Out on Highway 61-Natchez

We left New Orleans anxious to explore a part of the country we had not visited, the Mississippi River Delta. Our explorations started in Natchez MS.We set up camp about 20 minutes outside of town at Natchez State Park.

The location put us close to the Natchez Trace, Mississippian Mounds and Vicksburg.

The Natchez Trace is 450 mile plus trail system that connects the bluffs of the Mississippi River to the hills of Tennessee. These trails have been in use for thousands of years, first by Native Americans and later by European settlers. You can still walk on parts of the original Trace and add your footprints to thousands that previously walked the paths.In 1938 a parkway was constructed to commemorate the the original Trace. Now instead of walking you can drive the 444 miles from Southwest Mississippi to Tennessee. The Parkway allows for easy access to a number of ancient mound sites. These mounds where constructed as sacred places by the ancestors of the modern day Natchez, Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians. We visited the Emerald Mound (the second largest of the Mississippian mounds north of Mexico).It’s an impressive structure constructed by hand starting in AD 1350. The view from the top where the tribe’s leader would have built his house.

We traveled the Trace up toward Vicksburg and visited a number of historic sites along the way.

Mount Locust Inn and Plantation is one of the oldest structures in the area. It was built in 1780. As traffic on the Trace increased with the influx of settlers, the owners started to feed and house travelers creating one of the few inns on the Trace. The slave cemetery was a stark reminder of how this country was built.

The Mississippi River was of vital importance to both the North and the South. The Union needed to control the river to allow troops and supplies to pass into the South. The Confederates also needed the river for supplies and recruits. By late summer of 1862 only Vicksburg and Port Hudson LA blocked Union control of the Mississippi. After fierce fighting and a siege of 46 days the Union prevailed. Close to 20,000 died during the battle and siege. Touring the the park will take between three and five hours. We arrived late in the day and really just got a quick overview. Battery De GolyerThe Park has over 1,000 monuments commemorating state battalions and officers who participated in the battle. This is the Illinois memorial.

Also on display was the resurrected remains of the Union ironclad gunboat Cairo. The boat was sunk in 1862 with an electrically detonated torpedo. We toured a Confederate ironclad in Kinston NC which made for an interesting comparison.

On the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River sits the town of Natchez. Before the Civil War the area was home to more millionaires then any other place in the US. That wealth was generated by the thriving cotton plantations. Many of these planters were investors from the North who came to Natchez to make their fortunes. Instead of living on the plantations they used slave labor to build homes near the river.

We enjoyed walking the grounds of these antebellum homes and admiring the gardens.

This home was built on the bluff after the Civil War and was one of our favorites.

We enjoyed wandering and reading the many historical markers explaining the towns long history.

As always we like to checkout the local flavor of wherever we find ourselves. Steampunk Coffee served up excellent coffee and conversation. Highly recommend. Sorry no photos. It was across the street from the local brewery where our conversations continued. Highway 61 continues up the backbone of Mississippi and we’re on it.

Funked Up On The Bayou

We left Florida’s Panhandle and headed straight to New Orleans and the French Quarter Festival. We like to park the Tin Can on the west bank of the Mississippi River at Bayou Segnette State Park.

Our front yard

This park allows us easy access to the Algiers Point ferry that takes you across the Mississippi and deposits you in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Louis Armstrong greets you as you enter the ferry terminal.

We love exploring NOLA by bicycle and checking out new neighborhoods. This trip we discovered the Lafitte Greenway. This bike path allowed access to City Park, the New Orleans Museum of Art and a chance to check out the Bayou St. John neighborhood.

Some of Carlos Rolon’s work as seen at NOMA.

During our last visit we heard about the French Quarter Festival- four days of free music on 12 stages. The focus is on New Orleans musicians. It sounded like our kind of festival.

Three of the larger stages are set up along the river. During the first day of the festival we started smelling diesel fuel but couldn’t identify the source. Turns out a ship docked to hard and punctured its fuel tank. We found this out when the ferry was canceled. The clean up

The music is nonstop from 11am to 9pm. That’s a long line to sit in one place. There is so much going on in the streets that needed to be checked out.Magic on the streetWait in line for fresh beignets

Lots of excellent street musicans

And then there was this guyYes, he did land it.

