A Port in the Storm

Monday, October 8th. Left Poverty Point, LA this morning for the 5.5 hour, 357 mile drive to Blackwater River State Park in Holt, FL. We had reservations at Blackwater River State Park and at Florida Caverns State Park in the Florida Panhandle for the rest of this week.


Crossing the Mississippi River

We had driven past Vicksburg, Jackson, and Hattiesburg; had just crossed the state line between Mississippi and Alabama, and were approaching Mobile when the phone rang.  It was the Blackwater River State Park, informing us that this park (and all the state park campgrounds in northwest Florida) was closing today and everyone there was being evacuated in advance of hurricane Michael. So all our reservations were cancelled! What to do? Where to go?CA3EB6BB-3488-4415-A8C1-FDFDDC218392 I immediately called KB & Joyce, our friends in Jacksonville, who generously allowed us to park the trailer in their driveway, 6 days earlier than expected. Jacksonville is 400 miles to the east, an additional 7-8 hours of driving we had not counted on today, and it’s already almost 1 p.m. so we will be negotiating the famously Byzantine highways around Jacksonville after dark. But Scott is a real trooper! 0451595A-F6D7-4F1E-994D-A1153412D12EWe joined thousands of other hurricane refugees and utilities trucks jamming interstate I-10, lining up at gas stations and convenience stores past Pensacola and Tallahassee heading east. We pulled into KB & Joyce’s driveway after 10 p.m., stumbled upstairs and fell asleep, feeling grateful to have a port in the storm. Many others are not as lucky!6B4E024B-9F65-46B0-B178-455B05B984A4

Tuesday, October 9th. We spent the day recovering from yesterday’s 12 hour drive, doing nothing more strenuous than sitting on the porch, watching the mullet jump in the St. John’s River with the dolphins chasing them. F489019E-2226-4F0F-855C-D2983049AAFB414FE03C-9FD0-438D-B987-C8B6B104CE566E35A6B0-B78E-47E9-8A81-36C0603D1CFB



In the evening, KB & Joyce’s friend Rob joined us for a showing of A Star is Born at the San Marco movie theater. Good times!

Wednesday, October 10th. Glued to the Weather Channel.BCA5FDE6-43AA-4580-B843-A25D4D592863329BEBB7-67B0-44E2-8855-F90ECDF691D3

Tomorrow: Home!

Poverty Point, and then…

Saturday, October 6th. Flat agricultural landscapes as we drive back roads south out of Arkansas and into Louisiana. Lots of cotton fields! D93240A8-2A31-4760-8E39-16BD93761C3C

As soon as we passed into Louisiana, the roads deteriorated and the little towns became more derelict. Bet we could get a fixer-upper in Eudora, LA for a song! After about 50 miles on paved washboard roads, we pulled into our campsite at Poverty Point Reservoir State Park. Lots of space between campsites, full hookups, signs warning us not to feed the Louisiana black bears who frequent the area.9FB86916-B456-4F96-AE1B-FB2BE49E4DB7

AFF928D6-517D-4550-ACD7-372F90CCC1C1After lunch, we gathered up our laundry (accumulating since Moab!) and used the immaculate, new washers and dryers in the campground laundry room for 75 cents per load! Luxury! Clean sheets tonight!

Sunday, October 7th. So this happened overnight:


This map shows the predicted path of Tropical Storm Michael. The red arrow points to our campground, Florida Caverns State Park, where we have reservations for 2 nights starting Wednesday October 10th. Just in time to test the wind- and rain-worthiness of our little trailer!

We had originally planned to be in the Okeefenokee National Wildlife Refuge for 3 nights during that time, but decided it might be better NOT to be in the middle of a giant swamp 20 miles from the nearest town in the middle of a hurricane… Stay tuned!

