The brownies are stored safely in the oven and the three amigos are on the road again. Monty, Zoe and I decided on a spring trip this year, we just don’t want to miss that good old summer time in Tucson. Our destination is Florida and the only thing worse than summer in Tucson is summer in Florida. So a spring trip it is. On our very first trip as travelers instead of campers, we headed out to the Florida Keys, it was such a good trip that we have made repeated sojourns thru the panhandle of Florida and loved it every time.

Our first stop this year was Abilene, Texas. We’ve never been to Abilene, one of the reasons might be because you have to drive through Midland and Odessa, Texas, to get there. Both Midland and Odessa are in the heart the Permian Oil Basin. Lots of industry, oil wells, refineries, and natural gas set ups. Although it certainly appeared to be prosperous it isn’t really the kind of industry you want in your back yard!

Nice Campsite for the Night

Nice Campsite for the Night

Much to my disappointment, Abilene is not the romantic old west town portrayed in old western books or movies, but it is OK, about 115,000 inhabitants. If our experience with the couple we met in the RV park was indicative of the people of Abilene it is a great place. Earl and Linda Lawrence were more than hospitable, telling us how to get to the best restaurant in town and assuring us that spending time at the Frontier of Texas Museum was a great choice. In the time we chatted we discovered we have been to a lot of the same small out of the way places, they even came to Tucson in the 70’s and considered settling there. They ultimately decided to return to their old college town of Abilene and raise their family. These are people we’d love to have for neighbors, but in Tucson not Abilene!

The reason for choosing Abilene for a stop is the chance to see the Frontier of Texas Museum in downtown, and we weren’t disappointed. What a delightful place, we were met by a docent that took a minute to ‘turn on the museum’, the doors opened and we were off on our Texas adventure. A movie was introduced by the actor who played a cowboy on Gunsmoke. After going through the history of the area he introduced us to our ‘spirit guides’ for the journey through time in Texas. We moved to the next room and the various displays of Native American artifacts along with a huge buffalo with a couple of wolves at his feet. Other buffalo and plainsmen were done in a chalk like sculpture, making them look like ghosts. It was very interesting.

Our First Spirit Guide , Museum of Texas

Our First Spirit Guide , Museum of Texas

We met our first ‘spirit guide’ at a tepee structure. We peaked inside and when we touched a button a hologram sprang to life and about scared the pants off us. The Indian, someone we remembered from Dances with Wolves, proceeded to tell us about the Native Americans way of life and recount stories of the past. We moved to other displays and met Pat Gerrett, who killed Billy the Kid, a woman who was captured by the Indians and lived as an Indian for many years and was happy in that life. In fact, she was the mother of one of the greatest Comanche Chiefs of all time, Quannah Parker. There was a woman settler running a boarding house, who lost three husbands to outlaws or the Comanches. I don’t think it was politically correct when she said, ”I don’t know which were worse the outlaws or the Indians; well I guess, the outlaws are worse because you couldn’t tell the bad from the good”. Hmmm. We found ourselves hurrying through the displays so we could met our next ‘guide’. This is our second experience with holograms at museums, they are really a nice way to interact with the displays.

We entered a theater with screens making a complete circle around us and about twenty low seats that look like tree stumps. The movie started and we could turn our seats 360 degrees to see all the screens, there was a thunderous cattle stampede and a prairie fire, both almost swept over us! We kept turning our seats to see everything. Birds soared in the sky and rattle snakes hissed at our feet. There was an extensive firearm display and of course a gift shop. It was a great museum and we loved it.

Dinosaurs Playing in the Park

Dinosaurs Playing in the Park

We moved on to the Dinosaur Valley State Park in search of dinosaur tracks. We found some in the creek bed and of course read the history of the area. They even have a slab called the ‘ballroom’ where there are so many tracks it appears the dinosaurs must have been dancing. Zoe was on her best behavior just in case one of those big fellas was on the loose.

