Monday, November 17, 2008
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Sure," he answered with a soft smile, "If you like red and green chile."
"Which I do!" I exclaimed happily.
"Me too." he said.
There's a lot to like about red and green chile.
We got through one package of the green before taking off today for Moundville, Alabama and the Moundville Archaeological Park south of Tuscaloosa. It was a bright, clear fall day and the temps were perfect to explore around the site where 800 years ago a city of Mississipian Indians, ten thousand strong, thrived on the banks of the Black Warrior River. Called "The Big Apple of the 14th Century" by National Geographic magazine, this community was America's largest city north of Mexico. The park itself preserves 326 acres of where the busy ancient metropolis once stood. There are 28 large flat-topped mounds (much like earthen pyramids with the tops lopped off) arranged in sequence around a central plaza. The mounds were man-made and created for civic and ceremonial purposes and for the houses of the nobility of the tribe. The large population farmed, fished and foraged in the area and traded with communities from hundreds of miles away. Their pottery and artifacts are both beautiful and utilitarian and their history fascinating and mysterious.
After climbing the big mound (60 feet high) to take in the view, following the walking trail and checking out the small "Indian village" exhibit we had a picnic by the river and feasted on goat cheese, Greek olives, hummus and Dr. Pepper, while we watched a huge barge make its way around the bend and down the Black Warrior river ( "Tuscaloosa" is a Choctaw word meaning "Black Warrior").
Part of the University of Alabama, Moundville Archaeological Park is well worth a visit if you're traveling near west central Alabama. There's an RV park and campground on the site, with bathhouse. It's a very attractive area to bike, run, picnic or take your boat out on the river. Admission to the park is about $5 per person. Tent camping and RV parking is $8- $12 per day with a 14 day limit (that can be extended by permission) and pets are welcome.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
There's also an amiable artist out there by the name of Ray Villaphane, who carves pumpkins so well, you will likely exclaim out loud when you see the photos of his work, like this one:
Look for more of his incredible pumpkins at: http://www.villafanestudios.com/pumpkins.htm
OTHER FUN PUMPKIN PLACES ON THE WEB:
Have a happy and safe Halloween everyone!
Monday, October 13, 2008
Florida simply has some of the most gorgeous state parks in the nation. By my count I've been to 12 of them, a mere sampling of the great variety the state offers. There are so many state parks in Florida that instead of calling it The Sunshine State, it really should be called The State Park State. There's such an abundance of natural beauty in Florida it seems that every few feet they've cordoned it off, let nature grow (mostly) unchecked, put up a sign and declared it protected public property. Some of the most spectacular beach scenery in the state is available to anyone and everyone for just a few bucks entrance fee. This very fact ticks off real-estate developers badly and causes them to develop stress rashes and require potent anti-anxiety medication. State parks are not relaxing for them. Too much unspoiled beauty nags at them and keeps them awake at night. They want to view it through the insulated bay window of a high-priced condo, not alongside your everyday tax payer who comes to enjoy the land. Developers don’t go to state parks. They go to meetings about how to build around state parks.
On Columbus Day I found myself joyfully jobless and relaxed on the Gulf Coast of Florida. I happily ventured into yet another of Florida's lovely parks, this time with John, who loves state parks as much as I do. John is full-blooded Native American and was raised on a reservation in the Southwest. I am a mish-mosh of native and white and European blood and was raised in England. We have a very different backgrounds and yet a strikingly similar worldview. As we drove into Grayton Beach, a wonderful park ten miles or so east of Destin, (for the bargain price of four bucks!) I wondered briefly if it bothered him on any level to have to pay, even that small sum, to gain entrance what was once was Indian land and was later taken over by the Europeans (aka early American developers). I decided against asking his feelings on this subject, most especially because, after all, it was Columbus Day and it seemed poor timing to be querying any American Indian about being required to pay up to access property on our national holiday celebrating the granddaddy of all land grabs. Looking over at him in his tropical t-shirt and Panama Jack hat, he seemed like he didn't have a care in the world. Florida is good for that kind of peace of mind, I've found, so I didn't bring up the heavy bits of America’s history.
