Road Trip X, Days 29-32, Kentucky to Missouri to Kansas to Colorado to Wyoming: Forget Scenery, Just Get Us Home, Please

We’ve never had a road trip where all we do is drive. But we’ve never had a road trip during a global pandemic either.

The day we left North Carolina, making Big Left Turn #2 to head for our island home on the opposite end of the continent, all things basketball died. We were shocked, but still spent that first night enjoying the scenic beauty of eastern Kentucky’s Carter Caves State Park…

Apparently they have caves there. But the natural bridges were enough for me!

Even cooler from below.

The limestone just weeps little waterfalls everywhere.

A magnificent beech…one of the trees I do miss, out west.

Next day, we started driving, listening to CNN, and to the sound of most of our road-trip joy being sucked away. We determined not to visit the friend we’d hoped to visit in Louisville. Ditto Milwaukee, the Twin Cities, Denver, and Yakima. We’ve probably already visited too many dear ones.

Just get us home. This isn’t fun any more. Too much is out of our control.

Which explains why I have NO pictures from Missouri, even though I did enjoy a pleasant walk-jog through a park in Columbia. Kansas? This is my only pic, shot out the car window to let Son Two know that it was still winter where we were.

What you see is what you get.

I wish I could say something encouraging about western Kansas, but…it’s an awful lot like eastern Colorado, which, guess what? I also took no pictures of as we zoomed through. Home, home, home. We exercised in the motel’s fitness room and passed up all of Denver’s bike paths. (Sour grapes: it was awfully windy anyway, though much warmer than we’d feared.)

I did celebrate the last of the Traveling Hollywood Oranges, though:

Like a month of travelin’ sunshine! Thanks, Cousin Susi!

In Wyoming, I snapped this shot just to let my mom know that Wyoming seemed to be about done with winter. But we didn’t stop.

Balmy!

And then the rocks got cool enough to want their pictures taken. From the car.

I’d hike in there. Just not now.

And now, here we are in Rock Springs, Wyoming, just 30 miles or so from Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area…and we’re not going. It’s out of our way, and we’re focused on mileage. Home, home, home.

Instead, I’ll leave you with a picture of one of my trademark Noodlebag Dinners*,

Even better than it looks.

*Noodlebag Dinner = pasta pre-cooked & put in bag w/ olive oil & salt, to which all kinds of yummy things can be added before microwaving in a motel room for a cheapo gourmet meal

How are all of y’all coping in this new reality? Any of you fellow travelers (literal ones) changing your traveling routines? Singing that alphabet song as you wash your hands after every truck-stop transaction? Avoiding dropping by friends? Stay healthy out there, everyone…

Road Trip X, Days 21-24, Tallahassee to (sorta-)Savannah: Swamped by Unexpected Beauty 

I thought of titling this post “Sea to Shining Sea,” after touching the Atlantic the other day. I even thought about posing the Traveling Avocados, Oranges and Grapefruit on the beach, to celebrate their epic journey. But only a few oranges are left; all the rest of our gifted produce is eaten. And anyway, having already waded in Gulf of Mexico, it’d be more like sea to shining sea to other shining sea, right?

Still: Hello, North Atlantic!

But today’s theme waved me down as soon as we holed up in Tallahassee. That town isn’t a long drive from our previous night in Alabama; we had no business there, knew no one, didn’t check out Florida State or even ride our bikes along the terrific trail we’ve ridden before. All we were doing was making sure we didn’t die in a tornado waiting out some nasty weather. Doing laundry. And (one of us) making some headway on the novel.

And even with such meager expectations, Tallahassee offered us a good reminder of northern Florida’s lovely topography (NOT flat!) and relatively undeveloped landscape (hardly any billboards, even on I-10). And a wonderful bakery, and a  gorgeous sunset (not pictured) and this giant live oak in the motel parking lot.

Ooh, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Next day, the storm having blown through without tornadoes (thank you!) we headed to a brand-new destination: Little Talbot Island State Park, just north of Jacksonville.

In the middle of a swamp. Yes.

There we discovered not only a long, pristine beach–for people who love long, pristine beaches…

Augh! must…count…all the different…varieties! Make it stop!

…but also a boneyard of silvery drift-stumps…

Just as satiny as it looks!

…and the COOLEST trail through the dunes…

With tortoise holes! (Not pictured–sadly: tortoises)

…into a mixed forest of gigantic pines, palms, and live oaks, the latter dripping with ferns and Spanish moss.

