We Make a
Living by What we Got, but we Make a Life by What we Give
Well! It was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to
you by your Children
“Never go on trips with anyone
you do not love.”
“We may run, walk, stumble,
drive, or fly, but let us never lost sight of the reason for the
journey, or miss a chance to see a rainbow on the way.”
I have never experienced anything more
loyal and loving than a dog... they are always there and they don't
judge you and are way too forgiving. Maybe one day we will all learn
If this is your first time here, you might want to start from the beginning of our fulltime RV Journey with our Past Blogs
Sunday April 1st 2007 April Fools Day!!
After a few days away from the camper, it's nice to be back to our little cabin on wheels. Back before the trip started, we had scheduled a four day vacation with some of our Best Friends and had to fly out of the country to meet up with them.
These are the type of friends that after you get back from a trip with them, you need a vacation just to recover. I think my sides are bruised from laughing so hard and it was great to catch up on the past few months being away from them.
The next few days back to our regular lives will be spent catching up on Voice-mails, hundreds of Emails and getting ready to move on to more fun and excitement on the road.
We plan on spending those few days with Cindy's sister and our daughter before shoving off and heading North. We figure the Northern states should be starting to come out of their thaw and the rate at which we travel, it should take us a few months to get up towards the Mid-West. Listening to the Radio the other day, we heard that this summer is one of those years where the Locust will be attacking the Mid-West States, so we're leery of what to expect.
After the El Nino weather pattern that caused last summer to be the hottest summer ever recorded, we're wondering what to expect for this summer? Hopefully the North West wont be plagued with 100 degree temperatures like last year and we wont be suffering all summer long. Maybe Alaska will come sooner than expected.
We can already feel the heat the South is usually plagued with once summer time rolls around. The past few days have been muggy and HOT. We don't really want to be stuck in high humidity if we can help it. That'll mean we'll have to be plugged into shore power to run the A/C through the night. So North is our compass setting for now. We've been trying to find a 12 volt fan that wont draw too much voltage so we can run a fan during the night to keep cool, but the past three RV dealerships we've stopped at have told us they're sold out. I guess we weren't the first to notice the heat wave.
Monday April 2nd 2007 The Sweat Lodge
Yesterday we experienced one of the coolest things yet! Cindy's sister had mentioned that a friend of hers was attending a local Indian Sweat Lodge and had asked if we wanted to come along to see what it was all about? Isn't that what this journey of ours is all about - seeing and experiencing new things? We both jumped at the chance and agreed to go.
The Lakota-Sioux Sweat Lodge is very spiritual and a cleansing process the tribes and its people used to rid their body of toxins and negative thoughts. In order to really feel the whole experience, we had to fast for 12 hours before hand and were to only drink water, if we had to eat, bananas or nuts would give the body the needed sustenance to make it through the awakening. You were also supposed to try and clear your head of negative thoughts and come in with an open mind. The fasting was going to be the hardest part of the entire thing - If you cant tell by the size of our plump bellies, we tend to never miss a meal!
Teresa picked up her friend Billy who has done these plenty times before building up to his Vision Quest. Teresa was a virgin to the sweat lodge experience like us, and we thought Billy would give us some more info on the 3 hour drive over to Lafayette.
He told us he would rather have us experience it with blind expectations. He told us some of the background of the Sweat Lodge and having lived in this area his entire life, told us stories of the surrounding areas and some great stories about growing up in New Orleans.
We got to the sight of the Lodge which was basically an Igloo shaped teepee that was made of large willow branches bent to form a very small hut. In the center of the Lodge is a small hole dug to hold the rocks. The ground on the bottom of the hut was bare dirt, which was a nice gooey consistency due to yesterdays rains. The first thing I thought was, "Once we cover that with the heavy blankets, Cindy is going to freak out!"
The height in the center was maybe 4' tall, and the entire circle was only 15' in diameter. I'm totally fine with confined places, but I know my wife, and this was going to be very hard for her.
We were introduced to the hosts and the other people who would be joining us in the lodge. There were a bunch of other people that were preparing for a Vision Quest which is a very spiritual journey in the Native American Indian culture. In order to go on the Vision Quest, you must attend a minimum of 4 Sweat Lodge Ceremonies to be eligible for the next step into spirituality. I felt honored to be allowed to share such an experience with these people.
Once the Lodge was covered with thick horse hair blankets, about 50 in all, we sat outside around the fire where the Lava Rocks had been heating since early this morning. Some had brought drums while others had various rattles to chant and bring the spirits closer to us. Now you have to remember, I was raised strict Catholic, so this is all new to me. I've always been completely open to new kinds of thinking and love to experience new things like this. The American Indian has been one of my favorite subjects to study and I was loving this chance to see what a real Sweat Lodge would be like.
After a few prayers together as a group and a quick explanation to what the rules were for us new comers (there were 5 of the 23 who had never done this before), one by one we all crawled into the small dark lodge.
Fitting 23 people into a place this small was a task in-itself. We all found our spot and the flap was closed, plunging us into utter blackness. I could not see the woman that was sitting only inches in front of me. A few opening prayers were started and the first of 14 Lava Rocks was dropped into the pit. At first I thought, "Ok, it's a little hot in here, why did they warn us so many times to make sure we didn't have any jewelry on?"
That's when they dumped the water on the glowing rocks! Steam and stinging heat came over you like a wave. I started to sweat like nothing I've ever experienced before and water was running off my bald head like I was in the shower. I felt bad for the people that were smoking previously to this, as you could feel the intense heat travel all the way to your lungs when you took a breath; sort of like drinking a steaming hot cup of tea. For me who has never smoked a day in my life, this felt good all the way down and opened up my air waves, but for a heavy smoker who might have blocked airways, I'm sure this searing heat probably stung a bit.
For the next hour, prayers were shared, thoughts were spoken aloud, and my body was cleansed of anything that might have been living inside. Immersed in the total darkness surrounded by such an intense heat, was a very surreal experience.
The only way I can really describe the heat and feeling of being in the Sweat Lodge, is to imagine yourself submersed in extremely hot water, your entire body; only you can hear clearly and still breath. You're sweating so bad, but it's a really good sweat, you can feel your body becoming cleaner as you sweat out any toxin that is using your body as a host.
I hate to say that Cindy and Teresa could only make it through the first round, but both being claustrophobic, this was a true test of their courage. It was amazing when you were sitting in the stinging heat (remember they kept adding Lava Rocks through the entire ceremony) that if you were to put your head closer to the ground, how much cooler it became. I had never been so happy to rest my face in cool mud and feel it soothe my burning skin.
I will admit that I couldn't stay in for the entire ceremony either. There are four parts of the ceremony, each representing the 4 points of the compass. After the third point, and 30 something rocks, my body felt like it was going to shut down. Billy was able to stay in the entire time and was actually the last one to leave the hut!!
In order to go on your Vision Quest, you have to stay in for the entire ceremony, and two of the girls that were sitting on each side of me were on their fourth ceremony. They couldn't leave if they wanted to complete the next level of their Quest and both were needing as much room as possible to lay down in the cool mud. I felt if I left, it would free up some room and ease the heat for them.
Crawling out into the early evening 80 degree air of the Bayou, it felt like I was entering into a Walk-in Cooler. The extreme temperature change almost gave me goose bumps. I sat down on a log beside the fire which still heated a few of the sacred stones they were still adding to the pit inside the hut, and was amazed at how clear my head felt.
My skin felt better than I have ever noticed and I could breath like I had just finished a marathon. This is something I know we will find again on our journey. Cindy even said she really would like to do it again, which just goes to show you - Facing your fears is the best way to get over them.
Thanks to Billy and Teresa for allowing us to share this experience with them. Thanks to the hosts who held the ceremony and if you ever have a chance to try one of these ceremonies, don't pass it up. On another note, I felt I should let my Mother and Father know that although I didn't attend church on Palm Sunday, I think I was closer to my God today than I have ever been in my short life.
Tuesday April 3rd 2007 Withdrawal & Crabbing
Do you ever wonder what it's like going through withdrawal? When you're jonesing to do something but cant - That's sort of what Cindy and I are going through right now. It's been a few weeks since we've been in our Kayaks and floating on the water. Southern Louisiana is surrounded by water and beautiful streams, and we just keep driving by looking at them, while jonesing to get out in the boats. So it feels like we're going through withdrawal and losing the calluses on our butts!