Grayton Beach is on the Florida panhandle. It's a compact and peaceful park with wild dunes, scrub oaks, a very picturesque hiking trail and a beautiful white sand beach out of the view of cars and condominiums. There is a bounty of migrating butterflies in October and seeing them on the beach is sweet enjoyment. Walking through the sand towards the ocean, I was delighted to note how clear the water was. This part of the panhandle is known as The Emerald Coast and for good reason. Here the Gulf of Mexico literally glows green in the sun and is mixed with shades of deep blue and turquoise. It's a visual and visceral treat to walk through the sugar white sand into the green sea.
The water was very calm and the waves low. We could see fish darting around in the shallows. We wondered out loud what kind they were. John waded out and found a very large crab burrowing into the sand. We watched it through the waves. He found another crab, a small hermit crab and picked it up. We looked it over as it stared back at us from inside its shell. John placed it gently back in the water. This relaxing walk was a great way to Zen out on a warm afternoon, to play like children, being interested in everything around us. This is why I think so many people like being at the beach. Besides the agreeable weather and vistas, the beach brings us back to childhood, to the essential nature of ourselves. It invites us to play, to slow down and notice things. No one finds fault with you if you are lazy, silly or absorbed in play at the beach.
As I walked and splashed around in water just over my knees, I thought life just couldn't get any better than this. I was totally fixated on the underwater world I could view from my stand-up perspective. My complete focus was on some black and white fish zipping about near my toes. I was one with them and the world was perfect calm. Then…it happened. In my peripheral vision, I saw a fin break the water about 10 feet to my left. In life and Steven Spielberg movies this means only one thing. My complete attention shifted in a nanosecond and my head whipped around like a tether ball hit by a gorilla. Holy crap! A shark! There it was in the same world as me, in the same water as me: a five-foot long bull shark. Swimming in water about three feet deep. I backed up and out of the waves (I don't remember it, but before I knew it I was on the beach).
"John!!!!" I hissed – talking in a low voice as if the shark might hear me and pop out of the water and chew me like a piece of gum before I could reveal its location. His eyes followed my finger as I silently pointed at the large shadow cruising the shallows.
"Wow. What do you think it is?" he asked cautiously.
"It's a developer," I whispered. Then, sailing straight into denial, I added, "Or maybe a dolphin."
He gave me a flat look. "That's not a dolphin," he said, "I may be from the desert but I know that's not a dolphin."
“Okay!" I said, giving up on the denial because, after all, it was a shark and as I remember denial is what got the mayor into so much trouble in "Jaws".
"Let’s wait for its fin to come up above the water, it probably will in a minute," I said. We followed as it swam parallel to the shore for about 25 feet before starting to turn slowly toward deeper water. John studied the shark through his binoculars even though it was fairly close to the beach. I was completely riveted. So riveted I totally forgot that I had a camera hanging off my wrist, causing me later to think if it had been Bigfoot or a UFO or Tom Cruise having sex with an emu, I'd have been an utterly useless witness. I would have had to, with head hanging, explain to Geraldo Rivera and the world why I - the chosen witness - had not taken a picture of the phenomena and finally proved the fantastical real. No Kodak moment for your state park gal.
As we watched it move along the shoreline, I was struck by two things: First, I finally realized where film composer John Williams got the idea for that famous theme music now such a part of our pop-culture consciousness. Dun dun dun DUN. That's the exact sound your heart makes when you see an apex predator and you're on the wrong end of the food chain. The blood speeds through your veins causing a pulsing vibration in your head, two seconds before you scream SHAAAAAAAAAARK and fall over dead. One minute on this beautiful beach my pulse was at coma level. The next minute I saw the fin and - dun dun dun DUN- blood was stampeding through my veins.
