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Life In The Slow Lane With Eric & Laurel

~Because it’s all about the journey~

Wending Our Way Across West Texas

Wending Our Way Across West Texas

Posted by on May 20, 2016 in Art, Gallery, Texas, Travel | 26 comments

One of the best things about road trips is discovering out-of-the-way gems that we would never otherwise visit. When we’re traveling across the vast expanse of Texas, there are always plenty of opportunities for new adventures, often in the most unlikely of places.

Leaving Austin, we headed to Carlsbad Caverns in southeastern New Mexico. In between is almost 500 miles of West Texas—a drive that can seem interminable. But our journey took us through the beautiful Hill Country at the peak of wildflower season, to interesting and art-centric San Angelo (in the middle of nowhere) and to sledding in the sand dunes at Monahans Sandhills State Park (in the middle of another nowhere). Should you find yourself traveling through this area of Texas, we highly recommend both.

San Angelo State Park: San Angelo, TX

This was our second visit to San Angelo State Park, so we knew we had something to look forward to at the end of our 200-mile drive from Austin. We settled into our lovely, spacious site beneath the shade trees, and spent a couple of days enjoying the peace and quiet. Our only expedition was a drive into San Angelo, 15 miles away—in part for a laundry extravaganza and truck washing, but mostly to enjoy a walk along the Concho River and to see if anything was blooming in the water lily garden.

The River Walk in San Angelo is one of the prettiest we’ve seen anywhere. It meanders for four miles downtown along the Concho River, named for the freshwater mussels that contain beautifully colored freshwater pearls (concho means “shell” in Spanish). Along the banks of the river many other treasures can be found—interesting mosaics, sculptures, fountains, and a few slightly bizarre sheep statues, each one decorated by a local artist to honor San Angelo’s heritage as a wool marketing center. (Lots more sheep as well as a plethora of murals can be found in the historic downtown.)

Close by is the International Water Lily Garden, certainly not something one expects to find in West Texas. When we were there a couple of years ago in the fall, there were hundreds of various water lilies in bloom. This time, in late April, just a few were blooming. But even one water lily in bloom is a beautiful thing to behold.

About the campground:

There are two camping sections at San Angelo State Park. Although it’s further from town, we prefer the north (Bald Eagle) section, which has large shade trees—a good thing in West Texas. Water and electric hookups, good Verizon, $20/night plus $4 per person daily fee if you don’t have the Texas State Parks Pass. (We always buy the annual pass—it’s $70 per year, and worth it if you stay more than seven nights in Texas parks because of all of the assorted discounts.)

Monahans Sandhills State Park: Monahans, TX

Another reasonable drive of 170 miles brought us to Monahans Sandhills State Park, in the midst of a truly barren part of Texas. This place has a stark beauty and makes a fun stopover for a couple of days (as long as no high winds are forecast).

The rangers at the Visitor Center loaned us a couple of neon orange discs for sledding and we took to the dunes the afternoon we arrived and again early in the morning. Each night, the slate is wiped clean and the sand dunes are again pristine. We discovered that early morning is the best time for sledding—when the sand is cool, there’s no friction to slow you down. We had a blast—and it’s a good workout sledding down and climbing back up the dunes.

It’s a windy place, and I was curious as to why the dunes haven’t completely blown away. Displays at the interesting little Visitor Center explained why: The wind changes directions from season to season, and although the dune tops change continually, they end up in just about the same position over the course of a year. It’s described as “a constantly shifting yet balanced state of dynamic equilibrium.” Sounds almost spiritual, doesn’t it?

About the campground:

The park has 26 campsites at the edge of the dunes with water, electric, and a covered picnic table. Quiet, dark night skies, and magical when the moon rises over the dunes. Good Verizon. $15 per night (plus $4 per person daily fee if you don’t have the Texas State Parks Pass).

