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Friday, June 24, 2016

WE GOT THE RHYTHM


We should have after visiting New Orleans, Memphis & Nashville. But then both of us are a bit of a lost cause when it comes to music.

Our overnight bayou is not far from the big smoke – New Orleans. A helpful lady at one of the Welcome Centre has suggested we park in Algiers and catch the ferry across to the city. This was after we ignored her suggestion of a camping ground! Amazingly we find a great little parking area with a little man in a box (so we have to pay – but we have a guard), we leave GR2 and catch the ferry over the river. Great little ferry ride for $2 each, and its takes us right in to the city centre. We spend hours wandering around the city – the French Quarter with the gorgeous wrought iron railings draped with flowers, the gorgeous St Louis Cathedral, the Croissant P’Or Patisserie (we just had to stop as it had started to bucket down! And of course indulge), and the markets. Everywhere there were musicians set up on street corners playing awesome jazz. The least exciting part was the touristy section of Bourbon St with an overabundance of tacky bars. This was where most of the tourists were congregated. Lunch we tried a local meal – Muffuletta (fancy name for a sandwich with meat, cheese & olives). John didn’t want to risk something too hot!! In the afternoon we purchased a Trolley bus pass and road the trolleys. Especially enjoyed the ride through the Garden District with all its magnificent homes. We had been toying with the idea of going on the Paddle steamer, but by now feel a bit pooped & really want to check GR2. Our guard will be gone by now & this city has a terrible reputation. On the ferry we meet a local lady who shares her experiences of Katrina (very interesting as we had looked through an exhibit about Katrina in the museum) & she said “That paddle steamer is sooo boring!”. Think we got a reprieve there. Then she suggests a great place to eat back in the city. It is rather tempting to go back, but in the end we decide to move GR2 over the river embankment & camp there for the night. Awesome spot to sit and watch the city & all the ships going by. This must be the best camp spot in New Orleans – and free!!

In the morning we decide to hit the road. It is hot & muggy and we can’t be bothered going back over to the city. So after a walk along the embankment we are off. Onto the motorway system & through the city in no time at all. Then we head north on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway – 23.8miles of bridge with rain most of the way. Finally back on the back roads. We hear a siren – “What now”. The local policeman has pulled us over for a chat. He even gives us a no plate for our rather large collection. Finally in to Baton Rouge, right to the centre to see the Capitol Building. We see it through rain. It is too late to go in. This city is pretty rundown, so we drive on, finally reaching the cute town of St Francisville where we camp at the boat ramp for the night. As it is Saturday night there are lots of boaties coming & going and John chats to most of them. One guy who arrives with his boat has a gun in his holster – It is for shooting snakes. He is going to catch frogs (to eat) & play with ‘gators!!

In the morning we explore the lovely township before heading to a nearby plantation. I have picked out one of the many to visit – mainly using the criteria of how close it is to our route & its opening hours. So we head in to Rosedown Plantation. Wander the grounds (which would have been fabulous when they still had their 450 slaves!) & had a tour of the house. One stunning fact that stuck in my mind was: those poor slaves worked 18 hours a day, 6 days a week! While the owners lived in luxury.

Time to head north. We are going to follow the Natchez Trace Parkway – a road that is a National Park – 444 miles long and not much wider than the road. But first we visit Natchez itself. As I am starving we stop at the Pig Out Inn for some awesome ribs (dry rubbed & smoked) with some great smoked baked beans. Delicious. Oh and I do so love the iced sweet tea to go with it. (We did share one meal) Then to make up for that we do the walking tour of town. But it is hot, hot, hot.

Finally on to the Trace Parkway. It is like driving through a green tunnel with an archway of trees above you. We stop for the night in one of their free camping areas. Sadly too hot for a fire. In the morning we continue through our green tunnel, but decide to detour out to visit Jackson – capitol of this State. The road in is very roly poly, and shops etc are empty & rundown. First we head to the museum. It’s closed, so we continue to the Capitol Building & we are in time for a free tour. As we are the only tourists we have a great chance to chat to our guide. Anyway, back out of town & onto the Trace. But before long John is finding he is getting sleepy. Must be tunnel vision!! So we leave the Trace again to follow back roads. At Sardis Dam we stop for a swim before heading around the lake to find a spot right on the beach for the night.

