Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Day 11 - New Orleans to St. Andrews State Park, Panama City, FL

I was debating the whole time whether or not to go camping or to check into a hotel. It was pouring down rain when we left N.O. this morning and I stressed the whole way whether or not to try camping. We finally decided to give it a go and set up with our new rain tarp and see what happened.

The drive from N.O. to here was really uneventful. Lots of rain and traffic to deal with...actually some of the most rain I've ever driven in in my whole life...and that's a long time! We finally arrived at our destination and found it at the very end of a peninsula filled with beautiful hotels and spring break type party locations. I really didn't know what we were getting into until we pulled into the park. The ranger lady gave us a list of sites to choose from and they were all very open to the elements and, at the time, it was sprinkling, the wind was howling and thunderheads were brewing out to sea and blowing our way. I was very stressed. We finished setting up camp and I was very proud at how well the rain tarp was set up and tied down. I felt we were ready for whatever Mother Nature threw our way.

We took off on bikes and went for a little cruise around the park. We asked a cop, who happened to be hanging out in his truck by the camp store, how to get to the beach. He spit out his tobacco, apologized for chewin' cuz he wasn't 'spectin' on talkin' to the public, and proceeded to give us a 10 minute lesson on how to go down the road about a 1/4 mile and follow the boardwalk over the dunes. I guess he just wanted to talk. We passed Gator Lake on the way and stopped to see if we could see any gators. Not yet, but we'll keep our eyes open! Our first indication of what we were going to see when we walked up over the dunes came walking down the stairs with sun-bleached blonde hair, bronze body barely contained in a skimpy bikini, feet covered with what looked like powdered sugar and she was carrying a surf board. Dylan immediately announced that he was staying here an extra day. I could do what I wanted but he was staying!!! Well, who was I to argue?

We walked up over the dunes and were greeted with a long beach of that same powdered sugar sand, the beautiful emerald green Gulf of Mexico and surfers everywhere! Because of Tropical Storm Alex, there were double red flags so nobody was allowed in the water except for surfers. We still walked down to the shore and put our hands into the warm Gulf waters for the very first time. It was amazing!! Dylan announced that he wants to buy a skim board and spend the whole day on the beach. Uh, ok.

Because we put the tarp up so well in preparation for rain and wind, it was a dead, calm night with no rain. Just stifling humidity. I think we're getting used to it. Just had my morning coffee and said, "good morning" to our camp neighbor who grumbled a reply and am now getting ready to head up to the ranger station to pay for another night.

Ciao for now!!!

Day 10 – Lake Lincoln State Park, MS to New Orleans

Last night was the most miserable night that we’ve spent camping yet. I was lying there in the tent in the stifling, humid heat of southern Mississippi listening to thousands of tree frogs calling out for mates and hundreds of the loudest cicada type bugs you could imagine just waiting for a bear or an alligator to wander up the hill and have us for a midnight snack. Sweat was pooling on my chest as my ears strained to hear the slightest sound of branches breaking signifying a huge animal ready to pounce. With the background noise of frogs and other night creatures, it was similar to those “scientists” who listen for radio signals from outer space. I just couldn’t handle it anymore so I reached out to Sandra via text to tell her that I love her and miss her. It was an exchange of text messages that I’ll never forget my entire life. The written word...even via text message...can be so powerful. Life is all about balance.

I was still reveling in the thoughts that those wonderful words created when I heard it. Definitely branches breaking...and they were right outside the flimsy netting on my side window of the tent! I heard the “bear” step on the 4” of tarp that stuck out from the side of the tent...my heart started pounding as I sat upright and hit the side of the tent to scare the “alligator” away. Like that would work. I see through the shadows of the full moon a big old jack rabbit scared shitless running headlong through the brush!! I sure took care of that “bearigator”, didn’t I? Adrenaline is a good thing – in the middle of the day as you’re trying to stay awake while taking your CPA exam or while taking computer certification tests or something like that. Not a good thing at midnight while trying to sleep in an Indian sweat lodge! I said to Dylan who was also having problems sleeping, “it’s ok, it was just a rabbit”. He was snoring. I listened to my heart beating in rhythm with the night.