Next Up: It’s A Long Way Down: Carlsbad Caverns

Wending Our Way Across West Texas

In The Former Town Of Bugscuffle

Wildflower Season In Texas

Stopping For Photos Along The Way

In A Field Of Firewheels

Firewheels And Bluebonnets

Huge Peaceful Site At San Angelo State Park

San Angelo Water Lily Gardens

First Water Lilies Of The Season

A Lovely Yellow Water Lily

Riverwalk Along The Concho River

Mosaic Sculptures On The Riverwalk

Mosaic Covered VW Bug

One Of Many Art Sheep In San Angelo

Fancy Entrance To Monahans Sandhills State Park

Fair Warning

Visitor Center Monahans Sandhills circa 1957

Simple But Sweet Visitor Center

Campsite At Monahans Sandhills State Park

Afternoon Sledding In The Dunes

More Dune Sledding In The Early Morning

Finding The Steepest Dunes

Patterns In The Sand

Javelina Tracks Across The Dunes

Whiptail Lizard Tracks

Wending Our Way Across West Texas
In The Former Town Of Bugscuffle
Wildflower Season In Texas
Stopping For Photos Along The Way
In A Field Of Firewheels
Firewheels And Bluebonnets
Huge Peaceful Site At San Angelo State Park
San Angelo Water Lily Gardens
First Water Lilies Of The Season
A Lovely Yellow Water Lily
Riverwalk Along The Concho River
Mosaic Sculptures On The Riverwalk
Mosaic Covered VW Bug
One Of Many Art Sheep In San Angelo
Fancy Entrance To Monahans Sandhills State Park
Fair Warning
Visitor Center Monahans Sandhills circa 1957
Simple But Sweet Visitor Center
Campsite At Monahans Sandhills State Park
Afternoon Sledding In The Dunes
More Dune Sledding In The Early Morning
Finding The Steepest Dunes
Patterns In The Sand
Javelina Tracks Across The Dunes
Whiptail Lizard Tracks
Wending Our Way Across West Texas thumbnail
In The Former Town Of Bugscuffle thumbnail
Wildflower Season In Texas thumbnail
Stopping For Photos Along The Way thumbnail
In A Field Of Firewheels thumbnail
Firewheels And Bluebonnets thumbnail
Huge Peaceful Site At San Angelo State Park thumbnail
San Angelo Water Lily Gardens thumbnail
First Water Lilies Of The Season thumbnail
A Lovely Yellow Water Lily thumbnail
Riverwalk Along The Concho River thumbnail
Mosaic Sculptures On The Riverwalk thumbnail
Mosaic Covered VW Bug thumbnail
One Of Many Art Sheep In San Angelo thumbnail
Fancy Entrance To Monahans Sandhills State Park thumbnail
Fair Warning thumbnail
Visitor Center Monahans Sandhills circa 1957 thumbnail
Simple But Sweet Visitor Center thumbnail
Campsite At Monahans Sandhills State Park thumbnail
Afternoon Sledding In The Dunes thumbnail
More Dune Sledding In The Early Morning thumbnail
Finding The Steepest Dunes thumbnail
Patterns In The Sand thumbnail
Javelina Tracks Across The Dunes thumbnail
Whiptail Lizard Tracks thumbnail

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It’s Always A Good Time: Austin, TX

It’s Always A Good Time: Austin, TX

Posted by on May 17, 2016 in Biking, Food, Gallery, Texas, Travel | 20 comments

There is no shortage of fun things to do in Austin. It’s kind of a problem, actually. There are an infinite number of enticing possibilities—hiking and biking trails, intriguing restaurants and coffee shops and breweries, music and art and museums, interesting shops and galleries and events—it’s not easy to choose. I finally had to stop reading Trip Advisor and Yelp reviews, because I was driving myself crazy.

The last week of April, we spent four nights at Pecan Grove RV Park, in the heart of Austin. We had a great time, even though I had the worst attack of hay fever I’ve ever had in my life (apparently I’m allergic to pecan tree pollen).

This was our second trip to Austin, and we enjoyed it just as much as our first visit a couple of years ago. It would undoubtedly be more peaceful staying outside of town, but it wouldn’t be anywhere near as convenient. Plus, we enjoy the laid-back, old-school Austin vibe of Pecan Grove.

This unassuming little retro trailer park was established in the 40’s, and miraculously, it’s hanging on, right in the big middle of everything. This was our second time staying at Pecan Grove, and we find it to be ideal for our needs. Despite my sneezing fits, we biked for hours every day through beautiful Zilker Park and on the miles of multi-use trails along the shores of Lady Bird Lake (both are within easy biking distance of the RV park).

To give myself a break from the deluge of pollen outdoors, we visited the Texas State Capitol Building just a few blocks away, where we enjoyed a free and interesting tour of the biggest state capitol building in the United States. The symbolic “Lone Star” is found everywhere, from the Texas state flag, to the dome, terrazzo floor, and chandeliers of the capitol (plus everywhere else in Texas, when you look around).

Texas is the only state that was once an independent republic, and this is a point of pride for Texans—some of whom insist that they can secede if they don’t like the way things are going in Washington (according to our tour guide, they can’t really get away with it). To learn more about Texas history, we spent several hours in the nearby Bullock Museum, an excellent venue with a cowboy flair and a gigantic Texas star out front (of course, what else would you expect?).

To round out our three days in Austin, we spent an evening at the South Congress Bridge to watch the nightly emergence of Mexican free-tailed bats. Beneath the bridge resides the largest urban bat colony in North America, and it’s quite a sight at dusk to see hundreds of thousands of bats emerging in a spiraling tornado, heading out for their evening meal of mosquitoes and moths.

As for us, we generally cook at home, but we always enjoy a meal or two out if we’re in a place where the options are interesting. We finally settled on Launderette, located in a renovated Laundromat/gas station. It was a great choice—our meal was delicious (green curry mussels and tandoori grilled prawns), the ambiance is cool retro Austin, and the service gracious.

One more thing—if you find yourself in Austin, don’t miss Lick Honest Ice Creams. They work their magic from the finest ingredients, starting with milk and cream from local grass-fed dairy cows. Eric had espresso (no surprise) and I had goat cheese-thyme-honey. Definitely a top contender for best ice cream ever.

There’s always more to explore in Austin. We’ll be back.

About the RV Park:

We love Pecan Grove RV Park. Although the park is peaceful, we use our blackout shades and sound machine—after all, we’re in the middle of the city. The residents are friendly and the manager, who has been there for years, is great. There are (very funky) restrooms/showers and a laundry on site, but we didn’t use the facilities. All sites have full hookups, and there’s good Wi-Fi; $40/night. With only 12 spaces for overnight travelers, make your reservations early.

