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 VI, Days 20-23, Monroe, Louisiana to Cumberland Island National Seashore: Whose Woods These Are I Think I Know

Piney hills. Black-water cypress swamps. Real, deciduous oaks that understand they’re supposed to grow new leaves every year. Maples starting their spring blush. Redbuds already blushing hard. Spanish moss. Magnolias.

We headin’ HOME. Or I am, anyway. But this journey was the idea of my Californian Mate, so he can hardly complain.

But the scenery is already leading to some arguments interesting discussions. I’m a western chauvinist with a deep strain of southeastern nostalgia–an uncomfortable combination. Makes me tetchy. I can claim–and do–that northwestern forests are more dramatic, beautiful, and walkable than those in, say, my home state of North Carolina…but you can’t. The Mate walks into this trap constantly.

Him: “Those pines are a such a weird shade of green.”
Me: “Well, at least they have more individuality than our firs.”
Him: “These wintertime hardwoods make the forest look dead!”
Me: “But at least you can see through it this time of year! And look at the size of that hickory!”

I’ve come to think of these southeastern forests as the ultimate glass-half-full-vs.-empty scenario. I can choose to see a scrubby, scratchy, inhospitable tangle of poison ivy, smilax and honeysuckle…or I can see heritage: my daily walk to school; summer blackberrying; finding a safe spot to pee in the woods during a run. Or, in literary daydreams, Scout Finch and Zora Neale Hurston’s Janie.

 

I know my bipolar attitude is the result of too much history. I can’t see cotton fields without thinking about James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men; can’t see big magnolias without thinking of Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit.” The South is soaked in more misery per acre than any other region in our country.

Usually, I’ll admit, I see those scruffy, history-laden woods and and think how lucky I am to live diagonally across the continent from here, in forests where nothing wants to bite me or make me itchy, or make me think of slavery, share cropping and the KKK.

These woods aren't dead--they're just getting their beauty sleep.

These woods aren’t dead–they’re just getting their beauty sleep.

But if anyone else says that to me? Nuh-uh, honey.

BTW: I’ll write about our discovery of Cumberland Island in my next post. Right now I just have to give a little shout-out to our friends Raven and Chickadee (a.k.a. Eric and Laurel) for steering us to Oak Mountain State Park via their travel blog, Ravenandchickadee.com. This largest of Alabama’s state parks offers miles of steep, winding trails in wild-feeling woods an astonishing ten miles south of its largest city, Birmingham. We didn’t get enough time there and look forward to staying longer some day. In Alabama!

Oak Mountain, Alabama? This western scary snob says, "Pretty pretty!"

Oak Mountain, Alabama? This western scenery snob says, “Pretty pretty!”