2008 Cross Country Trip

Vicky and I spent all of January and most of February 2008 crossing the country in a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee that had over over 100K miles on the odometer. Here is the story we told through e-mail updates and web photo album links as we made the journey.  I’ve copied the text from our original e-mail updates, followed by the web album.

Star Date 1/1/2008:

We are trying to make good time to California since there is a good chance that there will be serious snow storms in the mountains west of Texas later in the week. And we will definitely have to stop somewhere to watch the Redskins play Seattle on Saturday at 1pm PST.

We made it to Memphis (850 miles). We went via downtown Nashville to see music row and the country music hall of fame. And then we humped it to Memphis to visit the famous Sun Studios before they closed at 6PM. We made it on time, but I missed the start of the last studio tour. We swung on down to Beale street (looks like a great place for food, music and dancing when it isn’t freezing) and stumbled across the Gibson factory. Then we headed back to the Whole Hog Café for some of the best BBQ on the planet.

It never went over 27 degrees anywhere that we went today. My wiper fluid froze early in the day (it was 11 degrees near Bristol and snowing). This cold snap is something. The streets were dead everywhere. Oh, well, it was January 2. What can you expect.

This was the most fun day for me, visiting these two legendary music cities. Next time through it will be a day or two in each city, at a minimum. Vicky has some funny things to add. Look for her recap soon.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

– Jeff

Date 1/2:

We visited Arkansas wine country at Altus, Arkansas including the memorial to the lost Ozark coal miners. Then off to Oklahoma City to visit Alan Whicher’s memorial chair at the OK City Memorial. We had a fabulous steak at the renowned Cattlemen’s Cafe in the Stockyards district. The wind was whipping across the plains and driving these huge power generating windmills. The sunset in Texas lasted 60 minutes and was quite something.

– Jeff

Date 1/3:

We left Amarillo, TX very early (see the sunrise in our mirror) and headed to the historic district in Albuquerque, NM. The St. Charles Café (awesome local flavors) is housed in the oldest documented dwelling, dating back to the 1700’s with 2 feet thick adobe walls! The district offers high-end authentic native American Indian arts and is very cool. We also stopped at Gallup, NM which is known for its native American art and crafts (Zuni, Cherokee, Hopi and Navajo). See the Indian Code Talkers statue there. We may have been the only Caucasian’s in the town from what we saw. Then on the way out of NM we stopped by Meteor Crater National Park, the site of the largest crater on US soil. Then we drove past Humphries Peak (12.6K feet elevation is the highest in NM) on the way to Williams, AZ (west of Flagstaff – elevation 7k feet) for the night. We saw a good deal of the old Route 66 highway (especially in Gallup and Williams) and had dinner at the Cruisin’ Route 66 Cafe in Williams.

We’ve covered ~2300 miles in 3 days and with the big storm coming in from California it looks like the visit to the Grand Canyon in the AM will be a rain/snow out and we will try and get to Barstow before the Redskins game 1pm PST tomorrow.


– Jeff

Date 1/4:

We woke up at O-dark-30 to find heavy rain and lots of it in Williams, AZ. In Flagstaff, just to our east, it was snowing heavily. We got on the road (running @ 10 MPH under the speed limit) and made our way to Barstow CA in time to watch the Skin playoff game at Jan’s house. The game didn’t end on the best note, but the trip across the country was really very nice although a little rushed.

When it wasn’t raining or drizzling today it was just plain cloudy. We spent most of the 6 hours journey in the high desert (3k-7k foot elevation) – lot of shrubs and mountains surrounding you. Not a lot to see on this road, except the occasional Indian casino in AZ, and the occasional palm trees and scorched earth in CA (from the fires there this year), but the digital pictures sure are cheap. ;^)

We’ll be spending this week in and around Barstow and Monterey and S.F. so we’ll send an update when we have some news to share.

– Jeff

Dates 1/5-1/10:

We pulled into Barstow California on Saturday around 11 am and hung out to watch the Redskins game. I asked my sister Jan if it ever got greener here,and she said no, just browner. As you can see by the pictures, this is the truly high desert. Jan was excited that she was going to live next to a river, but look at the pictures. That dry bed is in fact the Mojave River or lack thereof. Jan says it has not had water in the two years she has been here. We went to the rail station here which dates back to the 30’s and is supposed to be haunted and there is a cool Route 66 museum. Other than that, Barstow was a stop to visit Jan and chill. We did go out to Fort Irwin with Jan where she works, and the only thing we had to fear crossing the road in front of us was tanks. See picture.