Ooooh…

Question: WHY are epiphytes so ridiculously compelling? Is it a) the way they humanize the trees, calling to mind beards and long tresses? b) the way they soften the harsher, sharper lines of the forest? Or c) the fact that I was clearly a swamp rat in a previous life?

Ahhh…

The campground was one of the nicest ever, in terms of space and light and vegetation. Its only downside: the road was too close, so traffic noise was very present until late at night.

Would just one nighttime armadillo be too much to ask?

And we didn’t get any armadillos. But hey.

“That’s too much Spanish Moss!” said no one ever.

One more glorious bike ride in the refreshingly cool morning, on a LONG bike trail.

Way to go, northern Florida!

Along the way we took a sideline to the beach, to visit with some crumbly-clay tidepools…

Different! No wee fishies, unfortunately.

…and one more gorgeous silver drift-log installation.

World’s coolest jungle gym.

Heading north, we passed this irresistible sign:

How can I have never run into this pun before?!

And then on to Savannah (sorta). Our friends live on the outskirts, which should really be called the outswamps. Question: Is that why they named the town after a sea-of-grass ecosystem? Anyone know?

Since our purpose was reuniting with old friends, we skipped the downtown Savannah tour. Instead, we were gifted with one over-the-top, unexpected cool thing after another. We got to watch the Carolina-Duke game with true fans, drowning our sorrows in bacon-wrapped scallops and homemade pizza (not pictured). We got to cuddle with the sweetest, silkiest Labrador.

Forrest loved the Mate.

We thought our friends’ backyard view was just fine–hey, nice swamp ya got here!–but then next the morning, THIS happened.

Okay then.

Finally, our friends served us a lil’ ol’ Georgia breakfast: eggs, cheese grits, sausage, bacon, fresh fruit salad, and fresh sweet rolls. Still full from the night before, I made a superwoman effort and ate everything.

Woman’s got to do what a woman’s got to do.

So…feeling a little swamped right now. Thinking that when we find beauty and goodness in unexpected places, it means even more. And feeling a bit grateful that Spanish Moss doesn’t grow in mountainous areas. Because if it did? I think my head would explode.

More, more!

 

Road Trip X, Days 18-20: Gettin’ Cushy in Louisiana & Alabama

No one should EVER feel sorry for me & the Mate when we complain about weather on our road trips. That’s what we get for road-tripping in February and March! So I’m not looking for pity when I whine about not being able to camp due to snow or lightning or dust storms or ice or…blah blah blah. It’s just fun to whine.

Which is why these last couple of days have really called our bluff. Monday we left Galveston on a cute (and completely free!) ferry

Our ferry’s double, passing the other way.

and drove the length the peninsula on the bay’s other side,

Anyone else think that ocean is awfully close to the road? No? Just me?

back to the interstate and into Louisiana. We hit a perfectly nice campground in the Louisiana bayous–Lake Fausse Pt. State Park–on a perfectly nice (if a little humid) day…and opted out.

Why? Because the ranger said it probably would rain overnight. And while there’s nothing wrong with rain outside a tent when you’re in it, stuffing a wet tent into a small Subaru with all the rest of your belongings is the opposite of fun. Still, we might have gone for it if we hadn’t learned about the cabins.

We could stay in there?!

Each one perched OVER the bayou, with perfect screened porches.

We’re staying in here!

We couldn’t wait to eat dinner out on the porch. But first it was time to go for a walk around the swamp.

Ahhhh…

Have I ever mentioned that I love swamps? Just show me a cypress and I go all weak in the knees. (sorry)

I have no idea what this is. Red iris? Anyone?

The forest offered plenty of variety all on its own…

Don’t mind if I do.

…so when I did see a gator, it was simply a bonus. And the baby gator in front of the mama? Bonus bonus.

See the baby? So stinkin’ CUTE!!!!

That evening, the Traveling Avocados teamed up with some Gulf shrimp and that amazing screened porch for what’s probably going to earn our Best Meal of the Trip Award.

With a rocking bench!

Next day we drove across Mississippi–just about 100 miles at its base–and into Alabama. We had a date with another state park (thanks to this excellent book on state parks), way down past Mobile in Alabama’s teensy lil’ slice of the big ol’ Gulf Coast pie. Appropriately enough, it’s called Gulf State Park. And it’s big. And lovely. With 28 miles of bike trails, are you kidding? Made for us!