We are in this area of Texas for  two reasons, the first being, this is where Monty’s mom was born. We wanted to see what the area looked like and see if we could find the old store/post office she talked about.  Monty remembered she and her sisters visited the area in the 1960’s and the store building was still standing. The girls found where they lived but there was a ‘new’ house on the spot where their old one was located. She and her sisters knocked on the door and told the people they wanted to look around and, this being Texas, they were invited in for sweet tea. She said the old kitchen house was still standing out back and they followed the path down to the old swimming hole.

Old Store/Post Office Paulxi, Texas

Old Store/Post Office Paulxi, Texas

We found the store/post office and saw several possibilities that might have been where she lived.  Remember we were looking for a house built in the 50’s or 60’s with a tumbled down cook house in the back. It was nice to see she lived in an area of rolling hills, trees, and grassland. There is something comforting in knowing that your mom lived in a pretty place. I wonder if they ever found any dinosaur tracks in their area, Monty doesn’t remember her ever mentioning it.

Community Center, Pearl, Texas

Community Center, Pearl, Texas

The second reason we are here is a chance to visit the Community Center in Pearl, Texas. We are meeting our Texas friends, Dianne and Stuart here to play and listen to bluegrass music. Monty met Dianne and Stuart at a bluegrass music camp back in 2010 and we have managed to meet up with them at various places almost every year since.

Pearl is special because of the people who live near there and the community effort to rebuild an old school into a community center for music. If old stone buildings could talk I know there would be stories we’d Community Center, Pearl, Texas love to hear. The old photographs on the walls tell stories of joyful times, and the heartbreak of young men lost in war, smiling faces of graduating classes, sporting events, and even a marching band. They recently had a 70th high school reunion
and had a good turn out.

Monty and Stuart Jammin’ at Pearl

Monty and Stuart Jammin’ at Pearl

I spent some time chatting with a delightful little lady that graduated from this school in the 50’s, there were seven girls and three boys in her class. She married one of those boys and they bought a farm two miles from the school.
They have lived there all their lives. He does some maintenance at the Community Center and they come up and help out at the music events, The man who came to cut the grass also went to school there and lived nearby. I love meeting these people.  Although Pearl consists of two churches and maybe three houses now, at one time it was a thriving community with a gas station, auto repair, and a small grocery. The best place to walk Zoe was the cemetery across the road, so after a few days we felt like we knew the families in the area.

The first Saturday of every month people come to Pearl from all over central Texas; starting on Wednesday the trailers start pulling in and music starts playing. Camping is on the honor system, they suggest $15 a night, just put your money in an envelope on the counter. A small stone cabin on the property houses used books and knick knacks for sale. It’s for charity so pay what you feel is right.

Oscar and his Washtub Bass

Oscar and his Washtub Bass

The ladies of the community run the kitchen for the Saturday event. Chili and cornbread, stew, hamburgers and the best homemade pie ever. All at a very nominal cost. The auditorium might hold 150 people and it was full; with many other musicians busy playing in various jammin’ rooms and outside under the ramada. It is a rockin’ place.

It never ceases to amaze us how communities come together to support one another. This old school house was abandoned and in disrepair when someone got the idea to create a music center. One couple from Austin started writing grants to see if they could get some support, the men of the area brought their tools and started refurbishing the old building and for the last twenty years they have had music there every month, with people coming from Austin, Dallas, Ft. Worth and the small towns in between.

Special consideration is given to the people that still call Pearl home and attended this school. Most play a musical instrument of some type, my favorite was Oscar on the wash tub bass. Oscar is 89 years old and still has the touch. He sang and played with the best of them. We were so happy to be a part of this community event.

Then there was the storm. OMG if we hadn’t had Dianne, our weather maven, we would have been lost. Really in Tucson, it is hot or hotter, what’s to know about weather? Even at that the newscasts have to give you the weather four times in 30 minutes and there is nothing to report! But in these areas it is prudent to pay attention. Dianne watches the weather forecasts and has alerts on her phone for warnings. As we were blissfully getting ready for bed she called to tell us a big storm was on the way and tornadoes might be in the area. Hmmmm, here we sit in our giant soup cans wondering what to do. The music building is stone so that affords about as much protection as we can find. The people inside still playing music are completely unaware of the weather situation. Dianne got busy and alerted everyone and even called the local sheriff to let them know there were lots of people camped at the community center.