Wednesday we headed up here to San Francisco. These Californians are nothing if not opportunists. Close to the exit, the gas is $3.89 a gallon, a little further off the road it can be as low as $3.07. Drove up Interstate 5 thru the middle of the state. Miles and miles and miles of pistachio and almond trees with orange grove dotted in between. We went by some kind of stockyard where I swear there were cows as far as the eye could see. Gives a whole new light on beef and how it gets to our tables. PU!

We are in San Fran now, the picture of the house is Dave and George’s house on Castro Street. Good thing I quit smoking or I would have never made it up the stairs. Cold and rainy, but is San Fran. We went to the Fishermans Wharf yesterday and to Chinatown. I never realized how LOUD the seals are that make there home or sunning place to close to people, they are LOUD. Alcatraz looks like it would only take a few minutes to get too. We HIKED plenty of blocks and took the street cars/cable cars. Dinner was great last night at a restuarant that is a small plate Latin bistro. Great food! To all of you who know Dave and George, it is simply GREAT being with them here! Except for Jeff getting our car towed last night for blocking a driveway. OOPS. Be very careful about parking in San Fran.

Today we head over the Golden Gate Bridge to John Muir National Park to see the Giant Redwoods and Sausalito. Tomorrow we drive back down the coast thru Monterey. Mojnday and Tuesday we are picking up Jan and heading for the Hoover Dam and VEGAS! Will update with pictures.

We are having a blast but do miss everyone.

– Vicky

Dates 1/10-1/13:

On Thursday we headed from S.F. across the Golden Gate bridge to the north. We had a nice breakfast on the shore in Sausalito and then headed up to Muir Woods National Park, the last and largest Redwood Forest in the greater bay area. The first thing you notice when you get out of the car is the smell! It is simply indescribable, fresh, cool, tangy. This forest or grove is simply too much. The trees are magnificent and the pictures don’t do them justice. Did you know that Redwoods grow in what is known as ‘family circles’? Even when a parent trees main trunk dies or is burned, the roots send up new shoots and new trees grow from the original roots. That’s why they grow in what seems like families, right next to each other in a circle. Some of them are over two thousand years old. We also learned that the reason there are not many redwoods left in that part of California is because they are sort of fire resistant and disease resistant and so builders used them after the 1906 earthquake and fire to rebuild San Francisco. Additionally, this forest has very little wildlife because of the lack of sun at its base, insects can’t infect these trees, rodents don’t flourish, and there are not many birds because of the lack of flowers. The Muir Creek is exactly what you would expect a pristine mountain stream to look and smell like. It even supports the spawning of Coho Salmon in the spring. What is harrowing is going back up and around the mountain. There are dozens of hair pin turns right at the edge of the mountain and NO GUARD RAILS. My heart was in my throat. It required wine to get me back to a normal heartbeat, hence……

We headed for Sonoma and wine country and stopped at the Viansa Italian winery and then the Gloria Ferrer winery for some bubbly (you all know us and champagne). Friday night we shared a fabulous dinner at Dave and George’s where we had pasta with pumpkin sauce and some great wines. Dave made us homemade sticky buns for breakfast Saturday AM and we headed back to Barstow. When we went through Tahachapi, we saw the rest of the 3000 wind turbines they have there, to add to the 500 we saw on the way up. They almost look like art!

Sunday we went down the Cajon pass into the LA area so Jeff could go to the Pomona Auto swap meet and the NHRA Museum (cars again) and an RV show. You all know that Jeff wants an RV. I have said that if I can’t have a Gulf Stream Sun Voyager, I don’t want one. You have never felt winds until you come down that pass and those Santa Ana winds and dust hit you. I can see how those fires would get out of control.

Tomorrow, we are kidnapping Jan from her job and heading to Vegas where Jan and I will lose our allotted $20 on the slot machines, and then we will go visit the Hoover Dam. We will head back to Barstow on Tuesday, relax a day and then head to the Grand Canyon and then on to Scottsdale and the Barrett-Jackson auto auction.

– Vicky

Dates 1/14-1/15:

Monday and Tuesday was at the Hoover Dam and Las Vegas. Vegas is about two hours from my sister Jan’s house. She drove because her Focus gets about twice as much gas mileage as the Jeep. When we first entered California over a week ago, we saw some plants that we could not tell whether they were cactus or palm. Jan cleared that up for us, they were Joshua Trees and on the way to Vegas there are thousands in the desert. Interesting tidbit, Desert Tortoises are protected here, you have to WAIT if one is crossing the interstate, and you cannot pick them up and move them off the road. Apparently, the oils from your hands are bad for them. In Virginia, you see dead deer, out here you see dead coyotes. Ugh!

