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Midwest Journey - 2011
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Friday, March 25, 2011: What a great day in San Antonio. Our goal was to spend the day on the Riverwalk. It's 3 miles of walkway, shops, cafes and entertainment next to the San Antonio River which circles through downtown. There are so many unusual shops and historic buildings to see, a week or more is needed. I guess we'll have to return next year since we are leaving the area on Sunday. We began by touring the Alamo and learning some of the Alamo history. Then we headed to the Riverwalk. There are two methods to see the Riverwalk, walk the three miles and visit as many places as you can or take a river Barge ride. Gwen and I did both. Be sure to click on the photos for additional views. For example, in the photo of Gwen waiting for lunch at the Republic of Texas riverside restaurant, the alternate view when you click the photo is of the same location but from the river barge we rode.
Walking the San Antonio Riverwalk with a river barg passing by.
Having lunch on the San Antonio Riverwalk We take a barg ride in downtown San Antonio

We also visited the River Center Mall which borders the Riverwalk. It's one of the largest malls I've experienced and seems fun to visit. This is another place which will bring us back again next year to visit.

When viewing the photos, be sure to look for the hotels which border the Riverwalk. There are many high rise hotels and all seem like fun to be downtown enjoying the activity 24 hours/day.

We haven't been here long enough to figure out the parking situation. The drive from our RV park is very short, about 10 - 15 minutes and the parking downtown is easy BUT expensive. The first day cost $13 for about 4 hours, the Tower of the Americas (yesterday) was $8. Today was $10 for all day. I'm sure there is some method to park without charge, but I haven't discovered it yet.

