J and D's Corner

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By Cessna to the Bahamas...44 Days On the Road...

Here's our travel log for this long-planned cross-country flying trip.  It was a two-aircraft mission to include some visiting time in the Dallas area, a week in Orlando for the aviation "happening" Sun-N-Fun plus some time at Disney World, and then we added a third couple for an unstructured couple of weeks in the Bahamas. Following this we parted company, with each group doing some additional visiting on our return leg.  An expanded picture gallery will be added to our "Photo Page" section shortly.

Day One: Saturday, April 3rd. We plan to start the trip with a short run to Bullhead City where both couples have weekend digs, spend a couple of nights and then push on. Loaded with a couple of hundred pounds of random "stuff", around noon we launch the faithful C-182 from our home base Lima Zero Zero in the company of our friends Pat & Paul in their C-210.  The short and familiar hour+30 hop to Bullhead City turned sour about 45 minutes out when a cut-off low presented us with a wall of clouds with tops at 15,000+  and bases right on the deck. Clouds down to ground level are VERY unusual for the Mojave desert. Paul is not instrument rated, so options were limited.  Back to home base, the first weather-abort on a Bullhead City run in years.  Not an auspicious start to our multi-week expedition.  The Weather Channel predicts the cut-off low will be around for days.  I keep chanting "you are retired, it doesn't matter".

Day Two: Sunday. Much improved weather as the low creeps eastward, so we again strike off for Bullhead. No problems this time. An afternoon of weed-whacking around the trailer (spring growth in the desert) and we finished the day with a 45th anniversary dinner. Hosted by Pat & Paul in the Riverside's Gourmet Room, we watched the full moon rise over the eastern mountains. Very nice and we now owe them big time!

Day Three: Monday. Beautiful clear day at Bullhead but a call to Flight Service reveals the cutoff low still lingers a couple of hundred miles to the east. Our choices are to push on for a couple of hundred miles or to sit it out another day and hope for a more reasonable run tomorrow. We decide to sit tight and do some chores around Bullhead. Breakfast out, some yard cleanup and an oil change for the "airport van", relaxing time and dinner out. A reasonable substitute for a "vacation" day and better than sitting in some motel enroute!

Day Four: Tuesday. Off into clear skies this morning, climbing to 11,500 for the run over Albuquerque and on to our planned final destination Santa Rosa, NM. We ran into lingering clouds from the low within a hundred miles or so and from there onward a constant broken undercast kept us from having much of a scenic flight. For most of the run 11,500 worked OK, but as we approached the Flagstaff area some deviations upward were needed, topping out at 13,500 for about a half hour before descending back. Paul followed a route a bit further south and was able to zigzag around the clouds. Through the gap at Albuquerque we both descended to 9000 feet to get below the overcast and worked ABQ approach, our only contact with ATC during the day. By the time we reached the Santa Rosa area we were down to 7,500 (2000 AGL) following I-40 and some significant showers were developing. Fortunately they held off long enough to get the planes refueled and tied down. The fuel process was a bit different, in that we called the listed number and got City Hall, who sent out someone to unlock the pumps. After that was accomplished we were ferried into town to a La Quinta inn and an hour or so of relaxing before an early dinner.
Santa Rosa would be good for a day or so of touristing if we had the time. It is an old Route 66 town and has an auto museum, plus numerous lakes and "the world famous Blue Hole", a huge sinkhole fed by an artesian spring and a Mecca for SCUBA divers.

Day Five: Wednesday. Nice day today and no problems with the flight from Santa Rosa to the Dallas area. Again we cruised over a broken layer which pretty well hid the flat plains of eastern New Mexico and west Texas. The final 90 miles or so, however, we descended below the clouds to about 2500 feet to avoid "Class B" problems as we arrived into the DFW area. Our landing spot was Northwest Regional, an airport selected by Paul's son Randy as being convenient to his (Randy's) home. It turned out to be primarily a "hangar field", boasting little more than an extensive array of taxiways and hangars. Apparently the owner, a gentleman named Glenn Hyde, observed that due to the weather extremes in Texas there was a huge market for hangar space. He also has an additional plot of land for which he has plans for a "Skypark" addition drawn up.
For the night we will impose on son Randy and will leave the plane in one of Mr. Hyde's T-hangars while we visit our Dallas friends Greg & Donna for the next couple of days.

Day Seven: Saturday. Couple of days visiting (and eating, always a major occupation) and we were scheduled to depart today for Florida. The weather forecasts were a mixed bag, but generally the prognosis was for good weather to the southeast in our planned direction of flight. Indeed, Friday evening was nice and Saturday morning started off beautiful, but unfortunately a cold front was hot on our heels as we rushed to get away on Saturday morning. By the time all the logistics were sorted out and we arrived at the airport where the planes were, things had gone from nice to downright cruddy. Based on the fact that the cold front was just arriving and good weather supposedly waited only a few miles east, I launched into the crud. Right away it became apparent this wasn't my brightest idea. The upshot was that Paul (prudently) opted to stay on the ground while D & I headed east at a bare 1000 feet in some really smarmy crud. Thank goodness for flat ground, and I had a close eye on the map depictions of radio tower locations.
We did get out from under but it was a lot longer scud-run than I would have started into had I known. Anyway, D and I are now in Montgomery, AL, about 500 miles out ahead of Pat & Paul, but presumably all will come together at some point.