We first headed to the Hoover Dam. On our way, we saw the world’s largest thermometer in Baker, CA. And as soon as you cross the Nevada state line there are a pair of casinos (one on each side of the road) ready to take your money. And you see new signs out here. Remember we sent you a picture of a tank crossing sign? Well in Boulder City near the dam, you see Big Horned Sheep crossing signs. Not that we saw one, but those sheer cliffs of rock made me believe they could be there. The dam and Lake Mead are simply spectacular. The water in Lake Mead is the clearest blue, and in the shallows, the emeraldest green I have ever seen, and that includes the Caribbean. Looking down from the top of the damn, the workers down on the power plant looked like ants and the cars parked down there looked like match book cars. They are building a new Colorado River Bridge to bypass the dam, and it looks like a bridge to the middle of the air because on both sides, only the ends of the bridge are up. It amazes me how they will ever build the rest of the bridge over that canyon! They had a neat diorama of the whole Colorado River system that included most the places we passed thru in Arizona and New Mexico. It was neat seeing in topographic relief all the mountain ranges we had gone through.

On to Vegas, which is only about 30 minutes from Hoover Dam. We stopped for lunch at the Boulder City Brewpub which had a very tasty pumpkin ale among the other brews made on the premises. Once we reached Vegas we checked into our hotel (which was down by the MGM), and started walking up the strip about 4pm. The opulence is overwhelming, but the real spectacle is after dark when the whole city glows in neon and lights. Even the bail bondsman stores near the police station have neon signs. And, McDonalds has a slot machine! Jan and I had decided that $20 in the penny slots was our limit, and I am proud to say that I only lost $15 and she lost about $18. But, you get free drinks when you gamble, so it was a wash. We saw the sinking of the pirate ship at Treasure Island first and it was great, kind of Disney like, but with lots more fire, and lots more sexual innuendo. I believe the lead siren on one of the ships could not have possibly had a bosom that big for real or she would have toppled over. I am sure Jeff would disagree. Down on the strip, at every intersection, there are folks handing out cards with women offering sex for sale. They are not allowed to harass you, so they just stand there snapping the cards of semi nude women to get your attention.

We hopped the ‘Deuce’ double-decker bus at this point (bus travel all day, $5 – best deal in Vegas) and went up to the Fremont Street Experience. This is the area where the original casinos were, like the Golden Nugget and the big Cowboy that waves). They have enclosed about 3-4 football fields (4 blocks) of this street in a canopy that has over 12 million LED lights, and after dark every hour they do a light and music show above you for the length of the canopy. It is simply mind boggling. It is not along the Strip, but I liked this area of Vegas better, more friendly, even in the Casinos. It had a festive atmosphere and was more reasonably priced. Plus, every casino sells 99 cent margaritas, which are ‘to go’. A margarita down on the strip is $14 (albeit much bigger). After Freemont, we went back down to the Bellagio and watched the water fountain light display, which was in a word spectacular. The fountain shoots up at the end about 25 stories. I enjoyed seeing the Bellagio and Caesars Palace, and if you have never been able to get to Europe, they are a pretty good representation of that style.

It has been about 66 degrees each day, so I am not whining this week as John tells me that it’s pretty cold back there. Tomorrow we head off to Arizona and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Then down to Phoenix and Sedona and Scottsdale for the Barrett-Jackson Auto Event. Hope everyone there is doing well. We are having a blast. You almost lose track of the day and time when you are vagabonds like we are.

– Vicky

Dates 1/17-1/18:

Hello all. We are in Phoenix/Scottsdale Arizona today. I’m going to chill in our room and read today so Jeff can go ogle cars at the Barratt Jackson Auto Auction today. Yesterday morning we left Bartstow and headed for the Grand Canyon. We arrived at the Grand Canyon around one o’clock in the afternoon. The temperature was 15 degrees, the humidity was 39%, there was snow and ice everywhere, but most important the visibility was 98 MILES. Wonder of wonders, the wind was terrible coming across the Mojave desert in the morning, but there was no wind at the Grand Canyon! If you have been to the Grand Canyon before, you already know how breathtaking it is. The sheer scale of it is hard to describe. You can only see the Colorado River from certain places, and although I know its true, it is simply hard to believe that the river as it exists right now could carve those canyons. In one picture, you are going to see the Colorado from a mile above, and you can see the white of the rapids. There is also a pictur/plaque at the top of the Canyon that shows how those rapids look up close. They are called the Granite Rapids and they rate an 8 out of 10 in the difficulty scale of running the rapids in the Canyon. The Hoover Dam was nothing in terms of folks looking like ants from up above once you see folks way down there walking the trails. You almost need binoculars unless they are pointed out to you. Many of my buddies are quite environmental so you will know that the Mule Deer is an engangered species, so it was too cool to be pulling up to one of the points and have to stop because six mule deer were blocking the entrance and eating. They had a baby with them too. Check out the pictures below. One of them that Jeff took was less than five feet from the deer, and the deer couldn’t have cared less. The Canyon is about 60 miles from Flagstaff. On the ride back, you can easily see Humphrey’s Peak, the highest point in Arizona which is over 12,900 feet. It is in the pictures as the mountain covered in snow and we are about 30 miles from it when the pictures were taken.

