Join Date: Jun 2011
Location: western New York State
while you were working (or whatever) part 1
Trip A (Gulf Coast states): Jan 13th to Feb 11th 2011 0 to 5800 trip miles
(seeing that we started our first trip a whole year ago, I figured I better get a report out finally)
Background: After retiring in 2010, we bought a Roadtrek-Chevy van / camper / RV in early January 2011, planning to travel the US and some of Canada. The first trip was to tour the Gulf Coast states, both along the coast itself and inland, but we had no specific plan or schedule.
We left home 7:30 Thursday evening January 13th to try to beat a snow storm, and the accompanying salt that they use on the roads in the Northeast. We drove straight through to Nashville TN with only a 1-1/2 hour nap somewhere along the route. We stopped for a couple of hours at the Lane Auto Museum there, and then we headed to Huntsville AL. On the way we had numerous problems with the GPS system (which took weeks to sort out) and with the fridge (which didn’t get fixed until we returned home, which meant we’d be eating out mostly on the trip; so much for the food budget).
We got to Huntsville Friday night, and camped for two nights right at the US Space and Rocket Center. This museum is mostly concerned with the Apollo moon rockets (Saturn V) and its predecessors going back to the V-2, but very little on the space shuttle, etc. (doesn’t need to; this was already too much to digest). We went there both Saturday and Sunday for viewing and for an IMAX movie about the Hubble Telescope. The engineering and size of these rockets was mind boggling. As a mechanical engineer, I found this to be the most fascinating museum of all we’ve seen. It’s just incredible that they did most of this in less than a decade, and for the most part without computers. The engineering on even very small portions of these rockets just totally dwarfs anything I have ever been involved with, and we both were in awe. We also went to a Veteran’s Memorial Museum in Huntsville.
Monday we went to the Helen Keller Museum in Tuscumbia AL, and then on to Leeds AL, on the way seeing a nice little covered bridge and some deer. Tuesday we toured the Barber Vintage Museum in Leeds. It has a huge display of motorcycles (maybe 600?), plus a much lesser amount of race cars, esp. Lotus. Even had replicas of the Mk. I and II, plus the original and only Mk. IV. Unfortunately we couldn't get to the basement floor where there were more cars and the machining and restorations shops, but we could see these from a balcony. Somebody did a beautiful job and spent tons of money making this great museum and restoring all these vehicles, and this is certainly a “must-see” for motorcycle enthusiasts. Then we went to a section of the Talladega National Forest, and a nice winding road up to the highest elevation in AL; it was very rainy, and there was red mud everywhere.
On Wednesday, the rain finally stopped, but it was still damp and windy. We drove to Selma AL and visited the Voting Rights Museum. We walked the half mile or so across the famous bridge to where Bloody Sunday happened on March 7, 1965; this was a significant event in the ‘60’s Civil Rights struggles. Later we drove all the way to the Florida Gulf Coast, and finally had a fresh-caught fish dinner. Late at night we found an RV park along the shore in Carrabelle FL and spent the night.
Thursday we woke up to a lovely sunny morning and took a walk on their long pier, then continued along the coast. It was nice along here, and not highly built-up as most of the coast to follow was. Saw a D-Day training site marker on Crooked River and a small light house up on land. Took pictures and got sand and shells from lovely white sand beach. Temperature in the low 60’s; this is what we came for! Had a huge, yummy seafood platter at “J’s”, but unfortunately it was fried. Stopped at Navarre Beach and took pictures of gray heron and white beach coast from the longest pier on the Gulf Coast; breezy, but nice. The Gulf water was beautiful and quite green, and there are no signs of the BP oil spill, and also no signs of offshore platforms along here. But from Panama City to Pensacola, we hit heavy civilization and traffic.
Friday we woke up to a sunny 41 degree day in Pensacola. We went to the Naval Aviation Museum. Again, an incredible collection, and incredible engineering from many, many different decades. We also saw the IMAX movie “The Magic of Flight”. We left just before 5 PM, and went to the 191 foot Pensacola lighthouse just down the road. Climbed up all 177 steps of it – good exercise and worth the effort – and we were rewarded with a gorgeous sunset over the Gulf. After we came down, it was still a bit light out and we walked along the beach and collected some nice white sand.
Saturday we toured the battleship USS Alabama and the submarine USS Drum in Mobile AL, and then some somber veteran’s memorial sites and a B-52 bomber on the same grounds. Then we drove northwest rather than following the coast, going through some more National Forest lands. Sunday we continued on (southwest) towards New Orleans LA, and along the way saw a lot of damage from Hurricane Katrina which hit 5 years before. After arriving in New Orleans, we drove and walked through the famous French Quarter and watched a few “street” entertainers. We were dying for some great Gulf seafood, but not fried as we’d had most days so far. We finally found Bubba Gump’s, and had great shrimp and salmon. But we found out later that this was a San Francisco based chain, so authentic Gulf Coast it was not.
