Thursday, August 29, 2013


Stonehenge in LA?
This is something fun to do with the kids while in LA. That's Lower Alabama to you non-residents. What? You thought I was talking about Los Angles? Pshaw.

Seriously, there is a replica of Stonehenge, some dinosaurs and a tres cool fountain celebrating Neptune/Poseidon in Josephine, Al. I am told there is a display of antique outboard motors in Barber Marina as well, but I did not go in because I had a dog with me. This is not that far from the beaches and other attractions on the Gulf coast. It is not an all-day affair, but stop for lunch and combine a stop at the Foley museum, or Tanger Outlets and you have a day off the beach.

Best of all, aside from lunch, it is free. My favorite word.

Yep. A dinosaur. And not at the Alabama statehouse.
I don't know if the dinos are life-sized or to scale, but I had the afore-mentioned dog with me when I went exploring (PLEASE leash and pick up after your pet!) and when we pulled up to one dinosaur, seen at right,  the dog pricked her ears, and kept looking at the triceratops replica. She kept looking and shying away, looking at me as if to say, “Are you crazy,” when we approached. We finally got close enough for her to take a sniff and then she was calm.

After the kids (and who is fooling who, the adults) have admired the dinos, proceed
further down and see the fountain. If you want to stop at the marina for snacks or to use the bathroom, DON'T go to the “Hatteras” place. Instead, continue around the fountain, and take the road about three-quarters around the circle. This is Barber's Marina where I understand there are snacks, restroom, and the antique outboards. There are also some interesting sculptures in the woods between the fountain and Barber's Marina.

Now Stonehenge. Or Bamahenge. As you leave the fountain and marina, heading back to Alabama 95, watch to your left. You will see the gray “stones” though the trees. You can turn in off the road to an unpaved area (it can be muddy) to park. Then walk a short distance to the replica. The “stones” are fiberglass, but they are set up in the same relationship as the more famous ruin in England. It's fun to look, and if you do some reading on the place even educational (Don't tell the kids.)

Take the car to U.S. 98 eastbound in Foley. Proceed along through Elberta, and take a right at the Alabama 95 marker. There is Elberta Animal Hospital and a gas station/convenience store on the corner. You will also see a Barber Marina sign. Keep going down 95 Until you see Fish Trap Road and another Barber sign. Take a right. Your next left (and another marina sign) will be the road leading to the dinos, fountain marina and Bamahenge.

Enjoy. Take lots of bug repellent (the mosquitoes are hungry.) Curb pets and above all, be respectful. George Barber, the marina owner put these things out there for all to see.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Balloons at Night

The Alabama Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival is about wrapped up, but here are some shots from Saturday night's ascension and tethered rides.

The festival is Father's Day weekend and if you have any questions, contact the South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce.

Balloons Ahoy!

As mentioned before, the 9th annual Gulf Coast Balloon Fest is happening in Foley June 13-15. There was a competition to see which balloonist could maneuver his/her craft to drop a weight on a target. Here is some of the action:

Balloons fly when the air is still.
That means early morning (Yawn) or late afternoon.

The first balloon makes for the target

This one came down well off target.

These two also missed.
It was quite a sight
The target is the white cross on the ground between the
orange and Remax balloons.

Overhead! This one came very close!

Filling an envelope w/ a fan so the crowd could get a good look.

One of the balloonists decorated the chase vehicle.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Obey the flags

Water Closed to Public

High Hazard
(High Surf and/or Strong Currents)

Medium Hazard
(Moderate Surf and/or Currents)

Low Hazard
(Calm Conditions, Exercise Caution)

Dangerous Marine Life

The flags above, courtesy of the City of Gulf Shores website, are flown at the entrance to every beach I know of on the Alabama and Florida Gulf coast.
Folks, the flags are there for a reason. The Gulf might look placid and inviting (and it does, most of the time) but under the gentle waves might be a rip current or other danger (more on rip currents later.)
I have swum the Gulf with green, yellow and single red flags (always with an adult “spotter” on shore in the case of a red flag) and I am the first to admit that a little wave action makes it fun.
But there is a difference between fun and stupid. We have drownings. More put themselves and lifeguards in harm's way and had to be rescued.
What a way to ruin a vacation.
It does not have to. Learn the flags. If the beach has a double red flag, you can still walk the beach, collect shells and make all the sand castles you want. If there is a single red or yellow flag, you can swim, just be aware that it might be rough for a weaker swimmer. And a green flag does not mean let your guard down. Kids are darn fast and may go out too far because they have spotted a fish or dolphin and want a closer look.