Day Eight: Sunday. Our somewhat pricey Embassy Suites room in Montgomery included a nice breakfast, after which we were off on our last leg into Florida by 9AM. Cruising at 5500 feet, we utilized flight following all the way, and Orlando Approach's vectors into Kissimmee Gateway Airport took us right by Disney World at 2500 feet for a great view. We had prearranged for a rental car at Kissimmee Aviation, and got the red-carpet treatment when we pulled up. Our tail number was expected, a tiedown was all set and the car brought out right to the plane. A highly recommended operation!
The 9-mile drive to our condo along Florida 192 was a trip back in time to vintage Florida kitsch. The 192 is wall-to-wall gift shops with huge fiberglass characters grafted to the buildings, various motels, fast food joints and the like. I recall my first impressions of Florida as a boy in the early 1950's being similar, although in those days it was more like alligator farms and jungle "zoos" with a few scruffy animals & reptiles.
Evening was dinner out with D's sister Katherine, down from North Carolina with her daughter and grandchildren, and D's cousin Linda & Linda's mother Faye, who are area residents. Old home week for D. During dinner we were treated to a classic Florida thunderstorm with lightning, brief torrents of rain and 40+ mph winds. Hope my tiedown job on the plane was adequate!

Day Nine: Monday. We woke this morning to steady moderate to heavy rain, as predicted. Our reaction was to take advantage of a leisurely morning alone in the condo. By noonish the first of a pair of rain bands had passed and we had occasional breaks of hazy sunlight. Showers are expected to continue through tomorrow with improving conditions on Wednesday lasting for the remainder of the week. A little shopping and dinner with sister Katherine and family round out a quiet day.

Day Ten: Tuesday. Pat & Paul were expected to join us today, but again the gods of weather interfered. After departing Texas they got to the Meridian Mississippi area and ran into bad conditions so went to ground for the night. Better weather is predicted all through the south & southeast for Wednesday, so maybe....
Here in the Orlando area we had cloudy conditions, intermittent light showers and brisk winds all day, but still spent a few hours at Disney with D's sister & her family. Dinner with the group was at Downtown Disney's Rainforest Cafe, a nice enough place but not worth the almost two hour wait to get in! Of course, they expect you to spend the time shopping.

Day Eleven: Wednesday. Amazing! This morning brings unqualified sunshine, although still breezy and cool by Florida standards. The breeze finally blew Pat & Paul in, reporting 200 knot groundspeeds on their run down from Mississippi. They elected to unwind in the condo while D & I headed out for an "Australia reunion" dinner with fellow down-under travelers Al & Luanne and Dave & Beverly. We were joined by Mal Shipton, owner of GOANA Air Tours, who put on the Australia trip for us, plus two of his compatriots. Rehashing our fun down under was enough to kindle the enthusiasm for a future GOANA trip, possibly their Brisbane-to-Perth "over the top" semi-circumnavigation of the continent. Stay tuned on this one.

Day Twelve: Thursday. Today the whole gang did a few hours at Epcott, an enjoyable place for older folks as it isn't as popular with families. D and I had been there before but only briefly.
In the evening the arrival of Dale & Sharon rounded out our Bahamas group. Tomorrow "the guys" will do Sun & Fun and the Fantasy of Flight aviation museum while the ladies hold down the poolside duties at the resort.

Day Thirteen: Friday. Boys' day out today for Paul, Dale, John & Albert. Only LuAnne represented the distaff side for this one. Starting with an opening-hour visit to the Fantasy of Flight aviation museum (previously the Kermit Weeks museum), we had an all-aviation day. After the museum it was the EAA's "Sun & Fun" at Lakeland. Considerably smaller than the 'big one' at Oshkosh but still having something for everyone, Sun & Fun is considered by many a much more manageable and enjoyable gathering. Weather was great for the outing, cool, nearly clear skies and light winds.
Although we had only about five hours at Sun & Fun, our feeling was that we had done enough and the decision is to skip the preliminarily planned Saturday return visit.
While we were aviationing it, the ladies took care of the home front, meaning by the time we returned they were pretty much in a party mood. Drinks, snacks, and a lively dinner at the resort's poolside bar/snack shop rounded out the day.

