Texas to Florida – Sunshine and storms

1 Dec

P1150376 Close by the college campus in Kilgore is a museum dedicated to the history of the town, especially its oil heritage. Marking the entrance is a wooden oil well, adorned with a star, like its metal counterparts dotted around the town, all decorated up for the holiday season.

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The mock town complete with general store, print works, blacksmith store and working cinema depict what life would have been like at the time of the oil boom. The cinema cleverly shows news reel clips alongside a narration of the oil discovery story.

We enjoyed learning a little more about the towns glory days before saying our goodbyes to Dean and Kathe and heading off for Louisiana.

In May we had found a campground in Vidalia, a lovely spot that has access to the river walk beside the Mississippi. It once again made a good overnight stop off for us. Over the river bridge (and in the State of Mississippi) is Natchez, a town of grand homes built in the 1800’s by the wealthy plantation owners as summer houses and a safe haven on higher ground when the Mississippi flooded. We spent a pleasant afternoon in the warm sunshine strolling the very quiet streets looking at the beautifully restored and maintained homes.

In the middle of the main street Christmas had arrived in the form of a large decorated tree providing a temporary traffic island for motorists to navigate.

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I was a little disappointed that the lights had not yet been lit for the first time, this will P1150389happen after Thanksgiving, however on the riverbank, nature was doing a good job of lighting the tree. As the sun went down, its rays shone through and illuminated the coloured glass of the decorative bulbs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Natchez we drove  out of Louisiana and into Mississippi down to the Gulf coast. Again we had visited earlier in the year but this time we would be driving east of New Orleans. Our first stop was Buccaneer State Park, only recently reopened after renovations following the 2005 Hurricane Katrina damage. When we had got settled into the campground (still not completely open) we took a stroll to see the water and hopefully spot my favourite – Pelicans!

P1150405 Ah! That’s my other favourite….. The sand is so white here, no sign of oil but that may be because there are still many clean up crews working every day, scouring and raking up any deposits they may find. We did see Pelicans, they were sitting on wooden posts a short distance off shore, we also saw small fish in the shallows and a couple of small rays too.

 

Next to the State Welcome Centre on the I10 is a Visitor P1150417Centre for the NASA Stennis Space Centre where a free tour of the rocket engine test facility begins. A bus took us the couple of miles or so to the site and we were very impressed by the commentary from the driver as we drove through the grounds to the main visitor complex. As part of the route we passed the platforms where the Saturn 5 rockets were tested, viewed two smaller platforms and also could see a new one being constructed.

 

 

 

 

 

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The visible structures are only half of the story, underground is a similar size foundation to provide an anchor for the rocket and prevent it launching too soon.

(technical details will I am sure be covered in Roberts blog at the end of the month..

http://roadvoyagers.wordpress.com )

 

P1150411Alongside learning all sorts of information about rockets and space travel Robert got to play ‘Spaceman’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outside were various rockets and bits of rockets and a replica of the  landing craft used on the first moon landing.

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The grounds surrounding the NASA facility cover many hundred of acres and also house buildings for other government departments including the Navy, USGS and NOAA.  When Katrina struck the coast in August 2005 some of the families of those who worked on the base took shelter in its buildings, the staff were  trying to maintain the facility to minimise damage but were also deployed to help with the aftermath. Of the 5000 people who worked on the base one quarter lost their homes. In Waveland, perhaps the nearest town to the facility the tidal wave was over thirty feet high, roads and houses are still being reconstructed there and many lots remain empty, their original properties having been swept away.

It made me think how quickly we forget once the media turns its attention to the next hot story. For those involved it may take a whole generation to get their lives on track again but within that time a second blow has been dealt to the coast with the BP spill.

For our next stop we had chosen to stay at the Barrier Islands National Coast campground east of Biloxi. Surrounded by marshy wetlands this area has so far not received any oil from the spill, however the islands themselves around 10 miles off shore have.

We took a walk to the Visitor Centre in the hope of spotting an alligator en route or a pelican on a post, but they were all in hiding, we did see some egret. Finally while we had lunch the pelicans caught up with us, announcing their presence with the usual fly past.

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The State of Alabama was yet to be ticked off our visited States list so we had to ensure a one night stay at least ( this is the rule we have set ourselves – we must sleep in the State at least one night to ‘claim’ it – others may work by alternative rules). The weather had turned a little damp and the laundry bag was a overflowing so a night at Gulf Shores fulfilled all our requirements.

I was a little dismayed on the coastal route to find high rise blocks and Casino’s seemed to dominate the coastline and this seemed to continue all along the coast into Florida. We chose to stop off at another of the National Parks Campgrounds at Fort Pickens where we felt a little more remote from the commercialism of the towns we had driven through.

The Fort was built as a defence in the Revolutionary wars but only saw active service in the Civil war. Today the remnants make an interesting history lesson and good photo opportunity

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The beach was again beautifully clean and the sparkling white sand reflected the sun belying the chill in the wind. Good kite flying weather we decided…..

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From Fort Pickens and the National Seashore we drove along the coast road where the surroundings varied between commercial, new residential vacation properties to the deserted acres of the State Parks. Grayton Beach State Park has a new camping area with long wide gravel sites. We were able to spend a night with a view over the wetlands, a little misty and grey but still very beautiful.

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The weather forecast was not very promising next morning but as we were able to start early we had the best of the day to continue our coast side route. It seemed once we left Panama City behind we finally found the surroundings we had been looking for. Mexico Beach was so enticing, so under commercialised compared to everywhere else we had to stop off and enjoy it.

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What we realised later was this stretch of beach is divided by the demarcation line for the time change from Central time to Eastern, we managed to loose, gain then loose once more, an hour, in the space of a thirty minute walk along the beach!

A tiny spit of land snakes around from the mainland and into the Gulf, four miles along it is Port Saint Joe, a small campground beside the waters edge invited us to stop the night. Unfortunately when we checked in we discovered we will be one of it last visitors, the owner has decided to build condos on the land. Despite the high humidity and impending storm we spent a quiet afternoon by the water. Once more our good friends the Brown Pelican caught up with us and put on a fishing display before the darkness descended. Eventually the storm broke, as we ate tea the temperature dropped from 24 degrees C to 15 degrees in around 45 minutes!

We now have around 250miles to complete in Florida before we reach the site in Crystal River where we have storage arranged for haRVey while we fly back to the UK for Christmas. We are beginning our wind down preparations, starting the clearing out process,  eating our freezer stocks, working out what we need to take home with us and getting excited about seeing all the family again. However, walking on the beach in the sunshine and realising its the last day of November still feels very strange!

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2 Responses to “Texas to Florida – Sunshine and storms”

  1. Gloria December 1, 2010 at 2:18 pm #

    Have you seen our snow are you sure you want exchange your paddle for our trudge.

  2. Susan December 1, 2010 at 8:35 pm #

    looking at your pictures makes me jealous. It snowed here in Memphis today, ugh.
    And we use a different criteria to check off a state. We have to spend one day exploring something in the state in order to check it off. We have been in Mississippi several times and its STILL not checked!

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