The drive down to Phoenix was a mix of different geographies. Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon are at over 7300-7600 feet in elevation, and Phoenix is directly south of both of them. As we left Flagstaff and headed south, the first thing that you notice is that the mountains and hills are no longer ragged and jagged, they are smooth and sloped, the way the ones back east are, but most of all they are GREEN. We hadn’t seen a lot of green on this trip, except in San Francisco. About an hour past Flagstaff, no more snow, and the temperature is rising. Next thing you know, we see a sign that says “6% Steep Grade, next twelve miles, check brakes” and it is twisty turny. The temperature is rising 1-3 degrees a minute and it is like a rollar coaster ride all the way down to elevation 2000 and below. Next thing you know there are cactus, all kinds of cactus, big ones, small ones, round ones, low to the ground ones, but most of all the Saguaro! Some Saguaro look to be over 12 feet tall. Each one is so different with different arms and shapes etc. I learned that these cacti don’t even start to grow arms until they are 15 years old. Once again, the desert does not meet my ideas about how it looks. This place is covered with cactus. It is almost green, and yet this is the desert because they get no rain. There are the same creeks, lakes and rivers that you see in the Mojave that have no water.

We went into Scottsdale last night for dinner at the place where Jeff remembered with joy the best Bone in Rib Eye he had ever eaten. Great meal, huge price, but looks like they are going to open one is Arlington. It is called City Hall out here, but will be called Mastros there. Its along the lines of the Palm or Mortons only bigger and more of everything.

We are going to leisurely make our way to Houston by Monday, where the temp will be 72. It will be 60 here today (and one degree in Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon), but the sun is shining brightly. We will leave tomorrow and head to Tuscon where the Saguaro National Forest is, and then head to El Paso for the night. Next night in San Antontio, and then on to Houston.

Judy, I think we will be in Corpus Christi on Tuesday, can you find us the name of a realtor who might show us a few houses?


Dates 1/19-1/21:

Hi all. I have an amendment to make, remember when I told you that it was dangerous to handle the desert turtles because of oils in our hands etc’; well it turns out you cannot pick them up because they store water in their bladders, and if you frighten them by picking them up, they will release their bladder and lose all the water they are saving. So you may save them from being crushed by a car, but then they die of dehydration!

Anyway, I went to the Barrett Jackson Auto auction with Jeff on Friday night and the only car that floated my boat was a 1928 Deusenberg. I think it ended up selling for one million dollars. Rats! Those auctioneers sure can talk fast, and they can see bids that I couldn’t see. So, we left Phoenix on Saturday AM and headed to the Saguaro National Forest. On the way there, we passed a plane cemetery! I had heard that they put planes that were no longer used in the desert so they would not rust, but this was ridiculous , there were planes and parts of planes over acres and acres of this Air Force Base. It reminded me of how they say elephants have their own cemeteries.

The Saguaro National Forest is one of the coolest things we have seen this trip. Every single one of them is different, which is why you will see so many pictures here of them. Loads of different kinds of cactus here and Jeff even saw a kangaroo rat, which I missed. I also told you that the Saguaro didn’t grow arms until they were 15 years old, I should have said 50. That’s how long it takes to grow arms! We have photos of some of the info plaques for you to read, especially about why they have declined.

By evening, we were heading into El Paso by way of Las Cruces. Las Cruces must be the air balloon capital of Texas, cause we counted 12 of them in the air at one time. El Paso is one big stockyard filled with cows and the city goes on and on and on and on. Talk about urban sprawl! These Texans don’t know how to go up, they just go out and out because there is so much land! Didn’t get attacked by any illegals or Mexicans. Here it’s hard to tell who is who. We got stopped by the border patrol about 16 miles past El Paso, and each one of the border guards was obviously of Indian or Hispanic descent.

The next part of the drive was the hardest one so far, and that is crossing the plateaus of Texas. It is lonngggggggggggggg and wideeeeeeeeeee. There were some neat rock formations that we got pictures of, but you don’t see much of anything until you start coming down off the plateau into San Antonio. Then is really starts to get green and you actually go over a river (in the case of the picture, it is the Pecos River) that has water. Even that river was what we would call a creek in Virginia, but I understand when they have hard rains, they can be raging creeks.

We did have a great margarita and great Mexican food in both El Paso and San Antonio.

We head into Houston tomorrow to visit our friends Joel and Rene Hamm who moved from NOVA back to Houston, and a couple of Jeff college buddies. Corpus Christie and Austin are on the plans too. Jerry Carter, where should we go in Austin?