Poverty Point National Historic Site is about 20 minutes’ drive north of our campground. We got there shortly after it opened at 9 a.m., in an effort to beat the 90 degree heat as the day wears on. We have to get re-acclimated to the heat and humidity, especially now since October is the new September. Or maybe the new August…D12CEC0E-6809-43B5-B3A6-3344CCC77A9D

We checked out the excellent small museum in the visitor center and then hopped on the tram for a guided tour by Ranger Mark. He apologized in advance for the swarms of mosquitoes, saying there had been 10 inches of rain during the past week and lots of standing water as a result.58020A73-6E53-42CD-B987-D9E7518229B4

According to Ranger Mark, almost everything we know about Poverty Point is speculation. But Scott later found an excellent NPS document on Dendrogeomorphology and the stability of the earthworks at Poverty Point that suggests that relatively little is known for sure because as little as 1% of the site has actually been examined. This document has an interesting LIDAR image of the earthworks (p. 8, fig. 2).  In it you can clearly see the shape of Mound A which has been named the Bird Effigy Mound because archaeologist James Ford in the 1950s thought it resembled a bird with outstretched wings. Although the purpose of the Mound is a mystery to archaeologists, we figured it out! It’s about 10 degrees cooler at the top of the Mound, which was originally 100 feet high, so we decided it was constructed for natural air-conditioning. The Poverty Point people probably suffered in the heat just as we did today, and if the builders erected a canopy structure there it would make a cool and shady respite for those lucky few allowed on top!


Walkway up to the top of Mound A



Scott at the top of Mound A, looking down

From the Trail Guide: “Constructed around 1350 BC, Mound A today is 72 feet tall. The base of Mound A measures 710 feet in length (east to west) and 660 feet in width (north to south) and contains about 390,000 tons of dirt – placed basketload by basketload by American Indians as they built this massive feature. The complete construction of Mound A contains about 15.5 million 50-pound basketloads of soil! Mound A is the largest mound built by American Indians at Poverty Point or at any earlier time in North American prehistory. Mound A remained the largest earthen construction in North America for the next 2000 years…. Archaeological excavation and core samples indicate Mound A was built quickly, perhaps in 90 days!” (Perhaps as many as 10,000 workers participated in this project! Scott asked Ranger Mark “Were they paid by the hour or by the basket?” Ranger Mark does not know if they were paid at all!)

Many unanswered questions!

On our way back to our campsite, we tried to find the Marsden Mounds, a group of 5 mounds and parts of an earthen embankment which are actually located in the state park where we are camped. We found the historic marker and saw a slight rise in the ground, but nothing more. It was lunchtime, and too hot for perambulatory investigations. We drove past these little cabins you can rent, right over the water of Poverty Point Reservoir. 3568D609-AE3E-4B27-A512-4E8E6124B692

Taking it easy this evening… big driving day tomorrow — 350 miles to Blackwater River State Park in Holt, FL, just east of Pensacola.

Update: we found the Marsden Mounds! We took a quick walk at sunset… quick because we were trying to outrun the mosquitoes. We noticed some signs at the edge of the woods. Coming closer, we saw they indicate the location of Mounds and the embankments. There is a pretty steep drop-off into the woods, so perhaps the level of the trail and the roadway represents the top of the Mounds? 46B72D31-8818-44B5-A32A-0DD1837221C3490D82D3-BB64-48B8-8305-AEDC328255BE

Toltec Mounds

Friday, October 5th. Yesterday was a travel day. Our original plan was to drive 327 miles straight from McLoud, OK to Willow Beach Army Corps of Engineers campground near Pine Bluff, AR (near Toltec Mounds State Park) but ultimately decided not to push it and instead, made it a more relaxed travel day of only 242 miles. We were able to make reservations for Thursday night at Lake Dardanelle State Park in Russellville, Arkansas. We love these little state, regional and town campgrounds. They are so clearly a labor of love, an expression of local pride of place and the generosity to share it. Of course, they represent a source of income too, with the overpriced t-shirts and trinkets in the Visitor Centers. But this Visitor Center also had excellent historical exhibits and several large aquaria with the fish you might expect to find in Lake Dardanelle, including the large smallmouth buffalo fish with its sucker mouth, so interesting to see up close! After setting up camp and checking out the Visitor Center we drove backroads past palatial faux plantation houses with those prominent white pillars that advertise the wealth and importance of their owners. These houses on Skyline Drive have wonderful expansive views over the Arkansas River valley and Lake Dardanelle. We drove into Russellville for groceries and fuel at Kroger’s ($2.94 for diesel with our Kroger’s card!)

