Has another year rolled by already?

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Yes, and what a journey it was! Our second year of living on the road is winding down as 2013 comes to an end.  We pause to reflect and look back at where we’ve been, the many new friends we’ve made, the old friends we’ve reconnected with and the challenges we overcame as we rolled along.  We started this year in Arizona, traveled across the southern states and the gulf coast, then headed all the way north to the northeast Canadian Maritime provinces. Finally, we came back down through the eastern seaboard and the outer banks to winter in Florida, where we are now.  Betsy accrued 9,000 miles and we stayed at 79 RV parks with no major mechanical problems – we can’t hope for much better than that! As shown below, our route going northeast is marked with fuchsia pins, while the purple pins show our trek back down south.  We are now more than halfway through our goal of visiting all 49 states, after adding 23 to our list this year.  We estimate it will take a couple more years to check out the last 20 states, then we’ll decide if we want to do it all over again!

Here are some highlights of our fantastic 2013 travels:

~ Betsy’s woes – While we enjoyed the many perks and benefits of our home on wheels, the constant movement and shaking brought some challenges.  Along the way we dealt with minor water leaks, a dead video camera, an intermittent engine cooling issue, fluctuating refrigerator temperatures, an out of the country repair and getting locked out of our coach.  Our hellish approach into New Orleans, the stressful drive around New York City and getting stuck briefly on the New Jersey Turnpike were driving realities that we prefer not to go through again, but on the upside – we survived!

~ Weather, weather, weather – As we all know, the eastern section of the U.S. is famous for its humidity and muggy days. And yes, we sweated a lot and had to ratchet up the frequency of showers.  This was our first experience with severe storm warnings involving tornadoes and thunderstorms, and we even had visits from park hosts reminding us to be prepared.  We were doused with some torrential rains as well – all part of the experience.

~ History lessons galore – Traveling east of the Mississippi means experiencing the rich history belt of our country. We are not really history buffs, but we found ourselves immersed in the stories of our founding fathers as we visited their historical homes in several states.  We enjoyed so much learning more about the american revolutionary past in Boston, and enhancing our understanding of the civil war in Gettysburg.  We topped off our history lesson during our wonderful visit to our nation’s capital.

~ Tasty local/regional cuisine – Our appetites were satiated so many times with great local foods, from the cajun and creole cuisine in Louisana, to the cheeses in Vermont, to the succulent lobsters in Maine, to the barbecues in the Carolinas, the hearty southern comfort foods in Georgia and Alabama and the freshest mussels at Prince Edward Island.  And we won’t soon forget the many unique and refreshing local brews we enjoyed along the way!

~ Natural and man-made wonders – The eastern states may not have the majestic mountains or amazing gigantic rock formations of the west, but we explored and enjoyed its unique collection of beautiful and diverse natural wonders.  These included the mighty Niagara Falls, the hundreds of barrier islands along the Atlantic coast with its rugged cliffs and miles of white sandy beaches, the fabulous Acadia NP, the haunting swamps in Louisiana and the dreamy moss draped live oak trees in Georgia and Florida.  We discovered several hidden gems that were not regular tourist destinations.  We were amazed by the high rises in Manhattan, NYC, the White Sands Missile Range in Alamogordo, NM and the Apollo/Saturn rockets and space shuttles at the Johnson Space Center in Houston and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

~ Traveling abroad – We took Betsy across the border to explore the Canadian Maritimes, and were wowed by the picturesque coastline of Nova Scotia, the colorful fishing hamlets of Prince Edward Island and all of the astounding natural beauty in New Brunswick.  I took a “time out” to fly all the way to the Philippines to visit my 95-year-old mom and play tourist in the Philippines.  At the end of the year, Steve got some time off from driving Betsy as we hopped on a really big boat to cruise the southern caribbean (more to come on that).

~ Friendships – One of the wonderful rewards of traveling on the road is the many new friends we meet along the way.  Some are like-minded folks we meet at RV parks or other places along the way, others become friends via our blogs.  Blogging has become a great instrument in connecting us to wonderful people – folks with similar interests and a lust for adventure.  We cherish all of our new friendships, cheers!

Reconnecting with our friends to catch up and reminiscing about good times – it was so nice to hang out with these great people during our journey this year!

As we look forward to another year of adventures, we want to THANK YOU for “jamming along” with us and turning our memories into travel references and inspirations to see these many places.  We have many more to see, but we hope you’re enjoying our tales from the road.  We’ll strive to continue sharing our stories in an interesting way as we experience and capture them. We wish you a great year ahead, good health and safe travels!!!