Next Up: Wending Our Way Through West Texas

Night Shot In Austin, TX

At Home In Pecan Grove RV Park

Living In Harmony

Been Here A Long Time

The Corner Market

Austin Biking Trails Are The Best

Downtown Austin

Biking Along Lady Bird Lake

Murals Along The Bike Path

Barton Springs On The Bike Path

Food Trucks Are Everywhere

Entrance To Zilker Park

Zilker Park Botanical Gardens

In The Butterfly Garden

View From Zilker Park

Texas State Capitol Building

The Capitol Rotunda Dome

The Texas Capitol Rotunda Floor

Cool Texas Star Lights In The Capitol

Texas State History Museum

Cowboy Culture And Oil Wells

Evening Gathering For The Bat Flight

Waiting For The Bats

Finally Managed To Choose A Restaurant

Retro Vibe Inside Launderette

Delicious Lunch At Launderette

Green Curry Mussels

Lick Ice Cream Shop

Austin Quirkiness On Congress Avenue

Night Shot In Austin, TX
At Home In Pecan Grove RV Park
Living In Harmony
Been Here A Long Time
The Corner Market
Austin Biking Trails Are The Best
Downtown Austin
Biking Along Lady Bird Lake
Murals Along The Bike Path
Barton Springs On The Bike Path
Food Trucks Are Everywhere
Entrance To Zilker Park
Zilker Park Botanical Gardens
In The Butterfly Garden
View From Zilker Park
Texas State Capitol Building
The Capitol Rotunda Dome
The Texas Capitol Rotunda Floor
Cool Texas Star Lights In The Capitol
Texas State History Museum
Cowboy Culture And Oil Wells
Evening Gathering For The Bat Flight
Waiting For The Bats
Finally Managed To Choose A Restaurant
Retro Vibe Inside Launderette
Delicious Lunch At Launderette
Green Curry Mussels
Lick Ice Cream Shop
Austin Quirkiness On Congress  Avenue
Night Shot In Austin, TX thumbnail
At Home In Pecan Grove RV Park thumbnail
Living In Harmony thumbnail
Been Here A Long Time thumbnail
The Corner Market thumbnail
Austin Biking Trails Are The Best thumbnail
Downtown Austin thumbnail
Biking Along Lady Bird Lake thumbnail
Murals Along The Bike Path thumbnail
Barton Springs On The Bike Path thumbnail
Food Trucks Are Everywhere thumbnail
Entrance To Zilker Park thumbnail
Zilker Park Botanical Gardens thumbnail
In The Butterfly Garden thumbnail
View From Zilker Park thumbnail
Texas State Capitol Building thumbnail
The Capitol Rotunda Dome thumbnail
The Texas Capitol Rotunda Floor thumbnail
Cool Texas Star Lights In The Capitol thumbnail
Texas State History Museum thumbnail
Cowboy Culture And Oil Wells thumbnail
Evening Gathering For The Bat Flight thumbnail
Waiting For The Bats thumbnail
Finally Managed To Choose A Restaurant thumbnail
Retro Vibe Inside Launderette thumbnail
Delicious Lunch At Launderette thumbnail
Green Curry Mussels thumbnail
Lick Ice Cream Shop thumbnail
Austin Quirkiness On Congress  Avenue thumbnail

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A Birder’s Paradise: High Island, TX

A Birder’s Paradise: High Island, TX

Posted by on May 8, 2016 in Biking, Birding, Gallery, Texas, Travel | 38 comments

A visit to High Island is on every birder’s dream list. People flock to this tiny town from all over the world in the springtime to witness one of the great wonders of bird migration—the return of our feathered friends from their winter homes in Central and South America to their spring nesting grounds in North America. What makes High Island so unique is the location—it’s one of the first and highest landfalls that the birds encounter after their arduous flight across the Gulf of Mexico.

Even if you’re not a bird nerd, this is an enthralling place. We knew this was a great location to see colorful spring migrants, such as orioles, tanagers, and warblers. But we had no idea that High Island also shelters an enormous rookery for egrets and spoonbills. Any other views we’ve had of spoonbills or egrets in our travels were totally blown away by our close encounters with these magnificently beautiful creatures nesting on High Island.

We spent hours at the rookery—appropriately named Sanctuary Ponds—watching Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and Roseate Spoonbills performing their elaborate courtship rituals, building nests, and raising their young. It is nothing short of mesmerizing.

When we weren’t in the rookery, we were walking the trails in Smith Oaks and Boy Scout Woods in search of colorful migrants. Any time in April is a good time to catch the migration on High Island, although there’s no guaranteed “best” time. The birds come and go with the winds and the storms, and there’s no telling what you’ll find on the trails. But April is also the best time to visit the rookery, and there’s no question that you’ll see lots of egrets and spoonbills.

High Island is miniscule, with a population of about 500. Stock up on groceries before you arrive, and don’t plan on eating out unless you’re up for a long drive. We were happy to ensconce ourselves at the conveniently located little RV Park, where we barely moved our truck for three days. All of the birding locations are within a mile or so of the park, and we spent our time biking and birding all day, every day.

We had a delightful time, except for a brief moment in Boy Scout Woods. I’d bought an adorable shortbread cookie decorated like a Blackburnian Warbler from the local Audubon Society folks. It was really cute, and I had plans to keep it (for what reason, I’m not certain). But when I turned around, I discovered that Eric had taken a big bite out of the cookie. Me: “I can’t believe you ate the bird! You bit the head right off!” Eric: “It was a cookie, what did you expect?” (In his defense, he wasn’t aware of my long-term plans for the cookie.)

About the RV Park:

High Island RV Park is a delightful, peaceful little park, with 20 paved sites offering full-hookups, showers, laundry, and good Wi-Fi, $30/night. Best of all, the park is within walking distance of Boy Scout Woods, and only a mile from Smith Oaks and Sanctuary Ponds. Reservations are taken six months in advance; if you want to go mid-March through mid-May, you probably need reservations because it fills up with—you guessed it—birders.

Next Up: It’s Always A Good Time: Austin, TX

A Birder's Paradise: High Island, TX

Ready To Go Find The Birdies

At Sanctuary Ponds

Lots Of Big Lenses At The Ponds

Close Quarters In The Nesting Colonies

Tending The Nest

Great Egret Eggs Are A Pale Blue-Green Color

Great Egret Courtship Dance

Elaborate Courtship Display Of Great Egret

Just Hatched

Mama, Mama, Mama!

Feed Me!