Day Fourteen: Saturday. Winding down our Florida stay today meant another "boys day" visit to Kissimmee's Warbird Restoration Museum for additional airplane viewing. Very interesting operation, a commercial restoration facility which rebuilds warbirds to pristine as-manufactured condition on a time-and-material basis. A typical project arrives as a non-flyable basket case requiring remanufacture of major parts and subassemblies, a process which can consume years of work. Their star project at the moment is a B-17 which is now in the final stages of a ten-year rebuild. When it flies later this year it will become the 15th airworthy B-17 world-wide. A P-40 Warhawk is also scheduled for completion this year.
We also spent a little time preparing for tomorrow's departure for the Bahamas, such as checking on hotel availability for Sunday night (OK) and discovering that instead of renting inflatable life jackets for $3.50/day from a coastal FBO we could purchase non-inflatable but very light, compact and Coast-Guard legal jackets at the Kissimmee Wal-Mart for $4.88 each. This also has the advantage of allowing us to depart Kissimmee and fly directly to our Bahamas stop, should we desire to do so.
Since once we leave the USA the likelihood of being able to connect to the Internet on a regular basis is fairly low, so from this point page updates may be limited. (Non-existent, it turned out)

Day Fifteen: Sunday. Bit of logistics shuffle this morning to get all six of us checked out from our various accommodations and out to the airport with a five-person car, but by 10:40 AM we were off and winging it southeast toward Walker Cay. Nice weather, a typical broken layer of puffy clouds which we climbed above at 5500 feet. A steady 21 knot direct headwind stretched our flight time to about an hour & 45 minutes, but the air was smooth as glass, and by 12:20 we were circling tiny Walker Cay on a photo run.
Walker Cay is the most northerly inhabited point in the Bahamas, the last of a string of islets north of the large island of Abaco. Just large enough to accommodate a 2500 foot runway and a hotel & marina complex, fishing and kicking back are the major occupations. A customs & immigration shack is situated right at the end of the airstrip, and within a few minutes we were golf-carted up to the hotel. Since the ladies cannot pass up a "special", we opted to take their two-night "pilot's special" deal, and were assigned a huge three-bedroom villa on a hilltop overlooking the marina. Although the place wasn't fancy, we still felt like jet-set royalty in what was obviously designed as a party spot, with huge patio equipped with bar & ice-maker, hot tub, etc. The great room has a fireplace, pool table, our own mini-library, satellite TV, and so forth.
As in most such places in the Bahamas, dining is on 'modified American Plan', with breakfast and dinner included in the price. The hotel dining room is more elegant that I would have expected, without being stuffy, and the food excellent.
So all in all, our first day in the Bahamas turned out great!

Day Fifteen: Monday. A leisurely start this morning, breakfast at about 8:30, and the rest of the morning was spent strolling around the island inspecting everything. There are a couple of very nice beaches, one outfitted with picnic tables. We checked out the hotel part of the installation and found the rooms would have been quite acceptable had we opted for that. The whole complex appears to be lightly populated at the moment, with only a few boaters holding down the expansive bar, although at dinner last night the dining room was well over half full.
As at every airstrip in the islands, a couple of aircraft are parked in the brush off the runway after having come to grief on landing. A nice Malibu Mirage apparently had a nose gear collapse and is sitting with nose held up by a 2X6 under the prop hub and all three blades of the composite propeller trashed. In much more serious condition is a Cessna twin which went off the runway, also possibly after a gear collapse, and apparently impacted some trees. Obviously a write-off, but with plenty of salvageable parts.
Anyway, the hot tub is getting warm (after some troubleshooting), drinks are calling, and we have decided that tomorrow we will move on to Chub Cay for our next night or two. Just busy, busy, busy all the time here.

Day Sixteen: Tuesday. Some late discussion on Monday led to the decision to substitute Hawks Nest Resort on Cat Island for Chub Cay in the Berrys, the idea being that Hawks Nest was immediately adjacent to its airport. Based on this we got off the ground at a leisurely 11:00 AM and flew along the east curve of Abaco and across the water to Eleuthera Island where we landed for fuel and a potty break.
At this point we met a gentleman who was leading a tour group of four or five aircraft, all headed for Hawks Nest. He was pretty sure he had the whole resort booked, but since we were unable to contact Hawks by phone we continued onward to inquire in person. Less than an hour later we were on the ground at Hawks Nest and the bad news was confirmed...no rooms available. The lady there was kind enough to call around and determined that rooms could be had at the well known Stella Maris resort, around 50 miles further across the water on the north end of Long Island. So as Tuesday evening falls we are enjoying the breeze on the east shore of Long Island. We will probably spend Wednesday here and push on to Pittstown Point on Crooked Island Thursday morning.

Day Seventeen: Wednesday. Very kick-back day today at Stella Maris. We had signed up for a boat-swim outing but misunderstood the start time, so the boat left without us. Not a problem, mon, this is the Bahamas! Instead, D & I took bicycles and headed down the coast to a protected swimming bay while the others lounged around the resort. Following that it was nap time, then a bit of pool swimming and more walking and wading along the shore. Evening cocktail hour on the patio came early and as I write this we are regrouping to attend the Wednesday evening complementary rum punch and conch fritter happy hour before dinner.
We have confirmed that rooms are available at the Pittstown Point resort, so tomorrow we will probably get one of our "early" 11:00 AM starts and fly another 100 or so miles further southeast. If Pittstown turns out to be an acceptable place we will stay for three nights, taking us up to our previously booked three days at Peace & Plenty on Exuma, where Dale & Sharon have property to check on.

