Thursday, May 29, 2014

In Oklahoma, I camped in the Wichita Wildlife Refuge.  

They have a great campground, Camp Doris, or Doris Campground, or some such.  It might be the only option.  Backcountry camping is allowed with a permit but the van was not going backcountry so neither was I, this time.  

But the Camp Doris had all you could want, except maybe a better map.  I found a decent spot when I arrived, and paid my $10 per night for two nights.  But on the second day, I explored and found there were campsites much more to my liking than the one I ended up in.  Maybe the key is to not arrive tired at the end of a long day of driving.
Believe it or not, this picture was taken in Oklahoma.

I toured around the rest of the refuge on a motorcycle.  Something you might notice, if you were to drive as I did, is the solid looking, six-foot high fence.  It might be reasonable to think this is to separate the bison and feral texas long horn cattle from the tourists.  This illusion will be maintained right up to the time you see the bison on the wrong side of the fence.  Seems as though the bison don’t really care about some stupid fence.

Besides the bison, there was a lot of other wildlife.  While I sat at the picnic table at my campsite, two turkeys marched by.  A rabbit made an appearance, and several small birds came by to see what kind of snacks I was handing out (none).  Possibly the coolest thing was the coyotes.  I’ve been listening to them for years, but this was the first time I heard them howling and hunting during the day.  Later they chased something right through my campsite, though I couldn’t see them, it was about midnight.  I could hear them running through the weeds and leaves, I thought I could see movement, but the sound was intense.  

On to Texas, where I plan to spend the bare minimum amount of time.  

I’ve been to Texas too many times, starting back in 1985 with a year of college.  There was that assignment to the Training Team in the 90s, when I visited every Coast Guard unit from Brownsville to Port Arthur.  Then there was several trips across and back for Christmas vacations from New Orleans to Phoenix.  And the time spent during this retirement-roadtrip.  And the trips across with the racing team, or at least, driving the race-team van and trailer.  Enough Texas already.  There are too many places I haven’t been yet.
Cool sign.  Business was long gone.

Cool door.

New Mexico. 

I was camping in the James Canyon Campground in the Lincoln National forest.  Not a great campsite, far too close for the road for my taste, but I've learned, sometimes you take the bad spot so you have a spot. 

A car pulled in to the next campsite (there were only 3 to pick from) and shortly I heard a dog bark.  Then the owners calling it; "Ono, come back!"  A small, short haired dog came running over to me.   I like dogs, and 98% of the time, they like me.   As I sat at a picnic table reading a book, this one was displaying obvious friendly curiosity. 

But Ono was not responding at all to the people who delivered him to the playground.  He was oblivious as they called him.  He ran around me several times before an owner showed up, all apologies, chasing the dog around the table several times, then picking him up and walking away, still apologizing.  I asked if he wanted some string.  "We have a leash in the car!"

Within a minute, Ono was back.  The owners called repeatedly, but Ono disregarded.  I shuffled my feet; Ono took off in a large semi-circle ending back at my table, obviously wanting to play.  He seemed like a fun dog, and if they had abandoned him, I would have gladly taken him in.  

At least, that is what I thought until I heard the car start up.  "Ono, we're leaving!"  Ono didn't care.  I was a little concerned.  The car edged out the driveway.  Ono didn't care, he knew they were bluffing.  I wasn't so sure.

Of course they were bluffing.  Parking brake on, the driver came over, apologized 5 more times, chased Ono around the table 3 more times, Ono ran over to the car and got in.
Solar observatory.

Early observatory.
Inside the solar observatory.  Science was happening here.

Leaving Cloudcroft, New Mexico.

I stopped at a store advertising, among other things, live rattlesnakes for sale.  Some of them looked good but I took a pass (insert joke about ex-wife here).

Balloons were 50 cents.  The hard part is getting the rattle snake to blow them up.

In Alamogordo, New Mexico.

In a cigar shop: I spent a few minutes in the walk-in humidor and when I came out, I noticed a Glock pistol sitting on the counter across from the door.  