Now what? We decided to move the rigs to firmer ground so we wouldn’t get bogged down in the grass. Dianne said she was staying up so she could listen for the alerts, she and I decided to nap/sleep in our clothes so we wouldn’t have to make a run for the building in our nighties. Apparently guys don’t care about such things. The rain came down in buckets and the lightening flash across the sky like the fourth of July. We listened for the sound of a freight train signaling a tornado on the way, but thank goodness we didn’t hear anything. It is kind of scary at night, at least in the day light you can watch the sky, not that that would help much but at least it gives you something to do!

When the storm blew over and the sky cleared the next morning there were a few tree branches down but everything was OK. According to Dianne the storm was moving about 35 miles an hour going the same direction we intended to drive so we decided to wait another day before leaving. We had no desire to be storm chasers!

In the past, when we’ve traveled in the South we head right for the coast and travel along the beaches and through the little beach communities, the scenery is lovely but the trip is very slow. Since we started in north central Texas we decided to stay up here and see some new sites. We skirted around the Dallas/Ft Worth area, enjoying the rural scenery. Although West Texas doesn’t win any awards with us for beauty we really enjoy the rolling hills of grassland and cedar trees of East Texas. The ranches stretch for miles. There is a mixture of working ranches with well used pick up trucks and the ‘gentleman’ ranchers with the beautiful homes made of Texas stone and the new SUV in the driveway.

We spent the night in a strange little RV park in the small town of Minden east of Shreveport, LA. Every park seems to have its own personality, some we enjoy and some, not so much. This one fell into the not so much category except for the cast of characters. A mix of mostly permanent trailers with residents who apparently drive long haul for a local industry. One of the semi-retired truck drivers wanted to tell us all about the double space he had there in the RV park with hundreds of flowers. He had two trailers, one for morning coffee and the weather report and the other for happy hour and BBQ. He was quite a character.

A couple sitting in the shade of a large 5th wheel with five slide outs was enjoying their afternoon sweet tea. They told us they have lived in the park for about year, he was 93 and she was no spring chicken herself. We could only figure their kids must have set them up with this big 5th wheel as a movable apartment, this couple sure wasn’t moving it anywhere, well at least we hoped not! Maybe the kids planned to travel in it when mom and dad passed on!

We breezed across Louisiana bumping along on their concrete roads, we thought their roads were getting better but apparently it was just wishful thinking. The road noise makes it hard to hear our audio book and we were just getting to the ‘who done it’ part.

Bridge at Vicksburg, Mississippi

Bridge at Vicksburg, Mississippi

Ahhh, the mighty Mississippi, it is so muddy it looks like you could walk across it. Lots of rain and mud from the various rivers joining the Mississippi. Our destination is the Vicksburg Military Park, in Vicksburg, Mississippi. At the our RV park the main discussion is about ‘our’ storm that passed through here a couple of days ago. Something like ten to fifteen inches of rain fell in this area. Not sorry we missed it, we paid our dues in Texas! Apparently the threat of tornadoes drove everyone in the RV park into the one building housing the office, bathrooms and laundry. I guess there were lots of people, all kinds of dogs, a couple of cats and even a bird or two. That must have been an experience.

We started our tour of Vicksburg following the Red Line tour signs along the streets. There is no narration for the tour but the signs are prominently displayed and the scenery is nice. Where the Yazoo River meets the Mississippi is a wall of murals about two blocks long. It is made up of twenty-five individual historic scenes, from life on the Mississippi including Civil War scenes, it is very nicely done.The Red Line winds through some beautiful old homes and the small downtown area. We popped into the Coca Cola Bottling Museum located on the main street of downtown. A charming old building with a musty basement smell stuffed with shelf after shelf of

Coca Cola Museum

Coca Cola Museum

old Cocoa Cola memorabilia. Cocoa Cola was invented in Atlanta, where it was served at drugstore counters, but here is where it was first bottled for distribution. A replica of the old bottling system was interesting. No robots here, each bottle was hand washed and reused. I remember hauling all those returnable bottles to the store years ago. The man who came up with the idea of bottling and distributing coke worked half the day bottling and the other half using a horse and wagon to distribute it. There were lots of pictures from the early 1900’s and of course all the old slogans Cocoa Cola has used over the years, bright red signs all over the place. Depending on what part of the county you are from you might have referred to coke as soda pop. They claim the name came from the ‘pop’ when the old style cap was removed from the bottle.