Where we boarded the tour boats near the River Center Mall
Mission Esada south of San Antonio Saturday, March 26, 2010: I'm back on my road bike after three weeks of struggling with sandy, windy coast camping and too many things to see/do. I was told of the "Hike/Bike Mission Trail" which should connect the five missions south of San Antonio which would be near our camping location. Our RV park treated us to breakfast for only $4, french toast, eggs, meat, fruit and coffee. Pretty good. After breakfast I took off looking for the trail which turned out to be difficult to locate. Also, the city is working on the trail in multiple locations so not much of it is available. I wasn't really interested in the missions only in the bicycling so I wandered around the mission area for about 35 miles before returning to camp. Click the photo and you'll see a portion of the trail. It will be great once the trail is completed.
Sunday, March 27, 2011: Moving day to Dickinson, TX, south of Houston to the Palms RV Park. This is a "Passport America" park which are not always the best but usually less expensive. This one is about $17/night. Our plan is to visit the Houston Space Center tomorrow then move again north of Houston on Tuesday. In driving from San Antonio, we drove through lots of green, open country with lots of cattle ranches although not much could be seen from the Interstate. We began seeing industrial development about 50 miles from Houston. For some reason, there was lots of unexpected traffic for a Sunday. Camped at the Palm RV Park, Dickinson, TX
We enter the Houston Space Center Monday, March 28, 2011: This was the day at the Houston Space Center. We actually got to tour the Johnson Space Center where NASA controls all space missions. It was six Escapee Chapter 37 members, Gwen, Ralph, Janet, Bob, Bobbie and me having fun all day at the Space Center. We were the first in the door. We enjoyed rides, videos, movies, tours, the cafe and getting to see actual moon rocks and real space craft such as the Saturn V rocket (one was not used toward the end of the Apollo mission series). We also got to watch a demonstration of how astronauts live in a weightless environment and handle everyday activities. My favorite was the Saturn V rocket. Be sure to click each photo for another view.
Full size mock-up for astronaut practice The new lunar rover
Wow! It's a real Saturn 5 rocket A lecture in real life on a space station with a little help from Timmy
Tuesday, March 29, 2011: What a nice day. We moved from Dickinson, Texas south of Houston to Cagle Recreation Area about 70 miles north of Houston. We've been in a hectic race to see the coast, San Antonio historic areas, the Houston Space Center and haven't really had the time to see TEXAS. What a pleasure it was to drive a two lane road around Houston to our new campsite in the Sam Houston National Forest. The drive seemed virtually flat, green leafy trees to begin the drive ending with tall conifers in the Sam Houston National Forest. Lots of green grass everywhere with pastures filled with horses, cattle (with horns), goats, sheep plus brick farm houses. Additionally, we were often alone on the road (I did see some cycle tourists) ... look at how nice those wide shoulders would be for road cycling. Texas on a two lane road rather than multi-lane Interstate
Our lunch location in Huntsville The dock at Conroe Lake only 1/4 mile from our campsite
Our intention was to stay at the Elks Club in Huntsville, Texas but our drive took us through the Sam Houston National Forest which surprised us. It looks like driving through western areas of Oregon, our home state. The first campground we toured was the Double Lake Recreation Area. What a nice camping area but expensive for the National Forest ($21 per night with full hookups using our Senior Access passes). The sites were private in a forest setting. We talked with the campground host who told us of the Cagle Recreation Area closer to Huntsville, our destination. We love the area and the campgrounds. The Cagle Recreation Area was only $10 per night for full hookups using our Senior Access passes. The sites are not as private as at Double Lake but are spaced very far apart. The canopy was a concern, I wasn't sure we could get satellite reception due to the tall trees surrounding each campsite. Fortunately, we found space #21 with a big enough hole to got both Internet and DirecTV as usual. I must have Internet because I'm teach another business course for Rogue Community College and the spring quarter began yesterday. This is the kind of camping we love. We didn't make it to the Huntsville Elks club because Cagle was so nice. No light pollution, no highway, railroads, very quiet with lots of space. We don't worry about Annie wandering here but must obey the leash rule for Morgan. I believe I mentioned we left Mustang Island Beach during spring break because of theft. The kids took all my leveling blocks for firewood and we needed to raise one side of the trailer quite a bit. I decided to get the plastic leveling blocks because the wood blocks split every time I use them. The camp host directed us to an RV supply close by and they had just what I needed. With all our excitement about the area we failed to stop for lunch until late afternoon. Because of that we decided to have a late lunch in Huntsville. We found what looked like a local cafe in historic downtown Huntsville. I think we did ... we both ordered the special with our choice of sides. Gwen ordered "Mustard Greens" while I ordered "Field Peas". You won't find either of those in Oregon. Finally, behind the lake photo, you see an "Alligator Safety" sign. It warns of "Alligators in the forest" ... you won't find that in Oregon either! It's our first time to see such a warning sign ... we have yet to see an alligator however.

Tuesday, March 30, 2011: I took most of this day to figure our income tax liability for 2010. We had to file three returns since we worked in California at camp hosts for three months. So a return for California, Oregon and federal. We ended up owing only a small amount to federal and nothing to California and Oregon. We were worried about that. Like all retired folks, sometimes it doesn't pay to earn any extra income because any income may all be lost with taxes.

The sounds and smells are different in Texas. Both the coast and near our campground lake smell like swamp (I don't know how else to describe it). I joke with our traveling companions about the swamp smell then begin talking about snakes and alligators. They think I'm paranoid. The birds at the ocean were always arguing while the birds here a Cagle are much more pleasant. I think it's because the birds at the ocean are crowded while the birds here have much more room to roam.

New Mexico sunset at City of Rock State Park
Our lunchtime stop Thursday, March 31, 2011: This was a busy day for us. We used this day to shop and laundry in Conroe, Texas, about 18 miles south toward Houston. We had several stores to visit looking for items needed back at camp as well as do the laundry. We found Los Cucos for lunch which turned out to be a very good choice. It takes a lot to impress us with Mexican food because we have eaten at some of the best. Los Cucos matched the best and at very reasonable prices. We shopped at Walmart, Lowes, Hobby Lobby and found Krogers for groceries. Krogers purchased Fred Meyer (an Oregon chain store) which we enjoyed so we had great hope for Krogers. We were not disappointed. I picked up a Krogers shopping card for seniors which gave us 10% off on any Kroger brand item. We enjoyed the quality of the market and the senior savings. We plan to go back.