These Babies Are Almost Ready To Leave The Nest

Beautiful Roseate Spoonbill

Courtship Display

Crossing Bills During Courtship Ritual

Nesting Roseate Spoonbills

Snowy Egrets In Breeding Plumage

Snowy Egret Courtship Display

Purple Gallinule In The Reeds

A Happy Birder In Smith Oaks

At Boy Scout Woods

Birdwatching In The Swamp

On The Boardwalk

An Unexpected Visitor On The Boardwalk

On The Trails In Boy Scout Woods

Summer Tanager Eating Mulberries

Scarlet Tanager

Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

Indigo Bunting, First-Year Male

Baltimore Oriole

Artistic Bird Cookies To Benefit The Refuge

Right Before He Bit The Head Off

High Island RV Park

Tucked Into Our Site At High Island RV Park

A Birder's Paradise: High Island, TX
Ready To Go Find The Birdies
At Sanctuary Ponds
Lots Of Big Lenses At The Ponds
Close Quarters In The Nesting Colonies
Tending The Nest
Great Egret Eggs Are A Pale Blue-Green Color
Great Egret Courtship Dance
Elaborate Courtship Display Of Great Egret
Just Hatched
Mama, Mama, Mama!
Feed Me!
These Babies Are Almost Ready To Leave The Nest
Beautiful Roseate Spoonbill
Courtship Display
Crossing Bills During Courtship Ritual
Nesting Roseate Spoonbills
Snowy Egrets In Breeding Plumage
Snowy Egret Courtship Display
Purple Gallinule In The Reeds
A Happy Birder  In Smith Oaks
At Boy Scout  Woods
Birdwatching In The Swamp
On The Boardwalk
An Unexpected Visitor On The Boardwalk
On The Trails In Boy Scout Woods
Summer Tanager Eating Mulberries
Scarlet Tanager
Rose-Breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting, First-Year Male
Baltimore Oriole
Artistic Bird Cookies To Benefit The Refuge
Right Before He Bit The Head Off
High Island RV Park
Tucked Into Our Site At High Island RV Park
A Birder's Paradise: High Island, TX thumbnail
Ready To Go Find The Birdies thumbnail
At Sanctuary Ponds thumbnail
Lots Of Big Lenses At The Ponds thumbnail
Close Quarters In The Nesting Colonies thumbnail
Tending The Nest thumbnail
Great Egret Eggs Are A Pale Blue-Green Color thumbnail
Great Egret Courtship Dance thumbnail
Elaborate Courtship Display Of Great Egret thumbnail
Just Hatched thumbnail
Mama, Mama, Mama! thumbnail
Feed Me! thumbnail
These Babies Are Almost Ready To Leave The Nest thumbnail
Beautiful Roseate Spoonbill thumbnail
Courtship Display thumbnail
Crossing Bills During Courtship Ritual thumbnail
Nesting Roseate Spoonbills thumbnail
Snowy Egrets In Breeding Plumage thumbnail
Snowy Egret Courtship Display thumbnail
Purple Gallinule In The Reeds thumbnail
A Happy Birder  In Smith Oaks thumbnail
At Boy Scout  Woods thumbnail
Birdwatching In The Swamp thumbnail
On The Boardwalk thumbnail
An Unexpected Visitor On The Boardwalk thumbnail
On The Trails In Boy Scout Woods thumbnail
Summer Tanager Eating Mulberries thumbnail
Scarlet Tanager thumbnail
Rose-Breasted Grosbeak thumbnail
Indigo Bunting, First-Year Male thumbnail
Baltimore Oriole thumbnail
Artistic Bird Cookies To Benefit The Refuge thumbnail
Right Before He Bit The Head Off thumbnail
High Island RV Park thumbnail
Tucked Into Our Site At High Island RV Park thumbnail

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In The Heart Of Cajun Country

In The Heart Of Cajun Country

Posted by on May 3, 2016 in Birding, Food, Gallery, Louisiana, Travel | 30 comments

Just west of New Orleans, I-10 travels across the vast Atchafalaya Swamp and into Acadiana—also known as Cajun Country. Life is different here. The language is a lilting French/English patois. The music is a vibrant and plaintive mélange of accordion and fiddle. And the food is a delicious melding of locally available ingredients, most notably crawfish, smoked meats, and rice.

Underlying everything is a sense of “joie de vivre” that infuses daily life—a joyful exuberance that is readily extended to visitors. This was our third visit to Cajun Country—and it won’t be our last.

We booked four nights in the heart of Cajun Country at Poche’s Fish’N’Camp—our favorite spot in Breaux Bridge. And quickly realized that once again, we didn’t give ourselves enough time here. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon, just missing the weekend gatherings where people of all ages convene in cafés, bars, and dance halls to make music and dance. (We experienced a Cajun Saturday morning music jam on our last visit a couple of years ago. You can see a short video here.) From now on, we’ll make sure that we arrive prior to the weekend. Even better, we’ll stay a full week.

If nothing else, the Cajun culture is a testimonial to the resilience of the human spirit and the strength of community. In the mid-1700’s, the Acadians were driven out of their chosen homeland of Acadia (present day Nova Scotia and New Brunswick), where they had happily and peacefully lived for 150 years. Their villages were burned, families split up, and thousands perished as a result of the inhumane conditions they endured during the deportation.

Along the coast, bayous, and upland prairies of south Louisiana, a few thousand Acadians found refuge. I can only imagine what a shock it must have been to start all over again in hot and humid Louisiana, replete with alligators and other swamp terrors. The Cajuns are a resourceful lot, though—they fished, hunted, farmed, and set about recreating their Acadia (“idyllic place”). And alligator ended up on the menu.

Despite missing the weekend community gatherings, we found plenty to occupy ourselves. We visited the Acadian Cultural Center in Lafayette, a small National Historical Park. The displays are lovingly crafted from heirlooms donated by the families who settled here. There’s also a rather morose half-hour film that focuses on the tragic history of the exiled Acadians. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much attention given to their resilient spirit and the exuberant culture and close community they’ve created après exile.

Louisiana Regions MapDespite the attempts of the government in the early 20th century to “mainstream” the Cajuns (including forbidding French to be spoken in schools), the culture thrives today. In 1971, one-third of the state was recognized as “Acadiana” by the Louisiana State Legislature.

A visit to Vermilionville—next door to the cultural center—is a delight. We spent half a day wandering through the living history museum on the banks of the bayou, where costumed staff, craftspeople, and musicians go about the activities of 18th-19th century daily life of south Louisiana with great authenticity. And we also spent part of a day walking the trails at nearby Lake Martin and Cypress Island, where we were happy to see thousands of nesting egrets and herons (albeit far-off views).