 

National Military Park, Vicksburg

National Military Park, Vicksburg

Excluding the huge Casino, the main attraction in Vicksburg is the National Military Park, where Vicksburg was under siege for 47 days. Vicksburg sits on a bluff along the Mississippi River. The National Park Visitor Center is very nice, showing both a twenty minute movie depicting the battle and a lighted panel board with a narration of the battle and lights showing both the Union and Confederate troop movements.  Those were both interesting but it was very enlightening to drive the sixteen mile road around the battle grounds. The first part of the drive was along the Confederate line followed by the Union line. There were lots of cannons along the way and marble pedestals with busts of generals from both sides. Each state has marble markers indicating where their troops fought, there are 1,300 markers in all. No, we didn’t read them all, we’d still be there! Some of the markers were very moving sculptures of soldiers in battle, others much more simple. You could see the trenches made by the Union

Bronze Statue in Military Park

Bronze Statue in Military Park

Army and the hilltop vantage points the Confederates claimed. The Confederate Army suffered from a lack of provisions, malaria, and dysentery when they finally surrendered.  The town suffered terrible damage from the siege and after the North won the battle they placed new restrictions on the residents and brought a thousand freed slaves to the city.

 

 

Fort Morgan on Mobile Bay, Alabama

Fort Morgan on Mobile Bay, Alabama

We then went to Alabama and took a look at the Gulf Shores area. We are happy to report the Flora Bama Bar is still going strong. The Flora Bama is located on the Florida, Alabama line and is famous for the mullet tossing event held there. We were here several years ago on a Saturday night during spring break, the line was almost two blocks long waiting to get in the bar. Needless to say we didn’t line up.

 

This year we stopped along the eastern side of Mobile Bay to check out Fort Morgan. During the Civil War two forts guarded Mobile Bay, Fort Gaines, located on Dauphin Island on the West and Fort Morgan on the East. We toured the historic Fort Gaines several years ago so it was time to see what remained of Fort Morgan. It was quite a fortress but certainly suffering effects of time and weather. Actually we were surprised to learn the fort was reactivated in 1941 to guard the bay against an attack by the Germans in World WarII. In the early years the bay  as protected with mines called torpedoes. When the North was trying to make their way into the bay during the Civil War they were warned about the torpedoes and the famous expression “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead’, was uttered by David Farragut.

Bird Enjoying the Surf, St. George Island

Bird Enjoying the Surf, St. George Island

Florida has a great State Park system, our only complaint is there are seldom any camp spots available. They take reservations up to eleven months in advance and apparently the rest of the world knows exactly when they want to spend a week on the beach. We couldn’t find a spot in our favorite park on St. George Island, so we decided on the RV park in Carrabelle. Actually after spending a few days here we will put this on our must return list. They have really fixed this park up and it is very nice. We lucked out with a great spot on a higher part of the park and not only was the breeze nice up there but we could see the bay from our window. The beach is right across the street, pretty much perfect.

 

Monty Getting Shrimp Ready for the BBQ

Monty Getting Shrimp Ready for the BBQ

The first time we discovered Florida was on our first traveling adventure to the Florida Keys in 2002. We have been back many times and never get tired of it. One of our favorite places is St. George Island, a barrier island off the panhandle with miles of sugar sand beach and sparkling blue Gulf of Mexico. This is not a destination for people craving nightlife and parties. The island consists of: one gas station, two restaurants, a new deli/market, a beach wear store and most important, Doug and Dale, the fresh seafood sellers on opposite corners of the only stop sign. We buy all the shrimp the cooler can hold and cook it various ways until we empty the cooler and start over. It is great.

