Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Completing the Trace...

Our first experience driving through the Natchez Trace was in April of 2012.  We started in Natchez MS and traveled through Mississippi to Red Bay AL where we left it to go to  the Tiffin Service Center to have some work done on our coach.  We never completed the Trace and always promised ourselves that "someday" we would.

That "someday" was last week.  We took up right where we left off...from Red Bay!  This time we spent a little more leisurely time doing it tho.  We decided to camp nearby and stay awhile.  Since we only had a couple of hundred miles left to do, which was easy to do, there were also areas that an RV wasn't allowed to go into that we'd wanted to see.

As typical with me, I "forgot" about Memorial Day coming up until about two weeks before time, and when I went to make reservations around Nashville, found them all booked!  Ugh.  When I located a campground near the Natchez Trace that had a vacancy, I was thrilled and I quickly took it.  The owner was so nice to talk with and assured me we had "full hook-ups". 

Everything went smoothly in Red Bay and we got done two days early, so I called Noel at the campground in Hohenwald and asked if we could arrive early, he said "no problem" and even asked us if we were coming via the Trace.  When we said we were, he explained that a small part was closed down due to construction, and gave us directions as to how to get around it.  Then, we were on our way!

Well...that was the last of the "good vibrations...." When we got there things were quite different... First, no one was there to assist us.  Noel, the owner was out of town shopping, then the camp host wasn't there (emergency).  When I called (help!?? where do I go??).  When I finally go hold of Noel on the phone and talked him into talking me through "where" we were to park...it was a disaster!  This place was horribly laid out, with only a couple usable spots, and those were not available.  The spot he had us going into was about 40+ feet long with electric at the very front and sewer at the very end and big lumps and dips all up and down through the grassy middle!  No way could it work!  Then, after we kept explaining (over the phone) that to him, he said, "how about pulling through it, to the one in front, and using it?"  Well, that meant using the sewer, going up hill!  Nope, that wouldn't work either!  Jack was furious!  A long day's drive to this? ...and Memorial Weekend?  Now what were we going to do?

I got on my phone and started looking again for places and God must have been on my shoulder, because I don't know how I found it, but I did, and somehow another campground showed up nearby!  I called, and would you believe it, they had space?  I grabbed it!  As we left Noel called me back and offered to move someone else and put us in another site, but I told him it was to late, we already were going somewhere else, sorry.  To little, to late.  He apologized and said it was bad timing that he wasn't there when we arrived, and that his host had that emergency.  ;-(

What a beautiful campground we ended up in!  Natchez Trace Thousand Trails...ended up on a "beach site" overlooking their lovely lake, full hook-ups, big, level sites and lovely wonderful people who had tons of fun, wonderful activities scheduled all weekend long...and at cheaper rates than the other place!  Wow!  Makes you just shake your head sometimes...;-)

We faced the water and the grass park was behind us!  Far behind those trees were the "other campers"!
Once settled in, we used the truck to enjoy the Trace and take in it's beauty.  For those of you that might not know what the Natchez Trace is...it's 444 miles through threes states and 10,000 years of history.  As the US expanded westward in the late 1700s and early 1800s, growing numbers of travelers tramped the rough trail into a clearly marked path.  Where the ground was relatively soft, walkers, riders and wagons wore down the "sunken" sections you see today.  In 1801 President Thomas Jefferson designated the Trace a national post road for mail delivery between Nashville and Natchez.  Today the Natchez Trace parkway creates a greenway from the southern Appalachian foothills of Tennessee to the bluffs of the lower Mississippi River.  It's truly a beautiful drive, and if you ever get the chance to do it, even a part of it, take it!


