Daily Archives: June 28, 2010

Gulf Love

Paul and ColeDays 8 and 9 (June 26 and 27)

Florida at last. We arrived at the Crestview home of Bud’s Uncle Paul and Aunt Donna Friday night. This is our fifth visit to the sole surviving sibling of his father, and they are always great hosts. Donna makes the best brisket and Cole sat outside with Paul Saturday morning and had a long talk about snakes (they have a lot of them there). It’s one of Bud’s few connections to his Arkansas roots: They spent time reminiscing about the Black Oak general store and relatives lost to alcohol, accidents, or just age. Donna and I went antiquing in Milton while the guys hung out and went for a bike ride — if we can’t relive the past, at least we can buy pieces of it. I was very restrained: Saw lots of cool things but few bargains, spent $12 on gifts. Goods are better but prices are higher than in the junk stores in Florala. The item I most wonder if I should have bought: a foot stool allegedly made in Italy where the base was a kneeling camel carved out of wood topped by a leather cushion. If it had been $15 instead of $50, it would have been mine.

Bud’s friends and family have provided us comfort on our voyage. His cousins Gail and Jack gave us a gift certificate for Olive Garden that was welcome respite at the end of a long, hard day of driving Thursday. How lovely after all the road food to sit and sip some cabernet and eat pasta. Okay, it’s not Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink — but hey, that’s coming. Tonight, Miami!Family

Graffiti in bathroom at BP station outside Tallahassee (where there are daily reports of oil conditions at the beach): “Boycott BP: Not one drop of gas in our tanks until every drop is out of the gulf.” Bud stopped there, not me. It’s taken a vestige of the British empire to inspire a grassroots environmental movement.

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Highways and Byways

Full Lap2

Day 7 (June 25)

The interstate gets us to our destinations, but the byways are the journey. For lunch we broke up two days of hard driving by detouring off 49 and into the Louisiana bayou. I think these spontaneous deviations are going to be the most memorable parts of our trip; William Least Heat Moon was right about these Blue Highways. After driving down winding roads past unpainted plank farmhouses and above-ground cemeteries, we followed a local’s directions to Poche’s. Had some delicious crawfish etouffee and jambalaya and stocked up on Cajun seasonings and sauces for gifts. The radio has provided a harmonious soundtrack: oldies that haven’t been drained of tEtouffeeheir shelf life decades ago and recent Americana on Mustang radio and the “American Roots” show on local NPR.  Aretha, Elvis, Dylan, Chuck, Cash, Lucinda, Nina, Snooks Eaglin, etc.

Now we’re driving on Route 10 to Baton Rouge, a four-lane stretch that rises 20 feet above the swamp on concrete columns. Gotta love the engineering marvel of the interstate too.

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Bats and Aliens

bat caveDays 5 and 6 (June 23 & 24)

It’s not what you want to hear first thing in the morning: A water main burst in the bathrooms during the night, the ceiling collapsed, and there are no facilities available at the campground. So half asleep and desperate for a toilet, we bundled ourselves out of the Carlsbad RV Park and into nearby Happy’s Restaurant, a diner filled with yellow smiley-face memorabilia. There’s a forced optimism in the Southwest: lots of streets named after the sun, and now this kitsch klatch. Double bummer since we’d paid extra to stay in a little cabin with AC for the pets to escape the 100-degree heat in while we checked out Carlsbad Caverns. Now we’re on the road without even a shower.

Sunny smiles and dark mysteries: Yesterday we did Roswell and the caverns. The Roswell UFO Museum is a ramshackle affair: partitioned cubicles displaying letters, newspapers, bad artwork, and lots of conspiracy theories — kind of like a permanent school science fair. I was not convinced. But we got a great addition to the refrigerator magnets we’re sticking on the walls of the van: a mommy, daddy, and kid alien in front of a crashed flying saucer, with the words “Family Vacation Roswell, New Mexico.” That’s us.

The caverns were spectacular: one humungous stalagmite, delicately draped grotto, and symphony of soda strawsStalagmite after another. We only had time for the Big Room and the bat flight, but that was enough. I actually found myself battling Stendhal Syndrome, so overwhelmed by the beauty around us that my senses started shutting down and I couldn’t take in much more. The Big Room has been well developed since it was first discovered just a century ago. Elevators drop 750 feet; the abyss houses lit walkways, bathrooms, and even a restaurant. It takes more than an hour to walk around, and thank guide there were trails, as I would have been completely lost. We kept imagining what it was like for discoverer Jim White and the other early explorers, navigating with torches and ropes, not knowing if it was day or night, stormy or sunny.

I got actual chills when the bats started pouring out of the giant gaping mouth of the cave — 300,000 of them. That’s right, 300,000. Almost every summer night, they circle the entrance counter-clockwise seven times, then head off to southern springs for their first drink of the day/night. Presumably, their bathrooms were working.

Yesterday was our last day of sightseeing before two days of hard driving to reach Florida. That means no visiting in Texas or Louisiana, sadly. We’ve dawdled enough. Cole can barely wait to see his sisters and friends in Miami! Me too.liontails

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