A Call for Infrastructure Spending…

Monday, May 29th — Memorial Day. To begin at the end, here is Scott after driving 385 miles on I-10W, starting in Ocean Springs, MS at 8am and ending in Baytown, TX at the Houston East RV Park 8 hours later:

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We wanted to cover a lot of territory so we could be in Port Aransas tomorrow, and we knew it wouldn’t necessarily be the most pleasant drive on the interstate highway. But taking I-10 across Louisiana into East Texas is like driving in a third world country… maybe worse. We found better roads in Guatemala! Very old, rough, bumpy surfaces, many construction zones with no shoulders and horrible concrete barriers marking narrow lanes. Nerve wracking! Scott was very calm and steady! But you can see it took a toll on him…

The bright spot of this day was the Atchafalaya Visitor Center in St. Martin Parish, Louisiana. The Atchafalaya Basin is the largest freshwater swamp in the US, with many similarities to the familiar cypress swamp in our own backyard. We would love to come back and spend some time exploring this area. The Visitor Center was set up with beautiful exhibits, and because it was Memorial Day weekend, there was live music — a local folksinger playing the guitar and singing.

We added this to our list of places we discovered on this trip where we would like to return and spend some more time, starting with the Indian Temple Mound Museum at Fort Walton Beach, FL… and maybe staying at Topsail Hill State Park and using it as a base from which to explore other natural wonders of northwest Florida.

We are staying at an RV Park right off the highway, so we are keeping the AC on to drown out the road noise. But this is a clean, beautifully maintained “resort” with many amenities including a pool and laundry facilities, where most of the 200 spaces are filled with behemoth RVs clearly belonging to “full-timers” who live here. Here is the view from our door– and we are relieved and grateful to be here — For us, it’s perfect for one night!

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Ocean Springs

Sunday, May 28th. Rainy morning… change of plans. Instead of taking a hike, we dropped our laundry at the nearby laundromat, went to Planet Fitness and worked out, went back to the laundromat and did a final load, stopped at the grocery store, came back to the campground and had lunch.

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Despite the blistering heat (which made us feel right at home), we drove to the park Visitor Center where we saw a muskrat and a gator in the salt marsh under the boardwalk near the building. Inside, the usual good exhibits on the natural and human history of the area. We especially liked the excellent wood carvings of local fauna, instead of the stuffed specimens often on display in nature centers.

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We walked down to the fishing pier where we watched the weather change dramatically as lowering clouds put on an incredible show while swallows swooped in the freshening breeze.

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Florida farewell

Saturday, May 27th. We had a very important mission today: To climb to the highest point in Florida! Britton Hill peaks at 345 feet above sea level, as recognized by the Highpointers Club.  So we enjoyed a pleasant drive through the rolling hills of rural northwest Florida, to  Lakewood Park, maintained by Walton County, where we followed a 3/4 mile trail that looped around and back to the parking lot without ever seeing an official USGS marker — only a bench with a plaque placed by the Highpointers Club. Maybe the USGS marker was hidden in the fallen leaves that carpeted the trail, or maybe a High Point of  345 feet isn’t high enough to merit a marker. But it was a lovely walk! On the way out, a caravan of 4 or 5 Corvettes pulled into the parking lot. Maybe the local Corvette Club meets there?

Took the country roads back to I-10 and motored west, past Pensacola, out of Florida and into Alabama, past Mobile and into Mississippi, and finally 8 miles south of the interstate to the Gulf Islands National Seashore at Ocean Springs, MS. Because this is a national park facility, we could use our Senior Interagency Pass, so the camping fee is $11/night! Pretty sweet, although the campground does not compare with the aesthetics of the Florida State Parks! Big rigs cheek by jowl, and the joint is jumping! The fact that it’s Memorial Day weekend probably has something to do with it.

After setting up and resting a bit, we drove into the town of Ocean Springs. We bought some supplies at the Winn Dixie, and then went downtown and walked around. It’s a nice small-town downtown, not Disneyfied at all. Several places had live music on outdoor patios, and it was a festive Saturday night scene. We stopped at the take out window for artisan popsicles from Pop Brothers. We shared a “Dreamsicle,” reminiscent of the orange sherbert and vanilla ice cream bars of our childhoods, but without the day glo orange artificial coloring or flavoring. Oh well, you can’t go home again, or so they say…

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Then we drove back back to the campground and made a big salad for dinner:

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Mmmmmmmm!

Westward ho!

Friday, May 26th. We left Coes Landing as the mist was rising over Lake Talquin –another glorious day!

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We drove about an hour northwest to Torreya State Park, named for a rare conifer: Torreya taxifolia.