April 2, 2011: Here are the photos of the BearKat baseball field (Sam Houston State University). The field crew is preparing the area for the game with Northwestern State. The university campus is impressive and their "baseball complex" is a good example of the quality of the campus. Click the photo to see a wide view of the baseball field.

Today was a day to try a new hobby. While visiting Hobby Lobby with Gwen (so she could shop for jewelry parts), I noticed an instruction book for wire jewelry. It fascinated me so I purchased it using a 40% off coupon. Today I practiced some of the techniques in the book. Of course, today was the basketball "final four" so we had to watch in the evening.

BearKat baseball
My new Davis Instruments weather station Sunday, April 3, 2011: It's happened again, my weather station stopped working. I blamed it on our stay on the beach and the amount of sand blowing into the anemometer or a beach creature chewing on the wire leading to the transmitter. This weather station was installed June, 2010 so it didn't last a year. It was the same story with the previous weather station (same brand). This time I chose Davis Instruments made in the USA. I'm hoping for better results and a longer lasting instrument. With this instrument, I get more information and there are no wires for beach creatures to chew. The digital console also makes the information easier to understand. For example, I'm currently looking at an inside humidity of 55% with outside humidity of 79%. That's our air conditioner helping to reduce inside humidity. I'm also seeing a message "Bar Falling Rapidly -.076" meaning that the barameter is falling indicating a low pressure area approaching, maybe a storm. The weather forecast for tomorrow is a 50% chance of thunderstorms (hence the low pressure reading). I'm concerned about how to protect the roof top transmitter when traveling but I'll figure it out. Click the photo to see the transmitter on my outside pole. You can also check the early recorded result here.
Monday, April 4, 2011: In addition to the other problems caused by beach camping, any exposed metal turned to solid rust in only a few days. That includes the chain on Gwen's bike. It was in such bad shape I was thinking my chain tool might not remove it but it did. Before installing the new chain I cleaned the rest of the bike as good as I could. The brake cables were also showing rust but some lubricant fixed them for now. Her pedal axle (bottom bracket) was also loose so the pedal arms would rock slightly on the axle. I fixed that too. Her bike is ready to ride again.
Gwen's bike is a mess
Spring Beads in Spring, Texas Tuesday, April 5, 2011: Today was a fun trip to Spring, Texas, only 35 miles from our camping location. We accidentally found a little bead shop on the Internet then noticed it was in Spring. Since Gwen got me interested in wire beading, we both had to visit this little shop. As it turned out, we spent about two hours in the shop. Each of us found key items we were looking for and each of us passed up items we knew we weren't ready for. Gwen has proved she has talent making beaded jewelry while I've only played with enough wire to know there are possibilities. It not like I need another hobby, there really isn't enough time in the day for me to do all the things I like to do already. But, I actually own many of the tools needed for wire jewelry already, so I'll see if I can make some nice things for the ladies in my life.
Spring, well ... it's really "Old Town Spring", is the older portion of Spring, Texas which has been turned into an arts and crafts shop community. There were dozens of little shops for all sorts of arts, crafts, gifts, cafes and tourist items. The streets are narrow, the walkway was cobblestone but I could see spending a whole day wandering this area. Unfortunately, by the time we left Spring Beads, we only had a short time to walk about. Click the photo for another view. Oh well, just another place to return to next year.
Friday, April 8, 2011: We moved today, less than 60 miles, to Rainbows End RV Park near Livingston, Texas. This is the location of the national headquarters of the Escapees RV Club. We arrived about 2 pm (it took us a couple of hours to put everything away at Cagle). The humidity was getting to us today with record breaking temperatures. Back home (in Oregon), snow showers are expected. The Texans think we Oregonians are being "wimps" about the humidity. Of course we are experiencing 90% humidity in only the high 80's, not the 100's which Texans experience during the summer months. We'll survive and look around Livingston to learn why the Peterson's chose this area for the club. Click the photo to see the building Gwen first visited at the park, the laundry. Rainbow Park, Livingston, TX space #36
Ordering breakfast at the clubhouse Saturday, April 9, 2011: The day began with French toast and sausage for $3 at the clubhouse. Ralph and Janet ordered their breakfast right before Gwen and I. On our way out of the clubhouse, instructions were being given to those who are to take care of the pool. It is to be uncovered today and chlorine added. You can click the photo to get a better view of the pool. Ralph pointed out the sign above all the public toilets. Perhaps this is something in our future as we approach the age of the older Escapees. Ralph and I wandered around Livingston looking for hardware items we needed to make repairs. After returning, I repaired a rooftop vent then began the barbeque for dinner. Tomorrow is another moving day. We are leaving Texas and entering Louisiana.
Getting instructions for chemicals in the pool Notice above all toilets
0410 Sunday, April 10, 2011: This was moving day to Louisiana (click the photo to see the "welcome" sign). We chose a National Forest campground which is 14 miles west of Alexandria, Louisiana called Kincaid Lake Recreation Area. Each site has electricity and water, no sewer connection. We scored very large camping sites with lots of open space around us. We picked a double site which rents for $14/night for the two of us ($7 each) using our Senior Access passes. The area is thickly wooded so it was difficult getting through the trees for a satellite and DirecTV signal but I was finally successful. This area if quiet and private, perfect for us.
Monday, April 11, 2011: Ralph and I enjoy this Louisiana morning with a cup of coffee and conversation. Take a look at the Louisiana woods behind us. This could be Oregon but without the humidity. Click the photo to see Janet on a dock in Kincaid Lake. Take a look at Gwen's blog about our time in Louisiana. What the Louisiana woods look like
Lots of green grass around LA and east Texas houses