Day Eighteen: Thursday. Beating my 11:00 AM liftoff estimate by 30 minutes, we flew southeast across 60 miles of water at 1000 feet under tropical clouds, bucking the usual 25 knot headwind. I searched for a rain shower along the way to rinse the very salty Cessna but found nothing beyond a few sprinkles.
After circling the scenic Pittstown Point lighthouse just off the north end of Crooked Island, we touched down at Pittstown Landing. With the planes parked virtually at our doorstep at a funky but comfortable resort, this is what I had envisioned Bahamas island hopping to be. Within minutes we were in our air-conditioned room (and this far south, it feels good!). After a beer & burger we put on the mask and fins and hit the water for a quick look around the nearby coral reef, then settled into some serious kickback in the beachside hammocks.
Paul, who has been somewhat uptight for the past couple of days, immediately relaxed, so I assume we will stay our proposed three nights here.

Day Nineteen: Friday. We are in full kick-back mode with the ladies taking the sun and Paul, Dale & I trying to decide whether to fly to another island just to sightsee, possibly do an afternoon SCUBA dive on the offshore wall (Paul & John), or maybe just do nothing at all. Fishing is the big thing here, but none of us are fishermen. However, the couple next door to us are on their sixth day of going out every day, mostly for bonefish, catch & release.

Day Twenty: Saturday. "Nothing at all" won out on Friday, with just some walks along the beach, a little snorkeling over the coral and more eating. Food here, if I didn't mention it, is absolutely wonderful and I couldn't stay too long before I would have to be shipped out by barge. This morning the three "boys" took off in the C-182 with Dale flying and toured Crooked Island and adjacent Acklins Island, where we landed at Spring Point airport, had a Coke and watched the locals arriving and departing on the thrice-weekly BahamasAir shuttle flight. In the afternoon Paul & John were scheduled for a 2:00 PM SCUBA dive but after waiting for over an hour we gave up and just relaxed before evening cocktail hour(s). The other six guests departed this morning and for a while we had the place to ourselves, but another four souls arrived this afternoon for a week's stay. I think a week might be a bit much for us, the three nights we are staying seem just about right and we are ready for the next adventure. Onward to Great Exuma tomorrow.

Day Twenty-one: Sunday. After one last breakfast at Pittstown, we departed at a semi-early 09:30 and made the approximately one hour run to Georgetown on Great Exuma Island. This is "big city" for the Out Islands and, although it lacks a control tower, Exuma International has a discrete frequency for traffic advisory use and a ramp full of "big iron", including one of Clay Lacy's Gulfstreams which was picking up some high roller or other.
Dale & Sharon rented a mini-van, into which we crammed all our stuff and drove the ten miles or so from the airport to Peace & Plenty Inn. Nice place, not new but with recently refurbished rooms boasting private balconies and a wonderful view across to the yacht basin on adjacent Stocking Island.
First on the agenda was to check out Dale's lot south of Georgetown. This turned into an adventure, yours truly driving, as the roads in the development where the lot is located have become, shall we say, a bit overgrown during the last 20 years. However, my Tactical Air Command forward air control experience from 45 years back (low gear, to hell with the underbrush) won through, and we located Dale's lot, documenting it on video and fixing it with the GPS. My best guess: It will be more than a few years before true development reaches the lot.
After recuperating with a beer and sandwich, we drove up the island in the other direction and checked out the Four Seasons resort which has newly opened north of the airport. Obviously, this is were Lacy's Gulfstream passenger was coming from, and our somewhat grubby van with bits of underbrush hanging from various cracks seemed a bit out of place as the valet drove it away . Very impressive development, nonetheless.

Day Twenty-two: Monday. This morning D & I wandered down the street to a local cafe for breakfast, not having been overly impressed by dinner at the hotel last night. Good, and at half the hotel price too.
Following this we took a hotel ferry across the Georgetown channel to Stocking Island, which blocks Georgetown from the open Atlantic and creates a long sheltered anchorage for the many boats & yachts which hang out here. It also has great white sand beaches and the hotel maintains a facility there with beach chairs and a snack shack under the trees where we had lunch. We spent a little time at lunch chatting with two corporate pilots who had delivered their boss to the Four Seasons resort via Falcon jet, one of several jets in their company fleet. Interesting life, and both had been with the same boss for a dozen years, a testimony to the boss as I have heard some pretty grim stories in the past. On the way back we were well rinsed by a brief but intense tropical shower.
Afternoon we did a bit of shopping for snacks, postcards and the like, and I found an internet place where I got off some limited email.

