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Road-trip 2017, Days 25 – 26

Many moons ago, Mike and I used to be regular visitors to New Orleans, LA.  Our general travel philosophy didn’t allow much for repeat visits to any one place, what with so many new-to-us options, but NOLA was different.  We’d return every 2-3 years for stretch.  Then Hurricane Katrina whacked this fine city in the fall of 2005.  We’d not been back since.

For all of our visits though, we’d never ventured out to Avery Island, home of the famous Tabasco Hot Sauce.  This trip, we decided it was worth a bit of a detour.  Beyond the spacious country store where one can purchase all things pepper sauced, we took the self-guided tour of the factory.  Despite signs warning of bears, we saw no wildlife in the vicinity of the factory.

Adjacent to the world famous Tabasco facility is the lesser known Jungle Gardens of Avery Island where Edward McIlhenny helped to save the snowy egret from extinction.  In the late 1800’s when the snowy egret was being hunted to near extinction for its plumage, he built an aviary on the island.  He would capture and raise these wild egrets, and after they raised their hatchlings, he’d release them in time for migration.  They apparently returned the following spring and every year thereafter, bringing some of their friends along as well.  The garden also features lots of gorgeous live oak trees, a sunken garden, several stands of bamboo and even a Buddha.  And of course there are alligators.  It’s a bit kitchy, but was worth wandering though.

 

From Avery Island we headed to Houma, LA which is nowhere really, but put us striking distance from NOLA.  Pizza at Redfish Pizza was quite good. The following morning we drove into the city.  Breakfast at Cafe DuMonde was of course obligatory.  After meandering the historic district for a while, we encountered long lines/waits at a couple of our favorite spots, settled on a new-to-us place that ended up being nasty.  Who knew you could get bad food in NOLA?

At the end of the day, we decided that as much as we love this city, it’s not at all the same on a day trip.  Or maybe it was the shock of city after several days in the back country.  Either way, next time we’ll plan better.  But for now, we needed to be making tracks.  We drove on to an uneventful night just outside of Mobile, AL with a plan to explore the Pensacola area of the FL panhandle the following day.

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Road-trip 2017, Days 22 – 24

For our eastbound trip through Texas we were on a bit more of a fast track than we’d been on our way west.  We did pause for an evening in Houston though where we caught up with some of Mike’s family, his sister, two nieces, a niece’s husband whom we’d not yet met and a couple of wee ones.  It was fun to catch up and I’m kicking myself that no one though to take any photos.

Leaving greater Houston, we’d slow way down again.  We took to the backroads through Port Arthur and into the bayous of southwest Louisiana to pick up the Louisiana Outback Creole Nature Trail.  I had a number of National Wildlife Refuges in my sights.

We hit one of the Visitors Centers in the area to pick up some maps, grabbed a late lunch at the Anchor Up Grill in Cameron and spent the late afternoon into early evening exploring the Pintail Wildlife Drive and adjacent boardwalk at Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge.  Birds and other wildlife were abundant.  I’ve managed to id most of them, but input and/or corrections are welcome.

 

A number of alligators were also out and about, perhaps scouting their evening meals.

 

Out of daylight, we headed for the Lake Charles area where we’d grab a bite to eat, spend the night and get a jump on another day of bayou exploring.

The following morning’s exploration of the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge gave us another opportunity to stretch our legs a bit.  We saw some different birds than we’d seen the previous day, along with some other creatures, and while there were several signs for gators, none were visible this morning, likely waiting for afternoon to sun themselves.

Mid-day we headed back into Cameron for a bite of lunch at T Boys, followed by a spur off of the Creole Nature Trail in search of the Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge. Eventually located, it proved to be more for fishing access than it was birder-friendly.  No worries though; after a pass though, the late afternoon light fast approaching, we headed to our last stop of the day, the Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge.  A couple of creeping slow loops around the Wildlife Drive here proved to be a beautiful way to wind down our day.

From the swamps of southwest Louisiana, we’d head to the Big Easy.

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Road-trip 2017, Days 18 – 21

Having gotten our fill of urban exploring, we headed out of LA and back into the deserts.  After a stop at Coco’s Bakery & Restaurant (a western chain) for a bite of breakfast, we motored on to Mohave National Preserve in southeastern California where we spent a perfectly delightful few hours hiking about.  The preserve is expansive at about 1.6 million acres.  We could have spent a lot more time here, but the Grand Canyon was calling.

Motoring on, we paused for the night in Williams, AZ, staging for an early morning visit to Grand Canyon National Park.  This stop was on our “must do” list for this road trip as neither Mike nor I had been here.  It would not disappoint.