The second thing I noted: this fish was swimming slow and easy. It was chillingly casual, not noticing or caring that it was it was causing a nervous thrill in its viewers. We were deeply impressed by its cool.
"He obviously doesn't scare himself " I said somewhat stupidly to John, as we watched the creature move casually on its way, reminiscent of Jack Nicholson at a movie premiere, gliding through the glassy water, slow and steady, sensing its place on the ocean's A-list. As the shark turned out towards deeper water, its fin broke the water again. There it was: the visual that spawned a million nightmares.
We noticed some families with children playing in the waves a little further down the beach so we went to warn them to keep a sharp eye out. They were very friendly and surprisingly calm about our news (the beach really IS relaxing, I'm thinking at that point). Everyone thanked us with big smiles and removed their relatives from the water. John and I returned to our beach walk. After a few minutes we turned around to see if any of them had disregarded the warnings and dared ventured back into the ocean. The beach was totally empty. Not only had they all gotten out of the water, they had left completely. Split. It was like they were never there at all.
I nodded. "Like it was land shark or something." I said, referencing the old SNL skits.
I didn't say anything else about their speed exit, but I didn't go in the water any further than ankle-deep for the rest of our jaunt.
"Well," I teased John later, knowing he is always a bit nervous when we go swimming in the ocean, like everyone else who has been to the movies since 1974, "You took that shark sighting very well indeed."
"It was exciting because were on land" he said simply, "If we'd been in the water, I would have been worried."
So in conclusion I offer to you that Florida, with its many state parks, is a nature lovers paradise. Go. Support them and enjoy them. I really do like to view the wild things, as long as I see them before they see me.
Friday, October 3, 2008
Sunday, September 28, 2008
It's a valid question. I got to Atlanta on Thursday night in time for my friend Pat to inform me that Atlanta was in the middle of a gas panic, with severe shortages and outages everywhere. This is a city of 6 million people and if you are ever in traffic here, you will swear the whole population is on the road at the same time, all in separate cars, some folks still snoring while going 75 mph during the 7 a.m. rush hour. They usually wake up when I pull in front of them and slam on my brakes.
The usual madness has ensued now that gas is scarce. People are lining up for miles at the stations that have gas. That segued into people leaving their cars overnight in line at empty stations and walking home or taking the bus or subway and coming back the next day hoping for gasoline to appear. If you don't think that a line of unmanned cars at a gas station isn't a somewhat eerie sight, you're wrong.
Ah, but given a few days the craziness has now upped a level. Now intrepid Georgia motorists who want to use the gas in their tank in a wise manner are stalking fuel tankers, giving them the attention once reserved for visiting heads of state or the latest boy band. Like teenyboppers on the trail of the Beatles, once spotted, the tanker driver/object of every one's affection's every single move is followed by enraptured fans of fuel until they end up at a gas station where they can, presumably, get a fill up once the man or woman tanker driver does their gassy duty.
Why the shortage? Something about Hurricane Ike, low sulfur gas, refineries offline, smurfs affected by solar flares, Danny Bonaduce, mentos, Diet Coke, and allergies to pine nuts. I don't
know why the shortage and like most people in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina, I don't care. I just want my fix.
FEEL OUR PAIN:
Atlanta Residents May Not Have Gas To Get To Work This Week
What Do The Experts Say?
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Monday, September 22, 2008
Sunday, September 14, 2008
New York City in the fall. Everyone was starting to bundle up for another winter in one of the greatest cities in the world.
This is the guy who sweeps through the water that is part of the Oklahoma City Memorial on the site where the Murrah building once stood. If you've never been there, go - it's probably one of the loveliest park-memorials you'll ever go to.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Friday, August 29, 2008
Monday, August 25, 2008
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Where will it end.
