Sunday, March 29, 2009

NOAA Weather Alert Radio

Sunday, March 29, 2009
Summerdale, AL

First, let me do an update on Dar. After flying back to Wisconsin she saw her doctor on Friday morning. He did the usual poke, prod, and listening things, then ordered some tests. By late afternoon the tests came back and it was determined that she had walking pneumonia. Treatment is easy... the right antibiotic usually knocks it out in a couple weeks. So she's on the mend, feeling much better, and taking it easy at her Mom & Dad's house for a few days. We booked a return flight back to Pensacola for her next Tuesday. Once again, thanks to all of you who expressed concern about her.

Meanwhile, it's been pretty quiet around the bus-house. After finally getting Dar launched from Pensacola on Thursday it rained on and off again most of the day, as it had every day since Tuesday. By evening I was ready for a good nights sleep. But that wasn't to be.

A few months back we purchased a NOAA weather alert radio. It's one of those things that seemed to make a lot of sense especially because we live in a house that isn't anchored to the ground with a substantial foundation. We all know how tornados will actually seek out mobile home and RV parks before causing any real damage.

When storms occur during the day we're pretty darn good at watching the sky. Among her many other capabilities Dar is also a trained weather observer. But at night when dangerous weather is expected and when the sky isn't real visible it seems sensible to have a device that can make you aware of natural dangers ahead of time.

If a severe thunderstorm or tornado or other dangerous situation is heading your way, a NOAA weather alert radio will make you aware of it by sounding a siren... a loud siren... that's capable of waking deep sleepers and people in medically induced comas. It will tell you to go immediately to your basement. If you don't have a basement it will suggest you should go outside, find a ditch or ravine, jump in and lay face down while covering your head with your arms. I'm not sure about this advice as most low spots are usually filled with water during heavy rains and they never say anything about taking a snorkel along. Hmmm.

For a long while after we got our NOAA weather alert radio it didn't make so much as a peep. It just sat there for weeks. I became concerned it wasn't working at all until one day I saw it had, in fact, received a test signal which confirmed it was, indeed, working just fine.

But this past week it's been getting a real workout. And Thursday night, when we had storms lined up and aimed right at this little corner of L.A. (Lower Alabama), it kept me up almost all night. Having this little radio is probably still a good idea but I hope I'll never have to look for a water-filled ditch or ravine to jump into.

For the record we received almost 7 inches of rain on Thursday night alone according to local amateur weathermen. For the three day period it was close to 12 inches.

Thom

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dar Flys to Wisconsin

Thursday, March 26, 2009
Summerdale, AL

I have a recurring dream. I think many people do. In mine, I'm usually on a business trip and I'm trying to catch an airline flight... but I just can't seem to actually get to the airport. The most unusual situations, people, and events make up a string of obstacles that keep me from ever getting there, from ever making the flight. And it all happens in slow-motion. It doesn't occur often anymore, like when I was still in the business world, but from time to time it surprises me and causes some consternation when it does.

This past day or so, the process of trying to get Dar on a flight at the Pensacola Airport and off to Wisconsin for a few days reminded me a lot of my dream. It seemed we were stymied at every turn -- it seemed something would always happen to turn what should-have-been a simple process into an ordeal of waiting, watching, wondering, and waiting some more.

I won't belabor this much more, but the lack of clear signage directing travelers to the airport, road construction, weather in Dallas, weather in Pensacola, weather between here and there, flight cancellations, an overloaded airplane -- it was all more than this now-relaxed Wisconsin boy was used to.

The original flight yesterday afternoon was scheduled to leave at 2:15pm. But just after we got to the airport it was changed to 3:15; then 3:45; then 4:15; then 4:45; then 5:45; then 6:15. The problem was weather in Dallas, where she had to make a connecting flight to Madison scheduled to leave at 6:15. It wasn't looking good, in my humble opinion, so we decided to abort the Wednesday attempt and re-book for Thursday. Eventually that original flight was canceled altogether.

This morning the alarm went off at 3:30am. Dar's flight was scheduled for 6:30am and we're an hour away. As we're getting ready our NOAA weather radio's siren went off alerting us to a line of severe thunderstorms heading our way -- and right toward the Pensacola airport. Was this my recurring dream?

We pulled up to the airport at 5:30am. On checking in, she found the flight already delayed for almost an hour due to fog in Dallas. Looking at the flashing dark western sky it was also clear it wouldn't be much longer before these local storms would cause another problem. Am I dreaming?

But those pilots, in the spirit of Jimmy Doolittle, hustled everybody on the plane a bit after 7am even as the rain was starting to fall. They fired up the little regional jet, and rolled down the runway surrounded by bright booming lightning bolts thrown by very angry weather gods. The little plane clawed the wet air for altitude and slowly, eventually, popped out from the closing grip of the storm. If that sounds like a dream I must assure you it's very nearly the truth.

-----------------

Dar is going back to Wisconsin to get to the bottom of some lingering flu-like symptoms that have been keeping her down for too long. She did see a Doctor here but felt any further tests should be done in Wisconsin with her own physician and also because her health insurance plan works better there.

We should know a lot more in the next few days. Plan "A" is to get her issues resolved and have her fly back down as quickly as possible so we can continue exploring.

Thanks for all of your concern and best wishes.

T

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Doctor Visit

Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Summerdale, AL

Dar’s health isn’t improving. So yesterday, Monday, I took her to see a Doctor in Foley, AL, which is just a few miles down the road. The results of this visit aren’t real satisfying. According to a quick flu test what she has is not the flu. But something’s causing fevers, chills, aches, etc., so the next step is to try antibiotics. As of this morning, however, they don’t seem to be doing much. She’s a hurtin’ puppy right now. So we talked options, our next step.

We decided that we’ll load her on a plane in Pensacola tomorrow and fly her back to Wisconsin. She’s much more comfortable with her own doctor and the support of nearby family. And her insurance plan works best if she’s in her home state seeing her home medical team.

We talked about making a beeline to Wisconsin with the Bus-House, but we’d be driving right into the maw of a big spring storm that’s affecting the Midwest for the next few days. And flying is probably going to be easier on her than two or three days pounding down interstate highways.

I’ll stay with the Bus-House right here in Summerdale for the next few days, which are supposed to be lousy from a weather standpoint. By Sunday or Monday, when the weather breaks, I’ll start heading for Wisconsin. If she miraculously improves and is back to the pink of health by that time we could always fly her back and continue on our journey. Otherwise we’ll just be in Wisconsin early this year.

This is a different kink of adventure.
T

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Under the Weather

Sunday, March 22, 2009
Summerdale, AL

We haven’t done much the past two days. On Friday, during the drive to Summerdale, neither of us was feeling great. Dar was fighting a bug of some kind and I was having an allergy attack… something to do with the fact that everything is in full bloom around here, I’m sure. I’ve always had a mild Spring allergy to grasses and tree pollen in the Midwest, but in recent years it’s seemed to lessen and I haven’t even bothered to get any prescription medications to fight it. But this is the first extended period of time I’ve spent in the old South. I’m cautiously optimistic that I’ve got it under control with over-the-counter medications. That past two days haven’t been too bad.