The following morning we drove up to Tusayan where we parked the car and caught the free shuttle into the National Park.  Though our schedule would not allow for a hike all the way to the bottom of the canyon (Mike’s edit: nor would our old legs), we thoroughly enjoyed our morning trek from the south rim, part way down the Kaibab Trail and back up.  Our afternoon was spent shuttling about the central part of park, walking part of a paved rim trail and generally gawking at the views.  Back in Williams, we had dinner at the Historic Brewing Barrel and Bottle.


The following morning we were up and out early for a drive back into the south end of the park, and out towards the east end to explore the Desert View area.  We enjoyed more amazing views of the canyon in the morning light, poked around the Tusayan Museum and took in the architectural detail and fascinating artwork of the Desert View Watchtower.  The tower was designed by Mary Colter, a renowned architect of the time; find more history and some photos, including of the interior,  on the NPS page for the tower.

As with other places we’ve visited on this road trip, we could have lingered a lot longer, but we’ve got miles to cover and some more family visits on the calendar.  We headed out of the park at mid-day, stopping for lunch at a little Mexican place by the airport and some photos ops in downtown Winslow, AZ.

From here we picked up the pace to cover some miles.  After an overnight near West Mesa/Albuquerque we enjoyed a lovely Easter Sunday Brunch at the Slate Street Cafe, took a quick pass though Albuquerque’s Old Town (mostly closed on this holiday morning) and headed on into the vastness of Texas.

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Road-trip 2017 Day 10

After a serviceable breakfast at the very retro Courtesy Coffee Shop (Lounge by night) in Blythe, CA, we headed on for a last bit of the wild before finishing up our drive into Los Angeles.  Joshua Tree started its life as a National Monument (proclaimed so by FDR in 1936) and was renamed/redesignated  Joshua Tree National Park in 1994, and protects 792,510 acres of mostly wilderness where the Mojave and Colorado deserts converge.  It proved to be a fine place to stretch our legs a bit.

We started our explorations in the southeastern part of the the park, part of the Colorado Desert, with elevations of less than 3,000 ft above sea level.  From near the Cottonwood Springs Visitors Center, we opted for the Mastodon Peak trail which did not disappoint.  Desert wildflowers and cacti blooms were abundant, although the intense sun of late morning made for some challenging photography. (ID help welcome!)

A few lizards also captured my attention.

 

As we made our way north and west in the park, we passed through what is referred to as a transition zone entered the Mojave Desert with elevations above 3,00 ft.  We stopped along the way for some shorter hikes.  It was at these elevations that we found expanses of the the park’s namesake, the Joshua Trees.  Tough and curious things, they’re not trees at all, rather belong to the yucca or agave family.  They have spiky succulent leaves that are kind of bayonet-shaped and every bit as sharp.

Of course in reading about the Joshua tree, I couldn’t help but stumble over references to the 1982 U2 album of the same name.  This Irish rock band was quite captivated with the deserts of the American southwest and found the landscapes to be quite fitting with the theme/songs of the album.  The cover photo however was not taken in Joshua Tree National Park, rather at another location in the Mojave Desert some 200 miles away.  While the actual tree fell some time ago, there is reportedly a plaque placed for those who go searching.

LS_20170405_171212 road snacks, Mexican-style

We left the park in the late afternoon with a plan to be at Duncan and Daniela’s place in LA for a late dinner.  A search for a milkshake or some such thing took us to a brightly lit place called La Michoacana in Beaumont CA where we picked up a couple of mangonadas, a kind of sweet, spicy, party-colored Mexican fruit drink with tamarind-coated straws.  Not bad really.   In any event, they quenched our thirst and tided us over to LA.

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Road-trip 2017 Day 9

Although much of this road trip is about exploring some new-to-us places, we made an exception passing through Arizona, opting for a repeat visit to an amazing place we’d first experienced almost exactly two decades ago while on a motorcycle trip.

LS_20170404_085337 breakfast at Baja Cafe, Tuscon

breakfast at Baja Cafe, Tuscon

Of course we started with breakfast, braving the traffic of Tucson to check out Baja Cafe. It was definitely worth a bit of a detour.  Portions were so generous we took leftovers home for another meal.  To our credit, we planned better, but they comped us a Snickerdoodle Pancake when they found out it was our first visit.  Every bite was delicious.

