If I can’t bring you to my house, I’ll bring my house to you
Saturday, December 5 and Sunday, December 6, 2015-Biloxi, Mississippi: In the past, we have traveled a more southerly route and landed on the Florida panhandle. From there, after a few days down time, we meander westerly on US-90 enjoying many different Alabama and Mississippi Gulf Coast towns. This year we made tracks for Biloxi, Mississippi which lies on the, once again pristine, Gulf of Mexico shoreline.
Biloxi, a town of 44,400 folks, had once been the capital of French Louisiana. Then in 1720 fears of exposure to tides and storms caused the bureaucrats to move the capital west to the supposedly safer City of New Orleans.
Mississippi was also ruled by the British and then Spain before becoming a territory of the United States where it was admitted to the union in 1817.
My first visit to Biloxi was courtesy of the US Navy in 1968 when the town was dominated by the shrimp and oyster fleet. Today gambling in large casinos make up a major portion of the economy.
However, before the legalization of gaming in 1990, gambling could be enjoyed in the back water Juke Joints that peppered the Southern Mississippi bayous. Back in 1968, this was surreal experience to a young Southern California sailor……I’m sure many of those joints still exist!
The law that authorized gambling also required structures devoted to actual gaming be built on “marine vessels”. This was in a nod to riverboat gambling and in deference to the very politically powerful religious constituency. With these stipulations, casinos along the Gulf Coast were built on large floating barges.
Then came Katrina…..and every one of the floating casinos broke free of their moorings and traveled inland to wreak havoc on the small town of Biloxi.
Yep…..that huge structure was, just a few days prior, floating in the Gulf! One smaller barge based casino actually travelled several hundred yards inland and deposited itself smack dab on top of a small motel…..yikes! The law was quickly amended and today casinos can be built on dry land and there are presently nine thriving casinos in the town of Biloxi.
The hurricane also destroyed 90 percent of the homes and business that had stretched along US-90, a number of buildings have not been replaced leaving empty lots with only foundations and driveways as evidence. There is a federal effort to buy up these now vacant lots along with other less damaged parcels in order to establish a Hurricane Protection Zone. Time will tell if that initiative gains any traction.
Another artifact to Hurricane Katrina was the many Oak and Cypress trees that lined US-90 but succumbed to the ravages of wind and water. Rather than removing the dead trunks, an artist by the name of Marlin Miller meticulously sculpted them into marine themed memorials.
Talk about finding the silver lining in a in some dark scary clouds! There are 50 of these sculptures scattered along the coast from Alabama to Louisiana. At the visitors center there are maps of the locations and they have become a major roadside attraction. Folks actually make a pilgrimage to spot and photograph all fifty…..a great road trip and a way to enjoy the beautiful Gulf Coast!
Keesler Air Force Base, in addition to hosting a very nice campground, is the home of the 81st Training Wing and also the temporary home of a friend from back home. Ken is the son of square dance friends Dave and Susie and he is currently stationed at Keesler for training. We were delighted that Ken could spare some time for us.
Ken enlisted in the Air National Guard interrupting a successful career with the Maine Department of Corrections. A bit older than many Air Force trainees, Ken’s leadership potential was quickly realized when he was assigned the position of Senior Airman.
We had a thoroughly enjoyable day visiting with Ken, driving down coastal US-90 and dining at a local hotspot The Half Shell…..
…..where we enjoyed great conversation, fantastic seafood, and a few local barley-pops!
Thanks Ken, for spending the day with us and thank you for your service to our country!
Camping on Keesler Air Force Base allowed us the opportunity to explore this very nice military facility. In addition to visiting the Base Exchange and commissary to re-provision we took advantage of the excellent walking path that circles most of the base.
One does have to be cautious when venturing anywhere near a body of water, however.
Our walk took us by the base picnic grounds and small boat marina.
Where we stopped to rest and enjoy the beauty and serenity of the grounds.
What a pleasant park with old stately Southern Live Oaks draped with Spanish Moss.
At the marina, I noticed there were a few boats in the water but many had been pulled for the winter.
A real shame because it was a beautiful boating day…..light winds and temperatures in the low 70’s. Even the fishing pier was vacant on this sunny weekend day!
Back in the camper, we made preparations for a morning departure. This has been a great stay in Biloxi and a very nice visit with a pleasant young man!
Monday, December 7, 2015: Departed Keesler Air Force Campground around 1000 hours under sunny skies with a temperature of 73 degrees. Decided to forgo the quicker I-10 and head west on the parallel US-90…..a much more peaceful and picturesque route.
The state highway mostly follows the Gulf Coast of the United States and offers many places to pull a rig over and enjoy the scenic beauty of the white sand beaches.
Kit and I enjoyed walking along the shore which this time of year is absent the throngs of folks that populate the area during the height of summer.
Back on the road, we rolled through the multiple small towns that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Many places had not been rebuilt and here too vacant land with crumbling foundations remained where once stood majestic southern beach cottages. I find it odd that most of the news focus during this difficult time was centered on New Orleans when many other Gulf Coast towns were just as devastated.
We intersected I-10 just west of Bay Saint Louis and at 1245 drove across The Pearl River into Louisiana. After a quick stop for lunch, it was onward toward Covington, Louisiana and the home of our dear friends Johnny and Eileen. Arriving at around 1400 we were offered our first opportunity this trip to Dooryard Surf!
Eileen fixed us an incredible meal of Potato Soup and a fresh salad. As a special treat, two of their three granddaughters, Gracen and Shelby, the twins, were able to join us! Katelyn, at age 20, was busy at work.
After dinner, we sat around and reminisced about our shared Navy experiences as young married couples in Key West, Florida. Following a great visit that lasted into the evening, Kit and I retired to the camper for the night.
