Monday, April 30, 2012

2012-11 Homer Louisiana to Hot Springs Arkansas


Hot Springs Arkansas

Hot Springs National Park

Campground:  Gulpha Gorge Campground, 150 Gorge Road, Hot Springs AR 71901. Full hookups $12 senior rate, normal $24. This campground is a part of the Hot Springs NP.  Updated campsites with full hookups but many sites are short.  I found about 10 sites that a larger rig could fit in.  19 over the air TV channels available.

Campground:  Lake Catherine St Pk 1200 Catherine Park Road Hot Springs, AR 71913, $25 regular rate, Senior rate 25% off except weekends.  Full hookups, Nice large sites.  8 over the air TV channels available.

Tuesday, 4/24/2012.

friends Kathy and Randy
I've been busy this week.  After setting up at Lake Catherine, I had a visit from friends Kathy and Randy.  We couldn’t stop talking, trying to catch up on all the news over the past 6 months since we last saw each other.  Randy and Kathy recently bought a new 5th wheel, which makes it number 5 in 6 years.  Wow, maybe Randy should consider just test driving the campers for a couple months instead of buying them… .  They both lead a full life and visit with their kids and grandkids all summer long.  

Back in Hot Springs I had some chores to take care of.  Getting prescriptions refilled.  One now only costs 52 cents for a three month supply. Wow, what a deal.  I’ve discovered that Walgreens is better than Wal-Mart for getting my prescriptions across the country.  Grocery shopping.  Visiting Gulpha Gorge (Part of the Hot Springs National Park) campground to see if my camper will fit in.  Many of the sites are short.   I’m able to fit in a number of the full hookup sites, but it’s important to know which way to loop around this campground as some of the camp rows have a rather tight turn at the far end.  Best to stop at the entrance and walk the campground before trying to drive a big rig through to a campsite.  Thanks to Randy and Kathy, I checked it out before attempting to get into this campground.
Gulpha Gorge Campground

And finally a visit to the Dermatologist which I should have done this past winter.  Had a number of spots zapped with the nitrogen oxide to freeze the spots and one bump had a biopsy taken of it.  I may have to go back in to have it surgically removed.  I should know something next week.  Till then I’ll be in the Hot Springs area enjoying some great weather.  Note to self:  Be more diligent about wearing sunscreen every day.

The air is thick with the smell of jasmine.  Huge bushes of jasmine line the roads as well as patches of wild flowers showing off their spring colors of pink, yellows, dusty blues and white daisies.  I had one of what I’m sure will be many visits to the downtown area to see the row of Bath houses on one side of the street and all the shops and commercial building on the other side.  Sitting on a park bench I met a lady who was meeting a group of Baptist missionaries back from their world wide missions.  She was able to share with me some of the local food places to try out while I’m here and I shared a couple places she and her husband might like to visit on their summer vacation.  That is after they come back from Nome Alaska where her church group is going to build a house for one family up there.
Hot Springs Bath Houses

I received my first payment for my Google Adds on my website.  $102.00.   So thanks to everyone who has been clicking occasionally on one of those adds.  It’s helping to pay for the site, so keep on clicking those adds.  And surprise of surprises, I received a $326.01 overpayment check in the mail from one of my appointments for my hernia surgery a while back.  Seems the pre-op center was over zealous in collecting my yearly deductible payment up front.  Nice to have a little money come back instead of always going out.

Downtown Hot Springs

On Monday I packed up and drove a whole 17 miles to Gulpha Gorge Campground.  I was at my new campsite by 9:30 and set up by 10:00.  It’s part of the Hot Springs National Park and is about 2 miles from the downtown area. And I save lots of money being able to take advantage of my National Park Senior Pass, paying only $12 a night for full hookups.  What a deal.  If your over 62, you really should get a National Park Senior pass which will get you in all the National parks and monuments for free and you’ll only pay half price for campsites at National Parks, BLM land, National Forest and Army Corp of Engineer campgrounds.