Well, let me tell you where it started: a state in the Deep South with one really big city and numerous rural areas - peaceful places where people and critters of all kinds managed to live quietly with relative ease. A place where you'd hardly expect one of the most famous creatures known to man to come from. A place where you don't expect legends to be revealed in a press conference mega-miles away in California with the handing out of photos and video and never enough (never never enough!) details to hungry press and public who practically threw everything aside and demanded to see the creature in person. "I want to touch it!" a journalist would yell. "Why don't you give it to a doctor?" someone else might demand. "Has its body been altered in any way?" an inquisitive blogger might ask. The creature, we are informed, is an undisclosed location and not available for public viewing.
Anyone seeing the resemblance between the Britney Spears meltdown and the Bigfoot "discovery"?
This is purely why, through the hoopla that is the newest wave of Maybe-Bigfoot-Maybe-Not mania, I am here to defend the rights of the big hairy beast (and I don't mean the media).
This creature apparently lived in peace with its happy hairy stinky family in the mountains of North Georgia, doing its Bigfoot thang in relative obscurity, not leaving much of a carbon footprint, for years, decades... millenia probably. All it took was some enterprising PT Barnums in hiking boots to eventually track down what really needed and surely wanted to be left alone. Then they drag out photographs for the public to view of the big brown thing, whatever it is, in a freezer no less (you couldn't find a decent box left over from one of Criss Angel's shows?) doing everything but charging $5 a pop to see The Proof. Oh wait, I think they did do that...after they said they wouldn't. But there's more, they say, tantalizing us with the promise of trying to catch one of the hairy beasties "alive" for us to gawk over. Stop it!!! Enough! I say - that's ENOUGH!
Bigfoot doesn't need publicity, paparazzi or a press agent. Bigfoot doesn't want to push consumer products (oh I can see the tire commercials and McBigfoot Meals now). Bigfoot doesn't want an endorsement deal with Avon for a fragrance "that will make anyone run out of the woods screaming for you!" Bigfoot doesn't have a bank account. But the Bigfoot hunters do, and a hunger to fill it even if they have to exploit that which really shouldn't be exploited. Pretty soon Bigfoot will be required to get electrolysis and laser hair removal...lose a few lbs to look good on a surfboard...have to banter with David Hasselhoff (who Bigfoot really loves, but really doesn't want to talk to). Bigfoot, unequivocally does not want to hang out with Paris Hilton. He thinks she smells funny. Bigfoot has no opinion on the upcoming election except to oppose drilling in ANWR. But with fame and fortune and fast new friends what will happen next? Bigfoot will buy an Elvis jumpsuit and work Vegas on New Years. Bigfoot will get anorexia, recover and go on "Oprah". Bigfoot will write an autobiography, "It's Bigfoot, Bitch" and run over at least one paparazzo with, well, his big feet. Bigfoot will get a mansion and never figure out how to turn on the running water. Bigfoot will have 7 bad marriages, at least one to Pamela Anderson, and Bigfoot will eventually get hooked on the latest designer drug and die in a hotel room in Miami and everyone will say "Poor Bigfoot. What happened?"
Leave Bigfoot alone.
Photo from: destinationcreation.com
Saturday, August 9, 2008
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Saturday, August 2, 2008
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Friday, July 25, 2008
When John and I started our gypsy adventure-ing in our caravan I took it upon myself to introduce him to all the joys and oddities of the Southern United States, of which the manatee is definitely one. He's full blooded Native American from the high desert of New Mexico so he'd never seen a manatee. I knew just where to go to make the introduction. One of the very best places to view and learn about the manatee is at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park in Homossassa, Florida. Another great place is Mote Marine Lab in Sarasota. Outside the USA, West Indian manatees can also be found in the coastal and inland waterways of Central America and along the northern coast of South America.
They are big - very big (you will be surprised how big) - friendly, curious, slow, quite adorable and one of Florida's (and the world's) most unusual wild animal treasures. The manatee's closest land relatives are the elephant and the hyrax, a small, gopher-sized mammal. Don't ask me how that happened. They breathe air, and must come to the surface to do so, making them visible to onlookers, which is the fun part, but which also puts them in the path of several serious dangers such as the aforementioned boat propellers and entanglement in fishing lines or hooks (also a huge problem for dolphins and sea turtles.)
