Thursday, April 22, 2010


Louisiana who knew it existed? We thought Louisiana was just New Orleans but what a surprise we got once again. Because of the strong influence of French, Spanish and African cultures this state is considered exceptional in relation to other states in the empire. Our first introduction to this new state and area was the Acadian Cultural Centre. A movie along with exhibits gave us a good understanding of the origins, migration, settlement of the people and the unpleasant treatment by the British in the 1700's in Nova Scotia.

We continued next to the Vermillion Ville Cajun/Creole Heritage & Folklore Park to see a re-creation of life in the Acadiana area between 1765 and 1890. The grounds are laid out as a historical village with some restored original homes, interpreters that demonstrated the traditional crafts and local musicians.

We discovered that Louisiana has some of the friendliest folk in the US. Our Canadian licence plate was confusing and the immediate impression was that we were French. The wheels kept moving and our next stop was St. Martinville, the birthplace of Acadiana. Unfortunately everything closed at 4:30 pm so we just had a brief walk around. We did find the Evangeline Oak; the most photographed tree in the World and the Statue of Evangeline; the Acadian heroine immortalized by Longfellow. A quick stop in St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church made us realize how modern American churches are compared to the much older European ones.

Second day in Louisiana was a short drive to New Iberia. We were not invited but happened upon a T.E.A. (Taxed Enough Already) Party. A local candidate was canvassing and we knew we had entered Republican territory. As we approached the crowds with banners I warned Don to keep all his comments to himself and we'd discuss later in the Moho.

I had watched politics on television but the live version is even more scary. I am grateful that issues such as guns, religion, gay marriage and abortion have all be dealt with in Canada and we can move on. Enough politics, we moved on to Victor's Cafeteria where the locals know a good thing. Atmosphere was much lighter and the most important agenda item there was enjoying the great food. Unfortunately we went for the famous crawfish pie but it wasn't on the menu for that day. Instead the hostess sold us a frozen crawfish pie with good instructions to savour later.

Next stop was Avery Island. This place is known for the great Tabasco Plant. Edmund McIlhenny knew a good thing post-Civil War when he decided to cultivate red peppers into the world known hot sauce. 700,000 bottles are produced daily and after touring the Plant we discovered it takes 3 years from the time of picking to bottling. The production includes storing the pepper mash in bourbon barrels which might account for the great taste. The McIlhenny family continue today to supervise all aspects of the process.

It was time to explore Louisiana's Northshore. We crossed Lake Pontchartrain via the 24 mile causeway. You don't want to run out of gas out there in the middle of nowhere. All I could think was you could almost run a marathon across this concrete structure but how boring with only water on both sides and nothing for miles and miles. We reached our first of two pre-booked park destinations, Fairview State Park in St. Tammany Parish. Louisiana has great State Parks which would explain why they are so busy.

The first physical activity was a bike ride on the Tammany Trace from Mandeville to Abita Springs. This was a 30 mile paved, flat old railtrail that was busy with runners, walkers, bikers and rollerbladers. We had a pitstop at the Abita Brewery where Don sampled the seasonal Abita Strawberry Lager. On we went to explore the Park trails and the introduction to the swamp where I spotted my first alligator in the wild.

The Tammany Trace became my favourite spot as I did a 10 mile run (the 1st since the NY Marathon) and a 30 km. bike ride. Don and Crocus also enjoyed the ability to let loose and crank out the miles.

Time to move to the big City of New Orleans; sample the cajun/creole cuisine and play sightseeing tourists. Our first tour was the Honey Island Swamp Boat Tour. It was 2 hours on the Pearl River as well as navigating deep into the bayou. The guide was excellent and could spot all types of wildlife from alligators, snakes, birds, frogs and lizards. He was a wealth of knowledge and gave us facts of the area pre and post Katrina.

Now it was time to slow the pace and wander the Garden District admiring the distinct architecture - grilled ironwork, ornate exterior moldings, Greek columns and stained-glassed windows. Many of the homes are still owned by descendants of the original owners. The streets had narrow sidewalks but were shaded with huge oak, magnolia and palm trees. The Garden District was first populated by the new Americans because they were shunned by the Creoles who continued to live in the French Quarter. No expense was spared when they developed their community which consisted of their own church, theater, cemetery, grand hotel and even a railroad. The pace changed once we took the St. Charles Streetcar into the French Quarter. No part of our travels could compare to the music, food, galleries or people that we encountered in the two days of the FQ.

It must sound as though all we are doing is eating and drinking but when opportunities arise to sample local cuisine we can't pass it up. From the cafe au lait and beignets to the grilled oysters, seafood gumbo, muffuletta sandwiches, shrimp etouffee, jambalaya and the rice/beans not to forget the hurricanes; we tried it all! Almost every establishment had live music either inside or on patios but the most impressive was a noon concert we caught at the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park where Jim Hession entertained us with his ragtime, stride renditions on piano. There was definitely lots of great talent in their small City.

