Wednesday, November 30, 2011

All the way to Austin

Austin is a pretty nice town.  A perfect spot to celebrate my birthday early before heading out into the wilds of western Texas.  We got in yesterday around lunchtime and found a hotel to settle into before heading out on foot to explore downtown.  We walked through the Capitol district and found this amazing little spot by campus with vegetarian wraps that were delicious!

Conscious Cravings.  Tiny trailer.  Big taste.

We walked back to get the truck to drive over to "SoCo", the downtown area with small, local shops.  We walked up and down South Columbus checking out the shops until we reached Magnolia Cafe--a 24 hour restaurant that serves breakfast all day.  We had a tasty dinner, but stuffed ourselves on the food and appetizers that arrived all at once.  At least we had the walk back to the truck to make ourselves feel a little better.  Here are a few shots from our stroll:

Here's a taste of some of the unique shopping opportunities :)

I went for a run this morning and happened to stumble upon a little BBQ joint within walking distance to the hotel.  Turns out it was Franklin Barbecue, voted best bbq in all of Texas with a pretty famous brisket.  You can probably guess where Curtis had lunch. . . 

We waited for about 45 minutes in a line along one wall, around the corner, and out the door (maybe this was my revenge for Twilight. . . hmm).  You can see the feast that he had while I munched on my leftovers from last night.  Texas BBQ is now officially crossed off the list.

We'd spent the morning at the Blue Genie Art Bazaar which was like walking into an Etsy store with bunches of booths with goodies from local artists.  Pretty cool.  And bonus points for Curtis for tagging along even though he had pictured an icky craft show filled with plastic canvas and doilies.  I think it was a pleasant surprise for him.  

Thanks to Tom's suggestion, we checked out Lance Armstrong's bike shop in town.  So many temptations in that store!

We ditched the truck to bike around town and on the hike/bike path that winds along Town Lake.  Unfortunately it's too late in the season to catch the evening bat flight, but we covered a fair bit of ground today anyway.  Even if it did seem like we walked and biked and drove in the same loops over and over again.  

My unofficial birthday dinner was at Matt's El Rancho Grande so we could sample the local TexMex before leaving town.  It was pretty darn tasty and we managed to get right in and served despite the overflowing parking lot.  

Without a doubt, the highlight of the day was our scrumptious little trip to Sugar Mama's Bakeshop after dinner.  If you want to drool a little, check out the website:  I chose the peanut butter cup(cake) and Curtis got the cherry limeade.  Oh.  My.  Goodness.  I have never had such a good cupcake.  Thankfully we bought ourselves a couple little treats for tomorrow too.  I have a mint chocolate chip bar waiting for me in the fridge and Curtis picked out a pumpkin cheesecake bar.  It's taking some real willpower to not sample (or eat the whole thing) tonight.  

We're headed out in the morning for Enchanted Rock to climb for the day, then moving on to San Antonio, Amistad, Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountains, and Carlsbad Caverns before arriving in Bisbee on the 12th.  I'll be celebrating the official big 3-0 camping out in Big Bend National Park.  I'll update when I can as we truck along, but it looks like it might opportunities may be a bit spotty.  Hence the bonus post this week :)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Across the mighty Mississippi (did I spell that right?)

We've made some miles since we last posted.  We drove up the gulf coast of Florida stopping at Appalachicola National Forest to camp for the night.  It just so happened that it was the opening night of the next Twilight movie, so Curtis dutifully drove me into Tallahassee so I could keep with tradition.  I think he survived without too much trauma, although he may say otherwise.  When we got back to the campsite, we heard a rather large rustling above the truck and were surprised to find a big black bear up the tree.  We moved the truck so he could scurry down and run away, but we're convinced that the bears came back and danced around the campsite while we were sleeping based on the large amount of poo nearby.   Either that or we just chose to camp in that bear's personal toilet.

We stayed an extra day (at a different campsite) to check out the mountain bike trails nearby.  They were not at all what we're used to at home--no roots, rocks, dropoffs or general wet muckiness--but were flat and fast and had jumps and banks built in.  In other words, super fun.  Here's Curtis flying down the trail leaving me in the dust:

That was our last night Florida, sad to say.  We stayed in Alabama the next night, getting up early to get to New Orleans.  We spent the day wandering the French Quarter, stopping to have lunch at a nice little cafe where we had our first real sweet tea and listened to an older woman rocking out on the sidewalk with her little keyboard and laundry bag for tips.  We strolled down Pirate Alley, chose to not have coffee at the very crowded Cafe du Monde, and walked along the Moonwalk in the baking sun.  We didn't stay past sunset, so I think we probably missed out on a true New Orleans experience given the activity on Bourbon St.

Rockin old lady to the left

Best sweet tea ever

Just a sample of the many, many mardi gras shops

We found a campsite at a state park just outside New Orleans and I am very excited to report that I saw my first Armadillo!  And it was alive!!!  Turns out, they were everywhere in the park and couldn't care less about how close you get or how many photos you try to take.  Except, apparently if you fart near one they run away terrified.  I won't go into details on how we discovered that.  

From New Orleans, we moved on to Mississippi.  What to say about Mississippi. . . . other than I spent 3 days trying to find something nice to say about it.  We were camped out in Homochitto National Forest outside Natchez.  We went there because of a write-up in National Geographic Adventure magazine that raved about the road biking and mountain biking and all the other lovely things to do there.  Let's start with the campground.  It was pretty standard for national forest camping, but $7 a night where we've usually had free camping.  And when we do pay $7 it usually has a bathroom on site.  Instead of a mile away.  So that was manageable, until the campground host decided to come to our campsite at 7 in the morning and rub on the windshield, peering into the truck to read our permit number.  Keep in mind we sleep in that truck.  Even worse, it's a self-registration payment place and he is not even a park employee.  Just an old busy body who couldn't remember that we paid and gave him our permit number the day before.  At least he was nice enough to introduce himself to Curtis, but completely ignored me standing 2 feet away from him.   Add on horrible mountain biking trails, unsafe road biking, and a grocery store whose idea of "food" includes eggnog in a can and you can see why I did not take kindly to the greater Natchez area.  

