While we are here at our Florida park location following stay at home orders, we are going through a lot of memories from last years road trip. My business career introduced me to big town America and small town America was foreign to me. And let me tell you, small town USA is alive!
One of our first stops was Blakely, GA, which is nicknamed the Peanut Capital of the Universe. It is located near U.S. Route 27 and had a population of 5,068 as off the 2010 census. Most notable is that the ancestors of Whitney Houston were from Blakely.
Natchez, Mississippi, was an unexpected diamond on our trip heading west. It is located on the Mississippi River and has a population of more than 15,000. It was a prominent city in the antebellum years, and the homes show the wealth of the cotton farmers and the Mississippi River trade during this time.
The St. Mary Basilica is an architectural masterpiece among Catholic churches in the south and is the only Catholic Cathedral in Mississippi. We were blessed to be able to sit down and experience the wonderful Gothic Revival architecture and to pray for a healthy and safe road trip.
Natchez State Park was a wonderful campground selection and the sunsets were a precious combination of all shades of magenta.
One of our next stops was Zwolle, LA. You are correct, it is named after Zwolle in the Netherlands, since one of the financial partners in the Kansas City Southern Railroad was born in this dutch city and requested that this train stop will carry the name of his birthplace. The town is located in the Sabine Parish of Louisiana and had a population of 1,783 in the last census. The highlight of the year is the annual Tamala Festival celebrating the town's Spanish heritage.
Brenham was one off our first stops in Texas. It is about halfway between Houston and Austin and has a population of more than 15,000. It is also known for it's German heritage festival, which takes place in May. Numerous German immigrants settled here in the mid 19th century. It is a vibrant city and the home of the world's largest BBQ pit.
Brenham is renowned as the heart of the bluebonnet region. Driving along the most scenic wildflower roads we passed also historic sites and attractions, such as the place where the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed on March 2nd, 1836.
Gonzales is the county seat of Gonzales, TX and has a population of less than 10,000. It is one of the earliest Anglo-American settlements in Texas and went through some turbulent history. Mexican authorities once tried to get the one and only cannon stationed in Gonzales. However 18 men fought successfully against the 100 Mexican troops in the Battle of Gonzales. They were cheerleaded by their wives that sewed a flag with the words "Come and Take It". The county jail was the first stop on our tour through the town.
Gonzales is also a town with a stark contrast of well to do areas with beautifully renovated homes and areas that had better times.
Stopping at the discovery antique store, which is 4th generation owned, was a stepping back in time experience. BTW, we have made another discovery while in Gonzales: Jerry Hall, Mick Jagger's long time companion and wife, was born and grew up in Gonzales.
Small Town USA is alive, sometimes struggling, people are proud to live here, and they are trying the best to keep Small Town USA going. In the current times more than ever. Having a better perceptive of Small Town America I better understand the song:
Give me a Saturday night with my baby by my side
A little Hank Jr. and a six pack of lights
Old dirt road and I'll just be fine
Give me a Sunday morning that is full with grace
A simple life and I'll be okay
Here in small town U-S-A.
One of our last hikes at Big Bend National Park was Indian Head. The trailhead is outside the park and can be reached via a dirt road from Study Butte. It is not very well traveled and the only other hikers we did see were our friends Karen and Hal, who invited us to join for this excursion.
The trail opens a window to some petroglyphs, which are more than 8,000 years old. You could spend hours on trying to decipher these ancient rock paintings.
The geological formations are out of this world and made us better understand the Apache legend that after the Great Spirit was done with the creation of the universe, he tossed a large pile of left over boulders and debris on the Big Bend.
Last but not least the trail offers a window to the wonderful skies over Big Bend, with rich blues and contrasting clouds.
Big Bend, thank you for such a great farewell hike!
While we traveled from Texas to Arkansas, we crossed Oklahoma and spent some time at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is an island where the natural grasslands escaped destruction since the rocks underfoot were stronger than plows.
The refuge provides habitat for American Bison and Texas Longhorn cattle.
One unexpected find was the Holy City of the Wichitas. Nestled into the rugged terrain of the Wichita Mountains. It is a recreation of the very streets that Jesus Christ walked and I would like to invite you to walk with me the streets of Oklahoma's Jerusalem.
While we are following our "stay at home" order, we are looking back to our travels last year and all the wonderful people we have met. All the stories would fill a book and all the images would lead to a lengthy slideshow that might exceed your attention span. So, let's do the short version:
We feel blessed for:
During our time at Chisos Basin, we've met two young hikers, Katelyn and Heather. They stayed for a few days and every evening we talked about their hikes and experiences. The last evening we asked them over for dinner and talked long about nature, goals, values, health, and faith. A wonderful evening under a star studded nightly sky. The next morning Katelyn and Heather stopped by with a thank you present, the above drawing from their hike to Emory Peak and a wonderful poem:
I was recently not very active on our travel blog and I am hesitant to make this post. Our family, Peggy, Merlot and I, are self-quarantined on this beautiful place called Fort Clinch State Park as resident volunteers. We are surrounded by tranquility, quietness, and wonderful nature. We almost feel guilty that we were put at this place while others suffer or are self-quarantined in much less desirable places. So, we decided to continue posting to open virtual windows.