Only problem? This park boasts over 400 RV sites, and eleven tent sites. The Mate and I took one look at the teensy tent sites crammed in between RVs and quickly backed away. All the way away, to a Motel 6. Then we drove the few miles back into the park and took a big, happy chomp of those delicious bike trails.

Come for the biking. Stay for the biking…but only if you have an RV!

No lie, this bike path instantly vaulted into our top 5 anywhere.

Only a half-mile further, a new forest.

The terrain keeps changing, oaks to pines to dunes to swamp to…wait–is that an…?

Why yes indeedy.

A nice heavy deluge that night made us feel even better about not camping. Even worse weather ahead of us in Florida encouraged us to slowwww down, so we spent another $70 to stay on at the Motel 6. Next morning, we tried some of those trails on foot.

Any gators down there?

I LOVE whizzing along on a bike, but you do miss stuff. Like these funny puffball-shaped clumps of reindeer lichen.

Cue the lichen puns.

Why this shape? Because, I realized, they’re not growing on the sand; there’s nothing for them to live off. They’re growing on individual sticks and leaves on the sand. Clever things!

We didn’t see tortoises, but we did see their holes.

Anybody home? Love the wild rosemary landscaping!

The only thing I wished for in this park was more dirt trails; they’re nearly all paved. But I understand the reasons for that. And it was clear, from the number of benches dedicated to folks passed away or to groups like “Michigan Snowbirds,” how beloved this park is to folks from colder places–mostly the midwest, it seemed. Maybe that explains the tongue-in-cheek speed limit signs:

NOT 27. That would be crazy.

The weather’s supposed to be so wacky tomorrow that I have no idea where we’ll be tomorrow night. NOT in a tent. But given the terrible destruction up in Nashville this week, I can only give thanks for the safety and security of being able to whine about a little rain.

And speaking of giving thanks: one more gator? Yes please!

We learned the locals named this one “Lefty.”

Road Trip X, Days 11-13: The Chiricahuas. Period. 

What strange impulse leads us humans to share our special secrets?

Notice that this post has no cute subtitle beyond a geographic label. That’s because the Chiricahua Mountains are the special secret of the Mate and me and a very, VERY few other people—I can only think of four. That’s the main reason they’re special to us. And yet, here I am talking about them. Can’t help myself.

Waaayyyy down there at the bottom right. (image courtesy freeworldmaps)

The west side of the mountains is the better known half, because that’s the National Monument side. We’ve camped there a couple of times, including last year. It has very cool rocks.

See what I mean? But that was last year (snow & all).

This year we opted for the east side, which means driving into New Mexico, then heading south and west and ending up back in Arizona–just barely–in the miniature town of Portal. No National Monument here…”just” national forest, and wilderness.

Oh, is that all?

Oh, and lest you think those pink cliffs are just the sun…

Nope. Actually pink.

This side of the Chiricahuas is known best by birders. As I’ve probably mentioned before, these mountains (rising nearly 10,000 feet) act as both an oasis for higher-elevation plant & animal species, AND wildlife corridor for everything that walks, flies and slithers. You can see birds here that otherwise you’d have to go to Mexico to see. They have coatis (not seen this trip). And javelinas.

THIS. Hairy piggie!

(Gotta admit, this particular piggie disconcerted us a bit. In the past, we’ve only spotted them bolting and scuttling, but this one sashayed through our yard to rub its butt against a prickly pear, then came right up to our cabin like it wanted to order a sandwich. Guess some idiot’s been feeding them.)

In 2004, our little family of four spent a few months living in Santa Fe, and that’s when a friend first showed us this marvelous canyon. It was mid-March then, and the place was buzzing with birders (also hummingbirds of a dozen species). We were a little starved for moisture and what we northwesterners call “real trees” (i.e., something other than pinons and cottonwoods). Being so high, the Chiricahuas collect snow, and fill their canyons with creeks. And creeks mean one of my favorite trees of all.

Not all the sycamores are this mighty. But they’re all this lovely.

March was great. April might be even prettier, who knows? But now, in February? We and the locals have the place to ourselves!

And we even got a few flowers out of the deal.

The Traveling Avos & Oranges enjoyed the view as well.

Here, piggie, piggie! (Just kidding.)

If you ever make the trip down to the furthest corner of Arizona, do let me know. We Chiricahua Enthusiasts are a small but passionate tribe.

(Note: you CAN drive from one side of the mountains to the other, but not in February. And not in any kind of car you value, unless you drive a Jeep.)

Yes please.

