Thursday, December 17, 2015

And further Southbound

December 8, 2015 Published December 17, 2015  I promise to get caught up, really I will!!

After another pleasant night in a W/M parking lot, a quick breakfast and I was on my way. I really don’t know what I’d do if it weren’t for being able to park overnight in most WalMart parking lots. I know lots of people criticize W/M for some of their business practices but man, let me tell you, being able to use their lots respectfully for someplace to park overnight while on the road has made this trip not only so much easier but also economically more viable. Well, them and the Flying J/Pilot truck stops. Kudos to both of them for allowing us.
I arrived in Lake Charles in the early afternoon and arm-wrestled (one way streets and funky off ramps) my way to the Welcome Center. All my information on the Creole Tour I wanted to do through Louisiana’s’ bayous and swamps kept telling me that I needed to either print the file (no printer on board) or I could download an app to my phone. Well, let’s just put it this way…I haven’t a clue how to download an app to a phone…heck I manage to make phone calls and now I know how to use the WiFi hotspot because a friend set it up and showed me what buttons to push but that’s about it. So I went to the Welcome Centre and asked the two attendants if either of them knew how to download the app to my phone and could they do it for me. Much laughter later all three of us seniors agreed that it was beyond all of us. Fortunately they also were able to tell me that I didn’t really need to download anything. The stops on the tour were well marked on the road and all had information signboards that would explain what I was looking at.
Off to check in at the Sam Houston Jones State Park for the night because by this time I was due for a shower. I totally lucked out at the park. Met a really nice woman and her husband who split their time between New Mexico and Alaska. Aside from having a wonderful chat with her, she pointed out that the little building ‘right over there’ had FREE laundry facilities. I’d scoped out a laundromat on my way in to the park and had planned on spending some time there the next day. Score!! Needless to say I promptly washed everything in sight.
The next day I doddled around until it was check out time. Actually, the staff came around and kind of gave me the old evil eye about an hour BEFORE check out time so I stalled some more. Actually the neighbor and I were having another chat so I finally left the park shortly after checkout time.
I spent an entire lazy afternoon sitting on the Lake Charles beach shore watching the lake, a couple of families and a few joggers. Oh and I read some too. 

Lake Charles Beach

Off to another Wally World campground for the night – that’s the euphemism for Wal Mart parking lots for those that aren’t familiar with the term.

Tomorrow morning I start the 108 mile Creole Nature Trail.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Natchez and heading south

December 7, 2015 - published December 16, 015

After a peaceful night of good sleep in Natchez, I headed off to see some of the famous Antebellum homes in town.
First stop, Melrose, built in the 1840’s, and lived in continuously until 1990 when it was acquired by the National Park Service. Fortunately, all the owners took pride in maintaining the original rooms and most all of the furniture original to the home was able to be located, almost all of it in the 4 huge rooms in the attic.
The NPS has taken great pains to restore both the building and the furniture and has done things like reproducing the original oil cloth flooring and carpets on to linoleum so that tourists can be shown around the rooms. Sections of the original carpet and flooring are still in existence and they lay sectioned off from the walkways. Unless you look closely, you’d never know that you were walking on new flooring.
They did have to rip out the new style bathroom and put back in the type of fixtures that were original to the house…obviously lavish at the time but a little unsuitable to todays’ living standards!!
Unfortunately, I have no pictures of the inside of the home. Yes, you’re allowed to take pictures but only with the flash turned off and silly me, had no idea how to turn the flash off on my camera. It’s a guided tour with a very knowledgeable docent and she wasn’t waiting for me to run to the van to read the manual..sigh!!