Virtual windows to nature:
Virtual windows to wildlife:
Virtual windows to points of interests:
I am certain that on the other side of this we will be able to open the windows and most of all open the doors which prevent us currently to see places and meet people.
I also know for sure that on the other side of this our Nation will be stronger and united.
You were wondering why we have not posted recently on our blog and I apologize for being lazy while we are on Amalia Island, especially since this island has so much to offer.
The "bookends" during our stay are the sunrises and the sunsets:
Between these "bookends" we enjoy doing our volunteer duties, that reach from cleaning up the beach campground to getting the canons in shape and to help with preparing garrison stew for special events:
To fix up the park benches we used the entire arsenal of power tools from sander to grinder to cutter and the benches look like new:
Being here at Fort Clinch State Park also means to make new friends and to reconnect with "old" friends:
We were so happy to get a bouquet of flowers from Louise to thank us for our help:
Being here also means to reconnect with friends that are so dear to our hearts:
Being out here is to connect with nature and to fully understand what it means "that you can shake the sand from your shoes but not from your soul".
Just recently, we made an afternoon trip to the nearby Kingsley Plantation.
NPS gives a good summary of this national landmark:
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many people came to Florida. Some, like Zephaniah Kingsley, sought to make their fortunes by obtaining land and establishing plantations. Others were forced to Florida to work on those plantations, their labor providing wealth to the people who owned them. Some of the enslaved would later become free landowners, struggling to keep their footing in dangerous times of shifting alliances and politics. All of these people played a part in the history of Kingsley Plantation.
The place is like an enormous story teller and even the trees make a contribution.
The tabby buildings were the home of enslaved men, women and children and they were the backdrop of their life. The buildings were erected by the enslaved workers who were skilled carpenters, tabby makers, brick layers, and knew how to use the locally available material such as oyster shells. There are holes in the walls of the slave cabins because wooden spreader pins were used to hold the frame parallel during construction. It would be great if the walls could tell about family life in this slave community.
Amelia Island has a long pirates tradition. Pirates had large treasure chests and so does the island that we call home until the end of March.
Treasures such as walking along Egans Creek Greenway:
Treasures such as watching the re-enacters at Fort Clinch taking us back 170 years:
And each beach walk is a treasure by itself:
There are so many quotes about "home", but I very much like this one from Jane Austin: "There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort".
It is hard to believe that it is already one month since we have started our winter volunteer assignment at Fort Clinch State Park.
What a wonderful time to reconnect with all our friends and to settle in at the ocean campground.
We enjoyed walking the familiar trails around Willow Pond:
Watching the local wildlife, gave us a magnificent view of this soaring Osprey:
Fort Clinch, the pinnacle feature of the park, presents us always with new lines, corners, light settings and compositions that make it to a paradise for photographers:
With time flying by so fast, I have to agree with Dr. Seuss: "How did it get so late so soon? It's night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon."
We just finished our first full year living in the motorhome and returned to our home base Fort Clinch State Park. It is so wonderful to reconnect with friends after 8 months on the road. All are interested in our journey and the question "what was the highlight of your travels" became a standard. We had so many interesting and overwhelming experiences that we cannot give an answer. To create a somewhat structured feedback, I have to brake it down in three areas and let the images speak about Places, People, and Partnership. Let's start with places.
Alexandra Stoddard once said: "When you leave a beautiful place, you carry it with you wherever you go". We were blessed to experience Small Town America and the Texas backcountry. We were overwhelmed by the beauty of Big Bend National Park, amazed by the unknown Ozark Mountains, and blown away by the tasks introduced to us at the Norfolk National Fish Hatchery.
Meeting wonderful people from all walks of life is one of the treasures of the RV life we are living and Anna Sewell's quote resonates with me: "It is good people who make good places". See for yourself.
Cate Blanchett was once asked if marriage is a risk, and here is what she answered: "I think it is a great and glorious risk, as long as you embark the adventure in the same spirit." Our journey was a risk but the reward of having even a closer partnership than when we went out is such a great reward. We will keep the same spirit and look forward to the years on the road to come.
I always liked the song "what a wonderful world". We feel blessed for the journey that we were able to experience this year and invite you to join us over the next years traveling through this wonderful world:
I see trees of green
Red roses too
I see them bloom
for me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world
I see skies of blue
And clouds of white
The bright blessed day
The dark sacred night
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world
The colors of the rainbow
So pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces
Of people going by
I see friends shaking hands
Saying "How do you do?"
They're really saying
"I love You"
I hear babies cry
I watch them grow
They'll learn much more
Than I'll ever know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world
Yes, I think to myself
What a wonderful world.