So pick a side and go. Go to hike, ride a bike, camp, watch birds, or just sit there in awe with your feet in a sycamore-shaded stream and your eyes on glory.

Wing’s World Goes Mobile: Let’s Get Ready to Rrrrrrrrroad Trip!

It’s that time of year. In our little corner of the Northwest, the ditches are running full enough to kayak in, sun is a tantalizing memory, and anything with wings that migrates is starting to do so, in reverse. Including these Wings. Except, being bipedal and 4-wheeled, we go EAST. This year: Road Trip X.

“What route are you guys taking this year?” ask friends who know about our annual pilgrimage to North Carolina.

My standard answer: “Head to L.A. and turn left. After that–the weather’s in charge.”

Sometimes the weather’s in charge even on the very outskirts of LA.

I-5, Tejon Pass

And of course we don’t head STRAIGHT there. Along the way, we stop to visit dear friends, family members, and trees.

Prairie Creek Redwoods, CA

And even in the sunny desert, we’re reminded that THE WEATHER IS IN CHARGE.

Saguaro National Park, Tucson

We spend time with rocks. Grey ones…

Chiricahua National Monument

…red ones…

Arches National Park, UT

…and brown ones.

Natural Bridges State Park, KY.

We spend time with mountains, western…

Guadalupe Mts. National Park, TX

…and eastern.

Appalachians, NC.

Sometimes we imbibe a little “culture.”

Mardi Gras in Dallas

…and history.

Vicksburg, MS

ALWAYS, with our Tar Heel Tribe, we celebrate our team (God knows they need our love this year!) with lots and lots of food.

Pie Day, 3.14

We spend quality time with my parents…

Dad’s bike’s electric now. But he’s 89 1/2, so, yeah.

…and the woods where I grew up.

Trout lily

If weather allows, we camp–and celebrate the Sisterhood of the Traveling Avocado (from our LA cousins’ tree).

Chiricahuas

If weather doesn’t, we fall in love with cute park cabins.

Land Between the Lakes, KY

As always, we seek the Perfect Bike Path.

Katy Trail, MO.

As always–did I mention this? The weather’s in charge.

I-70, CO

As always, we are thrilled to see this sign after 6+ weeks on the road:

Says it all!

And as always, we are even more thrilled to be HOME at the end of March. (Flaming sunset’s just the cherry on top.)

Home Sweet Lopez Island

So, friends–please wish us buen viaje, bon voyage, safe travels, and Go Tarheels! Be safe yourselves; stay warm & dry. See you on the road.

Red Rover just can’t wait to get on that ferry & hit the rowdy road.

Eyes White Open: Count Me In

If you’re at all political, or even if you just like bookstores, you’ve probably seen these titles on the front shelves:  Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. Debby Irving’s Waking Up White. Nell Irvin Painter’s The History of White People. And this is just the books on whiteness BY Whites. There are plenty of others by Black authors, but obviously the vibe is different. We’re clearly in a moment where folks who’ve always considered themselves “the good White people” (like me!) are suddenly feeling the need to study, well–ourselves. Our assumptions. Our Whiteness.

On the titles above, I’m two down and one to go and I’d love to talk about any of them with anyone. But since it’s easier for books to sell themselves than podcasts, I want to throw a little love to this podcast, from my hometown of Durham, NC: Scene On Radio’s series, Seeing White.

If you prefer to get your Whiteness-awareness-raising in smaller, more varied chunks, I’d suggest starting the series from the beginning, where host John Biewen (White) and his friend/mentor Chenjerai Kumanyika (Black) explain what it means to “turn the lens” onto a “race” that’s never really seen itself as such, even while determining the very meaning of the word. I’ve listened to a dozen, and they’ve all been DEEPLY thought-provoking.

But the last one I listened to, My White Friends, really made me want to share. Here’s the premise: photographer Myra Greene, who is Black, got a handful of her White friends to pose for pictures in ways that push the viewer to ask, “What is the Whiteness of this photo?”

Like this photo of a friend who’s a public high school teacher. With, yep–a Subaru. (photo by Myra Greene)

You can see more of Ms. Greene’s exhibition here. Her photos got me thinking, what is the Whiteness of some of my own? Let’s try a few.

Well, I’m obviously out in a mountainside meadow. Wilderness, or at least the illusion of wilderness, is important to me. Is that a White thing? And I have gear: knee braces, a water pump. Good boots. REI Nation! I know they’re trying to reach out, but still–REI’s a pretty White store, am I right?