– Vicky

Dates 1/21-1/25:

We left San Antonio on Monday the 21st. It was raining, so we just drove around the Alamo. Both of us had been there before, but in case you haven’t here are some pictures. What always amazed me was how low the walls actually are. Seems to me Santa Ana could have stood on the shoulders of one of his men and vaulted over the walls. It is a mystery how there was a siege there.

On to Houston and our friends Joel and Renee Ham. Houston is HUGE and SPRAWLING. Their housing market is not in the slump that ours is, but you can get a lot more house for your money here than you can in Virginia. We had a great lunch at the Ragin Cagin and ate raw oysters and spicy crawfish boil. MMmmmmmm! Joel and Renee drove us to the part of Houston called River Oaks where the old money is and let me tell you , some of those homes are simply stunning and put anything you see in Great Falls or McLean to shame. They are estate homes with simply gorgeous second story wrap around porches with live oaks along the driveways with 8 car garages. You can almost smell the oil money there!

We went into the older part of Houston called the Heights to meet Jeff’s buddy from college, Michael Redmond and his wife Debbie. They have a bungalow are that was built very early in the 1900’s and are historic. But they are doing the tear down thing here and putting up McMansions like they are in Virginia. This is funny, in Houston they have what they call Ice House Bars. These are old houses in neighborhoods that are small structures with two garage doors. They used to deliver ice to the neighborhoods but now they are all local neighborhood bars. So, we went to Jimmy’s Ice House Bar. That ought to tickle the folks in Herndon. Anyway, these ice house bars are all over the place in Houston.

Wednesday we went to Austin. The live music Capital of the World. All I Can say is that Austin is a weird city,and they are proud of it. Their most popular t-shirt is “Keep Austin Weird”. They must have at least 50 live music clubs in a 3 block radius. Jeff loved it.

Thursday we drove from Houston to Corpus Christi to look at homes for sale in the Gulf of Mexico and on South Padre Island. As in Houston, you get a lot more bang for you buck here than you would for waterfront on the east coast. See pictures of the House we liked the best. They have HUGE white pelicans here, I loved seeing all the birds. And the ferry going across the bay to Mustang Island was pretty cool.

Amazing site, driving back from Corpus Christi to Houston after dark and passing oil refineries that are lit up like Christmas trees, with stacks that have flames coming out the top. Jeff swears that when they filmed the movie Blade Runner they must have seen these sights. It is pretty surreal. It was rainy and cold yesterday and 41 degrees. I think I brought this nasty weather with us, and it is following me around like a cloud around PigPen in Charlie Brown. We are due to leave here Sunday for Louisiana, so of course on Sunday, it is supposed to be sunny and 73.

Dates 1/25-1/27:

We are finally out of Texas. Can you believe that we crossed 880 miles of Texas, and I never once saw an armadillo, road squished or otherwise. None of our Texas friends can believe it as they seem to be as common in Texas as squirrels are in Virginia. My brother in law says I should see one this week in Louisiana. What we did see in Houston, and in a fairly urban area was Texas Longhorns, and we have provided you a picture of some. They come in different colors and even calico. Who knew! We left behind our excellent hosts, Joel and Renee after a last evening of hot tubbing. And also say goodbye to MIchael and Debbie and Scott and Ellen.

Let me tell you something about Houston. They are widening Interstate 10 to SIXTEEN LANES. Look at the picture on here, these interchanges in Houston make the mixing bowl look like a two lane country road. I would end up pulling my hair out if I had to driver in Houston for very long.

We left Houston on Sunday morning to head up to Louisiana. Beaumont Texas has to be the smelliest city I have ever been in, and that includes Jacksonville Florida which can be pretty bad. Ugh. Lot s and lots of refineries and industry.

We are at Jeff’s sisters house and Nancy and Dave are treating us great! This is Mardi Gras week and there are parades etc. Nancy also got a King Cake. It is a cake that is pure sugar as far as I can tell and is gold and green and purple and somewhere baked in the cake is a little plastic baby. Whoever gets the baby has to buy the next King Cake. Last night Nancy made Crawfish Etouffe and Red Beans and rice. She makes her own Roux from scratch and it is WONDERFUL. Tonight we had a couple of pounds of boiled crawfish.

We have great plans for the week and promise great pictures!

– Vicky

Dates 1/28/-1/29:

It’s 35 degrees today in Louisiana, I am convinced that we are back luck weather wise wherever we go. And we went all over Louisiana yesterday! We left early yesterday morning with Dave and Nancy to head down past Lafayette to Avery Island. It is so obvious just riding in the car that oil is king here. Lafayette’ signs and companies all seem to be related to oil drilling (or gambling!). Anyway, on Avery Island we visited the Tabasco factory. Yes, the only factory in the world that produces real Tabasco Sauce. Jeff was in heaven. We tried Tabasco Jalapeno Ice Cream, Tabasco Soda and Jeff tried every sauce they make. He also tried boudin which is a kind of sausage that is mixed with rice and very spicy. He ate his on the porch of the country store at Avery Island.

