March, 2019 – Natchez, Mississippi

After the last two trips of over 4 hours, it was nice to be back on schedule with a trip of only a couple of hours.  In order to explore the rest of the Natchez Trace we had to travel southwest to Natchez, Mississippi which was the beginning of the Trace.  To get there we had a choice of either heading over to Vicksburg and then south along 4-lane US 61 or we could travel most of the way along the Natchez Trace Parkway itself.  We decided to travel on the Parkway, which is a great way to travel.  Sure, the speed limit is only 50 mph and it is a two lane road, however, there is very little traffic with no stops and I prefer looking at woods and fields than homes, businesses, and towns.  So we drove south on the Parkway along the same route we had traveled just a few days before.  Once we intersected US 61 we left the Parkway and drove on south to Natchez State Park which is less than 10 miles north of Natchez.  The road into the park is very rough and we were worried there would be no place to turn around if we needed to, especially when there was no entrance booth and the sign for the campground was different than the direction to the office.  We followed the sign for the campground another half mile before we saw some RVs and began to feel better.  We found our reserved site and it had a card on the post with our name on it.  It was easy enough to back the RV into the site which had a nice concrete pad.  It was a full hookup site, however, the sewer hookup was at the extreme back which meant I would have to use the extension on the sewer hose in order to reach it.  Since the extension is a chore to install, we decided to wait until we left and could back up the RV enough to reach.  We could not do this before, since in doing so stuck the back end of the RV into the road leading out of the campground area.  This is obviously an older state park in need of some care, but everything worked well enough and we were set for the week.

Campsite

The weather on Tuesday was perfect, so we headed back to where we left the Natchez Trace Parkway to explore the final 40 miles.  Along the way we took advantage of a short hike through the hardwood-pine forest that was in the process of changing from a loblolly pine to hardwood forest with interpretive signs showing examples of this change, which needed to be updated as the pine trees had already died from southern pine beetle.  Another stop was an excellent example of the loess soils which are wind blown silt that was deposited following the ice age.  It is highly erodable which has created some deep ravines due to poor farming practices when the entire area was growing cotton.  There was even a restored historic stand that would have been great to visit if they were not working on the road at the entrance making it impossible to visit.  The highlight, however, was Emerald Mound.  If you are interested in seeing prime examples of the mounds constructed by the Mississippian culture, this needs to be on your list.  This is an 8 acre ceremonial mound with two of the eight mounds on top of the level mound still there.  The mound was built between 1200 and 1650 and is a very large mound.  In fact, it is the second largest mound in existence after the mound at Cahokia.  The last stop was also interesting as it was the location of the Elizabeth Female Academy founded in 1818.  It was the first school for women in the state of Mississippi and was, at the time, located at the first capital of Mississippi in Washington, just 6 miles from Natchez.  It only took a couple of hours to explore the rest of the Natchez Trace Parkway leaving plenty of time to go to Walmart and return to the RV for lunch and the afternoon.

Wednesday was another beautiful day, so we headed into Natchez to explore the Natchez National Historical Park.  Natchez has a very rich history beginning with thousands of years of occupation by Native Americans ending with the Natchez Indians.  The French built Fort Rosalie in 1716 to protect their trading post and this fort was an important site along the Mississippi River and used by the French, British, and Spanish over the next 80 years as Natchez changed hands.  Today the site is one of the three units of the National Historical Park, although there is literally nothing left except for the entrance ramp as the rest is now part of the river.  By the late 1700s, Natchez was a major shipping port on the river and the beginning of the Natchez Trace where farmers from Ohio and Kentucky would float their goods on rafts to either Natchez or New Orleans and then hike back home.  By the early 1800s, the Natchez District was the center of the cotton boom that became the economic engine that created more millionaires than any other city in the United States at the time.  Prior to the Civil War, these cotton plantations were dependent upon the use of slave labor, mostly being bought and moved from the Upper South.  These millionaires built many large mansions, both at their plantations and within and around Natchez.  One of these is the main location of the National Historical Park, Melrose.  John McMurran was a very successful lawyer in Natchez in the mid-1820s.  He married Mary Turner, the daughter of an old southern family, and began his climb up in the Southern aristocracy.  Since Natchez was just a 15 minute buggy ride away, they decided that Melrose would be their home to raise their family, using other family homes for entertaining.  This made Melrose different than the more common plantation mansion as there was no large areas dedicated to entertaining on the ground floor.  This Greek-Revival style mansion was considered at the time to be one of the finest in Natchez and sits in the center of an 80 acre manicured area.  The other amazing thing about Melrose is that most of the furnishings are original, even though it was sold in 1865 to George Davis and again to John Callon in 1976.  Both of these subsequent owners bought the home fully furnished and were more concerned with preservation than remodeling.  In the case of Davis, this was because they lived in New York for the next 40 years leaving it to caretakers to maintain the property.  For Callon, he was interested in renting the bedrooms as a Bed and Breakfast and to be used as a retreat by the Callon Petroleum Company.  This also extended to all the outbuildings which included a kitchen, dairy, barn, stable, and slave quarters.  Thus when the National Park purchased the property in 1990 it came with most of the original furnishings and outbuildings intact.  The final unit of the National Historical Park is in downtown Natchez at the home of William Johnson.  This modest home gives a good comparison with the extravagance at Melrose, as it was the home of a successful freed slave prior to the Civil War.  Johnson owned three barbershops in town and was well regarded by the white citizens.  The amazing part of his story is that he maintained a daily diary of his life which gives just about our only insight into the life of a freed slave prior to the Civil War.  A truly fascinating story.

