Sometime in the middle of November, the weather took a turn for the better - because 80-some degrees anytime after the end of September is inappropriate - and everything started to look and feel like fall in our little corner of the southern states. Tennessee is a beautiful place to freeze your fingers and toes while you watch the leaves change and flutter to the ground; I'm glad we're here to experience it :)
My poor husband is still under the weather. (We have tested just under 1000 people over the last ten days, a good portion of whom have been hacking and coughing, sniffling and sneezing, all over our trailer. It is difficult to withstand this kind of assault to the immune system, even with a gallon-sized jug of hand sanitizer and dozens of containers of Lysol wipes.) Anyway, this will be another quiet weekend spent at 'home.' I am going to spend part of today scouring Pinterest for Thanksgiving recipes using the Instant Pot as well as starting to figure out this year's Christmas card. And I'm going to drink iced pumpkin spice coffee while I do it, too.
Big Hill Pond State Park is in Pocohontas, TN and we took ourselves there one afternoon about three weeks ago. There are lots of riding trails, both for horses and mountain bikes, but we had neither, so we just used our feet :)
There is a mile-long boardwalk winding through part of the park that is (inappropriately, we think) called Dismal Swamp...
We had our very first job in our very own trailer at the end of September in Memphis, and have been traveling around the western part of the state ever since, which means we've been Tennesseans for just under a month. And...we like it here! Our schedule says we'll be keep meandering between Memphis and Nashville at least through the end of November, and we're glad for more time to explore.
Yesterday we'd planned to visit Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum, but we both seem to be fighting off the creeping crud, so decided to lie low instead. We're keeping quiet again today, so I will use the time to plunk myself down with vitamin C and share some pictures.
I mentioned a few posts ago that it's been a neat experience to see fields and fields of new-to-us things growing everywhere, and in Tennessee that means cotton. This might be our favorite field yet :)
We have a friend who grew up in Memphis and told us that picking cotton by hand is tricky business. Now we've seen for ourselves what she meant; yikes!
The Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge is an area of swampy bottomland covering thousands of acres, and we spent an early morning there while staying in Brownsville. We were so taken with the perfect reflections on the water; I told Jan Michael it made up for the absence of alligators :)
We enjoyed it so much that later in the evening we went back to a different area of the refuge for more peace & quiet and oohing & ahhing.
The West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center was across the parking lot from our motel - we could see it from our window, even - and somehow we didn't figure this out until the afternoon before we were set to leave Brownsville. It was closed for the day by the time we made our way over, so all we managed was a quick look at the outside of Tina Turner's old elementary school building, which now houses a collection of her memorabilia. The center also houses museums about the Hatchie River, cotton production and the music of west Tennessee; we'd like to visit all of it if we're ever in the area again. (Bonus: it's free!)
First of all, on this, the first day of October, I would like to express my delight in the fact that I wore a sweatshirt today. Fall comes to the south, y'all!
But back to September, when we spent a day in Louisiana and then a few more in Mississippi with Derek and Sara while we worked at a shipbuilding company. (I've not really mentioned the actual work portion of this new gig of ours, but there is work, yes indeed.)
Derek and Sara have recently traded hotel living for RV dwelling, and as such, they are able to stay in some really incredible state parks. In Louisiana this means being surrounded by swamps and alligators.
We were tooling around on Derek and Sara's bikes when we rounded the bend to see Derek standing on a bank, motioning for us to pipe down because...
Meeting an alligator in the wild is not something that happens in the PNW, and watching him sit in the sun was my favorite experience yet. BUT THEN. Jan Michael and Derek had wandered across the road and I turned back around to admire him one more time when he stood up, slipped into the water, AND SWAM STRAIGHT AT THE BANK. I nearly collapsed in excitement, and it was no easy feat to scream silently in order to alert my husband and brother as to what was happening, but I managed it. And then the three of us stood together while he floated three feet away. Amazing.
And then in Pascagoula, MS there is a road (Beach Blvd) that runs right along the water, with beautiful houses. I know very little about architectural style, but these seem like a (fun!) mix between southern plantation, farm and beach house.
While we were in MS, Derek and Sara stayed at a campground in the Gulf Islands National Seashore and this was the view not long before the sun said goodnight. I am certain there were gators in this water, but they must have been too shy to come say hello :)
One of the fun things about traveling around as mobile hearing technicians is that Derek and Sara are doing the same thing, and at the beginning of the month we were able to reunite with them in Corpus Christi. We'd not seen their faces since 2014 (outrageous and unacceptable), so we were long past due for time together.
Jan Michael and I had not been to the Gulf Coast before, and wading in the water was just like being in the bath. I was expecting Pacific Ocean temperatures, but no :)
While Sara and I were splashing around, the husbands were chasing after the thousands of tiny crabs that were scuttling around everywhere. Every time I look at this picture, I'm impressed that Jan Michael was quick enough to snap this little guy while he was standing still:
Derek and Sara spent two nights at a very fancy-pants RV park (excuse me, a resort), and the only thing separating them from the beach were houses like this:
And we stayed in a hotel right on the bay; we spent one evening roaming around the waterfront together.
