A Cajun Christmas In New Orleans

NOLA Panorama

NOLA Panorama

We’ve been wanting to spend time time in New Orleans ever since we hit the road. This year (2016) we finally got here. Another sticker for the RV map. That only leaves 3 states in the lower 48 we haven’t camped in West VA, Ohio and Connecticut). We chose Bayou Segnette SP on what is referred to as the westbank area. Good choice as it has large sites, free wifi, free laundry and is only a 10 minute drive to the Algiers Point ferry to downtown New Orleans. The parking for all day was $5 and senior rate on the ferry is $1 each way. If you are lucky you might even get serenaded by the calliope from the Steamboat Natchez.

Steamboat Natchez In The Fog

Steamboat Natchez In The Fog

We spent the first day with friend and fellow volunteer from Red Rock Lakes, Marilyn, touring two of the six sites that are part of Jean Lafitte NHP. The first was Chalmette Battlefield (site of the 1814 Battle of New Orleans) and the other in Thibodaux, LA at the Acadian Culture Center. We arrived in Thibodaux just in time for a Ranger led walking tour of town covering history and architecture of the area. If you enjoy discovering the small towns and hidden gems of our country, don’t miss this walk. We saw original Acadian homes, Victorian homes, Art & Craft homes, Beau Arts buildings and even one of only two Second French Empire homes in Louisiana. We also learned about the Louisiana seal which depicts a pelican with 3 chicks ripping her own flesh to feed them. This was created based upon what the first governor thinks he saw. Truth, per the Ranger, is that pelicans never have more than two chicks and usually only one survives, no bird would rip itself to feed young and that until the late 20th century the seal also showed blood droplets. The Center hosts free events such as a Cajun music night and a local dialect of French discussion group to preserve the language. At one time it was illegal to speak the Acadian language. We ended the day with a meal at Fremin’s, once a pharmacy cum restaurant. Oh, those smoked oysters and gumbo!

Seal Of Louisiana

Seal Of Louisiana

Chalmette VC and The Battle Of New Orleans

Chalmette VC and The Battle Of New Orleans

Malus-Beauregard House

Malus-Beauregard House










Victorian Home In Thibodeaux

Victorian Home In Thibodaux

Second Empire French Home

Second Empire French Home










Thibodeaux Cemetery

Thibodaux Cemetery

Day two was a walking marathon through the French Quarter. We started at the Old Mint, the only mint to have coined currency for both the US and the Confederacy. Currently it is also being used as the Visitor Center for the New Orleans Jazz NHP. Then we walked and photographed ourselves silly on the fabulous architecture and seasonal decorations. We returned to the Jazz park for a Ranger led walk on music and cuisine. If America is the melting pot of the world then surely New Orleans is the epicenter. We knew about the Spanish, the French, the Acadians, the Caribbean influence but Canary Island Islenos … we had no idea. We were still able to catch half of the free jazz concert by the NPS Arrowhead band too. Starving we stopped for a muffuletta and jambalaya.

Bourbon Street

Bourbon Street

The French Market

The French Market

Shabby Chic

Shabby Chic

The Cornstalk Hotel

The Cornstalk Hotel

Mardi Gras Beads On Balcony

Mardi Gras Beads On Balcony









Landmark Eatery

OMG! The Food!

OMG! The Food!








New Orleans Architecture

New Orleans Architecture

French Quarter Scene

French Quarter Scene

All That Jazz!

All That Jazz!


New Orleans From The Ferry At Sunset

New Orleans From The Ferry At Sunset

Being in a vibrant city at holiday time is special. We loved the decorations, the lights at The Oaks and most of all the Cajun custom of guiding Papa Noel with bonfires along the levees. Steve has put together a video of these events and our visit to Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Enjoy!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone!





Where Next? #10

It’s hard to believe that our wonderful summer in northern Utah is coming to a close. So where will the four winds blow us next?

First we are headed over to Laramie, Wyoming to visit friends who are volunteering at the Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historical Site. Then south to the Silverton/Durango area in Colorado. A brief stop at Petrified Forest NP to say hi to staff where we volunteered in 2014-2015. Lastly we turn south to try our hand at being camp hosts for the Coronado National Forest at Parker Canyon Lake about an hour south of Tucson, AZ. After 6 weeks there we make an almost straight through drive to Charlotte, NC. We know now that full timing is what we want so no use paying to store things for 15+ years. We’ll pare down to just a few memory pieces.