Yesterday the weather was crappy and we thought, lets go into town and check out the local outfitters to see where they would recommend to go paddling.
We've found that whenever we pull into a new town, the easiest way to find the best local hot spots, is to stop by the local outfitter, kayak or mountain biking shop, who can usually point you in the best direction.
We drove into the town of Covington and stopped at Compass Rose, they're more of a Dive Shop than a Kayak Shop, but they had a bunch of kayaks out front, which was enough to grab our attention.
Tina was working behind the counter and pulled out a map to show us where to go. She was nice enough to write down a few different spots and talked to us for a while as she sat explaining the local kayaking scene. Once again the Southern hospitality impressing us to no end.
With a page full of info, we headed down the street to Massey's Outfitters so Cindy could get a new pair of sandals. It's pretty bad when you blow out a pair of sandals in a few months....LOL
If you're ever in Southern Louisiana and need any outdoor gear, Massey's is the only place to find quality gear. Third generation native, Daniel Becnel was working the counter and was filled with local knowledge. He confirmed the spots Tina had told us about and even went one step further, he had us come over to his desk, loaded up Google Maps, and showed us the waterways on detailed Satellite Imagery! How's that for some hospitality?!
Daniel has traveled all over this world of ours, and hit a soft spot while talking with Cindy. When he said he's always followed his nose and stomach when it comes to travel, in other words, he's always looking for that next scrumptious meal, Cindy grilled him for the best places to eat. Daniel told us that after multiple trips around the Globe, Louisiana is one of the only states in the country that really has its own distinct flavor of food. Think about American cuisine; what have we really given the world of food as a country? Cheese Burgers, BBQ and Apple Pie, but not too much else?
Now in Louisiana, every restaurant has their own local favorites blending Creole, French, Cajun and American flavors into amazing dishes that leave you wanting more. If you come to Louisiana and only eat at Chain Restaurants, SHAME ON YOU!!
Leaving Massey's with a red hot credit card?! We headed towards Cane Bayou over in Lacombe. We thought about getting an RV spot in Fontainebleau State Park, but due to the Easter weekend and the fact that most of their RV slots are still under repair due to Hurricane Katrina, they were booked solid. We stopped for lunch at some little bar that seemed a little sketchy but was the only place open. When Cindy told the waitress her Macaroni was bad, the lady said "Thank God that was the last order!"
Don't judge all Dive Bars by a few of the bad ones. I guess you win some and you lose some.
Crabbing with Locals
We headed down a little dirt road that looked like a strong wind could flood it and make it impassable. It was this small road, almost a trail that headed out into the bayou. Canals were on each side and the fish were jumping like crazy.
Up in a lone tree sat a giant Bald Eagle looking for some dinner, but didn't pay too much attention to us. We passed these two guys standing on the edge of the road pulling on a string; as one of the guys netted something, Cindy was yelling to stop the truck. We got out to see what they had caught and started talking to them.
Matt Pyle and Chris Davis who work for the NRCS, were taking a break from their job of rebuilding the hurricane damaged area, to catch some Blue Crab for dinner.
Talk about catching some crab, these two had a pot full and were catching them as fast as they could pull in the string. On the end of the string was a raw chicken leg, when thrown into the water, the blue crab grab ahold. As one guy pulls in the string, the other nets them off the chicken. After you pull the crab off, you throw the chicken back in for more. Fishing....if you want to call it that?!
Within a few minutes of watching, they had Cindy pulling the string in and catching her first Blue Crab of our adventure. Never in my life did I think Cindy would be on the side of the road catching crab off a string.
These two guys were so nice; they talked with us for an hour about local fishing, asked questions about our journey and mentioned places they'd recommend to stop. Matt was from West Virginia and made us write down numerous spots that we shouldn't miss while in his home state.
There was also an Otter that lived on the bank across the canal that was keeping the two fisherman busy. This Otter was trying to steal the chicken off the line faster then the crab could. Cindy and I thought the Otter was so cute, but the two fisherman had other names for the little thief who was stealing their bait.
We thought the otter was huge at around 50lbs., but Chris said it was only average size and they can grow to 100lbs in these rich waters. He joked that he's been feeding it raw chicken for two years now as the two have been battling with each other over fishing territories.
Thanks guys for the fishing lesson and the great hospitality.
Wednesday April 4th 2007 The Bleaching of the Skin
When you're not fully hooked up to a sewer line, you still have to conserve your water usage as much as possible. Even though we're staying at Cindy's sisters house, we still have to move every few days to empty our Grey/Black Tanks, so we try to use as little water as possible like we do when we're on the road fulltime. We've found that using the Disposable Wet Wipes is a great way to get that shower fresh feel, without using up gallons of fresh water in the shower.
Last night Cindy had gone off to bed before me, and me being the ever considerate husband, I stumbled into the camper a little while later. I didn't want to crawl into bed with the days grime on me, so I was going to give myself a quick wipe down with the Wet Wipes. Our camper layout is such, that the bathroom splits the bedroom and the kitchen area and acts as a pass-thru room. I figured I could do this by the light of the Full Moon that was coming in through the windows, and wouldn't have to turn on a light and wake my beautiful sleeping wife.
I started by wiping my neck and face area down really good, making sure to get all the camp fire smell off of me. I got real good behind my ears, just like my Mom & Dad had taught me as a child.
I proceeded to wipe my arms, my shoulders, legs, and lastly my private areas. After a few minutes I felt shower fresh and had used no water what so ever; I brushed my teeth and crawled into bed.
It was at about this time that my skin started to tingle. I thought maybe it was just the feeling you get after you've gotten out of the shower and the cooler skin is hitting the warmer air. Nope, this was a burning tingle. As I laid there in bed, the tingle turned into a burning sensation and I thought, "This isn't right?"
I got out of bed and turned the light on, not really caring if I woke Cindy up at this point. That's when I realized that Cindy had purchased a bottle of Disinfecting Wipes with Bleach! She also had cleaned off the counter tops before going to bed and left the bottle right beside the Baby Wipes. By this point she was up and asking what was going on and why was my skin breaking out into hives?!
So you ask "What is the moral of the story?" Well, while I was in the shower scrubbing the bleach off my skin, wasting gallons of water and giving my 'Dear Wife' a good belly laugh - I thought maybe next time I wont be so considerate and I'll turn the light on.
Thursday April 5th 2007
It looks like Mother Nature has reared her nasty side and given us one last cold spell. One day we had our air conditioner running, the next night, we had to dig our little ceramic heater out of the storage bin!?! Reminds me of my favorite saying for the State of Michigan "The only State where you can get sun burnt and frostbit in the same day"
Kayaking is out of the question as the winds are whipping off the water something fierce. My Mother called me making sure we hadn't left the area telling me that tornadoes had been spotted from Texas all the way to Tennessee. Thank goodness our little Sunline is sitting safe in Cindy's sisters driveway.
When we were talking to Daniel over at Massey's Outfitters the other day, he told us about a Thursday night gig he liked to attend and asked if we'd like to join him.
We packed up the truck and unpacked the Kayaks off the roof rack. No need to draw any more attention then our big diesel already does on New Orleans' narrow streets. We headed over The Causeway, which is the longest bridge in the world at 24 miles in length and into downtown New Orleans. We had a few hours to kill, so we drove around the Garden District "Oohing" and "Ahhing" at the magnificent mansions that surround Tulane College. It was funny how some homes are so monstrous while some of the shot-gun style homes New Orleans is known for looked smaller than a compact car.
Back in High School, I thought I wanted to be an architect, I love different building styles and really enjoy putting my funky/eclectic ideas on paper, so I've always enjoyed looking at historical homes, studying the features that have withstood generations of remodeling and redesigning and seeing what withstands the true test of time.
I attended a 2 year Tech School getting my certificate in just one year, then when I found out I'd have to sit inside at a desk thinking these masterpieces up, I changed my mind and pursued my lucrative job in bartending.
My mom and dad weren't too happy, but hey, the bar life got us where we are today, and I still really enjoy looking at the different styles of building none-the-less.