This morning we left Lake Dardanelle State Park for the relatively short trip (92 miles) to Willow Beach. We knew we would get there early in the day so we were not worried about the fact that we couldn’t make reservations because all their systems were down while a new reservation system was being installed. Sure enough, when we got there at 11:30, there were many empty campsites and we were assigned to #F-4, right on a bend of the Arkansas River! CC9BD06A-5424-4607-845B-EB498E6069B7

After a quick lunch, we set out for the 8 mile drive to Toltec Mounds Archaeological State Park!


Scott: We apparently seek out and experience  a number of parallel tracks while traversing the hard ones of asphalt and concrete… the beauty of the natural world, of course, the joy of seeing friends, birds, native plants, pioneer history, a nearly constant assessment of best and worst campsites, bathrooms, museums… just to name a few. But certainly, a major theme has been the exploration of Native American sites, such as these Toltec mounds. This history, from about 14K years BC to now, seems to have a hold on our interest and imagination. Of course, we are by now very used to misleading names and no, the Toltecs were never here. In the absence of knowing real names, the Toltec mound builders are known as the Plum Bayou people. And yes, they did eat plums!
We are sometimes radical in our thought. Lately, our great distress at what ranching has done to our land and people has been accompanied by a lesser anguish regarding the Farm. Yes, big sugar in Florida and its algae-inducing fertilizers are a big evil, but consider as well the thousands of farmers who have destroyed untold numbers of archaeological sites. Here, there were once 18 or so mounds constructed from about 650 to 1050 AD; now there are 3… the rest plowed under in the 19th century.
This site is in beautiful country bordering a lake that a couple thousand years ago was a meandering arm of the Arkansas River. There are 185 acres of lawn, with great cypress trees bordering on the lake side, and farms turning into brick  ranchettes surrounding the area. You must actively look for this place to visit it… no just bumping into it while caravaning cross country. The remaining mounds are like 50 ft. grass covered hills. The other  mounds are gone, plowed and looted. 37025FE4-F1CC-46BD-9CDA-5E372A9D7B53
Still, the museum is excellent — small but select and very informative.
Somehow, the archaeologists have knitted together an understanding of the purpose of the place, and even some knowledge of what purpose was served by the missing mounds. As with so many sites of this type, the mounds served the scattered communities around them…this was the residence of perhaps 50 elite families who understood essential astronomy, especially how to mark the solstices and equinoxes. The major flat-topped mounds had buildings on top, and from one mound one could line up with another to view, say, the sun at the Fall equinox. Probably, the site was a community center and celebration and ceremony site. They likely played the widespread game of Chunkee. Artifacts in the museum show they ate a highly varied and nutritious diet. We were especially interested in all of the paleoethnobotanical studies on the plants these people cultivated for both food and fiber. The University of Arkansas Archaeological Survey has planted a garden representing some of these plants. 8B376A81-B8D4-4699-AEF0-826908D4390E(Helen: my favorite Florida native butterfly plant, rattlesnake master [Eryngium yuccifolium] is represented here! It was an important source of textile fiber to the Plum Bayou and other Woodland era peoples! Other sources of fiber were Swamp milkweed [Asclepias incarnata] and Pawpaw [Asimina spp.]) Exciting!!!)F71E90E8-D0F1-4806-BB59-5EB0F9B0069A
We walked through the area on what was a buggy, breezy, midsummer day, except it was October. So, March is the new April, October the new September. Very few people here. Nice places to rest while H. reads from the trail guide. A boardwalk on the lakeside through the cypress. 02404657-E851-43CB-ADD1-EF103AF6BF8FCCBB8B0B-CD9C-4D77-97B6-DB435D22C1E8We are struck always by the similarities among some of these sites, and how many were no longer used beginning  about 1050AD. We wondered whether the so-called “abandonment” of these early ceremonial sites such as Chaco and this one for example, had anything to do with the 1054 supernova that created the Crab Nebula, or perhaps Halley’s Comet. We can only speculate…
There remain contemporary taboos about excavating burial sites, so the link between the Plum Bayou peoples and any contemporary tribes or clans is unknown. We are grateful that this place exists to preserve what little remains.
Tomorrow, the archaeological investigations continue at Poverty Point National Monument and UNESCO World Heritage Site near Delhi, Louisiana.