Speaking of deals, with the higher price of fuel, I know many campers feels it’s becoming too costly to travel the country.  However, by traveling and staying a little longer at each campsite, I’m able to keep my fuel prices down considerably from last year.  This past month I spent $595 on camping averaging $16.97 a night.  My diesel fuel expenses amounted to $401 for the month of April, average price was $4.00 per gallon.  Traveling through Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas.  I expect once I begin my westerly trek I may pass through a few states more quickly and then my fuel price will jump easily another $100 to $200 depending on how quickly I travel across those mid-western states.

That’s it for this weeks report, more on Hot Springs next week.

Additional photos on Picasa

2012-10.1 A Bonus Report - Ruminations of a Work Camper

Ruminations of a Camp Worker.

I was talking to a fellow camper today who has been on the road now for 10 years in the same camper.  He mentioned that he recently had to replace the refrigerator and water heater.  Not bad after 10 years.  His Ford diesel truck is 12 years old and has 170,000 miles on it and he was going to trade it in on a new model recently.  The two dealers he went too both said, why, it’s running great and guys are clamoring to buy your vehicle.  Imagine, two dealers telling you not to buy a new vehicle.  I asked if he’d ever used any additives in the fuel tank and he said no.  That Ford did not recommend using any, that they would gum up the valves and pistons and cause more trouble than they were worth.  Others have told me with the new diesel fuels it’s a good idea to use those additives.

After that discussion he started telling me about his experiences as a work camper across the country.  Having worked at Yellowstone, Lake Lanier north of Atlanta, Dollywood and a Dinner theatre in Pigeon Forge, Disney World in Orlando and a few other places.  I’m always interested in other campers experiences with work camping since I’ve only done a little of it along the way myself.  My experiences have always been pretty good, especially working at State Parks and a few BLM land locations.

Here's his story:

One of the first things he told me was that he and his wife never worked a place unless they got paid.  Usually $7 an hour with a campsite included sometimes.  At Yellowstone they worked for a concessionaire (who no longer is there so I‘m not sure what it‘s like now).  He told me they had to work long hours and that they never got used to the high elevation which averages 8,000 feet.  Telling me that many of the workers, especially women, some with pacemakers, were passing out all the time, just bending down to pick something up and attempting to get back up too quickly.  The supervisors would tell the other workers to just put a pillow or something soft under their head and let them lay there until they came too again.  Then telling the passed out worker to continue working after they recovered. And darn if they didn’t go back to work.  He told me he never got used to the high elevation and quite often felt light headed.  All the workers were promised bonuses if they remained till the end of the season.  But when the end of the season got near and less and less workers were needed to run the concessions, the managers would get ugly and try to get the workers to quit, forfeiting their bonuses.  One trick would be that a boss would tell a worker to stay behind a counter for the whole day and not leave.  Then another supervisor would come along and tell the worker they were needed to help unload something or other.  The worker would say he couldn’t leave his post.  Thus making the second supervisor angry and he would start yelling and cussing out the worker.  If the worker did leave his post, the first supervisor would come along and get angry and fire the worker for not obeying his command.

When I interviewed for a job with a concessionaire in the Grand Teton’s, I was told that they pay you a full hourly wage, and give you a discount on your campsite, bonus at the end of the year, but you are expected to work 40+ hours a week and more than likely a 6 day week.  I never signed up.  Not having any desire to work a full time job again.

At Lake Lanier north of Atlanta, the many campgrounds around the lake each had their own problems and the camp workers usually got the brunt of the incoming campers rage.  Because it was so close to Atlanta, there were lots of  rowdy partiers, drug users and dealers coming and going all hours of the night.  His supervisor insisted that the gates be locked at 10:30 at night and could not be opened except for an emergency.  Other campgrounds around the lake had their own rules, with some leaving the gates open 24 hours a day.  At his campground though customers and visitors either were getting locked inside our outside all the time.  They would then converge on the camp hosts site in the middle of the night and raise all kinds of ruckus to try and get them to unlock the gates.  Which he told me they would not do.  He said they had a guy stab his wife, loud arguments to contend with and much more. Not a satisfying experience at all.  Especially for a job paying $7 an hour.

I’ve never encountered a campground like that in the 8 years I‘ve been out on the road, but it is something to think about if you plan on camping in an area that’s relatively close to a large metropolitan area like Atlanta.