Then a much overdue trip to see Steve’s family in Chambersburg, PA for Thanksgiving. From there we meander for a month via Alabama, Florida and Louisiana to our next volunteer job at Hot Springs National Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. We’ll be there from January-March 2017.

Our path this time looks a lot like a ricocheting bullet, doesn’t it? Thanks for traveling with us!

RV Travels From Flaming Gorge NRA, UT to Hot Springs NP, AR

RV Travels From Flaming Gorge NRA, UT to Hot Springs NP, AR

Where Next #9

Laguna Atascosa NWR, Flaming Gorge NRA, Texas, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado

From LANWR To Flaming Gorge NRA

It’s been a long time since we’ve posted on the blog. Guess we needed a vacation from having so much fun! Before we get too much further behind here are our travel plans when we leave Laguna Atascosa NWR and head for our summer volunteer position at Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area.

When we head out we will go north to the piney woods of northeastern Texas to see Big Thicket National Preserve, Cane River Creole National Historic Park in Louisiana and the area should be in bloom with azaleas and dogwoods. Now add local BBQ joints and fried catfish to the mix. We’ll be staying at Alley Creek Camp, a USACE campground on a lake with water and electric hookups. We bought fishing licenses but haven’t been able to use them. Maybe we will here.

Then we drop back south a bit where we’ll be 75 miles NW of Houston. Lots of small towns, Spring blossoms, the Texas Painted Church tour and hopefully getting to Galveston and sightseeing in Houston too. We’ll stay at Cagle Recreation Area, a USFS campground with full hookups.

On to the Hill Country where there is so much to do I know we won’t scatch the surface. We’ll be staying at Cranes Mill CG on Canyon Lake, a  USACE campground with electric and water hookups. We plan to visit Fredricksburg,  New Braunfels and San Antonio. There will be many drives through the famous blue bonnets and we’ll meet up with friends volunteering at the LBJ NHP.

On to west Texas via Amistead NRA (a reservoir on the Rio Grande), Guadalupe Mountains NP and El Paso. From there we turn north to New Mexico and hope to stay at Elephant Butte Lake SP. Using this as a base we will visit White Sands NP, Gila Cliff Dwellings, Salinas Pueblo Missions and Pecos NHP. If there is time we will stop to see fellow volunteers at Sevilleta NWR.

Hoping to make up for our missed visit last Fall, we will drive north to see friends in Los Alamos, NM. Other points of interest will be Santa Fe and possibly 5 more NPS sites. We haven’t camped that much in Colorado so we look forward to staying at Cheyenne Mountain SP near Colorado Springs. Our last leg will turn west toward Dinosaur NM and Fossil Butte NM. If we see all 17 planned NPS sites we will have seen 42% of all the parks.

We’ll put down roots (or as close as we come to it these days) for 3.5 months in NE Utah. Home is where you park it.

Where Next #4

It looks like we’re due for another Where Next post as we look ahead to the next six months. These locations are a general plan but as always subject to change for a variety of reasons. First we head over to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a photography workshop on nighttime photography. That’s an area totally new to us so we’re really excited. Then (brrrrr!) we go north to celebrate Thanksgiving and an early Christmas with family. Back we come to NC for a major repair on the trailer (see Attack of the Tree Branch in June 2013). With trailer and ourselves all refreshed and repaired we finally head south for some fun in the sun. Spring will take us to a new area of the country and many new adventures. Remember, if you want to view this full screen, click over the picture.

Google Earth, travel, RV, Florida

RV Travels November 2013 – April 2014

Catch the Holiday Spirit In Natchez, Mississippi Part 1 Of 2

At Tupelo, Mississippi we took the exit for the Natchez Trace heading southwest across the state toward the city of Natchez. By doing this segment we will have travelled the entire parkway except for the section between the Alabama border and Tupelo. The Natchez Trace is one of five parkways under the  National Park Service banner. Can you name the other four without heading to Google or Wikipedia? Hint: Only one is located in a western state. Just so you won’t loose sleep over this I’ll put the answer at the end of this entry.

One of our bucket list goals is to visit all of the 391 (and growing) National Park sites. So far we have been to 58.