We enjoyed using it as our "daily freeway" as we ventured into the edge of Nashville or over to Franklin.  We could count on one hand the number of cars we would see on the road with us.  I would tease Jack that he would get spoiled here and not know how to drive with regular traffic again.  ;-)

As you exit the Trace at Nashville, there is a wonderful Cafe there, called The Loveless Cafe.  It's been there since 1952.  Now, there might not have been a lot of traffic on the Trace, but boy there sure was here!  This place was packed, but they know "service"!  ...and food!  Yum!! Nothing like "Southern fried chicken" in the South!  My mouth still waters up just thinking about it! ;-)  They give you a "beeper" and set you free to roam...they have gift shops (plural), a motel, meeting room, catering, and ?? Quite a place!  Super great staff (and did I mention how great the food was?).  ;-)

We took a side trip into Franklin one day and visited the Carter House where the Franklin Battle took place.  It was quite a siege and left both the brick house and the wooden office riddled with bullet holes.  Very interesting town, I wish we could have spent more time there, but it was a long drive from the campground and we had arrived late in the day.  We will remember it for next time!


Back at the campground, activities were going strong.  They had everything from Bingo to BBQ, from live music to ice cream socials, watermelon eating contests to water slides and for Memorial Day they invited Rolling Thunder to do the Missing Man table ceremony.  I had never seen it before and was really moved...to tears.  Very touching, and perfect for the day.  Being a "Navy Brat", military observance is special to me and this really touched my heart.  These men and women who dedicate their time, money and energy to keep the POW & MIA active is really something.   


We met some great people here and had a wonderful time.  I loved looking out my window each day, watching the families enjoy the lake together, watching the geese as they honked at each other in the park beside us.  The night before we left, it gave us a wonderful sunset to say goodbye, come again!  ...I love that, we will!


...on the road to Kentucky,  Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/74905158@N04/




Saturday, May 20, 2017

Digging for Diamonds!

Sometimes you just have to go dig in the dirt to have some fun!  At least that's what we told ourselves the other day!  ;-)

We stopped in Hot Springs Arkansas for a few days, and since we'd been here before and "seen all the sights" we decided that the "one we had missed" was just back up the road a bit, so, "why not?"  It was the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro Arkansas.  We knew about it last time, and thought about going, but it had started to rain, so chose not to.  Our campsite neighbors had gone the day before and had shared that it had "been fun".  They hadn't found any diamonds, but had a good time trying.  We tucked it in the back of our minds if we ever came back here. Soooo...


The weather's been "iffy", and we figured we had one really good, sunny day, so we decided we would jump on it and take the drive to Murfreesboro, which is about an hour and half from where we are staying in Hot Springs.  So, we got into our grungiest clothes & shoes and off we went!

When we arrived, Jack was surprised that the parking lot was already half full (I wasn't, people like to "try their luck!")  We paid our fee, rented our supplies (bucket, shovel, and two sizes of screens) and off we went to their very large field!  Even though there were several dozen people there, you couldn't hardly tell, as the field is so large, it could hold hundreds and not feel crowded.

Once we filled our bucket up, we brought it over to the washing station and began the process of rinsing the dirt through the screens to see what minerals were left behind.  Two kids playing in the mud!  Hadn't done this since my kids were little!  ;-)


While Jack searched for the "diamonds" (in the little stones) I went through the larger rocks and pulled out some "pretty stones" that I decided would make a nice bracelet for each of my granddaughters (since we weren't finding any diamonds!).


We continued to do this process for a few hours until we agreed we had had enough fun for the day!  ;-)  We bid "adieu" to the two fellows near us (who were avid diamond hunters) and let them "have at it" and went to see what we did unearth.

Turned out, I had collected some lovely pieces of Jasper, and a few small pieces of Barite, & Calcite.  Once I set them in a rock tumbler, they will polish up nicely and make a nice bracelet for my sweet granddaughters and I can tell them I found them myself!  Ha!

After we washed ourselves off as best we could, we headed back to Hot Springs to a "World Renowned Bar-B-Que" Restaurant, called McClards.  It's been written up in a number of magazines an books, including my 1000 Places to See Before You Die.  We both ordered their "ribs, beans & slaw combo".


Now, anyone who knows us, knows that we love BBQ, and love checking out BBQ ribs any chance we get.  So far, our most favorite place, hands down, has been Blues City  Cafe in Memphis, and so far, no other place has topped it.  And that includes McClards.  Sorry McClards.  They were pretty good, but a bit to fatty and the sauce a bit on the tart side for me - but that's a matter of taste, I'll admit.  But, as for the ribs themselves, Blues City's are much more lean, and still fall off the bone tender, and that's what counts.   However, I will give McClards an A+ on their beans!  Very different and very tasty!  Yum!  A wonderful way to end the day!