Monday, April 12, 2011: Today was a trip to Alexandria, Louisiana to visit several shops looking for some specific hobby items and pick up some mail sent to us late last week from Oregon and California. Surprisingly, both pieces of mail we were looking for arrived.

I have noticed that east Texas and Louisiana have a lot of mowed grass everywhere. There are huge, mowed lawns around all the homes and huge areas of lawn alongside all the major highways. Someone has to mow all this grass. It was interesting visiting Lowes home improvement center the other day, they had about 200 riding lawn mowers lined up in front in various sizes. Now I understand why they have so many riding mowers for sale.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011: While Ralph recovered from an ear ailment and Gwen/Janet played with their beads, I took a tour of the Kent House Plantation in Alexandria, LA. This plantation was built in 1800 to grow cotton originally on only 500 acres but grew larger. I took one of the $8 tours and learned a lot about the time period. Many of the buildings on the grounds were moved to this location from other plantations because every building except the house of this plantation was burned during the civil war. The Kent House Plantation from the front
The Kent House Plantation from the rear and courtyard area The dining room with large slave operated fan over the table
Be sure to click on any of the photos for an additional view. The main house is built of Cypress framing with Red River mud bricks between the framing. The house is elevated because it is built in a flood plain before levies were built to control flooding. The dining room has a large slave operated fan (punkah) over the dining table for cooling and to keep the bugs off the food and guests. The food in brought into the room from the open hearth kitchen located in a separate building in the courtyard.
Master bedroom, guide is holding a pew doll Guide is pointing into the courtyard area from the back deck
The master bedroom is where the master, wife and children would sleep. Our guide is holding a pew doll (made to be quiet while sitting in the pew of a church). The bath is also located in the master bedroom. Bathes were taken in order, master first, wife, then oldest children to youngest child ... in the same water. The heated water had to be brought to the master bedroom and put into the tub.
Superstition calls for a bottle tree A press for cane sugar

Slaves were very superstitious so to help rid the area of evil spirits a colorful bottle tree was built. The evil spirits are drawn to the colorful bottles, if "noises are heard from a bottle" it is immediately corked trapping the evil spirit. The bottle is thrown into the river to carry the evil spirit away. "Don't pull any corks from bottles floating in Louisiana rivers" suggested our guide. The inside of a slave house is behind the bottle tree.