After spending another hour or so wandering the grounds of the Melrose, I headed off to see some other homes marked on my tourist guide to Natchez. The first stop yielded a quick turn around in the driveway as the home is now a B&B closed to the public. It’s open but only twice a year for a 2 week period each time for an antebellum celebration tour. Now was NOT it!
I made a beeline for the Welcome Centre to find out which of the homes I could see. The Natchez Tourism Welcome Centre is indeed a very impressive building with a very large parking lot. However, to my dismay, it’s very much commercialized. Even the 20 minute video of what to see in Natchez has a fee attached to it.
Hmmm, okay, let’s ask about parking. For the first time since I started out, the staff at the tourism desk were less than helpful. Well, there’s no real parking lots and no Ma’am there’s no lot at the head of the walking trail. Yes, ma’am, most of the streets downtown are one way, but no, I can’t really tell you which way, I’m not familiar with that area. Yes, Ma’m these homes are open but you can either pay for a group tour or pay for each one individually.
Can you tell that by this time, I was just a little disappointed in Natchez… way too touristy, commercial, make money big time for me. I don’t mind paying money for good value but absolutely detest a ‘grab the tourist buck’ attitude.
I grabbed a quick breakfast and headed back to the W/M parking lot to contemplate my next move.
Onward and south it is.
I crossed the bridge in to Louisiana, driving with one hand and camera ready with the other. Every state line where I’ve crossed at a bridge, has the ‘Welcome To XX’ sign hanging on the bridge right? Not here!!
I found my way to the Vidalia Welcome Centre and used their sign as my ‘Welcome To’ picture.

Obligatory Welcome To Picture

Inside, I immediately had my faith in welcome center staff restored. Zelma and I had a great ½ hour together and I left with a bagful of information from her including a map of Texas (I’m in far eastern Louisiana remember) and her urging me to go see Miss Betty in Avery Island.
No, I didn’t, I’ll save Miss Betty for another trip, it meant heading southeast instead of southwest. There was also no good places to camp in the area except those dreaded places called ‘RV Resorts’!
I plotted a course southwest via anything but interstates and got as far as Alexandria for the night.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Natchez Trace Parkway - Rocky Springs to Natchez Southern Terminus

December 6, 2015

My last day on the Parkway with only 55 miles to go and I’m just a little sad so I’m dragging my heels a bit. I’ve so enjoyed the Parkway. It’s an absolutely wonderful combination of driving slow, stopping often, learning about geology, native history, early American history, and just plain taking it easy. It’s tourism at its’ best and many, many kudos to the National Park Service for getting it right! If this is what I can expect in other national parks I can’t wait.
The road is in excellent condition, the washrooms, camp areas and all the stops have been in impeccable condition. I’ve not seen less than at least 3 maintenance staff a day whether at stops along the way or on the roadside cleaning up after some less than stellar fellow travelers. I only saw one mess that needed attention and when I reported it to a worker at my next stop, she got right on her radio to report it to someone.
I’d recommend travelling the parkway for anyone and especially for families. It’s a living history and geography lesson all rolled in to some great travel.
Section of Old Trace in Rocky Springs Camp

First off though, some time spent in Rocky Springs Park. Easily accessible from the camping area is a mile long section of the old Trace which takes you almost to the extinct town of Rocky Springs. 

All that’s left of a thriving town of 2,616 in 1860 is a couple of cisterns and 2 old safes. 
Cistern in Rocky Springs town site

Old Safe remains

Grindstone Ford and another section of really sunken trace followed. In spots the old Trace is as deep as 20’ below surrounding land. And to think it was all worn away by thousands of feet and a lot of wagons. Of course, mother nature had some help in it too. The soil is very light and sustainable trail building wasn’t part of the plan back then!

Grindstone Ford Sign
Gravestones at Grindstone Ford

Mount Locust is the only stand (inn) still remaining on the trace. Again, the NPS has done a marvelous job of restoring the property and the building.
Mount Locust



 A very interesting contrast between the family cemetery and the slave cemetery.

Slave Cemetery

Family Cemetery

Down the road just a little way is a very visual display of the type of soil typical to the region. It’s no wonder that the Trace is worn so deep.

Loess Soil Erosion

Emerald Mounds are just spectacular. It’s the second largest temple mound in the US, second only to one in Illinois. Carved out of a natural hill by the Mississipians, ancestors to the Natchez Indians 400 to 700 years ago, it supported temples, ceremonial structures and burials for a very complex religious belief.
Mound at the top of the hill
A long way down!

And in closing, a stop at the Southern Terminus for a picture.

Natchez Trace Parkway Southern Terminus

A very short drive and I was parked under some nice shade trees in, what else, a W/M parking lot.