Over in Dollywood, he and his wife signed up to work in the park, having been told they would get paid $7 an hour.  After signing tons of paperwork, the last paper to be signed indicated that they would only be paid about $6 an hour.  He told his wife, if they’re willing to lie right up front, I don’t think we want to work for them.  The HR manager got all angry and said, but you’ve already agreed to work for us and have signed all the forms.

They went down the street and got a job ($7 an hour) at one of the theatres where they had Elvis impersonators and the like.  And he said the entertainment was top notch.  He and his wife worked a few hours each evening, seating people or selling refreshments and gifts.  Saving enough money over the summer to bank almost $8,000.

He said the easiest job he had was working at a campground in the office.  Working 4 days on and 4 days off.  Giving he and his wife plenty of time to explore the surrounding areas on their days off.  Now that’s the kind of job to get if your going to do some work camping.

The job at Disney World was working out ok until a boss came by one day and said he want the guys wife and himself to get into costumes and walk on stilts about 5 feet off the ground for their next assignment.  Imagine, telling a 60 something couple to walk on stilts all day.  They obviously declined and moved onto to their next job grilling and selling hotdogs and hamburgers at a baseball stadium. And they were able to watch many of the Cardinals games to boot.

Just a few examples of the kinds of situations one can get themselves in when signing up for work camp programs.  Be smart and find out what the work situation is really like before signing up.  Ask the other work campers what they think about the place and what their duties are.  Most will be very forthcoming with what it’s all about.  And remember, just because you tell someone you’ll commit to the whole season, if it doesn’t work out, it’s time to head on down the road.  After all, the people who sign you up probably weren’t honest with you about the work situation to begin with, so what do you owe them by staying longer than you really want to.

There are some really great awesome work camping jobs out there.  I know, I’ve had a few of those great experiences myself.  Of course I have not worked for money.  And that may be the difference.  Working for money or signing up as a volunteer work camper can be two totally different things.  As I did Volunteer Work Camping where one gets their campsite free for a few hours work each day, it’s not considered a job, it’s volunteering.  I think the cautionary note in all of this is that once you accept money with the work camping it’s no longer volunteer work, it’s a job.

Fortunately, none  of my volunteer work camping were like any of those “jobs” listed above.  Just thought I’d share someone else’s experiences with you.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

2012 -10 Natchez Mississippi to Homer Louisiana, Lake Claiborne State Park


Natchez Mississippi
Lake Claiborne Louisiana

Campground:  Lake Claiborne State Park 225 State Park Road, Homer, LA 71040.  Water/Electric. $20.  Free wi-fi in the park.  Heavily shaded, great for those hot steamy summers.  Swimming beach, multiple boat docks, rental canoes and kayaks.  Front load washer/dryers 75 cents ea.  Many great pull-thru’s for an extra $5.  Note: Louisiana parks use Reservation USA and will charge an additional $6 for reservations, even walk ups.

On one of my last days in the Natchez area, I enjoyed a comedy called “Southern Exposure” put on by the local Little Theatre group in town.  It’s all about the Pilgrimage that is celebrated each spring.  Based on the stories and lives of the people in Natchez and their southern heritage and takes place in the 1950’s.  Many of the mansions were under water so to speak and barely making it.  Yet the southern decorum prevailed and the humor begins from there.  This play has been presented every year during the Pilgrimage days for the past 51 years.  Glad I had a chance to see it and get a slightly different perspective on the life and culture of the area along with a few laughs.

Southern Exposure

I received news today that my cousin Henry Palosaari passed away.  Along with my good friend Tim who passed just days ago and my niece Heidi who passed over to the other side not too long ago, I feel a bit overwhelmed today.  I realize it is all our fate to pass on out of this world, but so many so quickly has just got me a bit sad at their passing.

slightly over decorated?