Spacious and Gracious

Wednesday, October 3rd. We drove east from Amarillo on I-40 into Oklahoma, where we started to notice something unexpected. Trees! Greenery! Rolling hills! Dashing our stereotypical images of Oklahoma! FD3040C6-56E0-4D88-B031-252146D407DAHow pretty! How relaxing to the eye! And how unconsciously we have been holding our breath waiting to return to a familiar landscape where we know we will not die of thirst if we get stranded. We might get heatstroke, and attacked by mosquitoes… but we started recognizing southern trees and plants, and heaved a sigh of relief. How surprising! We drove past the bustling metropolis and cultural Mecca of Oklahoma City. Another surprise! This is where Helen’s childhood friend and classmate James Rand is a molecular biology professor at the university of Oklahoma medical school. We did not get in touch this trip… maybe next time. We stopped about 30 miles east of Oklahoma City at a small town campground on a reservoir, Wes Watkins Lake Campground. There were a total of 5 campsites occupied in the whole campground, so it felt like we had the place to ourselves. Spacious! Payment was on the honor system (Gracious!) so after setting up we took a walk back up the road to the entry station to put our $25 for the night into the pay receptacle. This is us, in solitary splendor at the quiet, leafy Wes Watkins Lake Campground.49C3E7D2-5BB8-4D4E-86E1-D4B82756ADB4

We got fuel the next day at a tribal gas station… $2.95/ gallon for diesel. The pumps were spaced widely apart so it was easy to maneuver the trailer into position and my heart was not in my throat as it often is when we stop to re-fuel. Since we spent more than $25 on fuel, we got a free 12 oz. cup of coffee! Once more, Spacious and Gracious!

Palo Duro Canyon, day 2

It looks like desert, but it’s hot and humid! This slowed us down a little but we were able to take several short hikes today through this beautiful, dramatic and colorful landscape.

1) Kiowa Trail.

2) CCC Trail.


View from the CCC-constructed Visitor Center.


CCC history


Sunscreen dispenser and heatstroke warnings at the trailhead!


We find a trail marker!


Scott at one of the CCC bridges.


We turned around at this lookout point. It was high noon!

3) Cave Trail. Short but exciting! F7641F17-E1C0-411A-A754-E33884DFEF161A89DE70-B4D5-417C-9BF4-923CFBA9A529E50F2CF8-A829-40FC-8471-57211849D457

4) Pioneer Nature Trail. The trailhead was across the road from the Pioneer Amphitheater where all summer they show an immensely popular (judging from the size of the Amphitheater) live musical extravaganza  Allen “Texas!” based on Texas history. The nature trail is an easy shady stroll down to a dry ditch which is apparently the Red River, dry at this time of year. There are high water markers all along the park roads so clearly the river does flood on occasion. 4EAF303E-3968-4716-894A-01A632C07FFF

… And We Ain’t Texans!

Monday, October 1st, Palo Duro Canyon State Park south of Amarillo, TX.