Fueled for the day, we headed on to the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum where we spent the better part of the rest of the day.  It was every bit as wonderful as we’d remembered.  It’s hard to think of this place as a museum exactly.  Their website describes it as a “98 acre… fusion experience: zoo, botanical garden, art gallery, natural history museum, and aquarium” which in my opinion is a spot on description.  Some of the creatures were quite captivating.  The big horn sheep  wee one was only a couple of weeks old at our visit.  The otter was also quite entertaining, but challenging to capture in a photo… it never stopped moving!  Of course prairie dogs always make me smile.  By contrast, the mountain lion was very very serious.

Of course there were lizards.

…and an aviary of birds, a couple of which were cooperative with my photographing them.  ID help welcome.

Our timing for this visit was most fortunate as the cacti were blooming riots of color. I’ll not even begin to be able to identify all of them, or even capture photos that do them justice, but it was a delight to spend an afternoon in their midst.

Having soaked up all we could of this place, we found a scenic bypass around the not-so-scenic Phoenix area and headed for the California border.

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Although we love our life aboard our Cheshire, we also love a good road trip now and then.  With our engine issues last fall, our late start on moving south, we’d opted not to get too far flung this year… at least by water.  Instead, at some point during our month + in Vero Beach, we decided we’d take a month long road trip to Los Angeles where Mike’s son and daughter-in-law are living currently. We made arrangements to leave Cheshire in St Augustine, booked a rental car and started researching.

Road-trip 2017 Days 1 – 8

Our first couple of days on the road were mostly making tracks.  We spent a night with my (Lori’s) Mom and sister in Panama City Beach, FL (with a plan for a longer visit on the return leg), then on to a HoJo’s (yes, they still exist) in Lafayette, LA the following night.  Days 3-4 found us in Texas where we found a great little ethnic enclave just outside of Houston where we lunched at Little V Vietnamese in Katy TX.  That afternoon we arrived  in Warda, TX for a stay at the Garrett Ranch and a visit with Mike’s Uncle Bob and his wife Altha.  We enjoyed a couple of days of catching up, touristing about LaGrange (yes, of ZZ Top fame, but we didn’t visit the Chicken Ranch).  We did stop into the Texas Quilt Museum  one day;  the Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry exhibit that we saw was quite beautiful, and much different than the more traditional quilts I’m familiar with from our time in central Ohio and Amish country.  We also took daily spins about the ranch on Bob’s Kubota 4×4 to check on the cattle.  The boys also enjoyed talking about the rolling stock and reminiscing.

 

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Mike getting his groove on with SRV,

From Warda we headed a short distance to Austin.  We’d originally thought we’d spend a bit of time here, but decided instead we wanted to get up into the nearby Texas Hill Country explore a bit.  We did pause in Austin long enough to visit the Bullock Texas State History Museum.  It was a nicely done museum, but a bit overrun with school kids at our visit.  The Stevie Ray Vaughn exhibit was a highlight.  On our way out of town, we checked out a public art spot known as Graffiti Park at Castle Hill aka HOPE Outdoor Gallery, then headed out of town to stage for an early morning start into Hill Country.

 

 

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Lark Sparrow

 

Day 6, we grabbed a quick bite of breakfast and headed out for a morning hike at Balcones Canyonlands NWR.  This refuge exists in part to protect the nesting habitat of a couple of birds, specifically the golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo.  The warbler in particular nests only in Texas.  Alas, I was unsuccessful in spotting either of them, but we did enjoy the hike and saw plenty of another bird I’ve been unsuccessful in identifying.  (ID help welcome.) Wildflowers were also plentiful, but I for some reason was having issues with trying to photograph them.

We were on to Stonewall TX for the afternoon to explore the Lyndon B Johnson National Historic Park.  It was a fascinating walk through history and the life of a man I was previously not terribly familiar with.  No doubt it was in part his humble beginnings in this Hill Country of Texas that shaped the kind of president he would become, at least in terms of his Great Society legislation, although it seems for some these actions were overshadowed by his handling of Vietnam.  We were able to tour the residence, the Texas White House.  No photography was allowed inside, so you’ll just have to trust me when I say it was like stepping back into the mid-60’s.  No gold plated anything here.  LBJ’s indulgence however was to have numerous sets of televisions scattered about this Texas Whitehouse, in groupings of three, one for each of the channels available at the time.

I was also previously unaware that LBJ had been such a friend of the environment… read more about his accomplishments here.  I can’t help but wonder what he would think of our current state of affairs.  I found it interesting in reading the document linked to see that Florida’s Mar-A-Lago had been declared a National Historic Site during LBJ’s tenure. I had to dig a little deeper and found this bit of history.  It turns out Marjorie Merriweather Post (a quite wealthy heiress in her day), upon her death in 1973, turned her outrageously expensive private estate over to the federal government for use as a presidential retreat… except that a few years later they gave it back, having decided that it was too expensive to maintain and provide presidential-grade security for such a place.  Most interesting…

 

The following day was mostly spent on the road, though we did spend the afternoon/evening in Marfa TX to check out some art/sculpture at the Chinati Foundation and later had a most tasty dinner at the Hotel Paisano.