So…I’m sitting here writing this blog. It’s about 8AM, fairly quiet and minding my own business when a yellow jacket drops from the trees right next to the laptop. It was hanging onto what looked like a bugs wing or something. I took aim and flicked it away. Well, a couple minutes later, I’m sitting here doing a few updates to MS Office when I feel this incredible bite on my foot. I look down and a yellow jacket has just stung my foot!!! Payback is a bitch!! Dylan has been warning me for days not to wear my sandals around camp but I’ve ignored him….up until now! OUCH!! It still stings. I’ve been stung a few times before and, other than stinging for a few hours, they don’t bother me much. Let’s hope it’s the same for Mississippi yellow jackets. I need to get my son up out of bed and get the hell outta here!!!
We have a relatively short drive today. We’re heading into New Orleans and will be staying at our first hotel of the entire trip. Clean sheets, air conditioning, tv, air conditioning, high speed internet, air conditioning. By the way, did I mention that we’re really looking forward to air conditioning tonight?

Dylan drove virtually the whole distance into NO. I55 becomes this gigantic bridge for about 20 miles before it drops into the city. Underneath this bridge was the bayous surrounding Lake Pontchartrain. Little homes up on stilts...amazing lifestyle. We arrived at New Orleans and were greeted by our first traffic jam of the trip. It appears that people here have just as much trouble merging lanes as in LA. We also got hit with only our second bout of rain the whole trip. We could see the storm clouds brewing on the horizon but, up until now, we have pretty much been spared. It was only a quick downpour so we hoped for the best. By the time we reached the Visitor's center, the rain had stopped.

We found our hotel, Hotel St. Marie, and then headed out into the French Quarter. Our hotel is about a half block off of Bourbon St. so we were centrally located. The first place we went to was Cafe Du Monde which Dylan had heard of on the Travel Channel as having the best doughnuts in the world. I agree!!! We scarfed down 3 beignets and had a couple iced coffees and we were in 7th heaven. We figured that we should prolly eat a good lunch rather than just doughnuts so we took off in search of a restaurant that caught our eye. We ended up at the Original French Market Restaurant and Bar which had stood in that location since about 1812 or something like that. Very cool. Dylan and I ordered 2lbs of crawdads and proceeded to wonder what the hell we were supposed to do with them when they arrived at our table. When I ordered, I asked the waiter, "are these spicy?" (I'm such a dumbass) In his N.O. drawl he answers, "nah, deez aren't spicy t'all" Yeah, right!! He sat over in the corner with his waiter buddies smiling at us as we looked up on Google as to how to eat crawdads properly (twist the tail off, suck the head, then squeeze the meat out of the tail) and proceeded to devour the entire two pounds as our lips became branding irons of heat!!! Unbelievable taste, though. Really fantastic.

Off we went towards Bourbon St. It was about 3PM or so and the wind had started howling as a storm cell moved over the city. All the shop keepers were literally boarding up and heading indoors. We eventually found ourselves alone as we walked the streets of the French Quarter up to Bourbon St. Very weird feeling and quite spooky. A few minutes after we arrived at Bourbon St., it started raining. Happy day! Bourbon St. reminded me of Avenida Revolution in Tijuana during the 80's...though not quite as dirty. Hundreds of tourist shops all selling exactly the same things. One thing I did like, though, was that you could get your booze to go! I ordered a beer ($10.50!!!) and walked the streets with my son. Very cool. It was still rather early in the day so not too many people were out and about. There was only one band playing on the whole street so we stood outside the door and listened. It was early, so the bouncer guy invited us in as long as Dylan sat at one of the tables in the front. It's all "over 21" so this was a rare treat! We sat there and listened to a great band play 70's covers and proceeded to high five ourselves on finally making it to N.O.

We walked around a bit, I drank a lot more, walked around a bit, I drank more, then we decided to have some dinner. We had a fantastic dinner of seafood in a great restaurant right across the street from Larry Flynt's Barely Legal Club!! We were entertained during dinner by the overweight mom with Cesarean scar jiggling her flabby, white, cellulited, ass in a way too small G-String bikini outside of the Club. Everyone in the restaurant was quite entertained by watching that train wreck. After dinner, I was beginning to feel the beer and the food so I talked Dylan into going back to the hotel room for a little nap.