The rain did come, and we just hunkered down, as we do, and read and caught up on things...Stops like this are good for that.  We'll be on our way again tomorrow, rain or shine!

...kicking back in Arkansas,  Marie


If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/74905158@N04/

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Beautiful Bayou!

We enjoyed Mother's Day touring the beautiful Caddo Lake on Capt. Ron's Swamp Tours!  What a lovely way to spend a couple of hours.  The day was absolutely beautiful and the lake was like something out of a movie set.

The tour is conducted on a pontoon boat, nice and comfy...slow and smooth.  As we exited the dock we passed by a few dozen homes that lined the bank.  Many (not all) were on very tall stilts.  The Capt. explained that when the lake flooded last year, when people rebuilt, they went ahead and built "up".  I asked why they hadn't in the first place, considering that their homes are right to the edge of the lake.  He shared that this was the first flood in over 50 years and most of the homes along here are passed down in the families, rarely is one "up for sale".  Wow.


We had experienced a good storm a few nights ago, so the lake was up a few inches, it makes that much of a difference.  We got the benefit of a fuller lake and a nicer day, but I don't think I would want to be here when it's storming...

It's beauty is awesome...  The feet of the Bald Cypress have to be in water to grow.  This lake is mostly in Texas, but it is so large (26,810 acres), some of it is in Louisiana as well.  It's the largest grove of Bald Cypress in North America.  Spanish Moss hangs from all the limbs, giving it that surreal look.


All kinds of animals and birds coexist within the bayou.  We only got to see a couple of snapping turtles and a Snowy Egret, but alligators, snakes, peregrine falcon,  and the Rafinesque's big-eared bat are among the "special" ones listed.  There are also 18 species of game fish, wood ducks, etc. Plus, lots & lots of bugs!  I was surprised that all those houses I saw at the beginning didn't have screened in porches!  That's the first thing I'd do!  They don't bother you during the day (nice breeze), but once that sun starts to go down, wow, look out!


After our boat tour, we stopped at the dock-side restaurant called Big Pines Lodge Inn for a late lunch.  Being Mother's day...and very limited choices...the place was crowded!  But, we didn't mind the wait.  I sat outside on a bench next to a grand ole lady and her daughter-in-law.  The lady and I struck up a nice conversation while we waited.  She'd lived here her whole life and shared some wonderful stories about Caddo Lake and picking Mayhaw fruit off of the lake and making jam.  I had never heard of "Mayhaw" before and had to look it up afterward!  It's a fruit that's only found along the bayous, and not much any longer; and a tradition of making jam (she told me all about how to do it!) that no one really does that any longer either.  I love the things you learn, especially from older folks who live in different places.  Very cool.  Well worth the wait.


Our last day in the "Piney Woods" of eastern Texas was in Jefferson.  Funny, because that was the whole reason we came to this part of Texas!  I had read an article about the town and decided to check it out.  It's a cute little town, with a lot of antique stores...or stores that have a lot of "stuff" really.  Inside are tons of dish sets, more than I've ever seen before!  Outside are, well, lots and lots of stuff!  Wow.  They had a couple of really cute old gas stations that they fixed up.  The town did a good job of "recycling" their old buildings.  I'm glad we came.

I have to say, of all of Texas, I really liked the Piney Woods!  Very pretty, lots of lakes and trees.  You would hardly know you were in Texas!  (and no chiggers!  I asked...)  A lovely way to end our stay here...and it sent us off with another lovely sunset!


...on the way to Arkansas,  Marie


If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/74905158@N04/

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Texas Adventures - Family & Friends...New & Old!

If you've read my blog before, you know that we come to Texas every year, sometimes more than once or twice!  (it's hard to miss!)  We have a son who lives here...and, it's a big state!  We always see & do something new...but this year, we've lucked out and have (so far) had several wonderful "new" experiences!  Some we expected, and some we didn't!

