Grand Finale at the Grand Canyon

The last day of our epic road trip vacation was spent at the south rim of the Grand Canyon. We had all day to travel the rim road, stopping at various viewpoints to take in the awe inspiring natural spectacal that is the Grand Canyon. 

beauty and beauty
Rachel enhancing the view
Hannah lights up the canyon sunset


From Arkansas to Arizona

We left the Ozarks in Arkansas before done for our long drive to Flagstaff. By 8 we were grabbing breakfast at the McDonalds on Garth Brooks Blvd. in Yukon, Oklahoma. Lunch was a few hours later in Amarillo, Texas at the Cracker Barrel. We have been waiting to go to a Cracker Barrel this whole trip, it didn’t disappoint. It was fun to watch the landscape change from lush green and humid to high plains arid. By the time crossed into New Mexico it was so dry with hardly any green.  


A few tens of miles past the Rio Grande Starbucks in Albuquerque, New Mexico we encountered a terrific lightning storm. It was spectacular, loud, bright, we drove right under   the lightening and scared the heck out of us. 


undoctored pics by Hannah from the backseat

It gushed rain too. Guess I know where all of California’s water has been going.

We made a quick stop at Petrified Forest National Park.

I guess the kids went a little crazy Fromm riding in the car to long because the tried to jump off the cliff… 


Here’s the secret: shhhhh don’t tell them I revealed the secret. 


The Ozarks

Sunday morning we left magnificent Memphis and headed to the Ozarks to visit our long lost family that moved to Rogers area Arkansas approximately one month ago. 

We Stopped for gas at a Citgo along the backroad to Eureka Springs, Arkansas. David found an enormous supply of condoms and a fortune telling scale in the men’s gas station. I thought this was the Bible Belt. 

 Pit stop at “The Junction Boot Center” for David in Ravenden, Arkansas. They have 12,000 boots and lots of square dance type outfits. 
 We met my cousins Katie, Ray, Amelie and Rowan for lunch in the touristy town at the Delhi Cafe in Eureka Springs. The town is in a mountainous (for this area of the country that’s 1500 foot elevation) region about 40 minutes from their new home in Rogers, Arkansas.  Eureka Springs was an old rehab location for Civil War veterans.


the way Rowan eats a hotdog
why sip your Dr Pepper the regular way

This region has rolling hills densely wooded with hickory and oak. It is very green, lush and beautiful. The temperature was about 90 degrees and it was humid. There are lakes, rivers and streams everywhere.

After lunch we invaded Katie and Ray’s house for the rest of the afternoon and early evening to swim in Beaver Lake right across from their house! The lake is warm and like everywhere else surrounded by green. It really is a fantastic location, quintessential summer fun too. 

    The grand finale of our visit was a trip to Andy’s frozen custard shop. They are experts at getting fat here in Arkansas – and were are all in.  
It was sad to say goodby to my family but I can understand to appeal of this pretty little part of the world.


We visited the Vicksburg National Military Museum on our way to Memphis from New Orleans. This National Park is a wonderfully well preserved and maintained historic civil war battle site.  

     There are hundreds of monuments and the USS Cairo! 

The U.S.S. Cairo, a noted Civil War ironclad, is now preserved as part of a special display on the northern edge of the battlefield. Once a powerful Union vessel, she is remarkably well preserved and offers visitors a unique opportunity to actually step aboard a warship that is more than 140 years old.A “super weapon” of her time, the Cairo was constructed as part of a plan by the Union to develop a flotilla of ironclad gunboats that would be used as both defensive and offensive weapons on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. More powerful than anything then afloat on the interior rivers, these seven vessels helped change the tide of the war in the Mississippi valley. Constructed at Mound City, Illinois, and commissioned in January of 1862, the Cairo saw action at the Battles of Plum Point and Memphis. In the latter action, she helped devastate the Confederate river fleet in a battle that was as stunning to Southern hopes as it was destructive to the Confederacy’s fleet. As Union authorities cast their sights down the Mississippi, they realized that the Yazoo River just north of Vicksburg played a vital role in the city’s defense. The river had been fortified by the Confederates and plans to take Vicksburg from the north necessitated a clearing of Southern opposition from theYazoo. On December 12, 1862, the Cairo was sent up the Yazoo River. As the flotilla reached a point seven miles north of Vicksburg, Confederate artillery batteries opened fire.The captain of the Cairo was Lieutenant Commander Thomas Selfridge, Jr. He ordered his men to clear for action and turned the ironclad to engage the Southern cannon. He had no way of knowing that the Confederates had anticipated a naval attack and had planned for it. “Torpedoes” (what we now call mines) had been placed in the Yazoo. As the ironclad turned to open fire on the Confederate shore batteries, electric charges were sent down the wires connecting the mines to shore and two massive explosions lifted the Cairo from the water. Water poured into the ironclad, but almost miraculously the officers and crews did not panic but instead evacuated the vessel with no lives lost. She sank to the bottom of the river in just twelve minutes, the first warship in history to be sunk by an electronic mine.The disaster proved critical and the Union expedition up the Yazoo ended in defeat. The Cairo remained on the bottom of the river for a century. A footnote to the Vicksburg Campaign, she was all but forgotten. In the 1960s, however, a massive effort was undertaken to salvage the vessel after it was realized that she was still largely intact and buried in the mud on the bottom of the Yazoo. The enormous size and weight of the Cairo prevented her from being raised in one piece, so she was cut into three sections and brought to the surface in pieces. The three sections were then carried to the Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula, where the wreck was carefully cleaned and preserved. In 1977, Cairo was moved to Vicksburg National Military Park as an outdoor exhibit. Since then, she has been the focus of a major preservation effort and is now the centerpiece of an outstanding museum complex within the national park. Walkways provide visitors with the extremely rare chance to actually step aboard a real Civil War ironclad. The cannon are still in place and visitors and the points where the mines exploded are clearly visible. 
   As you can tell I was enamored with the USS Cairo.
We reached or purpose for going to Memphis around 3pm- Graceland. The tour was unexpectedly high tech. They gave each attendee their own iPad and headphones. The tour was narrated and switched from room to room automatically as you entered, triggered by a sensor. Not everyone in our group even knew what Graceland was but they are all big Elvis fans now.
     We stopped in for dinner at Marlowe’s. This has to be the best restaurant in Memphis. It is so unpretentious yet full of history and memorabilia. The staff is super friendly and the food outstanding. Particularly distinctive was the barbecued spaghetti and Mississippi mud cake. 