The machine on the right is a sugar cane press. Sugar cane juice is poured into a sugar mill (behind the press) once each year and boiled down into sugar, syrup and molasses.

Finally, I got to see an actual working open hearth kitchen (the only one in all of Louisiana) located in a house adjacent to the big house. If you like cooking in cast iron heated with coals over and under the cast iron, this kind of cooking is for you.

Cooking in the open hearth kitchen
The Frogmore Plantation near Ferriday, LA Thursday, April 14, 2011: This was moving day from Alexandria, LA to Natchez, MS. Along the way, we stopped at the Frogmore Plantation for a short tour. I thought the tour of the Kent Plantation for $8 was FAR better than this tour for $10 in the case you have a choice some day. The owners are still living in the plantation house so it was not available. The out buildings were well kept, set up historically and gave the visitor a taste of a cotton plantation. Be sure to click each photo for another view. Gwen has done a better job of describing the plantation.
Slave boss house Pie safe inside the slave boss house
We viewed slave cabins which were very much like the slave cabin at the Kent Plantation. Gwen is walking into the slave overseer cabin which is more comfortable than the slave cabin. In the overseer cabin I spotted the "pie safe" cabinet where food would have been kept. Note the bowls on the floor under each leg of the cabinet. Those would have been filled with water to keep ants from climbing into the cabinet.
Crossing into Mississippi over the Mississippi River into Natchez Camped at Natchez State Park, Natchez, MS
It was exciting crossing over the Mississippi River into Natchez, MS. No doubt this is just another river to the locals but the "mighty Mississippi" is historical for us who live on the west coast. The Natchez State Park is another great camping location again with electricity and water but no sewer connection. We can continue running our air conditioning to help with the high humidity.
Friday, April 15, 2011: Our first day in Natchez the first visit was to the Visitor Center looking for "coupons". The people of Natchez have done a great job detailing the history of the area from the Spanish, French, British and finally to the Americans. From the center, we took a walk along the Mississippi River overlook located in downtown Natchez. Old town has many small shops so we spent the rest of the afternoon touring the shops and having lunch at a Thai buffet, a bad choice for lunch. Other than lunch, we enjoyed walking the city streets and visiting the small shops. My favorite was just walking the area and viewing the great Mississippi River. Be sure to click the photos for additional views. Our first place to visit, the visitor center
In the gazebo overlooking the Mississippi River are Gwen, Janet and Ralph Downtown Natchez shopping area

Saturday, April 16, 2011: Today we took the time to start our day at Fat Mama Tortilla Cafe in downtown Natchez. It was recommended by one of Gwen's online pals and was well worth the effort. Note the bottle tree in front of Gwen. Behind the photo is another of the only floating casino in Natchez. It looks like a river steamboat, I don't believe it goes anywhere but is permanently docked here.

Finally, we spent the rest of the afternoon touring Longwood at the recommendation of a park ranger. Longwood is the largest octagonal house in America. It was built in 1860 but unfinished due to the Civil War. It was never finished so I was a bit disappointed with the $15 entrance/tour fee. No photographs were allowed inside except of the unfinished floors.