We came, expecting, and got, a new addition to our little family...a new, beautiful, healthy (thank God) baby Grandson!  My son and his lovely wife gave birth to our last (our children have proclaimed) and 8th grandchild.  We've had the wonderful privilege of being there for each of the births, so couldn't miss out on the last one either, so made sure we were "in Texas" for the big event!  We were all thrilled that all went well for baby and mom and they came home with only two days in the hospital.  Big brother was happy about that as well!


The surprise, for me was getting to meet and know my daughter-in-law's Aunt Michelle.  She had come in from Utah to be with her niece for the birth as well and was able to spend a week.  The two of us really hit it off!  She is just a few years older than my own daughter, but "wise beyond her years", as they say.  We have so very much in common that we ended up talking for hours and hours while we watched and played with Dublin (the big brother) and took care of the home front while mom, baby and dad were at the hospital, or resting at home.  I hated to see her leave, we all did, and teased her about making her miss her flight.  Such a sweetie and welcomed new friend that I'm sure will remain in my life.

We stayed on for several more days to play with both grandchildren and spend time with my son and daughter-in-law as well as to do some work on our rig.  That's the luxury of having a spot at your family's, you can work on your rig, where you can't at a campsite!

It was time to move on though, so we decided to see another part of Texas that we haven't seen before, and that is the eastern part, known as the "Piney Woods".  It's really the last section of Texas that we haven't seen yet, so we checked out several areas and decided on a COE park called Buckhorn Creek at Lake O' the Pines outside of Jefferson.  I had read an article about Jefferson that sounded like a great place to visit, so off we went (only about 3+ hours away).

Nice drive, and the park turned out to be just beautiful!  Great, large sites.  Each separated with grass and trees and plenty of space in between.  We have a nice view of the very large lake right in front of us too.  Our first night here our next site neighbors came over and introduced themselves and chatted for awhile.  So friendly.  We got a spectacular sunset that night!  One of the prettiest I've seen in a long time...a "warning" of the rain storm to come the next day tho...and did it ever!  Sure enough it came in with full force!  Lightening and thunder and buckets and buckets of rain!  Sure was glad we were all settled in with good books and plenty of food!  ;-)


I had taken a picture of our lovely site the day before, and on a whim, posted it on Facebook  Not something I usually do actually, but it had been so pretty, I just did it.  Well it must have meant to be, because an old friend of mine (one I haven't seen in over 25 years!) saw it and contacted me and said "OMG Marie, you are only a few miles down the road from where we live!  Call me back and let's get together!"  I was ecstatic!  We did and was able to arrange a time for us to meet at their home and have a lovely evening together.  I had no idea that she lived in this area...had I not posted that, I would have missed her, and gone on my way...Thank goodness for tiny miracles!

Elaine & Jack on their boat touring lake Simpson
We took a drive today out to Caddo Lake to check it out and see if we could take a boat ride.  It was all booked up for today, so we booked one for tomorrow, so decided to just take a drive "around" and see what we could see.  We had no direction, we just drove here and there...we ended up at one point in front of a little Cafe.  When we parked the car, there was a beautiful 1968 bright blue Mustang convertible parked near us and as we were getting out, two nice ladies (that looked to be in their mid 40's) came out and started to get in it.  I commented to them that "I should have known that that lovely car would belong to two lovely ladies such as yourselves!"  They thanked me, and we walked over and started talking to them, about the car at first and then in general.  We four must have stood there talking about "traveling the byways" for almost 40 minutes!  Such fun!  They were absolutely delightful!  Two great friends who loved to travel hither and yon, having great adventures whenever they can.  Jack pretty much talked the owner of the car into getting a little "Tear Drop" camper to attach to the back (she was thinking of "something" to pull behind).

They insisted I get in behind the wheel!  Such fun!  ;-)
They suggested a fun General Store in the town of Jonesville. It's been in operation since 1847.  So, when we left the Cafe (after a great lunch!) we decided to check it out).  Well...Jonesville turned out to be a Post Office, that General Store (T.C. Lindsey & Co.) and a couple of old abandoned buildings that used to be a Cotton Gin & storage buildings.  That's it.  That's the town!  The store was quite something to see tho and well worth the trip (so were the old buildings, I thought).


It's so much fun to meet new people, to share stories, to laugh and learn new things...this is why I love this life of ours...

...kicking back in Texas,  Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/74905158@N04/