Jan Michael and I were also able to tour the USS Lexington, a World War II air craft carrier anchored in the bay. She has the longest active service life of any another Essex-class ship, and after her decommission in 1991, was donated for use as a museum. There are five decks altogether (the flight, foc'sle, gallery, lower and hangar), with really interesting exhibits on each one. And after spending a few hours there, we decided that sailors have buns of steel - up and down, down and up all of those ship ladders dozens of times each day ;)
Before we arrived at the office in Illinois, we wondered about where we'd be sent for training, laughing to each other that it would probably be Texas. And wouldn't you know it :)
We spent about 2 1/2 weeks in Waco, Victoria and Kingsville, and in between driving from place to place and our on-the-job training, we were able to do a little bit of exploring.
There are some beautifully restored historic courthouses throughout Texas, and Victoria has one of them, originally built in 1892. Right across the street is a lovely park with a white gazebo and trees wrapped in twinkly lights, which was a fun surprise.
Victoria also has Riverside Park, which is huge and full of all kinds of things: a golf course, the Texas Zoo, a rose garden, a paddling trail (the Guadalupe River runs through the park) and on and on. We didn't have as much time as we would have liked, but were able to spend part of a morning at the duck pond. It was warm and pleasantly drizzly, and the colors and light were beautiful. I told Jan Michael, though, that it was a good thing we didn't see the sign announcing aggressive geese and snakes until after we'd climbed back in the car :)
While I have a minute, I want to share two of my favorite things from our road trip to Illinois at the beginning of August. We've done so much traveling since we left WA; I feel like these pictures were taken eons ago, but really it's been less than a month. Time flies!
In South Dakota there were fields and fields of sunflowers along I-90. I've seen them growing in gardens of course, but never millions stretching out to the horizon. It reminded me of the blankets of color we see every year at the tulip festival in Skagit County.
And then in Illinois, there were cornfields here, there and everywhere..really, everywhere. We were given the strong impression that nobody who's lived in Illinois for any length of time is impressed by this, but for two Pacific Northwest kids, it was a fun thing to see.
I think in general South Dakota takes a back seat to places like California or New York on the list of really-cool-states-everyone-should-visit, but that is big, unfortunate mistake. We traveled from one side to the other, and on I-90 alone there were so many things we would have loved see had we planned for a longer road trip.
Of the places that did make the list, some were interesting and educational, and some were silly and fun; there's a pretty good snapshot of the United States out in old South Dakota :)
This is Deadwood, and on the very enthusiastic recommendation of one of our younger brothers, we intended to stop and wander around awhile. However, the Sturgis Bike Rally was going on, and the wall-to-wall people plus motorcycles, as well as the bikini bike washes, caused one of us to make an executive decision which involved driving in one side of town and immediately out the other. Deadwood, we will explore you another time, but not in August :)
Mount Rushmore is majestic - it looks just like the pictures! ;) - and it was fascinating to read about the skill and ingenuity that went into its construction. One fun bit of trivia is that the mountain goats living at the monument aren't native to South Dakota; in 1923, Canada gave six Rocky Mountain goats to Custer State Park, but they made a break for it, traveled north to Mount Rushmore, and decided to stay. They were goats with refined taste in terms of accommodations :)
We spent an hour or two at Bear Country USA where our car was our cage :)
We pretended to be dwarves from The Hobbit and traveled down, down, down into Rushmore Cave, 15 stories below the surface. We saw limestone stalagmites and stalactites and had sore behinds the next day because traveling down also meant climbing back up, all 400-ish steps.
Our tour guide mentioned that different images can be found in the rock, similar to when someone goes cloud gazing. Can you find the face of the pig? :)
The Crazy Horse Memorial and the Indian Museum of North America gave us more sobering history to think and talk about. Work on the carving began in 1948 and is not anywhere close to completion; state or federal funding isn't accepted, so progress is very slow.
This is a 1/34 scale model of the monument; once finished, it will be 641 feet long and 563 feet high.
I put Wall Drug on the must-see list the moment we knew we would be driving through South Dakota, but even if I hadn't, it would have been difficult to ignore as we started seeing advertisements approximately 200 miles before arriving. My thunder was stolen a little bit by the combination of a large crowd (the long-reaching arm of Sturgis, maybe) and the fact that we had just started a self-imposed ban on junk so their famous donuts were off-limits. Still, I'm glad to have seen it with my own eyes.
And then there was the Corn Palace. The inside smells of caramel corn and is used for all kinds of things, like basketball tournaments and proms and industrial exhibits. The outside is decorated with...corn (13 colors of it, as well as other grains and grasses.) Each year -since 1892! - a theme has been chosen, and a new mural is designed to fit the theme. This year we have 'Rock of Ages'; an enormous Willie and Elvis fashioned out of cobs and husks is a perfect slice of Americana, don't you think? :)