New Orleans has a jazz museum housed in an old Federal Mint near the French Market. There was an exhibit of iconic jazz images by Herman Leonard. A terrific exhibit. The museum also had some interesting artifacts on display. Fats Domino’s piano

Louis Armstrong’s first coronet

There was also a fabulous display of Mardi Gras Indian costumes. The costume takes a year to construct and is used for only one Mardi Gras season. But our New Orleans visit was more than just music and history. There are lots of neighborhoods to explore and this time we chose to revisit some old favorites and check out some new ones. The Garden district has some beautiful homes and as we missed out on a tour of the Lafayette Cemetery last visit, we made a point to tour it this time.

Since we were nearby, we wandered over to the Irish Channel neighborhood for lunch. Bon Appetite’s choice for restaurant of the year is located on Jackson Ave.

The jasmine was in bloom and scented the air everywhere. After an afternoon of wandering, we bellied up to two for one cocktails and conversation with the locals @ Barrel Proof Whiskey Bar. (We had too much fun to document that though.)There’s always something to celebrate in NOLA.

And no trip to NOLA is complete without a Levy on the Levee.

Gulf Islands National Seashore

We thought we were done with Florida but things happen. The last two times we headed West from Florida we tried unsuccessfully to procure a camp spot on the National Seashore. This year’s plan was to head to Alabama and camp on the Gulf. Out of curiosity, we checked the Natioal Seashore website and found there was one spot available on the days needed. We grabbed it. We spent two nights here and realized that we’ll need to head back at some point to explore the area more completely. What we did find during our stay was miles of white sand beaches and crystal clear turquoise water and an abundance of wildlife.

The beach was a five minute walk from camp, across the dunes on a boardwalk.

This guy made sure we stayed on the boardwalk when we crossed the dunes.Both evenings we walked the beach we watched schools of Rays riding the waves into shore eating as they went. Quite a show.The beaches are as deserted as they look. One evening we had to share the beach with this guy.

This Park is across the bay from Pensacola and has a long military history. Fort Pickens is located a couple of miles from the campground along the Florida Scenic Trail.

We saw lots of birds along the trail. Particularly impressive were the numerous Osprey.

But it’s also fun to see the familiar as well. Fort Pickens is a brick and mortar structure competed in 1834(construction was done primarily by slaves) and remained in use until 1947. From 1886 to 1887 Geronimo was held prisoner here. The Fort was active in Mexican- American War, Civil War, Spanish American War and the two World Wars.

The Blue Angels are based across the bay from the Fort and practice every Tuesday. We weren’t there for practice but did see them fly over the campground in formation. For us the attraction of this area is the the beach and wildlife.

While we didn’t see many people there was evidence that we weren’t alone.

Hopefully, we have the opportunity to come back for a longer stay.

Savannah

This is one of our favorite cities on the east coast and being able to camp 25 minutes from town makes it irresistible.We stay in Skidaway Island State Park. The campground is tucked into a beautiful Live Oak hammock near hiking/biking trails.

We have visited Savannah numerous times but this visit was special. Pat’s sister Doty and her partner Carroll meet up with us during their first trip in their new camper. We had a blast exploring the area.

On Tybee Island

Hiking Skidaway Island

Forsyth Park

The Savannah Music Festival was happening during our stay so we spent a few days wandering downtown and attending a few performances. The festival is international in scope including a wide range of genres. We listened to African music, Jazz, Fado and attended a shadow puppet performance.Derek Gripper of South Africa

Jenny Scheinman’s Mischief & Mayhem (Todd Sickafoose, Niles Cline and Jim Black)Etienne Charles performing his Gullah Roots suite.

Manual Theater

Savannah is both beautiful and historical. The city is laid out as a grid with public squares interspersed. The squares began their lives as areas for grazing livestock. Today they feature gardens and monuments.

This is an old city which oozes history.

From this balcony General Lafayette addressed the citizens of Savannah in 1825. This cemetery contains the remains of a signer of our Declaration of Independence and numerous veterans of the Revolutionary War.

The Owens-Thomas House

Savannah is also a great restaurant town. One of our favorites is The Grey, housed in a former Greyhound Bus Station. We had the oyster stew and the “Blue Plate Special”.

Photos courtesy of Carroll

We just liked the sign.The former A.S. Varn & Son Oyster and Crab Factory

A couple of miles from the campground you will find the Pinpoint Heritage Museum. The museum is located on the site of a former oyster and crab factory, the main employer in the Pinpoint community for 60 years. The community is made up of Gullah/Grechee people, the direct descendants of slaves brought here from Central and West Africa. After emancipation these former slaves were able to purchase the land on Pinpoint and approximately 90% of the land is still owned by their descendants. It’s a fascinating history and well worth a visit if you’re in the area.