We headed over to the Warehouse District of New Orleans, which is just what it sounds like, a bunch of warehouses, factories and industrial buildings that date back to the late 1800's. Back when New Orleans was a major port, this area was where all the ships would unload and store their goods. Now the historic warehouses are being turned into upscale condo's on the inside, while leaving the historic outside with their aged beauty. Very chic and I'm sure this area will be loaded with galleries and studios as the city rebuilds itself from the ground up.
The Ogden Museum was our nights destination. On Thursday nights, they have a 4 piece horn band that plays in the foyer, with real 'Big Easy' Jazz music filling the open floors of the art galleries above. We wandered around mingling with locals and checking out some fantastic Southern Art pieces. We ran into Daniel on the roof top patio and sat learning about the local buildings within eye sight.
It's always cool to find a local who knows the area and can elaborate on our many questions. With the Abita Brewery just across Lake Pontchartrain in Abita Springs, the local beer being served was better than I remembered it back in the Red Dog Saloon. What a way to enjoy an evening - Sitting on a roof top patio watching the sun set over the city of New Orleans while swilling down some fantastic local micro beer.
Cindy, who is the biggest flirt I know, was talking to a group of people who invited us to an after-hours get together at the Patrick F. Taylor Library. This structure was designed by the great American 19th century architect, Henry Hobson Richardson. One of only six libraries designed by Richardson in America, this library is also the only one located in the Southern part of the United States.
This architect influenced a generation of architects and laid the foundation for his successors, Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright and this library was the architect's last piece of work. We felt honored to be allowed in to this members only Grand Opening party. Loaded with character and woodwork that would make any designer drool, the place was draw-dropping beautiful. You walked in and just spun around looking at the massive gabled ceiling beams.
We sat talking with Libra Lagrone, the curator, about the years of hard work they have gone through to bring the building back to life. She told us stories of sitting 30' up on scaffolding sanding the beams by hand to uncover the paint and dust that they had been hidden under. What an amazing story and if you're ever in New Orleans, this masterpiece of Architecture should not be missed.
The Circle Bar - A Gem of a Dive Bar
After getting our fill of local art, we wandered over to this funky building located on the edge of a Round-About. I'm sure at one time, this 3 story building fit right in, but now it sticks out like a sore thumb with massive new structures built up all around it. It's one of those places that you're naturally drawn to just because it looks so out of place. I honestly cant believe it's withstood all the havoc this city has endured over the years. Looking at the roof, we commented how the bow in the center was a good 2 feet lower than the edges!
We walked into the Circle Bar, and instantly said "This is our kinda bar!" Think grandma's attic meets the local thrift store. With hand painted murals still visible on the crumbling plaster walls, odd angles that don't even seem possible and a huge living room where live local acts play nightly; this place was oozing character.
We slid up to the bar and met Leo the bartender, a local guy that was covering for his girlfriend!??! Let me explain, we asked Leo how long he had been working here and he said "I don't work here, my girlfriend is the bartender and she needed the night off, so I covered for her." Only in New Orleans!! Leo shared some travel stories of past trips and gave us some tips on different spots that shouldn't be missed when we head out West.
The rest of the night gets a little fuzzy as we met a few local guys that had rode their bicycles over to the Circle Bar and called this place home. We shared plenty of stories and laughed till our sides hurt. I'm starting to think that the more we travel, the more we find this big ol' country of ours is smaller and smaller than we think.
Every where we go, whether its some small island in Florida, or the city known as The Big Easy, good friends are just a Dive Bar away.
Easter Sunday in Louisiana
Easter is a great holiday! It's one of those holidays where you don't have to buy presents for everyone, you're coming off of the last 40 days of starving yourself while you gave up your favorite foods during Lent, and one of those rare holidays when there isn't any major sports on television, so you can spend more quality time with family.
Our ritual while we lived in Michigan was to gather at one of our relatives house, usually my Mom & Dad's or my Sisters, and eat and drink till we passed out in a food coma. This year wasn't any different, only there was no Turkey in sight, no baked pies or mashed potatoes to fill the gullet; you see here in Louisiana they boil and season everything.
You pass by any market and the sign proudly proclaims they have Boiled Crawfish, Boiled Shrimp, Boiled this or Boiled that. One place even was advertising Boiled Bugs?!?
Teresa, Cindy's sister has twin daughters, one LOVES Crawfish while the other HATES crawfish. We gathered around the kitchen table which was covered in newspaper, where 15lbs of fresh boiled crawfish, 5 lbs of humongous boiled shrimp, boiled potatoes and even a pot of boiled mushrooms were laid out, and got lessons from a young girl that could rip the head off a crawfish and suck out the spicy juice faster then I could ever imagine.
It was hysterical while our daughter Donielle, who normally sticks to her meat and potatoes couldn't be shown up by these two young girls. Watching her try to peel shrimp, work the tail out of these crawfish and work up the courage to suck the juice out of the head of her first crawfish was something I'll never forget. She'd kill me if I was to post the picture I took of her face after she got a mouthful of that spicy Crawfish taste (Think of a face you'd make after sucking on a lemonhead...HA!...HA!)
With bellies full, we all headed outside for a day of fun in the yard. The girls had an Easter Egg Hunt, searching for the eggs we had decorated on Friday. We played soccer and numerous games of P.I.G. on the basketball hoop. By the end of the afternoon, us adults were hobbling around like a bunch of senior citizens in a nursing home after the kids had worked us out all afternoon.
It was great to share a whole day with the family just hanging out a goofing off. I hope everyone else had an enjoyable Easter too!
Tuesday April 10th 2007 Moving on to Bayou & Cajun Country
Yesterday we said our goodbyes to the family, thanked them for their amazing hospitality and drove across the state buzzing through small towns scattered along Cajun Country. We've been trying to find a restaurant comparable to Prejean's.
Coming home from the Sweat Lodge, Billy had recommended a local place known around the world for it's Louisiana cuisine and since that amazing night, we haven't been able to get the taste out of our minds.
Imagine two grown adults licking the plate to try and scrape up every last morsel of food. We keep asking people if restaurants they recommend are comparable to this well known place, and everyone will just roll their eyes saying "Nothing's comparable to Prejean's." But we don't stop looking...Ha!..Ha!
We found a little campground only a few miles from Avery Island which was our destination. Cindy called the KOC Campground and after talking to the guy on the phone, she laughed saying "We have to go there, that guy was hysterical."
We pulled in to the quaint little campground, not too quaint, at 52 acres with it's own 8 acre pond, and after talking with Mildred and Charlie, Cindy came out of the office with a handful of brochures saying, "I think we might be here for more than one day."
Mildred and Charlie, the owners of this two year old RV Park had given her a few suggestions on things to do while in this area and being as today is pouring rain, I think we'll be here for the rest of the week. It's great when Campground hosts are outgoing and offer suggestions for local sights rather than just take your money and point you in the direction of your slip.
Avery Island & The Jungle Gardens
After spending most of the day listening to the rain pound on the roof of the camper; the thunder and lightening subsided enough that we headed over to the Island to see if we could see the jungle gardens before it got dark. The KOC Campground is only 6 miles from Avery Island so if the weather turned sour again, we could be back in a few minutes.
Now Avery Island isn't your typical island. There isn't water all around it like the tropical island you have pictured in your head. Avery Island is actually a huge dome of rock salt, three miles long and two and a half miles wide. To view it from the road that leads to it's entrance, it just looks like a large hill surrounded by marsh land and sugar cane fields.
It was created by the upwelling of ancient
evaporite (salt) deposits that exist beneath the
Mississippi River Delta region. These upwellings are known as "salt
domes" and Avery island is one of five salt dome islands that rise above
the flat Louisiana Gulf coast.
Being as the weather was so crappy, we really had all 250 acres of the Jungle Gardens to ourselves. We both kept joking with each other that after a month in Florida, where we couldn't spot an alligator to save our lives, we'd be lucky to see one here in the Bayou. But one minute in the Gardens and we had already seen dozens. Most were little guys, 3-4 footers that were just hanging out on the banks of the ponds trying to absorb some of the setting sun that was starting to peek through the clouds, but hey, beggars cant be choosers.
I spotted a fat little guy sitting on the bank and jumped out of the truck to try and get a little closer to him. Cindy was stalking up behind it when all of a sudden it lunged at me opening it mouth showing me some razor sharp teeth. We both caught our breath and laughed that one off. Every time one would jump at me, Cindy would push me towards it and run the other way. After the third time, I was ready to tie a chicken breast to her foot and leave her out there.