Day Twenty-three: Tuesday. Pat, Paul, Dale & Sharon's last full day in the Islands was spent doing very little besides prepping for departure. We have discovered that everyone brought too much stuff, and without the C-182 as a "mule" there was too much to carry back in Paul's C-210. Since Dani & I still have at least a couple of weeks of travel yet to go we wanted to offload some of the excess, so a hundred pounds or so was shipped (at considerable expense) by Paul & Dale via FedEx. Once that was done we relaxed, did our evening cocktail hour and had dinner at another local eatery.

Day Twenty-four: Wednesday. In one of our earliest starts, the whole group was on the road by 8:00 AM and the planes were ready to go by the time Customs opened at 9:00. Unfortunately, there was a slight delay because I had forgotten to lay in a store of the necessary forms for departure, and the Customs/Immigration gal was out of forms. For a while it looked like Pat, Paul, Dale & Sharon would be stuck in the Bahamas, but the fuel crew was able to produce several of the proper documents and by 9:45 the C-210, sporting temporary 12" numbers for the Homeland Security folks, was on its way back to Fort Pierce. Dani & I followed close behind, making a short hop up the Exuma island group to Farmer's Cay, where we investigated the possibility of staying Thursday night. Then we pressed on to S taniel Cay where we had a room available for only one night at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club. Staniel Cay is the location of the underwater grotto utilized in the old James Bond flick Thunderball, and Thunderball memorabilia adorns the walls of both the Yacht Club, where we are staying, and the Club Thunderball, a bar on a hilltop overlooking the islet which contains the grotto.

Day Twenty-five: Thursday. Since we had only one night at Staniel Cay we were up bright & early, cleared out of our room and rented an outboard skiff to do a little exploring and snorkeling. First stop was the "Thunderball Grotto" island, a small islet some 200 yards or so in diameter which is probably 50% hollow. A large center chamber has small openings to the sky which let in light, illuminating a huge water-filled grotto with openings to the sea on both sides of the island. Very dramatic and easy to see why it was picked as a movie location. Hundreds of fish hang out inside the island and mooch bread & cracker crumbs from visitors. Following this we spent a couple of hours exploring other nooks, crannies & deserted beaches on the surrounding islands & islets. After returning the "half-day rental" boat we rinsed off the salt water, loaded our gear into the plane and made a 10 minute hop down to tonight's stop, Farmer's Cay. Farmer's is the smallest place we have yet visited, and the local accommodations consist of the expansively named "Farmer's Cay Yacht Club", which consists of a dock, bar, dining room and three guest rooms. Slightly primitive, and became even more so when at about 2 in the afternoon a small trash fire spread to what had been the generator shack, converted to storage but still containing the power distribution panels. Oil and paint stored in the building ignited and, lacking any fire department or even enough hose to reach, it quickly burned to the ground, taking the entire electrical system with it. No lights, no air conditioning. Fortunately, the owner's son is the local power utility tech, and he was able to marshal some junk power panels and enough wire to rig partial service, and I am able to type this while relaxing in air conditioned comfort. Too much excitement for one day.

Day Twenty-six: Friday. Feeling we had "done" Farmer's Cay sufficiently, we departed around 8:30 for the 40 minute hop over to Long Island, returning to the Stella Maris resort for our final three days in the Bahamas. The airport owners directed us to a gentleman who would rent us a car inexpensively, so we have some mobility this time around.
Two of our fellow Skypark owners, Paul & Victoria, arrived in the afternoon in the company of ten other "RV" owners, all hailing from various parts of the country. Note for our non-flying friends: The 'RV' is a species of home-built airplane which typically is found in groups of two or more :-) . The group had just come from several days a couple of hundred miles down the road in the Turks & Caicos, where Paul had successfully completed a SCUBA certification course. Unfortunately, Paul's aircraft developed a bad magneto somewhere along the way, so he spent some time on the phone arranging for a replacement to be shipped to Fort Pierce (Florida), where he will attempt to pick it up. For more on the Paul & Victoria adventure, CLICK HERE to jump to their EAA Chapter 49 web page.
Our own activity for the afternoon consisted of a run in the car up to the north end of the island, inspecting beaches, another  resort adjacent to an airstrip (Cape Santa Maria, very nice), and visiting the Columbus monument at the north tip. This island was Columbus' third landfall in the New World.
The RV gang had a dinner arranged elsewhere, but we opted to have dinner at the resort's dining room. By the time this was over our day was pretty much done.

