Sunday, March 27, 2016

Spring Trek 2016 Part 4: Texas to Tuscaloosa!

Easter Sunday, March 27
Mason, TX to Palestine, TX – 277 miles

  Alleluia!  He lives!  Up this morning to pack up.  The sky is dark and ominous – hardly a bright Easter morning!  And the temperature must drop at least 10 degrees between 7am and 8am as the wind picks up.  We say goodbye to Greg, Bea, Frances, and Chuck and pull out a
Inside UMC
few minutes after 8, bound for the side street near the Methodist Church downtown.  An 8:30 service beckons!  We are warmly welcomed, especially since we are wearing our CAV nametags.  I enjoy watching a young family sitting in front of us with two girls, the youngest of whom was having a great difficulty sitting still this morning!  She had the cutest ladybug style outfit on and carried her empty Easter basket. 

            We head east from Mason at 9:45.  The skies are still cloudy and the wind cool and strong, but we find the sun beginning to shine the further east we go.  The bluebonnets and paintbrush are still spectacular on this stretch of hill country highway.  In places some yellow flowers and pale pink morning glory types also dot the roadway. 
            We fail to find a restaurant quickly that will serve up breakfast, so we finally stop in Bertram at Pueblo Antigua, a Mexican place.  I check that it is open and give Rick a thumbs up!  We both have quesadillas – mine is Hawaiian with pineapple and ham.  I figure that
Yellow flowers line the road. 
will be my Easter ham! 
            Past Georgetown (north of Austin) and we link up with US 79 near Taylor.  Gas up and I take the wheel for the next 70 miles or so.  We immediately seem to leave the hills, the prickly pears, and a desert feel.  The land is flatter, green grass and cultivated fields surround us.  This is my first foray east of Austin into the land known as East Texas!  Frances promised hardwood forests and pine trees.  We are on country roads that wind in and around, up and down.  Trees line the road, wildflowers in profusion.  Paintbrush are especially the color of the day with whole fields deep red. 
We stop in the town of Franklin for a drink and Rick takes back the wheel.  US 79 seems to follow a railroad much of the way and hence many of these small towns line the tracks with rail buildings on one side and ‘Main Street’ on the other side.  Gas in Palestine and then another 12 miles or so to the R Space RV Park.  Surprise.
            There is no visible office and just a scattering of RVs in the heavily treed area.  We see a guy working on a concrete slab and drive over.  ‘I have a reservation for tonight.’  “How in the world did you get a reservation?  Who did you make it with?”  ‘Online. I have a receipt.’  “But the web site was taken down, it isn’t operational!  The park has changed hands.”  ‘I believe the website is VERY operational…my credit card has been charged.’  Anyway, the guy was very flexible.  He found us a spot, no charge (he’ll take it up with the former owner!), do we want the wifi code, and BTW, you are invited to dinner over at the RV next to the fence!

          A nice pond, but stagnant, and I did get some mosquito bites!  A rustic little cabin and a bathhouse under remodel.  But the corker is that they are reopening in a week as a ‘clothing optional’ campground!  I told Rick this might be the strangest campground I have booked us in!! 
             A walk around the grounds amidst the trees and then phone calls to moms and boys. Quiet evening and I have to admit....not much competition for the wifi!!  

See all of today's pictures HERE

Reflections in the pond

3.28.16  Monday 
Palestine, TX to Natchez State Park, Natchez, MS
(Through Louisiana!)
290 miles
See today's pictures HERE

            Well, an eventful day of travel touching three states in under 300 miles!  We left Palestine around 8am, the air brisk, and the mist rising from the pond with all the moisture in the air!  Rick ended up driving all day today (my bad!), but we took breaks in spite of a fruitless effort once again to find a breakfast place at the appropriate time!  We traveled up and down, noting more and more the waterlogged areas still under water from the recent flooding.  It got even worse once we were in Louisiana. 
            We crossed into Louisiana at Loganport and then to Mansfield.  I tried to text Mac and find out where Diane grew up because I had the idea it was somewhere around here.  But cell service today ranged from No Service to LTE T-Mobile premium!  Go figure!    The Sabine River forms the boundary between Texas and Louisiana and this upper region suffered torrential rains a couple weeks ago which eventually made their way down to the gulf and closed I-10! 
            We passed logging trucks today in the middle of Louisiana.  Rick remembered at some point that Weyerhauser left the PNW and went to the southeast pine forests!  Our US 84 route took us through some struggling small towns, beautifully landscaped homes, lots of oil and natural gas evidence, and water….lots of water and greenery!!  Without the internet I am struggling to finish identifying some of what we saw, but for sure crimson clover and wisteria.  The other horticulture highlight were the azaleas!  Huge bushes everywhere in a range of colors from pink to salmon to red to lavender – mostly pink though.  Very few bluebonnets now.  Thin spreads of paintbrush.  But the purple wisteria (I THINK that’s what it is!) is draped from trees, telephone lines, and stands alone as a bush.  I’ll have to confirm that later! 
            After the fourth little town in a row in which we couldn’t find a place to eat breakfast, we gave up and Rick pulled over at the side of the road and we ate from the trailer!  He was hungry and needed to stretch!  I found an abandoned building there, nearly covered with overgrowth, and it reminded me of Pastor Katy’s Easter sermon.  I did NOT go exploring inside ….bugs, snakes, alligators, and dangerous timbers lingered! 
            Just west of Vidalia, LA, we passed the Frogmore Cotton Plantation.  Frances of the Mason CAVs had told us it was worth the visit, so we plan to take it in tomorrow while the weather is still decent.  Nearer to Vidalia we pass a Wal-Mart and decide some grocery shopping is in order before we get out to the state park.  Seventy five dollars later, we are back on the road! 
            Through Vidalia and over a huge bridge arching across the mighty Mississippi.  We can still see evidence of some flooding here as well.  Through Natchez, which appears to be a clean and beautiful town – catering to the tourists!! 
            Natchez State Park is located about 13 miles northeast of the city.  Our plan was to get settled and then come back into town for dinner and a visit to the Visitor Center to collect some information.  But….once we wind our way back to our campsite (another 3 miles I would figure from the highway) we decide a home cooked meal will be just fine!!  I pull out the venison steaks we had with us, make a salad for me, and Rick enjoys the tater salad he picked up at WallyWorld.  We picked up materials at the state park office which give us what we need to know for tomorrow at least. 
            We picked well on the internet!  Our site, with concrete pad, is nestled on the outer edge of the loop with the door facing a thick stand of trees.  We can see the water of the lake just barely through the trees.  The lake is VERY muddy right now from all the rain and flooding.  Rick said he is MUCH happier here than at Riverside RV Park right on the Mississippi in downtown Vidalia.  We don’t have sewer connections, but the bathhouse is decent and if we are careful we can go four days on our holding tanks.  And….the price is very right at $18 a night rather than $35+!!   We have been warned, however, that ticks and wasps are currently abundant on the trails! 
Conversations with Luke and Cherrie tonight on the phone --- spotty service that bounces from No Service to 3G!  But we got questions answered anyway!    Good night!! 