after dinner we had to strap Sarah to the luggage rack
Tonight we checked out Beale Street in downtown Memphis where our hotel is within walking distance. The area is phenomenal with bars, restaurants, street performers and shops all humming with patrons and onlookers. There were live musical acts in almost every bar and courtyard. All were open so you could easily hear the cool tunes as you strolled down the street. 
     Memphis Rocks!!!

Last day in New Orleans

Our last day in New Orleans we decided to take the trolley to the Garden District. New Orleans is still undergoing reconstruction due to Hurricane Katrina so the trolley car did not run all the way to our destination. The trolley itself was fun but extremely crowded. Before we boarded we waited at the stop next to a little shop displaying a funky cardboard sign. The kids got local soda pop.  We arrived near Lafayette Cemetery and conducted a self-guided tour. Lafayette cemetery is centrally located amongst the most expensive and fanciest neighborhood in New Orleans. The cemetery houses mausoleums from the turn of the 19th century to present day but mostly filled with victims of yellow fever from the mid-19th-century. We strolled through the rows, read the tombstones and were hot as can be until we read that inside the crypts the temperature can rise to 600°!  After we left Lafayette Cemetery we walked along examining the beautiful homes in the Garden District. One home we saw was built by slaves for a couple of thousand dollars for a local judge then served as the home of Jefferson Davis until he died at the residence.

 Eventually we stumbled quite by accident upon a unique little restaurant. District Donuts, Sliders and Brew serves sandwiches on donuts! I wish I would’ve thought of it because they were absolutely delicious.

For dinner tonight we went to another famous local establishment called Mother’s. It was basically like a diner but famous r for its ham dinner. 


And to cap off our busy to New Orleans we strolled down Bourbon Street. YES, we took the kids to Bourbon Strret.  



The National WWII Museum

I should mention that our hotel, Residence Inn by Marriott New Orleans Downtown, is in the old warehouse district of the city. The building is really cool because it has been repurposed and is quite unusual and not a standard looking hotel. I’m into antiques so quite appreciate the old windows and façade that have been left in place. 

our hotel fascade

Today our only activity was visiting the national World War II museum here in New Orleans. The museum is spectacular and growing tremendously with several buildings under construction. Any explanation I give would not do it justice so you should visit the website for detailed information about the museum:   

David and Josh talk with a WEII vet who participated in a landing via Higgins boat
Rachel contemplating D- Day
fake paratroopers

Tonight we went on a ghost tour. Our creole tour guide Judy used to work as a high school history teacher. She was full of trivia and stories of where the ghosts haunt New Orleans.  It was nice to walk around the French Quarter with a guide at night since I’m a bit apprehensive of this town. Although it is southern, hospitality does not reign supreme here. The French quarter is very quaint and at night definitely reminds you of New Orleans Square in Disneyland. But in stark daylight you can see that 50% of the town is unoccupied/abandon and quite run down. And there are tons of homeless grifter types and it’s smells bad like a combination of urine vomit and body odor.  


