Thursday, April 30, 2009

Natchez Trace - A Glimpse 4/20/09

Camera? Check. Map? Check. Water? Check. We both were excited to start our trek on the Natchez Trace. We were keeping our fingers crossed so that no one would stop us because of the size of our truck.. If they did we were going to play dumb.

Imagine driving on a two lane road, maximum speed 50 mph, where no commercial vehicles were allowed. No billboards to distract you.

Just you, the road, the beautiful scenic view, and a wild turkey or two. Southerners call them chuck-a-lucks.

First thing I noticed was the quietness - we drove with our windows down and the radio off. We could hear the birds singing as we passed trees.

Our first stop on the Trace was at the 5.1 mile post - the Elizabeth Female Academy. It was founded in 1818 and was the first school for women to be chartered by the state of Mississippi. This was all that was left of the school.

Another stop was at the Mount Locust Inn and Plantation, which is one of the oldest structures still standing in an area known for historic homes. Mt. Locust's first owner was John Blommart in 1780. Blommart lost a rebellion against the Spanish, causing him to be jailed and thus forfeiting his fortune and Mt. Locust. William Ferguson and his wife Paulina bought the farm in 1784 and operated it until William's death in 1801. Paulina married James Chamberlain, an overseer for the farm, a short time later, and they continued to build the farm. Mt. Locust was home to five generations of Chamberlains, with the last leaving in 1944.

We only drove about 20 miles onto the Trace to get a taste of it. Nobody stopped us; heck we hardly passed anyone on the road! Tomorrow we would be pulling the trailer behind us and heading on our way.

We left the Trace and hunted around for a place to eat lunch. We decided on trying a place "Under the Hill", an area under the bluff right on the river, notorious back in the day for gambling, drinking, and wild women (sounds right up my alley!) But it's now respectable - although there is a gambling boat anchored there called, "The Isle of Capri" that was calling to me. Jim didn't seem to hear it, though. We ate at a decent establishment called the Magnolia Grill. I ate a delicious "Shrimp Po' Boy".

Very, very tasty. I think Jim had a plain old hamburger. Me - gotta have a feel for the area, ya know?

After lunch I had this bright idea to drive around the Natchez City Cemetery. I love old cemeteries, and this one was no different. It had many old graves, many from the Civil War. I loved the old wrought iron fences around the graves.

The cemetery was great - only problem was - it was not built for a big truck like ours to be driving around. There were a couple of places that were so tight that I didn't think we'd make the turn without taking something out. We had to pull our mirrors in a couple of times. Then we pulled into a dead end (no pun intended) and Jim had to back up. It was a little tense for awhile. I gave a big sigh of relief when we finally drove out of there!

One thing I noticed on the road driving to the cemetery was the "Speed Hump" sign. I thought this was hysterical. Doesn't it usually say, "Speed BUMP?" "Speed Hump". Is that southern talk for a "quickie?"

Visiting Vidalia, LA 4/19/09

Our next plan of action was to camp near the beginning of the Natchez Trace and gather all the information we needed about it, before starting out. The 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway, which runs from Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN, commemorates an ancient trail first used by animals and later Native Americans, early explorers, "Kaintuck" boatmen, post riders, and military men. Farmers would float their produce down the Mississippi River, sell their flatboats for lumber, then walk home via the Trace. Portions of the Trace later developed into county and postal roads.

Jim found this great campground situated right on the Mississippi River directly across from Natchez, MS. The river walk extended from in front of the campground to a couple of miles into town.

After we got the trailer all set up, Jim and I walked a little while on the river walk. It was a beautiful day. We saw mockingbirds, orioles, and even an energetic red-headed woodpecker trying to drill a hole through a metal street sign!

I enjoyed watching the tugboats pushing the barges down the river.

We gathered some info on the Trace from the campground and read in the small print that trucks over one ton were not allowed on the road, the same as commercial vehicles. No where did it say that on the web site. We were in a dilemma. Our truck weighs 1 1/2 tons but it's not commercial. We decided to drive a little bit on the Trace the next morning to give it a test drive and to see if anyone stopped us. If so, then we'd have to change our plans, but we were going to keep our fingers crossed that it would work out ok.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Rain, rain go away - Shreveport con't 4/17-18/09

Friday morning it just poured out. In the afternoon we drove out to R. W. Norton Art Gallery, another freebie. Luckily the rain had let up, and we were able to tour the beautiful gardens and walkways before the skies opened up again. Here are a few of the sights we saw there.

We toured the art gallery for over two hours! It was a very enjoyable way to spend a rainy afternoon.

We were supposed to leave in the morning, but heard there was going to be severe storms. So we arranged to stay put for another day, and left for the Natchez Trace on Sunday.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Shreveport, LA 4/15-16/09

We’ve never been to Louisiana, so I was really looking forward to spending some time in Shreveport. The campground was a fairly nice size, and we weren’t put off at all by the gator statue in front of the office! What you may not be able to see is that the sign reads, "Welcome friends"!

