Sunday, May 26, 2013

We left New Orleans knowing that we had not seen everything we wanted to see. However, with Memorial Day creeping up on us we had to have reservations so we headed northward vowing to return soon and finish our tour of this fabulous City. Our next stop was Vicksburg, Mississippi, site of the "Siege at Vicksburg". For those not versed in the Civil War, Vicksburg was the final nail in the coffin of the Confederates. Gettysburg had already fallen and the only thing in the way of the North was Vicksburg. Control of the mighty Mississippi was at stake. Without the means of getting food, supplies and munitions the South was doomed. General Ulysses Grant had planned on an assault on Vicksburg taking but a couple weeks as he descended on the City on May 18, 1863 with some 50,000 Northern Troops.  Instead he found many determined  Confederate soldiers and the siege lasted some 47 days, resulting in heavy casualties for the Federal troops.  Final tally upon surrender on July 4, 1863 were Union forces, 4,835, Confederates, 3,202. Sad pages in our nations' history books, for sure....

The Old Court House, built in 1858, stands today as Vicksburg’s most historic structure and has hosted such guests and speakers as Jefferson Davis, Ulysses S. Grant, Booker T. Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, and William McKinley.  It's museum contains the original Confederate flag flown over the courthouse during the "Siege".

Downtown Vicksburg consists of several square blocks, housing many churches of various denominations, showing the diversity of this area after the Civil War. 

Surrounding the core of Vicksburg, you'll see many stately mansions, many of which have been restored to their original beauty. Most of these are private residences and may not be toured.

This is the entrance to the  Vicksburg National Military Park. It was established in 1899 in memory of the "Siege at Vicksburg". It consists of trenches and berms built by the two fighting armies in defense of, and assault on, the City. 

There is a sixteen mile driving tour through the battlefield, with a CD available for guidance from the Visitor's Center. Be aware, though, it took us 3 1/2 hours to complete the tour.

Cannons are placed in their approximate locations to give a graphic example of what the troops experienced. Signs signify the North's and South's positions during the conflict.  Each State that had men from either side involved was allowed to erect memorials to these fallen soldiers. The large memorial in the background honors those from the State of Michigan.

While the driving tour is only 16 miles, there is also a walking tour of 12.5 miles, so it would be easy to spend a whole day in the Park. There are 1,325 historical markers, 144 cannons, a ironclad gunboat, and a military cemetery.

This monument was erected in honor of the Black slaves that fought in the war. The slaves were promised freedom in exchange for their service to the Northern army. Many were killed fighting the war. Freedom is a very powerful incentive....then, and today...

At the top of a hill, overlooking the City, sits a monument to Ulysses Grant near where he had his headquarter base during the conflict.

This is what's left of the Ironclad Gunboat of the Northern Army. There were 22 of these gunboats built for the United States to be used against the Confederates during the Civil War. This one, the Cairo, was sunk on the Mississippi River when it ran into a string of homemade mines strung across the Mississippi in 1862. She remained at the bottom of the River until being recovered in 1964. The cannons, boilers, engines and ironclad are original. Much of the wood is deteriorated but discernible.

 Located on a bluff overlooking the River at Vicksburg is the "Widow Blakely". So called, because it is a Blakely rifled 7.44 inch cannon and for the damage it caused to Union troops on the River. Imagine, if you will, yourself on either side of this monster. I believe I'd prefer to be on this side.....

Within the Vicksburg National Military Park is a cemetery. The silent resting place of many Civil War soldiers. There are 18,244 occupied grave sites, of which 12,954 are unidentified. A quiet, somber, memory of a chapter in American History.

Debi loves fresh vegetables and begs to stop at many roadside stands for tomatoes, fruits and whatever other local fare is offered. With that in mind, I pulled into this gem of a place to see what they had to offer.

As many of you know, I've had many hot rods over the years. I'm always looking for that "barn find", you know that old relic in someone's barn waiting to be discovered, restored and sold for millions of dollars. While Debi was searching next door for tomatoes, I wandered over to this abandoned barn for a peek inside.....

 Yep! That's my luck......just an old barn full of junk....not even Junque!!!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

On the road again, we headed south on US 165, then east on US 190. In Baton Rouge, it hooks up with Interstate 10. Baton Rouge is a little over an hour away from New Orleans.

Arriving in New Orleans, we checked into the Ponchartrain Landing RV Resort, choosing a premier site with a water view. In our opinion this is probably the nicest park in NOLA with the most amenities and the friendliest staff. We enjoyed our stay here and will definitely return when we again visit New Orleans. They offer discounted tours accommodations and a shuttle service daily to and from the French Quarter. We chose a combination tour which consisted of a guided tour of the City and a cruise up the Mississippi River on the 265' Steamboat, Natchez, the last authentic steamboat running on the Mississippi River in New Orleans. Since the bus tour was 2 1/2 hours and the cruise was over 2 hours, we decided to do the tours separately, the bus tour on Saturday and the cruise on Sunday. We were glad we did as each day gave us time to leisurely walk the French Quarter and have lunch at one of the many sidewalk cafes. We even tried a Mufuletta, a Sicilian sandwich of Salami, Ham, cheese and an olive mix. 