Got up and went back out at about 9PM...what a change!! The street was blocked to cars and people had come out of the woodwork. Bands were playing at virtually every little bar and the place was alive. I drank more and we had a great time people watching and enjoying the vibe. The night ended with another trip to Cafe Du Monde for some beignets and decaf iced coffees. Fantastic!!!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Day 9 – Lake Ouachita State Park to Lake Lincoln State Park, Mississippi

Took showers and left Lake Ouachita by a little after 9 AM. The first part of the drive took us through some very poor parts of Arkansas and Louisiana. Again, just rundown buildings with rusting cars sitting out front. Business after business all boarded up. It was beautiful country, though. As we drove further south, we got into the delta country of the Mississippi River. Miles and miles of corn and soybean fields with not much else. The town of Tallulah, LA was quite interesting because it was the first predominantly black town that we’ve run across. Obviously, there will be more to come.

Most of Mississippi was traversed by Interstate freeway right up until about 10 miles from our destination. Not much to see. We exited the freeway and followed the GPS toward the state park. As we saw the first sign, the “NAV Chick” says, “GPS can no longer give you a turn-by-turn” “Please just guess as to how to get there or follow the signs like in the old days” What the hell were we to do? Yes, we followed the little hand-painted signs to the state park. As we turned in, the first sign we saw was “Beware of Alligators!” Perfect!!

I’m doing a little “catch-up” on the blog while doing laundry. They don’t allow alcohol in the park. Ooops. Good thing I have plastic cups, huh? We’re going to be keeping our eyes open for creepy-crawlies tonight. It’s a pretty nice park, though. Setup more like a small community rather than a traditional state park. Interesting.

Day 8 – Lake of the Ozarks State Park to Lake Ouachita (wash i taw) State Park, AR

So...we’re driving along and as soon as we crossed the Arkansas border it started to rain a bit. They were those HUGE tropical thunderstorm kind of raindrops. It started getting darker and the wind started blowing harder. One and two raindrops turned to a deluge...we were by ourselves on the freeway and about a ¼ mile in front of me a HUGE lightning bolt hit the freeway!!!! Freaking the biggest lightning strike I had ever seen!! As we drove past the spot where the bolt hit, there was a softball sized chunk of asphalt blown out of the hole that the lightning made...IN MY LANE!!! WOW!!! Very cool stuff...and it was over a quickly as it started.

The drive through Arkansas was amazing. I had no idea that Arkansas was so hilly and forested. We followed the scenic Hwy 7 south through the Ozarks and every little podunk town you could imagine. The scenery actually reminded me of Southern Oregon....very curvy road with lots of ups and downs. We ended up in this little town called Jasper during their 13th annual Elk Festival. Dylan and I decided to get out and pretend like we were locals. Yeah, right! We stuck out like sore thumbs. First of all, most of the men had buzz cuts with trucker hats and the few that did have long hair had really long hair so that immediately caused us to stick out. In addition, Dylan was wearing a black Depeche Mode tshirt and his black shorts hanging off his ass L. A. Style. Uh huh. Jasper is a very small town and the entire population was there. There were a few that looked like they were dressed as hicks for halloween....but, of course, it wasn’t halloween. The poverty and depressed economy has really taken it’s toll across the US. Everywhere we’ve been, we’ve seen boarded up buildings, homes for sale and going out of business sales. People are really just getting by. It kind of opens your eyes to what’s going on out there.

The drive from Jasper to Lake Ouachita was a continuation of the long and windy road. Supposedly, Lake Ouachita is one of the largest lakes in Arkansas and is one of the cleanest. We weren’t overly impressed by the cleanliness but it was a beautiful lake. These lakes out here can’t hold a candle to some of the beautiful mountain lakes that we have in the West. Our campsite was acceptable but it was up the hill from the lake. Dylan and I spent our time riding bikes down to lake and doing some good trail riding on, yet, another very difficult trail. Once again, we were completely soaked by the time we got back to our campsite. I’m so happy that I got in shape before this road trip. I’ve been able to keep up with Dylan with no problems at all.