Tuesday, December 8, 2015-Covington, Louisiana: Up to sunny skies and temperatures rising into the 60’s. After breakfast it was off to explore the area. Johnny wasn’t feeling well so elected to stay home and rest while Kit, Eileen, and I headed to H. J. Smith and Son’s General Store.
Like many rural country stores back home in Maine, H. J. Smiths has everything and anything…..in other words, if they don’t have it, you don’t need it!
One room is devoted to old merchandise haphazardly arranged in what the proprietor calls a museum.
Need an adult human skeleton?
Yep….they have one! Apparently this old fellow was used many years ago in a secret ceremony by the Knights of Pythias.
How about an early cast iron coffin?
Yep…..that too! These were used in the early 1900’s during the Yellow Fever epidemic. If a family member had succumbed to the disease and was to be honored with a wake, it was prudent to have a sealed cast iron casket made to protect the mourners. They could pay their respects by peeking into the glass porthole centered over the deceased’s face. This particular coffin was discovered during a local school expansion and was unceremoniously exhumed by way of a backhoe. It had rusted through on the bottom so what remained of the remains was given a proper Christian burial in the town cemetery.
After an interesting, and a bit unsettling, shopping experience at H. J. Smith’s it was time for some refreshment, so off we went to the local brewery in Abita Springs.
Abita Brewing Company built their brewery right on top of the pure and natural artesian spring that the area is known for. As a result, this distance from source to the brewing tanks is just a few feet resulting in a very high quality beer.
We intended to enjoy a tour of the brewery’s production facility but there weren’t any being given that day…..however, a nice young woman by the name of Rachel offered to give us a private tour!
Rachel, a local and recent graduate from LSU with a degree in Petroleum Engineering, gave a very thorough and entertaining tour of Abita’s inner workings. I have taken a number of brewery tours over the years, from large corporate production facilities to tiny brewpub operations and I’ve come to realize the smaller, the better! There is nothing like seeing a small independently operated brewery and listening to the enthusiasm of the staff.
Following the tour, Rachel invited us to sample the wares at the onsite taproom.
We choose different products to get a through sampling of Abita Brewing’s offerings. My favorite was the one on the far right in the photo below.
It was a stout featuring oysters, known as Bad Mother Shucker!
The beer was smooth, flavorful with a hint of salt and possessed one of the more descriptive and unique names in a field of unusually named beers that appear in the world of microbrewery. I picked up a few bottles, however since Abita uses no preservatives they have to be consumed within two weeks…..should not be a problem!
Next, we headed to Pontchartrain Po-Boys for a late lunch.
An absolute favorite of mine for their fried oysters, can you tell why?
We have enjoyed Pontchartrain Po-Boys on just about every trip through this part of Louisiana, and it has become a favorite of folks back home as well…..right, Brian?
Returning to the house, we presented Johnny with a takeout order of Shrimp Gumbo and found him feeling much better. The four of us spent the rest of the evening once again chatting about the good old days before trundling off to our camper for the evening.
Wednesday, December 9, 2015: Up and on the road early with a quick stop at the North Shore outlet of Café’ Du Monde. We ordered two travel mugs of their famous Chicory Coffee and a half dozen of their more famous beignets!
It was 0745 as Kit and I traveled along I-12 heading west…..the weather is sunny with temperatures in the mid 60’s. About an hour later we merge onto I-10 and soon crossed the Mississippi River at Port Allen, Louisiana. Soon we were motoring over the Atchafalaya Swamp on an elevated roadway.
I reported out on this natural area in one of last year’s Excellent Adventure posting, but suffice it to say this is an incredible Louisiana bayou region full of Cajon legend and lore! We stopped at the visitor’s center to stretch our legs, view the informative displays about the area, and enjoy a beignet break.
Back on I-10, Kit spotted our first oil well at mile marker 51, and a few miles later encountered the Westlake Refinery in Lake Charles, Louisiana. A few minutes after that found us crossing the Sabine River into the state of Texas.
During various other Excellent Adventure trips, we have explored a lot of southern Louisiana and the Texas Gulf Coast. However one area we have not been visited in over 40 years was Galveston Island…..so that became our next destination!
Piecing together a variety of US and state highways we headed south of Houston toward the eastern entrance to the island. On the GPS the route appeared to cross Galveston Bay by way of a bridge, however as we got closer it was obvious that a ferry ride was in order!
Soon we were crossing a massive bridge in the appropriately named town of Bridge City.
The view from the summit was something else……unfortunately I couldn’t get Kit to open her eyes long enough to snap a few pictures so you’ll just have to take my word for it.
As we approached the ferry terminal the highway closely paralleled the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
So close that there were numerous signs warning of potential water in the roadway.
Around 1530 we arrived at the ferry terminal just in time to embark and were soon underway.
The trip across Galveston Bay took approximately 30 minutes, and since it was operated by the Texas State Highway Department as a transportation artery, it was free!
After landing, and a short drive up the island, we made our way to our destination for the evening…..Galveston Island State Park.
Following dinner and a few cocktails Kit and I enjoyed a nice sunset over the sand dunes and sea grass of Galveston Island, Texas.
Goodnight…..stay tuned for more adventures of Bill and Kit on their 2016 Excellent Adventure.
Kit’s Bit’s: Wish we could have stayed a little longer at this state park. It was so nice and peaceful and walking on the long stretch of beach was delightful! As always, we enjoyed our time with Johnny & Eileen. It’s always fun to share old times with them and compare our paths from over 50 years now. We were also fortunate to spend some time with the twins, Gracen & Shelby.
Both are in high school now and very busy with their studies and after school activities. We missed Katelyn, their older sister, as she was busy at one of her two jobs.