Coming up: San Juan, Puerto Rico Southern Caribbean Cruise *******************************************************************

Life’s a beach – finally! Dauphin Island, AL

Comments 38 Standard

From the Sonoran Desert, to the plains of Texas, to the swamps of Louisiana to an island in Alabama!  Yeah!  We have been longing for white sand, sunny days and a long stretch of pristine beach.  One fine place we found all of it was Dauphin Island, Alabama. Following other RVers travels usually gives us great ideas for places to stay and explore along our upcoming path.  One of them is of course Wheeling it, who consistently point us to interesting locations like this island, which we had never heard of prior to reading their blog.

Dauphin Island is a barrier island located three miles south of the mouth of Mobile Bay in the Gulf of Mexico.  There are two ways to get here.  From the west, entry to the island is made by crossing a 3-mile long high rise bridge.

West Entrance to Dauphin Island

From the east  you can access via the Mobile Bay Ferry.  At this time RV’s are not allowed on the ferry because they are running only one boat; be sure to check with the ferry service if you wish to take your RV across in either direction.

Mobile Bay Ferry

The island is approximately 14 miles long and 1 ¾ miles wide at the widest point.  The 14 miles must include the attached stretch of Pelican Island that extends off the main island for several sandy miles, since we measured the main island at only 8 miles end-to-end.  At the east end you will find the Dauphin Island Campground, the Mobile Bay Ferry and Historic Ft. Gaines.

At the west end is several miles of privately owned and partially developed land.  It is estimated that 1300 permanent residents call Dauphin Island home, and we saw how that number soars as the weather warms up.  Vacation homes dot the coastline, with several either under repair or rebuild due to the nasty storms that often go through here.  Below are a few examples if you are interested, and we saw several rentals available too.

The entire island has been designated as a bird sanctuary.  There are two places you can view and enjoy the birds.  Birders take note: spring is almost here and pretty soon the island will be swarming with birds!  At the Audubon Sanctuary there are six trails which guide viewers about what species to expect on each trail.

At Indian Shell Mound Park there are benches everywhere to observe our feathered friends.

Other smaller areas or parks are set up for bird viewing or listening.

The pristine white beaches that stretch along the island are excellent places to take long walks as you view the sunsets and the shorebirds.  There is also a nice, wide paved bike trail running the length of the island.  This is one of the few stops where we have been walking AND biking almost every day.  Paradise!

We noticed that wherever folks were fishing there were almost always one or more Great Herons nearby to “guard” the Catch of the Day.

Dauphin Island Beach

Of course, I was just hooked on birds as usual…

and finally the beach sunsets of Dauphin Island.

Dauphin Island Sunset

Dauphin Island Sunset

Up next where we stayed and Historic Ft Gaines.

A Plantation, a Preserve and lots of seafood – NOLA

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American Bullfrog

At the River Walk in New Orleans were 22 plaques describing interesting facts about the mighty Mississippi River.  One thing we learned is that this mud-laden water has flowed over 2,350 miles and takes about 66 days to get from Lake Itasca, Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.  Our crossing of the Mississippi River was a unique trip, according to one of the plaques.  Because Louisiana is the only state divided by the river, and New Orleans the only city that straddles it, this is the only place you can cross the river without crossing a city or state line.  Oh yeah, we felt unique after leaving New Orleans.

Mississippi River

On other days our excursions around the area took us to a Plantation and a Preserve.

Between New Orleans and Baton Rouge are nine majestic historic plantation known collectively as the New Orleans Plantation Country.  The roots of these lavish estates began in 1718 with the founding of New Orleans.  Most plantations produced sugar, which provided their owners with the kind of vast wealth it took to build these huge estates.  To keep their place in history, the homes have been authentically restored to their original style.

We chose to tour the “Grande Dame of the Great River Road,” the Oak Alley Plantation, which is a protected National Historic Landmark.  It is named after its distinguishing feature, an alley or canopied path created by a double row of massive live oaks about a quarter mile long.  They were planted in the early 18th century, long before the present house was built.  The alley runs between the house and the Mississippi River.

Alley of Oaks

Mint Julep seems to be the favorite drink in this area, and they had a little bar set up at the house.  It was still early in the morning, but we didn’t want to seem out of place.  So, with a Mint Julep in hand we strolled the grounds after the guided tour and admired the majestic oak trees close-up.