But Dar, on the other hand, is really suffering. We think it’s the flu — aches, pains, and a fever. She feels like, well… she doesn’t feel very good at all. If the situation doesn’t improve on Monday we’ll find some local Medical assistance to troubleshoot the problem.

For now, we’re not planning much until she’s improving.

T

Friday, March 20, 2009

Through Mississippi, Into Alabama

Friday, March 20, 2009
Summerdale, AL

Neither of us was feeling great this morning. Dar’s been fighting an unknown bug the past few days and she didn’t get a lot of sleep last night. And I’m having some significant problems with my springtime allergies — certainly due to the amount of pollen in the air down here. I mean, everything’s in full bloom down here and I’m learning that the Old South may not be the place for me in the Spring. By the time we got ourselves and the Bus-House put together for travel, and our requisite visit to the dump station wrapped up, it was almost 10am. Actually, not a bad start for us.

I drove out from the park and found I-12E just a few miles north of the little town of Lacombe. After I-12 meets I-10 we continued east just a few miles to the Mississippi Visitors Center where MS607 intersects with I-10. It was there that we found one of the most impressive State Visitor Centers we’ve run across anywhere in our travels. It was decorated and appointed more like a stately old mansion than a normal visitor center. And, for RV’ers, there are well-separated pull-through parking spaces sprinkled around the property where you could stay overnight. It’s not an RV Park and it doesn’t have hookups, but if you’re traveling through it’s a great place to spend the night for free.

From there we took the scenic route instead of continuing on I-10. US90 follows the coastline through this part of Mississippi, including the towns of Gulfport and Biloxi. This area was devastated by Katrina in August 2005 — nearly wiped out by 16 straight hours of hurricane force winds and a storm surge that exceeded 20 feet. What did we see?


First, it was clear there was a lot of work that’s gone into rebuilding the area. The road itself, the seawall and walking/biking path, and the spectacular white sand beach were among the best we’ve ever seen. Literally, it was over 20 miles of continuous re-built shoreline. You could start on one end and almost run a marathon (26 miles) without leaving the beach. What a spectacular natural resource for the area.

But on the other side of the road the effects of Katrina were still evident. Tattered trees were all over — they’d lost limbs and leaves but had survived and are coming back; some of those that didn’t make it are now wooden sculptures in the parkway dividing the road. There were huge areas of nothing but brush and sets of stairs. These stairs had been the masonry, brick, concrete front stairways to homes along the beach — and these stairs turned out to be the most lasting portion of the homes they were attached to. The homes are gone but the stairs, even today, almost four years later, still remain. Wow!


There were many areas of pilings, stilts, that once had homes built atop them. The houses were gone but the pilings remained. There were a few new houses, a few new mansions (somebody still has some money!), and the casinos have rebuilt with real buildings instead of the fake buildings on floating barges that ended up three blocks inland after the storm. There are portions of the new Biloxi that looks like a mini-Las Vegas. It’s clear the area is springing back strongly.

Then it was back to I-10 to Mobile and across Mobile Bay. Being a larger town I dreaded driving through Mobile on a Friday afternoon. But it wasn’t all that bad. There was even a tunnel — I-10 dives under the Mobile River channel near downtown Mobile — so I could practice by tunnel driving skills. It’s unnerving to have a wall just a foot or two next to the Bus-House at 60mph.

At exit 44 we left I-10 and found a Love’s Truckstop where we fueled the Bus-House. We took on 70 gallons of diesel at $1.89/gallon — the lowest we ever paid.

About 2pm, after about 170 miles, we arrived at our destination, the Escapee’s Rainbow Plantation RV Park near Summerdale, AL. We have a full hook-up site and plan to be here at least a week or so.

T

Thursday, March 19, 2009

One Last Hike

Thursday, March 19, 2009
Mandeville, LA

After two days of exploring, we decided that today, Thursday, would be a “down” day… we could use the time to get ready for our Friday move from Fontainebleau State Park, relax, do some chores, and not be pressured by any clock or event. After a morning of intense lollygagging, Dar thought it’d be great to take a break and head over to the Northlake Nature Trail for one last hike through the dangerous, snake-infested swamps around here. You know, she said, … “one last hike for “old times” sake”. I wasn’t sure I liked how she said that.

As we set off, Dar insisted I lead the way. Since we’re both “intrepid explorers”, we take turns at leading as we hike. Dar likes leading when we’re in parks, zoos, museums, shopping malls, and other more civilized venues. But she insists that I lead when in rugged mountain terrain, snake and ‘gator infested swamps, on paths over nests of great-scorpions and giant fire ants, and where huge venomous spiders have woven webs to snare unsuspecting hikers and eat them for lunch. Bwahhahha!

So off we went after Dar insisted on strapping on the snake-proof leggings she rented. She said they just didn’t have my size and I’d have to try to get through the hike by keeping an eye peeled and hoping for the best. Hmmmm? I wonder why she said I should wear shorts?


The wonder and beauty of a Louisiana swamp is something to behold. It’s teeming with life. It’s calm, quiet, and fresh-smelling. Not at all what you’d imagine. We enjoyed it immensely.

Despite some dangerous and anxious moments, we made it through the hike and took some memories with us that we’ll not soon forget.

T

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Baton Rouge

Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Mandeville, LA

A theme… having a theme makes this fulltiming life so much more predictable… more plan-able… less random. Last Spring, our theme was to follow the Lewis & Clark Gang back from the west coast to their starting point near St. Louis, MO. We had journals and maps and interpretive centers and exhibits and stories to guide us on our way, to bring the trail alive, to transport us to that time so we could share the experience… at least in some small ways. The L&C theme worked well for us because it was linear and sequential, it was with us almost every day, and it followed a general path which we wanted to take anyway.

Since that time we’ve been grappling with the whole subject of themes. In fact, we now have more than one theme and they’re being worked with less intensity due to their spread-out locations around the country. One of these is to visit all the Presidential Libraries and Museums. We’ve done a few so far — Hoover, Truman, Ford, Clinton — but have 7 or 8 to go.

Another theme is to visit all the State Capitol buildings. These grand old buildings are almost always worth the visit except that many of them are located in busy, congested large cities, which runs counter to one of our prime directives: “To stay as far away from big cities and congestion as humanly possible.”