Each site had their own metal patio set consisting of a table and four chairs. That was a nice change from a picnic table! Of course, sometimes we don’t even get that! Our first day in Shreveport was spent getting a feel for the area, doing some research on things to do, and planning our next day.

Our first stop of the day was the Holy Trinity Catholic Church. You can see just how pretty it is from the outside. We were dismayed to find the church locked. That is such a rarity. We tried all the doors, but no luck. Finally Jim knocked on the office door and the janitor said he’d open the church up for us. We were able to see the main altar that was made of Italian marble and the more than 60 stained glass windows.

The city of Shreveport offers many free things to do. Riverview Park was our first destination in downtown Shreveport. This park is located on the banks of the Red River. It has several water fountains, a 300-foot-long floating boat dock, and a waterfall that cascades down multi-tiered rock steps.

Right next to the park is the Barnwell Garden and Art Center, which is also free. The current exhibition is called, “Simply Terry”, consisting of water colored paintings done by a woman named Terry Hershey, who died last September at the age of 101! All but a handful of her paintings were for sale. I fell in love with a few that I would have purchased in an instant if a) I had the money and b) I had a house to hang them!

We ate lunch at Ralph & Kacoo’s, on the recommendation of the woman from the art museum. I wanted to taste the local flavors. First we dined on fried green tomatoes, a Southern delicacy. They were good, although I’ve got to admit, I’d put near eat anything that was deep fried! The tomatoes are deep fried, then a little bit of a cream sauce is dribbled over them, with chunks of crab meat on top. Delish!

The main course …. Why crawfish of course! Never had them before, so I ordered the crawfish special which consisted of deep fried crawfish with fries AND crawfish etouffee over rice. Etoufee is a stew with crawfish, vegetables, and seasonings. The crawfish tasted like shrimp to me. Thankfully they were removed from their hard little red bodies before being deep fried. The etoufee wasn’t bad, had a little bit of a bite to it.

The dessert was decadent – caramel cheesecake with Godiva chocolate – to die for! Mmmmm…..

With full bellies, we drove around Bossier City which is located across the river from Shreveport. We were in search of some murals in the heart of the city. The most spectacular one is called Live Oak Avenue, a beautiful rendition of an actual place, Oak Alley Plantation.

The mural was located right next to the Bossier City Metal Art Zoo. This tiny little area features animals made from scrap metal and odds and ends, then painted with bright colors. Very eclectic!

We found the statue of Elvis on Elvis Presley Avenue in front of the Municipal Auditorium, where the King performed on the “Louisiana Hayride” (radio broadcast) for the first time in October 1954.

Heading back to the campground, we sat outside on our nice patio set in the cool breeze enjoying a cold one!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sanger, TX or should I say "Singer,"? 4/14/09

Our favorite saying is, "Wherever you go....there you are!" No, actually, no matter where you go, you find something interesting. At least we do.

We were just staying the night in Sanger, TX. The campground was off of a country road in the small town, population just under 6,000. The campground was quite nice, set far back from the road with large spots to park.

The owner told us about a famous restaurant in town called, "Babe's" that served great chicken and chicken fried steak. He added that people came from all over to eat there because the food was so good and the waitresses sang to you. Well, this sounded better and better by the moment.

He said that there was a casino about 20 miles down the road. My eyes really lit up! Jim has to keep a rein on me because I could easily be a member of Gamblers Anonymous! But sometimes Jim's leash is like one of those choke collars you see on vicious dogs! I swear! What's $20 on the penny or nickel machine every now and then? And how can my ship come in if I'm never in the water? But I digress.

We decided to go to Babe's for dinner. The campground owner acted like we should be there when it opened (4:30)because of the crowds. Are we turning into old people or what?! I guess a Tuesday night is really not swinging, as there was just a handful of people there at that time.

There were a couple of gift shops next door to the restaurant, but I didn't go inside of them. They looked interesting from the outside, though.

I was so excited to hear our waitress sing! I asked her what she was going to sing and she explained that she was not one of the waitresses to sing. As a matter of fact, none of the singing waitresses were there yet. It seems the waitresses sang more on the weekends. Too bad!

The way Babe's works is this: they don't have menus but offer five kinds of entrees: fried chicken, chicken fried steak, chicken strips, catfish, and some kind of beef. Then they serve you family style mashed potatoes, gravy, creamed corn, green beans, and biscuits. Jim had the chicken fried steak and I had the fried chicken. Both were excellent. They have four different kinds of dessert and we had the chocolate pie. Again a wise choice. Yumm!