3.29.16 Tuesday
Frogmore Cotton Plantation – Walking Downtown Natchez
Today's Pictures HERE

            My brain is overloaded with information tonight as I sit down to record our educational day!  A restful night as the park quieted down and the air cooled off (that won’t be the case tonight we fear!)  We pulled out shortly after 9 to drive back across the river to the Frogmore Plantation in Louisiana, about35 miles away.  We passed the plantation yesterday, and it comes highly rated, so worth the drive.  Stopped at Walmart to get some drinking water and postcards.  I couldn’t get any postcards…they didn’t sell them.  Obviously sending postcards is becoming a dated thing! 
            We got to the plantation just as a tour was beginning, so quickly paid our $15 each and joined in.  The tour guide was an Illinois girl, but she has spent plenty of time in the South based on her accent, plus she said she had worked the cotton fields as a young girl for her family.  She is the owner of Frogmore now.  The gift shop/headquarters is located in what used to be the ‘company store’.  We visited various buildings all over the plantation and heard trivia and facts that described the cotton industry from pre-Civil war when cotton was king and slavery very real through the end of the 1800’s and sharecropping to modern day cotton farming.
            Some random facts we garnered:

  •             CRISCO  is made from cottonseed oil! 
  •             Cotton is graded now by digital camera based on the purity, the strength of fiber, and length of fiber.
  •             Frogmore doesn’t charge other farms to use their gin.  Instead they keep all the seeds gleaned from the cotton and sell it for oil or livestock food. 
  •             The cotton flower changes from white to bright pink overnight. 
  •             Modern day machines can pick in a week the acreage it would take 150 slaves all fall to pick.
  •             During the heyday, 100 steamwheelers plied the Mississippi between Natchez and New Orleans carrying cotton to market. 
  •             Gumbo is an African term for okra.  Niyami is their word for sweet potato (hence the term YAM!)
Click on the link above to see the photo journal of the cotton plantation tour.  They will tell the story the best.  

            Thunder rumbles while we are in the tour and the road is wet in places driving back to Natchez, but we got little rain ON US today.  (The Frogmore gal did say that the area had received nearly 14 inches of rain in the past month.  They were a little tired of it!)
            We are hungry!  It is 1pm by the time we get back into Natchez.  We find the Magnolia Grill, located in ‘Natchez Under the Hill’ (otherwise known as the area below the bluff!).  It is situated right on the river and we get a seat right on the window.  Rick finally is able to see some barge traffic going up and down the river!.  The prices are a little steep so we decide to just have a bowl of the ‘Soup of the Day’ – Crawfish Chowder.  I think we both assumed it would be comparable to the soup listed on the menu….around $8.  Well, they were out of the chowder, so the waiter recommended the shrimp,corn,and crab bisque instead.  We said ok and I have to admit, it was a large, very filling, bowl of soup laden with good size shrimp and chunks of crab.  It was also $14 a bowl!  (And no bread or roll – not even a cracker with it!) So….lunch was good, but….
There was a photo at the Presby church of three
women, skirts hiked up, staring at a tree.  No
one knows what or who they are and we couldn't
photograph or sketch the I
came home and drew it from memory! 
Time to walk it off.  We drove around a bit and then found parking down at the Natchez Trails Pavilion right on the bluff.  Four trails are marked all over town with color coding – a bluff trail, a nature trail, and two ‘in-town’ trails highlighting various buildings.  We set off on the blue trail, but shortly lost track of it as we explored the Old Presbyterian Church and its huge gallery of
This is a manse!!  
historical photographs housed within.  The church itself was white….very, very white both inside and out.  Part of the architecture.    Early on the trail we passed a parsonage built for a Methodist minister.  It looked like a mini mansion and overlooked the river!  Nice explanation though of how the Methodists call it a parsonage, the Presbyterians, a manse, and the Catholics, a rectory.  It’s all the same thing – the minister’s house!
William Johnson House
  Our final stop is the William Johnson House, which is part of the Natchez National Historic Site buildings.  Free tour!  Johnson was one of about 200 free black men living in Natchez during the mid 1800’s.  He worked as a barber and raised 10 children in the house.  His father was probably the white slave owner who set him free.  Born a slave, Johnson owned slaves as he prospered.  Kinda hard to understand that part.  But he kept a diary and that information shed a great deal of light on life as a freed black in the South prior to the Civil War. 
            We are burned out.  It is 4pm and time to head back to the trailer for a light dinner and quiet evening. 