Anyway, today, Wednesday, we drove the old “toad” the 75 miles over to Baton Rouge to visit the Louisiana State Capitol, which is the 6th one that met our theme’s criteria… we have to visit in person and photograph both interior and exterior shots to qualify. As with many of the first states admitted to the union during the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, there is often more than one building to see — and Louisiana is no exception. In one exhibit I saw today, I think the Louisiana State Capital was in no less than 11 locations during it’s history. But the two most significant buildings were the Old State Capitol built in 1850 and the current State Capitol completed in 1932 — thankfully both are in Baton Rouge.


The new Capitol is a high-rise building that tops out at 450 feet high and 34 floors — very unusual as most state capitols are ornate stately domed affairs of only a few floors. It’s the highest State Capitol in the USA. The exterior is mostly limestone and the interior various marbles from Vermont and Italy. The entrance is approached via a grand staircase of 48 stairs, one for each of the first 48 States.


Through the main doors is a large central Memorial Hall which makes up most of the high-ceilinged first floor including the Chambers for the House of Representatives to the east and the State Senate to the west. The basic design is similar to Nebraska’s Capitol, which we haven’t seen yet, but was built in 1/10th the time… just 14 months. I didn’t have high expectations, thinking it would feel a lot like any modern office building. But after our visit I feel it probably accomplished what it’s designers were trying to project… a modern building, using technology and capabilities derived from the industrial revolution, forward looking, breaking from the past. There was some art and symbolism and grandeur on the first floor that gave the place some of the reverence I’ve felt in other Capitols, but I’d still rank it low on my list of the one’s I’ve seen. My preference is for more classical architecture.


Next on the agenda was the Old State Capitol. Just a short walk away from the current Capitol in downtown Baton Rouge, it was a nice surprise that added some spice to the day. While the exterior and overall design isn’t notable or what you’d call impressive, some of the interior features commanded your attention.


The large central spiral staircase, stained glass ceiling, and lantern roof was the focal point. I found myself walking around the central rotunda looking up and snapping picture after picture of the ever changing angles and colors. It felt like a Capitol, almost church-like. This building was built in 1850 and, during various terms, served as the State House until replaced by the new Capitol in 1932. It was gutted by fire during the civil war and the Senate chambers burned again later. By the 1920’s the old building was just too small and had to be replaced. It was certainly a worthwhile stop.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Biking to a Brew Pub

Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Mandeville, LA

The rain stopped. Overnight lower dew points and comfortable temps flowed in behind the front that was stalled over the area for the past few days producing all that rain. We slept comfortably and deeply. When my right eye popped open to a blue sky and bright sun blasting in through that small window right next to my pillow, I knew it was a “new day” and there were new explorations awaiting us today.

After coffee and a simple breakfast I readied the bikes for our day on the Tammany Trace recreation trail. We keep the bikes under covers during rainy days and I’ve recently started keeping the bike seats in the car and plugging the hole in the frame with a rubber plug. So, covers off… seats replaced… done. Tire pressure usually needs to be topped off after a couple weeks of non-use too… done. And then there’s the bike bag that mounts on Dar’s luggage rack… done. And for good measure and because these bikes are so abused by being in the elements almost all the time, I lubed up the moving parts with BO-Shield… done. And before we knew it, we were ready to head out.

Because the Tammany Trace runs right past Fontainebleau State Park we just rode out the park road and hopped on the trail. The plan was to ride the trail through Mandeville and continue north from there to the little community of Abita Springs. I thought it’d be about 12 miles each way, but distractions and wanderings added a few extra miles to the total. We ended the day at 27.1 miles for the day.


This area is heavily wooded in it’s natural state and the dominant tree is pine of some sort. And heavy recent rains left ditches and streams filled with water. But it was a comfortable and enjoyable ride on the all asphalt trail. Spring is well underway here in the south with fresh scents and blooms all over the place. We stopped and checked out the Mandeville Harbor area and a depot redevelopment that’s now a covered open area where a farmers market is held rain or shine every Saturday morning.

At the other end of our trail ride we found the Abita Brew Pub which features the craft beers of the Abita Brewing Company. They have an outside dining area where we enjoyed a beer or two, a big lunch, and wasted away a portion of the afternoon. Explorers like us have a responsibility to maintain our strength with proper levels of nourishment and healthy liquids.


Abita Springs is a town rich in a history that reminded us of our home town of Beaver Dam. Both had natural springs with waters that were thought to be healthy, even medicinal, and with healing properties. People flocked here from crowded cities to enjoy the country and absorb some of the healing effects of the waters. Huge hotels were constructed and a resort-like atmosphere resulted. There’s an historic district in Abita Springs where much of the architecture from the early days has been preserved. After our extended lunch, we explored the center of town before heading back to the Bus-House.

We got back about 5pm with some sore muscles but had really enjoyed the day.

T

Monday, March 16, 2009

Moving Campsites at Fontainebleau

Monday, March 16, 2009
Mandeville, LA

It’s been raining since Saturday here at Fontainebleau State Park on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain. The ground in the park doesn’t drain real well so there are small lakes throughout lending a realistic touch to the thought of camping in a swamp. We did have a break in the weather Sunday afternoon when we took a long walk around the park to stretch our legs a bit and to check out the facilities.

This is a very busy state park. We were lucky to have gotten a space at all on Friday, and could only have it until this morning as someone has it reserved for the week. So the first task after coffee today was to find out what’s available and pick a new site. Our thought to stay for another week — until next Monday — was nixed by the park office. “Sorry, we’re booked solid next weekend… there’s nothing available… spring break, you know.” We could, and did, find a site we could have until Friday though. At least we weren’t kicked out altogether. In addition to the spring break crowd there are a lot of snowbirds from “up north” moving around and biding their time until spring breaks back home. We’ve run into them all over the past few weeks. They’re a nervous bunch who, I believe, think they’ve been away from home far too long already. They can’t wait to get back.

So between rain showers this morning we moved to the new site. It took a couple hours and, of course, as soon as we were done it stopped raining.

The weather the next few days is supposed to be nice and sunny and we’re looking forward to getting the bikes on the famous Tammany Trace Bike Trail, a 31 mile long “rails-to-trails” recreation project developed on the old Illinois Central Railroad’s right-of-way. We won’t ride all 31 miles but a good 20 mile ride sounds about right. It turns out we can take our bikes right to the Abita Brewing Co.’s Brewpub just up the road in Abita Springs. Wherever we go we like to stop and sample the products at small craft brewers like Abita and almost always have a great time.

There are also some natural areas to explore, some hikes to walk, and, of course, we don’t want to shortchange ourselves on thinking-time and a bit of solitude. It’s all good for the soul.

T

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Rainy Saturday

Saturday, March 14, 2009
Mandeville, LA

We never left our campsite today. Rain poured out of the sky almost all day and we needed a day like this for inside stuff. That included getting ready for filing our income taxes in order to keep Dar out of prison, getting the online photo albums updated, and a lot of other desk-work that’s been waiting for such a day.

Tomorrow, Sunday, is supposed to be another rainy day. I wonder what we’ll do if it is.

