(C)  2002-2014  J. Watson       All rights reserved  
RV Travel notes from
  the traveling gran'ma and gran'pa
Vol 22  No 1                                                                                                                                                                                              April, 2012
From Georgia to California we re-visited highlights we had enjoyed
on earlier trips -- Natchez Trace, Louisiana's bayou country, along
Texas's southern border and the remains of earlier cultures in New
Mexico and Arizona.  The mix both history and scenery are endless.
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Dear Gals…   Your guys…
Our grandkids…     and special folks…   

TWENTY-NINE PALMS, CA                   April 23, 2012

As you know, we’re on our way – now we’ll let you in
on what we’ve been doing… it’s really been quite
busy.  Many of our stops have been encores –
places we’ve enjoyed before.  Now, the details, since
we left Bradenton…

First stop on our way was at Plains, Georgia.  Plains
is so small that you’d totally miss it if you didn’t slow
down at the blinking traffic light.  We made a short
Downtown Plains from Carter’s former campaign
headquarters, located in the old railroad station
The route going west was on back roads through
nice rolling countryside with farms and small
villages.  Cotton and peanuts predominate along
with vast stretches of kudzu, which in season will
cover trees and bushes.  
visit at the Jimmy Carter
National Historic Site

and at his brother’s
gasoline station
(remember “Billy’s
Continuing west into Alabama we toured Tuskegee
University.  If you’ve read
Up from Slavery, by Booker
T. Washington, you’d be interested in the solid
stature of this school which has gone from a training
institute for the education of negro students in 1881
to a leading university that offers advanced
degrees.  Washington insisted that all students gain
a respect for the work ethic and the tradition
continues with undergraduates expected to gain
work experience in their chosen field.  The buildings
that students constructed of bricks they made in the
1800s still stand.  The student body continues to be
predominantly black.   The university is now a
National Historic Site.
times that number as
support personnel.  
These Negro crews were
in a separate unit that
distinguished itself in
combat and earned high
Tuskegee U has about 3,000 students, mostly
undergraduate.  It continues to have a teacher
training program and prides itself on strong
science and engineering programs.  This continues
the tradition of the famous George Washington
Carver, who was the first science teacher at the

Nearby is the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic
Site.  The armed forces were segregated during
WW2.  Negros were not considered up to the job of
fighting for their country and were not put in
combat roles.  (Aboard ship we had Negro mess
stewards who served officers.  Even on the PC
there were 2 steward mates for the 3 officers!)  
There was an exception. About 700 Army Air Corps
pilots were trained at Tuskegee and more than 20
Next stop.  The Natchez Trace was a walking trail
used by Indians and later by early settlers in the
area until the 1830s. Workers along the
Mississippi floated timber downstream to Natchez
and walked back to their homes in Tennessee
along this trace.  The route is now a well graded
two lane parkway.  Along the way are reminders of
times past.  

Indian mounds, that probably had religious
significance, can be seen along the way.  This is
the top of a lower mound with the second mound
seen rising above it.  It is believed that a religious
structure was placed on the higher mound.  
Overall, the height of the two mounds probably
was 50 plus feet.  
The workers trudged up the trace during the day
and stayed at “stands” overnight.  The only
remaining stand is Mount Locus.  Here, the men
would have supper and sleep in a dorm and the
next day continue their 30 plus day journey

Continuing on, we crossed the Mississippi River
near Vicksburg and camped a bit south of the
bridge.  From the campground we could see
barges were being pushed up-stream.  There
were probably a dozen barges with just one
tough little tug doing the job, going against the
heavy current.  It seems that one is always in
In the past we’ve enjoyed birding at Martin Lake,
outside of St. Martinsville, LA with a variety of water
birds.  Like the last time, we saw thousands of Great
Egrets, some little blue herons and the Roseate
Spoonbills.  It always interests me to see that each
species seems to select a unique level above the
water so the birds appear to be in layers.  It’s a
prime birding location.  
As we drove through the bayous of coastal
Louisiana we could see the off-shore oil rigs.  Of
course that meant we also saw the service
businesses that support the rigs as well as
petrochemical plants – and I have no idea what they
produce.  Also, there appears to be significant
natural gas facilities.  
A few miles on is Avery
Island (home of
Tabasco), also a
birders mecca, where
thousands of egrets
nest just offshore on
pier-like frames.  This is
in a private garden
area of over 150 acres
and even includes a
centuries old Buddha,
which is respectfully
housed overlooking the
gardens.  This is
approaching bayou
country and we were somewhat surprised that
damage from the recent hurricanes was not obvious
Jungle Gardens and bird sanctuary
We’ve mentioned in the past that no two
campgrounds are alike – each has its own
personality.  The other day as we were driving
south of Galveston, Texas, I was getting tired and
wanted to call it a day.  Ida looked in our directory
and there was no RV Park for a couple of hours.  
That was really more time than I wanted, but…  Out
of the clear blue there was a sign for a campground
– two miles off the road.  Since it was not in our
revered directory, should we chance it?  I was tired
so in we went.  It was a first.  We’ve been to RV
parks with 18 hole golf courses before, but this one
had both golf and a landing strip for private
aircraft!  Only in Texas!
As you may recall, the main reason for visiting
Texas was to add birds to Ida’s bird list.  To do this
we went to Aransas and learned this is a “bad year”
for migration.  In Aransas we saw a couple of
Whooping Cranes.  (If we’d taken the boat from
Rockport, like we did a few years ago, we’d have
seen a few more, but we decided to go on.)  So, on
to the World Birding Center in Mission (near
Brownsville), certainly we’d have better luck there.  
As it turned out we’ve seen more birds in
campgrounds along the way.   