Thursday was the start of March Madness and Auburn was one of the two first games on Thursday facing New Mexico State.  Since this game was not being shown on CBS, we had to find another location to watch the game.  We asked our tour guide from the day before for local restaurants with TV sets that would be showing the game, since there was not an Applebees or Buffalo Wild Wings in town.  She recommended a couple of locations and we choose to go to Hot Mama’s Tamales on Canal Street.  It was an excellent choice as we ran into 4 other Auburn fans who were visiting Natchez as part of a bus tour.  We had a great lunch of the best tamales I have ever had and watched Auburn try to lose to New Mexico State in the final seconds.  They had a solid 15 point lead in the middle of the second half and then went cold allowing NM State to catch up.  NM State had two good chances to beat Auburn in the final seconds, missing both attempts, so Auburn escaped to the next round.  After lunch we went back to the campsite to watch more basketball the rest of the afternoon.

Friday morning we decided to drive back into Natchez to the Magnolia Bluffs Casino on the Mississippi River.  In fact, they were having to pump water off the road leading down off the bluff and half of the first floor of the parking garage was underwater as the Mississippi River was in minor flood stage.  We enjoyed the morning playing slots in the casino and came close to breaking even.  We hurried back to the RV for the afternoon to do what we could to root for the SEC in the NCAA tournament.

KalAtCasino

Saturday was another day full of basketball ending with Auburn playing Kansas for the last game of the day.  Since it was not going to be over until after 11:00, we decided to try and stream the game on Kal’s Ipad.  We had a strong signal and were able to watch the entire game with few interruptions with Kal scolding the reception.  After the close call with New Mexico State we only hoped Auburn would stay with Kansas and somehow make it to the Sweet 16 of the tournament.  Granted this was not the best Kansas team who limped their way into the tournament with a 4 seed against our 5 seed.  Auburn came out hot hitting their first two 3 pointers and proceeded to have a perfect first half outscoring Kansas by 2-1 and had more than a 20 point lead at halftime.  During the second half they easily answered any scoring Kansas could generate with our great defense and we won the game easily.  We made it to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1985 and out next opponent would be number 1 seed, North Carolina.  It was fun watching the joy on Charles Barkley’s face as his Auburn Tigers got to play both Kansas and North Carolina in the same tournament.

Sunday was spent once again watching what games we could on CBS and enjoying the sense that we finally made the Sweet 16 over the expectations of all the sport pundits!!

March, 2019 – Jackson, Mississippi

The trip from Birmingham to Jackson was another long pull for us being over 4 hours in length.  However, the entire trip was along Interstate 20 so there were plenty of rest areas to break up the trip.  We pulled into Springridge Mobile Home Estate and RV Park in the middle of the afternoon to a surprise as we were followed by two police cars.  Once it was obvious they were not looking for us, as they immediately went into the office, we decided to stay out of the way until they were finished.  It turned out there was an erroneous call to 911 from a long term resident who saw things when he was not on his meds.  This is one of the reasons we prefer to stay in state parks and federal campgrounds where all the campers are not living there.  This was our first time staying in a mobile home park so near a large city like Jackson, Mississippi and I will avoid it in the future.  The RV part of the estates was nice, if you like staying in an asphalt parking lot.  At least they had bushes in planters between the sites, but even then each site was barely wide enough for the RV.  At least it was a pull-through site with full hookups that was reasonably level.  The bathrooms were nice and clean, once you got into them.  There was a keypad requiring a three step process to unlock the door.  First you had to “wake-up” the keypad by completely covering the device.  Then you had to hit the randomly lit numbers to wake up the entire keypad.  Only then could you enter the 4 digit code and the unlock button to get into the bathroom!!  There are instructions posted outside the door, but frankly they did not make any sense until you got lucky and figured out the sequence the first time.  I was ready to give up the first time before I got lucky and it was not until the next time that I finally figured out the sequence of events!!  In any case, we choose the location due to its proximity to the Natchez Trace Parkway that was our focus for the week.  It was also very close to stores and restaurants which was a plus, although the proximity of I-20 was a constant roar outside the RV.