We didn't make it to a casino :( I ended up putting my quarters into a washing machine instead of a slot machine. What's wrong with that?! Yep - we sat there doing laundry at the campground that night. While the clothes were in the dryer, I walked down to see the horse that was fenced in down the hill. He was dirty, but curious about me. He would eat the grass from my hand, but wouldn't let me pet him. When I leaned over to pull the tall grass, he nuzzled my hair.

Just another day in middle America.

Strange Sightings

I've seem some strange things on the road. I keep my eyes open for odd billboard signs (see condom sign), funny restaurant names (Cutie Pie's Ribeyes), weird cars (see yellow classic), etc.

We were driving through Texas - not on a main four lane highway mind you, but more the back country roads. We went through a town, wish I knew it's name, but alas, I didn't notice it. Which is apropos because two of the places that caught my eye were: a motel called, "It'll Do Motel" and a restaurant called, "Nothing Fancy Cafe". Does this town need a boost in their self esteem or what? Maybe their name was, "Eeyore" like the Disney character who's known for saying, "Thanks for noticing me!"

I usually ride with my digital camera on my lap, ready to snap any photo opportunity that may come my way. Unfortunately I was kind of dozing when my eyes focused through the windshield on some large animals. I thought, "oh, camels. CAMELS!" By the time it registered that camels are not USUALLY found in fields in Texas, my photo op was gone. Camels in Texas. Who knew?

Right after that I saw a billboard that said, "What is your leg worth?" and under that was a phone number to call. Again I was a little dumbfounded. I turned and watched the billboard fly by, saw the same billboard in the other direction and still didn't get a picture of it! Are Texans so desperate that they are now selling their limbs? What am I missing here?

I'm posting some photos of the beautiful countryside we've seen on the drive.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Tucumcari, NM 4/11-12/09

We've traveled the I-40 corridor that runs east-west several times, so many of the towns were familiar to us. Last night we had stayed in Albuquerque, one of my many favorite places. But unfortunately, we just pulled into the campground and stayed put for the night. Now we planned to stay in the little town of Tucumcari, NM.

Tucumcari is the largest city between Amarillo, TX and Albuquerque, NM. This little hole-in-the wall town was once a booming place when Route 66 was popular, since it runs right down the main street.

At night the streets light up like the Vegas strip with cheap motels and gift shops.

The town's slogan "TUCUMCARI TONITE!" is seen all over town and along I-40 for many miles to the east and west of the town inviting motorists to stay the night in one of Tucumcari's "1200" motel rooms.

On the pop culture front, this little town has been featured on TV and in movies:

"1) Many of the scenes in the television show Rawhide (1959-1966) starring Clint Eastwood were shot in the Tucumcari area.

2) One of the killers in Truman Capote's 1965 book In Cold Blood asks about the travelling distance to Tucumcari. This scene appears in the 1967 film version of the novel.

3) Tucumcari is the setting of one of the first scenes in Sergio Leone's 1965 film For a Few Dollars More, starring Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Gian Maria Volonte.

4) The city is mentioned in the 1988 film Rainman by the character played by Tom Cruise. However, the location in the scene is clearly not Tucumcari."

(Above info from Wikipedia)

There are several stories how Tucumcari got it's name, but the most romantic one is as follows.

Apache Chief Wautonomah was dieing and was troubled by who would succeed him as ruler of his tribe. He had two great braves, Tonopah and Tocom. They were not only rivals but both were vying for the hand of the Chief's daughter, Kari. Kari loved Tocom. Chief Wautonomah called the two braves to his death bed and said, "Soon I must die and one of you must succeed me as chief. Tonight you must take your long knives and meet in combat to settle the matter between you. He who survives shall be the Chief and have for his squaw, Kari, my daughter."

The braves fought while unbeknownst to them, Kari hid nearby. When Tonopah killed Tocom, Kari rushed out and plunged her knife into Tonopah, then killed herself. When Chief Wautonomah saw this tragedy, he grabbed his daughter's knife and buried it deep within his heart, crying "Tocom-Kari", today a slight variation of the town's name - Tucumcari.

The campground that we stayed at was nondescript; it too was a hole-in-the wall. As a matter of fact, the campground owner seemed surprised when I told him that we were staying for two days! But I didn't want to travel on Easter Sunday and it was nice to stay put for two nights.

Jim and I drove around the town and took pictures of the several murals that were painted on the buildings of local businesses.

There were a few landmarks leftover from the heydays of Route 66 like the Blue Swallow Hotel, the Tee Pee Curios and the La Cita.

I was a little sad Easter morning, thinking that I forgot to leave the trailer unlocked so that the Easter bunny could come in and leave me some chocolate. Jim opened the door and stepped outside. "Look!" He called out. "The Easter bunny came!" I peeked out the door and there, much to my surprise, was a plastic egg, opened up on our mat, spilling out three chocolate eggs wrapped in foil! I was so touched by this gesture. I have no idea who left this for us, I mean, yes, thank you Easter Bunny! You made my day!