On another day we took a trip to the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Barataria Preserve, which is 14 miles south of the state park where we stayed.  The preserve’s 23,000 acres include bayous, swamps, marshes, forests, alligators, nutrias, and over 300 species of birds – lots of them.  After a brief stop at the visitor center, we meandered down the boardwalk trails (Visitor Center Trail and Palmetto Trail) and dirt trails (Bayou Coquille Trail) which wind through the preserve.  Here is the trail map, or you can enjoy a self-guided tour or explore with a cell phone tour.

The swamp critters we encountered are quite fascinating.

American Bullfrog

American Bullfrog

 

Ibis

Ibis

American Alligator

American Alligator – Steve finally sees his first ‘gator!

The rest of our days at Bayou Segnette State Park were spent cooking seafood, for just outside the park is a bustling Seafood Market.  And we got busy, cooking and eating, and on other days we simply enjoyed the frequent visits of the Northern Cardinals, seven of them at one time!

After this stop, we need to double up our exercise!

Our upcoming stops – tell us about any “must do” tours, excursions,
restaurants, etc. you’ve enjoyed at these places:

Gulf Shores, AL

Pensacola, FL

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Is that train moving? – Tough arrival in New Orleans

Comments 23 Standard

“Is that train moving?” Steve asked repeatedly.  After peering behind us I replied that it was moving – toward us!  That blaring horn was telling us to get out of its way.  “Let’s get out of here!” Steve yelled in exasperation, while I nervously signaled oncoming car traffic to stop.  They were not slowing down nor giving us enough space to enter the road with 60′ of RV/car.  But we had to get out of the way or risk getting crushed by the train, which would have definitely put a damper on our weekend.  With a tiny bit of clearance we turned left and Steve stepped on it.   Whew!  Holy smoke that was close.

So, you might ask, how the heck did we end up here?

It all began 25 miles west of New Orleans.  As we were merging onto I-10 East we noticed cars pulling over and backing down the onramp – not good.  Crazy drivers!  Then we saw the backup that we could not avoid and proceeded to sit there for 2 hours waiting for a fiery crash ahead to be cleared from the road.  We may be retired and not in a hurry, but when you are in this situation you get agitated and antsy.  But there was more excitement ahead!

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When the jam cleared and we were approaching the Huey P Long Bridge, traffic was again heavy and cars were weaving in and out in front of us.  Some drivers here are really baaad!  Understand that we are now heading into Friday afternoon traffic due to the huge delay we had just experienced.  There was major construction underway on the bridge, and the two available lanes were literally not wide enough for Betsy and a truck to travel side by side.  So Steve drove right down the middle – let them honk, we want to live!

More traffic

If you plan to come into this area from the west very soon, we suggest you call your destination and get directions over the phone until maps are updated.  We thought we were prepared by having printed and GPS instructions.  However, the construction here is so recent and hugely changed, there are no current directions that we can find.  At the foot of the bridge we didn’t know whether to go straight or make a turn.  So we turned and soon noticed that phenomenon where the trees start closing in and the streets begin to get narrow.  Oh, we’re getting busy now!  If we had been driving a car this would have been easy, but with our size the stress sets in.  It turns out we would have gotten lost if we had gone straight ahead, too.

As we saw the river up ahead and the oncoming traffic we made a best-guess turn.  Ok, this looks better, we’ll follow the road under the bridge and get right back on track.  I grab my laptop and open Google Maps to find out where we are now (GM doesn’t know about the new roads, either).  We start re-plotting our course and settle down a bit.  What else can go wrong?  Then there’s the TRAIN…

Steve pulled up to an angled busy intersection with a RR crossing, with a train sitting a ways back at our right rear – almost impossible to see from inside the RV.  We stayed behind the crossing line as long as possible, but had to cross it to turn left onto a road.  Steve pulled up to the intersection when he saw a break, but a speeding motorcycle killed our opportunity.  Steve kept asking, “Is that train moving,” and for a while it wasn’t.  Then it was.  Right at us.  But the cross traffic was relentless, and of course nobody wants to stop for the train, even though the conductor was laying on his horn now.  I was signaling through the window for people to stop, but they either didn’t see or ignored me.  Finally, the traffic stopped and we “jumped” through that intersection as quickly as possible.  Sorry I didn’t get pictures, we were a little busy at the moment.  Would the train have stopped for us?  Probably, he was barely moving.  But I don’t want to ruin the suspense of the story!