Day Twenty-seven: Saturday. May 1st....While the RV group tuned up for their big event of the day, which was a wedding of two of their number to be held on the beachfront, D & I headed off southward in the car to tour the 3/4 of the island we have not yet seen. The distance to the south tip from our resort is around 60 miles, and since you can average, maybe, 30 MPH on the roads, this is quite a bit of driving.
Along the way we stopped at a tiny cafe for breakfast, where I was offered a choice of pig's foot souse or ham & eggs for breakfast (take a guess). Then we simply cruised along, stopping at a few scenic spots, having a swim at a deserted beach, etc. On the way back D decided since her mother always liked souse she wanted to try some (chicken rather than pig's feet), so we stopped again at the same cafe. This time I opted for curry chicken with peas & rice, which was great. As far as I am concerned, D's mom can keep the souse.
In the evening the resort had another "manager's happy hour" with free rum punch & conch fritters. Paul reported back at cocktail hour after flying up to Fort Pierce, accompanied by another RV, picking up his magneto and flying back without the other RV. There is much more to this story than I can fit here. I am sure Paul will post details on his EAA chapter website when he gets around to it!
As on our first visit, the rum and conch fritters provided plenty of nourishment when added to our late lunch, so we skipped the resort's dinner meal and went to bed.

Day Twenty-eight: Sunday. Today we headed back southward to pick up a couple of points of interest we had missed yesterday. Finding stuff is difficult without a local guide, as there are generally no signs and the route descriptions do not always seem to match the reality. The high point of the day was locating a large cave system which featured some quite impressive high-ceiling chambers, plus lots of bats, etc. Dani stayed in the entrance grottos where holes in the overhead let in a little light, while I took the flashlight and penetrated the more imposing back portions. I took pictures, but my puny flash was inadequate to do justice to the place. The cave penetrated under a couple of lots containing homes, and possibly even under the main roadway. Hope there are no unexpected failures in the limestone!
After this we moved to a beach with an offshore island reputed to be home to semi-tame iguanas who loved to be fed. However, it turned out to be about 400 yards out across a bay where a pretty stiff current was running, so Dani (the resident critter feeder) elected not to make the swim. We settled for a picnic under a shady tree by the beach.
Every day seems to bring an interesting "people meet" of some kind, each of which is a story in itself. Today we met a couple from California who own a diving-services operation catering to the film industry, with offices in Burbank and in the Bay area. They are in the process of setting up a SCUBA operation here and are actually building on top of a portion of the aforementioned cave. They plan to offer package deals incorporating two guest rooms they are building into their own house, augmented with co-operative bookings at other nearby inns. We promised to return and dive what they report are "spectacular and unexplored" walls on the leeward side of the island, plus a world-class "blue hole" on the Atlantic side.

Day Twenty-nine: Monday. Bye-bye Bahamas....we were off the ground by 8:25 this morning, ahead of my target of 9:00 AM, for the 3-hour run back to Fort Pierce, FL. We arrived just before noon and just ahead of a line of showers which was moving across the state from the Gulf side. We found the Fort Pierce customs operation quick and efficient and the agent polite if not effusive. Although we did have to unload the plane, an FBO lineman was on hand with a baggage cart so that was also painless, and the customs agent passed the bags with only a glance. After customs the lineman towed our plane right over to its overnight parking spot at the adjacent FBO office, very smooth & efficient operation!
A good portion of the RV contingent was also present, having left Stella Maris ahead of us, and were just getting lunch at the adjacent "Tiki Room" combination FBO office and snack bar. Because of the weather, they were mulling over the option of staying the night, as we had already decided to do. While they continued to mull, we got a car (not strictly necessary) and drove to a nearby Radisson, where we can regroup, catch up on phone calls, email and website updating.
We pre-planned some visiting during our trip back to California and in adjusting to the updated schedules of our visitees it appears we will have a few un-forecast spare days to bum around Florida and see the coastal sights.

Day Thirty: Tuesday. Based on projected schedules, we opted for a second day in Fort Pierce, which was spent making and receiving phone calls, doing a large batch of laundry, visiting the nearby Navy Seal Museum and just generally relaxing.
 We learned that Pat & Paul are still enroute, having had both weather and mechanical problems, but have successfully made it to Grove Oklahoma where they are visiting former Skypark residents Gary & Concha.  Gary, an accomplished mechanic, is looking at Paul's pesky engine problem and we hope it will be resolved.
 For ourselves, the plan calls for a hop across the state to Fort Myers on the Gulf side tomorrow for a couple of nights. We will tour the Edison Museum and possibly visit with some old military pals who live in the area before returning to Stuart on the east coast for the arrival of our friends from New Jersey.

Day Thirty-one: Wednesday.   Nice, almost clear morning in Florida today.  Last night we heard again from Pat & Paul, they think their engine problems are solved and plan to move onward, possibly to New Mexico for the night and tomorrow to Bullhead City.
We made our own short flight across Florida under mostly clear conditions and landed at Fort Myers' Page Field.  Very nice FBO operation, they had our rental car ready & brought it right to the plane. 
After locating a cheap motel, we did a bit of shopping and then contacted our old military friends Ron and Sunny Lee, who are retired on a gated golf course-type development just north of town.  It is a very attractive community, as the homeowner's association takes care of all exterior maintenance, even to painting the home exteriors every five years.  Ron refers to it as the "Stepford Village", a reference to the movie where the men were replacing their imperfect wives with "perfect" androids.  Dinner at a local German eatery rounded out our day.
We did hear from Paul during the day...mixed news...his plane still isn't fixed and he had to turn back immediately after takeoff this morning.  Now they are attacking the magnetos, a good choice, I think.  Gary & Concha are leaving for a few days and will turn the house over to their visitors while the airplane work continues. 