T

Friday, March 13, 2009

Move to Fontainebleau State Park

Friday, March 13, 2009
Mandeville, LA

We only planned three nights at the French Quarter RV Resort — it was all our budget could stand. But, with more yet to see and do, we still wanted to stay in the area. After checking out a couple State Parks near New Orleans yesterday, we decided to move to Fontainebleau State Park just across Lake Pontchartrain, to the north, from the Big Easy.

By “just across the lake” I mean about 25 miles the way the crow flies. Lake Pontchartrain is the second largest salt lake in the USA, behind the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Yesterday I mentioned the bridge that cuts right across the middle of the lake from north to south, a bridge that’s notable as the longest over-water bridge in the USA.


I wasn’t real excited to drive the Bus-House across the long bridge as it’s only two lanes wide in each direction with no shoulders or escape lane. If someone breaks down, you’re stuck in the lane of traffic, with thousands of not-real-happy Louisianans trying to jockey for a spot in the lane that’s still moving. The chances off breaking down at any given point in time are minimal but it’s still the kind of thing I think about when planning routes. It’s nice to have a place to go if you’ve got to stop.

But, after deliberating for about 5 minutes, we decided to take the chance and use the Pontchartrain Bridge anyway. What the heck?

We left the French Quarter RV Resort about 10am, and found our way onto I-10W. Through city traffic and construction zones we progressed until… until we saw our exit for the bridge going by and we’re still on I-10W with the exit behind us. Oh Dang! We were both looking for a big green sign but apparently there was only a small temporary one that directed drivers with really good eyesight onto an earlier ramp because the main ramp was closed for contstruction. Harrumph!

Being intrepid explorers we quickly found a longer alternative around the west side of the lake, the only path around the lake we hadn’t taken when checking out State Parks yesterday. It was a fair trade-off as far as I was concerned… an additional 40 miles instead trying to turn the Bus-House + Toad around in nutty N.O. traffic and try to find the temporary exit from the I-10E side. No, I’ll take an easy 40 additional miles in rural traffic anytime.

So we continued on I-10W until we connect with I-55N around the west side of the lake, and up to I-12E. Then East on I-12 until we exited on LA59S and wended a few miles south and westward to the State Park, which is smack on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. We settled into our site and felt a joint sigh of relief to be back at a “campground” again for the first time since last November. The cool breeze blowing through the camper, the trees (a lot more pine than along the coast), the woodsy odors, even a place to build a campfire — it felt like we’re home. I think we’ll try to stay here for a while.



T

Thursday, March 12, 2009

New Orleans, Yesterday and Today

Thursday, March 12, 2009
New Orleans, LA

For three days and nights we’ve been here in New Orleans. Only a few blocks from the French Quarter. I’d been here 6 or 8 years ago, on business, and spent a couple nights at the Royal Sonesta Hotel right on Bourbon Street. It was a business trip so there wasn’t much time for wandering around, but I did listen to live music in a bunch of places, ate at a couple great restaurants, and soaked up the stories of the colorful history of the place. It wasn’t much of a basis on which to base a comparison… but it’s all I have.

There’s a wonderful side to this city… the history, the unique architecture, the Creole and Cajun food, the international flavor and feel of the place, the seaport, the wealth, the stately Live Oaks under which glorious mansions from another time still struggle for a place in the modern world.

And there’s another side… a seamier side… the forgotten brutalities of the past, the crumbling buildings, the sinking land and rising sea level, the abandoned water soaked homes, the poor, the dirt in the streets, the bawdiness of businesses based on sleaze, the excesses.

The two sides are probably joined in some way and neither would have existed in quite the same way without the other. The past is the past. It’s gone. Nothing we can do about it. But the present is here. And in the present it feels like head bangin’ rock music now pours out onto the narrow streets where jazz used to waft and even intrudes into other, quieter, nearby venues. Local establishments seem to be in decline while the chains… Bubba Gump Shrimp, Hard Rock Cafe, et. al. seem to be more successful catering to the needs of convention goers and sprightly smiling vacationers.

It seemed to me that the New Orleans I knew from my brief business trip a few years ago is slipping away, or at least changing.

After two days haunting the French Quarter and walking the Garden District we took a day off to see a few other things. We explored a couple nearby State Parks — one of which we may move to on Friday. We drove across the Lake Pontchartrain Bridge — the longest over-water bridge in the world at almost 24 miles. And we saw a new I-10 bridge over the east end of Lake Pontchartrain being built to replace the span badly damaged by Katrina in August 2005. We drove over that damaged bridge and there are a bunch of places where the old concrete sections have been replaced by narrow temporary steel spans.

After getting back to the Bus-House we whipped up a homemade pizza and lugged it over to the RV Park’s pool, along with a couple glasses of vino, to enjoy the New Orleans evening under a darkening ski. For the first time in a very long time we enjoyed a hot tub with alternating plunges into the much cooler saltwater pool. After a long shower, it was time to call it a day.

Just a sampling of pics follow.  There are many more in our online photo album.





Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Mississippi -- Atchafalaya System

Wednesday, March 11, 2009
New Orleans, LA

The Mississippi River basin, the land the river drains, is more than 12 million square miles, more than 40% of the land area of the USA, all or parts of 31 states. It’s the third largest river basin in the world, behind only the Amazon and the Congo. It’s average discharge volume is almost a half million cubic feet of water per second — every minute, hour, day, week, month… all year long. It’s an amazing and awesome thing.

All that water races toward sea-level here in Lower Louisiana. Throughout geologic history the river has built a massive delta area where the silts and sediments carried south are deposited at the point the river meets the sea. All the land area of Southern Louisiana was built up in this manner. But rivers naturally change. In delta areas like this when the main flow of the river has deposit sediments in one place for a period of time, building up and raising the river bottom, other nearby potential channels are now relatively lower and the river will naturally shift it’s flow to a new channel in a shorter and easier path to the sea.


In Lower Louisiana the Mississippi has a major distributory, another outlet to the sea — the Atchafalaya River. On Tuesday, as we drove from Abbeville to New Orleans, we drove through the various swamps and stream channels of the Atchafalaya basin, an area that makes up the largest swamp in the USA. Few roads traverse these lowlands. Both I-10 on the northern end of this area and US90 to the south (the road we took yesterday) are mostly elevated roadways, bridges really, for dozens of miles at a stretch.

Over the eons of time the main flow of water has changed, alternated, between the current Mississippi channel and the Atchafalaya, numerous times. As one becomes silted up the main channel shifts to the other.

After hundreds of years of flowing down past Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and silting up the delta in that area, the river has begun to shift more and more water to the Atchafalaya. During the 1950’s the US Army Corps of Engineers built a series of floodgates and control structures where the Atchafalaya River flows from the Mississippi. Called the Old River Control Structure, it’s goal is to maintain a 70%/30% split in the amount of water that flows down the Mississippi Channel and the Atchafalaya Channel respectively, and prevent the Atchafalaya from becoming the main channel. There’s a tremendous amount of development and economic activity that would be left high and dry if that happened.