Leaving Lafayette, we drove to the state capita, Baton Rouge. This is without a doubt an industrial city with the heavy industry right downtown on the Mississippi river. From Baton Rouge, we went to Myrtle Plantation, which is supposed to be one of the most haunted houses in Louisiana. I don’t know about haunted, but it certainly has to be one of the most beautiful. It has 200 feet of fancy iron railings that are aqua/turquoise in color and that is the original color they painted them. The live oaks with their Spanish moss are simply enchanting. The fact that there is the ghost of a murdered slave and the two girls she accidentally killed by feeding them Oleander is beside the point. The house was built in around 1796 and is still is great shape. Jeff took some great pictures outside the front of the house and gardens.

Speaking of cypress, the trip from Lafayette to Baton Rouge took us over the Atchafalaya Basin. This is really a swamp or bayou and the bridge to go over it is about 20 miles long. Water water everywhere and it is just amazing. We took a bunch of pictures of the cypress trees all out in the middle of the water. The cypress trees are cool and the “knees” they form are all unique. Speaking of trees, the live oaks here are beyond stately with their Spanish Moss. Everywhere trees look like they belong in Gone with the Wind.

Coming back over the Mississippi River, we took a ferry across and then we went by the Mississippi Spill Basin. This basin is simply thousands of acres that have been put aside and surrounded by a levee for use if the Mississippi floods. Lots of egrets there though! Also, in Louisiana, they take their lawn ornaments seriously and make them lifesize.

We also had lunch at Mulates one of the original Cajun restaurants in Acadiana country. We are eating lots of etouffe and crawfish as you can tell by the pictures. Speaking of food, the big thing you see down here is “crackling”, so we bought some today. I thought it would be like pork rinds, but trust me on this, it is FRIED PORK FAT. Really and truly, they fry pork fat and eat it! ARGHHHHHHH! I failed to taste the delicacy of it.

Remember the armadillos? Well I still have not seen one, but here is an interesting fact. Armadillos always have four babies that are formed from one egg splitting twice so each litter are exact clones of each other. Still haven’t seen one though. What I have seen is quite cute, swamp turtles sunning themselves on a log in a cypress swamp. See the picture!

Language is amusing here too. When someone gets pregnant, they ask, “who is the baby for?” if they want to know who the father is.

Did I tell you about the King Cake? Jeff found the baby today so he has to buy the next one!

Enjoy the picture of Jeff and his brother in law Dave, trying on Mardi Gras regalia for this weekend. Should be fun.

– Vicky

Dates 1/31-2/3:

Still in Louisiana. Earlier in the week we went to Natchidoches (pronounced Nack a tish). It is a quaint little Civil War era town on the Cane River. It is home of the famous southern meat pie, which of course Jeff had to try. We then went along the Cane River where all the local Antebellum plantation homes are located. The entrance way to these plantations with all the Live Oaks lining the entrance are just beautiful. I can’t even imagine how beautiful it would be during the spring. All these places are on the National Historic Register. On an interesting note, they do not refer to “slaves” down here, they call them “enslaved labor”. In the plantation dining rooms the overhead fan in the picture was operated by an enslaved laborer. Another interesting fact is that folks in the south were taxed on how many doors and chimneys they had, hence the flues attached to more than one fireplace, and the windows in all these plantations slip open from the foot boards in a groove over the transom. That way, they could have a breeze or enter through the gallery, but they were not taxed on doors. You can still see this is Virginia, with all the tall windows in the old plantation houses, I just never knew there was a tax purpose to it!

Yesterday was a day we really looked forward to. My brother in law Dave and my sister in law got out his SERIOUS smoker and he smoked ribs, and a pork butt and turkey legs with Nancy’s #5 BBQ rub. I swear it was so good, you would think you had died and gone to heaven. Look a the pictures!

Today Jeff and I went to the Alexandria Mardi Gras Parade (the major central Louisiana Mardi Gras Parades). The Grambling and Southern University Bands were there and Krewes such as the Krewe of the Gumbo YaYa, of Anastasia, of Fleur De Lis, the Hermes, of Camelot, of Kincaid, etc… There are some pictures here of the floats and a picture of me with “some of the beads” we caught in the one hour we were on the parade route. I got bonked in the bean by cups and beads. It is too much!