Day Thirty-two:  Thursday:  Visiting the Edison winter home & museum, plus a little ride on the Caloosahatchee River in a replica of Edison's electric launch, took up about 4 hours of the day.  Then we met with our friends Ron & Sunny Lee for a ride out to Sanibel Island for some shelling on the beach followed by a nice dinner at a beachfront restaurant.  Excellent visit, as we had not seen them in several years.

 Day Thirty-three:  Friday:  A short jump back across the state took us directly over Lake Okeechobee and into Stuart Florida, where we were picked up by fellow ex-ABC Television friends David & Anne Elliot.  They have purchased a home on a waterway and are in the process of preparing it as a future retirement home.

Day Thirty-Four:  Saturday:  We spent the day checking out the Stuart area, taking a boat ride along the nearby river and canal systems, and, of course, eating.  Some very fine eating establishments here. 
Things mostly revolve around the water here, and a high percentage of the homesites have water access.  Boats are a way of life and range from small fishing skiffs to some pretty significant deepwater cruisers.   David & Anne have a 37-foot trawler which is pictured here moored immediately behind their home, putting them maybe a little above mid-range boat-wise.
We were very happy to hear from Pat that they had successfully made it back as far as Winslow, Arizona, with mechanical problem seemingly solved by the maintenance work done in Oklahoma. 

Day Thirty-five  Sunday:  More sightseeing today, including a visit to the local flea market, some time spent helping on  a few maintenance tasks on the boat(s), and just generally enjoying our visit. David & Anne have a rather unique home, built around a screened atrium and swimming pool.  This is a style D has always liked and I am sure when we return I will hear renewed "suggestions" about incorporating some such arrangements in our own home.
We closed the day with yet another great dinner at a harbor-front restaurant.  I'm really enjoying the good fish which is available here in Florida!
Tomorrow it will be time to move onward in the direction of Grove, Oklahoma, where we will pester Concha & Gary for a night or two. 

Day Thirty-six:  Monday:  After a short early morning boat ride (relocating a houseboat with a disabled engine, shown at right in the waterfront picture above) we left David & Anne and headed in the general direction of Oklahoma.  In keeping with our less-than-four-hour rule we stopped for gas, leg stretching and a bite to eat at Tallahassee.  Then we pushed on, climbing to 12,500 for the next leg for a smooth ride above bumpy spring clouds.  By the time we reached our overnight stop at Jackson, MS, some afternoon thundershowers were brewing and we made a circling approach around one to reach the Jackson airport.  Overnight was at Jackson's downtown Edison Walthall Hotel, built in the 1920's.  Although it has received major updates it still retains elements of its past and was an interesting change from our usual motels. The dining room was nice but the red snapper I ordered at dinner indicated I am no longer in "fish country".  Time to switch back to beef, I guess.

Day Thirty-seven: Tuesday:  Some indecision as to whether to leave early or look around Jackson for a while and risk problems with the forecast afternoon thundershowers. After a little breakfast & coffee we decided to head on out as the weather didn't look all that great.  Departing Jackson required an IFR clearance due to a low overcast but soon we were mostly on top of clouds at 8000 feet and had a reasonably smooth ride up to Grove.  Gary met us at the airport even before we completed unloading and soon we were at what seems to have evolved into the "official mid-America visiting stop" for pilots, Gary & Concha Trippensee's beautiful home.
We segued right into a comprehensive tour of their home, the general neighborhood, and even did an evening dinner cruise on the Grand Lake of the Cherokees on their deck boat (dinner courtesy Col. Sanders).  A busy and most excellent day!

Day Thirty-eight: Wednesday:  Gary & Concha laid on a full day for us, visiting & chatting with the friendly folk of Grove.  Gary is a trustee of the Grove Airport Authority and between he and Concha they seem to know a very significant percentage of the area's residents.  After a visit to the airport Gary took me by the local radio station where we got a rundown on how local radio is now run (by computer, playing MP3 files, if anyone is interested).  Concha took D to Wal-Mart, which of course is a must-visit for D everywhere we go. D also got in some time feeding the local Canadian Goose population, who are yard regulars and as a bonus currently herding  a number of fuzzy chicks.
This area of Oklahoma is absolutely beautiful, green rolling country liberally laced with lakes, Grand Lake of the Cherokees being the one adjacent to Grove and only recently becoming heavily developed. The lake is over 60 miles long with hundreds of branches and arms, each of which will probably eventually host developments like Gary & Concha's.  If you want "in", it's time to move now because it is going fast!