The Jungle Gardens are an amazing sight to see and were made by Ned McIlhenny, one of the founders sons of the Tabasco Company that owns the island. The Tabasco Bottling Facility is located on the island and Avery Island is home to my favorite Hot Sauce. We planned on touring the facility tomorrow, as it was too late in the afternoon for a tour which is why we were in the Gardens. The gardens have dozens of species of trees from around the world, it holds the most complete collection of Camellia plants on Earth, and has some species of trees that have become extinct in their native land, yet are thriving in the Louisiana climate.
The Jungle Gardens are home to one of the oldest Buddha's to ever reach American soil.
The Chinese Garden with it's seven hills surrounding the Buddha, is amazing to wander around and absorb some of the beauty. The Buddha itself is said to have been looted from a Chinese Temple where it had been placed during the Tsung Dynasty between the years of 960 and 1127 A.D.
After the fall of the empire, the Buddha had been brought to the United States by a Chinese General and was to be sold to a museum in New York. Before a deal had been made, the general had been captured and beheaded and the Buddha was sold to a member of the McIlhenny family. Here it sits displayed like it would have been in China surrounded by native plants and thick Bamboo gardens.
Ned McIlhenny, son to the founder of Tabasco Hot Sauce, heard the birds were on the endangered species list and studied how they nested in the wild. With seven young birds he had captured, he built nests in a man made lagoon on the islands secluded habitat. After the first few years, the birds kept returning to breed and raise their young on the Islands protected habitat. This went on for generations and with the birds now protected, their numbers reach into the 100,000's with the same nesting grounds being one of the largest homes for the rebounding species.
On the self-guided tour, we saw Nutria, White Tail Deer, Alligators, Snakes, and more Snowy Egrets than I could count. For the few dollars it cost to enter, this was well worth the photographs and memories we'll keep for years to come.
Wednesday April 11th Tabasco and Champagne's Swamp Tour
The weather was beautiful today as the storms had moved away from the Bayou. We were up early and heading over to Avery Island to tour the Tabasco Bottling Facility.
There isn't a meal I eat without my favorite hot sauce on the table, so I was excited to take the tour. That was until we entered the facility, exiting in 20 minutes flat?!?
The tour consisted of a 10 minute long movie that explained some of the history of the McIlhenny family, then promptly ended with you walking along a hallway with glass windows between you and the bottling machines?
Cindy and I have done numerous Brewery Tours around North America and after the Worlds Largest Brewery and Laboratory-like conditions of the Coors facility in Golden Colorado, the hospitality and thorough tour of the Oldest Brewery in North America, the Molson Facility in Toronto, and then the small historic Yuengling Brewery, the oldest in the United States, the Tabasco tour left a little to be desired. It was free and I'm not too picky, so who cares I guess you could say, but I was expecting a little more than a 10 minute tour.
Don't make a special trip just for the Facility Tour, but if you're in the area, don't miss the Jungle Gardens! I guess they're a trade off and if you're coming for one, you might as well do the other.
I was able to buy a bottle of Tabasco Habanero which is my favorite sauce of all, but hard to find in stores. So all in all it was a successful trip. I wanted to go back into the Jungle Gardens to spot more Alligator, but Cindy reminded me we were going on the Swamp Tour this afternoon, so we just headed toward Lake Martin and the Bayou Country.
We had made arrangements with Bryan Champagne to take one of his boat rides around Lake Martin over in Breaux Bridge Parrish. We wanted to see some ancient Cypress Trees and these monstrous alligators Southern Louisiana is known for. Bryan said he'd make sure we see something that we could put on the website, and he gave us way more than we bargained for.
First let me tell you about Bryan Champagne's boat. If you've ever gone out in a boat and worried about scraping bottom or hitting any logs in the water, then you should go for a ride with Mr. Champagne on one of his swamp tours.
The first few times we hit a log floating in the water, I thought Cindy was going to jump out of her seat. He'd pull right up to a 10' alligator that'd be sleeping on a log and as the alligator would splash into the water, he'd motor right over the floating log looking for another one.
Think bumper boats in the bayou. I joked with him about how long his motors and props must last, but he came back in his thick Cajun accent "This motor is only 2 days old. I'm breaking it in right now!" As he told me this, the motor was jumping out of the water while we crossed a good sized obstacle we had just bumped over.
For the next 2.5 hours we were treated to one of the best guided tours I've ever been on. Bryan has lived on these waters his entire life and can answer any question we could throw at him. If I asked what this certain bird was, the boat was turned towards the birds location and we were taught everything he knew of each species we came across. He showed us alligators, turtles, numerous birds, large catfish, nutria and we even had the amazing chance to sit under a huge Barred Owl while he taught us of it's hunting and breeding habits.
Don't think that this swamp tour is only for the young adventure seekers either. The boat held 12 and the ages ranged from 6 to one exceptional gentleman who was 92 years young!!
Everyone on the boat learned something and the teens were just as excited as us adults were. How could you not be excited when Bryan says "Want to go catch an Alligator?" and seconds later he yells "Watch your head" as he's bulldozing through some dead brush with the nose of the boat. As baby alligators scurry across the water, he reaches over the side and grabs one with his bare hand.
I'm not sure if you could say he grabbed it, or it grabbed ahold of his finger and he brought it into the boat with it attached to his digit. We all handled the little guy that was content with the petting and excited hands holding him with kid like gloves. Brain showed us that the teeth aren't sharp enough at this young age to break the skin yet, but they still have a strong bite on them for being so small. One of the other guys on the boat was brave enough to let him dangle from his finger before we plopped him back in the swamp and headed off to another sighting.
Parts of the swamp are covered in a layer of vegetation that floats on the surface like the thick green shag carpet you had in your dorm room bag in college.
This gives the illusion that you're floating across a manicured lawn surrounded by ancient Cypress and Topulo trees draped in Spanish moss. The largest Cypress tree in the flooded forest, with it's deep moss covered knees, is said to be over 1000 years old. This giant is 16 feet wide and 65 feet in diameter!! With snakes, dragon flies, alligators, Barred Owls, Snowy Egrets and numerous birds all circling around us, floating in the swamp made you realize how little us humans mean to this Earth, and how much damage we're doing to it with our massive amounts of selfish consumption.
Bryan Champagne's Swamp Tour is reason enough to head to these parts of Southern Louisiana.
For so many who think of this state and only imagine Mardi-Gras and Bourbon Street, venture into the Bayou to see what else it has to offer. The people are more genuine, the food is more authentic, and the sights are much better than the beads, boobs and daiquiri bars of New Orleans. Not that those 3 things aren't fun enough, but there is soo much more this state has to offer.
Make sure to check out our full gallery of the swap tour!
You wont be disappointed!
Frozen Ice in the Bayou
Driving over to Lake Martin, we passed a sign that said 'Extreme Frozen Ice' that was in front of a little cabin looking building.
I looked at Cindy and said, "As apposed to the other kind of ice?" We both laughed and didn't think anything of it. After Champagne's Swamp Tour, I thought I would stop and take a picture for the website. Cindy said, "Hey, it's a Daiquiri Bar!" and was out of the truck before I could park it.
It's 5 O'clock somewhere!!
The owner Ed, walked out on the front porch and said "You must be from out of town, Aint cha' never seen a drive through bar before?" I said, "Yep, seen them all over, but I've never seen anything other than frozen ice."
He laughed and stuck his hand out introducing himself and invited us in. We walked into a one room bar with a pool table and a few stools, one customer (Jason) and Ed's wife Michelle serving drinks behind the bar and running the drive-thru window. We all introduced ourselves and proceeded to get to know one another. Turns out, Ed & Michelle are Cindy and I if we would have been raised in Southern Louisiana. Small town bar owners who go out of their way to help there neighbors and have fun doing it.
We sat in this little roadside bar for the remainder of the evening shooting pool, swilling down cold Coors Lights, sharing stories of good times and eating Cracklin. "What is Cracklin" you ask? Yeah, I had to have it explained to me also. Basically it's home made Pork Rinds that Michelle makes in-house. Good stuff too!!
We had walked in the door at 4:30 in the afternoon and around 9:30pm we asked what time do you all close? Michelle looked at me with a big smile and said "We all close at 6pm, but we've been havin' so much fun with y'all, that we just shut the OPEN sign off and been hangin' out!"