It was sad saying goodbye to Santa Fe and New Mexico, Land of Enchantment. As we drove east into Texas on I-40 and passed the Thank You for Visiting New Mexico signboard, l felt pangs of regret to be leaving this beautiful and yes, enchanting, place.  The 331 mile drive mostly on the interstate wasn’t bad. We stopped a few times to stretch our legs or fuel up. We left the interstate at Amarillo and headed south and east on local roads. This State Park is about 25 miles from the freeway. After driving all day and then navigating through local traffic and construction zones, I started second guessing myself… maybe we should just have kept going and stayed at a commercial RV Park right off the interstate, cheek by jowl with other RVs, relatively expensive, but conveniently easy off/easy on the highway. But we chose this place because it’s a scenic wonder, located in a place of geological and historical interest with a number of good hiking trails. We booked two nights here as a respite from the long days’ drives before and after.3503A246-E810-4466-837A-A13719655C63 From the park brochure: “Palo Duro Canyon is approximately 120 miles long, 600 to 800 feet deep, and is the second largest canyon in the United States. The canyon was formed less than 1 million years ago when an ancient river first carved its way through the Southern High Plains. The rocks expose a geologic story which began approximately 250 million years ago, layer by layer revealing a panoramic view of magnificent color.” 663F2339-40E8-40AA-8771-1A4583165657

Also, the decisive battle of the Red River War, 1874-75, the final campaign against the Southern Plains Indians, took place here: “Led by Colonel Ranald S. MacKenzie, the 4th U.S. Cavalry descended a narrow zigzag trail into the canyon and attacked the first of five encampments of Kiowa, Comanche and Cheyenne at dawn, September 24, 1874. As the warriors attempted to set up a defense, the people fled up the canyon taking only what they could carry. The Cavalry pursued them for a distance and then returned to the encampments and burned the teepees and winter food stores. The horse herd of approximately 1400 head was captured and driven to Tule Canyon where Mackenzie had his supplies. Keeping enough horses for his troops and rewarding the Tonkawa scouts, Colonel Mackenzie ordered the remaining 1100 shot the next day. Facing the coming winter without food or horses meant starvation. This forced the Indians to return on foot to the reservation in Fort Sill. Their traditional way of life was gone forever.” This cleared the way for the JA Ranch, a private land holding with a total area of over 1.3 million acres and 100,000 head of cattle in 1885. 

We are finding that Tragedy Fatigue is an occupational hazard for us as we travel through the American West and Southwest…

So we check in at the ranger station and the young lady there explains that Hackberry campground will be nice and quiet because there had been a large church group here, but they should be gone by now. So we find our spot and set up, and it is nice and quiet, with a small flock of wild turkeys pecking around the area. They easily fly into the Hackberry (?) trees to eat the berries.8327BDE1-9F7D-4ABC-A9BB-91E79080B75B As we are eating our dinner at 6 p.m., we hear loud, amplified music with a booming bass coming from the group campsite just across the way. Apparently the church group is NOT gone. I call the park office but of course it’s closed, and I leave a message. Scott goes across the road and asks how late they will be playing the music, and they say they should be done in about an hour, so we will wait and see. Inside the trailer with the AC on we can hardly hear it. As Scott said, This is a church group, there are more of them than there are of us; this is a Texas State Park, and We Ain’t Texans! Update: The music stopped by 9pm and peace reigned over Hackberry Loop!

Santa Fe, mi corazón

Thursday, September 27th. We arrive at Cochiti Lake Campground early afternoon and start exploring this giant Corps of Engineers earthen dam on the Rio Grande and Santa Fe Rivers, built 1965-75 for flood control purposes. Apparently Albuquerque is built on a flood plain and has had some disastrous floods over the years. Scenes from our campground:

Friday, September 28th.

Our first full day in Santa Fe! We drove into town and find the Planet Fitness in a strip shopping center on Cerrillos Road behind a Chick Fil-a with a jammed drive-through line just like the one near our Home Depot on US441 in Florida. We worked out and showered, then drove a couple miles up the road to what must be the most crowded Whole Foods Market in the country. By a miracle, we found a parking space, and went inside for lunch and grocery shopping. By then it was time to meet Lynn & Vic for a long-overdue reunion with dear friends. We have seen them over the years on their occasional trips to Florida, but we figured out the last time we visited them in Santa Fe was 15 years ago! Can it be??? Anyway, we had a great time catching up, and meeting Henry!85E29561-FEC6-462C-8B9A-39414498DFA7 We went for a walk around Quail Run, the nicely landscaped golf course community where Lynn’s parents lived. 5542BB98-4106-4205-88ED-DBFA81D82600Then we had dinner at La Paloma near downtown Santa Fe. Guacamole, a salsa sampler, mushroom quesadillas, cauliflower tacos, almond cake with peach and meringue topping, with sorbet for dessert. Mmmmmm!