3.30.16 Wednesday
Natchez Trace Parkway and Vicksburg National Military Park
See Pictures HERE
            We decide to head to Vicksburg today as the forecast rain isn’t due to hit until after noon sometime, maybe even later.  Maybe we can dodge the water and get this trip in, saving the visit to Melrose Plantation house until a predicted very wet Thursday (at least it is indoors!)
            I arise early to grab a shower before things get busy.  As it turns out, the campground is absolutely still save for a couple solitary birds waking up.  Still relatively dark at 6:30 and so very calm.  I enjoy a good HOT shower! 
            We take off around 8am, but have to backtrack first toward Natchez because we realized we didn’t have enough gas to get to Vicksburg!  We missed the Walmart and Murphys gas yesterday and it is coming back to bite us!  But we only backtrack about 5 miles to find a gas and convenience store, grab coffees and donuts for Rick, and put enough gas in the truck for the trip (ignoring the fact we are paying almost 20 cents more per gallon than if we had driven further into town! 
I loved the wildflowers and
split rail fences!
            The Natchez Trace is an ancient historic trail from Natchez to Nashville, TN, approximately 450 miles long.  It has been used by native Americans, riverboat men to return to the Ohio River ports,  mail runs, etc. for hundreds of years.  The road is closed to commercial truck traffic, so RVs are the only ‘big’ rigs you will encounter.  Today there was very little traffic! 

Our first stop was Mount Locust, a former cotton plantation-turned boarding house.  When her second husband left her with 11 children to support and situated a day’s walk from Natchez with requests for room and board, she turned the plantation into a inn and died the 1850 equivalent of a millionaire!  The trace passes within a hundred yards of the old home.  Interesting, educational, and beautiful.  
            We stopped at the Sunken Trace briefly to walk down and see where the footpath has eroded down about 6 feet.  I imagine during heavy rains it becomes a creekbed! 
Sunken Trace
            From there it is another 20 miles of Trace Highway, and then we turn on State Rt 27 to cut across to Vicksburg.  It takes us right into town and the Visitor Center for the National Military Park.  Time for a history lesson!  Vicksburg was the key to the Union victory in the Civil War according to Abe Lincoln.  By taking the city, the Union regained control of the Mississippi shipping paths and divided the Confederacy.  But the victory did not come easily.  The city was under siege from May until July.  The Union suffered some major loses. The ironic and perhaps sad part in all this is that Vicksburg voted PRO-Union in the secession vote for the state of Mississippi.  They didn’t want to secede and yet they suffered gravely even after the war. 
Illinois Memorial
  The park is literally covered with memorials.  It seems just about every Infantry unit has one, and Illinois alone had 79 infantry units serving with General Grant!  Markers indicated every trench dug, lines fought, etc.  We had a ‘cell phone’ tour in which I could dial a number, indicate which stop, and then we listened to a 1-2 minutes description.  We used it for several, but actually didn’t even complete the 16 mile loop.  We stopped and visited the Shirley House and the Illinois Memorial.  The Shirley house is the only building remaining from the war.  All else are replicas.  The memorial was like the Jefferson in Washington DC.  Huge domed affair with open hole in the ceiling.  Every man from Illinois who served in the war is listed on the walls. 
USS Cairo - ironclad ship that sunk
    The park is hilly, much more so than Gettysburg.  There are few big fields, but trenches and bumps where underground bunkers protected the soldiers.  We headed down past more monuments to the Cairo exhibit.  Seven ironclad sternwheeler ships were built in 100 days to aid the Union army in taking back the Mississippi.  Similar to the work of the Monitor and the Merimac blockcading the Southern sea ports, the mission of these fortified vessels was to regain the inland ports.  The Cairo was sunk in the Yahzoo River by a mine set by the confederates.  The ship sunk in just minutes, but no lives were lost.  One hundred years later it was excavated and restored.  The museum was filled with all the artifacts left behind by the fleeing sailors.  It was a fascinating display.
Chase took our picture
            We left the park on a sidestreet that took us downtown.  We found the 10 South Rooftop Grill – located in a bank building.  ‘Take the elevator to the 10th floor’!  We each ordered from the lunch light plate – I had catfish tacos and Rick wafflefries smothered in chili and jalepenos!  Our waiter, Chase, was talkative, helpful, and perhaps bored as we were his only table!  He reminded me somewhat of how Luke would wait tables, even writing out directions for me to get back on 61 South. (Perhaps it was the man-bun!)  He brought us pretzels, water glasses to go, and we talked about his goals, our Habitat work, the downtown demise, etc.  A good meal. 
Rick and Chase survey downtown
            Rick drove us out of town and then I took over for the drive back down US 61 to the state park.  Four lane all the way, except for a short stretch in the middle as you go through Port Gibson. 
            We pull into the park with a few raindrops falling, but we have escaped any big storms today!  Rain stops.   Rick heads off immediately for a good long walk and I take a shorter one, exploring the nature trail briefly (bridge out), the lake shore tentatively (we have been warned about ticks and snakes) and then out the road for a bit before settling down to read and write and draw! 
I found a purple trillium!
            Around 6:30 the radio gives several weather warnings, but they are for towns to the east of us with the storm moving NE.  Severe thunderstorms, high winds, and big hailstones.  We do experience some heavy rainfall during the evening, and to date it appears Rick’s fix of the air conditioner has worked.  (Knock on wood!)  No drips so far and it has rained pretty hard.  It will be a warm night, however, as we can’t leave many of the windows open with the wind blowing the rain in from all directions. 
            Good night! 