Which brings me to our next destination. We have decided since we are here and tomorrow and Tuesday are Mardi Gras, we are driving into New Orleans tomorrow morning and staying at the Royal St. Charles Hotel directly on the Uptown parade route and one block from the French Quarter. I am a little apprehensive, but it seems like if we are here at the time of Mardi Gras, we ought to experience it. I have no doubt we will bring home pounds of beads in case anyone wants to have a Mardi Gras party next year. And the beads you get down here, make the ones up there look like sissy beads. Jimmy Cerrito will be drooling when he sees our beads!

– Vicky

Dates 2/4-2/6:

We left Alexandria on Monday and headed for New Orleans. We stopped off and saw the San Francisco Plantation which is near a levee and amid huge refinery’s (this port area has the 5th most tonnage come through of any port in the world)! We will post a picture up here of the plantation, it looked like a doll house.

On to the Big Easy. We stayed at the Royal St Charles hotel which is directly on the parade route and our balcony overlooked the parades. We wandered down to Bourbon Street when we got there, and even at 2:30 in the afternoon, it was jammed and there were beads all over the streets. We came back to your room for the 5:15 Krewe of Proteus Parade, which didn’t get to our hotel until around 7:30. I was not impressed with the Krewe of Proteus, but the Parade behind them, the Krewe of Orpheus was nothing short of astounding. They have all these floats that are based on the names of cocktails and they lights an flowers are just amazing. So are the beads they throw. We got about 100 sets of bead on Monday. Fat Tuesday the parades start at 8am. The first Krewe was the Krewe of Zulu, whose costumes are absolutely stunning with all the feathers etc, On the Krewe of Zulu, everyone who rides a float dresses in Black Face with these huge Afro wigs. All the floats in these parades are pulled by tractors and apparently Zulu’s stuff kept breaking down because the parade stopped about 8 times for 10-20 minutes at a time. When Zulu was over (after 5 hours!!!), along comes the Krewe of Rex. This Krewe was amazing like Orpheus was. And more beads, and more beads and more beads. After Rex comes the Elks (truck and trailer parade) and another truck parade. Their floats are just flat bed trucks and what they do is throw beads, and toys, and doubloons. and Mardi Gras umbrellas and more beads and more beads. You can actually get hurt cause there is a massive amount of things flying thru the air. We met some great folks at the parade on Tuesday, Mary Kay and Elgin. They showed us how to catch the beads and what to look for. Everyone was really nice. We didn’t really see that many drunk folks and there were lots families at the parades.

Monday night we went back down to Bourbon street and it was wall to wall people. There were folks standing on all the balconies throwing stuff to folks on the street. There were as many broken beads on the streets as there were being worn by people. I got some plenty neat beads, and no, I never showed my boobs! The number of beer cups in the street was massive! Tuesday night, we decided not to fight the crowds on Bourbon street and went down to the Mississippi River. We had dinner at Landry’s Seafood. If you are ever in the South, even though Landry’s is a chain, it is a GREAT chain restaurant. Check out the pictures of Mardi Gras. It is really over the top, I have never seen anything like it. We have two bags of beads (and sundry trinkets) that weigh about 40 pounds. I am not talking the cheap foot long beads were see, I’m talking elaborate beads, and we caught them all, never paid for any!

You can drink on the streets (24 hours a day during Carnival) and folks were, so the SMELL of stale beer was everywhere on Bourbon Street and the streets were unbelievably messy (at the end of the 30 days of Mardi Gras), but this AM when we got up, at least Canal Street and Bourbon Street had been cleaned.

We got up this morning and checked out and went to the French Market on Decatur. This is the open outdoor market in the French Quarter. Since it was the day after Mardi Gras, we were able to get both Stephanie and John elaborate masks for really cheap! We didn’t buy any beads, since we already have more than enough.

Today were drove from New Orleans to Fort Walton Beach to Panama City Beach Florida, which is where we are tonight. My niece Jessie got us this beautiful ocean front suite for the night here. It is the nicest place we have stayed and the least expensive thanks to Jessie!. This beach Town is very quaint and the white sand beaches are pretty impressive. We would come back here, so if you ever get the chance to come to Panama City Beach, do so! I understand it is also a spring break town, but the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico was beautiful.

In order to get here, we came the beach route of Rt 90 thru Pass Christian Louisiana, Gulfport and Biloxi Mississippi. The devastation is still apparent from Katrina, there are so many places where all you see are foundations of homes, and the front steps. There is also massive amounts of rebuilding and construction going on. As we left New Orleans, we came out through the ninth ward. There are rows and rows of homes that still have the red X’s that were spray painted on them marking them as uninhabitable, When you drive across Lake Ponchatraine (which has a 25 mile bridge), you understand the amount of water they were talking about. While New Orleans got the flooding, they did not get near the destruction that Pass Christian and Gulfport did. Still, it was a reminder of the power of nature. Tomorrow we will take off from here, not sure whether we will stay with my cousin Frank in Orlando or head straight to Fort Lauderdale to Jessie’s. Looks like Jeff might (fingers crossed!) get tickets Daytona 500.

