control Centre building, the now historic Shuttle Flight Control Room (FCR) has a new, futuristic look. Upgraded from its honorable service with the Space Shuttle, the famous room has transitioned into what is called MCC-21 – is all-but ready for its future role in supporting NASA’s current and future launch vehicles and spacecraft.


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