Monday morning, I woke up thrilled to be in New Orleans and ready to explore the city. As excellent as our day was, we walked out into the early morning heat and humidity and were ready to be on to our next adventure.
If you haven’t been following our adventure from the beginning, here’s a quick update to the rules: wherever possible, we avoid freeways and corporate, chain-businesses. Unfortunately, coming out of major cities like San Antonio, Austin, or New Orleans, it is really difficult to completely avoid the freeways. As soon as possible, we exit the busy traffic and find a back road that is heading in the general direction we want to go.
Also, a number of people have asked me, “When will you guys be in XXX?” My answer always has to be, “I have no idea.” When we left home three weeks ago, I had a limited number of places I knew we wanted to hit: San Antonio, New Orleans, Key West, Maine, and North Dakota. Yes, I know, one of those things is not like the others. However, North Dakota will mark the 50th of the 50 states that I will have visited, so it is a must-see.
I honestly didn’t have much planned for Mississippi and Alabama. There were a few things I was interested in – Elvis Presley’s birthplace, for instance – but we were swooping along the bottom of the state, and it didn’t seem worth a several hundred mile drive both up and back. So, we cut straight across. The lower part of Mississippi definitely wasn’t lacking in charm, though.
Miles and miles of white sand beaches and the Gulf of Mexico beckoning. I tried to think of other stretches of beach that approached this beauty, and whether I had ever seen them as deserted as this one. I couldn’t think of any. We pulled over, shucked our shoes, and happily waded into the Gulf. We contemplated going swimming, but the whole exercise of changing into our suits and then back out made us drive on. I should have suggested skinny dipping. I’m sure Dawn would have gone for that.
Next up was Biloxi, MS. If you’ve read my book Feels Like the First Time, you might remember that it played a small part in our love story, even though neither of us had ever been there until yesterday. In late 1978, we were separated from each other by Dawn’s parents. In November of that year, I hatched a harebrained scheme where we could run away together, get on an airplane, and fly to Biloxi, Mississippi, where we could have gotten married without parental approval. For many reasons, the plan never came together, and Dawn and I were separated for 30 years a few months later.
So, there was a little extra meaning for us as we rolled into town. When we got to Biloxi, we saw there was a National Cemetery there. We got off the highway to pay our respects. It is impossible for me to see the hundreds of rows of white headstones with feeling a punch in the gut and tears forming.
Interestingly, I saw a sign in the cemetery that stated, “No game playing at Biloxi National Cemetery.” It was hard for me to picture kids playing hide ‘n seek in such a somber place, but a quick Google search revealed the truth: people were coming on the grounds looking for Pokemon. I don’t feel anything one way or the other about Pokemon, as I am intentionally not a player, but common sense seems to dictate that a place like a National Cemetery would not be an appropriate place to play. Apparently not.
By the time we were done walking around the cemetery and paying our respects, it was early afternoon, and we were hungry. I’ve mentioned my love of roadside attractions, but I am also hopelessly attracted to roadside diners. So, when I see a pig straddling a car and a clever name, I’ve gotta eat there.
Here’s the good news: Slap Ya Mama isn’t just marketing. The service was great and the food was excellent. It also filled us up so that we didn’t need to eat for the rest of the day.
We crossed the rest of Mississippi on a highway that never wandered far from the Gulf of Mexico. That makes for a nice drive. Unfortunately, we once again had to get on a freeway for a few miles when we hit Mobile, Alabama. By the way, we hit our biggest city of the day right at the beginning of rush hour. Not very good planning on our part. Luckily, traffic wasn’t heavy, and we scooted right through. Coming out of Mobile, we needed to cross Mobile Bay on the Jubilee Parkway bridge.
It was an odd experience. As we drove through Mobile, it was mostly sunny, with just a few clouds. As we entered the bridge, we saw a sign warning of possible fog. That seemed unlikely to me on a hot summer day. I was wrong. As soon as we hit the bridge, we also hit fog, and another of the southern rains that we are becoming familiar with. Dawn was driving, and I was navigating, but there wasn’t much navigating to be done. There was only one way to go – forward. It was the worst few miles of driving we had to endure, but Dawn did great. Immediately on the other side of the bridge, I was grateful to get off on another quiet highway.
We drove through the back roads of Alabama, and it was lovely country. I’m sure there are troubled areas of Alabama, where poverty and bad conditions exist, but we didn’t drive through it yesterday. It seemed that every house sat on twenty acres and was well-kept and impressive.
I did have one last little roadside attraction up my sleeve for the day: Bamahenge. Just like Stonehenge, without having to take a boat to England! Except, Bamahenge is made entirely of fiberglass, which I’m pretty sure was easier to work with than the stones of the real Stonehenge. The place is really pretty impressive – the exact size and placement of the real thing:
If you look carefully, you can even see a little druid trying to disappear around one of the stones. Er, fiberglass models. They look realistic, but tapping on them totally destroys the illusion. 🙂
When we were done at Bamahenge, I checked the map and saw that Florida was not far away, so we lit out for the state line and pulled in to Pensacola just before dark. The motel that we found is on the high end of the scale of roadside motels, which pleased Dawn, and it has a huge swimming pool, which pleased both of us.
We liked Pensacola so much that we decided to stay another day and explore the beaches in the area. Good decision. Today, we did nothing but swim, lay on the sand, then swim some more and lay on the sand. One of our favorite days of the trip. Here’s where we were:
Again, I can’t get over how empty these immaculate white sand beaches are. The weather was perfect, the waves were rolling, and we felt like we had the beach almost to ourselves. A great day.
Tomorrow, we return to our normally scheduled road trip, driving toward another one of those destination places: Key West and Dry Tortugas.
Cheers, and safe travels!