This morning we arrive in Memphis. In fact we roll in near Gracelands, so that is our first stop. Naturally we do the tour of the house. Can’t believe the hordes of visitors. To start with we are all squashed up together, but it is not long before we all thin out. It turns out to be an awesome visit. Then of course all the shops where you can buy all things Elvis – we didn’t splurge! Back to GR2 we decide to head in to the city centre to explore (after picking up more cheap diesel – John does so love his Gasbuddy app). On the way in we see The Sun Studio (we have purchased tickets for this tour) so we change our plans & stop. Deserted looking, rundown area – hope GR2 will be OK. Head in for our tour – again pretty good as the girl taking the tour is soo enthusiastic. This is where Elvis, Jonny Cash, ….. and many others first started.

Well down to the river front - & no we can’t camp there like we were told. Oh well – we walk in to Beale St (the famous music hub) to explore. Again there is music playing, even though it is mid afternoon, & there are neon lights, souvenir shops & restaurant/bars everywhere. Plenty of aging tourists too. Naturally I am starving, so we stop. This will be lunch/dinner, so we don’t share. John has the catfish & of course I have the ribs. Yummo. Although John did comment that after eating all those ribs, mine can no longer be seen!

We head across the border in to Arkansas to find a lakeside spot for the night. We did try the Ski Club first, but the sign about shooting first & asking questions later deterred us. We went to our ever favorite boat ramp instead. Here John had a good chat with a local who was fishing with his bow & arrows! Now that would be hard.

Arkansas was just a quick visit. Then back in to Mississippi to pop in to Tupelo (where Elvis was born – not that we bothered with that – John went to the car museum instead. Before picking up The Trace again.  Yay our camp site is in the forest and so much cooler we can even have a fire in our fire ring! The final section heads in to Nashville. Our last big music destination. And boy this is a big vibrant city. Some amazing estates/homes – and no we didn’t see either Nicole or Keith! But we did stop at the very famous diner just out of town. We lucked on it as we passed – there were long queues! & we actually waited. Again share a meal of local Southern food starting with biscuits (which we would call scones) then fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, creamed corn…..

It is getting late by the time we get to the city centre, so too late for a tour at the Capitol Building, so we do our own. Then drive around town before deciding to park & explore on foot. Of course there are heaps of bars & restaurants all with musicians playing & singing. And tourists everywhere. After a good gander & stopping to listen in a few bars we decide this isn’t really our scene and we hit the road.  Find a nice quiet spot beside a river for the night. Our last side trip in Tennessee is to the Jack Daniels Distillery in a tiny town called Lynchburg. The free tour is amazing – very informative. And no we didn’t buy any! Time to head in to Alabama… 

 See y’all soon.

 

WE GOT THE RHYTHM - PHOTOS

Crossing on the ferry in to New Orleans





Walking the streets of New Orleans

A little music on the side

Waiting to catch a trolley

One of the many gorgeous homes in upmarket New Orleans

Sunset from our spot on the river overlooking New Orleans

We can even hear the music from the shore

In the morning - look who goes by

No speeding tickets for us!!

Rosedown Plantation

The original Trace - it really is a track used many years ago

Capitol Building in Jackson



Tupelo trees on the Trace

Gracelands - hard to get a photo without crowds

Sun Studio

Inside a pub in Beale St

Loveland cafe - bear Nashville - we had already eaten 5 bisciuts - this was one meal

Nashville - my new boots!!!

Music music music

Nashville

Friday, June 17, 2016

BIG BEND TO THE BAYOU


Soon after leaving New Mexico we turn off the main road, and head south on to the back roads that we so prefer. It’s pretty flat, rather as expected. There is even some wildlife. We spot a few pronghorn deer & a coyote eyeing us from the side of the road. And of course there is gold, black gold - lots of oil wells everywhere. The road is very quiet until we come to a pipeline in the process of being put across the State – truckload after truckload of huge pipes are rolling in. Finally it gets hillier & we stop at McDonald Observatory before we finally reach Fort Davis Historic Park. Stop and explore this old army outpost. Most is left in its original state, with only small parts restored – giving a great idea how it all worked. It was a hard life here defending the road & settlers from marauding Indians who were trying to hang on to their land.