We were there mid-April, at the height of crawfish season when the crustaceans are at their largest and fattest. Once considered a poor-people’s food (the term “mudbug” is still commonly used), the Cajuns took to them with relish, and crawfish are now celebrated as a delicacy. We set out to buy crawfish for dinner. “Y’all want tree or five pounds?” inquired the young man with a warm smile and a delightful Cajun accent. “Want dem medium or spicy? Spicy are hot hot,” he warned. Actually, I’d been thinking one pound, since it was only the two of us. But three pounds turned out to be just the right amount.

Mudbugs look like miniature lobsters, and the tails (which contain the sweet, tender meat) make up only one-third of the creatures. We peeled the meat out of the tails and made crawfish étouffée for dinner that night, a classic Cajun dish. It begins, like all Cajun cuisine, with sautéing the “holy trinity” of onion, celery, and bell pepper, and is seasoned with a healthy pinch of cayenne. It was delicious.

About the RV Park:

Poche’s Fish-N-Camp is a very nice RV park with level concrete sites situated around fishing ponds. The park offers full hook-ups, good Verizon, a nice laundromat, and peaceful surroundings. It’s in the boonies, but only about 5 miles from the town of Breaux Bridge, and 10 miles from Lafayette. You’re in the heart of Cajun Country here. With Passport America, it’s a bargain at $20 per night.

Next Up: A Birder’s Paradise: High Island, TX

Altar In A Cajun Home

At Vermilionville, An Acadian Village

A Typical Cajun Home

Docent Spinning Wool

Handmade Quilt And Homespun Clothing

In The Herbalist's Cottage

Schoolhouse In Vermilionville

Trying To Eradicate The French Language

It's Not Cajun Music Without An Accordion

Lovely Little Church

Inside The Church

In The Garden Of The Church

At The Acadian Cultural Center

Display Of Cajun Musical Instruments

Overlooking Lake Martin

Some Of The Wildlife Found At Lake Martin

Iris Blooming In The Cypress Swamp

Nesting Great Egrets

Turning The Eggs

Poche's Fish-N-Camp

Our Site At Poche's

Peaceful Spot At Poche's

Happy Hour Includes Cleaning Crawfish

That's A Lot Of Crawfish

Crawfish Etouffee

Louisiana Regions Map

Altar In A Cajun Home
At Vermilionville, An Acadian Village
A Typical Cajun Home
Docent Spinning Wool
Handmade Quilt And Homespun Clothing
In The Herbalist's Cottage
Schoolhouse In Vermilionville
Trying To Eradicate The French Language
It's Not Cajun Music Without An Accordion
Lovely Little Church
Inside The Church
In The Garden Of The Church
At The Acadian Cultural Center
Display Of Cajun Musical Instruments
Overlooking Lake Martin
Some Of The Wildlife Found At Lake Martin
Iris Blooming In The Cypress Swamp
Nesting Great Egrets
Turning The Eggs
Poche's Fish-N-Camp
Our Site At Poche's
Peaceful Spot At Poche's
Happy Hour Includes Cleaning Crawfish
That's A Lot Of Crawfish
Crawfish Etouffee
Louisiana Regions Map
Altar In A Cajun Home thumbnail
At Vermilionville, An Acadian Village thumbnail
A Typical Cajun Home thumbnail
Docent Spinning Wool thumbnail
Handmade Quilt And Homespun Clothing thumbnail
In The Herbalist's Cottage thumbnail
Schoolhouse In Vermilionville thumbnail
Trying To Eradicate The French Language thumbnail
It's Not Cajun Music Without An Accordion thumbnail
Lovely Little Church thumbnail
Inside The Church thumbnail
In The Garden Of The Church thumbnail
At The Acadian Cultural Center thumbnail
Display Of Cajun Musical Instruments thumbnail
Overlooking Lake Martin thumbnail
Some Of The Wildlife Found At Lake Martin thumbnail
Iris Blooming In The Cypress Swamp thumbnail
Nesting Great Egrets thumbnail
Turning The Eggs thumbnail
Poche's Fish-N-Camp thumbnail
Our Site At Poche's thumbnail
Peaceful Spot At Poche's thumbnail
Happy Hour Includes Cleaning Crawfish thumbnail
That's A Lot Of Crawfish thumbnail
Crawfish Etouffee thumbnail
Louisiana Regions Map thumbnail

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A Fabulous Few Days In New Orleans

A Fabulous Few Days In New Orleans

Posted by on Apr 25, 2016 in Food, Friends, Gallery, Louisiana, Music, Travel | 32 comments

Acouple of years ago, we discovered the French Quarter Festival—a four-day celebration that takes place the second weekend in April in New Orleans. With more than 20 stages scattered throughout the Quarter, upwards of 1,700 local musicians performing throughout the day and evening, and small plates offered by the best neighborhood restaurants in lovely outdoor venues, it’s like a huge neighborhood block party.

This party, though, just happens to be in a neighborhood world-renowned for incredibly talented musicians and fabulous cuisine. We drifted from one venue to another, enjoying jazz, blues, zydeco, gospel, and people watching. We picnicked on savory shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake, crab and artichoke salad, crawfish crepes, and smoked duck po’boys, accompanied by local ice cold Abita IPA. Despite the fact that this is a huge festival, it has a mellow, friendly vibe. We had an absolute blast, and came away with even more affection for “The Big Easy.”

In keeping with our attempt to rein ourselves in a bit (not an easy feat when New Orleans beckons), we stayed five nights at Bayou Segnette State Park, but spent only three days in New Orleans, followed by one day on the trails at nearby Barataria Preserve for a different kind of wild. Adding to our enjoyment were our new friends Ed and Diana, whom we met on Dauphin Island—they decided on the spur of the moment to accompany us to New Orleans for a couple of days.