Back at the coach, we enjoyed a quick swim in their pool overlooking the river followed by a lengthy soak in the hot tub. We ended the evening with a couple glasses of wine at the bar patio listening to a local band. There's so much to see and do in New Orleans, we were not able to see it all in the four days we were there. We plan on returning later this year, weather permitting, and resume our tour of this fabulous City. The people were polite and friendly and we were amazed at how clean they keep the French Quarter considering how many people and tourists visit daily....

US190 is a well paved two lane highway that takes you past bayous, farms and rice fields. We visited towns like Basile, Eunice and Opelousas on the way. Eventually, US 190 takes you back to Interstate 10 in Baton Rouge.

Here is a nice view of New Orleans across the Mississippi River looking toward the downtown area and the French Quarter. Despite being over 100 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico, the Port of New Orleans is the fourth largest port in the USA in terms of volume of goods handled.

Checking in at the Ponchartrain Landing RV Resort. The Creole influence in the City of New Orleans allows for the "r" to be ignored in many of their words. Correct pronunciation would then be Ponchatrain, and New A'wlins.

Here is a view from our site facing the water. It was a back in site, but we reversed it and pulled in forward. Running the hookups under the coach was easy and the utilities were well placed, so we didn't have to use any extensions.

As the above picture reflected the view out the front of the coach, the view out the rear was pretty spectacular as well. This was the sunset the first night at the resort.

The resort has the office, bar, dining room and swimming pool elevated above the campground and encompasses a view of the harbor and river. The pool is open on one end and the water then flows into a large pool below adjacent to the hot tub. Large covered porches surround the bar/patio offering views of the water, sunsets and the surrounding area.

No trip to New Orleans would be complete without a visit to the famed French Quarter, the City's oldest neighborhood. Over 10 million people visit this area annually!

We strolled down famous Bourbon Street, lined with bar after bar. Portions of this and several other streets were blocked off for street performers. Similar to the Strip in Las Vegas with the amount of people on foot, the French Quarter differed in the friendliness of the people walking the streets.

The French Quarter is less than one square mile and sits at a mere 3' above sea level. It consists of 85 square blocks and is home to nearly 4000 people. Despite it's relative low altitude, the French Quarter suffered little from the effects of Hurricane Katrina, due to it's location on a delta along the Mississippi River.  Many of the buildings were built in the mid to late 1800s and since 1920 have been protected by law and cannot be demolished and renovations can only be done based on a very strict basis.

Tourism is huge in New Orleans amounting to over $5.5 billion annually. This was an open air market at the north end of the French Quarter. We did our share in stimulating the economy of the City of New Orleans.

This is the steamboat Natchez. We boarded here for a two hour plus cruise up the Mississippi River. It was an entertaining trip complete with jazz musicians and the steamships famous Calliope. Dinner was available as well as many different types of beverages. I was able to tour the engine room as well.

The huge dining room amidships of the steamer featured a buffet style meal of southern style potatoes, meat, seafood and salads. At the far end of the dining room where the wheel is visible was a stage for the musicians who played while you dined.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The weather was looking somewhat gloomy so we left Lake Conroe somewhat reluctantly and headed east toward "The Big Easy".  We did visit a very nice quiet campground in the Sam Houston National Forest called Timber Lodge RV Resort. While it is not a "resort", it does have lots of positives. It's small, secluded, has a pool/spa and big rig friendly with mostly pull through spots. If you're looking for a campground with full hookups in the middle of the forest, check this one out. It's about 10 miles east of Interstate 45.

We headed South on Interstate 45 then East on Texas 105. This is a two lane road, well paved and with little traffic. It passes farms, ranches and many small towns with names like Cut and Shoot and Sour Lake, which is the birthplace of Texaco Oil Company. We saw Fat Frog's in Boothe, Tx, where you could stop and buy your fill of mayhaw jelly. Being a city boy I didn't have a clue what a mayhaw was let alone that they made jelly out of it. Turns out it's made from the berries of a swamp tree! Debi and I are on a mission now to taste some of the southern favors...mayhaw jelly, tupelo honey and crawfish. The last one I might have trouble getting Debi to whet her pallet with!

There were a couple of interesting RV parks along this route. One was called "Laid Back RV Park", Cleveland, Tx....we did not stop...the other only had about 5 spots and it was called, appropriately,  "Small RV Park"..outside Beaumont,...we didn't stop there either. If you're headed East and want to avoid the Houston traffic, you might try this route. It runs from Brenham all the way to Beaumont in the East, where it connects back up to I-10.