My very last day in Natchez has been terribly uneventful.  It’s been raining the last two days, so not many outdoor activities to be enjoyed. I did drive along a section of the Natchez Trace Trail between the campground on into Natchez and that’s always a special experience.  Stopping at one of the many wayside stops to read about the history of the Natchez Trace (444 miles long) and the people and events that occurred along it’s corridor.  The wayside stop being the Elizabeth Female Academy started back in 1818.  Giving women a chance to learn beyond the simple reading writing and arithmetic they might have experienced.  Only a small section of one of the walls remains as a reminder of this historic site.  Imagine, Mississippi was on the forefront of education back in the 1800’s.

Elizabeth Female Academy

So many of the store fronts on main street are boarded up and closed, another sign that although this town has so much to offer,  it is another example of a town on the decline or at the least, on the edge.  Empty shells waiting to be brought back to life.  Wouldn’t it be great if a big company like Google or Apple could relocate some of their business to a place like this and fill all those grand homes with life again and in return revitalize this town.  Only a dream, but anything is possible.

Downtown Natchez

Lake Claiborne, Louisiana

Well what should have been about a two and a half hour drive ended up being about 5 hours.  Not following the GPS route to the “T” sometimes can cost time and aggravation.  I changed the route because I thought going along the Natchez Trace Trail for a bit, then up hwy 61 wouldn’t be that far out of my way.  Later a detour due to road construct near the State park, routed me many miles out of the way.  When I finally made it to the campground, I found out they no longer honor the Gov Senior pass for out-of-staters , so I ended up paying full price.  Not a terribly bad amount, but a disappointment none the less.  You know how I love a bargain so with a little bit of mental adjustment, I’m enjoying a great site for $20 a night.

And here are a few interesting facts I found out while traveling through Louisiana:

The first steamboat arrived on the Mississippi to New Orleans in 1812, transforming commerce.

1868, Tabasco was founded.

1901, An oil gusher was first discovered in Louisiana in Jennings.

1942, German submarines sank more than 30 freighters and tankers off of the mouth of the Mississippi.  Not something many American's are aware of.

pic from Poverty Point State Historical website
1600 BCE. Poverty Point was designated a US National Monument in 1988.  The site of a 3,500 year old massive earthworks created by Native Americans.  Covering over 900 acres, the site wasn’t even considered for induction into the National Park system until 1960.  Sorry I missed visiting this site.  I’ll have to get to it the next time around.

Louisiana cooking usually begins with a Roux:

First make a roux.  Blend oil (vegetable oil) and flour, stirring constantly until brown.  Add seasonings.  It is not uncommon to use all three: red, white and black pepper in the creation of these dishes.

Add the trinity - onions, celery and bell pepper.  That’s the foundation for all good Cajun cooking.

Add seafood, (sausage may be added)  okra and thinned with stock, you have gumbo.

Add a touch of tomato and shrimp or crawfish tails and you have etouffee.

I’m a huge fan of Cajun cooking all except the crawfish.  It’s all wonderfully seasoned food.

Claiborne Parish Court House  

This has been more of a relaxing stop along the way, with very few side trips for exploring as there isn’t that much to see in this part of Northern Louisiana.  It’s a poor part of the country with Chicken farms, some cattle, horse, goat and donkey ranches.  Oil and gas pumps are dotted throughout the state as well as lumber.

Additional Picasa photos.

Additional travel notes:  Next time I travel through Louisiana, I think I'll take the Delta hwy 65 route.  A north/south route following the Mississippi River.  Here's a link to some interesting site to see along the way.

I’ll be heading to Hot Springs Arkansas next.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

2012-9 Ocean Springs to Natchez Mississippi


Mt Olive MS
Natchez Mississippi

Campground:  Dry Creek Water Park.  PA rate $9.00, regular $18.  This park is run by the State of Mississippi but provides Passport America rates.  They are not as grand as a state park, more like an old fashioned county park with some type of water feature.  This one has a small fishing lake created by an earthen dam to control flooding.

Campground:  Natchez State Park.  $18 reg.  Discount for seniors 65+.  Beautiful forest setting, loop B has better sites for Rv’s, paved road and concrete pads for camper and picnic table.  Water/Elect. Nice bathhouse with one washer/dryer $1 each. Two pull-thrus.  Call ahead for reservations if you want one of those sites, no extra charge.