But you can’t fight Mother Nature and win, even if you’re the US Government. As the current old river delta continues to silt in, it becomes harder each year to prevent the Atchafalaya from capturing the main flow of the Mississippi. Eventually, the Mississippi will decide these man-made structures aren’t up to the task of keeping the river controlled. When that happens the river will make it’s move to favor the Atchafalaya.

It’s only a matter of time.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

New Orleans -- Urban Campground

Tuesday, March 10, 2009
New Orleans, LA

We arrived here in New Orleans a little after 2pm and found the French Quarter RV Park. By far, it’s the most urban camping we’ve ever done. As I write this I’m looking at skyscrapers and high-rises just a few blocks from where our camp is. And we’re just three blocks from the French Quarter. To be fair, this isn’t camping. This is RV parking. The entire park has maybe 50 sq. feet of grass (and I’m not totally sure from where I sit if it’s real grass or astro-turf?) There are 52 RV sites here and most are occupied. The rates aren’t cheap by any means… a tad over $60 with every discount I could scrounge up. For comparison the most we paid anywhere during 2008 was $32. We agreed we’d do this for three nights because the French Quarter is what we want to see… and the French Quarter is all about night-life and walking and eating and drinking a bit… and I didn’t want to be faced with driving after a few hours on Bourbon Street.

The drive today was easy. Despite some rough roads that rattled our teeth and the dishes in the cabinets, we made it from Abbeville in about three hours including a brief stop for lunch. We took LA14E out of Abbeville to US90E, which we stayed on until almost into the New Orleans Metroplex. We took I-310 across the Hale Boggs Bridge over the Mississippi River, and then onto I-10E to our destination at exit 235A. Total mileage today was 153.

As soon as we backed into our site and plugged in (for the first time in a week), Dar got some laundry going and we poured over brouchures and maps of the area — seeing what’s here and where to go. About 7pm we’ll walk over to Bourbon Street and find something to eat — and see where the night goes from there.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Thoughts on Cajun Country

Monday, March 09, 2009
Abbeville, LA

Abbeville and Cajun Country: Today was our last full day at Betty’s RV Park in Abbeville. Our 7 day stop here has been a good one… no, an excellent one. We experienced much and have a much better understanding of the Cajun culture and way of life. If there’s one thing I’ll remember about Cajun country it’s the people… all very friendly and hospitable. Cajun’s have a saying that goes like this: “Laissez les bons temps rouler!” It’s Cajun French and is translated as “Let the good times role!” And that pretty much sums up the cultural attitude of people we’ve run into here. I’m sure we’ll be back.


Betty’s RV Park: If you’re looking for concrete pads, little grass patios, and lots of space between rigs, don’t stop at Betty’s. If you’re one who likes to stick to yourself, are not very social, and don’t thoroughly enjoy the company of other RV’ers, don’t bother to stop at Betty’s. But if you’re into good times, genuine-ness, learning about this part of the country, enjoying the simple things in life, and good conversation with interesting people, this is the place to be. Betty’s has a cult following and many serious fulltimers make sure to stop on a regular basis. Abbeville is smack dab in the middle of Cajun Country and it can be the base for Cajun explorations for a week, two, or a month. Most of the people we met here and really connected with have been here numerous times before — members of Betty’s frequent stayer program… some of them staying for a month — feeling it takes a month to really soak in the culture and take a break from the pressures of the outside world. And Betty works hard to make sure everyone in her park is comfortable and having a good time. It seems she knows everyone in the area and she can assist you in making decisions about what to see and where to go. She hosts a happy hour every afternoon promptly at 4:30 and there are usually snacks or goodies of some kind to munch on. Every once in a while, like this past Sunday night, she gets everyone together for a special event. This week it was a pot-luck dinner on the patio. It was grand and we enjoyed it immensely.

Food: gumbo, shellfish, jambalaya, bell peppers, onion, celery, beans, rice, chicken, po boy sandwiches… it’s all simple food made and served in a simple style. And it’s delicious. I can honestly say there was nothing I didn’t enjoy during our stay. Some new friends in the park invited us along today to Suire’s Grocery and Restaurant about 10 miles from Betty’s for a lunch-time shrimp po-boy sandwich. Suire’s has been at the same location, just a few miles south of Kaplan, forever. Nothing fancy here… it’s a family operation and they’ve survived this long by serving the best Cajun cuisine in the area. They’ve been featured in The New York Times and many other publications as one of the best Cajun places around.

Music: a big part of having a good time down here is music. We were introduced to Cajun music by the country’s largest builder of Cajun Accordions. We enjoyed Zydeco music at an extended Saturday morning breakfast. We attended a jam session of musicians at a little bar in the country that served dinner at no charge for all those that came to listen and dance. Let the good times role!

Tomorrow: In the morning we’re pulling up the jacks and driving about 150 miles east to New Orleans. What a change that’ll be. We have reservations at the French Quarter RV Resort just a few short blocks from Bourbon St. Oh boy, I’m not sure I’m ready for this!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Great Day for a Swamp Tour

Sunday, March 08, 2009
Abbeville, LA

One of the things on Dar’s “to-do” list while we’re in Louisiana Cajun Country is to do a swamp tour. She’s been saying this for the last month or two — ever since we made the decision to come this way. So today Dar is a happy girl — she got the swamp tour she’s been looking forward to.

While we didn’t have to get up quite as early this morning as yesterday, it was still necessary for us to be on the road before 9am in order to be at the landing by 10am.

Our tour guide this morning was Bryan Champagne, a French speaking Cajun who grew up on the banks of Bayou Tesch right here in Breaux Bridge. He’s been an outdoorsman and Bayou stalker since he was old enough to walk.

The boat is a 24 foot Crawfish all-aluminum skiff with a 5 foot wide flat bottom which makes it very stable and safe for the dozen or so passengers he can carry. He both designed and built the boat to run in very shallow water and through dense mats of floating vegetation. The motor is a 40hp Mercury which has been modified by Bryan with various guards and reinforcements to protect it from submerged logs, stumps, and other swamp debris like submerged aligators and giant swamp snakes. He says his boat will go places no other boat can go. All right, then. Let’s get started.


Ten other explorers joined Dar and me on this adventure. Once everyone was seated Bryan fired up the Mercury and backed us down an earthen embankment on which the boat was parked. As we headed into the swamp of Tupelo Gum and Bald Cypress Trees he explained the difference between a bayou and a swamp. A bayou must have flowing water while a swamp is stagnent. Bayous are perpetually full of water. Swamps naturally dry out from time to time. The dry spells are necessary for new trees to root and take hold. Both the Gum and Cypress trees have evolved to survive in standing water for long periods of time.