Welcome to New Orleans!

After wiping off the sweat, we arrived safely at Bayou-Segnette State Park.  To calm our nerves following what was easily the worst driving day of our adventure, we explored our new digs.  We chose this State park after seeing a good rating from Nina of Wheeling It.  It is just a thirty-minute drive or a free ferry ride across the Mississippi River from New Orleans.

Bayou Segnette State Park

At the park, all sites are long and paved, and have either a wood deck or cement patio with table and fire pit.  Sites are widely spaced with lush grass.  This is the second state park in Louisiana we’ve been to where laundry is FREE and wifi is available (but a bit slow).

As we explored further around the park, we noticed miles of levees, floodwalls, floodgates and water control structures.  They have been busy here indeed since Katrina showed up in 2005, and the construction continues throughout the area.

Flood Gate

Steve examining the flood gate.  That’s about 2′ of concrete with a bank vault-looking door!

Flood wall

Miles of flood wall

Levee

On top of a levee, with the flood wall behind.

We will be hanging out here for about a week to see the sights and food of New Orleans.  More to come!

Our upcoming stops – tell us about any “must do” tours, excursions,
restaurants, etc. you’ve enjoyed at these places:

Biloxi, MS

Gulf Shores, AL

Pensacola, FL

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Tabasco and Aigrettes – Avery Island, LA

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Centuries old Buddha

Now back to our regular programming.  The last two anniversary posts, hiking and biking faves, were fun to write not only for the sharing part but because they brought back fond memories as we discussed and voted on them together.

Now where were we?

Registering for the tour

Registering for the tour

Pass the Tabasco, please.”  We hear this in restaurants, diners, even at home,  that’s how famous Tabasco sauce is.  I love Tabasco, for it gives that extra zip to an otherwise bland food.  But do you know that the plant that makes Tabasco is sitting on an island of salt right here in Louisiana?  Do you know what an Aigrette is?  How could Tabasco and Aigrette be in one sentence?  Well, hang on and read on, even if you don’t like Tabasco sauce. Avery Island

We love touring working factories of all types, and we try to locate them as we move along on our travels.  Avery Island is the home of world-famous Tabasco sauce, owned by the McIlhenny Company.  The island is surrounded by swamps and marshes, and you must pay $1.00 to drive onto it.

The island is the largest of five “salt domes” in coastal Louisiana, and the first salt dome mined in the US.  And we’re not kidding around when we say BIG.  According to the information we got at Avery Island, “If you fashioned of pure salt a life-sized model of Mt. Everest, there would still be enough salt left to model a dozen or so of the major mountain peaks of the Allegheny range”.  Wow, my blood pressure is rising just thinking about that!  The mine currently produces about 2.5 million tons per year and the extracted salt is 98.9 pure.

We learned a lot of interesting facts about the making of the famous sauce from their 8-minute video:

-Tabasco pepper sauce was first produced in 1868 by Edmund McIlhenny, its recipe unchanged for over 142 years and in the same location, Avery Island.

-30 acres of the peppers, known as Capsicum frutescens variety tabasco, are grown on Avery Island to produce seeds only.  The seeds are then shipped primarily to Central and South America, where peppers grown in the constant heat and humidity are used to produce the sauce.

-To determine ripeness, peppers are compared to a little red stick (le petit bâton rouge) that each worker carries.le-petit-baton-rouge

-The pepper mash used to make the Original Red Sauce is allowed to age for up to three years in white oak barrels (previously used for Jack Daniels whiskey).  Just like wine, it is being fermented and aged!

-Tabasco originates from  a Mexican Indian term meaning “land where the soil is hot and humid.”

-A 2-oz. bottle of the Original Red Sauce contains at least 720 drops.

A viewing gallery is provided, where we observed the bottling and packaging operations, and on this day the batch of  Tabasco was going to Germany.  How about this number – 700,000 bottles are produced per day at this one plant, and every bottle ever produced came from right here!

Tabasco Pepper Sauce

We ended our tour with a stop at the Tabasco Cafe where we enjoyed our current favorite food, Crawfish étouffée and Boudin splashed with what else ,Tabasco sauce.  Yum!