Bayou Segnette SP is perfectly located for visiting the city—it’s an easy 12-mile drive to the ferry landing in quaint Algiers Point with its plethora of adorable candy-colored 1800’s cottages, and a five-minute ferry ride across the Mississippi, landing in the French Quarter. No driving in the city, no parking issues, and only $2 for the ferry ($1 if you’re over 65). Couldn’t be more stress-free.

On our last visit to New Orleans a couple of years ago, we realized that we needed a guided tour to get the most out of our visit. In general, we avoid tours, preferring to just wander on our own, photographing and exploring at our leisure. But we were interested in learning a bit more about the city without the frustrating experience of “self-guided” walking tours. Trying to read from a brochure of tiny print while stumbling along city streets in search of landmarks is not my idea of fun. But I’m also less than enthralled with the idea of an expensive tour on a crowded tour bus with a bored or overenthusiastic guide delivering corny jokes.

Luckily, we discovered Free Tours by Foot. It’s a pay-what-you-like arrangement, with local freelance tour guides who are highly motivated to deliver excellent tours. I booked reservations for tours of the Garden District and the French Quarter, and we were delighted with both (next time, we’re going to do the Voodoo Tour and the Food Tour). The guides were well informed, engaging, and humorous—we learned a lot about the history, architecture, and culture of New Orleans—including some of the local dirt.

There truly is no other place in the world like New Orleans. A melting pot of culture, religion, ethnic groups, food traditions, and music, it’s one of the oldest cities in the United States and one of the most fascinating. We still have no desire to visit during the insanity of Mardis Gras, and although the Jazz Festival in mid-April is mighty alluring with an incredible line-up of performers—it’s the French Quarter Festival that calls us to return. (All of the locals we met told us that the French Quarter Festival is their favorite, and that they hide out during the other events.)

A few tips for visiting the French Quarter Festival, should you decide to go:

• It’s FREE! The festival is supported by food and beverage purchases, so no coolers or outside food or beverages are allowed. Water is the exception, and you should bring plenty because it’s generally hot in early April. (And you probably don’t want your only beverages to be beer and daiquiris.) The food is terrific, and for the quality, it’s reasonable at $5-8 per small plate.

• Thursday is the mellowest day, with the crowds and events ratcheting up throughout the weekend. Saturday and Sunday at the big waterfront stages you can expect wall-to-wall people. Go early in the day and even the waterfront is manageable.

• Our favorite stages were the smaller ones, especially the Jazz Stage in Jackson Square with its lovely grassy lawn surrounded by billowing white tents of our favorite food vendors, and the Zydeco Stage on Decatur Street (with the lovely courtyard of the National Historical Park French Quarter Visitor Center available for a shady, quiet respite from the crowds and a bathroom that’s not a porta potty being used by thousands. Shhh. Don’t tell!)

• Wear a broad-brimmed hat or bring an umbrella for sun protection. There’s not much shade at many of the pavilions, especially those along the waterfront.

• Bring a folding chair and set it up in a prime location early in the day. You can wander away at any time and come back when you’re ready. If your chair is unoccupied, someone will likely enjoy it while you’re away, but no one will take issue when you return. Locals told us this is expected; it’s all part of the neighborly vibe.

• Don’t miss just wandering the streets of the French Quarter. You’ll find plenty of entertainment—and fabulous musicians—on every corner. It’s also a delight to escape into an open-air coffee shop and watch the crowds go by.

About the campground: 

All of the sites at Bayou Segnette State Park are spacious and paved, with grassy lawns and a backdrop of lush green wild shrubs. Water and electric hook-ups, free laundry in the restroom complex, and good Verizon coverage; $28 per night. The big draw for us here is the location—we love being near New Orleans, but with the benefit of returning to a peaceful spot in nature in the evening.

Bonus tip: Don’t miss the wonderful seafood market adjacent to the park—a dozen vendors offer excellent fresh shrimp, crab, and crawfish for some of the most reasonable prices we’ve seen anywhere ($3.99 per pound for beautiful Gulf shrimp).