3.31.16  Thursday
Melrose Estate and Cajun Cookin’

            Oh what a night!  It was 75 in the trailer when we went to bed, Rick prepared to turn off the electricity during the night if thunderstorms came.  So far all we had had was rain…in waves of intensity.  We woke around 1 to rumbles of thunder in the distance.  Rick went out to pull the plug then just because he knew he wouldn’t go back to sleep otherwise!  A couple big flashes and booms eventually nearby and then rain.  We fell back asleep.  About 4 am, CRACK!  We both about jumped out of bed!  That one was close!  Flash and boom!  Several more a little further away and then more rain.  Glad the power was off for that one! 
            When I got up at 7, the rain had stilled.  Puddles all around.  We are glad to be on a concrete pad rather than the muddy spot we first had at Mason!  The birds are singing and it is still 71 degrees in the trailer.  More storms are predicted today.  For now….I am going to draw!! 
Melrose Estate
            Evening.  We have had a few drops of rain early this evening, but so far the storms have not come.  From what I could see the one time I was able to get online this afternoon….we may be driving into them tomorrow! 
            We battened up the trailer and left for town around 10 with a list of stops to make – some fun, some necessary.  First stop was at a Jiffy Lube place to get an oil change for the truck.  We’ve driven 3000 plus miles and Rick is really good about taking care of our truck since it has to work so hard to pull the trailer!  Not the cheapest, but what we expected and we got a car wash and a vacuum job out of it as well!  Back on our way to make the 11am tour at Melrose – the National Park Service antebellum home available for tours.  Only when we arrive, we find an 11 o’clock isn’t scheduled, even though all of us have read “tours on the hour”.  Since there are 14 of us there, the gal calls for help and then gives us the tour herself! 
            The Melrose estate belonged to a Pennsylvania transplant to the south, trained and practicing as a lawyer.  He received two estates as wedding presents, along with the requisite slaves.  He moved up in the world rapidly and Melrose was built mostly for ‘show’ – to exhibit his wealth and status in the Natchez society.  Since it is park service owned and operated, meticulous attention to historical accuracy has taken place in restoration.  Much of the furniture is the original from either the first owners or the second, a banking family.  The land itself was never cultivated after the mansion was built.  Previously it had been the site of small cotton fields on the edge of town. 
This is a 'Shoo-Fly'!  Basically
a large fan operated by a slave
child to push air around. 
  There were four floors with a ‘clerestory’ on top – which I think is an opened patio with rails around the outside.  The basement and attic were mostly for storage or slave use.  The main floor was the show/entertaining floor (hence the gold guilding above the windows, fancy brocade upholstery, etc), and the family lived on the second floor.  Here we found a large central room with multiple bedrooms off of it. 
            Out buildings included the kitchen with slave quarters above (now the NPS office and gift shop), a dairy/laundry building with slave quarters above, several slave cabins, carriage house, etc.  There was an excellent exhibit on the slave life in one of the slave cabins.  Rick and I found seeing these lavish homes built and run on the backs of slavery difficult.
 On the grounds is a huge, beautiful live oak with fern-covered branches spreading out and draped with Spanish moss.  The azaleas are starting to pass, but a row of white iris was in bloom. 
Third item on our list – food.  We wanted to try some authentic Cajun cooking before we leave, so we find the Cajun Rice House serving Jambalaya and seafood gumbo.  I am leery of getting something too hot for me to eat, but I found both ‘tolerable’!  My mouth was hot when I was done, but it was good.  Both were not exactly what we expected.  Jambalaya is a dirty rice – ours was laced with various pork and sausage flavors and seasonings.  The seafood gumbo did not have okra in it, unless the okra was totally ground up.  It was a gravy like broth, spicy, with shrimp and crab bits.  The cafĂ© also was selling live crawfish by the pound, or you could buy it cooked.  We refrained and bought some frozen shrimp at Walmart instead!  (Not quite the same, but convenient!)   I am wishing I had internet so I could look up some recipes to adapt to our tastes a bit more, but still with plenty of fish in it! 
We come to WalMart next for a grocery/gas stop.  The gas is very important as we don’t have much left in the truck!  Inside for some groceries and then….we find all the pumps have crashed at the Murphys outside the Walmart.  Sadly…they are 20 cents cheaper than anything else around!  So…
We hit a McDonalds in the hopes of getting internet long enough to make a reservation at an Corp of Engineers campground in Alabama south of Tuscaloosa.  Al and Judy reminded us in Mason of how nice some of these parks are, plus you get them for half price with the Senior Pass.  But I couldn’t get the web site to work!  Finally Rick called and we are booked for Service Campground just outside of Coffeeville, Alabama, about 210 miles away.  We’ll stay the two nights and then drive up to Tuscaloosa on Sunday morning – a mere 140 miles at that point. 
And then….we must get GAS!  Back to Murphys and we find the pumps are now operating.  Fill up the truck and off for the campground!  We are pleased with our Natchez adventure.  We are rested, yet we have explored a little, survived a storm, seen plantations, battlefields, and antebellum homes, AND tasted jambalaya, gumbo, catfish tacos, and seafood bisque.  Not bad! 
The campground is quiet and relatively empty.  Many of the rigs around us have left and no one coming in until the weekend.  Lazy evening with the fan going.  The air is still, muggy, and it is still 79 degrees in the trailer.  A warm night ahead!!  Hopefully without those sudden bolts of lightning and cracks of thunder! 
My favorite scene entering Natchez State Park...the relic of an old
building coupled with the beauty of a blooming azalea. 