On the other side of Avery Island is the Jungle Garden, a 170-acre lush garden with a bird sanctuary as the highlight.  The garden was cultivated by E.A McIlhenny, son of the Tabasco sauce inventor.  He also installed the sanctuary for the Snowy Egrets called “Bird City “, and through this and his other efforts he was able to save these birds from extinction.   We saw the specially-built platforms which are rebuilt every year just for the nesting birds.

Bird City

Platforms for breeding Egrets

Now to the aigrettes.  During breeding season the Snowy Egrets develop “aigrettes”, or “nuptial plumes.”

Egret developing aigrettes.

Note the aigrettes

Years ago, aigrettes were so desirable (used to deck out woman’s hats), that plume hunters nearly completely exterminated these beautiful birds. Their filmy plumes are such a beauty that it costed more than gold a century ago.  While we were viewing them we spotted two lovebirds doing their thing.  Click here to view my first-ever X-rated image 🙂

Snowy Egrets

Ain’t they cute! It must be mating season.

Self-guided driving access to the Jungle Garden tour was a little pricey, but the Tabasco plant tour was free.  Anyway, that’s how Tabasco and Aigrettes can be in one sentence!

During this stop we stayed at Poche’s Fish-N-Camp RV Park, which was recommended by one of our followers, Alice and Bernard.  It’s a very quiet, clean and spacious park with lots of open spaces and large ponds that we enjoyed walking around several times.  We had a 360 degree view of the ponds and the birds were chirping to their heart’s content . If you like to fish, this is a good place too, for their ponds are well stocked and you dont need a license to do so.  We would definitely come back here again to spend much more time!

Poche RV Park

Our digs surrounded by very large ponds

And finally, Louisiana’s sunsets are not too shabby…
Louisiana Sunset
Louisiana Sunset
Next up – we’re heading to the Big Easy for our first time ever!

Hanging Out In Cajun Country – Sam Houston Jones State Park

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Swamp Trail

Welcome to Louisiana signThe Southwestern Region of Louisiana is known by some as “Cajun Country” and boasts both bayous and big cities.  Our first stop in the Pelican state was Sam Houston Jones State Park.  It is located at 107 Sutherland Road, Lake Charles, Louisiana at the confluence of the Houston & Calcasieu Rivers and Indian Bayou.

The landscape is obviously in stark contrast with the desert and plains of the Western states we have traversed recently, for we are now in America’s Wetland.  When we arrived, we entered a park with tree-filled lagoons and a mixed pine and hardwood forest covering 1,087 acres of land.

Sam Houston Jones State Park

We like state parks for their large spaces between sites.  But here the sites are a bit tight and narrow – not what we normally expect of a state park, and some sites were buckling due to tree root incursion.  We were actually forewarned that state parks further east are old and may need work.  But this was the first state park we have seen with full hookups and 50-amp power.  And the beauty of the park and the nice hiking trails grew on us the longer we stayed.

Sam Houston Jones State Park

The water and power hook ups are way too far from the site, but the office kindly lent us an extension cord. The park is mostly peaceful and quiet, but there was some kind of constant distant humming from a plant that got really aggravating.  The birds and the wind could not drown out that noise!

Sam Houston Jones State Park

Note how far the hook ups are.

There are three hiking trails winding through this beautiful park.  First we took the Riverwalk Trail — 1.6 miles that follows Houston river and dry cypress swamps.
River Trail
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Swamp Walk Trail — 1.1 miles around the swamp and this is where I saw my first Gator and other animals!
Baby Gator

Steve’s new screen background – this guys is so cool, and the colors around him are gorgeous!

On another day we tackled the Longleaf Pine Trail — 3-1/2 miles, then added the Longleaf Pine Extension — 1.3 miles.  Luckily on this trail we did not hear that obnoxious noise.  Instead we were in the midst of hardwood and long-leaf pine trees.
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The park is said to be located in the Central Migratory Flyway, just north of the most productive birding region in Louisiana.  Even if we were too early for the migratory birds, we did hear a lot of birds but rarely saw them – the trees are so tall!  But with patience I managed to capture the resident feathered friends.
Red-headed Woodpecker
Great Heron
Finally, we had our first taste of Cajun cooking.  We ordered shrimp étouffée and chicken and sausage gumbo from Steamboat Bills.  We can imagine ourselves gaining many unwanted pounds during the next few days we are here in Louisiana, as we savor the wonderful flavorful dishes.
Cajun Style

Upcoming stops – do share with us any “must do’s” at these locations:

New Orleans, LA

Biloxi, MS

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