Our Favorite Restaurant on St. George Island

Our Favorite Restaurant on St. George Island

Our favorite restaurant, is the Blue Parrot. The Parrot is a beach front restaurant, with the typical thatched roof bar and bright umbrellas; the only sound being the crashing surf. We walk the beach while Zoe runs and chases the waves until she is wore out then we all three adjourn to the Blue Parrot. The waitstaff brings Zoe a bowl of water and we eat shrimp, drink Blue Moon, and sneak french fries to Zoe under the table.

Leaf Carpet at Manatee State Park

Leaf Carpet at Manatee State Park

When we are here we just want to stay forever, sit on the beach, eat shrimp, drink margaritas and listen to Jimmy Buffet. We’ve been here three days and wonder why we don’t just stay, but there are some things we haven’t seen down the road so guess we better move on.

We were thrilled to book the last spot for a one night stay in our favorite State Parks. We discovered Manatee Springs along the Gulf coast on our first trip and this will be our third visit. This place is impossible to describe adequately even if we included pictures. The park has hundreds of trees, most of them are huge, the ground underneath is a golden carpet of fallen leaves. That makes it incredibly quiet, the warm spring that bubbles up

The Manatee Spring Swimming Hole

The Manatee Spring Swimming Hole

attracts the manatees that come up from the Suwannee River. We saw a couple of them on our first trip but the weather has been warm so they don’t need the added warmth of the spring this year. The spring is crystal clear and we enjoy watching the swimmers playing with snorkels although they don’t even need them. Further down the spring toward the river are kayaks for rent, right next to the sign that says don’t feed the alligators. I just don’t see us ever getting into a kayak, to paddle around trying to avoid alligators. It’s just not gonna happen!

We were disappointed there were no manatees this trip but we saw wildlife. There is a wonderful boardwalk the wends its way through the cypress trees out to the Suwannee River. In the river we saw carp that must have been about four feet long. There was a little girl about 5 trying very hard to catch one on her tiny fishing pole.

Snakes Sunning Themselves on Stump

Snakes Sunning Themselves on Stump

Those carp were bigger than she was, I can’t imagine what would have happened if she caught one.

On our way back along the boardwalk we stopped at an overlook of the spring and there on an overturned tree stump were a knot of eight or nine snakes sunning themselves. Although it was kind of creepy they were mesmerizing. We don’t know much about water snakes, the few times we have seen them they are swimming really fast. Only one time did we cross paths with one on a walk, he was ticked off and hissed at us, he showed us his mouth, he was the real deal. They call them cotton mouths for a reason. Several people stopped to look at the snakes with us, but no one seemed to know if they were cotton mouths or not. The next morning we hurried down to see if they were still there and the stump was empty. I hate that, where do you suppose they are? A better question is why are people swimming in the spring!

Sink Hole Where Divers Explore the Cave

Sink Hole Where Divers Explore the Cave

The spring boils up from a sink hole that leads to an underground cave system. We met three guys preparing to dive there. They had a van full of expensive gear and each carried their tank packs to the edge of the sink hole and then went back to get their wet suits. One of the guys told us the packs weighed about 200 pounds and held enough air to go about 5,000 feet. He’d been diving for over twenty years. I can’t think of anything more terrifying than being under water in a cave/tunnel system unless it would be swimming with the snakes!

Downtown Cedar Key

Downtown Cedar Key

Our next stop is on Cedar Key, I guess we thought this would be like St. George Island but the two are nothing alike. In the first place the Key is well protected from the onslaught of the Gulf which means the tiny, really tiny, beach is just like sitting on a pond, no pounding surf or even a medium size waves. The Key is surrounded by bayous that are swampy so unless you have a kayak or canoe there isn’t anything to do there. The RV park was listed as ‘quaint’. Well, quaint apparently translates to over- crowded with no privacy. There is a camping group that travels around Florida and meet once a month at various places. This was their weekend at this park, talk about poor timing for us. The park had some nice murals on the walls of the club house but that was the only high marks we give them. We decided to just forget the next night we were going to stay there and move on. The only problem was they had effectively closed off the exit by putting up tables for groups happy hour and meals. We finally decided to exit through the entrance and move on. It was disappointing because this place was supposed to be unique with music on Friday nights. We’d read about it several times and it was on our ‘let’s see it if we can list’. Oh well, win some lose some.