Day Thirty-nine:  Thursday:  Another fun day (for us anyway), starting for J with a morning tour of the lake with Gary in his Luscombe and for D a winery tour with Concha.  The winery tour had been scheduled by Gary and Concha for themselves, but with all the guests coming and going they forgot about it.  As Gary and I had already departed when the tour was remembered, D got to go instead.
Gary had arranged with Larry, owner of the local radio station, to allow me to place our plane in his hangar.  This turned out to be a good thing, because around mid-afternoon a line of thunderstorms came along and dumped over 3" of rain in a couple of hours, which would have thoroughly soaked the leaky old C182 and the baggage remaining therein.  As it was, we got to watch while ponds filled to overflowing, water ran over roadways and an old hickory tree split & crashed across one street. Rosamond would have floated away in that rain!
In the evening I rode to Tulsa Airport with Gary to pick up the next shift of visitors, Bidell & Sheri (forgive the spelling), a couple from Lancaster who were arriving to look around the area with an eye to retirement.  They need a revolving door!

Day Forty:  Friday:  Time to move onward and we said goodbye to Grove, departing IFR into a 600-foot overcast which topped out at about 6500 feet and remained below us all the way down to McKinney Texas where we were met by our hostess Donna.  She and D got in some shopping time in the old downtown square area of McKinney, which has been transformed into an eclectic collection of antique, clothing and general "junque" stores, while I wandered around and watched construction workers rehabbing the old courthouse in the center of the square.
In the evening we joined Greg, his boss Sue, her husband Howard and brother-in-law Earl for dinner at Maggiano's, an Italian place which apparently is dedicated to "death by overeating".  No question, everything here is Texas-size.

Day Forty-one:  Saturday:  After breakfast D and Donna (D & D?) went shopping AGAIN while Greg & I piddled with computers trying to integrate my laptop into his wireless network.  Following that we de-winterized the back patio for an evening Texas BBQ with friends Tony and Ruth.. 
Greg has an outstanding setup for back-yard entertaining and shortly we were transporting a huge roast out to the spit.  Around 4:30 Tony & Ruth arrived and Grey Goose martinis had begun to flow.  I'm not normally a martini drinker but these went down really, really smooth. This was followed by an eat-fest, capped by a rich chocolate cake in honor of Ruth's upcoming birthday.
We were even entertained by D,R&D,  a vocal trio brought in at no expense for the occasion.  Well, enough said about that.

 Day Forty-two: Sunday:  After last night's overindulgence, a light breakfast was in order.  Following that the ladies got in some browsing time at the swap meet, great fun for the guys of course.  With the exception of a visit to Greg's business (tech guy stuff, don't ask), this turned out to be about our only group activity for the day outside of eating. 
In the evening we made a run down into North Dallas to Greg & Donna's regular Mexican eatery, Chuy's, joined again by Tony & Ruth.  Incidentally, everyone pokes fun at Californians because we tend to drive long distances to shop or eat, but I believe your basic Dallas resident has got to be at least on par with us La-La Land types.
Following this D called it a day, while Greg & I managed to stay up long enough to watch a DVD (high body count, definitely not a chick flick).

Day Forty-three:  Monday:  Back to work for Greg and back toward California for D & I.  We were off by 9:00 AM, departing IFR due to a morning overcast, with a clearance which took us on a zig-zag departure route at 4000 feet over Dallas and through the mass of traffic in and out of DFW. Eventually we emerged from the Dallas spaghetti bowl, were cleared to climb above the overcast, and rewarded with a direct routing to our first stop at Plainview, TX.  Plainview is a small town near the New Mexico border and was described by the FBO operator where we refueled as "the only place he knew where it rains mud".  Apparently, thunderstorms which come up during plowing time sometimes suck up quantities of dust which comes back as muddy rain.  Fortunately we had none during this trip.
After fueling and a comfort break we pushed onward toward Albuquerque, with headwinds and turbulence building as we approached the Rockies.  We continued past Albuquerque to Winslow, Arizona before deciding we had been shaken and stirred sufficiently to justify calling it a day. Having picked up two hours crossing time zones, we found ourselves in our motel by 2:45 local time, but that was entirely enough travel for us.

Day Forty-four:  Tuesday:  We were away from Winslow by 8:00 AM and beat our way westward against steady 25 to 30 knot headwinds (normal for this time of year).  With a brief comfort stop at Kingman, Arizona to accommodate the morning coffee consumption we finished our trip tracing the familiar route across he the desert to Rosamond. At touchdown, our elapsed flying time read 53 hours and 34 minutes, covering around 6000 miles total. 
 Momma Cat was happy to see us, although neighbors had dropped by from time to time to check up on her and replenish her food supply. An hour was spent vacuuming the house (enough hair to construct a spare cat, I think), and picking up about fifty pounds of held mail from the post office, which should provide us with enough stuff to keep us busy for a couple of days at least.  The house being built across the street from us went from a slab to an almost-structure during our absence, otherwise forty-four days does not appear to have resulted in much change in the old neighborhood.
All in all, our longest (duration) trip so far was a great success. The only lesson learned was the same one we have "learned" on virtually every trip we have taken: Don't carry so much "stuff" along!