OK, here, I’m performing in public–in flip-flops and a skirt sewed out of old T-shirts! I was raised to believe informality was cool, inviting even. It would never have occurred to me that some folks might find this disrespectful of the audience.

One more?

And here I am, back in the wilderness…this time very far from home. And though you can’t tell from the photo, it was taken on a Monday in March–not a holiday, mind you, just a regular workday, when I got to be on vacation. In my REI gear. What’s the Whiteness of that, you ask? Layers upon layers of privilege, which I’m only now starting to acknowledge.

If you’re up for it, and you’re White, choose a photo of your own to describe. If you look, can you see your own Whiteness?

The Time Has Come…Really? Or, Does Anyone Else Have This Hanging-On-To-Old-Stuff-Way-Too-Long Thing?

“I want to be thoroughly used up when I die,” wrote George Bernard Shaw. I think he was talking about my hiking boots.

Don’t laugh. They’re COMFY.

Seriously–stop laughing. The only thing wrong with them, for years, was ripped fabric up top–nothing a little duct tape couldn’t fix.

OK, a lot of duct tape. I mean, the duct tape on TOP did just fine, but the part that wrapped around the soles…well, you get the idea. But I was willing to sacrifice a few more feet of the silver stuff just to keep my boots doing what they were made for (walkin’).

But recently, they developed rips in the lining, which turned the simple act of pulling them on into a bit of a struggle. It was finally time to say goodbye–right into the trash. I know even our island’s Take It Or Leave It would revolt at taking these guys.

Then the very same week, while camping, I noticed deep cracks in the soles of my beloved Teva hiking sandals…whose Velcro I had long ago repaired. Suddenly their life span seemed to wither before my eyes. (It’s possible that the arrival of the REI Outlet Sale catalogue had a teensy bit to do with that.)

Might’ve used a bit more Velcro than needed, but man–it did the trick for years!

No, I am NOT trying duct tape on this.

And then, would you believe it? It happened again today: my ancient gear just gave up the ghost. I wore my special just-for-biking tights around town after riding into work, and noticed that I was shedding tiny bits of Spandex, or whatever the stretchy stuff’s made of. I knew the tights were the worse for wear–hell, they were a gift, I never would’ve paid for something so specialized–but turns out they were really COMFY and warm, which is why I wore them to literal shreds.

Et tu, biking tights?

So is this just me? It’s certainly not my Mate–he loves getting new gear for himself. “If it doesn’t work well, why have it?” he says. And I agree in THEORY…but in reality? I hate to let my old friends go.

So, two questions:

  1. Anyone else have this issue with stuff? 
  2. Where did I put that REI catalogue?

Road Trip IX, Days 38-40, Denver to Moab: Mecca’s Crowded–Who Knew?

By now you’re probably tired of hearing me talk about sandstone. Too bad.  So far on Road Trip IX, I haven’t had the pleasure of talking about RED sandstone.

This stuff!

After zipping across western Kansas and eastern Colorado (please somebody tell me something interesting about western Kansas or eastern Colorado!), we spent the night with a friend in Denver. Full disclosure: this stop was in full Carolina Tarheel Fan Mode, not our usual Outdoor Adventurers In Search Of the Ultimate Bike Path or Hike Mode. Our friend is from Chapel Hill. Together we ate pizza and happily whooped the Tarheels into the Round of 32. Mission Accomplished.

Next day we braved the passes of I-70 through the Rockies, blessing the weather gods and Colorado DOT for keeping the roads clear, even though the roadsides looked like this:

11,000+ feet, 20 degrees…and 55 mph!

Safely on the other side, temperatures back in the 40s, we took a recreational stop at Grand Junction’s not-so-hidden treasure, Colorado National Monument. We’ve camped there before, and know that its red sandstone towers and hollows and who-knows-what-to-call-its are the equal of anything outside of Arches National Park. We didn’t have the time to go deep into the park, but a single swift hike through the very corner yielded this:

“The Devil’s Kitchen”

Inside The Devil’s Kitchen. The Devil has some cool appliances!

After that, we said goodbye and thanks to Colorado, and zipped on down to Mecca Moab, Utah.

Why do I call it Mecca? Because Moab is the holy city for people of The Mate’s and my religion, The Church of the Great, Dirty, Sweaty Outdoors. In Moab, every other car looks like ours.

Red Rover says, “Finally! I’m one of the cool kids here!”