Next Up: In The Heart Of Cajun Country 

A Fabulous Few Days In New Orleans

Algiers Point Ferry Landing

A Beautifully Restored Cottage In Algiers Point

Waiting For The Ferry

Crossing The Mississippi

Boarding The St. Charles Streetcar

Walking Tour Of The Garden District

Gotta Watch Your Step

Beautiful Gardens In The Garden District

Italianate Style Mansion In The Garden District

Our Tour Guide In Front Of The Cornstalk Fence

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1

Many Elaborate Tombs From The 1800's

The Colorful French Quarter

Voodoo Cultural Center

Wrought Iron Galleries Overlooking The Street

Talented Marionette Artist

The French Quarter Festival

Small Stage At The Festival

Jackson Square During The Festival

Mime In Jackson Square

Jazz Brass Band

Busking In The French Quarter

Audubon Plaza On The Waterfront

At The Waterfront Stage

Zydeco Stage

Fiddle Player In All-Girl Zydeco Group

Iced Coffee At An Open Air Cafe

House Of Blues Venue

Entering The Voodoo Garden

Performance Art On The Street

Tapas Dinner At Three Muses On Frenchman Street

Music Club On Frenchman Street

At Bartaria Preserve

Wild Iris Blooming In The Preserve

Common Yellowthroat

Terrific Seafood Market Near The Campground

Dinner At Home With Diana And Ed

Crab Cakes Made With Gulf Blue Crab

Spacious Sites At Bayou Segnette State Park

A Fabulous Few Days In New Orleans
Algiers Point Ferry Landing
A Beautifully Restored Cottage In Algiers Point
Waiting For The Ferry
Crossing The Mississippi
Boarding The St. Charles Streetcar
Walking Tour Of The Garden District
Gotta Watch Your Step
Beautiful Gardens In The Garden District
Italianate Style Mansion In The Garden District
Our Tour Guide In Front Of The Cornstalk Fence
Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
Many Elaborate Tombs From The 1800's
The Colorful French Quarter
Voodoo Cultural Center
Wrought Iron Galleries Overlooking The Street
Talented Marionette Artist
The French Quarter Festival
Small Stage At The Festival
Jackson Square During The Festival
Mime In Jackson Square
Jazz Brass Band
Busking In The French Quarter
Audubon Plaza On The Waterfront
At The Waterfront Stage
Zydeco Stage
Fiddle Player In All-Girl Zydeco Group
Iced Coffee At An Open Air Cafe
House Of Blues Venue
Entering The Voodoo Garden
Performance Art On The Street
Tapas Dinner At Three Muses On Frenchman Street
Music Club On Frenchman Street
At Bartaria Preserve
Wild Iris Blooming In The Preserve
Common Yellowthroat
Terrific Seafood Market Near The Campground
Dinner At Home With Diana And Ed
Crab Cakes Made With Gulf Blue Crab
Spacious Sites At Bayou Segnette State Park
A Fabulous Few Days In New Orleans thumbnail
Algiers Point Ferry Landing thumbnail
A Beautifully Restored Cottage In Algiers Point thumbnail
Waiting For The Ferry thumbnail
Crossing The Mississippi thumbnail
Boarding The St. Charles Streetcar thumbnail
Walking Tour Of The Garden District thumbnail
Gotta Watch Your Step thumbnail
Beautiful Gardens In The Garden District thumbnail
Italianate Style Mansion In The Garden District thumbnail
Our Tour Guide In Front Of The Cornstalk Fence thumbnail
Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 thumbnail
Many Elaborate Tombs From The 1800's thumbnail
The Colorful French Quarter thumbnail
Voodoo Cultural Center thumbnail
Wrought Iron Galleries Overlooking The Street thumbnail
Talented Marionette Artist thumbnail
The French Quarter Festival thumbnail
Small Stage At The Festival thumbnail
Jackson Square During The Festival thumbnail
Mime In Jackson Square thumbnail
Jazz Brass Band thumbnail
Busking In The French Quarter thumbnail
Audubon Plaza On The Waterfront thumbnail
At The Waterfront Stage thumbnail
Zydeco Stage thumbnail
Fiddle Player In All-Girl Zydeco Group thumbnail
Iced Coffee At An Open Air Cafe thumbnail
House Of Blues Venue thumbnail
Entering The Voodoo Garden thumbnail
Performance Art On The Street thumbnail
Tapas Dinner At Three Muses On Frenchman Street thumbnail
Music Club On Frenchman Street thumbnail
At Bartaria Preserve thumbnail
Wild Iris Blooming In The Preserve thumbnail
Common Yellowthroat thumbnail
Terrific Seafood Market Near The Campground thumbnail
Dinner At Home With Diana And Ed thumbnail
Crab Cakes Made With Gulf Blue Crab thumbnail
Spacious Sites At Bayou Segnette State Park thumbnail

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Slowing Down On Dauphin Island

Slowing Down On Dauphin Island

Posted by on Apr 16, 2016 in Alabama, Biking, Birding, Gallery, Hiking, Musings, Travel | 34 comments

We’ve been talking for a long time about slowing down our travels. In a couple of months, we’ll have been on the road fulltime for three years. Since we pulled out of our hometown of Ashland, Oregon in June of 2013, we’ve put 52,000 miles on our truck. At least half of that has been towing our home-on-wheels behind us.

We love our traveling life, but we’ve also realized that we want and need to make some changes if we’re going to be happy long-term in this lifestyle. (And yes, we want to continue.) But it’s a bit of a challenge, for a variety of reasons.

Here’s what we can’t change: We have family in Florida, but we also have family on the West Coast, as well as our home and many dear friends in the Pacific Northwest. That means cross-country trips, both directions, every year, boomeranging between Florida and the West Coast. Flying isn’t really a viable option because of the length of time we want and need to spend with family. Plus, we want to have our home with us—it’s really hard to go back to any other kind of travel after RVing. We also love our summer camp host gig on Lopez Island, and we’re not yet ready to give it up.

Here’s what we can change: The pace at which we travel, and the rhythm of our daily lives. Each time we’ve journeyed cross-country, we’ve extended the amount of time we’ve taken to get from the Pacific Northwest to Florida. First it was a month, then five weeks, then six—last fall, we took seven weeks. This time, as we make our way back to Lopez Island for our camp hosting gig mid-June, we’ve given ourselves just over two months. My crystal ball predicts we’ll be slowing the pace even more.

We’re also staying places longer—we’ve agreed that we’re not going to stay anywhere for less than two nights, unless there’s really nothing of interest and it’s an easy overnight stop. Most places, we’ll stay a minimum of three nights—many places, we’re planning to stay five to seven nights. We’ve always kept our travels to about 200 miles for each move—but now we’re keeping at least half of our travel days to under 150 miles.

Perhaps most importantly, we’re doing our best to stop behaving as though we’re on a two-week vacation. It might sound strange, but one of the primary drawbacks to full-time RVing is that it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of wanting to see and do everything. At least, that’s been true for us. Eric and I both love hiking, biking, kayaking, birding, exploring new places, museums, music, art, architecture, festivals of all types, hanging out with long-time friends, meeting new friends, cooking, discovering new restaurants, farmer’s markets, and photographing everything.

New places—and familiar favorite places—offer a never-ending array of things to do. But constantly being on the go is wearing on us—apparently too much of a good thing really can be too much. Unlike our pre-full-time life, we don’t have time to naturally integrate our travels with “normal life” by returning to a stationary home. Therefore, we need to rein ourselves in.