So our two full days were busy and the entire time we kept our friends in mind; Ruby because it's your favourite City, Brenda because you've always wanted to walk Bourbon St., Brad because you would have loved the jazz, Jeff because your recommended gallery was an oasis from the hustle and Dave because your advice regarding the hurricanes was duly noted. However, it was that time again! Good-bye to Louisiana and hello Mississippi.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


The initial impression of Texas was that there were many white double cab pickup trucks and lots of cowboy hats. People were friendly as everyone have been along our travels.

Our first stop was Fort Davis. This small town could be missed if you blinked but was rich in history. Originally it was a frontier military post with significant structures which laid along the Old Overland Trail (El Paso to San Antonio). With our fill of sightseeing in the last few days of New Mexico we decided to take three days in this sleepy town.

It was a good place to catch up on maintenance/cleaning of Moho and hike two great trails. The first was from our campsite at Fort Davis Mountain State Park; Skyline Trail where we climbed straight up and got great views of the Park as well as Fort Davis, 4 miles away. Thenext day we packed a lunch and hiked Limpia Creek Trail. From the top we got panoramic views as well as a forest fire approximately 3 miles in the opposite direction of Fort Davis. On the last day we decided to drive into Fort Davis to do a 10 km. flat run and tour the Fort. The run gave us the opportunity to see quite a few of the old buildings and the enthusiastic Ranger gave us lots of information about early Fort Davis during the second half of the 19th century and the "Buffalo Soldiers" who were stationed there.

Before heading out from the park we had a few visitors. Yah, the javelinas. There were three and they sauntered through our campsite. I now know why the big nose. They use it to uproot young plants in the ground and then proceed to eat them. They fed for a few minutes then wandered along to the next campsite.

Next stop was Big Bend National Park. Our 100 mile drive through the National Park to the River was very rugged, desolate and remote. The Park borders on Mexico and the natural boundary is the Rio Grande River. Big Bend offered opportunities to run, hike, bird watch and utilize the river for water activities. The ironic part was that the area was experiencing a heat wave with temperatures 10 degrees above the norm. So with temperatures reaching 39C or 103F, we moved slowly. We did a short hike along Boquillas Canyon where the river gave the illusion of cooler temperatures.

Along this trail we found mexican wares for sale as the Village of Boquillas is just on the other side of the river. Once a 300 person village depending onthe tourist trade of Big Bend the village is but 90 people since 2002. Homeland Security closed all border crossings in this area and the Mexican people were forced to re-locate to other areas. There was one sole, Victor; the singing Mexican. He placed a donation can on our side of the border and I guess sneaks across at the end of each day to pick up. His voice can be heard throughout the canyon. The other beauty of the canyon was the blooming cacti. The combination of high temperatures and a little water have allowed these dormant seeds to burst into bloom earlier than usual. Before leaving Big Bend we got up early, unhitched Moho and did a hike/run from Daniel's Ranch to Hot Springs. The 105F water of the hot springs was nice to soak our feet but the air temps were rising and we had to get back.

We were so glad we did not take the advice of people that told us there was nothing in Texas and just drive through. After arriving in San Antonio, we decided to stay a few days and divide our activities between the City and the surrounding hill country.

The first day was spent on a beautiful scenic drive which we called the 'barbecue trail". Thinking Texas was dry and desert like, we were very surprised to discover how lush, beautiful and picturesque the hill country was. We decided to make it a fun day and sample the "texas barbecues". Our first stop was Lockhart where we visited Smitty's for brisket and Black's for pork loin. Both were delectable. It would definitely be a challenge to keep the weight in check if we had this back home. It was good that they were samples and not full meals. On we went to Southside Market and Bar-B-Q in Elgin. Here we sampled Elgin hot guts with saltine crackers or simply sausages. Next stop was Taylor where the lineup was long and as we were not ready to eat we purchased chopped brisket in barbecue sauce for take away. We did try some texas ice cream - Blue Bell which turned out to be average.

Last stop but definitely our favourite was The Salt Lick in Driftwood where again we ordered brisket for take away. The aroma was so good it didn't make it off the parking lot. This thriving business was started by a husband/wife team who wanted a reason to remain in Driftwood. It has since changed hands and now a Sheriff has to direct traffic for parking. It was good that this "barbecue trail" took 11 hours to complete. Again, the scenery of well maintained ranches, long horned cattle, great looking horses and abundant spring wildflowers along the roadside added to our day.

San Antonio was definitely a worthwhile visit. The City was very inviting and we found lots to do and see for a day. Starting with a tour of the Alamo we learned the history and the significance of that battle in 1836. While the details of the siege are debated there is no doubt the symbolism of the battle. It was a struggle against overwhelming odds - the defenders holding out for 13 days against Santa Anna's army. We moved through the downtown core stopping for a picnic lunch at the Main Plaza which was reconstructed in 2008. We paid a visit to the San Fernando Cathedral to see the resting place of soldiers such as Davie Crockett, and James Bowie to name a couple. The El Mercado was the opportunity to purchase mexican goods or for us a chance to sample mexican sweets.

The highlight of downtown was the Riverwalk. A 5-km. walk with much to see. San Antonions have built this walk incorporating commercial, art and natural beauty. Water taxis are available but we decided to walk and work off the sweet calories. Before taking our bus back to our KOA we sat for refreshments and watched people strolling along the Riverwalk. Good-bye San Antonio but we think we'll be back.