It wasn’t long before we found our first ‘gator… a small 3 footer, probably a couple years old. During cool mornings they like to find a log to perch on and soak up some sun — heat. As the day grows warmer and during the hot summer they’re much harder to find because they’re laying submerged in the water with only their snout and eyes out. Before the tour was over we’d seen dozens of ‘gators… some as big as 12 or 14 feet long. A couple of them didn’t like how close we were getting and scrambled off their log in a flury of scratching claws, flailing tails, and a whirlpool of churning, spraying swamp water. There was great concern among some of the passengers on the boat but eventually I got over it.



I took some video footage of Bryan running the boat through the swamp. There were many times I thought a jeep would be the preferred vehicle for water only a few inches deep with logs and large branches on the path, instead of a boat loaded with a dozen people. I’d see a big floating log in our way but we just hit it, push it underwater with the weight of the boat, hear it clunk on the lower unit of the outboard motor (which Bryan referred to as an underwater chain saw), and watch it surface again behind us. Often his intended path wasn’t clear to me by looking ahead and invariably we’d go a way I never thought would be passable. You’ll get some idea of what it all was like from this video…


I was surprised to find the swamp didn’t stink or smell at all and was actually kind of fresh-smelling. And there aren’t many snakes in these swamps due to the predatory nature of birds and alligators.

For me the best part of the tour was the Great Egret nesting area. It’s a protected area but one we could get right up next to. The trees were full of hundreds of nesting pairs of Great Egrets, the large snow-white bird that feeds in shallow waters during warm weather all over the USA. Like most of us they really don’t like being disturbed during mating season. It was the first time I’ve witnessed the full mating plumage of a female Great Egret at nest. Dar got some great photos.


Bryan did a great job showing us his corner of the USA. An incredible range of wildlife including ‘gators, 240 species of birds, deer, turtles, frogs, and other reptiles and insects all make a home here. It may look like stagnant lifeless water to the untrained eye but there’s far more life here than most people realize.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Zydeco Breakfast

Saturday, March 07, 2009
Abbeville, LA

Morning came early. By 3am I was awake and reading… probably not sleeping too soundly because we had alarms set, a real unusual occurrence around here. We had to be ready to leave the Bus-House by 6:30am and drive about 45 minutes to Cafe’ des Amis in Breaux Bridge. Everybody we talked to around here said we’ve got to go there for Saturday morning breakfast. So, off we went.

It was a pleasant morning for a drive — not much traffic, sunny skies. We arrived about 15 minutes early as they don’t even open the doors until 7:30am. So we took a walk around town.

The attraction at the Cafe’ is what they call Zydeco Breakfast. Zydeco is a musical style with it’s roots in Creole French but blended with Black influences that produce a sound that must be heard to be appreciated. The Cafe’, on Saturday mornings, serves breakfast while a Zydeco band plays and people dance. The bar is open too. And people flock from far and wide for the experience.

After our walk we were the first ones through the door. We ordered a big breakfast, large quantities of coffee, and watched as the band warmed up. Wow, what a sound. It was loud, amplified… and the instruments: the Cajun Acordion takes the lead, a fiddle, a couple guitars, drums, triangle, and washboard — they all blend to make a sound that I can’t describe — it’s got to be experienced. There’s a group of regulars… dancers that clearly don’t eat, ever… and dance almost every single dance burning thousands of calories per hour. Really! They’re very thin and very good. I found my eyes drawn to them. You had to watch. Great moves… Great memories.

Here’s a link to a video I took this morning. The sound quality is lousy but you’ll get the idea.


Yes, I actually danced a few times with Dar but I must confess I had no idea what I was doing. But with music like this how can it not be great fun? Dar, being the natural dancer in the family, caught on quickly. The calories in that egg omelet I had for breakfast were gone after a dance or two, and after that I was getting energy from stored belly fat. And, believe me, we didn’t look anything like the couple in the video.


By 11:00am we decided to leave and give others in line a chance to enjoy the morning. But I gotta tell ya’… I was beat. My body’s not used to loud music, dancing, eating, and drinking so early in the morning. I needed to go home and take a nap… and I almost never take naps.

We laid low for a few hours during the mid-day. But, alas, no nap today. About 4pm we were off again to another place that, once again, locals have told us we must experience — Touchet’s Bar French Cajun Jam Session. Just a few miles from Betty’s, we slipped ourselves into the tightly crowded establishment and the music was already rollin’. Musicians from all around come here and cycle themselves in and out of the jam session. There might be 8 people playing at a given point in time and as one drummer leaves another comes up to take his or her place. The Cajun Accordion player is always the key instrument in these groups and it seems like almost every time you look a new accordion player is leading the group.

A group of us from Betty’s found a corner of our own and we soaked in the scene. And, yes, we danced too. About 5:30pm, dinner is served… free of charge. Nothing fancy here. You’ve just got to go into the kitchen, grab a plastic plate and a fork, and help yourself to as much Chicken and Sausage Gumbo as you want. The only downside is that you’ve got to eat standing up as all four tables were taken. It was another slice of Cajun life here in Louisiana. And this song kept running through my head.

I don’t know if you remember the song… but with apologies to Don Williams…

Well, you get down the fiddle and you get down the bow,
Kick off your shoes and you throw ‘em on the floor.
Dance in the kitchen ’til the morning light:
Louisiana Saturday night.

That was our day. We were back at the Bus-House by 8pm and I’m writing the blog entry for the day while Dar sleeps. Tomorrow’s another big day of exploration. We’re taking a two hour swamp tour — alligators, snakes, bugs, and much, much, more.

A two hour cruise… gulp!

Friday, March 6, 2009

A Day of Rest

Friday, March 6, 2009
Abbeville, LA

We planned nothing for today. After sleeping in for longer than usual we both spent time and effort on the website. Dar worked on photos… getting our online Photo Gallery up to date, and I worked on writing the blog entry from yesterday and updating the Front Page. Shortly before noon we took off for town where we had some banking business (Yaahooo… we found a Chase Bank right here in town!), a visit to the Post Office, and then an unplanned lunch at the RiverFront Grill. We found a seat on their deck overlooking the Vermilion River and killed a couple of hours talking, eating lunch, watching the river flow by, and sipping the daily special… $2 margaritas. Very enjoyable in a number of ways!

After lunch and before Betty’s happy hour later this afternoon, we needed to give the Bus-House a “nose-job” — a scrubbing to remove bugs from the front end. That quickly accomplished we found some shade and planned some of our next moves.

Tomorrow, we’re getting up early. And trust me on this, neither one of us does “early” very well these days. So we’re setting more than one alarm to ring about 6am. We’d like to be on the road by 7am… to a big “cafe” about 45 minutes from here. It’s an every Saturday morning event which offers breakfast and a celebration of Zydeco music. So, what exactly is Zydeco music?? Well, I hope to be able to answer that question better in tomorrow’s entry. I’ve been told its Cajun music with a Black twist. We’ll see.