We need some down time—time to hang out at our site in the morning with a cup of coffee, enjoying an easy start to the day. We’re both voracious readers, and would like leisurely time to read a good book (not just a couple of pages at night before falling asleep, book in hand). I want time to practice my guitar and learn new songs; Eric wants time to update his birding photos and bird lists. We want time to enjoy sunset with a leisurely happy hour, instead of skidding into our site just in time to make dinner after a long day of adventures. (I’m not even talking about work/blogging/trip planning/daily life stuff—all of which adds to the hours that are spoken for in a day.)

We’re off to a promising new beginning. We spent the first week of April on Dauphin Island, a narrow barrier island just off the coast of Alabama. It’s a good place for not doing much of anything. With easy biking, lots of trails for hiking, and a good portion of the island devoted to bird sanctuaries (it’s one of the top locations in the U.S. for spring bird migration), it’s a paradise for slowing down. We first visited the island a couple of years ago on an all-day birding extravaganza with our friend Mona Liza (Lowe’s Travels) and had such a good time that we vowed to return.

We spent the entire week doing nothing other than biking the island, visiting various bird sanctuaries, walking miles of trails, and leisurely looking for birds. Other than a ferocious rain and windstorm that lasted most of an entire day and night, we enjoyed a peaceful stay. We even met new friends on the trails—Diana, Ed, and their sweet kitty Eze—who decided on the spur of the moment to meet up with us at our next stop, New Orleans.

If you’re looking for a place to get away from it all, Dauphin Island is a lovely choice. Bring everything you need, especially food. There is no viable grocery store on the island, and Mobile is 30 miles away. However, there is a fantastic fresh seafood market with local offerings (they’ll even steam your shrimp/crab/fish for you) and a surprisingly good lending library located in the nice little Visitor Center.

About the campground:

Dauphin Island Campground is a unique and wonderful place, located directly adjacent to the Audubon Bird Sanctuary, with miles of walking trails through beautiful forests, marshlands, and access to miles of beaches (with unfortunate views of offshore drilling platforms). The bathrooms are beyond funky and the washers in the laundry are rusted—the whole bath complex is scheduled for a major overhaul this summer. We stayed in a partial hook-up site for $28 per night; the seventh night is free. (The campground also has full-hookup sites, both 50 amp and 30 amp.) Verizon coverage is good.

Choose your site carefully. The considerable rainstorm we had left much of the campground with enormous pools of standing water for several days. Our site (and the other sites at the east end of the campground) was fine after 24 hours, but others weren’t so lucky. We loved our time there, and will happily return.

Next Up: A Fabulous Few Days In New Orleans

Red-Breasted Mergansers On The Beach

The Bridge To Dauphin Island

Snowy Egret On The Jetty

Reddish Egret In Breeding Plumage

Campground, Beach And Bird Sanctuary Map

Late Afternoon In The Marsh

On The Coastal Trails

Osprey Nest Along The Beach Trail

Great Blue Heron

One Of Many Ponds In The Refuge

Blue-Winged Teal On The Pond

On The Trails In The Refuge

Beautiful Hooded Warbler

Summer Tanager First-Year Male

Blue Grosbeak

Biking And Birding Dauphin Island

A Quiet Moment Birding At Shell Mound

Black-And-White Warbler

Summer Tanager, Adult Male

Trails Through Deep Thickets

Scarlet Tanager

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

Prothonotary Warbler In Bottlebrush

Northern Parula In Bottlebrush

Eastern Fox Squirrel

Eastern Bluebird

Nice Site At Dauphin Island Campground

After The Storm

Some Spots Were Lakefront For A Week

Red-Breasted Mergansers On The Beach
The Bridge To Dauphin Island
Snowy Egret On The Jetty
Reddish Egret In Breeding Plumage
Campground, Beach And Bird Sanctuary Map
Late Afternoon In The Marsh
On The Coastal Trails
Osprey Nest Along The Beach Trail
Great Blue Heron
One Of Many Ponds In The Refuge
Blue-Winged Teal On The Pond
On The Trails In The Refuge
Beautiful Hooded Warbler
Summer Tanager First-Year Male
Blue Grosbeak
Biking And Birding Dauphin Island
A Quiet Moment Birding At Shell Mound
Black-And-White Warbler
Summer Tanager, Adult Male
Trails Through Deep Thickets
Scarlet Tanager
Yellow-Billed Cuckoo
Prothonotary Warbler In Bottlebrush
Northern Parula In Bottlebrush
Eastern Fox Squirrel
Eastern Bluebird
Nice Site At Dauphin Island Campground
After The Storm
Some Spots Were Lakefront For A Week
Red-Breasted Mergansers On The Beach thumbnail
The Bridge To Dauphin Island thumbnail
Snowy Egret On The Jetty thumbnail
Reddish Egret In Breeding Plumage thumbnail
Campground, Beach And Bird Sanctuary Map thumbnail
Late Afternoon In The Marsh thumbnail
On The Coastal Trails thumbnail
Osprey Nest Along The Beach Trail thumbnail
Great Blue Heron thumbnail
One Of Many Ponds In The Refuge thumbnail
Blue-Winged Teal On The Pond thumbnail
On The Trails In The Refuge thumbnail
Beautiful Hooded Warbler thumbnail
Summer Tanager First-Year Male thumbnail
Blue Grosbeak thumbnail
Biking And Birding Dauphin Island thumbnail
A Quiet Moment Birding At Shell Mound thumbnail
Black-And-White Warbler thumbnail
Summer Tanager, Adult Male thumbnail
Trails Through Deep Thickets thumbnail
Scarlet Tanager thumbnail
Yellow-Billed Cuckoo thumbnail
Prothonotary Warbler In Bottlebrush thumbnail
Northern Parula In Bottlebrush thumbnail
Eastern Fox Squirrel thumbnail
Eastern Bluebird thumbnail
Nice Site At Dauphin Island Campground thumbnail
After The Storm thumbnail
Some Spots Were Lakefront For A Week thumbnail

Read More