Rip Currents
Sounds scary, doesn't it? Rips currents are only scary if you don't understand. Below is an illustration taken from Wikipedia:

Rip current mechanism: breakers cross sand bars off the shore, the water travels back to sea through the gap in the sand bars, creating a fast "rip" current

OK? A “Rip” is just the ocean trying to get back to itself. But if you are caught in one, it feels like you are being swallowed. Even scarier, if you see little Charles or Cindy Lou Who being sucked out to sea, your every instinct is to jump in.
Bad idea. That is how most people die, trying to save someone else.
First: If you are caught in a rip current, the websites I have seen and my experience says swim parallel to the shore, and then get on land once you are out of the current. If you can't swim parallel to shore, then float or relax until the current dissipates. It will. You can then swim to shore, avoiding the current.
Second: If you see somebody trapped in a rip current, try tossing something that floats to that person, without going too far in yourself. Get someone to call for help or notify a lifeguard. If you MUST go in, have a flotation device or something that floats with you. We do not want a double tragedy. When you reach the person, again, swim parallel to the shore or wait until the current stops pulling you and then make your way back to shore. Someone (remember don't swim alone) should have called for help.
This is something all visitors to ANY beach ANY where should know.
Stay safe and have a good time.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival

A view from my back yard. Balloon Festival 2013 is June 14 and 15.

OK, you are not seeing things. That was the view from my backyard a few Sundays ago. And I am hoping the view will get better and better in June.

The Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival happens every Fathers Day weekend. This year, that is June 14-15. Fifty or more hot air balloons descend on the Foley Sports Complex, 18507 US Highway 98 West, Foley, Alabama each year. Here's the link to the South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce. They are the people who put the event on.

The balloons are quite a sight to see floating through the sky. One warning – because the balloons have to fly when the air is still, most flights will happen early in the morning (around 6 a.m.) or in the evening (around 7 p.m.). Weather conditions have to be good, so check the weather before heading out. Weather permitting, there will be a balloon “glow” where balloons stay on the ground, but pilots inflate the “envelopes” (the colorful bags of gas we see) for an otherworldly effect. Get to the festival early!

Big hint: The festival used to offer parking on the grounds, but it has outgrown that. So a free shuttle bus will run from nearby Tanger Outlet to the festival grounds. If you must park on the grounds, it will cost you. Take the shuttle.

There will be tethered rides going up around 25 feet or so at the festival. They have to be purchased in advance, so go to the link above.

There is plenty to do and see on the grounds of the festival. The Disc-Connected K9's are a crowd-pleaser, and there is a craft fair, plenty of food and performers on the festival stage. Come and enjoy!
Oh yes, and once upon a time, I was a reporter. I got to ride a balloon. Here's my account:
Up, up, and away