While John and I were at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park we ran across a happy park volunteer and zealous manatee advocate named Joyce, who at the end of the day was helping the rangers give the resident manatees a "spa treatment" - a rub down with sea salt to keep their skin in shape and, I suspect, also because the animals seemed to really groove on it. Joyce loves manatees. I love that Joyce loves manatees. She is committed to them, their care and their survival in a very real way and her total commitment is love in action. I love knowing there are people who care deeply and will devote so much to these funny-looking, totally engaging creatures and will help them in the ways they need to be helped if they are to survive in this modern world we have created. Because it’s not a world that is set up to be kind to them. So let’s applaud Joyce and all those out there like her. They are doing the work that a lot of us should be doing.
Manatees are an endangered species, protected under the federal Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act. It is up to us humans to show a little hu-manatee, if you will, and make the effort to protect these gentle giants.
Joyce giving "the girls" their spa-treatment/skin rub. They love it.
IF YOU WANT TO SEE A MANATEE:
Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park http://www.homosassasprings.org/Homosassa.cfm
Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo :http://www.lowryparkzoo.com/index.html
HOW TO HELP THE MANATEES:
Join the Club! http://www.savethemanatee.org/
Jimmy Buffett says : http://www.savethemanatee.org/video_audio_psas.htm
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
One of the best and most utilitarian things about your RV or camper – which can be very costly to replace – is your awning/s. Especially if you are at the beach where winds whip up as a matter of course, do not ever go off for a few hours and leave your awning down. We secure ours with tie-downs and we still had to sit inside during a gusty thunderstorm (one that formed over our area so we didn’t see it coming on the weather radar) and watch it rip on one side as very suddenly the winds brushed up to 40 mph. We don’t have replace it, thank goodness, we just need to mend it but I’ve seen too many awnings just tear up like they were a paper bag and turn inside out like an umbrella. Our neighbors in this park just sold their house to go RVing for a few fun years. They were visiting their daughter when the storm blew up. The awning on their new deluxe pop-up camper now needs to be replaced. It's a common mistake that people make when they start RVing and we were lucky enough to have someone tell on our first day out: take down your awning when you leave.
We still made the funny but not fatal mistake of leaving our porch swing out on a nice weekend once when we were staying in northern Alabama and left to visit Atlanta. We came home in the dark to find it across the street, courtesy of a spring rainstorm that was packing some winds. This was not a small piece of lawn furniture, either. We also found our flagpole and New Mexico flag halfway down the road. The park we were in at the time was sparsely populated and we were glad none of our flying debris had damaged any other RVs, cars or people. We noticed the RVers down a few rows must have been out of town too. Their entire outdoor set up was down at the bottom of the hill.
So keep in mind, intrepid fellow travelers, that grills, furniture, windchimes, toys, bikes,trashcans and satellite dishes can go from being a part of your peaceful personal camping environment to gone with the wind in a matter of no time flat. Get out the kites when the wind comes and put your awning safely away.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
This is a great area to ride bikes and we did. It's mostly flat and there's much to enjoy as you pedal along the sparkling coast. After a long sunny bike ride one afternoon we went to the homey Simply Southern to eat, also very close to the RV park. There was a tiny iridescent beatle on my knife (bugs are everywhere in Florida and especially at the beach) and a hair – not my own – on the side of my plate, but these were minor annoyances to be brushed away. To be honest I was so hungry they could have served my food on the floor. The smoked pulled pork was absolutely perfect, some of the best I’ve ever had and the potato salad was served still warm and it melted in my mouth. The cole slaw was just okay but we were very happy.
WHEN IN PERDIDO KEY:
The Flora-Bama http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flora-Bama
Lose Yourself In Perdido Key http://www.visitpensacola.com/beach3.html