4.1.16  Friday
Natchez, MS to Coffeeville, AL
211 miles

            NO RAIN last night!  Kinda eerie night, however.  Lazy start to the day as we don’t plan to leave until 10.  But…at 8:45 a few drops of rain start to fall which speeds us up a little.  We don’t want to be hitching up in a downpour!  We had already put the front end up last night in anticipation of wet, so that was already done!  As it turned out the few drops were pretty much it!  So by the time we empty the tanks at the dump station it is only 9:35 and we are on our way.
            We follow US 84 straight across the state of Mississippi.  And you certainly cannot complain about the traffic (very light) or the road (wide median, four lane, all the way!)!!  Rick drove to Brookhaven, where we gas up again and switch drivers (armed with a new cup of coffee as well!)  Then I drove to Laurel, MS, which ended up being a busier town than I anticipated.  But it is the crossroads with an interstate and another major US route, so….  We gas up and then find the Waffle House right across from the gas station.  Convenient.  Rick finally gets his promised breakfast out!  I thought about trying grits, but was calorie conscious and got the tomatoes as a side instead! 
Pathetic welcome, 'Bama!
            It is only 40 miles from Laurel to the border and then another 25 to Service COE Park just west of Coffeeville.  The terrain has been constant – GREEN!  Plenty of southern pines, hardwood trees, waning azaleas and purple wisteria everywhere.  It did not rain more than scattered drops all day.  I was disappointed in Alabama.  The only sign we saw was a green ‘Alabama State Line’ sign.  Where was my ‘Welcome to Alabama’??  Plus the road changed from the wide four lane to a two lane quasi country road!  Oh well! 
Our spot in the trees along the Tombigbee River
            We find the entrance to the Service COE Park very suddenly, but Rick manages to make the turn and we drive back to a beautifully maintained, albeit damp, park.  After a drive-through we go back out to the park host and ask for a different site (he had given us that option!) – the assigned site was difficult to back into, a shared site, and backed right up to a site FILLED with cars and kids.  The guy said he understood!  He is able to move us down 3 spots to #21 which is quite nice! 
Along the Tombigbee River.
            We settle in, but only open the back bed and don’t unhitch.  Will wait until after the predicted storm for that….just in case.  A quick walk through the park, back out to the day use area.  We find a Birding Trail, seeing a bald eagle and bluebirds, Spanish moss, budding trees, and the Tombigbee River – a wide muddy swiftly moving river, carrying a wide variety of storm debris downstream. 
            Later as we listen to the rain fall, something quite heavily, we hear what sounds like a train, perhaps on the opposite shoreline.  I look out the door to see if I can spy it and find a tugboat pushing a barge downstream right in front of us!  River action!  Pretty cool. 
           By 8:30, the rain seems to have quit…perhaps temporarily.  We shall see. 
            We got postcards written today.  Sixteen of them!  Plus text or email messages to both Moms and Luke.  (All done while in Laurel at lunch where I had LTE T-Mobile service.)  Here at the park we have NOTHING.  No cell.  No internet.  No TV.  So….time for old fashion communication….handwritten letters and postcards! 

4.2.16 Saturday
Coffeeville and Chillin’ at COE Park
            That was the last of the rain for abit!  I awoke this morning to the sound of birds, a 6:40 sunrise (we are further east!) and BLUE SKIES!!  Hurray!  Beautiful day! 
Flowers behind our campsite
    And we don’t make much of it!  I finished reading my book, we did a load of laundry, and after lunch we drove into Coffeeville.  Rick had already learned that the dam and locks are gated off and closed to the public…a 911 thing.  We did hear another tug on the river last night. 
            Our drive reveals a very small village struggling.  The high school/city hall was hosting a trade fair and there was a fish fry happening.  But we found the post office and mailed our post cards.  Who knows how long it will take for them to travel to Oregon from here!?