Natchez is filled with old run down bldgs. as well as nicely maintained
homes and mansions

  • Tip of the day:  Ever get frustrated at how to spell a word and using spell check just doesn't help  because your so far off the mark even spell check can’t help.  I discovered I can use my smart phone and just speak the word and let the internet find the word.  Walla, I have the correct spelling of my word.

My gosh, what a quiet serene experience.  I’ve arrived at Dry Creek WP where I stayed last fall for a couple of days and hadn’t remembered how peaceful setting is.  It’s an older park, on the lines of a county park, with concrete picnic tables, old asphalt roads that are chipped and cracking with only one circle of campsites and lots of trees.  All one hears are the sounds of birds cawing and chirping.  The sound of a bee buzzing by.  No cars or trains to disturb this serene atmosphere.  Now I’m here during the middle of the week which accounts for some of this feeling as the park is filled with campers, but most live or work near here and have set up their campers for weekend use.  So during the daytime at least, I pretty much have the place to myself.  My site backs up to a bank of tall thick trees with creeping vines winding up some of the trees.  The smell of jasmine and other blooming vines scent the air.


Touring the mansions of Natchez

After leaving the Mt Olive area, I headed west on hwy 84 to Natchez.  Some of the road was under construction but mostly it is a 4 lane divided highway with flashing stop signs occasionally for the rural cross traffic.  One note on Mississippi roads.  Most of their secondary roads appear to have no shoulders and often have drop offs which might be a bit unnerving for the larger Rv-ers especially when large tanker trucks whiz on by because someone (me) is only going the speed limit or slightly slower.

I’m staying at the Natchez State Park which is 11 miles from town.  I’ve been here before with it’s many southern mansions, Indian mounds, Mississippi River, Natchez Trace Trail and tons of southern charm.  I’m in luck as I’ve arrived during their Spring Pilgrimage (March 10-April 14).  Where many of the private homes are available for touring.  The town is famous for it’s Cotton Plantation Mansions (11 in town provide tours) and was once home to the most millionaires in the country before the civil war.  The owners of the many cotton plantations up and down the Mississippi preferred to build their homes in the town of Natchez where they would manage their plantations from a distance.  Being in town they were able to socialize with other plantation owners and enjoy the city life as well as be safe from river flooding.

the owner of the Towers on left

A large visitors center has all the information, but don’t expect them to be overly forthcoming with information.  My visitors rep. begrudgingly handed me a few brochures and pointed to a wall of brochures I could pick from.  No pulling out a map and highlighting the many nearby attractions what so ever.  Yet when I went to pay for the short movie they have on Natchez ($1.50 senior rate) the gal was as outgoing and personable as she possibly could be.  Even telling me about the movie The Lady Killers with Tom Cruz that was filmed in the area.  I’ll have to check that one out.  As you can tell as a full time Rv-er I consider a visitor center very important when touring an area.  If they don’t provide the information it can sometimes ruin the experience of touring an area.  One can often miss seeing something without good information.

So the next day I drove back to the visitors center and joined the morning tour of three homes ($45 including bus transportation).  I ended up seeing the Ellicott Hill House (1798), The Towers (1858) and Rosalie (1820) a national historic landmark.  Each had it’s own reason for fame.  The Ellicott house was the first to raise an American flag in Natchez.  It sits high atop the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi.  Interesting to learn that the Mississippi side of the river has high bluffs due to sand blowing east from Louisiana.  It mixes with the mist off the river and collects on the Mississippi side creating those high bluffs which occasionally collapse and fall back into the river.


The Towers mansion is privately owned and is also a B&B with an extensive collection of period lace, beaded purses containing between 50 and 100,000 tiny beads.  Note to my friend Patrick (don’t even think of trying to make one).   And the Rosalie was the Union headquarters during the civil war.  The owner left for Texas as he did not want to be any part of a war between the states.  Leaving his wife and children behind who lived upstairs during the Union occupation with officers living on the main floor.