Last day in this area was another driving day. We set out to view more of the colours of the Texas Hill Country in bloom. We were not disappointed. Our first stop was Fredericksburg, birthplace of President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Texas White House, the family cemetery and lots of exhibits and films about LBJ and Lady Bird. Also in town, at the Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park we walked through meadows of bluebonnets and stopped to watch birds feeding along the nature trail. With over 700 historical structures in Fredericksburg we followed the walking tour where 30 significant ones gave us the historical flavour.

It was time to head back but we managed to make one more pit stop off our track. We discovered Luckenbach. It has maintained it's ghost town feel but it's country music association was still alive. It is a popular Sunday afternoon spot for musicians/song writers to take the stage and entertain passersby. The old post office, saloon, dance hall and general store were still in operation. It was great to be entertained but this week there was no Willie Nelson.

Last stop before heading into Louisiana was an overnight RV park a few miles west of Houston. Good-bye to Texas - we enjoyed our stay.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

New Mexico - Northern and Southeastern

Our travels took us north to Albuquerque, the largest city in the state. This was a great opportunity to rent a car and explore the surrounding areas of Santa Fe and the Pueblo communities. Our first stop, Santa Fe - capital of the state, proved a great experience with the abundance of art galleries, fine architecture, historical attractions and of course good coffee. We did our traditional walking tour and strolled up Canyon Road that is designated a "residential arts and crafts zone" and went in and out of stores before stopping for a rest just off the Plaza to savour a coffee. Our little tour continued on to pay a visit to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. The parish have commenced a project to create a garden with life style replicas of the stations of the cross. To date only three have been completed which we found enthralling and when completed this project will be an artist's masterpiece.

Next stop was San Miguel Mission, the oldest church in America and next door to the Mission was the oldest house in America. The Mission was quaint and contained a bell dating back to 1356. Before leaving Santa Fe we made a final stop to the New Mexico Museum of Art where Don found one of his favourite artists - Georgia O'Keeffe. There was a special reception for members of the museum so we had to wait around in order to access Ms. O'keeffe's work but there was much to see while we waited.

The next day took us to Albuquerque and the Old Town. First stop was the Pueblo Indian Cultural Centre where we just happened to catch some native dancing. The museum showcases the history and arts of the Pueblo people and gave us a better understanding of these people. We moved on to the Old Town where again we found natives selling their jewelry and trinkets. Albuquerque appeared to be more of a working city and lacking the cultural, art appeal of Santa Fe. However, we found a great little place for lunch where we sampled both sopapillas (fresh from the oven) and stuffed sopapillas filled with pork, beans, cheese and chillies. Continuing on our way we took the opportunity to drive Old #66 through Nob Hill. Evidence of old signage and even an old gas pumping station were visible. Great little drive through history.

Enough of the City touring, it was time to take a drive and see some of the northern Indian Pueblo settlements. The drive was scenic and took us through Valle Caldera National Park, an extinct volcanic crater, and two feet of snow on our way to Bandelier National Monument. This site offered us more examples of Pueblo villages as well as a great hiking loop trail through Frijoles Canyon. There were more kivas, cliff dwellings and finally Alcove House where we climbed 140 feet up wooden ladders and stone steps to see a Ceremonial Cave.

To view more on Bandelier visit this site:

We stopped in Los Alamos for a coffee but there wasn't much to see as we could not enter the National Research Centre where the atomic bomb was developed. Earlier in our trip through New Mexico we had driven near Trinity Site where the world's first atomic bomb was exploded July 16, 1945. That site is only open to the public twice a year.

Time to return our rental car and move on south to Roswell where we hoped to find warmer temperatures. That we did, moving from freezing temperatures to high 20's. The town was a little of a bust with it's claim to fame being aliens and sightings of UFO's but we saw neither. We made a quick drive through staying only one night and enjoying the weather and peace and quiet of Bitter Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. Too late to see any significant birds as they've left for home but we did learn there are hundreds of varieties of dragonflies present in this Refuge.

Carlsbad was our last night before moving to the next state. One of our stops was the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park. A botanical garden specializing in native species of the Chihuahuan Desert. It was not a typical zoo but instead animals are rescued and either treated and returned to their environment or they remain in the Zoo for care. A new animal we have to watch for in the wild are the Javelinas. They look like members of the pig family with big noses and lie around lazily. We had a great two hours exploring but again were a little too early and saw only a couple flowering cactus.

Our last stop was Carlsbad Caverns. A World Heritage Site since 1995, features a spectacular cave system. We followed the self-guided tour and entered at the natural entrance. It was a one mile trek down 750 feet following steep, narrow trails that early explorers would have completed. Along the main corridor we passed highlights such Bat Cave and finally reached the bottom or Big Room. Elevators can assist those not up to the physical walk down the trail.The Big Room measures 8.2 acres with lots of stalactites and stalagmites.

For more on the caverns:

So now we say good-bye to New Mexico and hello Texas!