Wheels, wheels, wheels! Granted, some are attached to monster engines on scary-looking jeeps and ATVs. But most are some form of bike. And even those folks who aren’t there to ride around on something are still there to play hard and get dirty.

These families are climbing this super-steep red dune to race and slide back down. That could be the definition of cheap thrills.

While patiently waiting for the Heels to play their Round 2 game, we delighted ourselves with bike rides and hikes in some of the most perfect, astounding, God-given terrain available to mankind. Now when I say bike rides, I do NOT mean this:

I’m sure mountain biking is fun. I’m equally sure that I would kill myself if I tried to do it.

I mean this–this amazing trail that runs all the way from the rim of the valley,

Yes!!!! 7% grade…but the scenery takes your mind off the grind.

through town, and along the Colorado for who knows how many more miles (I had to turn around before finding out).

Sun started disappearing. Scenery stuck around.

As for hiking, well…the entrance to Arches National Park was two miles from the campground we were staying in. And if you don’t know Arches…

…please allow me to introduce you! This is the famous Landscape Arch.

And this is Balanced Rock. Not sure where the name comes from.

Pine Tree Arch is one of my favorites, mostly because it’s off the main trail. We actually had it to ourselves!

My hope was, if the weather was decent, we could spend a night camping after having safely seen our beloved team into the Sweet 16. (Pause for wild cheering from Tarheel Nation.) But stupidly, I’d been so deeply enjoying the fact of all these other fans of the Great Red Outdoors, I’d missed the obvious: those fellow red-rockers were our competitors for camping spaces. And unlike us, they’d been smart enough to make reservations. Months in advance, probably. The Arches campground was, of course, FULL FULL FULL.

You–keep walkin’.

So much for my “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” image of “I wanna sleep with you in the desert tonight/With a million stars all around.” Yes, there are first-come, first-served BLM campgrounds scattered about, but you can camp in those for up to two weeks. What were we supposed to do, hang around all day waiting on the off chance of being there when someone pulled up their tent stakes? C’mon! We have trails to hike, basketball games to watch!

No room at the inn for these ol’ lovebirds.

So…Irony. The very thing that draws us to Moab–the joyous celebration of its dirty, sweaty beauty–prevents us from engaging in that highest of ceremonies, spontaneous camping. Yeah, I suppose we could’ve acted like our younger selves and just pulled off the road somewhere to pitch our tent. But in the Church of the Great, Dirty, Sweaty Outdoors, I guess these days we’re those Establishment types who claim front pews. Next time, if I possibly can…I’m making reservations!

One last morning hike before we have to go… 😦

Road Trip IX, Days 17-22, Dallas to North Georgia: Crossing the South While Reading U.S. History

If I had titled this post, “The Confederates Actually Won,” I wonder how many of my white readers would be shocked?

I’m a Southerner born and bred—a Tarheel, as many of y’all know. But by true Southern standards, I’m also not. My mom was born and raised in LA, my dad born in Germany and raised in a weird immigrant/Quaker/Jewish/freethinking mishmash in Philadelphia and LA. They created their own mishmash of Quaker education/ back-to-the-land farm life/ world travel for me to grow up in. So…not REALLY a Southerner.

Our first night in one of the original 7 states of the Confederacy: Texas…in the wonderfully-named Possum Kingdom State Park

Except when I’m not in the South. Starting with college, up north, that’s when the nostalgia kicked in–and living now in the northwest, it still kicks. I find myself longing for the soul food my mom never cooked; when I speak to a fellow Southerner, my vowels lengthen on words like, “I’m fine.”

And that’s not even to mention the great passion The Mate and I share for the Carolina Tarheels.

But now we’re here, crossing the Lower South on our way to NC. And I’m reading These Truths by Jill Lepore.

Even thicker than it looks.

Hold that thought for a sec. First I have to give a shout-out to Dallas, or rather, to the Dallas neighborhood of Oak Cliff, where we spent three days with friends. This part of Texas is really into Mardi Gras.

Masked dinner! Not pictured: dinner (jambalaya, cheese grits & greens, etc…)

Maybe it always was, maybe the influx of New Orleans refugees from Hurricane Katrina played a role, but whatever–laissez les bon temps roulez!

Really fun parade, despite near-freezing temps

I was touched and heartened by the mix of races and ethnicities out celebrating together.

“Old” Texas lives…

…with “New” Texas!

And don’t forget Pomeranian Texas! (These guys were part of a whole group of “Recycled Poms”!!)