That's when you know you've found good people!! We laughed a few more times before we finally excused ourselves and called it a night. What started as a Joke, turned out to be a great night with new friends.
Luckily Jason, Ed and Michelle have a sense of humor as some might think this little bald, smart ass, Yankee needs his ass whipped. Jason said he thought about it when I first walked in, but after we shared a few drinks, he just laughed it off, besides, we were friends now.
We're going to stay for a few more days as there's a Cajun Hot Sauce Festival in Lafayette this weekend with Billy Currington and Percy Sledge performing.
Thursday April 12th 2007 Randol's and Good Cajun Music
Mildred has become our new tour guide for the local attractions. We went up to the office at the KOC Campground to ask her where she would recommend we could grab a bite to eat and enjoy some local music? She pointed us in the direction of Lafayette and told us to hit Randol's.
Apparently Randol's is the place to hang out and listen to authentic Cajun music. The dance floor is the size of most small bars, and filled with people dancing to this contagious music. It's impossible to listen to this stuff without tapping your foot, clapping your hands and wanting to get on that dance floor.
Cindy and I sat watching for a few hours just enthralled with the foot work of the locals dancing, while the band Hubert Maitre, kept the place jumping till that dreaded last call. We sat there until the place closed talking with Hubert and a few of the local dancers about Cajun Music and the best places to hear this new found favorite of ours. They all agreed to check out the festival tomorrow for a great time.
Friday April 13th 2007 Cajun Hot Sauce Festival & Jaryd Lane
I guess we started our Friday the 13th off right! We had the awning rolled out to keep the morning sun off the side of the camper. It tends to heat things up quickly if we let the sun just beat down on the side all morning. I noticed the wind was picking up and just as I announced to Cindy that I was headed out to roll the awning up, a gust of wind came blowing by and flipped it up onto our roof!
Now I know why every RV place we've been in has the awning tie-downs for sale right up at the front door! Luckily for us, the Campground Maintenance guy, an extremely nice man I might add, was driving by on his golf cart.
With him and Cindy on each end, I was able to straighten the metal back with the help from a pair of pliers. We got it rolled up before the winds could send it flying down the campground again and hopefully the next time we need to roll it out, I should be able to bend it into submission. I guess you learn something new every day. Awning tie-downs are on our list of things to purchase.
Cajun Hot Sauce Festival & Some More Great Music
We headed over to the SugArena for the Cajun Hot Sauce Festival where Billy Currington was going to be playing live. Cindy and I both love seeing live acts and small town fairs are usually the best place to see them. I'd pass up a major show in a large setting to see a smaller act in a quaint little theater any day.
We talked with Tim, the organizer of this event and got the scoop on the weekends festivities. The arena is a Rodeo competition area and has a dirt floor which took a few minutes to get used to as I was walking in flip-flops. (Mental Note, Dont wear flip-flops to an outdoor festival that has dirt floors!)
Within minutes the dark brown sugary dirt was caked between my toes and made me feel like a kid again. Cindy and I both laughed looking at our feet thinking cowboy boots would have been a better choice of footwear for the night. But dirty feet is a price to pay for fantastic music in a nice little setting.
It's rare when you hear an opening band that is better then the main act. Not that Billy Currington sounded bad, its just that Jaryd Lane sounded that good.
Jaryd is a local up and coming country singer that lives right in the Lafayette area. His music sounds sweet and twangy just the way I like it, and Cindy couldn't take her eyes of this young studs good looks while he jammed on the stage. The first ten rows were filled with screaming women and the few thousand people dancing to his guitar licks were loving this local stars new hits. The funniest part was, I had just heard his newest single, San Antone, on the radio a few days before and told Cindy I wanted to buy this CD.
Between acts, Cindy and I talked with him for a few minutes and exchanged business cards. Even though he had hundreds of screaming fans wanting autographs and a chance to get a picture before Hollywood gets ahold of him, he took the time to sit and talk with the two of us and even gave us a copy of his newest CD to listen to while on the road. If you like Country music, check out Jaryd Lane. His version of the ballad Baton Rouge, is one of the best songs I've ever heard sung and his newest hit single, God Bless the Country Girl, is country music at its best!
Billy Currington put on a great show, but I wasn't to thrilled to fight with the hundreds of women trying to get this young hunks attention. We wandered around sipping on some adult beverages until Billy's bus pulled out of the fair grounds and the women calmed down a little.
That was until Jamie Bergeron took the stage. We had been hearing about this guy and his style of Kickin' Cajun music as he likes to call it, all week long from the locals. With a kid that couldn't have been any older then 5 or 6, yet could tap his little cowboy boots and pull on that miniature accordion like the larger version jamming beside him; this band blew the roof off the arena when they took the stage.
Seeing this kid play on the stage like it wasn't a big deal, you can only imagine how much trouble his parents will have on their hands once he learns to use this to his advantage. We're talking Chick Magnet by the age of 10!
Another great night in Southern Louisiana and I'm starting to wonder if Cindy is going to try and find a job around here so we can stay awhile longer. Make Sure to check out our Billy Currington Gallery or the Jaryd Lane Gallery if you like to see great performers.
Monday April 16th 2007
After a long weekend of meeting great new people, we woke early and packed up camp to head towards Arkansas. Well, let me put it this way - We're heading North. At the rate we move, it'll be a few days before we can make it the few hours it would take normal travelers on an interstate. The way we move, I think a Snail could beat us there.
We went to Ed & Michelle's for a BBQ yesterday. Throughout the day, friends from the local area would stop by to say "hello", we'd shoot a few games of pool, and all have a blast just hanging out.
Again, I think Cindy and I wore out our welcome by staying so long that at the end of the night, it was hard to say "Goodbye" to our new friends.
One thing that I like about the way they talk in this area, is before you say anyone's name, you add a Mr. or Miss. before their first name. Say I'm talking to Ed, it would be Mr. Ed, or something like this "Miss Cindy wants another beer." I think that's very polite and Southern.
I had to talk Cindy out of finding a Job as she likes this area so much. I keep reminding her that there is still so much of the country side to see still, don't get too attached to any certain area till we see it all. After we've seen this big backyard of ours, then we can decide where we would like to settle down. For now, I think this is one of our favorite areas. The people are genuinely nice, the culture is very interesting and it would be great to learn the local heritage of this area which dates back hundreds of years.
We'll mark this one down on our places to return to.
Tuesday April 17th 2007 I HATE Tax Day!!
It was very hard to leave the KOC Campground. Most campgrounds we've stayed at have been just a place to stay for the night. The KOC Campground was the first place where the owners made an effort to talk with you, suggest places to see and the first place where the campers felt more like a community.
Every time we were outside doing something or walking the dogs, people would go out of their way to talk with you and make you feel welcome. It'll be hard to find a campground comparable to this Gem. Mildred & Charlie should be a model for all other RV Campground owners.
So we headed North towards Arkansas and somehow, during one of Cindy's numerous sleep spells, I got lost. See, Cindy is the navigator, she tells me which roads to turn on, but she usually tells me them 20 minutes before we get there.
If she dozes off, I get lost in the sights passing by and don't pay attention to where I'm going. She woke up from one such sleep spell and asked "Why are we crossing over into Mississippi?" I didn't know, and for what little I did know, I was on the same road we were on when she had fallen asleep a half hour ago.
So now we're in Mississippi in Natchez State Park. It's beautiful here in the campground, but we have to head back into town to find a signal for our cell phone and computer so we can finalize our Taxes (Procrastinators, yes we are).
This year, our taxes were a kick between the legs by Ol' Uncle Sam. We haven't had an income since June of last year, and with the sale of the bar and our rental house, we have a sizeable tax burden hanging over our heads. It doesn't make sense that we work our butts off for 6 years, paying taxes quarterly, still getting our taxes taken out of our income and once we sell the business, we have to pay more taxes?!?!
Don't get me started!! I need a few stiff drinks after dropping that check in the mail!! I rode the motorcycle home from the post office which was a nice cool down. Cindy and I took a ride on some of the secluded back roads that surround the park, which is like riding a roller coaster. Dozens of turns, plenty of ups and downs and surrounded by nothing but deep woods and cool mountain streams. Just like a little kid, all you need is a few laps around the block on the motorcycle and I'm a happy camper.