Then to King Ranch.  This is big business – it’s the
largest ranch in the US.  There are almost 200 full
time employees here and more than a hundred part
timers.  This ranges from veterinarians to cow
pokes.  Each of the tens of thousands of cattle is
tracked on the computer and optimum breeding is
maintained to maximize production.  Cowboys train
the horses that are still used to round-up the cattle.  
All this to produce the finest beef – yet I don’t recall
that they were selling steaks at the tour center.  
(The Hearst ranch does retail sales at the Hearst

In addition there are 80 square miles of cotton.  The
place is so large that they even have a school for
the children of the employees.  Many of the workers
are second or third generation employees.  Don’t
see that much, anymore.
Then up along the Rio Grande River.  The above
bridge crosses the Pecos River, which empties into
the Rio Grande.  With the deep gorge you can tell
that it often floods.  

There is much Texan lore associated with the area
including the famed Judge Roy Bean in Langtry.   
He held court, fined the guilty (guilt based on Bean’
s interpretation of the law) and pocketed the sum
collected.  Remarkably, it worked!  
We’ve enjoyed Alpine, TX in the past.  It’s a college
town nestled between rugged mountains about 150
miles north of Big Bend National Park.  The night air
is so clear that there are nearby observatories.  Most
of the US has so much light pollution that you’re
unable to see the stars.  In the evening we had the
feeling that we were in nature’s planetarium.  Saying
it that way, you can tell – I’m a city guy.  We had
participated in an Elderhostel program nearby
several years ago that concentrated on birds and
astronomy.  A grand area for this study.
A couple of days before arriving in Alpine I was
bitten by a small bug about the size of a pinhead
and the bite became infected.  So, we had to stay a
week to be sure the treatment worked.  It was a
pleasant place to walk about.  It being Texas, there
are numerous ranches in the area, left.  It’s a tough
life as even in good years there is very little rain.  

Nearby is Fort Davis Historic Site and a small
community that is named for Jefferson Davis who
was Secretary of War prior to the Civil War.  The
village, Fort Davis, below, retains the appearance of
earlier times.  It is the county seat so it is busy.  
Mentone, Texas, is in western Texas just south of the
New Mexico border and is quite an experience.  It’s a
ghost town – well almost.  In the 1930s the population
was about 600 – when there was an oil boom.  The
2010 census shows 19 people.  As you would expect
there are a lot of abandoned homes.  It is the county
seat of Loving County.  The county population  is 70
and what amazes me are the number of cars, 6 or 7,
outside the county court house.  Loving County is the
least populated county in the lower forty-eight.  The
county received $75,000 as part of the distribution of
US security funds (for what?),  the highest per capita
in US. – that’s where our taxes go.  Oil and gas still
are major industries along with cattle.  
As you can see in the photos, it is barren country.  
So parched that folks in the area purchase drinking
water that is brought in by trucks.  Along the way we
saw places that sold drinking water.  Nearby there is
an area in which there was a town -- now not even a
skeleton of a building remains.  This part of Texas is
desert and is both dry and unmercifully hot in the
summer.  (In early April it was in the 90s.)  

The school and church have been closed for years,
but because it is so dry they seem to be in
reasonable shape.  
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is just north of the
Texas/New Mexico border.  It is noted for the gigantic
subterranean chambers – one is the size of  ten
football fields!  Stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws,
draperies, columns, popcorn – it’s all here.  Next, a
high spot.
You’ve heard of the McDonald House.  To the right is
a different one, not related to Ronald.  On July 13th,
1945 the assembly of the first A Bomb mechanism
was done here.  The master bedroom had been
made a "clean room".  On the 16th it was
successfully tested, two miles away from the house,
at the Trinity Site of the White Sands Proving
Ground.  The test bomb was placed 100 feet above
the ground and then at 5:29 am  -- BOOM.  Windows
broke in buildings over 140 miles away – but folks
didn’t know the cause until August 6th when they
learned of the bombing of Hiroshima.  Trinity Site has
been cleaned-up and visitors are able to enter the
site one day a year -- on the first Saturday of April.  
Ground zero is marked with a monument.  A small
part of the blast area has not been cleaned up so
scientists can study it in the future.  It is covered to
reduce the radiation danger.  

A digression.  You can’t imagine the confusion we
had in ‘45 as we tried to understand an atomic
bomb.  In the barracks we heard news reports of it on
the radio and it wasn’t until the following week when I
received Time magazine that I got somewhat of an
idea of the science involved.  From high school
science we knew that there was potential for atomic
power, but had no real knowledge -- nor did other
people.  The following February I was on a train
south of the area and recall seeing a cow in a pen at
a train stop.  A sign explained that it had been in the
blast area and the hide was affected by the test.
The photo to the right is not a snow covered field – it’
s the White Sands National Monument.  This is next
to the White Sands Missile Range.  The sand is
gypsum and is snow white.  Some plants have
adapted and may have a root structure that goes
down thirty plus feet.  The sand constantly shifts, as
much as 30 feet a year and snow plows are used to
clear the roads.  Sleds (dishes) are in great demand
as children enjoy going to the crest of a sand dune
and sliding down – just like snow.  

The nearby area is arid, but diverse.  It ranges from
the sand dunes to parched land…

to lava fields.

to an Indian community on a hillside.
Travel Letters