Part of the fun of being a reporter is getting to go and try things that most don’t get to do.
So it was with the recent Gulf Coast Balloon Festival. The festival organizes a “media day” so TV and print journalists can go behind the scenes and experience whatever and take lots of pictures, write lots of words and hopefully provide some free publicity for the festival.
It’s something a lot of fests and fairs do, and as long as there isn’t some dark or commercial purpose to the event, it’s harmless.
So, when a reporter from a sister paper called and asked if I was up to going and taking some photos, I did not have to be asked twice.
It seemed that a balloon ride was involved.
I thought it was to be a “tethered” ride, one where you only go up 50 or 60 feet, hang for a few minutes and then float back down. At least, that is what I told my mother.
A quick e-mail to the festival’s organizers disabused me of that notion. This was to be a free flight from some field in Foley or near there and we’d drift in the direction of the festival grounds.
Ulp. Now I was very glad that my Mom was a thousand miles away. She was seeing my brother retire from the Marine Corps, and while it seemed that she got one chick safe at last, the oldest was going to fly. Literally.
So, I pored over ballooning Web sites, trying to figure out what I’d gotten myself into. Of course, I came across all the horror stories, tales of balloons getting caught in power lines and other lovely mishaps. I had also covered an emergency landing of a balloon and knew that not all rides are uneventful.
But, I noticed all the companies offering rides, and that this was the fifth year for the festival. If the local media had lost someone or if there had been a bad accident, I know I’d have found it. Besides, killing or maiming the media does not generate good PR.
So, I relaxed, and was really looking forward to the adventure.
Some of those doubts came back when the flight master for the event said that the winds were a little high for ballooning and that landing might be rough. He mentioned that the festival could not guarantee the safety of our cameras. Oh, and anybody with recent surgery or other handicap was to drop out. Now.
That got one local photographer to drop out, and caused a local TV news crew to call their boss for instructions.
You see, a journalist can be replaced. A camera, on the other hand …
Fortunately, the camera I carry is my own, and if it got hurt, I’d be in the hospital, not caring one way or the other. Think Psych ward, doped to the gills.
We broke into groups, and I met my pilot, Ken Garner. He seemed a steady, no nonsense sort, and I learned later he’d taken Chuck Yeager up in his balloon.
Garner had a few “dos and don’ts” for me and the other passenger. Don’t ever touch the red rope, (it releases all the hot air from the “envelope,” the balloonist’s term for the colorful bag that holds the hot air that keeps you aloft) do what he said to do, let him know if we spotted a power line, and stow cameras for landing. And he’d have a release form that basically covered everything. And I do mean everything from pimples to hangnail and much, much, worse. Ulp.
He and his ground crew had Black Magic, a black and multi-colored balloon, together and almost floating in a few minutes.
Of course getting into the basket was something else. The wicker basket is about waist-high to me and Garner had already said there was no ladylike way into it. Fortunately, a member of the crew made a gentlemanly step with his hands and we two passengers were in.
Taking off in a balloon isn’t like a plane. There’s not taxiing, no dash down a runway. One second you are on the ground, the next, you’re aloft.
Oh, and what a view. It’s quiet, except for the burners that keep the air in the envelope hot, and you could hear cows lowing below. We could see the condo towers of Gulf Shores in the distance. Beyond that was the Gulf of Mexico.
We passed over homes and subdivisions and people came out to look at the flotilla of balloons passing overhead. I waved to the kids, knowing that many of them would tell their friends and family about it for years.
It’s not often that you become a memory. Watching the sun set, the other balloons and the whole experience will be one of my treasured memories.
And then Garner said it was time to land. He found a likely field, directed the chase team to it, and descended. It was time to stow the camera, hold on tight, and bend the knees.
We hit, and the wind did drag the balloon and basket. The other passenger landed on top of me. But, we were all fine, if somewhat bruised and that was what was important.
One of the people who lived near the field had crewed for another balloon, and another gentleman came over, his little daughter on his shoulders, and helped pack the balloon away.
If a few minutes, everything was stowed and we were on our way to the festival grounds. The adventure was over.
If the chance comes to ride again next year, I’m going to take it.
And my I add, you should too!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Welcome to Baldwin County, Alabama

We've got the beach. And there is plenty to do when you are not on the beach. With more than 1,500 square miles of territory, and just less than 200,000 people according to the U.S. Census, the county was founded in 1809. Named for someone who never set foot in the area, Baldwin is one of the larger counties in the United States.

Best known for its beaches (Parents Magazine named an Alabama Gulf Coast beach one of its “top 10.” named Gulf Shore and Orange Beach to its best Gulf beaches list.), people may have the impression that we are still oil-fouled from the British Petroleum Macando well oil spill.

Au contraire! The beaches are clean, wildlife is coming back and while there are some effects left, it should not prevent you and your family from having a great time.

Besides, there is more to Baldwin than the beach. There are plenty of fun and educational (but fun!!!) things to do. Visit an old train station, walk a rose trail, take Fido or FiFi to one of our dog parks, play disc golf, go shopping, canoe/kayak/stand up paddle board, learn some history or grab a soda at an old-fashioned fountain. The northern part of the county is woodsy and less-developed, while the southern part (south of I-10) is partly a suburb of Mobile, partly beach, and all fun.

Enjoy your trip, and if you have any suggestions, add them to the comments section!