Campsite

The weather on Tuesday was nice and cool so we headed north to pick up where we left off from the Natchez Trace Parkway two years ago.  Back two years ago we had traveled the northern half of the parkway from south of Tupelo to the terminus in Nashville.  We traveled north from Jackson to where we left off about 70 miles which is halfway to Tupelo.  As we discovered two years ago, the parkway is a GREAT way to see the state and every state should have one.  It is a limited access highway with no commercial vehicles (large trucks) and literally no traffic.  Since it is limited access there are no billboards, businesses, or houses along the road.  It is just you and nature.  You travel along looking at the woods with stops every few miles for a short walk or reading a sign about the history along the trace.  It is a great way to spend a beautiful winter day and we were looking forward to it after the busy two weeks in Birmingham.  We started out walking a short trail that wound up from Hurricane Creek into the upland pine forest with interpretive signs about the changing habitats.  From there it was a leisurely trip back south to Jackson.  There were other short walks through the woods and long the edge of a cypress/tupelo swamp and a very nice overlook of the reservoir on the Pearl River.  Many of the stops were just a single sign about a stand along the trace that served as inns and taverns for travelers back in the very early 1800s.  We also learned about the Choctaw Indians that lived there at the time and saw the oldest Indian mound in the region.  While they parkway does not exactly follow the old Natchez Trace as it winds around, there were a couple of stops where you could see evidence of the old trace, especially when it created a sunken road that is still there today.

The weather on Wednesday was supposed to be rain, although it did not happen until after dark.  Believing it was going to be bad weather, we decided to postpone our exploration of the Natchez Trace and headed west to a casino on the Mississippi River in Vicksburg, Riverwalk Casino.  As this was about halfway between Auburn and College Station in Texas when William was in college, we had stopped multiple times to take a break in the trip at one of the casinos.  Therefore, we opted this time to visit one further from the Interstate that we had not visited before.  Riverwalk is a smaller casino then Ameristar and the other casinos in Vicksburg, but still offered all we were looking for.  After over 2 hours of playing, I managed to score some big pay offs before Kal lost her money, so we came out just a few dollars short of where we started.

On Thursday it did storm, so we stayed close to the RV.  This was also the second day of SEC Basketball tournament, which was Auburn’s first game against Missouri.  Especially since we were only 5 minutes from an Applebee’s we headed over there to watch the game.  Auburn played very well and won so we planned on repeating the experience on Friday.

Friday was cooler then I like, however, the weather was clear so we started off the day by continuing our exploration of the Natchez Trace Parkway.  This time we traveled south along the Trace to a point about halfway to Natchez before turning around and hitting all the stops on our way north.  Our first stop of the day was therefore at the best example of the sunken trace along the parkway.  A short trail takes you down into the trace which you can then walk up with walls soaring over 20 feet above you.   It was an amazing experience.  The next stop was the Grindstone Ford where the trace crossed the Bayou Pierre.  The Bayou Pierre is a massive wetlands of interlacing streams and swamps that marked the “end of civilization” for the Kentuks traveling north after selling their goods and raft at Natchez.  The path is along a slightly sunken trace to the area of the ford, which is no longer identifiable, if it ever really was.  The trail simply degenerates into the wetlands.  Also at this location is another Indian Mound, Mangum Mound, that dates back to the Mississippian culture.  For lunch we ate at the location of the lost town of Rocky Springs that grew into a thriving farming town due to the trace and the presence of the spring.  The lowering water table has dried up the spring and the town had also disappeared.  It lasted until after the Civil War, which devastated this region in 1863 with the Vicksburg Campaign that was followed by a yellow fever outbreak and the devastation caused by the boll weevil on the cotton crops.  It was difficult to figure out where the buildings of the town original were due to the severe erosion in the area from poor farming practices.  Along with the usual stops for old stands and shifting boundaries of the Choctaw Nation as it shrunk over time, the other notable stop was the Battle of Raymond, which occurred in April of 1863 as part of Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign.  After attempting to capture Vicksburg from the north and east, Grant changed his strategy to travel south through Louisiana, crossing the Mississippi River south of Vicksburg and swing back to the northeast.  Raymond was the last of a series of small battles against the Confederates as he moved northeast through Mississippi, paralleling much of the old trace.  Raymond was the closest battle to the trace and following this victory, Grant decided he need to remove the Confederate threat in Jackson before continuing to Vicksburg.  We will certainly find out much more when we visit the Vicksburg National Military Park later.