            We took a walk on one of the nature trails this afternoon.  It was very soggy, but we found some new flowers we hadn’t seen otherwise.  Really pretty!  There is one plant I am curious to identify.  It has bright green leaves nearly 12 to 15 inches long.  When we were in Mississippi we passed the Long Leaf Trace and there is a Long Leaf River.  I’m just wondering….  So many questions and no internet to provide the answers!  Ah well!  (Addendum....Sunday morning another forester camper said they were BIG leaf Magnolias - only grow in southern Alabama)
Big Leaf Magnolia
      It is cooling off faster this evening.  I might even have to get the heater back out, especially since we have put away the heavy sleeping blanket. 
            I added to my ‘treasures’ today.  Tiny shells from Perdanales beach, cotton bolls from Frogmore, and now sweet gum pods and a wad of Spanish moss. 
Another tug pushes a barge upriver in the setting sun. 


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Spring Trek 2016 3: TEXAS Week 2

Monday, March 21
Mason Build Day 6

            COLD this morning – the outside thermometer is hovering around 30 degrees, but the heater worked fine – must have been operator error the night before!  There is frost on the truck window we have to scrape before we can leave!  The golf course is covered with a light coating! 
As I stir up the gray paint, I
discovered Rick's 'message' from
last Friday! 
            We pick up water and ice (!!) and get to the job.  A new couple has joined us from the Alice, TX build.  Veteran CAVs, Shirley and Richard Harvey.  I got voice mails that Barb Ludwig will be coming in tomorrow.  All the ‘extras’ are being sent over to the Rehab house at this point. 
Rick works to fit the supports.
            A whole crew is sent inside to paint ceilings while Rick is tasked with finishing porch trim and I get the gray siding paint out and ready to go.  More siding is delivered this morning (evidently we were shorted on the previous delivery), plus Greg asks that a dozen trim pieces get painted, some in baby blue, some gray, some white!  So basically I paint with Bea and Judy most of the early morning.  The sun is warming things up enough to be able to paint!
Paul, completed with chew in his
mouth, describes the auction
process to us. 
One of the first cows to come through. 
            Today is the day of the livestock auction and you can hear the cows down in the pens mooing away.  At break time 7 of us walk over to the auction barn and meet Paul (our lunch host last Friday and former Habitat board president) who owns Superior Auction.  Paul isn’t involved with this local auction, but he spends a half hour explaining the whole process to us outside in the sunshine before we head inside to watch an hour of fast paced auctioneering.  Rick and I estimated that over $100,000 transpired in the time we were watching.  They move the cows through every 30 seconds (max!) and rarely could I even tell  for who or for what amount the sale transacted!  Halfway through Rick and I figured out that the two digital monitors on each side were showing the weight of the
Long horn!
previous cows (they are weighed AFTER they are bought).  So I started guessing how much each cow weighed – came close on several, but off by 100 pounds on others.  (That was during the calf portion when weights only varied from 300 to 600 pounds!)  We saw some long-horns, a few BIG bulls, one old heifer with teats that practically touched the ground.  Some were being bought for pasture and summer grazing, some bound straight for the slaughter house.  Paul said there are 180 of these small rural auctions throughout Texas.  Pretty interesting!
The big bull
       We left at noon and walked back to the jobsite (only three to four blocks away).  Everyone left today for lunch except Rick and I!  After eating I got back to my unfinished paint work of the final porch ceiling blue trim pieces.  Rick spent a somewhat frustrating afternoon trying to make some porch details fit right and look good.  He has decided he doesn’t like finished carpentry when it is right out front!  A little caulk and paint will make it look good! 
          After I finished the blue, there were three people rolling gray siding, so I spent my last 45 minutes cleaning brushes and rollers (which involved at least 10 trips inside the neighbor’s fence to get the faucet turned on right and then turned off!)  
          Lazy afternoon playing catchup on pictures, happy hour, and evening.  Greg made a fire during happy hour which felt good!  Yes the sun was shining, but it was still cool with the breeze that was blowing.  Each day this week is supposed to warm up a little more.  We got word from the boys that they arrived in Death Valley earlier this evening.  They will have all day Tuesday to explore!
Walking back from the auction, I stopped at a field thick with Texas paintbrush.  So pretty.  

TUESDAY, March 22
Mason Build Day 7
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Check out Rick's porch trimwork!
            A beautiful morning, brisk, but warming!  Jack’s birthday!  Rick and Al made GREAT progress today on the porch trim.  By the end of the day as Bea and Frances finished the siding on one side, the house is really getting a ‘finished’ look.  The trim is really coming together.  Inside, the paint crew got all the living room and hall finished, plus one of the bedrooms almost done.  Each bedroom is a different color, selected by the family. 
            Judy and I worked together most of the day putting up siding.  We only managed to complete 3 rows by the time we had to fuss cut around the bottom of 3 windows.  The cuts did NOT go smoothly and I am not particularly proud of how they look in terms of a good fit, especially at the bottom of the window.  But both Pam and Greg gave oks on them, so…..
Our wall of siding....
      Lunch today was at the Methodist Church again, hosted by ‘The Study Club’, a group of women in town who meet monthly and basically raise money for the library.  At least 20 club members came and provided the meal and ate with us.  It was wonderful!  Rick especially enjoyed the blueberry bundt cake, to the tune of 3 servings.  He hugged the lady who brought it! 
Giant yucca blossom
at park entrance
            We stopped at the Chamber of Commerce after work to pick up some postcards and talk with the gal.  She was a wealth of information and very friendly.  The Seaquist House tour was moved until Thursday afternoon.
            Gypsy Barb showed up at Happy Hour time and promptly gave me a new tie dye shirt she picked up somewhere!  She will be working at the Critical Repair house helping with the painting this week.  Rick took a walk and discovered the Nature Trail and I walked out to the entrance to take some pictures.
            Laundry this evening and visits with Barb.   A beautiful evening out. 