 Then it is on in to the desert. We are heading south on a back road that doesn’t show on our maps – but we have been assured that it is there. So it is – but pretty rough as it goes through private land. The hilly landscape is amazing. When we are nearly at Ruidosa (our destination) we see signs pointing to Chianti Hot Springs – and think “That sounds nice” and off we go. What are we asked – “Do you have a reservation!” Golly out here! It is rather exorbitant to camp here so we prepare to leave. Fortunately the owner decides to halve the price so we stay. And it is nice to soak in their 10,000 year old hot water (apparently!) in the evening and again the next morning.

Finally drag ourselves out of the hot tub & head on down to the Rio Grande that borders Mexico. It is a tad underwhelming – a sliver of muddy water that snakes around an awful lot. So narrow the Mexicans could walk across it easily!!! But the scenery starts to improve dramatically as we reach Big Bend Ranch State Park (not Big Bend National Park). Our paperwork touts it as the most beautiful road in USA – and it is amazing – but maybe not quite to that level. It certainly is a rollercoaster drive. We stop and do a few of the hikes. First to explore the Hoodoos on the river’s edge & then to walk through the closed canyon. More of a scramble really as I have to slither down rocky slopes – interesting getting back up. We turn back when 2 young guys tell us they couldn’t make it. How the heck could I!! Plus it is stinking hot – what crazy people come here in summer!! On past the resort town of Lajitas (nearly deserted) & the ghost town of Terlinger before stopping at Study Butte. We have decided to splash out literally and book a raft trip through the Elena Canyon. Sadly it is not to be – the water is too high & slow for the trip to be done in one day – so only half day slow trips are going. Oh well we head on in to Big Bend National Park. We have no bookings for camp spots so we will have to wing it.

But first we head to Elena Canyon to do the walk. Again it is a no go. We can only gaze at it from across the swirling muddy water. It looks amazing. Then off to Cottonwood campground for the night. Surprisingly it is nearly empty. A quiet, but very hot night. There is lots of bird spotting to be done & John even spies a very bright red snake.

Bright & early we head off to explore the Ross Maxwell Scenic Route through the park – stopping to do a few short walks. The heat would be a killer for the long ones. Particularly enjoy the one to a dry waterfall – John tries to climb it & gets stuck! “Help Lynda!” Finally head in to the Chiso Mountains. No big motorhomes are allowed – but the drive is a piece of cake for GR2. First thing we do is bag a camp spot as the previous night it was full. Then head off on more walks – by the time we return I am hot, hungry & grumpy. But John talks me in to the biggey about 8 km – to the Window. We set off late & it is all downhill. Fabulous at the window. Thank goodness it is cool by the time we come back & really it is a piece of cake. And bonus, bonus our dinner is cooked for us - great tacos on the BBQ courtesy of a Mexican guy on a motorbike who couldn’t find a campspot & John suggests that he share ours.

Another early start after a lovely cool night – up here in the mountains it is so much cooler. Sadly we see no bears or mountain lions – but someone reported a bear sighting last night. Well back down the mountain & off to explore more of the park. By the time we get to the Hot Springs that are right on the Rio Grande it is over 30deg & sitting in hot murky water doesn’t appeal at all. Because the river has been high the mud has got in to the pool. On a cold day this pool would be awesome.

 John decides he fancies doing a few of the dirt roads, so after a short section of the river road we head along the Iron Ore Track – a 26 mile track that takes 3 hours. I don’t think it was worth it – it was pretty rough. And John’s face looked a bit grim a few times, but he said he enjoyed it. I beg to differ!

Finally out of the park and it is flat, flat, flat. And hot too. So we decide to drive on in to the sunset .Pull over at a free spot in a tiny town called Langtry. Thank you to our Free camps app. Again an early start. Lots of long flat roads & lots of Border Patrol cars. We have a few border checks to stop at too. Mexico is merely a stone’s throw away. We pass more oil rigs – 100’s of them. Then as we get closer to waterways, lots pecan trees, sorghum, corn & cotton. Finally we reach the city of Corpus Christi and cross the huge bridge out to Padre Island – our destination for the night. We carry on until the road reaches the sand and head on along the beach. It goes for miles & we can camp anywhere we want. Awesome! We find our own piece of beachside paradise.