We spent our last evening @ camp visiting with a couple whose blog we follow. Laurel and Eric were visiting the area and we made plans to meet for dinner. It was great to finally meet someone whose blog has helped plan many of our trips. We had a fun time but forgot to take a photo. Here is a link to their blog.

http://ravenandchickadee.com/

It’s All About the Beach

The last time we were in Florida we camped on St. George Island just across from the town of Apalachicola. We liked the area and people kept telling us that the beaches of Cape San Blas just a bit further west on the gulf were even nicer. So this time we reserved a spot at J.H Stone State Park on St. Joe’s Peninsula.Here it’s all about the sand. The campground is tucked into the sand dunes and is about a three minute walk to the Gulf beach.

A nature trail wanders from the campground through a pine forest in the dunes to the bay side of the peninsula. There are lots of birds- we saw an eagle hunting by the bay and jays and cardinals made a daily visit to our site.

Gallberry blooms

For us the most fun was on the gulf beach. We never made it to the tip of the peninsula because beachcombing for shells and the soft sugar sand kept us slowly following the 7 mile beach.

Watching the shore life is really fun…but sometimes it’s fun to get your feet wet and enjoy the view.

Northwest Florida-Taking the High Road

You wouldn’t expect to find a beautifully sculpted cave in Florida. Most of it’s caves are far below the surface and filled with water, but in northwest Florida there is a wonderful small cavern in a state park.

We stopped at Florida Caverns State Park to checkout a part of Florida that was unknown to us. It felt good to be camped in the forest and it’s Spring!!The cavern is located in a floodplain of the Chipola River system. Instead of palm trees there is a mix of pine, tupelo cypress, southern magnolia, sweet gum mixed in with palmetto and an abundance of wildflowers.

The Park offers a number of multi use trails that allowed us to explore the surrounding woods. We saw a variety of flowers blooming. Atamasco Lily

Wild Phlox

???Columbine

And some fauna as well.

While touring the cave a fellow spelunker told us about the highest waterfall in Florida. A waterfalls in Florida? We needed to check this out for ourselves. Here it is in all its glory(76 feet tall). This is where a stream drops into a sinkhole and disappears into a cave. Speaking of high points, we also visited Britton Hill- the highest natural point of Florida. At 345 feet it’s actually the lowest state highpoint in the US. You may not know that there is an organization of high point enthusiasts. These folks visit all 50 state high points. Not many people can claim all 50 but we actually have a handful under our hiking shoes.

It was so easy to get to this highpoint that we decided to hike the park trails.

After a few days in the woods we are heading back to the Gulf coast for more beach time.

Jupiter and Beyond

After a week in the Keys we moved up the Atlantic Coast of Florida and settled in at Jonathan Dickinson State Park just north of Jupiter.Site 114 in the River Campground

Camping is hard work.

The Park features a nine mile network of mountain bike trails. Great fun.The Park also offers lots of wild life viewing opportunities. We spent every morning checking on the Bald Eagle nest along the paved bike path. A fifteen week old eaglet and its mom made for some must see birding(sorry, no photos). But there were other wildlife sightings as well.

The Park is home to Hobe Hill- the highest point(86 ft) in Florida south of Lake Okeechobee.Part of our motivation for making a stop in Jupiter was to connect with Pat’s High School buddy Lynne. We spent an afternoon on Jupiter Island walking the beach and collecting shells.

From Jupiter, we traveled inland to central Florida to visit with Pat’s brother Mike and his wife Donna. We had purchased tickets for Ben Wendel’s Seasons Band jazz show in Winter Park at the Blue Bamboo Center for the Arts. Wow, what a great band and performance, (Gilad Hekdelman, Matt Brewer, Aaron Parks and Kendrick Scott).

We continued our tour of central Florida with a visit with Pat’s sister Carolyn and her husband Ed. They have recently relocated to Florida from Virginia.Their new home is near Mt. Dora, which is a picturesque town on a lake.

The 1/4 mile boardwalk gives you the opportunity to check out the local fauna.

Baby AlligatorBrown Water SnakeNight HeronA fun time was had by all. And down the road we go.