All my training in the Coast Guard screamed for me to do something.  In my mind, I pick it up, dropped the magazine, racked the slide to eject the round from the chamber, locked the slide to the rear and put it back on the counter.  

In real life, I left it were it sat.  I walked to the counter with two cigars I’d picked out, suggested the to guy behind the register that he shouldn’t leave his gun laying around.  He looked over my shoulder, saw the gun, and relayed my suggestion to his wife.  She defended herself well, saying she put it on the counter so her (infant) son couldn’t reach it.  

How do I know if a cigar store is worth returning to?  My gut tells me that one is not.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


“Why do you live like this?”
“I think ninety-nine of us grow up to love the campfire, and one grows up to hate it.  Ninety-nine of us grow up to fear the howling wolf, and one grows up to envy it.  And I’m that guy.”
Jack Reacher, from Never Go Back, by Lee Childs

Arkansas was a bit of a let down.  Nothing the state did or didn’t do, it was a problem of weather.  I stayed most of a week, camping in the Ouachita National Forest.  I only saw the sun one day, briefly.  It rained heavily at least one day, and lightly most of the rest.  I had no cellular coverage while there so there was no checking the weather.  

I’d get up in the morning, survey the clouds, check the barometer, get a little optimistic, head out on the motorcycle, and come back an hour later soaking wet.  When I made it to town, a check of the weather showed no change in the 7-day forecast.  I could have and wanted to stay there longer than I did.  But the weather…  eventually I had to call it off.

This guy landed on me several times but only posed for pictures once.
Which is why I’m now in Oklahoma, sitting in a nice but cheap hotel, watching out the window at the dark clouds looming over low overhead.  This is not the part of the country to be in during the spring.

Tomorrow, I’ll head west again, over the next few days, leapfrogging my way to New Mexico where I hope the springtime weather is mostly hot and dry.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Mississippi and Louisiana


         I had planned on spending a couple of days in Tupelo, a town I’ve been to but never really got to know.  When I got there, the weather warnings were loud and frequent.  Heading south seemed like a good idea.  The town of West Point came up, but the weather radar I was looking at made me think I should go farther south.

          I ended up in Starkville.  This has been one of my favorite towns for over ten years and it didn’t let me down this time either.  Turns out Starkville has a reputation for getting a pass on the worst weather (it’s true, look it up!).  After a bit of heavy rain (while Tupelo and West Point were getting hammered by severe storms and tornados), I ended up at a local bar talking with a Paleontologist.  Great guy, we chatted about a wide variety of interesting things, staying till the bar closed.  

It was a great evening, and did much to offset a night in what, I am confident in saying, was the worst hotel room I’ve ever stated in.  My budget restricts me to the “cheaper” places, and some of them have been pretty sketchy.  This place looked okay from the outside but inside it was the worst.  I had to splurge the following night just to balance it out.  The pictures tell the story.
Bathroom light fixture.

Shower curtain held up by a spare ring.
Bathroom graffiti. 

Just turn the dials at random.  Didn't seem to make a difference anyway.


Here’s a short tutorial on how to properly eat crawfish. 

Step 1:Become friends with a Cajun.  If he identifies himself as a Coonass, that’s cool too.

Step 2:  Warm up the day before with some amazing ribs.
Step 3:  You’ll need some crawfish, or mudbugs, or the latin name, Procambarus clarkii, which no Cajun has ever said out loud.

               Step 3.14159: Crawfish Pies are an excellent breakfast on the day you’re going to eat mudbugs. 

        Step 4-12:  Carefully rinse the bugs off, add some lemons, celery, onions, and elevantyseven herbs and spices.  Good supervision is essential.  

Angus keeps an eye on the flame.

Remember, don’t eat the dead ones.  And the mushrooms will be very spicy.  The corn will taste like corn.  You know you’ve done good when you need a tractor to haul away the remains.   Enjoy!  I certainly did!
I don't like mushrooms, but I eat them in case I've changed my mind.

Thanks J & B!! It was great to see you both again!