Ate fresh strawberries and had burgers again for dinner. It’s amazing, the strawberries are from Watsonville, CA and they’re less expensive here than in CA. Also, the price of gas is ridiculous!! I have been paying about $2.50 /gallon for a few days now! We’re getting ripped off!!! Another interesting thing is that there are these HUGE daddy long legs spiders everywhere!! They run and scatter as you walk by them and there’s a ton of them on the trees. They never really bothered us but they were a little weird. I found a frog at night and Dylan got to hold a frog for what he says is his first time. I couldn’t believe it but I supposed he is a city kid.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 7 - Lake of the Ozarks State Park, Osage Beach, MO

The drive to the Ozarks yesterday was a relatively short drive of about 260 miles. During the way, we decided to stop at Fort Scott National Historic Site to brush up on our history a bit. We were given a lesson by Mr. Enoch Doubledee (I shit you not!) who was one of the park rangers. I couldn't get him to shut up!! It was obvious that we we're some of the first visitors that he had seen in a while. He was very knowledgeable and gave us a full rundown on the history of the fort and of the region. Thanks, Enoch!!

The town of Fort Scott looked like a great little western town until we started walking through it. Just like Dodge City, it was pretty much shuttered up and empty. Quite a disappointment. We had wanted to eat some food at a quaint little cafe but none was to be found. Taco Bell outside of town cured our hunger pangs and gave us a dose of comfort food. I do have to admit, though, that the townfolk certainly didn't look like the townfolk in our local Taco Bell in Calabasas!!

We arrived at Osage Beach, MO to find it a pure tourist town. There are condos and motels everywhere catering to the tourists who flock to the Lake of the Ozarks. We were concerned that we might have a hard time getting a spot in the park, but no problems were had at all. We set up camp right beside the lake and enjoyed a fantastic sunset, fireflies, nice people, a bunch of almost tame deer and a renegade raccoon who tried to break into our cooler in the middle of the night. Other than that, I slept fantastically listening to a mentally retarded Whip-poor-will across the lake going on and on and on for virtually the entire night. STFU!!!!!

It's so nice here that we decided to spend another day so we're going to do some laundry, mountain biking and maybe some swimming.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Day 6 - El Dorado Lake St. Pk, KS to Lake of the Ozarks St. Pk., MO

The drive ended up being one of the longer ones. I opted to make the run all the way to
Eastern Kansas to make up a little for our off day at Mesa Verde. Except for about 10
miles, the entire 370 miles was all 2 lane highway at 65 MPH, which is good except that at every single town, the speed would drop all the way down to 25 which seemed like we were going backwards.

The first place of interest that I saw was the border town right as hwy 54/400 crosses into Kansas. I really should have stopped and taken pictures at some of the original late 1800's
buildings that were still standing and being used. I thought to myself, "self, no big deal. We'll stop in Dodge City and take pics there". Yeah, right! Dodge City was the biggest disappointment! Granted, there were a few original buildings but everything we wanted to see was torn down in the 60's to make way for widening of the hwy and a parking lot.

Shit!!! We pulled into the Boot Hill Museum and found out that it was a cheesy little fake
western "town" that was built for the tourists. We walked around the gift shop and bailed. What a let down!!!

There wasn't much after that. We were following the Santa Fe Trail so every 10 miles or so
there was some sort of Historical Marker celebrating old dudes that we had never heard of
before. As we got closer and closer to Wichita, the scenery started to change from grasslands to a lot of trees and more water. Everything started turning green so we were very encouraged by what we would find at our park 40 miles down the road.

We were pleasantly surprised!! The park is huge and encompasses virtually all of El Dorado
Lake. We ended up in a site about 75' from the shore with grass all around and big green
maple kind of trees along the shore. The temp was about mid 90's, high humidity but the
wind was howling off the lake at about 10 to 15 MPH which made it quite bearable. We didn't
immediately set up camp but decided to get some food going and do a little Geocaching. Fun
stuff! We were successful finding one but there were a bunch of muggles at the other. The sunset was amazing!! The sun set below the humid clouds and provided us with a few
spiritual minutes. We rode our bikes back to camp and set up the tent before it got too dark.