The towers, one tower was burned down by a young girl smoking in her bedroom,
 so they just tore the other tower down too.

a face from the past
The Spanish, French and English all came to this area, one after the other.  The Natchez Indians of course were already living in the area, spread out over a vast region of farms where they cultivated their crops of corn, pumpkins, melons and beans.  Enjoying wild strawberries and peaches in season and later in the fall hickory nuts.  They had two Indian mound settlements in Natchez (Emerald and Grand Village) and initially got along with the new settlers even providing food to the Spanish soldiers.  But after more and more settlers came in the Natchez Indians revolted and killed everyone in Fort Rosalie.  The last of the native Indians in the area, around 400, were eventually taken into slavery and sent off to the West Indies .  Ending the Indian occupation of the area.  Today the area has no major industry as the paper mills and other majoyr industries closed down in the 70’s.  Now the area has high unemployment and survives only on tourism.

I visited one of those mound sites, The Grand Village of the Natchez Indians after having lunch at Mammy’s restaurant, which is inside of a large statuesque figure of a black Mama with large billowing skirt and holding a serving tray.  I’ve eaten here in this quaint roadside restaurant off of hwy 61 south of town the last time I came through this area and just had to experience all the southern charm and good food they have to offer. Today’s selection was a chicken pot pie, layered salad and corn bread with broccoli inside.  I could have done without the broccoli, but other than that it was a super fine meal.

Getting back to the Grand Village, where I saw the Great Sun’s Mound.  That’s where the head chief lived.  The French witnessed the funeral of one of the chief‘s in the early 1700‘s, where upon the Indians strangled the chiefs numerous wives and retainers so they could go onto the other side and continue to serve the Sun chief.  So many stories with historical significance in the area.

Other than that, I’m enjoying sitting atop a knoll above my pull-thru campsite here at Natchez State Park, overlooking the other campsites and the lake peaking through the trees.  It’s one of those sunny days with some clouds, with temps in the perfect mid 70’s and a breeze.  Birds chipping as usual, the occasional Rv a/c unit going on and off but otherwise it‘s very quiet.  Folks walking their dogs around the circle, waving and saying hi as they walk on by.   I’ve started reading an Agatha Christie book, Caribbean Mystery.  All the trees have their fresh new light green leaves creating a new canvas for spring and summer.  I couldn’t imagine a more perfect way to spend a day.

A few more days in the area and then I'm off to Louisiana.

and of course more pictures on my PICASA web site.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

2012-8 Ocean Springs Mississippi


Theodore Alabama
Ocean Springs Mississippi

Campground:  Davis Bayou Campground. NP.  52 campsites, water/electric w/ paved pads.  First come first served.  $8 Senior rate, $16 regular.  Nice bayou setting.  Close to Biloxi Ms.

Theodore Al, Chicken 

It’s officially spring and I’ve changed my bedspread out to the white one with stitched outlines of seashells.  With the larger 5th wheel camper it’s easy to have two sets of bedspreads to change out with the seasons.  The flannel sheets have been put away and the cooler cotton sheets are back on the bed as well.

Rather than use the laundry room here at the campground, I decided to go to a local Laundromat to catch some of the local flavor.  Well the place was a dump, machines that looked like they were 50 years old, ceiling fans with missing blades or with limp and sagging blades, old plywood and paneling tacked up to hide gosh knows what, but I put my money in the dilapidated old machines and proceeded to listen in on the local chatter.  A mix of white, black and shall we say, redneck clientele.  The laundry attendant with her peanut can filled with quarters and bills for change and a heavy southern accent with letters, words and phrases rolling off her tongue like a southern ballad rolling across the bayou.  One young gal (25ish) came in with her boyfriend who left almost immediately letting her know it wasn’t his job to spend time at the laundry and he was going to “get wasted” (it being 8:30 on a Sunday morning) and would be back in an hour and a half.  She was a real chatter box, talking about a friend who she was sure hadn’t committed suicide recently and if she could prove the husband did it, she’d kill him.  A black gal said under her breath, “and you’ll be in jail right soon too”.  The gal proceeded to say she’d talked recently to her sister who was in jail at the time, that yes, that was her big truck that her boyfriend drove off in and that she owned another car which was currently up north. Talk continued about low life friends and relatives of which I only half listened too as I was getting concerned about a real smoky fire type smell coming from the dryers.  Trying to figure out how quickly I could grab my clothes out of said dryers and run for the door if need be.  My clothes dried, I folded them up and left.