Natchez Trace, Mississippi, Travel

Traveling The Natchez Trace In Mississippi

Natchez Trace, tornado, Mississippi

Tornado Damage Along The Natchez Trace From April 2011 Storm

By taking the Natchez Trace our trip added an hour but who cares when the route is scenic and relatively free of traffic. Some place north of Jackson I asked Steve if he thought this would be a good road for me to try driving while pulling the trailer. I’d pulled our former 26′ trailer with the Toyota Highlander but never did learn to back in to camping sites. This trailer at 35′ long and 13′ high intimidated me but I knew I had to learn to do everything in case there would be a time when Steve couldn’t drive. So we pulled off at one of the many historic sites and I adjusted the seat and mirrors while Steve cleared out my “nest”. The “nest” is where I keep all of our maps, brochures, iPads and computers plus anything else we want handy. Having short legs is an advantage! So off we went. I was surprised to find the trailer pulled so easily. After a few minutes I relaxed. I learned how to judge braking time and once I even worked up the courage to pass a slow moving car. I did tense a bit as we went under the first overpass and Steve making a crunching noise didn’t help. Now I’m game to start learning to back in the next time we come to an easy site.

We arrived at Natchez State Park and pulled right into our full service site with a very level pad. Based on the two parks we have used we are very pleased with the Mississippi State Parks. We always tour the campgrounds to note sites we might want to use in the future. We were in campground A (old campground) but even the sites without sewer would easily accommodate our trailer. Campground B (new campground) has water and electric hookups and is on the lake. Again all of the sites looked spacious. We met another full time couple, Morey and Janet, from South Dakota and invited them over that evening. They’ve just completed their first year on the road. They were off to Texas for the winter.

Our first stop was to the Natchez Visitor Center for information on tours and for Chari to load up on brochures. We learned that 12 homes are normally open to the public. Right now two of them were undergoing renovation and were closed. During the Spring and Fall Pilgrimages these and over 30 private homes are open. Here only a day and already we’re saying “when we come back!” Natchez is one of the oldest cities in North America predating New Orleans by a few years. At various times it has been under French, British, Spanish and American governments. During the first half of the 1800s Natchez was chosen as the place to live by wealthy planters and merchants because it sits high on a bluff (i.e. not prone to flooding) and the breezes from the west cooled and reduced insects. At one time during the antebellum period, Natchez was home to 48 out of the 100 millionaires in the USA. Many of the men were originally from NY, PA and OH but married into prominent families. Adams County where Natchez is located was one of two counties that did not vote for secession from the Union. They feared, correctly, that whichever side won they would suffer financially. Oddly Vicksburg was the other holdout. Therefore Natchez was occupied early in the Civil War and the general in charge did not loot and destroy property. These actions preserved the properties we enjoy today.

One  of the plantation homes, Auburn, that normally charges $12/person was holding a free open house on December 9. We didn’t hesitate to take them up on the offer. They were trying to raise money for renovation of the kitchen building. There were volunteers in period dress, music and refreshments. All of the homes we would visit were lovely but the stories that went with them were even more fascinating. Auburn was designed for the first Attorney General of Mississippi, Lyman Harding by architect Levi Weeks and was completed in 1812. Weeks had gained notoriety when he was the defendant in a 1800 murder trial in New York known as the Manhattan Well Murder that was strikingly similar to the O. J. Simpson trial. Weeks was accused of killing a woman he was dating and stuffing her body down a well. His wealthy brother hired a “dream team” of lawyers that included Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. Weeks was acquitted but public opinion ran against the decision and he was forced to leave New York. He relocated to Natchez. The feature Auburn is most noted for is the freestanding spiral staircase in the foyer. The staircase is made from cypress and the railing is black walnut. This was built by steaming the wood in spaghum moss and using bent wood techniques. Each of the 100+ spindles is hand carved with a round shape at the top and oval at the bottom. After Harding’s death in 1820, Auburn was purchased by a prominent physician, Stephen Duncan. It remained in the Duncan family until 1911. It was then donated to the city of Natchez. A city park was established on the grounds but the city wasn’t interested in the home. It fell into disrepair. All of the antiques were auctioned off. One of the docents said that several generations of Natchez children learned to roller skate inside this home! In 1972 a restoration project was begun by the Auburn Garden Club. Some of the original furnishings were located and donated back to the home. Today it is an excellent example of antebellum beauty. At the time I didn’t realize that there would be so few homes where we could take pictures. This home was beautifully decorated for the holidays as a special bonus.