– Vicky

Dates 2/6-2/13:

As we left New Orleans, my niece Jessica, whose home we were headed to got us a deluxe room at the Emerald Isle resort in Panama City Beach. (She works for Wyndham Resorts). I bet we were there the same time as Jeff and Jackie Johnson, because it was 82 degrees the day we arrived, and 48 the next morning when we left, but anyway, check out the pictures of a sunset on the Gulf of Mexico.

We next arrived in Palm Aire, otherwise known as the greater Fort Lauderdale area, where my niece Jessica lives with her delightful husband Gary and their son Scott. They went with us over the weekend to Key Largo, the first key, where it’s very rustic, and very relaxing. You all will appreciate that we had oysters, shrimp, conch chowder and several potent cocktails. (Where else can you get a great Pina Colada for like $5.00 right on the beach! check out the pictures of my nephew in law (is that a real relationship?) hiring the ultralight to take him up and fly over the Keys. Cool! Our rooms had two double beds, a half size refrigerator and a wooden dock right outside our room that led to the tiki bar and the marina. the name of the place is Gilbert’s Resort. It was a magnificent day and evening and it is hard to think about the real world when you are in the Keys.

We drove back thru Coconut Grove in Miami where Jessie used to work, and talk about your gated compounds! Somebody in Miami has some real money!

I haven’t yet seen an armadillo, can you believe it! But what I have seen, and those who know me well know how much I love birds, especially sea birds, is birds and more birds!. I have seen Kingfishers, and Spotted Spoonbills, and Herons and Egrets, Ibises and pelicans by the HUNDREDS. The neatest tree I have seen in the Banyan Tree and there are some spectacular examples of them here. I will have to have Jeff get a picture before we leave here.

Yesterday we drove up to Port St Lucie to see my Aunt Fran. Jeff now realizes where “I get it from” as he spent quite a bit of time talking to my favorite Aunt. Aunt Fran told Jeff it was too bad he never met my mother (who was her sister), but she told him stories of when I was a baby, and about my dad and my mom when they were young. There is a picture of my Aunt and I on here and we are going to look at some houses in Port St Lucie on Tuesday. The market down here is even worse than in DC, but oh, how we want a pool home! It turns out that my Aunt’s house layout is about the same as the house that Jeff and I fell in love with last January in Sebastian Florida.

Jeff and I hope to spend the day at the beach tomorrow and Friday, and then Jeff and Gary will be heading up to the Daytona 500 Race. We will leave Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday and head for Orlando to see my cousin Frank and his wife Linda, and then off to heading north (sigh) with hopefully a stop in Charleston.

– Vicky

Dates 2/14-2/22:

We made it home safely on Thursday with 109K miles on the Jeep (not one automotive issue along the way either!). And we’ve had some time to get settled back in Herndon (thanks to our kids and Drew for helping take care of the place while we were out). On the last leg in Florida Jeff was able to go to the Daytona 500 for the first time, compliments of Sun Trust Bank. Gary’s best buddy Mike was able to secure excellent tickets, fan zone access and Sun Trust hospitality gratis. That’s the only way to go! Jeff got some very cool driver pictures and also pics of the USAF Thunderbirds that did a multi-pass flyover after the anthem was sung.

We had planned to stop in Charleston, SC for a day on the way home but I had an annoying runny nose so we headed straight home.

Below are the pictures of the beach, which we were laying on last Monday and Tuesday. We looked at some homes in Port St Lucie and I really think we will retire to Florida after all. We still like it best. Stopped in Orlando to see my cousin Frank and spent the night and then on north to home.

We had a great time over the last eight weeks. We put over 9500 miles on the car and had some great times with family and friends. To everyone who put us up, a big thanks. We hope you enjoyed our diary of words and pictures of our grand adventure. If any of you decide to have a grand adventure, make sure we are one of your stops!

I want to say a BIG thank you to all the friends and relatives that took us in along the way, especially Jan and Dave and George and Joel and Renee and Nancy and Dave and Jessie and Gary. It was just the greatest experience from our perspective. We hope to see you all again soon.

We put on about 15 pounds over 50 days due to the excellent culinary skills of our hosts and the local dining options presented to us. Be forewarned if you should consider this type of trip. ;^) But, I’d still recommend it (and do it all over again) regardless.

Thanks again and have a great 2008.

– Vicky and Jeff

There you have it! If you made it this far leave a comment for me, PLEASE! I’ll send you a prize for your dilligence. LOL!

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