Oh what fun!

We’re back with old friends.

A year ago, on Christmas morning, we were parked on the South Carolina coast. A lady knocked on our door, and offered us cookies she had baked just that morning at her nearby campsite. Not only were the cookies delicious, we ran across her and her husband a week later when we pulled into a Georgia campground. DSC_6589_aWe became fast friends with Laura and Rich. Remember this picture?

That’s Rich splitting the wood he brought to our campsite in Georgia. Most people would dump it and leave, but not Rich!

They invited us to visit their farm in Michigan, and we did that last May. Knowing we were coming, Rich added a 50 amp receptacle next to a water spigot on their property, so we could have all the comforts of home while there! We had a wonderful time with Laura and Rich!

They travel during the winter months, and we arranged to meet them here in Alabama for a week, and then we’re all going on to Pensacola for almost two weeks over Christmas. We’ll actually be parked in a federal campground off the coast on a tiny spit of land in the Gulf Islands National Seashore….with white sand!

DSC_3274_aFor now, we’re parked beside the Tombigbee River in a lovely, quiet park. Rich and Laura tow a boat, and they’re pictured here checking it out in our side channel before heading out onto the river.

Barges are moved up and down this river at all hours of the day and night. The one pictured here was carrying coal downstream. Its crew told us the coal was on the way to China! They were maneuvering for the lock that exists a few hundred yards downstream from us. That means tugs pushing barges going upstream are still accelerating out of the lock as they come by us…so the engines throb deeper and the water out the back churns higher. I’ll try to get a photo of one operating at night…with its mighty spotlight picking out the river banks ahead.

Too bizarre, we had to leave

Our life on the road is sometimes more interesting than you can imagine…

We stumbled upon one of the so-called “cities of the dead” in New Orleans, and it turned out to be the earliest and most famous. Depending on which story you believe, these above-ground cemeteries began either because the water table in town was so high or because such burial was a common practice in France and Spain where many settlers emigrated from.

121213 cemeteryThe one we visited was the St. Louis #1 cemetery, which opened in 1789. As you can see from the Google Maps satellite view, it’s named for the street along the one side. There are two others farther along that street.

DSC_3238_aMy photo of a “street” inside the cemetery shows some of the range of conditions of the tombs. Some are so old their markings have been worn smooth, but others are brand new (a double tomb was being built while I was there). Some are built like houses, with a chimney out the top! So much more creative than a headstone….

We ate another late lunch in the French Quarter…that was fabulous partly because they make every dish in this town just a little different than anything you’ve ever eaten elsewhere, partly because the ambience was so much fun, partly because we were really, really hungry, and partly because this is New Awlins!

Then we spent half an hour walking four blocks with Ross and Ryan (they were such sweet little troupers, what with the bumpy & narrow sidewalks and all the noise and bustle!) just for a special dessert: bananas foster at Brennan’s, where it was created in 1951. Preparation of the dish is made into a tableside performance as a flambé! Ahhhhh…

And so we left town this morning. Robyn amused herself by taking a photo of me driving. Too bizarre.

I’ll have a dozen, please

Yesterday was like the twelve days of Christmas, all in one!

DSC_3159_aWe drove in sunshine across Louisiana to New Orleans. On one stretch of I-10 and another of I-55, we drove for more than 10 miles on a bridge over water!

DSC_3146_aWe parked in a lovely state park with lots of greenery right on the edge of town, on the banks of Lake Cataouatche (“cat-ah-watche-ee”). Drove two blocks to the six-lane road that swept us into town (I’m told it’s not “naw-lins”, but rather “new-aw-lins”).

Headed straight to the French Quarter. Traffic. Tiny streets like Europe. Tight, tight parking. Lil Taxi!

DSC_3231_aAte late lunch at Copelands. Ahhhhhh.

Bourbon Street on a weekday night is manageable, but still nuts!

In the midst of all the commercial chaos, retail smash-and-grab, and high volume live music of the French Quarter: the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France. It has the distinction of being the oldest continuously operating cathedral in the United States. The cathedral faces Jackson Square, a lovely park that is closed at night; both church and park were specially lit for the holiday season.

And we did it all on 12-12-12.

A very refined area

Yesterday I couldn’t spell “expert on Houston” and now I are one!

I didn’t realize the city was an ocean port. It’s 50 miles inland from Galveston, which really is on the gulf.

Ah, commerce….the pressure of commerce can accomplish sooo much. Houston took advantage of the rivers that flow through it into the large bay behind Galveston, and dug channels deeper and wider. Now, large ocean liners can come almost into the heart of the city!

DSC_2994_aVoilà, the Port of Houston ranks first in the United States in international waterborne tonnage handled and second in total cargo tonnage handled. It has the world’s largest concentration of healthcare and research institutions, and only New York City is home to more Fortune 500 headquarters. DSC_3006_aIt even has a Lamborghini dealership (right next to a Hyundai dealership).

DSC_3020_aBut oil and refining are huge. We drove for miles on just one road past continuous rows of giant storage tanks that stretched back 8 and 10 deep. We could see the pipes, stacks, and machinery for countless refineries all along the horizon. Shooting pictures was problematic: everything is so big, it blocks everything else; fences are everywhere; it’s all flat, so you can’t get up high and see the landscape. Oh, and we got chased away from one place, just because I was shooting from the street at their equipment!

DSC_3027_aHouston used the ship channel to display the San Jacinto Monument, the world’s tallest monumental column (567 feet; Washington Monument is 555 feet). It commemorates the decisive battle to establish Texas independence. Located at the same park is the USS Texas, a ship notable for being the oldest remaining dreadnought battleship, and for being one of only six remaining ships to have served in both World Wars.

We spent our whole day around the shipping channel! Gonna hafta come back again to see the rest….

Another day on the hoof

We visited the nearby town of Crockett. Not much there, actually. Named for Davy. Located at a spot where he probably camped on his way to The Alamo.

The countryside has changed again. Way north of Houston, it seems to lose some of the rainfall, so the trees are smaller and grassland is more prevalent. We saw many more cows in pastures than anywhere else we’ve been in Texas.

Gentle hills, so the horizon was not usually as vast. Maybe half.

Larger than life

This statue of Sam Houston stands 50′ tall beside the interstate, north of his namesake city.

He began a political career in Tennessee, but moved to the Republic of Texas and served two terms as its president. After Texas joined the United States, he served as its senator for many years, and a term as its governor. Interestingly, he was forced out of office because Texas seceded from the union, and he declined to swear allegiance to the Confederacy.

Speeding right along

Texas knows how to set a speed limit!

We were rolling along on a two-lane road, sight-seeing but also heading toward a destination. It felt right to roll at double-nickel. Then I saw the speed limit sign: 70. Or was that the route number?

By the time I was clear it was the speed limit and could get out my camera, two pickups had blown by me and the road had widened out to four lanes. 70mph?

DSC_2935_aInterstates are 75, and the very limited access toll roads through Austin are 80….and 85 south of town!

Yee haw! I should’ve lived in Texas all my life!

This eastern Texas countryside is so different from the west. The tall trees and other vegetation are like so many eastern states. There are wide open spaces, but they’re grassy pastures for some cows and many horses. The farms (they insist on calling them ranches) are smaller and look to be making much less money than their more western counterparts.

And much more humid, ugh. It adds a haze, like in so many eastern states, that we never noticed until we hit the clear, dry air of central Texas.

We’ve gotta get into Houston before we leave on Tuesday. The fourth most populous city in America.

Last night, as we pulled into a Home Depot just off I-45, we encountered the view below (notice the razor-wire?).