Went to Arby’s for a “value meal” deal where I heard a complete conversation in French as a gentleman was talking to a gal over his laptop connection.  I could hear both ends of the line quite clearly as they were both speaking rather loudly.  Everyone in the restaurant looking over their shoulders wondering why this guy was speaking so loudly.  He even got up to freshen his drink and continued the conversation between the soda fountain and his laptop waiting back at his booth.  Sure wish I knew French so I could have known what they were talking about.

Tatonut Donut Shop

Ocean Springs Mississippi

41 miles on down the road and I’ve arrived at Davis Bayou Campground.  A part of the Gulf Islands NP which was established in 1971.   This is cheap camping for me as I’m able to use my NP Seniors card and pay only half price for the campground.   At $8 a night (senior rate), I’ve decided to stay a full week.  What a deal.

When I stay in an area for more than a couple of days, I’m able to do a bit more exploring into the culture and find places the locals go.  Tatonut Donut Shop is just one of those places.  They make their special tatonut donuts using a blend of wheat and potato flour.  Creating a light fluffy donut.  The store in on a side street in downtown Ocean Springs.  I sat down with a local who has lived here since 1942.  He told me the original Tatonut shop was much larger and that they used to make wonderful long loaves of French bread.  His father used to buy 20 loaves at a time for 5 cents a piece.  He said they’d put a pound of butter on one loaf and just eat it up.  The guy was dressed in a light blue jacket, baby blue knit top and medium blue slacks.  All looked brand new.  He later told me, very proudly, that he’d gotten everything at the thrift store for only a few dollars each.  Their small community which is only a few miles east of Biloxi and over a causeway has quickly changed and growing by leaps and bounds, though I found the old part of town still quaint with it’s large shade trees and a mix of old and new shops mainly catering to the artsy crowd.  At least Ocean Springs doesn’t have any casinos as of yet.

Besides the donuts, I’d come downtown to go to the Walter Anderson Museum of Art, WAMA.  I’d learned a bit about Walter from the video they have at the visitors center at the Davis Bayou NP.  He’s featured prominently because he was a huge fan of Horn Island now a part of the Gulf Island National Seashore.  Having spent much time there painting and contemplating life.  Walter even tied himself to a tree and survived a hurricane just to experience it.  Much of his work was destroyed in hurricane Katrina.  His other two brothers also became artist and one has created Shearwater Pottery which is still produced today.  The community center next door contains a huge mural that encompasses the entire main hall.  Interesting to learn about artists and they’re creations.

A couple of days of rain have slowed my excursions down a bit.  Perhaps a day at the casino and a good buffet lunch will be in order.  Possibly the Palace as it’s the only smoke free casino in the area.

The rest of my time has been spent doing small Rv chores, shopping and reading a good book.

and a few photos of gators and magnolias.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

2012-7 Destin Florida To Mobile Alabama

Destin/Miramar Florida
Mobile/ Theodore Alabama

Mobile Alabama

Campground:  Johnny's RV Resort, 6171 Hwy 90, Theodore Alabama, 36582 Local: (251) 653-7120, PA rate: $17.50, Normal Price: $35.00. Full hookups/ w about 100 cable tv channels. Sites are gravel with grass and large shade trees throughout.  On site log cabin restaurant (very good).  Train noise across from the small pond, but no train whistle.

Destin/Miramar Florida

While spending the week in the Destin area I’ve been learning more about the area.  One couple has spent two winters in the area, this past winter from Sept till March.  They tell me they really didn’t like the cold winters here and that the heavy fog that can last for days at a time in the area is quite depressing.  Had no idea they got fog like that along the Gulf Coast.  On my last day in the area, I got a chance to experience that fog.  I mentioned in the last report that the traffic is quite heavy in the area.  Not something I’d care to be around for any length of time.  The only beach parking in the area is street parking and a few small beach parking lots that hold approx 10 cars.  If you don’t get up early, you probably won’t get a spot.  One of the reasons the area is so much more congested than say 4 years ago, is that the city/county approved short term leasing of all homes/apartments and condos.  So now every room is practically available for all those vacationers and spring breakers.