Let me tell you a little about Natchez State Park, as it is beautiful. It's very secluded with a symphony of birds in surround sound and a giant lake to fish on.
The wood peckers make it sound like I'm in the middle of a house being built with multiple carpenters hammering all around me.
The town of Natchez at one time was home to over half of the millionaires in the entire United States prior to the Civil War. We plan on taking advantage of the park tomorrow now that we got those stressful taxes out of the way and lost that monkey off our backs. For now, Cindy is grilling steaks on the BBQ and I'm trying to fix the awning after our little mishap with the wind a few days back.
Wednesday April 18th 2007 Moving North into Arkansas
After a nice bonfire last night, we awoke to pouring rain. Not what we had planned for today's activities!
We packed up camp and figured we'd drive through the rain. No need in just hanging out when we cant get a TV signal, a cell phone signal or a connection to the internet. Normally we'd be fine just playing cards all day sipping on a bottle of Merlot, but since this campsite was a mistake to begin with, we'll shove off towards our original destination.
Louisiana roads have to be the worst we've seen on this whole trip! We used to think Michigan had bad roads, and they do, but they're nothing compared to Louisiana's. Traveling down very narrow roads where I drive with the yellow line centered with the vehicle, they'll have a speed limit posted at 55mph!!
Cindy was yelling to "Slow down" and I was yelling back "I'm only going 25mph and have a line of cars behind me a mile long!" When ever we pull over, the inside of the camper looks like a bomb went off, with everything strewn around. I'm surprised I haven't had any of the locals try and run me off the road yet for going so slow.
Cindy was navigating and remember, we don't take any expressways, so this takes a little longer. I looked at her and said, "Are these roads even on the map?"
We both laughed saying "The road is so narrow and bumpy, it seems like it should be dirt", it was at that point that the road turned into dirt and our Northern route became more of a Northern Crawl. We passed towns that didn't even have a stop sign, towns that had one room log cabins for Post Offices and towns that we were afraid to stop and take pictures from the looks we got while passing through them. I'm sure some of these towns hadn't seen outsiders in years, let alone a train like ours passing through.
We both would be amazed when we would pass a one room house that was smaller then our camper, yet had smoke coming out the chimney. The crazy part was, we both kept saying, I think I could live in a town like this and be content. When everyone we talk to says "How can the two of you live in a Trailer that small?" all the while we're saying to each other "Let's trade this thing in for a smaller one" I think we'll do just fine where ever we end up.
We stopped at a working Cotton Gin that dates back from the early 1800's and walked around looking at the old machinery. Cindy and I couldn't believe the size of the Slaves quarters. We've passed dozens of houses that people are living in today that are smaller then the size of these cottages. This must have been a high rent district when it comes to Cotton Mills.
White Oak Lake State Park and Poison Springs
Cindy thought it would be cool to stay in Poison Springs, but we found out it was only a park. They didn't have RV spots available, so we moved on to the next park a few miles down the road.
White Oak Lake State Park is better than Natchez State Park. You drive for soo long down these little country roads that your head is humming banjo music subconsciously.
Then you round a 90° turn and hit a secluded lake with a campground hugging it. Most of the sites have a great lake view and come with electric/water hook-ups for only $17 a night. This is our kinda place.
Cindy keeps buggin' me saying she wants to start fishing, but we don't have the equipment, so I have to keep stalling. We're usually camped right on some beautiful lake and it seems like a waste to just sit and look at the water.
The problem is, neither of us know much about fishing. My Dad always took us fishing as kids, but that was 20 years ago; I don't know the first thing about lure's, bait, tackle or the different types of fish that are going to be in the various types of water we're camped near. I told her this hobby is up to her.
Although I think I might have to start studying some fishing books. We'll let you know more tomorrow after we kayak the lake and see what kind of fish there is to be caught here.
Sunday April 22nd 2007 Weekend Wrap Up
We've spent a very relaxing few days at the White Oak Lake Campground in Southern Arkansas. When we got here in the middle of the week, there were only two other RV's and the campground seemed so secluded like we had it all to ourselves, we wondered why every site had a "Reserved" sign on its post?
Come Friday afternoon, there wasn't an empty slot in the entire campground! This place goes from being the quiet little gem of a find, to a full-blown Weekend Warrior madhouse.
We had gotten up before the sun rose on Friday morning and paddled around the lake floating through a thick fog that was hovering over the water. It felt surreal and if we got more than a few hundred feet from one another, you could lose sight which would make Cindy call out in one of her freak out voices "This isn't Funny!"
We came back and had some lunch and went for a 2 mile hike around the trails that leave from the campground. We spotted a big white tailed deer, but that was it for the wildlife. By the time we got back from the hike, the campground was filling up and we sat back watching the spectacle of people setting up their camps.
Some people come up for the weekend and bring more stuff than we have for our multi-year journey. A group of guys had grabbed the slot behind us and started unloading what would be a large weekend fishing camp. They introduced themselves and we all got to talking. By the end of the night and too many Adult beverages later, we were sampling some of their venison stew and trying to remember all the great spots they told us not to miss in Arkansas.
Saturday morning we had planned on rising before the sun again and floating around the lake, that was until my head and stomach told me otherwise due to the amount of Pop's I had consumed sitting around the fire the night before. Saturday was a wasted day! I don't think I left the camper till 3 in the afternoon, and as my body stepped out into the cool breeze and afternoon sun, I got a little light headed just looking at the empty bottle of Captain Morgan's I had battled with the night before.
Thank God I have such an excellent wife who nursed me back on to my wobbly legs with Ibuprofen, plenty of fluids and cold towels on my head all morning. I'm sure I made a great impression on the locals who probably thought "this City Boy couldn't handle his liquor while sitting around the fire."
So, needless to say, we met some great people, had a fun weekend and I took on "The Captain" in one more round of this never ending battle between us. Cindy also got to talking with a nice couple, Ron & Brenda, that were camped beside us.
Brenda told us her husband painted on Turkey feathers? We couldn't understand how you could paint anything on a turkey feather, and she said he would bring out a few samples to show us. Imagine a detailed painting all done on a little feather! It was pretty amazing and when Cindy said how much she liked one certain feather, he gave it to her!! They told us he had sold a few to different auctions for over $1000, so I cant imagine how much the beautiful feather he gave her was worth. Such nice people and what a talent Ron has.
That picture is just to show you what they look like, but by no means does it due them justice. The detail that he can put onto a feather is amazing!! What an honor to own one of these works of art!!
As we were packing up camp, Don, one of the guys camping behind us got to talking, and next thing you know, we have an entire page of different places to visit that he said you shouldn't miss while in the state of Arkansas. It's funny when locals know you're looking for out of the way attractions, they'll tell you about all the secrets each state has. Thanks Don for all the tips.
Leaving the White Oak Lake Campground area, we drove a few hours north into the Metropolis of Daisy, population 118!! All the City Limit signs have the towns population listed on them here in Arkansas, so we know we're in a really big town tonight.
The Daisy State Park is nice and quiet. Maybe because it was a Sunday night, or maybe just because it's pretty far out of the way. We had thought about going to the Crater Of Diamonds, Diamond Mine, but after stopping by the visitor center, we decided that a day of digging in a field of dirt in the hot Arkansas sun didn't sound too fun. So we came up and found a spot in the Daisy State Park and headed into town to do some laundry and restock our Groceries.
We had passed the Caddo River while heading into town and noticed a local outfitter right on the river banks. While our clothes were drying, we went back to inquire about setting up a rafting trip for tomorrow. We talked kayaking with a very nice woman who was the owners mother and an avid kayaker herself and made plans for an early morning rafting trip on the Caddo.
Monday April 23rd 2007 Kayaking the Caddo River
Monday mornings are never easy to wake up for, but when your plans are to kayak a river in the mountains, it just seems a little easier to get out of bed before the sun comes up. I packed our equipment up while Cindy made some grub to take along for the 4 hour float down the Caddo River. We only hoped the rain that had moved in during the night would hold off while we were on the water. Loading up the truck, a light drizzle was misting the windshield as we drove towards the town of Glenwood.
We met at the Caddo River Outfitters and sat talking with Ron and his mother who were some very nice people. We all shared stories of different excursions we've been on and recommended favorite places to each other for future journeys. Ron drove us up river and dropped us off on a nice rocky shore line.