Since we only explored 45 miles of the parkway, we were done in plenty of time to catch the next Auburn game at Applebees against South Carolina.  Once again we played very well and won the game, so it looks like there will be another trip to Applebees for the next game on Saturday.

Originally our plans were to visit Vicksburg on Saturday, however, we decided to postpone this trip for a couple of weeks so we could catch the next basketball game.  Instead we did laundry and cleaned the RV before heading to Applebees to watch Auburn take on Florida, who had upset LSU on Friday.  This upset must have taken a lot out of Florida, as we easily beat them to put us into the finals.  Tennessee also upset Kentucky on Saturday, so we would meet them in the finals.

Sunday was all about basketball as Auburn had reached the SEC finals for the first time in a very long time.  Our opponent was Tennessee, who we had just beaten in the last game of the regular season on senior night in Auburn.  Tennessee had also just beaten Kentucky, so we hoped they would be as worn out as I know Auburn was after three games in three days.  For the fourth day in a row we found our favorite seats at the bar in Applebees and enjoyed another VERY good game.  Auburn beat Tennessee and won the SEC tournament!!  We went back to the RV to catch the NCAA bracket show to see if it made any difference in Auburn’s seeding.  Before the SEC tournament, Auburn was expected to get a 5 seed and that is exactly what they got.  Their first game would be against New Mexico State early in the afternoon on Thursday.  I sure hope there is an Applebee’s close to where we will be staying near Natchez next week.

 

March, 2019 – Birmingham, Alabama

It was certainly not our plan to return to Birmingham on our way to Minnesota for the summer, however, with the passing of Kal’s father our plans were quickly changed.  We pulled the RV east from Hattiesburg, Mississippi to Birmingham to assist with all the details of settling the estate.  The trip itself was uneventful since it was all along I-59, although long being nearly 4 hours in length.  We pulled into an old KOA campground south of Birmingham in Pelham, Birmingham South RV Park.  This location was extremely convenient as it was less than 10 mile south of I-459 and about 20 minutes from Kal’s parents house when the traffic was not slowed to a crawl.

Campsite

It was a good idea to have two weeks as it took nearly that long to deal with all the details of the estate.  Except for the funeral on Saturday and taking Sunday off, we were busy every day.  Kal’s brother, Phil, had already dealt with the funeral home to arrange for her father’s cremation, so we picked it up from there.  Over the next two weeks we found and met with a lawyer, found and met with a CPA about the back taxes, obtained the death certificates and got them sent to the the VA and State Farm for the life insurance policies, planned the funeral, and went through all the documents collected over the years.  We were able to determine that her father had not filled income taxes since 2011 do a good bit of my time was spent in going through bank records to recreate his federal and state income tax burden since then.  We have requested all the income documents from the federal government to make sure there are no surprises and are still waiting for those to come in to finish his taxes.  Other then that we left after two weeks with just a few details for Phil to complete.  All in all it was a very busy two weeks that would have taken months to take care of if we had not been able to devote full time to it.

The funeral was on Saturday, which meant we had family visiting from all over.  Jenny drove up from Florida, William flew to Asheville and came along with Nikki and Chris.  We all met at the house Friday afternoon and all the grandchildren were able to spend the evening together at the local bowling alley.  They had a great time now that they are all old enough to go without parental oversight.  This also gave time for the parents to visit and remember their missing mom and dad.  We met Nikki, Chris, William, and Jared for breakfast before coming back to the RV to get ready for the funeral on Saturday.  The funeral was a small affair with immediate family and friends and was very nice.  We sang hymns, heard some good stories, and heart felt words from the grandchildren.  After the ceremony, we retired back to the house for an afternoon of food and socializing one more time as a family.  Most of my memories of Kal’s parents center around these family gatherings for holidays throughout the years and it was great to have the experience one more time in Birmingham.  You may note that there was not a burial ceremony since this will occur later in Liberal, Kansas.  Plans are to gather again in early June in Kansas, so our plans are to be in Kansas City so we can assist getting Kal’s aunt and uncle to Liberal for the burial.