Saltwater Cooking Kettle

Saltwater Cooking Kettle

We did enjoy a museum with articles about the pencil factory that was on one of the islands near the key. Apparently they had cypress for the wood and imported the lead from Siberia. As with most things in history after they cut down all the cypress trees there wasn’t any wood to make pencils. This phenomena that happened over and over in our history never ceases to amaze us. The other fact that I thought was interesting was that during the Civil War men who were involved with making salt were exempt from service. Salt water from the ocean was cooked in huge lead kettles until the water evaporated and the salt was left. This salt was used to preserve meat and sold for $1.00 a pound. That was pretty pricey in 1860!

Cedar Key Did Have Beautiful Sunsets

Cedar Key Did Have Beautiful Sunsets

We selected our next stop based on the idea that this location would be central to three or four things we want to see in the Tampa area. We quickly realized it wasn’t going to be that easy. The park had a pond with a resident alligator but that was pretty much it. Zoe was leery about the whole alligator thing but she didn’t have to worry, apparently he was more worried about her than she was about him.

On the bright side, we were delighted with the older couple next to us. They were from Maine and their Down East accents were so strong it took us awhile to

understand them. Once we got the hang of it we were good. He told us they had been coming to Florida for three years, she quickly corrected him, 2 1/2 years. Last year he went to the doctor and found out he had ‘the cancer’. He was still so stunned by that news that he just had to tell us about it. Two weeks ago the doctor said he was fine, so they packed up and came to Florida for a few weeks. They were convinced we needed to go to a produce stand just down the road a piece and get some strawberries. They were so anxious for us to go that we did, we must have driven forty miles looking for the darn place and finally found it only to discover it was closed that day. But it was a nice drive along a country road and we enjoyed visiting with them.

Mosaic Mural Showing Sponge Gathering

Mosaic Mural Showing Sponge Gathering

We went to Tarpon Springs to see the Greek Community and the sponge docks and enjoyed a nice afternoon. We had linner (a combination of lunch and dinner) at a great Greek restaurant; we loved the atmosphere and the skewers of pork and chicken, pita bread and Greek beer. We didn’t see any museum or anything that would tell us more about the harvesting of sponges. We really were interested to learn more about it.

We forgot the traffic in the Tampa area is just horrendous, it takes forever to get anywhere and the congestion is exhausting. The trip to Tarpon Springs was 30 miles but took over an hour and a half to get there. We are giving up on the hope of seeing the Tampa Aquarium and heading farther down south to see the Ringling Bros campus in Sarasota. Ringling Brothers sounds like a strange place to visit but several people have told us it is just a great place to see. We are just not willing to fight the traffic. It is difficult to give up on a plan but sometimes you just have to say enough is enough.

Mermaids Telling Little Mermaid Story

Mermaids Telling Little Mermaid Story

We moved on to Spring Hill, closer to the coast and home to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. This is a fun place and pretty much a ‘must see’ place in Florida. This isn’t like any other State Park we have ever seen. There is a big lagoon for swimming with two huge water slides. There is a sign that reminds kids there is no swimming allowed with mermaid fins. The giant spring that pumps 150 million gallons of water every day is where the mermaids perform. I know you have seen old movie clips of the mermaids performing underwater ballets, synchronized swimming routines and in this case telling the story of the little mermaid. This show has run since the 30’s or 40’s. Old time videos of the show and pictures of the audience were on display while we waited for the mermaids to appear. The curtain goes up and the mermaids are swimming to music, they have mermaid tails and lovely beaded tops. Amazing to me, they smile and make eye contact and mouth the words of the story all the while sneaking oxygen thru long tubes coming up from the floor of the sea. There is a

Wildlife Docent Hold a Baby Alligator

Wildlife Docent Hold a Baby Alligator

story involved in the presentation and of course the little girls in the audience are thrilled when the ‘prince’ saves the ‘little mermaid’ and they live happily ever after. There is a wicked witch of the sea who tries to sabotage the happy ever after but of course she doesn’t succeed. OK, so it was a bit hokey but really it was cute and the little kids loved it. We also enjoyed the wildlife show with snakes, turtles, and of course a baby alligator. The River cruise on the pontoon boat was peaceful. There were a pair of nesting bald eagles who have raised young in the park for over nine years.