Saturday, September 29th. We showed up on Lynn & Vic’s doorstep at 10 a.m. and piled into their car for a visit to Santa Fe’s famous Saturday Farmers Market. The gorgeous produce! flowers! Peppers of every description! Roasted chiles! We watched a batch of poblanos being roasted at Romero’s and bought a bag of the fragrant peppers. B8DAA1A0-48E6-4F56-9EAB-1CDCB69FCAD9Then we drove downtown to Old Santa Fe and had a fantastic brunch at the Plaza, a local restaurant that has been in business since 1905. 

Passed the ever-entertaining gallery row on Canyon Drive on our way to Santa Fe Botanical Gardens. Yes, there is a Master Gardener training program in Santa Fe! F948201A-F46B-41EF-8673-682DEF6B701B


Vic & the Chamisa, AKA rabbitbrush



Hornos, traditional outdoor ovens

Stopped to nose around a recently sold house where there was an estate sale around the corner from Lynn & Vic’s.

Not having run out of things to talk about, we sat and reminisced the afternoon away. Lynn brought out old photo albums with pictures from St. Croix, and the St. Dunstan’s high school yearbook from 1966, the year she and Scott graduated. 


Scott & Jan Henle, c. 1965


Scott & Jan, cooking up some mischief c. 1966


Graduation Program


The entire graduating class


Scott & Helen, St. Croix, c. 1976

Later, we drove to Rabbit Road to meet their friend Trevor and take their usual daily hike at Arroyo Honda Trail, a beautiful rails to trails project. 

Then it was sunset and we drove the 30 miles back to our campground while there was still a little light in the sky. We enjoyed those roasted poblanos with baguette and avocado for dinner in the trailer!

Sunday, September 30th. Our last day in Santa Fe!

Lynn & Vic drove out here and met us at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument in the Cochiti Pueblo across the road from our campground.3EF7DFC3-9FF3-44FA-9641-ED153D87B460 We took the 1.5 mile Cave Loop trail.


Look at the blue of that sky! Intense!


The cave on the Cave Loop Trail. You can still see the soot of campfires or cooking fires on the ceiling.




Tent rocks, the eroded remains of tuffstone, originally deposited in a layer 1000 feet deep by a Jemez volcano 6-7 million years ago!


Apache Plume…


My favorite desert native plant

4D5EA4EE-6C72-4A24-9F21-82F65DD22AA7Then we drove out to the Cochiti Pueblo Visitor Center/Gift Shop at the crossroads on the way back to our campsite.

We showed off our trailer with all its features and conveniences, and shared a light lunch of nachos with those wonderful roasted poblanos. Then we said a fond farewell before starting to pack up for the final leg of our trip.

We fleshed out the details of these next 2 weeks of our eastward journey that will take us back home:

10/1: 331 miles from Santa Fe to Palo Duro Canyon State Park, south of Amarillo, TX 

10/3: 315 miles from Palo Duro to Wes Watkins Lake Campground, McLoud, OK

10/4: 327 miles from McLoud, OK to Willow Beach Army Corps of Engineers campground near Pine Bluff, AR (near Toltec Mounds State Park)

10/6: 187 miles from Willow Beach to Poverty Point Reservoir State Park, Delhi, LA

10/8: 350 miles from Delhi, LA to Blackwater River State Park, Holt, FL (back in Florida!)

10/9: 321 miles from Holt, FL to Stephen C. Foster State Park in the Okeefenokee NWR near Fargo, GA 

10/12: 100 miles to Jacksonville for a visit with KB & Joyce

10/15: Bill Frederick Park at Turkey Lake, Orlando, where we hope to spend a little time with Matthew!

10/17: Home!B4255270-759E-4CF7-B66D-192AA0DB0390