December 2003

Gators, we hardly knew ye

Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas

Or... Christmas on the Brazos

The Brazos River flows into the Gulf of Mexico south of Houston, and there are supposed to be alligators here; not so far as we can tell, however.  Mighty seldom at the moment.  Maybe they went home for the holidays.  But gators, you say?  We thought you were in Tennessee…… Noop, got too cold, waaaay too cold for us warm-weather folk.  Our last report to you said we were headed into Alabama, to a place near Mobile where we like to hang out, and so we did.

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We left Knoxville just ahead of a snowstorm that dropped real nastiness across a wide swathe of the East.  You probably read about it.  The weather report predicted snow, sleet, freezing rain, and just plain ole rain; they got it all, shortly after we left.  Whew!  We got the edges of it, spending one night in Chattanooga on our way south.  But we beat feet as fast as we could, making few stops along the way.  

We did pause near Birmingham to visit the Barber Motorcycle Museum in its new home, which is totally awesome.  We had been there 2 years ago at its original location in a seamy part of Birmingham, cramped into a little space but still impressive.  Now its something else; you don’t have to appreciate motorcycles to enjoy this place.  Four stories of open space dedicated to bikes along with some cars and related goodies, with enormous glass windows looking out onto a green space that features a race track among the trees of central Alabama.  It’s a lovely space in a nice part of the country; gentle rolling wooded hills; very attractive and well worth a visit.  Visit our site at for more pictures.    

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From Birmingham, we dropped straight down the state, heading for the Gulf.  Amazingly, there was still fall color to be enjoyed, and here it was December.  Pretty cool.  We saw large signs along the freeway heralding the fact that Hyundai was building a plant in the central part of the state and would be up and running in 2005.  This is a tremendous boon to the state, and they deserve to be both proud and excited.  

We settled into our home for the next couple of weeks, an attractive park on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay.  We like it here, and were happy to park for awhile.  The cotton is still in the fields, although being harvested now, but the pecan trees are shorn of their crop.  Too early for oranges or strawberries; the only new produce available beside the road are the wonderful Satsumas, a kind of tangerine.  Oh yes, and you can get fresh collard greens everywhere.  Balancing the delights of southern Alabama this time of year is the horrible litany of southern-style Christmas songs that infiltrate your every thought.  Worse than just Country and Western; have to hear to believe.  

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This location gives us good access to Pensacola and the Naval Air Museum, which we happily revisited.  This was our second full day there, and we finally think we’ve seen it all.  Security was higher getting on the base this year, incidentally.  Not that the kid-guards were aggressive in their questioning; I’ve formed a theory that we dazzle them so much with our motorcycle that they forget any rules they’re supposed to be following and just wave us right on through…  Once again, you can go to our site at to see more of our photos from Pensacola.  On our way home from this jaunt we stopped for a late lunch and early movie.  We cut the movie out of the plans when we emerged and saw a big black cloud hanging over the road we intended to take.  We sped home as fast as we could, and even almost made it.  But five minutes of heavy downpour as only the South can do it left us drenched and the ground thoroughly saturated.  Took us two days to get our jeans dried out.

We also did a little other wandering around and sight-seeing in the Mobile area, but no, Cathy, we still haven’t been to Bellingrath Gardens in Mobile.  Next spring maybe.  It was shortly before Christmas and I’m always a little put off by expansive gardens draped in holiday lights.  Kind of makes it hard to enjoy the flowers.  I’ve promised myself that when we come back through in the spring we will do some plantation crawling; the grounds should be at their best then.

Two weeks in southern Alabama was enough, and we wanted to get settled someplace else by Christmas.  We like to celebrate the holiday in a quiet, rural area as far from lights and hoopla as we can get.  We knew Texas, with its quiet, spacious state parks would suit the bill admirably.  So west through Mississippi and Louisiana we zipped, traveling I-10 with all the other Christmas week travelers.  Many folks had heavily loaded vehicles, or were pulling trailers after them, filled with their belongings.  We forget that Christmas is moving time for many.  The traffic was better than the road, and the trip was really quite pleasant, except for that notorious stretch of I-10 through Louisiana.  That was just as awful as always.  