The river was flowing nicely and the rain clouds looked like they might hold off till later in the afternoon. I was just happy to be on the water, so I could care less whether we got wet or not.
We thought the river was flowing fast, but Ron said not to worry, as it was down a little from it's usual spring current. He had told us to expect some fun sections that might give us Class I or Class II rapids! I couldn't wait, but might was an understatement.
We hit a section Ron's Mother called the Rock Garden, but Cindy had a slew of four letter words she thought gave it a better name. I guess she didn't like the rapids and rocks as much as I did. With me laughing and hollering over them, I could hear her cussing and screaming behind me the entire way down. Try as the river may, it couldn't tip either of us over. Thank God, as Cindy told me if I was to lose my big camera in this river, that I'd be walking all the way back to Michigan. I just cant stand taking pictures with the Point & Shoots, so I carry my big Canon in my lap with me where ever I go.
For the next few hours we saw dozens of turtles, heard screeching hawks, kicked ourselves for not having fishing poles to try and snag one of the giant Gar's we saw and floated down a beautiful river hidden in the foothills of the Ozarks.
After her first few scares with the rapids, Cindy was back to her usual self with paddling hard into the rapids laughing as hard as I was with each new section we found. I guess once we think about it, this is the first River we've been on that actually challenged us on this trip. Except for one section on Max's secret river back in Alabama, all the others have been easy paddling. It was good to feel a good shoulder workout after a day on the Caddo's rapids.
Getting back to the campground, we packed our things up and ate a great dinner Cindy cooked on the BBQ. We planned on pulling out early in the morning to head towards Hot Springs.
Tuesday April 24th 2007 Happy Birthday to Cindy!!
Leaving Glenwood and the Daisy State Park heading towards Hot Springs, we stopped at this little shop on Main street to look for a birthday present for Cindy. She kept buggin' me how she wanted a Mouth Harp?! Don't ask me why, but for some reason she thought it would be fun to play along to my country music while we drive from place to place.
The sign said "Billy's Guitars". I figured it was a music store and any music store in the South would have a Mouth Harp, wouldn't they? Walking through those doors was like stepping back in time.
Imagine stepping onto the set of the Roy Rogers Stagecoach Show, or walking into the studio of Sun Records 50 years ago. The old wood floors creaked as you walked across them, and the three guys sitting in a circle pickin' acoustic guitars made me think of that ol' country music I love so much.
This wasn't just a music store, this was a music museum! Billy, the owner and collector of everything that graced these walls was one of the men sitting in the trio. He said "Hello" and invited us in to look around. I asked him what this place was, and he explained that his father used to play on the old Louisiana Hayride Radio Show, and he had grown up with music legends like Johnny Cash and Gene Autrie ruffling up his hair as the little kid sitting back stage.
Here's a little tid-bit of info that I bet most didn't know. The phrase "Elvis has left the building" was coined at the Louisiana Hayride to calm the screaming girls down. Billy had such a collection of old pictures and signed memorabilia from years of touring with his father, that he felt it was a shame to keep it all to himself.
Billy started hanging this nostalgia on the walls of his shop at Billy's House of Guitars, and soon started his own radio show called Front Porch Pickin'. Inside this antique shop/museum is a stage and mixing booth set up where music giants like Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, B.B. King, Buck Owens and Jerry Lewis just to name a few, would stop by to strum along with Billy and his friends.
In the hour we spent walking around this shop, I saw more autographed guitars, pictures and early Rock-N-Roll music memorabilia than I've seen in my lifetime.
Billy was also a huge Monster Movie fan from his childhood days and has a great collection of autographed Ben Chapman figures and movie posters. If you're ever in the Glenwood Arkansas area, it would be a sin to miss Billy's House of Guitars.
Oh, when he found the mouth harp for Cindy, he said "Be careful of your teeth, you'll knock them out if you're not careful." Cindy looked at me with a look of fright and said, "I don't want to put this thing in my mouth!!"
See, she got her front tooth knocked out a few years back and ever since has this fear of anything knocking it back out. So, the entire reason we stopped in, was a waste. But thanks to her want of this little instrument, we got to visit one gem of a Music Store.
Cindy's Birthday Present
When we owned the bar, usually for Cindy's Birthday, we would head somewhere tropical as it would be early spring in Michigan and we would be ready for a little warm weather get-away.
This is when we lived in Michigan and the spring thaw is just starting to break. We usually pick somewhere fun with our Best Friends, Derrick & Tish, because Derrick's birthday is only two days after Cindy's. This will be the first year that we wont all be together in quite sometime. That was sort of the reason for for our trip to Jamaica last month. But, I couldn't let my wife suffer! All she said she wanted for her birthday was a Fishing Pole so she could try and catch some of these fish we see on every lake or river we kayak on.
So on the way towards Hot Springs, we stopped for fuel at a Gas Station/Bait Shop/General Store so I could fill up the truck. Cindy comes out saying she's been talking with the cashier about fishing and wants to buy her fishin' pole and gear here.
I laughed saying "You want me to buy you your birthday present at a Gas Station?!?" She said "I'd rather give my money to some local store than a big chain any day!" So, for the first time in my life, I bought my wife her birthday present at a Gas Station!!
Insert the "You know you're a Red Neck When" joke here!!
After sitting in the gas station/bait shop listening to the Young Lady explain her love of fishing and school us on the different rods, reels, lures and baits, we walked out with a $180 credit card bill and two Arkansas fishing licenses. Happy Birthday Honey!!!
We pulled into downtown Hot Springs and saw a nice restaurant to grab a bite to eat. After filling our bellies on tasty food, we walked across the street to Maxine's Bar. We sat looking at the place from the outside for a few minutes thinking, how long do you think before the building falls over? It had a few foot lean to the outside wall, but its Dive Bar look had its tractor-beam set on us.
When we asked why it was called Maxine's? Our bartender Matt, told it was named after the owner, Maxine, who was the Hot Springs Madame and this was the actual bordello where she ran here business. It's no wonder where President Clinton got his womanizing reputation, he was born in Hot Springs.
Sitting in Maxine's, I looked out the window at the Visitor Center across the street, to check on the truck and trailer and saw a very cool KTM Dual Sport motorcycle loaded to the hilt with touring bags. I had to go talk with this fellow traveler and see where he was headed.
I walked across the street to the bike and introduced myself. It seems Sonny, the owner of the KTM had just left Virginia last Thursday. He is from Denmark and like us, had sold his business, sold his house and all his belongings to travel around North America on a once in a lifetime adventure.
The only difference was, where some people say we have big balls for doing what were doing, Sonny has gigantic ones for doing it solo and on a motorcycle!!
I asked him to come in for a drink so we could hear some of his stories and like usual, next thing you know, we're laughing and sharing stories like old friends. We all sat there talking till the bar started getting a little crazy and we decided it was time to find the local campground.
As we pulled away, I thought, man that was really cool to meet someone doing the same thing were doing. Then when we got to the Gulpha Gorge Campground, he was already set up as we pulled into the slot right beside him. There was some bad weather approaching, so we said "If the rain gets too bad, feel free to come in and sleep on the couch." He thanked us, and said "If I'm going to make it to Alaska, I can survive a little rain in Arkansas."
When I was crawling into bed, listening to the rain pelt the roof of the camper, I couldn't lie down knowing he was crawling into a wet tent while we had an empty dry couch. Before I could say it, Cindy said "You have to go tell him to come inside, it's just raining way too hard!" I threw some clothes on and went back outside trying to persuade him into coming in, but he just politely said "Thanks, but I have to get used to this."
For the rest of the night I couldn't sleep. I just laid there thinking how sometimes Cindy and I complain about little things and items we wish for. Then there was this guy sleeping on the ground beside us in a little, one man tent and it was raining something fierce outside. I listened to the rain drops till first light, when Cindy rolled over saying "I haven't slept all night worried about Sonny."
Wednesday April 25th 2007
Opening the door to the camper, the stream beside us, that you could have walked across last night, was now a raging torrent. Sonny was already up and packing things up. The rain had let up a little and was now just an annoying drizzle.
Cindy and I walked over to see how he had survived the storm. Sonny was in great spirits saying "At one point, it was like sleeping on a waterbed."
