February 24, 2004

Texas – Eastern and Central

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:20 am by diandy2004

Eastern Texas is your expected oil rigs and natural gas pumps.  We were still experiencing cold (38 degrees), wet weather so it looked even more dreary.  While visiting Beaumont, TX we spent our time in museums.  We enjoyed:

  • the Fire Museum, (as CERT volunteers, we enjoy anything related to the Fire Department)
  • the Texas Energy Museum, (with all of the oil wells in the area, you might as well learn all about them)
  • and the McFadden House.  (a beautiful home and carriage house from 1905)

These were all well-done, so we were surprised to be very disappointed with the Art Museum.

Here’s a picture of me in front of the Disney-donated fire hydrant at the Fire Museum:
beaumont0011

I’m already struggling with my vegetarian diet that I try to maintain.  I thought it was a fluke that I ordered Vegetable Soup in Louisiana and it came with chunks of beef.  But then in Beaumont I ordered Spinach Enchiladas only to find chicken in it.  Do they feel the need to ‘warn’ me that there are vegetables in the food?  But the meat is a ‘given’?

In Central Texas we stopped in San Antonio and Austin.  We enjoyed both of these cities.  San Antonio has their beautiful little River Walk, and of course the Alamo.

The Alamo

The Alamo

Andy Washes the RV...while I watch!

Andy Washes the RV...while I watch!

Andy started a new hobby while we visited Groene, Texas – collecting pottery coffee mugs.  This purchase would be the first of many beautiful hand-made coffee mugs.

Austin has a nice Riverwalk area along the Colorado River in downtown.  The Congress Ave Bridge in Austin is well-known for their bats.  Unfortunately we’re not here at the right time.  You can expect to see them around mid-March or so.  And the Capitol is worth a visit and has a beautiful dome.

Capitol of Texas

Capitol of Texas

What we didn’t understand about Austin was that everyone used Highway 35, so it was congested and very slow moving, and there were all of these other roads they could use that were empty.  Go figure.  While in Austin we stayed at McKinney Falls SP and enjoyed biking and kayaking within the park and our closest neighbors were deers and birds.

Biking over the Falls

Biking over the Falls

Our campsite was huge, too.  They say everything is bigger in Texas, and so far we believe them.

This was the first area that we were able to use our road bikes.  We did a bike ride from Bastrop State Park to Beuscher State Park – hilly, curvy, and lots of trees – everything FL riding isn’t.  It was great!

Biking Bastrop to Beuscher

Biking Bastrop to Beuscher

After leaving Austin, we stopped in Fredericksburg.  This town offers a great micro-brewery and a great war museum – the Nimitz Museum – so give yourself several hours for the museum.  We also drove out to the Enchanted Rock for some hiking.  We combined several trails to make a loop trail that took us up and around the granite dome and past weather-formed mushroom formations.  Supposedly rock climbers use this area, but we didn’t see anyone out today.

We’ve been really wanting to do some caving though since we’ve gotten into central Texas.  So we scheduled a guided adventure tour at Sonora Caverns.  We’ll be driving through the town of Sonora, TX on our way to Big Bend National Park.

RVing “Firsts”:  RV repair – tire guard snapped (we assume it broke driving through Louisiana)

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February 12, 2004

Louisiana – Mandeville and Lafayette

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 2:30 pm by diandy2004

Fontainebleu SP in Mandeville, LA is beautiful.  It sits on Lake Ponchartrain, but on the northern side (opposite New Orleans).  It has lots of trees, wildlife, and water.  It was the perfect spot for Nikki’s eternal resting place.  Just don’t tell the Park Rangers – I don’t think they’d approve.  I bought a beautiful wooden box with magnolias hand-painted on it by a local artist and we buried him under some big oaks near the lake.  I think he would’ve liked this spot.

Nikki's Place

Nikki's Place

Here are some shots from around the park:

Andy on the Trail

Andy on the Trail

Fontainebleu State Park

Fontainebleu State Park

This tree was one of several in the “alley of the oaks”.  I was amazed how the branches reached down to the ground like the fingers of an upturned palm.  If you look closely, you’ll see Andy standing by the trunk (he’s in orange).

The Largest Oak

The Largest Oak

On the drive to Lafayette, LA on I-10 we had to drive over the 17.5 mile Bain Bridge – a long, low bridge that takes you over the bayou.    We had hoped to do some outdoorsy stuff, but it rained the whole time we were there.  We almost went kayaking anyway, but the Vermillion River was so polluted that Andy renamed it “Vermin River”.  Let’s just say you could smell it before you saw it.  We did get to enjoy ourselves at an indoor rock-climbing facility, though.  You learn quickly how weak you are when you try this sport!

We visited St Johns Cathedral and saw a 500-year old oak tree that has a 210 foot span.  It is suspected that one branch weighs 72 tons.  And then we visited Jean Lafitte cultural Center (a National Historic Park) that teaches you about the Atchafalaya Swamp and the Acadian people.

Just for the record:  Louisiana has the worst roads we have yet to drive on (and note that we are in California now).  They are concrete, so the segments cause that constant thumping, but they are also filled with potholes and patches to make them worse.

Some more of our RVing “Firsts” – getting an oil change for the RV, getting the propane tank filled.

February 7, 2004

Alabama and Mississippi

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:19 am by diandy2004

Alabama – we stopped and had lunch outside of Mobile.  That has to count for “visiting” the state, right?