Lunch at Fat Mama Totilla with floating casino behind
Longwood Plantation Longwood tour group/inside view of unfinished rotunda looking straight up
Haller Nutt, a wealthy cotton planter built the house in 1860 with construction continuing until the beginning og the Civil War in 1861 when all supplies for the house were stopped by the Union shipping blockade. Dr. Nutt went from being a multi-millionaire to broke in about a year because his source of income (cotton) was stopped due to the war effort. This caused him to have poor health and he died in 1864 before the end of the war. His wife, however, continued to live in the house for another 20 years. The house remained in the Nutt family for about 100 years when it was sold to the Pilgrimage Garden Club which restored the house to it's original (unfinished) condition and offers the tours today.
We enjoyed a five star brunch at the Carriage House in Natchez Monday, April 18, 2011: Yesterday we enjoyed a five star buffet at the Carriage House Restaurant located on the grounds of the Stanton Hall mansion. This restaurant came with recommendations from several sources and thank goodness we paid attention. The biggest treat for me was the fresh whole shrimp salad and the cheese grits. The whole menu is behind the dining room photo below. Just click that photo to see it, click the other photos for additional views. Again, photos were not allowed inside this mansion as they are not allowed inside others.
The Carriage House dining room with the brunch menu behind Stanton Hall in Natchez, MS
Tuesday, April 19, 2011: The William Johnson house was an "ordinary" middle class home for the 1830s except that it was owned by a Free black man and his family. Mr. Johnson was a barber in Natchez freed by his white master who was probably his father. William Johnson kept a diary which has recently been published. This gives us all an insight into the daily life of a free black man living in southern Mississippi before the Civil War. Gwen found a great, free resource of information made for teachers but useful for us all (this is a relatively large pdf file, about 8 mb so if you don't have a fast connection you might want to wait until you do before downloading). Behind the photo (click to see it) of the Johnson home is the location of the "Forks in the Road", the second largest slave auction site in the south. Slaves imported from out of the area could not be auctioned in Natchez, so this sight was just outside the city limits at the time. Local slaves however, could be sold in town. Gwen and I have learned that most of what we experience is walking on historical "dirt" and reading the information about what happened at a particular site. So the photo is of Gwen reading a sign telling how slaves were bought/sold at this location in Natchez. The William Johnson home in downtown Natchez
Note: The next three weeks are spent on the Natchez Trace ... Jump to the Trace report.

Freight through Smyrna, TN Tuesday, May 10, 2011: I was hoping for a great bike ride today then a drive to Costco and Wells Fargo Bank. Gwen, on the other hand, wanted a "restful day" so wanted me to shampoo the carpet after the bike ride. The ride did not go well, I couldn't find the road I needed to get to my destination around to the other side of the lake. I ended up wandering around Smyrna, Tennessee which is about ten miles from our campsite. While wandering around Smyrna I found the Sam Davis home a confederate hero. Actually, I found the entrance to the home but did not enter the gate. Sam Davis was a 21 year old confederate soldier who was tried, found guilty, then executed by the Union army as a spy. I like trains and Smyrna has a rail line passing through the middle of town. I was fortunate to photograph a train as it passed. My total ride was 30+ miles on a hot, humid day. Flash your pointer through the photo to see the train advance. I did finish the carpet cleaning. Maybe tomorrow won't be a "restful day".
Wednesday, May 11, 2011: Our first tour day in Nashville took us to the visitor's center first where we found brochures on the Trolly tour. There were so many tourists an extra bus was brought in. We got to ride the extra bus which was air conditioned with cushioned seats while the trollys had no AC and wood bench seats. We liked it so much we stayed on rather than exercise our on/off priviliges. We had a delay in beginning our tour which gave us enough time to go to B.B. Kings for lunch. Each table in B.B. Kings was individually painted with a different design. It was clear, this would be a great place to be in the evening listening to live music. Some of thise photos have a photo behind, just click to see which. A Grey Line tour of the downtown area of Nashville; behind: in line for tickets
Our tour guide and bus tour participants, behind: Tennessee Titans Stadium The Nashville Visitors Center and Bridgestone Arena
We choose B.B. Kings place for lunch Note the painting on our table
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