February, 2019 – Hattiesburg, Mississippi

We traveled north from the Gulf Coast to another Mississippi State Park, just south of Hattiesburg: Paul B. Johnson State Park.  The weather on Monday was wet most of the trip, although the rain held off until we were packed up and it had mostly ended before we stopped at our new location.  However, this meant the ground was soggy and we had to be careful in backing up the RV.  Our first problem came when we arrived and could not figure out how to check in.  Unlike most state parks there was no entrance booth, so we followed the signs for the campground around to the other side of Gieger Lake.  As we passed the park headquarters with RVs visible ahead, we decided we had better stop and ask at the offices.  It was a good we did, as this was the how you checked in.  It would be nice if they put up a sign for first timers in the park!  We had to stop on the road as Kal was not going to pull into their parking lot which would have required backing out.  In any case, we got checked in and found our site with no problem.  However, then we had a problem.  All of the sites are very narrow and with the recent rain it did not look to be a good idea to be off the asphalt.  Unlike most of the sites, our site was not angled to make it easy to back into and there was a large pine tree forcing me to come in at right angles.  In addition, there was a pole and ditch on the other side of the road limiting my ability to get the truck back around in front of the RV.  Initially I made the turn into the site in good shape but was unable to get the truck swung around enough to keep the RV wheels on the asphalt.  After trying four times to move the RV over about a foot without enough room to pull forward far enough, I was ready to give up.  Kal convinced me to pull completely out of the site and start over.  This time I did a better job in following the asphalt into the site and put it right on the mark the first time.  By now it had stopped raining and we were able to get set up for the week.

Campsite

We did not have any plans for the week except for a hike and possibly a round of disc golf in the park.  It was a good thing we had nothing planned as they would have been discarded.  On Wednesday, Kal’s dad fell and hit his head necessitating an ambulance to the hospital.  As far as we know he never regained consciousness, as he also had a stroke.  We don’t know which came first and he passed away on Friday.  All week we waited to see if we need to travel to Birmingham which was only a 3.5 hour drive.  I extended our stay at Paul Johnson State Park for another week, delaying our trip west, as we waited to find out when we would need to travel to Birmingham.  Kal and her brothers worked with the funeral home and began planning a funeral for the following Saturday.  Unfortunately, Kal’s brother in Birmingham was overloaded with everything and they decided to delay the funeral a week so we could move to Birmingham for two weeks to take the pressure off.  Except for numerous phone calls we stayed around the campground and did little else until we headed to Birmingham.

On Thursday of the second week, we did decide to get away for a day and drove south to Gulfport to Island View Casino.  We were not terribly impressed with the casino, especially since the very first slot machine I played refused to print out a ticket.  After waiting patiently for over 15 minutes for someone to come by, Kal went out in search of someone to help.  She did find someone only to find out she had a list a mile long of machines with problems and would get to us when she could.  This took nearly another hour before it was our turn, all the while one of us having to stay by the slot machine.  Thankfully, we were there together, so someone could go play a bit while the other stayed at the machine.  This experience kind of soured our experience even though we came close to breaking even for the day.  After a quick late lunch at a local Pizza Hut, we headed back to the campground for the rest of the week.

February, 2019 -Bay St Louis, Mississippi

After just over 2 months in south Alabama it was ready to start our journey back north, this year along the west side of the Mississippi River up to Minnesota.  However, we still had a couple of months before really heading north as we wait for spring.  We still had southern Mississippi and Louisiana to check out so we started out by heading west.  Our first stop this year was a state park about halfway between Biloxi and New Orleans on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Buccaneer State Park in Waveland, Mississippi.  Since most of the trip was along I-10 it was an easy pull of about 2.5 hours.  As we neared the coast south of I-10 it became very foggy, so even though the state park was right on the beach, we could barely see any water on the way in.  In fact, it stayed foggy through most of the week, so we did not get to see much of the Gulf at all.  Buccaneer State Park is a very nice park with water slides and wave pool during the summer.  The campground is also large with over 200 RV sites, all with full hookups.  They have done a great job reconstructing the park since it was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina back in 2005.  All of the bathrooms are brand new and built 8 feet above the ground.  Since I had not backed in the RV in over 2 months, I was a little concerned that I would remember how to do it, but it went smoothly and we were quickly set up in our new site for the week.