With my friend, I also walked the Fun Run (note to self: Fun Runs really are fun when you’re not racing! Who knew?). These adorable girls spontaneously danced in front of the start line when their favorite song came on…

They had great moves!

And then there was this little guy, along the course:

Why, indeed? Love it!!!

But the day after we left oh-so-cool Oak Cliff, we found ourselves in Vicksburg. Not often drawn to historical attractions on our road trips, we decided to pay our respects to the Vicksburg National Military Park–site of the Union’s 18-month campaign to capture this all-important center of control over the Mississippi River.

Monument to fallen Confederate soldiers–both sides have many monuments, but I only captured this one’s image

In the past, such a reminder of the viciousness of the Civil War (nearly 4,000 men died on these hills and vales, with thousands more wounded, captured or missing) would just reawaken all the complexity of my feelings about being Southern. As I’ve written in the past, I’m very conflicted. One of my songs tries to express that conflict:

If my old neighbors have their way, I’ll be burning down in Hell

But just ’cause I’m a sinner–it’s nothing personal.

They hate everything I stand for, but I know who they are

So don’t you ridicule their accent when they talk about hellfire.

But, as I mentioned, I’ve been reading Jill Lepore’s book. Let’s get back to that, shall we? It’s a comprehensive history of this country. I have a Master’s in U.S. History, and I’ve taught it to teenagers. These Truths both reminded me of things I knew, and taught me things I didn’t.

Things I knew: 

–The Supreme Court–of the whole country!–ruled in Dred Scott, 1857, that “a black man has no rights that a white man is bound to respect.”

–The Radical Republicans’ compromise with the ex-Confederates to end Reconstruction left millions of Southern Blacks at the mercy of Southern Whites..who showed none. (Radical Republicans were NORTHERNERS.)

–The Supreme Court–of the whole country!– in Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896, ruled that “separate but equal” was constitutional.

–Following the Great Migration of Black Southerners to the North and West to escape Southern terrorism, NORTHERN real estate laws and other restrictions trapped them into segregated neighborhoods

Things I didn’t know, or at least didn’t know enough:

–The People’s Party (the most successful third party in US history), “rested on a deep and abiding commitment to exclude from full citizenship anyone from or descended from anyone from Africa or Asia.” (p. 343)

–“By one estimate, someone in the South was hanged or burned alive every four days” in the first few years of the 20th century (p. 369)

–The 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg included none of the Black soldiers who had fought there. (p. 389)

–The enlightened Woodrow Wilson? “…like other Progressives, Wilson not only failed to offer an remedy of racial inequality; he endorsed it…’Mr. Wilson bears the discreditable distinction of being the first President of the United States, since Emancipation, who openly condoned and vindicated prejudice against the Negro.'” (James Weldon Johnson, quoted on p. 389)

.Given that the entire country ended up committing itself, legally, to the values the Confederacy fought for, Lepore concludes, “the Confederacy had lost the war, but it had won the peace.” (p. 360)

LOOKING AT OUR COUNTRY TODAY, I CAN’T HELP BUT AGREE. 

But then we spent a day and a night in Alabama, at Oak Mountain State Park, near Birmingham.

Lake Tranquility, with blooming maple

Can’t get more Southern than that. We rented a cabin.

You can just barely make out our cabin & car in the trees.

It came with our very own ducks on the doorstep.

Got any bread you’re not using?

We went for a hike. The winter woods were starkly beautiful.

Steep ridges!

The rocks were craggy.

Me trying to show how steep the drop is

The crags were rocky.

You get the idea.

And my soul was full. Because, as my song goes,

It’s another song about the South, y’all–

trying to sort my feelings out, once and for all.

How can someone feel so in and out of place?
That sweet, sunny South where I first saw the light,

if she’s my ol’ Mama, I’m a teenager in flight:

do I want to hug her neck, or slap her face?

I am a Southerner, even if I’m not. I get it. People love their culture. That Confederate statue, above? When you zero in on it, you see the soldiers’ suffering. You understand.

Notice the dead man at lower right. Not too glorious.

I hate the white supremacy the South stood for, and I hate that a lot of the South still stands for that. But I also know that our WHOLE COUNTRY stands for exactly the same–de facto. So I guess it’s my whole country I want to hug and slap at the same time.

 

 

 

Road Trip IX, Days 11-16, Tucson to Central Texas: Why Have I Never Heard Of This Park Before?