BUT, this was cool:

These are Windsor Ruins, the remains of a old mansion that burned around 1890 leaving only the columns and the ironwork.  Unfortunately, the spiral staircase had been removed to be used in a building at a nearby college.  National Geographic Adventure almost redeemed themselves by recommending this spot.

So this brings us to Thanksgiving, where we stayed at the same campground and I cooked up a feast on the tailgate of the truck.  We had cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, stuffing, rolls, and pumpkin muffins for dessert.  Curtis stoked a rip roaring fire for us to enjoy all afternoon and evening, and we even shared our muffins with our campground neighbors :)

Round one: muffins and cranberry sauce

Round two: stuffing and sweet potatoes

The feast!  Not bad for the back of the truck

Please excuse the dorkiness here

We left Mississippi  yesterday morning (hooray!) and are back in Louisiana staying in the Kisatchie National Forest.  On the way, we stopped at the Cane River Creole National Historic Park to tour Oakland Plantation.  We timed our visit just right for a guided tour of the main house with two of their volunteers.  Curtis and I were the only people there so we had our own personal tour!  They were so nice and talked up the town so much, we decided to stay an extra day to see downtown Natchitochez (don't even try to pronounce it).  

So we're hanging out in a little coffee shop in the historic downtown now.  Curtis had one of their famous meat pies for lunch and we had hoped to stay for the fireworks show that they put on every Saturday night, but I'm thinking with the amount of rain falling outside that those fireworks are probably not going to happen.  Kind of like the "Snow Fest" sliding hill that they were supposed to have on the riverfront. I don't see that happening anytime soon.  So we'll wander the downtown here for a bit longer and find the Steel Magnolias house (this is the town where the movie was set) and then go find our campsite for the night and set up our tarp to stay dry.  On to Texas tomorrow!

P.S.  On a side note, the south has not been friendly to my skin.  In Florida, I was bit by something that left raised, blistered bites all over my thigh which still have not healed.  Then something bit my back and itched bad enough to dose myself with Benadryl just so Curtis could live with me.  In New Orleans, I woke up with my feet on fire, covered in bumps and itching like crazy.  It's manageable during the day, but every night I wake up with the feeling that my feet are in a boiling cauldron and then proceed to claw at them until I can fall asleep again.  The worst part is that itching doesn't make it stop.  It's slightly less horrible while you're itching, but then it's worse after!  Last night was the first night that I didn't actually have to scratch during the night, but I still woke up with itchy feet.  I think maybe it was chiggers, but Curtis is convinced I stumbled into some poisonous plant somewhere.  Either way, it's pretty awful.  Just thought I'd share.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Key West and Everglades!

We had such a nice time in Key West thanks to new friends and family members!  It's hard to believe we had never met Curtis's cousin Pam, her boyfriend Dave, and her friends Joanne and Stephanie before.  

We spent our first day there biking around the island and walking up and down Duval St. checking out the shops and galleries. We stopped at the southernmost point (or the point closest to Cuba) and skirt around the long line of tourists to snap a photo.

We also visited Pam at her gallery: 7 Artists.  She's an amazing artist and her paintings are just as bright and colorful as Key West is.  I found myself wanting to paint palm trees and birds and everything else I saw too :) 

You can see Pam's art here:

We watched the boat races in the bay and stayed for the Veteran's Day parade down Duval St.  I promise I did not pick up any candy off the street and eat it after the parade.

Over the weekend, we checked out Bahia Honda State Park, did more biking around Key West, and joined in on the nightly ritual of watching the sunset off of Mallory Square.  

Old Bridge in Bahia Honda

Sandspur beach

Calusa Beach.  You can see the old bridge walk

Biking along rt 1

Sunset off Mallory Square 

Somehow, we managed to leave Monday morning thanks to the lure of the Everglades (and gators!).  We camped out Monday night to the hum of a maddening cloud of mosquitoes around the tent.  Well, first it was mosquitoes, then no see ums, then mosquitoes again in shifts.  In other words, horrible. 
Doesn't quite capture it

We survived the night to rise early and rent a canoe to paddle off into the mangrove swamps.  The marina was full of manatees and the canal even had a few meandering crocodiles.

We shoved two bikes in the truck and threw the canoe on top to drive over to the launch area, then paddled in 6 miles to Hell's Bay Chickee--a raised platform over the water where we camped for the night.

Ready to go!

Hell's Bay Canoe trail

Curtis's clever technique for cramped paddling

Hell's Bay Chickee

Moonrise from our tent

Not a bad tentsite!

Paddling back out

After all that paddling, I still hadn't seen a gator!  After we dropped off the boat, we checked out a couple more viewpoints in the park, then walked along the Anhinga trail to see some gators and other wildlife:

Anhinga swimming underwater in search of fishies

Egret hunting


Anhinga boardwalk

We camped out last night in Big Cypress National Preserve and just because 2 gator sightings are never enough--we searched out more gators this morning!  We're sunburned and I'm covered in insect bites of all kinds, so we're heading out of Florida, winding our way up the gulf coast over to who knows where next.  We're at a Starbucks now using the wifi listening to Christmas music in 85 degree weather (so wrong) so I'll leave you with that image and these last few gator pics (and a lizard):