So, we sitting at the table just kind of reminiscing about the day and talking about some of our troubles in life...both Dylan and I had been a little down during the day. Nothing too bad but it just wasn't like the other days. Anyways, Dylan says, "Dad!" "What the hell is that?", as he points off into the tall grass surrounding our site. I looked and thought I saw cat's eyes glowing...and then there were LOTS of cats!!...and then it dawned on me!! We were seeing fireflies for the very first time in our lives!!! It was one of the most magical moments I've ever had in my life seeing these little "shooting stars" jump out of the grass. They were everywhere! It was almost like a Disney movie or something. Truly remarkable and something I'll never forget the rest of my life! All Dylan and I could think about was how much Sandra would have appreciated it. I really wish she could have experienced this with us.

Though there was lightning in the distance, we once again, got lucky and escaped rain during the night. I had originally thought that we would just sleep in the truck if it started raining but being in there with the windows closed on a hot, humid night...no thanks!! I think we need to make another run to Walmart (which are everywhere!) and buy a tarp for the tent. Oh yeah, another thing that I forgot to tell you...so the camp host comes by our site and announces that she's collecting fees. I joked around and said, "$5, right?" She said, "no, it's gone up to $8.50." Alright, Kansas!!! The last place we stayed in Colorado was less than half as nice and was $26!!!! I like Kansas.

Today, we're off to Missouri. We're headed to Lake of the Ozarks State Park which will be a
relatively short drive of about 260 miles.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day 5 - Mesa Verde Nat'l Park to John Martin Reservoir State Park, Hasty, CO

Today was a long drive - about 381 miles of 2 lane highway with everything from a 10,700' mountain pass to a 100 mile jaunt straight across absolutely nothing. I could only imagine what the early settlers experienced as they crossed the plains in covered wagons. At least I had air-conditioning and cruise control!!

I was kinda sad leaving Mesa Verde because I knew what we were getting into as we moved onto the plains. There was one point where the road stretched out flat and straight in front of me yet, in the rear view mirror was the beautiful Rocky Mountains. I do have to say that, as we were going over that 10,000' pass, it was kind of cool to know that we were actually crossing the Continental
Divide. As we were driving up, there was a river beside the highway. Almost immediately after cresting the mountain, there was, once again, a river beside the highway but it was, of course, going the other direction towards the east and the Gulf of Mexico. I had never crossed the Continental Divide before.

With about 80 miles left in our journey, I decided to let my Dylan drive for the very first time on this trip. Not 5 minutes after he started driving he says to me, "Dad, what is that up there?" I said, "SLOW DOWN NOW!" Come to find out, a truck pulling a trailer loaded with pipes had it's load work loose and there were a bunch of pipes sideways on the trailer so that they were sticking into our lane. Problem averted but I couldn't help but think if that had happened right as we drove by. Ugh!!

We finally arrived at our lovely campsite. NOT!! Actually, it's not that bad. There are quite a few trees and the temperature is dropping nicely and the bugs are out in force. I'm OK, but poor Dylan is getting eaten alive. There was a sign on the empty ranger station that said, "Alcohol over 3.2% prohibited" What the hell? I'm currently drinking a Single Track Copper Ale from Boulder Brewing Co.....I guarantee that it's more than 3.2%!!! Bzzzzzzzz..........

Tomorrow, we're off early for Kansas. My goal is somewhere around Hutchinson. We'll see.

Day 4 - Another Day At Mesa Verde Nat'l Park

Obviously, my post from yesterday didn't get posted at all. I sat outside the general store for about 45 minutes trying to get this damn blog to upload. So much for the satellite internet service they had there.

We had a fantastic day. We drove down to the ancient Cave Dwellings that were occupied by the Ancestoral Pueblans over 700 years ago. To see where they built there "cities" perched up underneath sandstone overhangs was just mind boggling. Especially, if you think that they had to do all their farming on top of the mesa which meant climbing in and out of the dwelling every day. They must have been pretty strong, wiry little people.