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We made one significant stop in Biloxi, Mississippi, at Beauvoir, the small estate where Jefferson Davis spent the last years of his life.  The house and grounds have been continuously maintained and are in good shape.  The home is delightful, and there is a new museum that was quite interesting.  Jefferson Davis is known by the world at large for the one over-riding event of his life, and it was good to hear other things.  He is generally perceived as having done a poor job of running the Confederacy, both through his own limitations and by being surrounded by others who couldn’t agree on much of anything.  But he was also an intelligent man who had an exemplary army career, served well in Washington prior to the war, and was absolutely revered by his fellow confederates.  His marriage was often in turmoil, and after the war he was destitute for all but the last few years of his life, when he moved to this small estate mostly through the gracious efforts of others.  The home sits right along the Gulf, in a lovely setting.  The azaleas were in bloom (at least a few of them); it was a very nice experience.  (ed. note: sadly, this lovely home, we understand, was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005)

After you leave Biloxi, soon you cross the Pearl River and enter Louisiana, and the road begins to bounce.  So you hurry across, not spending too much time, heading for Texas.  One of those weird coincidences:  we crossed the river at sunset for the second time in a row.  Always a lovely sight.  We like Louisiana in concept; it has fun stuff to see, the countryside is wooded and filled with bayous (bouncing, we’re bouncing), and there are cool, strange cities named Ponchatoula, Tangipahoa, Tchefuncte, Natchitoches and Atchafalaya --- exotica abounds.  But bouncy, oh my!    Agnes is our RREWS:  Rough Road Early Warning System.  We crossed the border into Louisiana and she started to yowl.  This part of I-10 is called the West Florida Republic Parkway (1810), a remembrance of a brief odd moment in time in the South.  But we mostly know it as just plain bumpy.  In answer to the obvious question, yes we have taken other routes through Louisiana, always with the same result – bounce, bounce, bounce. Whether it’s the high water table or the low tax rate, roads are not one of the state’s strong points.

As you move toward Texas, you pass many miles of rice fields; this section grows about one-fourth of the country’s rice.  We also passed the turnoff for Avery Island, where Tabasco is grown; we promised ourselves a visit another time.  Or at least I did; Rick will always take me wherever I want to go, but I suspect this will be a “Yes, Dear” excursion.

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We finally crossed the Sabine River and were in Texas, with a sign saying it was Exit 880 (which tells you how far it is across Texas on I-10; a very scary thought).  We were happy to be back.  We like Texas, a lot.  After all, one of the first towns you pass is Port Arthur, with big signs proclaiming “Janis Lives in our Museum” – what’s not to like!

We passed Beaumont and Houston, increasingly large at each visit, and on to the farm and cattle country south of there.  It gets very rural very quickly as you leave the suburbs.  We, as mentioned, settled in at Brazos Bend State Park, about 30-35 miles south of Houston.  We had a lovely, quiet Christmas, with lots of birds to view and alligators to look for to no avail.  We are on the migration flyway and there is lots to see.  (By the way, did you get the chance to see “Winged Migration,” the recent movie?  It is awesome.)  Incidentally, we would make really lousy birders:  there aren’t many of them out and about when you start your looking at ten am, and we just cannot seem to get ourselves up all that early in the morning – who wants to catch worms anyway, we’ll leave that chore to the working folks.

We’ll be leaving the Brazos soon, heading into south Texas and Mexico, and the opportunities for sending messages get slim and none very quickly.  So we have spent a little time ruminating (moooo) over the last year and putting items up on the tote board.  We’ve been in 34 states since the start of 2003, along with 3 Canadian Provinces and 11 Mexican States.  We’ve covered about 22,000 miles in the coach and another 9,000 miles on the motorcycles, and have pretty much circumnavigated the four corners of our fine country.

So we bid you adieu for 2003, and wish you the best of New Years:  may your worries be small, your pleasures enormous, and your days a delight.  

Rick and Kathy, Jeremy and Agnes; 

along with a host of ladybugs who have joined us and refuse to say goodbye.

 See more photos from the US & Canada in 2001 to 2003

© Rick & Kathy Howe 2001-2018