However, with a bit of exploring, I’ve discovered not only Henderson Beach State park but also part of the National seashore or possibly what is part of the Eglin Air force base where one can enjoy the beaches in a much less crowded and more natural setting.  With the congested condos and high-rise apartments off in the distance instead of right on top of you.

Air force planes have been fly over on a regular basis.  Usually two in formation at a time.  Fighter jets, large dark green helicopters and a few of those hybrid types that fly like a plane and then the blades rotate so the plane can land like a helicopter.  The helicopters were really flying close to each other and also appeared from my vantage point to come in close to all those tall condos by the sea.  Quite an impressive show for all those beach goers.

The Destin/Miramar area is all new construction.  No history here. New Condos, new stores and outlet malls, big oversized buildings with neo-classical designs.  Lots of Pillars, arches and if there is any land around the buildings, it’s heavily landscaped.  Every bush and shrub is immaculately trimmed to geometric shapes as sharp as a razor.  The grass is trimmed to an inch of its life.  And of course all of this has been built so people can come to the beach and lay on the sugar white sand, soak up the sun and splash in the emerald green waters. And yes, the water is emerald green eventually going to shades of deeper blues the further out one goes.

Theodore Al (Mobile Alabama)

$9.00 Toll over bridge.  Surprise, there was a toll going over the 293 causeway heading out of the Destin area.  But it saved me tons of stop and go driving along the 98 beach corridor.  143 miles down the road and I’m at my next stop in Alabama just outside of Mobile.  Hoping to do a bit of touring of course, but I’ll relax after my two and a half hour drive.   Whew… don’t rush me.

Bellingrath Alabama

My first stop outside Mobile Al area was to the Bellingrath home and gardens.  Walter Bellingrath was a workaholic and his Dr prescribed more relaxation and a slower pace.  The gardens were created first then the home came later.  It was originally a fish camp retreat for the owners.  Our tour guide is related to the that Dr. as well as the designer of the homes interiors so we were able to get some behind the scenes stories about the home and it’s creation.  The home was featured on the PBS special, Americas Castles.  Our guide told us no photography is allowed since Alabama enacted a bill that prevents photos to be taken of significant places throughout the state after the 9/11 attack.  Hmmm.

Bellingrath Gardens

The Bellingrath home has been exceptionally maintained with all the original furnishings.  Perhaps a bit much since the owners would not have used half of the furnishings currently on display nor would they have displayed all their do-dads all at once.  Many of the items would have been stored in the basement and rotated throughout the year.  Many sets of dishes and other household items were purchased from locals in need of extra money to get by after the great depression.  Sometimes they would hear of a neighbor in need of money and would go and purchase an item from them but never go back to pick it up.

The gardens are exceptional in that there are many water features, fountains, pools and streams.  All created from many artesian springs throughout the property.  A great day and a great way to get a bit of exercise walking around the many acres of property and gardens.

The next day found me in downtown Mobile the hometown of Jimmy Buffet.  It’s a city on a comeback from the 60’s when everyone had abandoned the downtown area like so many other cities across the country.  After demolishing dozens of blocks of old run down buildings, the city is coming back.  I visited the Mobile History Museum where they had an exhibit on  gadgets and things.  Pretty cool, just wish they had more audio segments throughout.  Even though Mobile experienced desegregation to a degree in the 60’s it still felt the effects of segregation into the 1970’s and I’m sure it’s still pretty fresh in the minds of many of the local residences.  And even up until 1980 when the Ku-Klux-Klan lynched a black man.  Sometimes you can’t pretty-fy history.  It is what it is and we should learn from it.

After touring the museum I came across a Red Cross sponsored Gumbo cook-off.  It was being held in a downtown park and for $12 I was able to sample dozens of gumbo recipes and listen to a pretty good black musician play guitar and sing.  Wow, lots of good samples, southern ice-tea and even bankers tea, some popcorn to cleanse the pallet between tastings sure made for a fun afternoon.

and tons more pictures on PICASA.