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This park is the site of a series of Civil War Gun emplacements constructed on a bluff overlooking the Apalachicola River, which was the main transportation artery for that area back in the day. One gets the feeling that Civil War history is still very fresh here. We took a 45 minute hike past the gun emplacements which now are just circular depressions in the leaf litter along the path. What was once a bluff overlooking the river is now heavily wooded, with only occasional glimpses of the river in the distance below.

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Then we lucked into a tour of the Gregory plantation house, restored by the CCC.

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Park Ranger Aaron Miller, whose people have lived in the area for generations, gave the tour, with many interesting details, such as how beeswax candles were made:

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He described how the plantation owner had 10 children, only one of whom survived into adulthood, a daughter who was named after the Atchafalaya River in Louisiana, and who was called Chafa Gregory. She was unmarried until her 60s when she was reunited with a childhood sweetheart, but they were married only 2 years when he was called down to the river to meet a cargo boat docking in the middle of the night, and he was murdered. How sad, after surviving the Civil War…

Then we drove from Torreya about 90 minutes west to Falling Waters State Park, the home of the highest waterfall in Florida (a trickle that falls 73′ into a 100′ deep sinkhole). Here the waterfall is barely perceptible behind us in this selfie.

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We enjoyed our stay in this lovely, spacious shaded campground! So far we have stayed at 4 Florida State Park campgrounds: Bahia Honda in Big Pine Key, Jonathan Dickinson State Park in Stuart, Anastasia Beach State Park in St. Augustine, and Falling Waters in Chipley. All have been beautiful, well-maintained, with immaculate bathrooms! The ultimate test!

After the Rain…

20170525_065228…the day dawned glorious, cool and clear, with the sunrise turning the Spanish moss golden on the shore of Lake Talquin.

Other highlights of this day, May 25th:

Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park, with ceremonial(?) earthen mounds built by “Southern Cult” native peoples who lived there, just north of Tallahassee from 1100-1500 AD but who traded as far away as Duck River in Tennessee, Moundville in Alabama and Etowah in Georgia.

Letchworth-Love Mounds Archaeological Park: These mounds were built by the (much earlier) Weeden Island people known for their characteristic pottery, and who lived in the area north east of Tallahassee near Lake Miccosukee, Monticello, Florida. Seen on the trail through the area of the mounds: Tiger swallowtail and Black swallowtail!

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Next up, Tallahassee Planet Fitness (nice club!) and then — Whole Foods!

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In anticipation of our yummy dinner!

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Wild weather

KB and Joyce sent us off from Jacksonville this morning with home baked bread and home grown Kona coffee from their family farm in Hawaii.  There were tremendous thunderstorms along I-10 all the way from Jacksonville to Tallahassee. But we white-knuckled along and learned a lot about trailering in the process. Got to Coes Landing, a small, leafy Leon County campground on the shore of Lake Talquin, before 4pm, where we decompressed with some of Joyce’s good bread, Scott still wild-eyed from the wild ride:

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Tonight we are the only campers here, although there were some people fishing in the lake at the day-use area earlier. This is the view of the lake from the door of our trailer on this gray afternoon:

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This campground is quite buggy, and the restrooms leave much to be desired, but it’s been fun seeing northern Florida trees that are unfamiliar to us… sweet gum, hickory, giant magnolia, turkey oak…

St. Augustine

Went down to the beach at sunrise. After breakfast, tried out the local Planet Fitness club on US1. Very nice club, and it felt great to get some exercise after a day of sitting in the car. Then  KB and Joyce drove down from Jacksonville and we met them at the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum. KB & Scott climbed the 219 steps to the top of the Lighthouse for a spectacular view, while Joyce and I browsed the local history books in the gift shop and learned that Anastasia Island was named after a Christian martyr, St. Anastasia, and not the czarina. Then we met Tina Henle at her beautiful art-filled home in St. Augustine, and had a St. Croix mini-reunion over lunch at The Floridian, a lovely spot with many vegetarian options. Big smiles all around!

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A walk on the beach at sunset

20170521_200606The beach at Anastasia State Park near St. Augustine is the most beautiful beach we have seen in Florida! Wide, flat expanse of beach, firm sand, easy to walk on, spectacular dunes blooming with scrub flowers… sea oxeye daisy, gaillardia, partridge pea, prickly pear… and lots of birds. It is a nesting area for least tern. Signs warn you not to disturb them. And we saw three black skimmers. Scott took a picture of them in the fading light that looks like an Impressionist painting.

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The photo doesn’t show their extraordinary long red and black bills… check them out at: the Cornell Ornithology Lab.