We also made plans for next week. We’ll be here at Betty’s until Tuesday, when we head toward New Orleans… “The Big Easy”. Faced with the choice of staying close, within walking distance, to the French Quarter or having to drive, park, and deal with a car each day, we made the decision to spend a few extra bucks and stay close to the action. We reserved three nights at the French Quarter RV Park, which is just a quarter mile or so from Bourbon Street.

Good Night All.

T

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Avery Island & New Iberia

Thursday, March 5, 2009
Abbeville, LA

Dar had me running hard today. The first exploration on the agenda was the McIlhenny Company on Avery Island, about 25 miles from Betty’s RV Park in Abbeville. They’re the makers of world famous Tabasco Sauce… that famous hot pepper sauce. “Holy McIlhenny”! (Some comedian years ago used to say that and it wasn’t until I was much older that I made the connection.


Avery Island is an interesting place. I always pictured it as a piece of land surrounded by water, oh, maybe out in the Gulf of Mexico a ways. Wouldn’t you?? But, as I found out today, it’s possible to drive to Avery Island… without a ferry. There is a small bridge involved along the way, but the island is actually the top of a salt dome out in the middle of a swamp. From a distance it looks like a hill amidst the flat bayou countryside. The salt dome is about three miles by three miles and 15 miles deep. That’s a lot of salt!. Salt is still being mined here at the rate of over 2 million tons per year.


Atop the salt dome is a layer of well drained soil with large trees and plants that are a refuge for wildlife of all kinds. Along the edges, near the swamp, are fields used to grow the famous Tabasco Peppers. McIlhenny also grows peppers in other locations to guard against crop disasters.

The process for making Tabasco Sauce is amazingly simple. Peppers are picked at the height of ripeness, ground up into a mash which is mixed with salt and stored in hogshead barrels, 50 gallons each, for three years. During that time a natural fermenting/aging process takes place. After the three years the barrels are opened and mixed in large tanks with a strong vinegar. This almost-pepper sauce is blended and stirred for an additional few weeks. After that its bottled and shipped to over 100 different countries around the world. We did the tour which includes a very good video about the area, the company, and the products.


Next to the factory is the Country Store where you can sample such unusual delights as Tabasco Ice Cream, Tabasco Cola, Tabasco Jelly, and on and on. The McIlhenny Company are smart marketers too, cross marketing their Tabasco brand by mixing it with other products like Spam, Heinz Ketchup, A1 Steak Sauce, and various brands of mustard. Of course, you could also just buy a bottle of Tabasco and do the mixing yourself too. At the sampling counter in the store I made the mistake of sampling the hotest product first — Tabasco Habanero Sauce. That one sample ended my tasting-ability for the next hour or two.

It was almost noon when we headed into New Iberia where Dar had a couple other explorations lined out for us. On advice of locals we had a quick lunch of Creole Gumbo at the Bon Creole Lunch Counter. If someone hadn’t sent us here I don’t think we would have stopped — there was nothing in it’s appearance that would draw you in. But the Gumbo turned out to be excellent, although it had a slight overpowering hint of Tabasco Habanero sauce.

At 1pm we toured the Conrad Rice Company which bills itself as America’s oldest working rice mill. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981, this mill has been functioning continuously for almost a hundred years. Rice is a huge part of the area’s agriculture. They, too, have an extensive store which showcases all their products as well as other locally produced stuff. Dar found it necessary to buy some of almost everything and I was set to work hauling it out to the car.

From there, just a few miles away, is a restored antebellum mansion called Shadows on the Teche. Constructed in the 1830’s along Bayou Teche, the river that runs through New Iberia. (Bayou is a native word that means “small river” and Teche is a word that means “snake”) If you follow the link above you can learn more about the history of the area and this place. The setting amidst huge live oak trees hundreds of years old is awesome. The tour took us into the house which has been restored to early 19th century glory. More than 90% of the furnishings are original to the family that built it.

There are a lot more pictures from our day in our online photo gallery. I hope you enjoy them.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

An Intro to Cajun Music

Wednesday, March 04, 2009
Abbeville, LA

Something I failed to mention in yesterday’s entry is the fuel price report. On Tuesday, just outside Beaumont, we filled the diesel tank with less than $2.00 /gallon fuel — the lowest price since we started more than a year and a half ago. I don’t know why fuel is this cheap but I think I’ll take advantage of it while I can. Besides, what choice do I have? For comparison, last March we were paying close to $4.00/gallon. Despite the positive effect on my bank account I’m not happy with this state of affairs — but this isn’t the time to discuss it.

Our first night of drycamping went well last night. It got cold and the battery-eating heater came on a half dozen times during the early morning hours, but we got through OK and by 8:30 or so there were some solar-induced amps going back into the battery. The skies were partly cloudy and I was skeptical we’d be able to rely on just the sun to get us back to full charge by late afternoon, so I ran the generator for an hour to provide a little extra boost. By mid-afternoon we were back to full charge.

Here in Abbeville we’re in the heart of Cajun Country. What are Cajuns? They’re an ethnic group of the descendants of Acadian exiles — French-speaking settlers — that were kicked out of Canada in the mid-1700’s. Many of these people settled in Louisiana, which also had deep French roots, and their descendants are still here — in fact, they’re thriving and they celebrate their culture every chance they get.

Today we explored Abbeville. Since we’ve been eating minimally, lunch was in order. Betty recommended a cafe on the courthouse square, where we had the house specialty — hamburger steak grilled with onions and peppers and drizzled with a spicy gravy that was really good. And it was served with a side of, what else?, French fries. We split an order and it was about the right amount for a couple trying too loose a few “Sandollar Pounds”. During lunch we had a conversation with an attorney here in town about what to see and where to go. He was delightful and carried on for a good bit… I, for one, was happy I wasn’t paying for his professional time. By the time we left he’d given us his home number and said we should stop by and tour his historic home here in town.

After lunch we walked around the historic district and found another “square” — Magdalen Square — adjacent to St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church, Rectory, and Cemetary. The square was donated to the town by Pere Desire Antoine Megret, a Capuchin missionary and founding father of Abbeville in the mid-1800’s. The church itself is a magnificent structure for a town this size.


Late this afternoon we accompanied another fulltiming couple to a Cajun accordion builder’s shop about an hour from Betty’s RV Park. The place is Martin Accordions and it’s the largest builder of accordions in the USA. The Cajun accordion (which differs from the piano accordion some of us grew up being very indifferent to) has been a key element in Cajun music for over a hundred years. Each year this family operation, started by Junior Martin 25 years ago, produces between 100 and 200 of these hand-made instruments which are sold for $2,400 or more each. They build in batches of 40 at a time, more or less, and every one they build is sold before they start. There are over 2000 individual pieces of wood that make up each instrument and there are about 120 man/hours of labor involved to cut and assemble each one. After an order is placed it takes 4 or 5 months from start to finish.