We arrived in Kinder, Louisiana around 3:15PM, after a stop in Beaumont for fuel and to get rid of the "love bugs". I found very little to "love" about these insects. Apparently they like to mate and fly around together by the hundreds. I can assure you Texas has lost about a million of the little devils. I scraped them off the front of my coach! For those who don't know what these critters are, they are a small black bug that looks kind of like a small wasp. They are acidic and create a mess on the front of the coach. When killed, their acidic makeup changes and can damage the paint on your vehicle. Fortunately, when we got to our campsite I was able to finish getting them off the coach using my brush and special soap. I had just finished brushing the front and working up a suds when it really began to rain. I put on my swimsuit and finished the job. The rain only lasted about an hour then it quit, so I got out my towels and polished the coach so she looks new again!

Overlooking Lake you can see, the skies looked threatening so we decided to pack it in and head East toward the sun!

Here is a picture of Texas 105. This highway is a quiet alternative to Interstate 10. It runs eastward from Brenham to Beaumont, where it hooks up again with I-10.

Best picture I could get of Sour Lake, which boasts of the longest producing oil fields in the US and birthplace of Texaco Oil Company. The picture below explains why this was the best picture I could get....

If you click on this picture to enlarge it, you will see all the wonderful love bugs I killed. It took me over 30 minutes at the truck stop to get them off. By the time we arrived at the campground, they were back! Ugh! I gave them another name, and love was not in it....

Welcome to Louisiana....

Note to elected officials....why not have a rest area just inside your state line on the major hwys where folks can stop and take their tourist photos without endangering themselves or other traffic on the highway? Another sign like this one could be placed at the rest area and all the pictures could be taken while out of the way....just a thought.

Headed East on Interstate 10 in Lake Charles, La. We did not take the Lake Charles Loop as we will do that in the toad. We are climbing the bridge that spans Lake Charles itself overlooking the City.

Leaving the City of Lake Charles, we headed north on US Hwy165. Some of the roadway in Louisiana rivals those found in California. Not in a good way either. The humidity has increased, but it's still comfortable.

Our "home" for the next week or so....even though it's a casino owned RV park, it has the ambiance and feel of a resort. There are over 100 park models throughout the resort and it has a beautiful pool and clubhouse. The casino is nearby as well as a huge music complex.

Once I got the old girl washed up, she looked new again. Nice grassy areas between the sites and plenty of room for any size rig. Full hookups and 50amps. We can get the laundry done and run all three air conditioners if is good!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

After several very relaxing days along the banks of the Colorado River, we pulled up stakes and headed towards Houston, Texas. US 90 merges with I-10 until the town of Katy where the toll road begins. We headed off I-10 onto Texas 6 which is a diagonal and connects with I-45 north of Houston. If you've ever driven in downtown Houston, you know it's a nightmare! Once on I-45 it was a short drive to our new temporary home, Lake Conroe.

We really enjoyed our campsite on the river at Thousand Trails. The pool was heated and the spa was awesome. The sites were large and spacious. The interesting thing about TT is that they charge for 50amp service and many give up this view  because they refuse to pay the extra $3/night!

Wildlife abounds in the preserve. Deer are plentiful and we saw armadillos, raccoons and tons of birds....this momma watched to make sure Jasmine stayed on the trail. It looked like she was about to add a new addition to the herd...

We saw Great Blue Herons, Snowy White Egrets and natures clean up crew, the Turkey Vulture. This is a tri colored Great Egret across the river from our campsite.

Curiosity got the better of her as she came closer to look at me. When she did so, I got a better picture of her. A magnificent bird when taking to flight....

There were plenty of deer and several baby fawns in the campground. The mommas kept the fawns pretty close and I didn't want to stress the deer out with Jasmine, so we kept our distance. We do keep Jasmine on her lead as she would be no match with an irritated and/or threatened doe.
Interestingly enough, we saw no bucks.

I photographed this doe because here coat was soft and smooth unlike most of the other deer in the campground.

Cruising down Texas Highway 6, we saw this sign and were intrigued by it. We may head back this way in the car to see just what exactly someone would have in a funeral museum....I hope there are no bodies....

Off the Interstates and down our kind of road. Paradise is just around the next bend in the road...

Our campsite at Lake Conroe. Closest neighbot is that Class B rig to the right. There is a bathroom next to us on the left, but it is closed. We figured it was perfect as we never use the public restrooms and being closed will eliminate any foot traffic. There are a few sites with a lake view but they were already filled. Once we park, my job is to set up the outside, while Debi takes care of the inside. We usually finish about the same time.

Jasmine likes her perch at the foot of my sling chair. This is our view out the back. Yes, my work is done. I am just resting prior to going to the spa.....