From Marfa, we were positioned for an early visit the following day to Fort Davis National Historic Site, an old frontier military post that protected west Texas and travel along the San Antonio – El Paso Road.  It’s an impressive collection of preserved and restored buildings with some hiking trails in the surrounding hills, another great opportunity to stretch our legs.

It was pretty desolate in terms of wildlife, but I did see a hawk and another small bird I’ve yet to identify, and was most entertained by my first Greater Roadrunner.  Beep Beep…

LS_20170403_130848 Greater Roadrunner

Greater Roadrunner, Fort Davis National Historic Site, TX, side view

 

We finished out this day with a drive on into Arizona.  More exploring to come.

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I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve transited the ICW in north central FL.  We’ve made some outside runs off shore along this stretch as well, but often we’ve been inside.  The bridges are familiar to us.  The landmarks are familiar to us.  Occasionally we’ve stopped along the way… Cocoa, New Smyrna Beach, and a couple of stays in the Merritt Island/Canaveral area… but for whatever reason, although we’ve anchored nearby often, we’d never gone ashore at Daytona Beach.  Worse yet, although we’ve seen it numerous times from the water, we’d never managed to stop and visit the lighthouse at Ponce Inlet.  For this trip north, I vowed to remedy this.

We arrived in Daytona mid-day on Sunday, and after getting settled in a new-to-us anchorage, we went ashore on the Daytona Beach side of the river to find a bite to eat and scout the bus stop we’d need for the following day’s adventure to Ponce Inlet.  On  a tip from former cruising friends, we went in search of the Daytona Taproom; we were not disappointed. Great burgers, fries and plenty of local beer options.

After a lunch that was much more substantial than our usual, a long walk was in order.  We opted to make a big loop, over to the beach side, south to Main, then west on Main toward the Halifax River/ICW, and finally north up to where we’d left the dinghy near the Seabreeze twin bridges.  Little did we know that this route would take us through the heart of the tail end of Daytona Bike Week.  Despite our having motorcycled for years, we’d never seen this event in person… wow, just wow.  I couldn’t even begin to try and photograph it for fear of tripping off the curb in the crowds.

The following morning we were back ashore for breakfast before catching our bus.  The mass exodus was underway, with bikes on trailers everywhere and the monumental clean-up effort underway.  We caught our bus and settled in for the 10 mile ride south.

LS_20170320_095310 sunrise over condos, Daytona Beach FL

sunrise over condos, Daytona Beach

From the water, we hadn’t appreciated the size of the park grounds at Ponce Inlet, officially known as the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum.  An impressive stand of live oaks on grounds were home to a number of Red-bellied Woodpeckers.  A couple of them were even cooperative with my efforts to photograph them.  There was also a collection of Cuban Refugee Rafts;  we’d seen such exhibits before, particularly in the Florida Keys, but they always manage to make me catch my breath.

 

Standing at 175 feet, Ponce Inlet Light is said to be the tallest lighthouse in Florida and the second tallest masonry lighthouse in the country. (Cape Hatteras on NC’s Outer Banks takes first prize in this category.)  Like many other lighthouses we have visited, the various keepers’ cottages and auxiliary buildings now serve as museum space.  Ponce also is known for their lens restoration, and in fact have a dedicated building, the Ayers Davies Lens Exhibit Building, which houses an impressive collection of restored Fresnel lenses.

The Lighthouse Friends page for Ponce de Leon Inlet Light provides some interesting history, including a bit about author Stephen Crane’s real life adventure.   He was shipwrecked during a gale off the Florida coast while enroute to Cuba, and tells of this adventure in his short story titled The Open Boat.  Curiously, this light was previously known as Mosquito Light, until it was decided in the mid-1920’s that the name itself was not helping to encourage settlement in the area.  Of course we had to make the climb, all 203 steps, and were rewarded with a nice view of the inlet.

After our climb, we took a stroll out to the water.  I was saddened to find a Cormorant with a fishing hook caught in its bill… an all too common occurrence really.  Birds get hooked and/or entangled either in discarded line and tackle, or often get snagged when they try to steal a fish that’s already been hooked.

We caught our bus back north, found our dinghy and Cheshire right where we’d left them, and deemed Ponce Inlet Light well worth the pause.

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Mike at the bus stop

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