We got back to the campsite with plenty of time to do a hike to the top of one of the mesas. We actually hiked completely over the top of Prater Ridge. On the other side, Dylan and I just sat on the very edge of about a 150 foot cliff and ate Cajun Mix and Goldfish Crackers!! Life is good!!! One thing I can say is that I'm really happy that I hit the gym prior to going on this trip. All the hiking and biking that we've done at over 7000 feet of altitude has not really phased me at all. I've had no problems at all keeping up with Dylan. I have "seen the light" of physical phytness. It's easy to say it now but I really can't see myself going back to my slovenly ways.

As I type this, my son is driving across 90 miles of absolutely straight highway going across the Colorado plains. Gotta love 3G!!!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Day 3 - Grand Canyon to Mesa Verde Nat'l Park, CO

We were fortunate to get an early start this morning for the 300 mile jaunt to Colorado. The first 30 or 40 miles of our journey were all along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. There were overlooks every couple miles or so and we really didn't have the time to stop at every single one but the few that we did stop at never ceased to amaze me. The grandeur of the the Canyon is breathtaking and should be experienced by everyone. Our last stop before leaving the Canyon was the Desert View Tower which was built in the 1930's of natural stone. It rises above the canyon rim with superior views in all directions. It was a fitting end to a great time at the Canyon.

Miles and miles of pure nothing awaited us as we drove across northern Arizona towards the famous 4 Corners National Monument. We were so excited to stand at one spot and be in Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico all at once. Well, let me tell you...it was a freakin' joke! The "monument" (I use that term loosely) is on Indian lands and they "maintain" it. Yeah, right!!! Granted, there was construction going on at the actual center of the 4 states but everything around it was just run down Native American trinket stands. Very run down!! Not worth the time or effort. I suppose we did walk all the way around and can officially say that we have visited 4 states today. The "monument" part of it was a joke.

We finally arrived at Mesa Verde Nat'l Park which is at the top of a huge mesa that rises off the plateau. The views were fantastic as we drove up. Another thing....we are surrounded by green!!! Green grasses and trees. Definitely NOT in the desert anymore. We found our campsite just in time as the park really filled up fast. Unfortunately, our site is right by the restroom that has a squeaky door and a big sodium vapor light outside it. We'll survive.

There is very sporadic cell phone access so I'm sitting outside the General Store on their slow-as-molasses wifi. No pictures will be uploaded today, unfortunately. When I get good access, I'll upload pics from today and add some from yesterday too. I don't know where we'll be tomorrow. Maybe further east in Colorado....maybe not! :-)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Day 2 - Lake Havasu to the Grand Canyon

We could have taken Interstate 40 and been to the Grand Canyon in no time at all. The Interstates in Arizona have a 75MPH speed limit so the miles just fly by.....BUT....we decided to take historic Route 66 towards the little town of Oatman which was suggested by one of our books. It was amazing! There were burros walking down the middle of the street and on each side were old historic buildings that were converted into little shops and trinket warehouses. It was very cool.

Leaving Oatman, Route 66 winds up into the mountains with some very hairy switchbacks and hairpin turns. There were quite a few old rusting hulks at the bottom of some of the ravines. After coming out of the mountains, it was boring, boring, boring all the way to the Grand Canyon.

Once we reached the Grand Canyon, we found it overrun by grossly overweight tourists who had just clambered off of tour buses. That, of course, didn't stop us from making our way immediately to the canyon rim. What was really cool about it was that you couldn't see the canyon until you were right on the rim. It was far more spectacular than I ever expected it to be. Literally miles to the canyon bottom. Words can't describe it. Seriously. We also found out something quite amusing. My son is afraid of heights!!! hahahahahaha I ventured out on a rock with nothing below it and he refused. I suppose is WAS quite a ways up!! Truly some remarkable scenery.

We had to backtrack down the highway to get back to our campsite but it is well worth it. There are pine trees all around us. The temp is about 78 and breezy. The low tonight is supposed to be around 41 so we're going to be cold! A big change from last night when we both slept in our boxers with all the windows open and no covers!!!

Tomorrow will be a new day and we won't know what we're doing until then. We're definitely going to go to take showers though!!