We talked with a delightful couple sitting next to us, she was originally from Poland but married her American husband four years ago. They had traveled all over the country in a truck with a camper shell with a single bed mattress in the back, and had fun stories to share about their travels. They camped at many of the National Parks we have enjoyed and told of freezing temps where even the water next to the bed froze.  They laughed when they said the finally had to put the water under the covers with them so they could wash in the morning. They were delightful and we loved chatting with them.

Monty Chillin’ on the Beach

Monty Chillin’ on the Beach

We decided if Carrabelle had room for us for another couple of days we’d really like more beach time. Sure enough they had our same spot available and we were happy campers once again. We took Zoe to the beach this afternoon and let her run and play in the waves. We picked up a couple of pounds of shrimp and enjoyed Jimmy Buffet, a margarita and shrimp on the BBQ. Tomorrow Zoe can stay home in the air conditioning and we can go play on the beach and enjoy lunch at the Blue Parrot one more time before heading for home.

You just gotta love a state where the main grocery is the Piggly-wiggly. Every time I see one it makes me laugh. Florida is a land of contrasts, the state highways we tend to choose are two lane and the trees and palmettos along the roadway are so over grown it would be impassable on foot. It is really a jungle and much of it is swampy. There are few homes in these very rural areas. If you look on the map a big portion of Florida is swamp and the major population is very concentrated in the cities, mostly along the East coast. There seems to be a Baptist church on almost every corner in the South. In contrast to the churches are the huge billboards advertising adult book stores. These billboards are surprisingly frequent and are only surpassed by the injury lawyer billboards. These are huge billboards and a blight on the beauty of Florida. One of the lawyers often had three billboards within a half mile. I’m beginning to see him in my sleep and I don’t like him.

Some interesting observations – in a BBQ restaurant in Texas, at the entrance was a chalk board listing the scripture of the day. In a country cafe in a small town was a chalk board with a reminder to respect your elders. Monty wanted to check out a town called Chick Town. I was confused by the sign on a store front advertising new and used antiques. Think about it. A billboard reminded drivers to get their head out of their apps and eyes on the road. Another one proclaimed, HELL, I forgot about that, Matt……

I checked with Siri and she said it was 1,979 miles to our front door. I wanted to say just forget it we’ll live here. We enjoy it here but living here just isn’t going to happen, I mean you can only eat shrimp so many days in a row and you start thinking a steak looks mighty good. So we are on the way home!

There are certainly trade offs in this mode of travel, we don’t have to look for someplace to eat three times a day, or find a motel every night, haul in the suitcases and use the antibacterial cleaner on the remote in the motel room; but we do travel slower than a car and we have to find easy access gas stations and a place to spend the night.

Reviewing the map and the distance we expect to travel in a day and we figure we should be home in about five days. Surely it didn’t take us the that long to get here. I guess it just didn’t seem that long because we had lots of places to see along the way; heading home, we are like a stable horse, eager to see our corral. Thank goodness we have the audio books and we just cruise along and listen to the story.

We had already scoped out our first days drive. Ocean Springs, Mississippi is a nice place with a National Seashore campground ($11) and a resident alligator that is huge. The last time we were here she was hanging out on a small island and at sunset she was bellowing. It was intriguing and scary at the same time. Apparently there was another smaller alligator in the area but he got too close to the big alligators nest and the big one made lunch out of him.. The ranger told us it was just like animal planet but close up gruesome. Don’t mess with those gators!

We enjoy this park but the big draw is the great BBQ place we found on our last visit. The Shed was featured on Good Morning America as one of the great BBQ places in the South and we agree. It is a huge shed with gravel floors, picnic tables and all manor of stuff that you’d expect to find in a shed, great BBQ and Blue Moon beer. It was perfect and we enjoyed our dinner after a long drive.