Monday we drove around the Lower 9th Ward – lots of empty lots and condemned homes – some neighborhoods still had 80% gone or boarded up. We visited the WW II Nat’l Museum both that afternoon and the next day, and saw the 4-D movie “Beyond All Boundaries” (4-D is even better than IMAX!). Then we briefly visited a small Civil War museum across the street, which had a definite Southern slant to the notes on the exhibits (what did we expect?). Headed out of New Orleans to Thibodeaux LA. Wednesday we had trouble with the Chevy battery, but $102 for a new one fixed that. We went to Morgan City LA and toured the “Mr. Charlie” oil rig, which they use for training purposes. Continued on to New Iberia LA which has the largest oak trees we’ve ever seen. Thursday we went to the Konrika Rice Museum and factory, the oldest, and still running after nearly 100 years – very interesting, and their rice is very tasty. Then to Avery Island LA and the Tabasco factory tour (Marti remembers the tour, Dick remembers that we hit the flimsy skid shield for the plumbing on the enormous speed bumps at the toll booth). We headed northwest to the W.H. Hunter Country Store and Telephone Museum in Jennings. Then drove along coastal Route 82 and saw pelicans and egrets. Took a short ferry from Cameron LA across a small channel and then 10 miles down the road set up right on the beach for the night at Holly Beach LA, or rather what little was left of it after the hurricanes; it’s mostly just empty concrete slabs.
Friday we woke around 7 AM and watched a gorgeous sunrise on the Gulf and took walk along beach; it was 53 degrees. Along the coastal highway there were lots of newly built homes as well as many abandoned ones; we eventually drove into Texas. We took a free ferry to Galveston, then drove by the gorgeous beaches. Took the ‘Colonel’ three story ‘paddle wheel’ boat ride at Moody Gardens, went to “Lone Star Flight Museum”, and then headed west towards Houston.
We spent Saturday at the Johnson Space Center in Houston TX; this museum is mostly geared to the Shuttle program. Late afternoon we headed west to San Antonio TX; didn’t mind doing this at night since it was all highway, and there was nothing much to see. It rained overnight but Sunday was great and we went to the Alamo (which was sort of disappointing), and then walked along the wonderful Riverwalk. We saw another IMAX movie (“Alamo – The Price of Freedom”), and then continued with the Riverwalk. We ate delicious lobster bisque and a boiled seafood platter at Landry’s, al fresco in our T-shirts. Walked around a bit more, and then headed to Fredericksburg TX. We walked around the downtown section even though it was pretty late in the evening.
Monday was a bit chillier (55 degrees) and we went to the National Pacific War and the Nimitz Museums. Walked around town a bit (nice town), then ate dinner and watched news of a pending change in the weather. Overnight there was thunder and lightning, pouring rain, and sleet. Tuesday morning we noticed shingles blown off and debris blown all around from the storm that passed through overnight; it was a cold and very windy 23 degrees at 8 AM. We headed east and south to avoid another (worse) storm that was coming, but had to drive slowly because of the fierce, gusty winds. Arrived in Beaumont TX at 5:40 PM and 33 degrees; slightly less windy and we saw a beautiful sunset. Wednesday was Ground Hog Day and no self-respecting ground hog would come out on a cold day like this; 22 degrees at 10 AM in Texas and still windy. We hung out and stayed warm inside the camper at the RV park, caught on up e-mail and re-arranged things. Weather reports indicate treacherous weather in Chicago and the Northeast, and record cold on the Gulf Coast.
Thursday was chilly and we spent 45 min at a small Edison Museum, 45 min at the Texas Firehouse Museum, and then several hours in the Texas Energy Museum. Everyone is talking about the pending storm. 32 degrees and raining at 4 PM. Returned to RV park to “weather the storm”, check e-mails, watch TV, and hope for the best. Overnight it changed to an ice storm. We waited until 10:30 to brave the roads, and there were still lots of bridges closed and accidents around; the schools were all closed. We drove along the coastline, and almost lost it, getting the van very sideways on a long icy bridge near Port Arthur TX at a mere 25 mph. We got back to Louisiana, and drove along the Sabine Refuge where we saw herons, egrets, ibises, hawks, ducks, pelicans and some unidentified birds. Drove thru a scenic road on Kisatchie National Park; many broken or bent branches from the storm.
Then went to Natchitoches LA (ritzy town) and drove around. Saturday we got up around 9 AM to a sunny but cold (31 degrees) day. We drove through a beautiful area south of the Cane River; a few good kayak sites, but we didn’t have one with us, and it was too cold anyway. Gorgeous landscapes along road, but the trees were glazed with ice. Saw some turkey vultures. Crossed the Mississippi River into MS, and stopped in Natchez MS, but it was annoying with lots of one way streets, construction, and snooty shops, and we didn’t stay long.