After an educational presentation on the Cajun Accordion and the building process, the three people who run this little family business, three generations and all three accomplished musicians, they gave us a bit of a concert, playing a number of Cajun tunes for us. I captured bits of them on video and will have one up for your viewing pleasure in a day or so.


Music is a powerful art that flows over you and sucks you into the culture. I was sucked into the Cajun world today.

T

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Into Cajun Country

Tuesday, March 03, 2009
Abbeville, LA

We departed from Gulf Shores RV Park a bit after 10am and hopped on I-10 less than a mile from the park. The route today had us on I-10 east to Jennings, then LA26 south at Jennings to Lake Arthur where we picked up LA14 east which runs us right into Abbeville. It’s about a 150 drive. We both love those less than 200 mile days.

I’ve heard horror stories about the condition of I-10 so we weren’t expecting a smooth ride today. We battened down every hatch and secured things we don’t normally worry about. Between Beaumont and the border the State of Texas is completely rebuilding the roadway and they were far enough along with the project so we ran on mostly new pavement. There was one small section of old road we had to use and it was evidence that those old rumors I’d heard were probably true. Even after crossing the state line we found better than expected road conditions and quite a few miles of new asphalt roadway — a real treat for any driver. The state roads, on the other hand, were terrible, especially the section of LA14 from Lake Arthur to Kaplan which might have been better if they’d just left it a dirt road.

When we reached the little town of Gueydan (pronounced gay-dan’) we stopped on Main Street for lunch. It was an attractive little town that had been laid out by some forward-thinking people. Main Street was a very wide divided street with a parkway in the middle and still enough room for angle parking on both sides of the street in the commercial district. This one small feature makes the town look good in addition to being functional. I wonder why more towns around the USA didn’t do this. Hmmm?

Abbeville is a larger town than I’d expected. It’s located right in the heart of Cajun Country and that’s the main reason we chose it as our destination. But we’ve also heard from others that Betty’s RV Park is the place to stay which is another reason we’re here. When we pulled into Betty’s small gravel parking area she was right there to greet us with her big smile. Within the next hour, as we signed in and took on fresh water, we met nearly everyone else in the park. What a friendly group. This is a popular place and since we didn’t make a reservation until just a few days ago we’re drycamping in a little space she made available for us. That’s just fine with us as we need to exercise our drycamping muscles anyway.

Over the next few days there’s a bunch of stuff we want to see and explore… maybe a swamp tour in an airboat… Avery Island, the home to Tabasco Sauce… Cajun Cuisine… local history… local music. The day tomorrow, Wednesday, will be our planning day and re-stocking day. I’ve also got to scrape some bugs and dirt off the front-end of the Bus-House and clean the solar panels so we get maximum sun-power.

Monday, March 2, 2009

First Day Back on the Road

written Monday, March 2, 2009
Beaumont, TX
Our intention was to get on the road by 9am… oh, OK, maybe 10am at the latest. But after many “good-byes”, some hugs, tears, and “see you next years” we actually had the big wheels turnin’ a little before 11am. I’ve written before about our roots that naturally grow when we sit for a period of time. The roots that grew these past three months seemed particularly hard to pull up.

We headed northeast out of Rockport on State Hwy 35 toward the Houston area. Then southeast on State Hwy 6 into Galveston where we pick up State Hwy 87. Part of the charm of this road as it carries us northeast again is that it includes a ferry ride across the mouth of Galveston Bay. It’s called the Galveston - Port Bolivar Ferry and one really special feature of this deal is that there’s no charge to make the crossing. That’s right — its FREE. Operated by the State of Texas its all those good cowboy & cowgirl Texans that pay for it in their taxes. Thanks Pard’ners! This was the very first ferry trip for the bus-house. After landing on the Bolivar side Hwy 87 continues until you’re forced to make a left turn on State Hwy 124 which runs north and connects with I-10 at Winnie.


The main reason I wanted to come this way is to see for myself the devastation created by Hurricane Ike last September… a mere 6 months ago. News reports and some “word-of-mouth” prompted me to believe that there wasn’t much left of Galveston… they said it’d been devastated… it’d never be the same. By I’ve got to tell you that on my quick trip right through the heart of Galveston I was surprised by the lack of extensive visible damage; the city seemed alive and breathing. Sure, there was a roof covered with a blue tarp here and there… there was siding blown off of apartment buildings… a few buildings were beyond repair. And I’m sure there was more damage right along the beach where we didn’t go today. Galveston appeared dinged and damaged but far less than I’d been led to believe.

Across the bay on the Bolivar side it was a far different story. The damage here was far worse than my expectation. This little peninsula was devastated and it’s housing mostly blown away. In 6 months they’ve bulldozed a lot of it but there’s still mile after mile of pilings that used to have houses perched on top; concrete slabs that just a year ago were covered by people’s homes. Large beach tracts with residential streets running through are mostly stripped — there’s a standing house here or there, but far more home sites with no homes in sight. I’ll never forget the wide brushy natural areas off the beach that are littered with clothing, insulation, construction materials, cars, pieces of boats… evidence of a beach community simply blown away. Rather than pick through the brush and small trees to clean it all up they’re just bulldozing everything — brush, trees, and the remnants of happier days — all of it into huge piles. Wow. I’m having a lot of trouble describing what I saw there today. Words don’t seem capable of adequately describing it. I may revisit this experience in the future.

We pulled into the Gulf Coast RV Park near Beaumont just before 6pm. After parking and plugging in we found dinner just up the road at a Cracker Barrel. We’ll both be in bed early tonight.




Sunday, March 1, 2009

Last Night in Rockport

Written Sunday, March 1, 2009
Rockport, TX

Today, Sunday, we spent most of the day saying goodbye to good friends and getting ready to leave ourselves tomorrow. The day went by amazingly quickly.

If it had been a normal day we would have enjoyed the bright sun, the mild breezes, the cool-ish temps, the low humidity. We would have found a comfortable chair and read a few chapters in a good book, or just watched the waves, birds, and boats on the bay. But today I had Dar working most of the day… helping me quick-wash the bus-house, stowing gear here and there, washing windows… and all that. We were both busy (with preparations that could have been done a few days ago… ahh, procrastination!!) most of the day. Even after a short and small happy-hour our preparations continued well into the evening. It’s amazing how “spread-out” and un-organized we can get after just a month or two.

Our plan… which is never very detailed or precise… is to drive north and east toward Galveston tomorrow. At Galveston there’s a ferry that will transport us across the Galveston Bay Channel to Port Bolivar. If we’re lucky enough to make a successful crossing tomorrow we’ll try to make it to the Beaumont area for the night. It’s all up in the air at this point so tune in tomorrow for details.

Be Well

T