I don’t usually write much about the trip home but I have to tell you about the second day on the road. We start out with a game plan, how long it will take to a particular spot. This is a serious drive day and we are torn between stopping before Houston, a little early, or get Houston out of the way in the afternoon and be ready to move on. Big cities are stressful, so many lanes of traffic, cars whipping by on the freeway constantly changing lanes and everyone in a hurry.

We are moving right along and then a traffic jam outside of Raton Rouge, we don’t know what the hold up is but we are creeping along with the rest of the traffic. It is stop and go for over an hour until we see the flashing lights and realize it is an accident holding things up. That is always scary, we hate to see anyone in a bad situation. This is a semi that is in the median and facing the wrong way, it looks like a mess, the cab is not looking good and we have no idea what happened. After getting through the jam we move along with everyone else.

Later in the afternoon we see a tow truck with some wrecked cars and a semi cab on the back. We wonder if that is the semi we saw. He passes us and moves on about a block head when the hood of that semi he is hauling comes flying off. We see it spiraling in the air and hits between cars and comes our way, It is like slow motions watching it coming right at us. There we are sitting in our picture window watching it. There is nowhere to move and this thing just keeps coming. Monty eases on the brakes and by the grace of God the hood flies to our right, hits the concrete barrier and simply stops dead along side of us. It hit the concrete and stopped just as we drove by it. We were so stunned we could hardly speak. We looked at each other and at the same time said, ‘Thank you, God’.

Whew, that behind us we continue on, we are behind schedule with the hour delay but we are feeling good and driving is going pretty well. Maybe we’ll just continue on thru Houston and stop beyond it. Monty drives, my job is to alert him to anything I see, brake lights, vehicles off to the side of the road, tire treads on the highway, road signs we need, highway patrol and of course interesting road kill or funny signs.

There we are moving right along and a guy in a semi, hauling a big flat bed trailer is stopped crosswise in an Exit lane. OK, we aren’t getting off at the exit so he shouldn’t be a problem except the idiot decides to pull back out into the highway. REALLY he can’t see us,??? we are as big as a Pepsi truck for pete’s sake, there is a semi on our left and we have no where to go and this guy keeps pulling out into our lane. There is a lot of yelling, cussing and waving of hands and then Monty gets into the act and the language really gets colorful! We come to a complete stop on the highway to keep from running into the back end of this flat bed. Luckily no one runs into the back of us. So far this day has been very unsettling to say the least. After we catch our breath I mention the actress Jayne Mansfield, from the 50’s. She was riding in a car that hit a flatbed trailer and she and her boyfriend were decapitated. I told Monty I was having a Jayne Mansfield moment. He said he never remembered that about her. I think he only remembered she was a buxom blonde. Actually Jayne and I have nothing in common.

We hit Houston at 4pm instead of 3pm, we think the traffic in Tucson is annoying on Friday afternoon. OMG it took us an hour and a half to get thru Houston. Everyone was eager to get to happy hour or home, but much of the time we were all just stopped. What a day!

We still have a couple of more drive days. Today we successfully maneuvered around San Antonio and the next stop is the Sonora Crystal Caverns. We stopped here many years ago and toured the crystal caverns and really enjoyed our visit. If you are ever traveling I-10 in the middle of nowhere between El Paseo and San Antonio do your self a favor and stop in Sonora, Texas to see these caverns. It is a beautiful cave and a delightful rustic campground and country store. This is the first time we have spent the night here but they have put in several pull through sites and the price is right.

Crystal Formation in Sonora Caverns

Crystal Formation in Sonora Caverns

There are several cars here and a couple of camp trailers from Quebec. It is surprising to see the Quebec folks, this place is really off the beaten path. We get into our site and here come two identical huge RV’s, you know the $400,000 kind; each has a Harley on the back lift and one is towing a car in addition to the Harley. They get settled and they go off to tour the caverns and of course I check out the license plates, would you believe they are also from Quebec. This place must have made the made the ‘must see’ list in the Canada travel brochures.

We played leap frog with all the Canadians today, caught them at the gas station and again at a rest stop for lunch. We are crashing for the night in Las Cruces, in our younger days we’d never stop this close to home but we are weary and this will give us a short day tomorrow.

Thanks for traveling with us, looks like Zoe is ready to head for home.

 

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