Entrance to Fort Mason City Park
Bluebonnets growing in a patch at entrance

Wednesday, March 23
Mason Build Day 8
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            What a windy, restless night!  After hitting 30 two nights ago, I don’t think it got below 65 last night!!  We were hot! 
Solar panels installed
Rick and Al on columns
            Today is forecast for the upper 80’s and I can believe it!  We make our ice, water, and post office stops and then get busy on the job!  Rick and Al are still working on the front porch trim.  I have been reassigned to work with Frances on the front siding and Bea is working with Judy on the rest of the side siding.  Frances and I struggle initially because the siding marks on the wall don’t line up as you go around the corner!  But we finally decide to move forward and hope the corner works out – we HAVE to keep the front of the house level! 
Our morning endeavors. 
            Excitement for the day is the arrival of the solar panels for rooftop installation.  Four guys come to help out/learn the process along with Angela and Jake.  By the end of the day, 3 of the 4 sections are mounted.  Shirley and Richard continued painting inside the house. 
            For lunch today we head over to a private home near the Catholic church (near our water stop) and wow – what a spread!  Their dining room table is huge (Rick finds out later it is built on top of a full size pool table!) plus several other tables set up.  Delicious food plus desserts.  This family hosts a meal once a year! 
House is starting to look 'finished'!
            After lunch, Frances and I slow down as we are now working on top of the windows and doors which involves many notches, etc.  We get one board up and another partially marked.  So much of the porch is being ‘written as we go’ which makes the process a bit difficult. 
Angela and Jake with 'gifts'!  
            Quick walk along the nature trail with Barb and OP when we get home – a chance to catch up abit – shower and a quick trip to Lowe’s for more tomatoes and avocados for tonight’s dinner at Keith Kahn’s house.  We pick up Barb and take her out with us to their 22 acre spread just 2 miles south of town, split by Comanche Creek.  Keith has a thousand gallon cistern catching rain water under his shop, a guest house, patios and pavers, keyhole veggie gardens, and a lovely home FILLED with antiques.  His artist wife Sue is a big fan of Van Gogh.  Bea makes home-made tortillas for all (delicious and warm) and everyone brought stuff to go with them.  Jake and Angela had gifts for everyone and then Chuck presented them with a few gag gifts.  Since they are 30 years younger than everyone else, they take quite abit of ribbing!  A very pleasant evening with gracious hosts.  We have an invitation to come stay in the guest house ANY time!  Just call!  

Front of Kahn house...with bluebonnets! 
The bluebonnets growing right in the middle of the paver patio! 

Guest house with brickwork from old Fort Mason stones
Blooming pincushion cactus on patio
Sunset as we leave with contrail lines

THURSDAY, March 24
Mason Build Day 9; Seaquist Mansion Tour

            BIG wind storms again during the night including a little rainfall on one (not that amounted to anything, however!)  I wondered if the trailer was going to hold together.  And then there was the sounds of talk radio….loud….from about 10 until 2 (or so, I didn’t stay awake!)  Turns out this morning we got a confession and huge apology from Jake.  He was working late engraving and didn’t realize Angela had turned on the outside speakers for his trailer.  He had it turned way up so he could hear over the engraver, not realizing the rest of the campground, including his tent sided neighbors, could hear it all! 
Back wall we are siding. 
            Visible progress is happening on site!  Keith found the needed part this morning and brought it over so Jake and Angela could finish installing the last solar panel.  They worked to finish the siding on the front of the house gable so the roof can be finished.  Chuck and Pam were doing all the top siding panels and other details, Rick and Al still out on the porch, but they also were siding by afternoon.  Frances and I finished the last two boards on the right front and then four of us were sent to the back of the house to do the top of the wall between the roof lines.  Bea and I went up on the scaffolding, while Frances and Judy cut the boards and handed them up.  While I waited, I finished extending all the lines on the greenboard from the middle to the edges.  By end of day, we had 3 more rows up.  Finish on Friday!!! 
Wildflowers in neighbor's field
            Everyone left for lunch and Rick and I had a quiet hour to ourselves.  I took a lunchtime flower picture in the neighbors field and then called Mom for a quick check.  The boys are spending the day with Rachael before heading northward again in the morning. 
The Seaquist Mansion
            After work today, Pam took Al, Judy, Rick, and I through the Seaquist Mansion.  She and Greg volunteered there over the winter as they are restoring the building, so they had a key and could give a ‘tour’!  This is an 1880’s gem of workmanship.  We visited all three floors and then down into the catacombs of a basement.  There is a giant stone water cistern adjacent that used to have a windmill on the top.  The Seaquist family owned the building until a year ago, but in later years they all lived in the small stone house next door!  I can’t imagine the money that will involved to restore – new
Second floor wrap-around porch and deck
electric, new plumbing, wall coverings, etc.  There are 15 stone fireplaces, the original kitchen is in the basement off a narrow servant’s stairwell.  Stained glass everywhere.  Fascinating to compare the open
Alcove of unknown purpose
shuttered windows and screens to allow airflow during the hot months with the design of the Geiser Grand.  On the third floor we found a ballroom with ‘viewing gallery’, a pool room, bar, and poker/game room.  And a tiny, stained glass alcove off the bar and ballroom the purpose of which is unknown?  Meditation?  Tryst? 
            We had to leave a little sooner as Rick was scheduled for a haircut at 3:30.  We found the gal, Francis, in a little shop behind the post office without problem. 
            A beautiful evening.  Happy Hour, visit with Barb, and catchup time! 
Click HERE for all the Seaquist Mansion pictures  (It's worth it!)