He told us "My whole tent was floating and at another point, I finally just laughed out loud at how hard it was raining." We spent the morning talking and shared breakfast in our dry camper. He told us many stories of his different travels around the globe and the many countries he's been to. How this is his second time around the United States and this time is to see if there is anywhere that stands out as a place to settle down.
Sonny told us how back in Denmark, he is the #2 man in the Tree Climbing competition for the entire country and wants to go to Alaska to compete in the American competition and see how he compares to these American boys.
After a few hours of sharing stories and talking of different locations we both planned on traveling, we exchanged email addresses and said our "Goodbyes." Sonny packed up his supplies and rolled off on his journey on two wheels.
One of the many things we agreed upon was how many people thought we were crazy for doing what were doing; how many people go about their daily lives complaining about life. If there is one thing we all agreed upon, it's "Don't take life so seriously, slow down and enjoy it before it's over."
Thursday April 26th 2007 Happy Birthday Derrick!!
We packed up camp at the Gulpha Gorge Campground and figured even though the Hot Springs area is lined with those tourist trap T-Shirt shops and other junk stores, we're here, so we might as well go walk around.
We wandered around the downtown area looking at the row of historic bath houses the National Park System is restoring. We toured the Fordyce Bath House which has been turned into a free museum, by the National Park System. It was amazing to see the items used hundreds of years ago that doctors thought would cure basically anything that ales you with the hot water coming from the springs. These bath houses were basically large spas were one would spend the day being pampered from head to toe with all of the then modern day luxuries. Some of the items looked like torture chambers or Mid-Evil machines used to inflict major pain on the enemy.....LOL
We drove around the Hot Springs Park above town and snapped a few shots and decided we'd had our fill of Hot Springs Arkansas. Heading South, we found a cute little State Park just outside of town.
We grabbed a camping slot right on the water at Lake Catherine State Park just as the sun set and figured we'd try our luck with the new fishing poles. I should tell you all that I haven't fished since I was a kid. As a child, my Dad would take us fishing every chance he got as he lives to fish. But going from fishing for Carp in the Huron River with a kernel of corn on your hook and having to rig everything yourself with a 20 year break in-between was a rude awakening.
Cindy was learning her casting technique while I was wrestling with my reel. For some reason, every time I cast, 90% of my line wants to follow the hook! It didn't take but a few minutes of that and I was done with fishing for the night. Watching the fish jump for the evening bugs skimming the surface, we built a fire right on the waters edge and settled in for the night. This little lake we were camped on, Lake Catherine must be a good fishing spot, because there were plenty of boats with guys fishing for the rest of the night. Maybe I'll just stick to picture taking and leave the fish alone.
Friday April 27th 2007
Cindy woke up fresh and determined she was going to catch a fish today. We didn't have to check out of this campsite till 3 p.m. and the lake was very peaceful and quiet. We spent most of the day just sitting there fishing. We'll, maybe feeding the fish is more honest.
When the clock struck 3, we headed North, up scenic Highway 7 towards the Ozarks. If you're ever in the Hot Springs area and heading North, take Highway 7! What a beautiful ride this scenic byway was, and I'd love to come back and cruise it on a motorcycle some day.
Imagine being on a roller coaster, only you're driving. The roads are narrow, heading straight up one side of a mountain pass only to drop right down the back side into the next valley. I was having trouble staying on the road as the views from atop the peaks that stretch into the horizon would grab you and keep your eyes glued. That was until Cindy would scream "Pay attention to the road!"
At one point we were flying down the backside of one large hill when we saw a bridge at the bottom. There was never a sign stating this bridge was only wide enough for one vehicle at a time, but I think the oncoming traffic saw that I couldn't stop, and the law of "He who's bigger goes first" came into play, as they had to screech to a halt so I could cross the bridge.
Once you get this train of toys moving down a large hill, it's not stopping for much or anytime fast. We both looked at each other laughing and Cindy said "I almost put my feet through the floor-board I was applying my passenger brakes so hard!" Cindy tends to be one of those backseat drivers that thinks if she presses her feet to the floor-board, it'll stop the truck faster. She usually does this when she is brave enough to keep her eyes open. If we pass a large Semi and have a guardrail on the other side of us, she has to close her eyes till we're through.
Sometimes when I see her sitting there with her eyes closed at a tense moment, I'll apply the brakes real hard and scream, which will usually cause her to open her eyes screaming back at me, even though she has no idea what's going on. I'm usually laughing while she's throwing a flurry of punches towards my head while I'm sure we're giving the passing truck a good laugh. It's these little things that keep the many miles traveled humorous.
It was getting late in the afternoon and we saw an Army Core of Engineers Park and decided to stop. River Road Campground is just west of Little Rock and a quiet little park right on the Fourche LaFave River.
This river is fed from Nimrod Dam (another Reason we had to stop; that name was just too funny), which is letting out alot of the spring run-off from Nimrod Lake right now. The river was flowing very fast and although usually good for fishing, was way over flood stage right now and flowing too fast to try and catch anything in its waters.
River Road Campground only had 15 slots and only a few of them were being used by local families tent camping. We grabbed our slot and went for a bike ride to try and get our daily supply of exercise. After last nights escapades by the fire till 3 a.m., we were both in bed having a snoring contest by 10:30 tonight.
Saturday April 28th 2007 Cedar Creek Falls & Petit Jean State Park
We were up early and headed towards Petit Jean State Park. We grabbed one of the last slots as the park was full for the weekend. We don't care, we plan on being out on the trails hiking the whole time, so who cares if the place is filled with weekend warriors.
It's Arkansas's Flagship State Park and was the Natural States first official State Park. So it's no wonder it's so busy.
While I set up the camper, Cindy packed us a lunch in her back pack and we headed towards the Cedar Creek Trail Head. Petit Jean State Park is in the North West section of Arkansas and in the foot hills of the Ozarks. The terrain is very mountainous and awful pretty. There is a waterfall that we wanted to hike to, because I love to take pictures of the different waterfalls we come across on our journey; it's one of my favorite types of photography. The hike said it was the most strenuous one in the park and we were ready for a good workout.
The first 1/4 mile is straight down, and over some very rocky terrain. Back in the 1930's the Civilian Conservation Corps set up camp here in these mountains and built many of the trails you and I walk on these days. They must have did a fantastic job, as many of the rock walls, water towers and bridges are still standing. Cindy and I were in hiking boots and had a backpack filled with water and various munchies to keep our bodies going. It cracked me up to see people huffing and puffing coming up this strenuous trail in flip flops, with no water or even a simple backpack with some snacks in it. What are these people thinking? Why go on a hike and make the entire thing uncomfortable?
We made it to the waterfall and hung out for a few hours just taking in the beauty. The water has carved out a huge dome and you feel like you're sitting in the center. The temperature was about 10 degrees cooler in this little dome from the mist coming off the waterfall. That was a very nice thing as we had worked up a good sweat in the afternoon heat on the hike down the 2 mile trail.
One thing that has always bothered me is when people go out of there way to come see beautiful things in nature, then trash it with garbage and litter. While we were sitting by the falls, a group of kids, maybe 20 or 30, came hiking up with a few counselors.
They spent an hour or so looking around and taking many pictures of each other under the falls. When they left, Cindy and I noticed plastic water bottles everywhere. Cindy even said something to one of the counselors who just shrugged his shoulders and walked off!?!? Now how can you be teaching kids if you allow them to litter and leave trash at such a beautiful place?
We walked around and picked up two backpacks full of trash!! There should be a Park Ranger sitting down by the falls handing out tickets to people who think it's OK to trash such a beautiful place.
As the sun went behind the mountain side, I had the right light to get the shot I wanted, and we could start heading back up the trail. During the hike, I found two Ticks on Cindy and one on my arm!! We both were singing that new Brad Paisley song I Want To Check You For Ticks as we hiked back up the mountain side.
By the time we climbed back up to the trail head, the sun was setting across the valley for a perfect ending to a great day. We sat for awhile catching our breath and watching the last bit of the suns glow turn into evening. It's days like this when I know how lucky we are!
In the midst of our hiking, Cindy turned to me and said, "I thought of something Profound earlier", (took a long pause) and finished with "But then again, I've been using a lot of Profanity lately." I wasn't sure which had me more winded, the hike uphill, or laughing so hard I almost fell of the mountain side? She keeps me laughing all day long with her one liners.
From here you can move on to the May Blog to keep following along