{editor’s note:  later we learned that RVers have different qualifications for what constitutes as a “visit” for the record.  And, if you have a map of the states you can only put a state sticker on the map when those qualifications are met.  So we had to decide on what our criteria would be – and we decided that we would have to spend the night in our RV to be classified as a “visit”.  So, Alabama didn’t count…yet.}

We were a little nervous driving through the Mobile tunnel.  This was our first tunnel in the RV.  “Hazardous Materials” were not allowed to be transported through the tunnel, and considering we had a propane tank, we weren’t sure how we were classified.

Mississippi – We stayed in Biloxi, MS for several nights to play at the casinos.  What we didn’t realize was that the railroad tracks ran right through the center of town.  Our campsite was literally 20 feet to the tracks.  After 2 nights (and days) of no sleep, we moved our RV to a spit of land that jutted out into the Gulf of Mexico.  It was our first night of “boondocking”, which means no hook-ups – no sewer, no electricity, no water connections.  But, it was as far away from trains as we could get!  The land was owned by Treasure Bay Casino, so of course we gambled there that night.  The players and the workers at these casinos really seemed relaxed and just had a good time.
Boondocking next to Treasure Bay's Pirate Ship

Boondocking next to Treasure Bay's Pirate Ship

Another casino we enjoyed was the Beau Rivage.  They have a microbrewery and it was Karaoke night.  Normally, we do not enjoy Karaoke, but last night we heard the Sugarbeets (a group of sugar beet growers in town for a convention) singing Jon BonJovi’s “It’s My Life”.  They were hysterical, and now “It’s My Life” has become my theme song and motto because “I want to live my life while I’m alive”.
During our visit we also toured Jefferson Davis’ home Beauvoir.  Beautiful views of the Gulf.
Sadly our pet parakeet, Nikki, passed away in Biloxi.  Nikki had been with us for 12 years and was a great little guy.  He’ll be missed terribly.  We wanted a place to bury Nikki that would be more ‘natural’, so we altered our plans to include a stop at a state park in LA.  I just couldn’t imagine him being in his eternal resting place next to casinos and railroad tracks.  He deserves more than that.

February 2, 2004

Northern Florida – Springs, Rivers, and Waterfalls

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 7:58 pm by diandy2004

In northern Florida we stopped in White Springs hoping to kayak the Ole Suwannee River, but the temperatures plummeted to 19 degrees here and we just aren’t used to (or interested in) kayaking in those temperatures!  But here’s a picture of the kayak ramp at the campground.  The bank was so steep to the river, I’m still not sure how easy it would’ve been to get our kayaks up and down the embankment.
Suwannee Kayak Launch

Suwanee Kayak Launch

So instead we visited the Stephen Foster Center (the man who wrote songs such as “Oh Susanna!” and “Way Down Upon the Suwanee River” to just name a few), and saw the “largest bell tower in the world”.  We also went for a short hike to Big Shoals, which is a Class III rapids on the Suwanee.

Hike to Big Shoals

Hike to Big Shoals

We also went for a short mountain bike ride on the White Springs Trail.  We’ll have to save some of our other adventure ideas for another visit.  At least we know we’ll be coming back through this area (or close to it) on our return trip.
Driving to Marianna, FL had us crossing our first Time Zone into Central Time.  Having to change all the clocks and watches periodically will take some getting used to.  We visited the Florida Caverns, which are worth the visit.  The bats we saw in the caverns were tiny, 2-3″ long Pipistrelle Bats.   The park also has some nice trails taking you past bluffs, ‘crevices’, large cypress trees and elms.
We were able to get back into our kayaks here and paddle the Chipola River.  The Chipola runs right through the campground in Florida Caverns.  We put in at the boat ramp in the campground and paddled north against the current.  We like to do that  til we’re tired, and then get to float back.  A beautiful place with very large trees.  To combat the temps here we bought scupper plugs for our ‘yaks, and wore our new waterproof ski pants!  We’re adapting…you forget what cold is when you live in South Florida.
Paddling Under a Tree Trunk
Paddling Under a Tree Trunk
On our drive to Holt, FL we detoured to Falling Waters State Park near Chipley, FL.  A rare Florida waterfall.  Here the water spills down 73′ into a sinkhole and then disappears into underground caverns.  We walked some of the trails before continuing our drive.
Diane at Falling Waters

Diane at Falling Waters

Our last stop in Florida was Holt. Our target was to hike in Blackwater River State Park.  We did do a short hike to Blackwater River.  There would’ve been great hiking and biking in other areas if it wasn’t for hunting season, which appears they hunt something there all year long.  So, for safety, we drove to Milton and biked a Rail-to-Trail there:  Blackwater Heritage Trail.  It was a nice, tree-lined path that dead-ended at the Whiting Field NAS.   The campground we stayed at was close to Eglin Air Force Base, which had night-time target practices.  Have you ever tried to go to sleep to machine-gun fire and bombing explosions?  It was a pretty interesting stay, needless to say.

Some more of our “Firsts” that we experienced in just the first month of our trip:  doing laundry in an RV Park, driving the RV & towing the car, going to a public library or cafe for internet access, had to use a heat lamp to Nikki warm at night, and we started creating our own “you might be a redneck if…” jokes.
It took us two weeks to get out of Florida.  Some might think we’re slow, but we’re in no rush and we’re enjoying parts of our state we hadn’t seen before.