We headed up the Natchez Trace National Scenic Highway (42 degrees at 2 PM), with the plan being to drive the entire 444 mile length of it. We saw Indian Burial Mounds, eagles, osprey, and hawks. We got off at Jackson MS to go over to Vicksburg MS on the Interstate, to see the Vicksburg National Military Park.
On Sunday, we headed for some sightseeing in Vicksburg itself. The city has two well-labeled “tourist” routes (with accompanying booklet, a very nice feature), that go by many historic sites; every city should do this!. Got several photos of Mississippi River – very wide and it curves at this point. We started a tour of the National Park, which is a very long, beautiful, and hilly road, past many battlefields and monuments. During the Civil War, the Confederate South had control of Vicksburg, and that in turn allowed them to control the Mississippi River, and hence use it as a major supply route. The Northern Union army attacked to cut off the supply route. Although much of the Mississippi River valley is very flat, the area around Vicksburg is not. It is beautiful and hilly, and this allowed the Southerners to dig in. Many battles with huge numbers of causalities were fought before the North decided to just lay siege to the city until they surrendered, which eventually happened at the same time the brutal battles at Gettysburg were being fought. We also stopped by the Union USS Cairo iron clad boat that was sunk nearby during the Civil War and incredibly raised in three big pieces; it was displayed very nicely under an enormous “tent”. We watched the Super Bowl while eating Subway subs in our camper.
It rained overnight, and Monday was a cool, breezy, and overcast day. We went to the tiny Teddy Bear Restaurant in Onward (that’s all that’s there too) for lunch and took a few pictures. This is near the site were Teddy Roosevelt refused to shoot a battered and tied-up bear, and that led to someone proposing that stuffed bears be known as Teddy Bears; and so it has been ever since. Back in Vicksburg, we toured the antebellum mansion, Anchuca. We talked with the owner about renting options, should we decide to come back for several weeks in the future – Dick especially liked this small city, both for its many historic sites and its wonderful topography. We toured the Old Court House Museum, then a small Coca-Cola Museum and had cola float, then to the Corner Drug Store where they had a huge number of great displays and collections of 1860’s memorabilia.
Tuesday was close to freezing but sunny. We returned to the National Park and got a “passport” stamp – getting quite a collection of those this trip – it’s fun. Saw a Civil War re-enactment movie. Took many more photos along tour. SO many graves and SO many unmarked graves in the Union cemetery (saw many more in the Confederate Cemetery a few days later); so sad – may they all rest in peace! Such a beautiful, forested, and hilly area, and such a shame to fight over it. Yet another storm heading across the country, so we decided to hunker down a few more days.
Wednesday, we returned to the National Park and got several questions answered regarding the topography and vegetation in the area during the War. They said that there had been numerous small farms in the area then, so that land was mostly “open” and that any dense forestation that had been in the area was cut down hastily by the Confederate Army for deterring the invading Union Army and for defenses. In the 1930’s, the Civilian Conservation Corps came in and planted the current trees, so unfortunately much of the park and battlefields are heavily forested now. They also stated that the hills and knolls in the region were made over millions of years by air-borne deposits, being 75-80’ deep in areas; very unique: look up “Loess” on the internet. Then we drove around the park and took more photos. Saw lots of turkey vultures soaring overhead. Toured the small Doll and Antique Toy Museum back in town. We had a great supper at the Walnut Hills Restaurant, but literally slid our way several blocks back steeply downhill to where we had parked, as the rain had iced up on streets and sidewalks – very slippery. We decided to stay in and watch TV and hopefully head out safely in the morning towards home with a few brief stops on the way, like maybe Tupelo TN, Elvis’ birthplace.
On Thursday, it was 25 degrees at 8:30 when we left Vicksburg. We headed back towards Jackson to where we had left the Natchez Trace. On The Trace again, we saw lots of herons (should have stopped to take close-up photos as they sat on the edge of the water trying to stay warm – they are so cool looking), cardinals and even a Cypress swamp. We drove to Jeff Busby Park on The Trace (the highest point on The Trace in MS) and took a few photos. The road was snowy/icy in shady spots; they got 1-3” of snow overnight in some areas. We had to exit The Trace about 20 miles from the northern end (just below Franklin TN) where they closed it due to treacherous driving conditions.
We had planned to maybe drive up the entire length (469 miles) of the Blue Ridge Parkway (which starts far east of the north end of The Trace), and then the entire length (105 miles) of Skyline Drive. But the weather in the entire mid-Atlantic region was pretty bad, and there were more storms coming, especially to the Northeast, so we decided to head straight home instead to beat them. We got to Allegany around 7 AM Friday and took photos of the beautiful sunrise, an appropriate ending to our wonderful trip. Arrived at home sweet home to a sunny, minus 6 degrees morning – guess we didn’t bring the warm southern weather home with us, eh? All in all, a good 1st trip! We have some bugs to work out, changes to make, and repairs to be done before the next trip.
Dick, Marti, & Glen RT09/10C190P “no more deadlines” Allegany NY (currently in San Francisco)