Campsite

On Tuesday the weather continued to be foggy with intermittent rain all day, so we spent our first day checking out the local casino in Bay St. Louis, Hollywood Casino.  While not the most impressive casino we have been to, it had plenty of slot machines in our price range to keep us busy.  My low opinion of the casino comes mostly from my experience at the first slot machine I played.  I broke even on the machine, which meant I had about $5 in the machine and it refused to print out my ticket.  I waited at the machine for at least 15 minutes while Kal walked around looking for someone to assist me.  It turns out that during the middle of the week, they only have one attendant dealing with these problems and she had a list a mile long already.  So for the next half hour Kal and I traded off standing at this machine while the other went to play.  Waiting nearly an hour to get assistance sure put a bad taste in my mouth, so even though we came close to breaking even for the day, I was not enjoying myself.  After getting a bite to eat for lunch and going to the store, we headed back the 5 miles to our campsite.

The weather forecast for Wednesday was continued fog, but looked like it could be our best chance to get out and explore.  So we headed into New Orleans to check out the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.  We really should have done our homework, since it turned out this National Park is actually 6 separate sites extending from just east of New Orleans in Chalmette to nearly an hour west of New Orleans in Eunice.  There was no way we were going to see all of it in the one day we had planned for New Orleans.  We drove the Interstate across the eastern end of Lake Pontchartrain in very dense fog and through the heavy city traffic to Chalmette.  The Chalmette Battlefield is the location of the Battle of New Orleans at the end of the War of 1812 against Great Britain.  By visiting this battlefield we have now seen all the sites within the US from the War of 1812.  This war began with the US trying to capture Montreal and parts of Canada along the Great Lakes, but were unsuccessful in 1812.  The sites of these battles in Canada we did not visit, however, we have now seen all of the other sites.  Last summer we visited the location of the Battle of Fort Dearborn along Lake Michigan and the previous summer was the Battles of River Raisin in Michigan, Fort Mackinac in Lake Huron and the site commemorating the victory of Admiral Perry against the British Navy at Put-In-Bay in Lake Erie during 1813.  Way back before we had the RV, we visited Fort McHenry in Baltimore which was attacked from sea in 1814 following the sacking of Washington D.C.  With the end of the Napoleanic War, the British were able to send more of their ships and armies to blockade American ports and invade the Gulf Coast which was still mainly controlled by Spain and the Creek Indians.  At the time the Creek Indians were embroiled in Civil War which had to be dealt with before General Andrew Jackson could bring forces to oppose the British, thus was the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in Alabama which we have visited multiple times over the years.  General Jackson moved on to New Orleans to protect this vital port on the Mississippi River.  On January 8, 1815, General Jackson faced off against the British after the actual signing of the Treaty of Ghent in December that ended the war at Villere Plantation, 5 miles east of New Orleans.  Jackson’s command consisted of 4700 men of which only 1100 were regular soldiers and sailors.  The remainder of his force was made up of untrained militia from surrounding states, citizens of New Orleans, and even a small force of Jean Lafitte’s pirates.  They faced a over 8,000 well-trained, battle hardened British soldiers fresh from the war against Napoleon.  Over the past week the Americans had constructed earthworks along the Rodriquez Canal that was 8 feet deep and 15 feet wide and stretched from the east bank of the Mississippi River to an impenetrable cypress swamp.  The Americans also had a cannon emplacement on the west bank of the river which was targeted by a British force who were to capture these cannons and turn them onto the American position as the first stage of the battle.  However, the British force was seriously delayed with crossing the muddy Mississippi and captured the position only after the battle was over.  The British attacked in a two prong attack, one along the bank of the river and the other along the edge of the swamp.  Over the next 30 minutes both prongs approached the canal, but were unable to get over the breastworks under the withering fire from the cannons across the river and along the breastworks.  The Americans were able to drive off the British winning a huge victory against superior forces.  The British withdrew and soon after boarded their ships for home with the end of the war.  This victory not only propelled Andrew Jackson to the Presidency, but was also celebrated every year throughout the country with parades and parties to rival the July 4th celebrations until the Civil War.  Today the battlefield is not much to see, although the mostly filled in canal is still visible and they have rebuilt about half of the barricade to the river.  After spending the morning touring the museum and battlefield, we ate lunch and set out for another site in the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.