Speaking of which, here is the spa at Lake Conroe. It's an adult only affair and was warm and relaxing. It's open until 11PM M-F and Midnight on the weekends. There are no campsites around the pool or spa. I can't say enough nice things about this facility. The showers around the spa even have soft water!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Sunday is church day, so we decided to look at some churches today. If you remember from my earlier post, US 90 parallels I-10 and is a great alternative to the Interstate travel through Texas. As you travel US 90 it passes through many small towns, most forgotton, that have much history. One of these is Schulenburg, Texas. In 1831, the Mexican government granted 4428 acres of land to Kesiah Crier. He kept this land intact until late 1845 when he began selling off portions of the land to other settlers. In 1873 the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railroad began buying up much of the land for the railroad. The largest portion was the 450 acre parcel of Louis Schulenburg. This railroad today is known as the Southern Pacific. Since most of the town was ultimately constructed on what was formerly the homestead of Louis Schulenburg, the town was aptly named in his honor and a train depot was built in the town. The town of Schulenburg thrived on cotton, it's main source of income along with eggs, poultry and many other items. The town of Schulenburg sponsors a historic tour of the areas churches. We decided to forego the formal tour and take the tour ourselves at our leisure. So, armed with a $4.00 map, purchased at the Polka Museum across the street from the Chamber of Commerce, we set out on our journey. Below is the short version. What an awesome tour...!

Our first stop was in the town of Praha. This area was first settled by Czechoslovakians and their influence is apparent in this region.  TheSt. Mary's Parish was established in 1855 and this church was constructed in 1895. It is constructed of mostly local stone. Upon completion, it was dedicated and name "Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary" given. The architecture is nineteenth century and the interior was painted by a famous Swiss artist and has never been repainted. 

The adjacent cemetery was established in 1865 and features a monument honoring nine local men who lost their lives in World War II. 

Mass had just begun so I had to settle for this picture from the vestibule.

We then traveled to the City of Freyburg. Freyburg was established in the mid 1800s by German settlers. Lutheran and Methodist churches were established here. The Lutheran church was ultimately moved to a nearby community, but the Methodist Church continued. It was beautiful in its' simplicity. This is the United Methodist Church, built in 1879.

It's interior was simple and contains the original wooden benches and altar. Services are only held twice a month.

This little fella was on a tract of land adjacent to the United Methodist Church. He was very interested in what I was doing and watched me very closely. If you wonder why I would call an animal that weighs several hundred pounds a "little fella"...look at the picture below.

This is "little fella"s Momma..!

After leaving Freyburg, we headed out to High Hill, Texas. In September 1860 several families left their homeland in Neudeck, Austria for the United States. They finally settled here, known today as High Hill. This is St. Mary's Catholic Church. It is the third church to be built on the original 9 acres deeded to the church in 1868.

The interior of the church was massive and impressive. It is a classic example of Gothic Revival style, displaying not only Victorian features but also the European background of the German and Czech-Moravian settlers.

The altar and painted canopy are original and have never been touched up. Absolutely amazing!

After leaving High Hill, we headed east on Farm Road 615. Rounding a curve we were met with this sign. It certainly doesn't give you a warm fuzzy feeling but we decided to proceed. Fortunately we weren't in the coach!

This is the Piano Bridge, built in 1885 and one of the few iron bridges still in use today. It got it's name from the twanging sound made when wagons or cars crossed it. Unfortunately, for safety reasons, the wooden planks had to be nailed down, causing the twanging to cease. An adventure for us, nonetheless.

After crossing the Piano Bridge, we came to the Village of Dubina and the Sts. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church. Dubina was founded in 1856 and boasts the historical significance of being the first community in Texas founded entirely by Czech-Moravians. The original church was built in 1877 and served until July 21,1909, when a tropical storm demolished it.

The present church, seen here and above, was completed in 1912 and was decorated with frescoes and stenciling. 

During its heyday, the population of Dubina exceeded 3000. Today, around 200 people call Dubina, home.

Finally, we proceeded back north on Texas Farm Road 1383 to the town of Ammannsville. Founded in 1870 by Andrew Ammann and his family, the town was built by settlers who brought all the materials by wagon from Houston, some 90 miles east. For 19 years settlers had to go to nearby churches for mass. During a sermon, held on one of the front porch of a local home, a priest suggested they build their own church. In 1890 the first cornerstone was laid for the St. John the Baptist Catholic Church.

After the original church was destroyed by a storm in 1909, a second church was built that same year. Eight years later, that church was destroyed by a spectacular fire! In the midst of this fire, villagers rushed inside the church and carried out many of the statues which now grace the interior of the new church which was built in 1919.

This ornate altar was inspiring, to say the least. All of the paint on the walls and ceiling is original, dating to 1919. It has never been retouched or repainted. What you see is exactly how it looked to those first parishioners 94 years ago!