Natchez, plantation, history

Approaching Auburn Plantation

Auburn, Natchez

Docents In Period Dress At Auburn

Christmas, plantation Auburn

Christmas At Auburn

Christmas, Natchez, plantation

More Christmas Decorations

Natchez, plantation, staircase

Spiral Staircase At Auburn From Second Floor

plantation, woodwork, Natchez

Artisans Created Intricate Woodwork

plantation, antiques, Natchez

Master Bedroom At Auburn

antiques, plantation, Mississippi

Antique Bureau

plantation, kitchen, Auburn

Kitchen Building As Seen From Second Floor Of Main House

The next day was cool and rainy so we wanted to do something inside. We chose the Natchez in Historical Photographs exhibit at the First Presbyterian Church. What a hidden gem this is! Rand McNally has even listed it as a Best of the Road selection for their 2011 Road Atlas. The exhibit houses over 500 photographs taken from the Civil War era through 1951 but most are from 1880-1920. It covers portraits from all levels of society and races, street scenes, men (and women) at work and play and river life. This is the collection of Thomas and Joan Gandy. Dr. Gandy found the glass plates and celluloid negatives that had been stored in boxes on an outside porch for decades. He realized their value and learned how to make prints from them. My favorite was of a street scene where a tailor is standing in the store’s doorway measuring a customer while outside the store is a sign offering information on the Klondike Gold Rush. No photos are allowed so you will just have to go see for yourself. What really impressed us though was a poem written by a local man called Youth. Both Steve and I felt this summed up our reason for doing what we’re doing. Steve has written a bit more about it.

There was, however, a poem, written by a Natchez resident, Samuel Ullman, entitled “YOUTH” hanging on the wall.  Mr. Ullman was a German Jew, born in 1840, and immigrated to the United States at age 11.  He died in 1924.  His poem struck a chord with both Chari and me, and we’d like to share it here.  A few of the words may seem a little dated today, as when he refers to what we call a radio with the word “wireless”.  We use “wireless” in today’s computer age with a similar but somewhat different meaning.  And the word “aerial” is a word I haven’t heard in years…  not since my own “YOUTH”.

Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind;

It is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees;

It is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions;

It is the freshness of the deep springs of life

Youth means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity of the appetite,

For adventure over the love of ease.

This often exists in a man of sixty more than a body of twenty.  

Nobody grows old merely by a number of years.  

We grow old by deserting our ideals.

 Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.  

Worry,  fear, self-distrust bows the heart and turns the spirit back to dust. 

Whether sixty or sixteen, there is in every human being’s heart the lure of wonder,

The unfailing child-like appetite of what’s next, and the joy of the game of living.


In the center of your heart and my heart there is a wireless station;

So long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, courage and power from men and from the Infinite,

So long are you young.

When the aerials are down, and your spirit is covered with snows of cynicism and the ice of pessimism,

Then you are grown old, even at twenty,

But as long as your aerials are up, to catch the waves of optimism, there is hope you may die young at eighty.

What more can you say?

The chapel housing the exhibit is also interesting. It was built in 1828 but now is used as the education complex. The pews have the doors on the aisle similar to those we’ve seen in New England.

Natchez, church

First Presbyterian Church Stratton Chapel in Natchez

Christmas, decorations, church

Front Door Decorated For Christmas

Our next stop was at the two sites composing the Natchez Historical Park, a NPS site. The first was the plantation of Melrose. The entrance is lined with draping live oak reminiscent of Gone With The Wind. This mansion home was built in the Greek Revival style over the course of eight years by John McMurran, a wealthy lawyer, state legislator and cotton grower. This was one of five plantations he would eventually own. After moving to Natchez from Pennsylvania in the 1820s he married into a wealthy local family. Cotton was in high demand in England and prices were often manipulated by the growers. Today we’d call it a monopoly. In a good year a the  Mc Murrans could expect the equivalent of 3 million dollars. The Mc Murrans moved in to the mansion in 1849. The home was said to be decorated with everything “good taste and full purse” provided. They sold the property in 1865 to George Malin Davis after the death from disease of their daughter and grandchildren. The Davis family kept Melrose in the family until 1976. The National Park Service took possession in 1990. Currently the exterior is undergoing renovation. By Spring 2013 the front will be repainted the original cream color with a faux marble appearance.  A portrait of John C. Calhoun hung in the parlor. Since we had visited his home this summer, it was interesting to see how these families knew one another. The interior is lovely but dark. The shutters are kept closed to prevent discoloration from sunlight. This made hand held photography difficult. If you look closely at the master bed you will see 2 hooks on the rear of the canopy. This is where the mosquito netting was hung. The posts at the foot would be raised at night and the netting secured there. Yellow fever and malaria were constant threats in this area. Two slaves would use a large rolling pin to smooth the feather bed each morning. If you wanted to nap during the day, the day bed at the foot of the bed was used so as not to mess up the feather bed. In the dining room the large paddle structure over the table is called a punkah. Originally from India, it was operated by a slave and the back and forth motion cooled you and kept away flies.