For the afternoon we headed through the heart of New Orleans to a location south of the city known an Barataria Preserve, which is the location of Jean Lafitte’s Baratarians, the center of the smuggling operations carried out by Jean Lafitte’s pirates both before and after the war.  This 24,000 acres of marsh, swamps, and bottomland hardwoods was a perfect place for Jean Lafitte to conduct his illegal operations.  Today there is a nice Visitor Center and miles of hiking trails.  The main attraction are 2 miles of boardwalks through the marsh beginning at the Visitor Center.  Since this distance is one way, we hiked about half of the boardwalk before calling it a day.  Besides the numerous cypress, tupelo, and palmetto we also saw one small alligator sunning next to the boardwalk.  A pleasant hike along a very easy trail.  After leaving we had to contend with the rush hour traffic getting back through New Orleans which meant it took over an hour to get north of the city.  Just to mention the rest of the National Park, there is a Visitor Center in the French Quarter of the city, but since both of us have been to the French Quarter in the past for a professional conference, we decided not to try and park the truck.  The other three locations of the park are related to the Acadian Culture and are well west of New Orleans and Baton Rouge.  As this is another hour away from our campsite, they are too far for us to get to.  We will consider trying to get to them this fall when we come back south.

Thursday proved to be another decent day, although there was rain in the forecast for both Thursday and Friday.  Since it would be mostly indoors, we decided to check out the nearby NASA Stennis Space Center.  The space center itself is closed to the general public, however, they have the INFINITY Space Center next to the rest stop along I-10.  This is a hands-on science museum, primarily for kids, the highlights the environmental operations of NASA, NOAA, USGS, and other government agencies, as well as, NASA space program.  Since we were there during the middle of the week, we had the place to ourselves and had a ball messing with all the hands-on exhibits without any kids to deal with!!  You can also pay for a bus tour of the Stennis Space Center, which we did and really enjoyed.  Since there was just one other old couple with us, our tour guide could tailor his presentation to those already familiar with the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs.  The tour started with driving past older buildings now being used by NOAA, USGS, and the US Navy for other programs before heading out to the rocket test sites.  Of those of you old enough to remember the Apollo program you probably remember the Marshall Space Flight Center where the tested the huge Saturn V rockets.  This was renamed the Stennis Space Center in 1988.  They still use the site to test all the rockets used in the Space Shuttle and future programs by NASA and other private companies such as SpaceX.  We were allowed to exit the bus for a short stop to take pictures of the test sites in the distance.  On the way back our tour guide talked about plans to begin the process of returning to the moon to establish a permanent manned base this year.  Initially the base will be a refueling station where they convert moon ice to hydrogen and oxygen to power the rockets to return to earth.  I had not realized this program was to begin this year and intend to look into.

As predicted the weather on Friday was very wet beginning with the ever present fog and finally rain in the afternoon.  Therefore we spent the day in the campground.  On Saturday we took advantage of the beautiful afternoon to attend an annual parade in Bay St. Louis.  Every year the Budweiser Clydesdale’s are featured in the Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans.  As a lead up to this they hold small parades along the Gulf Coast beginning in Mobile.  On Saturday they were at Bay St. Louis, so we went to take a look.  Before the parade started we were able to get close to the horses as they prepared for the parade and then found a place along the parade route.  Outside of Clydesdales the parade was nothing more than a local marching band, some dance clubs, and some antique cars, but it was still a lot of fun.  It turns out that they actually haul cases of Budweiser beer to deliver at some of the local pubs along the parade route.  We did not realize this prior to the parade since it would have been neat to watch them actually deliver cases of beer from the wagon.  As expected, these horses are magnificent and BIG!

Sunday was windy and cool with fog again in the morning.  I decided to take advantage of the location and headed over to their Disc Golf course.  It is an 18 hole course of moderate length with very few challenging fairways.  Most of them are along the road and in the open with only a couple traveling through a corridor of trees.  The wind off the Gulf was challenging, however, messing around with a lot of my shots.  However, I had a reasonable good round of disc golf and enjoyed a couple of hours away from the RV.

DiscGolfFairway

January, 2019 – Foley, Alabama

January was essentially a continuation of December near the Gulf Coast of Alabama.  I had got a new PlayStation IV for Christmas, so a lot of the time was spent playing new games and watching old TV and movies on it.  We also spent time on a number of continuing maintenance tasks around the RV, taking the truck in for servicing, and getting our bikes fixed.  Adding in a new pair of glasses and a set of 4 tires for the truck, we ended up spending a lot of money during the month of January.  There was next to nothing left to send to our investments, which was not a bad thing as everything we did needed to be done.