FRIDAY, March 25
Final Mason Build Day 10
The trailer quickly filled with debris.  
Fish Fry!    See ALL of today's pictures

Nailing in the last one! 
            Our final day of the build and it will be just a half day, as we are breaking off around noon.  We start out with clean-up and load all the scrap sheetrock, siding, sheathing, etc. into the trailer for Dave to take to the dump eventually.  Then painting 9 more boards of siding for our use, plus Rick and Al are siding, and Jake and Angela (although they didn’t finish the front to the top because they concentrated on getting the porch roof done where it abuts the gable).  Bea and I were up on the scaffolding while Judy and Frances continued to cut and deliver our boards.  Around 12:15 I popped the last nail into the top peak of our last board!  We finished the back end of the house!!  While we waited, I took pictures of 'letters' to complete a Mason 'title' picture!  
Back gable siding crew: Bea, Ginger, Frances, Judy
Inside corner of Rick's front porch
            Inside is painted, the front porch is just about done, solar panels installed, roof installed, siding all but done.  The last phase will come in Sunday and have all the exterior caulk and final coat of paint to do, cabinets, etc. inside, and that final punch list.  But we got a lot done!! 
Stephanie's family gather for fish fry at park pavilion.
       Back to the trailer and change of clothes before we walk over to the pavilion for the family fish fry.  We meet Stephanie’s sister, Diane and her husband Robert – owners of the burned Ischar house, plus her brother Mannie and his wife.  Mom and Pop are there as well.  The menu is strictly catfish, fries, and hushpuppies!  Guess I was expecting at least a cole slaw salad at least!  But the fish was delicious and I enjoyed my first hush puppies, which are fried corn bread nuggets.
Catfish cooking
The Odeon is lit up as we leave the movie. 
            Back to the trailer at 3pm to relax for the rest of the afternoon.  I worked to clean up a few things and then sort out the pictures from the build and get them emailed out.  Barb and Chuck were over to chat for awhile and we all decided to go to the movies tonight at the local theater and see Risen  - the Easter film from the centurion’s perspective.  Rick and I to the movies AND popcorn and candy for $10!  Enjoyed the movie. 
Easter bunny that hopped
over to Barb's trailer
            And incredible sky as we arrived back at trailer at 9:30.  Clear and cool, but the stars are so bright and distinct.  About half the group will be leaving tomorrow, and then several of us on Sunday.  The park is full and we hear there could be more rodeo events going on tomorrow.  If I hear horses neighing in the morning, I’ll know that is accurate! 

Saturday, March 26
Exploring Mason, TX!
See today's pictures HERE

            Well, we didn’t get moving too quickly this morning.  A little time with Barb before she left around 9:30 (she brought over an Easter avocado!) and then laundry time!  Watched a few folks depart and expected the park to fill with rodeo folk again, but only a few horse trailers this week and nothing in the arena. 
Sculpture next door to Santos. 
Adirondack chairs made from
wine barrels!  
            We went out to lunch at Santos Tacqueria….Rick chose more wisely than I in ordering a Chile Releno Gordita.  He thoroughly enjoyed his meal.  I had an ensalada – the chicken was a little too spicy for me and there was mostly lettuce and tomatoes.  No sour cream, no avocado, just very plain.  Ah well! 

Uncut topaz at
Square Museum
Mason Co. Courthouse and the Square
            Then it was time to poke through the shops of the Mason City Square.  We checked out some art galleries, antique shops, the Square Museum, plus a walk down to the Collectors Shed where they have all the metal sculptures as well as a huge  cut topaz stone.  The only purchase we made was an English/Spanish Children’s Bible for Amilio.  Fresh water, gas in the truck and a visit to the Ischar house to check out the paint colors….bright, very intense!  It took us a little while to find the Fort Mason site with its officer’s quarters rebuilt on the hill overlooking the area. 

Fort Mason Officer's Quarters
View of downtown Mason from fort hill
            Back down to the campground.  At least 3 new CAVs have pulled in.  Some might have to boondock cuz the last three of us aren’t leaving until the morning!  We cleaned up the trailer, Rick unhitched the sewer lines, and we’ll easily be out of here by 8 in the morning.  We have decided to forego the Sunrise Service in Art at 7am, in favor of the 8:30 service at the Methodist Church here in town. 
            Beautiful sunset tonight and pleasant evening.  We have said goodbye to most of the crew.  I will start a new post tomorrow.  
Final sunset in the pecan grove.