Plantation and Swamp Tours – New Orleans

Our day started early (for a vacation day that is) with a drive out to Oak Alley Plantation in Vacharie about an hour away from New Orleans along the banks of the Mississippi of course. The restored 1200 acre plantation was built in 1860 on a site where lines of intentionally planted mature oaks decorated the lot 100 years before construction of the plantation. We talked with an elderly creole civil war buff manning a military tent mockup that Louisianians of the early civil war days had no allegiance to the confederacy or the union, they thought both side were uncouth Americans and considered themselves French…some things never change. It was really interesting to listen to the native perspective on the civil war and its aftermath to the local area. Our lecture included cautionary tales of the ills perpetrated by carpetbaggers (non local shyster) and scaly wags (local shyster. I plan to start using these terms more. This is just not something you can get out of a textbook. We wandered around the beautifully maintained grounds and Sarah frolicked with the resident insects.  


 After the plantation tour we made our way to our swamp tour about 45 minutes away just outside Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve in Barataria Natural Preserve with the Cajun Style Swamp Tours. It was so awesome. I highly recommend this outfit if you are ever looking for a swamp tour. Our airboat captain (a Josh Duhamel lookalike) was both laid back and thorough. We got tons of cool info like the dates of gator hunting season (September), handy biological tidbits (their length can be estimated by the length of their snout- number of inches equals feet) and that they like marshmallows. 

       Tonight we cruised around the French Quarter, shopped and ate beignets. Yum and fun.  



The Road from Austin to San Antonio

We drove from Austin to New Orleans today. David has an addiction though…western boots! Consequently we make pit stops at many (not all, you wouldn’t believe how many there are) boot stores, outlets, factories. I have to admit, the boot stores do it right in Texas. The Texas Boot Barn serves beer while you shop. Many stores are like boot museums.   

 The drive through southeastern Texas was pleasant. The terrain is fairly flat with some trees and very green. You can really tell when you hit the Houston metropolitan area, IT IS HUGE.

We made a quick stop in the number one barbeque in Houston, at least according to a couple of lists: Pizzitola’s. IT WAS SO TINY. Such a hole in the wall obvious local institution. The bbq was great and the coleslaw and potato salad were fantastic.  


old school
   And then we were back on the road to New Orleans. 

Hannah took a turn driving
gas is cheap all over

It became progressively more densely wooded and then swampy! The first town you hit in Louisiana is kind of gross. It’s a casino town called Lake Charles or as David and I call it Clear Lake with oil wells, humidity and casinos.

We arrived in New Orleans at a thoroughly decent hour and retired to our large comfortable rooms! Off to bed now because we have an big day tomorrow.

Lazy Day in Austin

We started the day by at a Texas style swimming hole, VERY BIG!   

    Barton Springs Pool is a man-made swimming pool filled by water from Main Barton Spring, the fourth largest spring in Texas. The pool is a popular venue for year-round swimming, as its temperature maintains a narrow range from about 68 °F in the winter to about 71.6 °F in the summer.The kids were starved when we finally left the pool because it was getting too hot. We accidentally happened upon an area of Austin known as SoCo (South Commerce). Like almost everything in Austin the area is full of hipsters and all the great things they bring. In this case it was a little burger joint called hopdoddy burger bar (no it’s not capitalized). We waited in an hour long line but time flu as we perused the menu and chatted with the tie-dye attired Texas hippie host at the door. Sarah got the Nutella-pretzel milkshake he recommended. The Burgers were really good but the fries were better than I have ever had anywhere. I’m not sure what was in those Texas hipster fries but they were fantastic!   


another of the many food businesses in SoCo

 We did some souvenir shopping and strolled 6th Street tonight. There is music coming from every other pub and lots of activity even though it’s just Monday night.     


We had a short leisurely drive from San Antonio to Austin. We timed our trip to put us in Driftwood at lunchtime. Driftwood is the home of The Salt Lick. We are now in barbeque mode! The Salt Like is a barbecue restaurant opened in 1967 that is about 25 minutes outside Austin. We got to the restaurant a little after 11 AM and found it already quite crowded. It was delicious, especially the pork ribs. The restaurant was very much picnic style having you eat at long wooden tables.   
 Upon arrival in Austin we went on a driving tour of the University of Texas, Austin campus. It is large and hilly, quite beautiful.  Next we checked out the state Capitol. The Capitol building was constructed to be just taller than the US Capitol in an intentional show of state power. The Texas state legislature is in session only on odd years and then only from January to May. Maybe if the California state legislature were in session so seldom we would have a better run the government.   On our way to watch the bats fly out of the Congress Bridge we grabbed take out at Gus’s Fried Chicken. They say it’s world famous (and that Elvis lives). It was delicious especially eaten by the roadside, hobo style. i  


The bats were shy tonight and didn’t make much of the showing. That’s just fine with me because after all they are rats with wings and I hate rats.

After the girls were safely tucked into bed, David and I checked out the HandleBar to sample some local brews. Great way to end the day!