The only break we got during the month was taking a plane trip to Wichita, Kansas for Kal’s Aunt Wanda’s 90th birthday.  We flew out of Pensacola on Friday with plans to arrive ahead of their snow storm and meet up with an old high school friend for dinner.  Unfortunately, fog in Atlanta delayed our plane getting into Pensacola, so we were nearly 40 minutes late taking off.  After circling Atlanta at least once, we would just barely make our connecting flight assuming the departure gate was close.  As it turned out, our departure gate was right there when we disembarked and we still had three minutes before the scheduled departure of the plane.  However, the departure time is a totally meaningless number since the close the doors some 10 minutes before that time and we had missed the flight!!  After telling the gate attendant that as a passenger I am not interested in when the plane is leaving the gate, I need to know the time when the door would be closed and therefore when I had to be at the gate.  Knowing when the plane is leaving is totally useless to me.  I apologized and we went off to wait 5 hours before the next flight to Wichita.  This did give us a chance to eat dinner, as we would be too late to meet up with my old friend, Floyce.  Instead of arriving at 4:30, it was nearly 11:00 before we got there.  In addition, the snow storm was in full force with blowing snow and well below freezing temperatures.  Quite the shock stepping out at the terminal after leaving the 60 degree temperatures in Florida.  Our first task was to pick up our rental only to find out they were out of the compact sizes.  Thankfully this meant we were upgraded to a full size truck and we choose one with 4 wheel drive due to the weather.  In turned out we didn’t need it, although the snow tires certainly helped on the icy roads the next morning.  Thankfully, our hotel was next to the airport so it was a short drive in the blowing snow driving an unfamiliar vehicle in weather we were certainly not used to.

We did meet with Floyce for a late breakfast on Saturday and then went to her house for a couple of hours before the birthday party.  I had asked Floyce to get a birthday cake as it was also Kal’s birthday.  So we had cake and ice cream for lunch BEFORE going to Aunt Wanda’s 90th birthday party.  Her birthday party was held at the Assisted Living Apartments where she lives and they put on quite a spread.  I guess Kal’s cousin, Clint, did not let anyone else know we were coming as we made quite a surprise for Wanda and the rest of her family.  Mark and Pam also drove up from Dallas for the party, so we had a good time catching up with her cousins.  We did not get much of a chance to talk with Wanda as she was surrounded by all her friends and extended family all afternoon.  They also invited us to join them for dinner where we got a chance to talk with Wanda as well.  It was a very good time and we were both glad we made the trip.  Many thanks to Deb Tittsworth for the pictures of Wanda’s party in this blog.

On Sunday, we had tentative plans to meet up with my brother, Robin, for breakfast, however, he is devilishly difficult to contact.  We tried multiple time on Saturday to contact him with no luck.  So at 10 we just drove over to his house and timed it perfectly as he was standing out on the porch smoking a cigarette when we pulled up.  We took his to his favorite place for breakfast where all the waitresses knew him well!  After we ate we went back to his house which he shares with a Jess and Brian’s family that we had gotten to know by playing WOW years ago.  We spent most of the day with all of them before heading back to airport to fly back to Florida.  Thankfully, this time there were no issues and we arrived late back to our RV around midnight.  This was certainly a birthday Kal will remember for a long time as she finally got her birthday wish of seeing snow on her birthday!!  Happy Birthday Darling.

December, 2018 – Foley, Alabama

On the first of December we headed south for another couple of months on the Alabama Gulf Coast near Foley at the same RV Park we have stayed in since we started this adventure, Escapees Rainbow Plantation.  Our plans were to spend the months of December and January there, although this time we would be staying on the same site the whole time.  As in the past, most of the time during December was spent relaxing in the campgrounds, although we did travel up to Wind Creek Casino in Atmore about once a week, whenever the weather turned wet.  It was also a time for maintenance and cleaning of the RV and truck which included treating the roof, cleaning the outside of the RV and truck, and cleaning all the cabinets inside the RV.  These activities would typically take no more than a couple of hours which left plenty of time to do just about nothing.

The only trip we took was to drive north to Birmingham for two nights over Christmas.  This was a strange Christmas as it is the first without any of our family.  Mark and William had come for Thanksgiving, so it was just the two of us, Kal’s Dad, along with Phil and his family.  We showed up early Christmas morning and we opened up our presents with everyone, after which Phil and his family left to visit Shannon’s family for the day.  This left us with Kal’s dad for the day.  After all of the Christmases over the years with a house full of family, it was certainly strange to be spending quiet time with just the three of us.  I will give Phil credit though, he left us with a very nice Christmas dinner of ham, green bean casserole, jello salad, salad, and rolls that we all enjoyed.  After lunch, Kal’s Dad tried to stay awake in his chair while the two of us kept quiet to let him sleep.  Normally we would watch sports on TV during the day on Christmas, however, Dennis kept drifting off leaving the TV on random channels.  We spent time watching cartoons, news shows, and real life court dramas before he finally found a basketball game hours later!  A very different Christmas.  After spending the day there we drove back to Foley the next day.