Disclaimer: some of the pictures from this stretch of our trip come from parks that are very well known indeed. Like Saguaro National Park, whose two sections frame Tucson. We love Saguaro, but we have fallen into a rut the last few times through, opting to ride our bikes around the wonderful 8-mile loop of the eastern chunk of park. This time, we went west.

Now THIS is winter desert. Right?

But that glorious sunshine didn’t greet us till the second day. What did? THIS. 

Really, Tucson? Really?!

There’s a reason I have no pictures of Tucson’s sweet downtown, as we were too busy avoiding frozen puddles and hunkering down in coffee shops to sightsee.

But when it came to snowy cactus, my camera couldn’t get enough.

Ocotillo…which ought to be blooming this time of year!

I really need to stop clicking and start hiking.

Okay, okay…one more!

Also on the west side is the Desert Museum, one of the best put-together set of exhibits we’ve ever come across to interpret the desert environment.

Really cool sculpture there, tracing the evolution of animal life from protozoan on up.

It happens to include a zoo, made up of animals rescued from injury or abandonment.

Like Cruz the puma, who gave us the death-stare from three feet away (behind glass).

The greater Tucson area also includes a good network of bike paths, but the section we rode was more about exercise and visiting with an old friend, so no photos there either. Ditto on the tacos.

After three days of civil, though, we were eager to revisit one our favorite and least-known parks: Chiricahua National Monument.

Hoodoos in my happy place!

We’re pretty sure the only people who know about this park in Arizona’s extreme southeast corner are friends of ours we’ve raved to, or birders. Birders know the Chiricahuas, because they rear up to 10,000 feet, create their own riparian system in the desert, and act like an oasis for bird species you’d otherwise have to go to Mexico to spot.

The Mate and I aren’t birders, or we wouldn’t have been there in February. We’re hikers. And once again, having arrived just after a snowstorm, I couldn’t stop taking pictures of big rocks in snow.

Enough of these to make giant mushroom soup.

Different flavor of mushroom?

The Mate above Echo Canyon

Me in The Grotto

Or just big rocks.

Can’t…stop…taking…pics!!

Camping was cold: 28 degrees.

With faithful Red Rover in the background

We’ve slept through colder, though, and it was so worth it to be there at sunset…

G’night…

…and under starlight, and sunrise (even though my fingers were too chilled for photos by then).

Next stop: Las Cruces, NM, a town we’ve driven past multiple times. This time we met a friend there and, unusually for us, stayed in an artsy inn.

VERY artsy.

We also hiked, twice, in a section of another park we’ve never bothered to notice: Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument.

Heading for Dripping Springs…which were actually dripping.

I kept thinking, “This is just as cool as the Pinnacles! Where has this park been all my life?” No condors, true, but…

This! (and the ruins of an old TB sanatorium. This place would heal me!)

There was also a cave, which came with intriguing stories from the 1700s about a murdered priest/hermit.

No disrespect, Father What-was-your-name.

Made of volcanic tuff…ancient, petrified ash.

Before heading out across the dismally flat and featureless West Texas plain, we hit one more park. Guadalupe Mountains National Park was first introduced to us via the mystery writer Nevada Barr, whose park ranger protagonist, Anna Pigeon, worked there in Barr’s first book. While hiking solo, I kept that book cover in mind: it featured a puma print. (Puma attacks have been in the news lately…)

But pretty soon the scenery seized hold of my attention.

Hey, wow–a madrona tree! Like a hello wave from the Pacific Northwest!

The Guadalupes are part of the same range as the hollowed-out mountain which we know as Carlsbad Caverns. They are an ancient reef of limestone, uplifted 6-8,000 feet and eroded from within by water.

You can see how much this stuff wants to be hollowed out.

I saw plenty of evidence of that geology on my speed-hike (racing sunset).

On the right: pure, smooth limestone–probably full of fossils. On the left, an aggregate of loose rock glued back together somehow. Oh, why aren’t I a geologist???

The real “prize” of that hike was this formation, Devil’s Hall:

Ever notice how the Devil gets all the cool stuff named after him?

But the whole hike was cool. We’ll definitely be back to the Guadalupes, hopefully to camp!

After spending the night in the town of Carlsbad, we put on our big-kid panties and headed out across West Texas.

Sighhhh.

Now THIS scenery we can all be forgiven for not knowing about.

While we’re on the topic, though, I’ll ask my annual Road Trip Question: does anyone have any special, little-known beauty spots of their own to tell about?