The next day is perfect for swimming. We wear our togs all day. John is now as brown as a berry. We stay another night, but in the morning wake to storm clouds. It really is time to leave what has quickly become one of our favorite camp spots.

Track back along the beach and to Mustang Island, finally catching the ferry back to the mainland. It is pretty flat with huge waterways & then crops – mainly lots of rice. As we carry along the back roads we realize that there is actually a heck of a lot more water than there should be, and sure enough we get to the floods. Roads are closed & huge detours are in place. Oh well it all adds to the excitement. John manages to score a Border Control cap from the policeman who gives us directions.

 Finally after the long route we reach the outskirts of Houston & our destination for the afternoon –The NASA Space Station. Fortunately it is open until 7pm as we have arrived much later than planned. What can I say? It is rather like a theme park, but we certainly enjoyed it (the ones we visited in French Guiana & Cape Canaveral were better) Anyway it is pretty late by the time we leave so we decide to head to the Island of Galveston & splurge out on dinner (our last chance in Texas). The waterfront is pretty touristy with even a pier amusement park. By the time we  finish dinner it is late, so we cross over to Bolivar Island on the ferry in the dark  & head straight to the beach where we can camp (free of course). In the morning we can see that it isn’t such a pretty beach – but can watch all the huge ships heading in to port.

On the road again. This time passing lots of interesting real estate. Heaps of houses built up high on stilts – probably the new building code after Katrina. Then back inland and on in to Louisiana. We are heading in to bayou country. Think hot and steamy. First stop is the old city of Lafayette. It is pretty tired and dead, but has some gorgeous old buildings. We even try out some freshly made boudin (hot spicy sausage.) A bit hot for John. Decide to follow the back roads, and what a great decision. There is town after town of old villages full of glorious old homes & heaps of plantation estates – magnificent stuff. All the trees are draped in Spanish moss. It is awesome.

 It is also getting late so we scan our maps and decide to head towards a bayou. We luck out when we find the lovely Bayou Gauche and are told we can camp at the boat ramp. There is no room anywhere else as there are little cottages that have spread over to the waterside of the road with their own jetties or beach shacks. We are relieved to find room at the boat ramp. Boy but it is a hot steamy night. (the temperature) And those bugs! This is one place we will not be staying another night! 

See y’all.

 

 

 

BIG BEND TO THE BAYOU - PHOTOS

The new pipeline


McDonald Observatory

Fort Davies

Our back road

The hot tub at Chianti Hot Pools

Big Bend Ranch State Park

The hoodoo's

Close Canyon


Exiting Closed Canyon


Add caption

Terlinga - ghost town

Our first dirt road in Big Bend

Gorgeous Elena Gorge

Camp spot in Cottonwood

Our scenic drive

Tuff Canyon

Burro Mesa Pouroff


Driving in to the Chiscos Basin



The Window from the easy hike


Close up of The Window - an amazing drop from it

Our Mexican friend


Rio Grande - Mexico so close

The hot pools - see how high the Rio Grande is!!



Our back road - Iron Ore Track

Last of Big Bend

Breakfast stop

Miles of road like this - Texas near the border with Mexico

Heading over the causeway & bridge to Padre Island




Padre Island

Our magic spot on Padre Island



Those black clouds in the morning convince us to leave

Lots of long causeways

Floods!! Change of route

The entry at NASA Houston

GR2 arriving at NASA

At NASA

The pier on Galveston Island

All the houses are up on very high stilts

Housing style (after Katrina)

Bolivar Island - way past the port

Lake Charles in Louisiana - looks like Auckland Harbour bridge

Gorgeous church in Lafayette

In the bayou at Lafayette

One of many lovely old Plantation homes - love the Spanish moss everywhere

River boats

Bayou Gauche

Driving through the village - Bayou Gauche

Our camp spot beside the bayou