Melrose, Natchez

Melros Plantation

Melrose, Natchez

Melrose Showing Chimney Stacks

plantation, slave quarters

Melrose Laundry With Slave Quarters On Second Floor

Melrose, Natchez National Historical Park

Winter Garden At Melrose

Christmas, Melrose, Natchez

Christmas At Melrose

Melrose, Mississippi, antiques

Master Bedroom At Melrose

Melrose, plantation

Melrose Parlor

Melrose, Natchez, plantation

Melrose Dining Room With Punkha

The next plantation is called Longwood and “it is the one everybody comes to see” because this is the largest octagonal house in the USA. Melrose seemed large at 16,000+ square feet but Longwood dwarfs it at 30,000 square feet. When wealthy cotton planter Haller Nutt (original family name was Scandinavian Knutt) wanted to build a new home he wanted something different than the current Greek Revival style, something to impress. He certainly got his wish. The Oriental villa with its Moorish Byzantine dome looks as if it were transplanted from Turkey to Natchez. The open rotunda towers 6 floors to the dome which is crowned with a 24 foot finial. The home was designed by a Philadelphia architect who brought 24 skilled workers with him and work was begun in 1860. One million bricks were made on the property. When the Civil War erupted in April 1861 the workers fled back North. The basement level was completed with local workers and the family moved to Longwood. Mr. Nutt thought the war would be short-lived and that the home would be completed when it was over. This was not to be. He died in 1864 and the remaining 2 floors were never finished. By luck or fate, our guide this day was a descendant of the Nutt family. His grandmother was the last inhabitant of Longwood. His mother grew up playing in the unfinished upper floors and wandering the estate. The furniture originally ordered for Longwood was confiscated by the Union port blockade. Therefore the furniture at Longwood came from Mrs. Nutt’s family and has remained there for 150 years. It was  beautifully decorated for Christmas. Much to our dismay no photos were allowed in the finished area but were allowed in the unfinished portions. We were told that the Pilgrimage Garden Club who now owns Longwood had allowed Bob Vila to film their sister property at Stanton Hall. When the show aired some enterprising crook used that to scope out the security system. Since then no photography has been allowed.

Longwood, Natchez, plantation

Longwood Plantation

Longwood, architecture

Architectural Plan For Longwood

architecture, plantation

Looking Up The Unfinished Rotunda

Longwood, Natchez, Mississippi

Longwood Main Floor

Longwood, Natchez

View From Longwood Front Porch

While we were waiting for the tour of Longwood to start an interesting event happened. Our guide, Alex, mentioned that he lived with his mother and grandmother on a plantation which was the oldest continuously inhabited plantation in Natchez. A man in the tour was from Natchez and asked “Do you still have the Mastadon tooth?” Alex replied “Yes. We used to use it as a door stop until someone told us how rare and valuable it was. Now we have it under glass.” The first man asked “Have you ever heard the story of when it was found?” Alex hadn’t. Here’s the story. It was Alex great grandfather or uncle who found a mastodon skeleton on the property. It was dug out carefully. It was very brittle. Ten men carefully moved the skull onto a truck. His great grandfather told the workers to take it up to the barn and he’d be along shortly. When he got to the barn he saw nothing but a pile of dust and some teeth. The workers, not knowing what these old bones were had just thrown it off the truck. The tooth they have now is the only thing that survived.

We can see that this post is going to be quite long. It was a very busy week. Since we want to get this posted before the holidays we’ll split it up into two parts. Before we go, here’s the answer to the National Park Service trivia question: the 5 parkways are 1) Natchez Trace Parkway  2) Blue Ridge Parkway   3) Skyline Drive   4) George Washington Parkway   5) Rockefeller Parkway between Yellowstone and Grand Teton NP.