Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Day 31-35: Wichita Falls, Texas

August 26-30, 2011 - We woke up ready to make the drive through a good portion of Texas to Wichita Falls, where Bruce lived for a while and had some friends.  After ensuring that the camper and trailer were fit for the haul, we left the small campground and headed out.  Our next stop was  close to the Texas-Oklahoma border and we had a long way to drive.

I have to laugh at all the pictures of road that I took.

However, before we left the campground, Batman and Humberto had a wonderful photo opportunity with some of the local art.  Good picture or bad picture, I'll let you decide.

The best of buddies meet some new friends.

The drive through Texas was long...very long.  It took most of the day with only a few interesting things to see.  Bruce and I took turns switching out driving often.  We stopped at gas stations for food or things to drink; but those stops never lasted very long.

We continued driving.

I think these are trees.

Only a precursor to what is to come further into the Southwest, I'm sure.

The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex

When we finally got to the Dallas/Fort Worth area, I was on my own (Bruce was napping).  Talk about a harrowing experience.  So many roads and exits and they are everywhere.  Good thing I had Sylvia with me or I would have been hopelessly lost. Even Sylvia, however, isn't always perfect.  I missed one of the exits that I needed and ended up waking Bruce.  Together we found the way to get back to the highway I needed and he promptly fell asleep again.

Bruce's hat says it all; Adventure!

Then it got a little bit calmer; if four lanes of traffic can be considered calm.

Luckily I think we skirted around the outside edge, but I can't be sure.

Fixed A Flat and Wichita Falls

The temperature was 111 degrees.  Yep, you read that right. I was driving along when all of a sudden I felt the truck pull.  I looked in the mirror and sure enough, the trailer had a flat tire.  We pulled off to the side of the busy highway and proceeded to change the tire.

Did I mention it was 111 degrees?

Where our tire blew out, see the heat waves?

The pavement was so hot you couldn't get down on it to change the tire without a wooden board; which we happened to have.  The tire was put on quickly; probably because we were sweating to death.  Getting back into the truck and on the road, we headed the five more miles into Wichita Falls.

Wichita Falls

The States always seem to have giant water towers proclaiming who they belong too.

Upon reaching Wichita Falls, we met up with some of Bruce's good friends, Brent and Monica.  We stayed at their house visiting for quite a while before heading to a campground in Burkburnett, a town right outside of Wichita Falls.  It would be here that we set up our base camp for the next couple of days.

The area around Burkburnett.

Burkburnett is a boom town that stopped booming.

The area around Wichita Falls and Burkburnett is typical Southern Texas.  The tallest things you will find around here are the oil wells which operate day and night.  Other than that, the land is perfect to hide rattlesnakes and large spiders in, not that I saw any during my stay.

The oil well right outside of our campground.

It was only later that I found out that this part of Texas was the southernmost part of the Great Plains.  Come to think of it, now that I know better, the landscape isn't that bad.  It has its own charms and beauty.

We spent several days in Wichita Falls.  A lot of it was spent visiting Bruce's old haunts; like the house he lived in, the park he used to hang out in, and some of the places he went with his wife.  Other times we would visit with his friends or just drive around town.

A park in Wichita Falls.  Enough said.

The truck didn't fit in the Sonic very well.

We also watched movies every night we were there.

Out of all the movies we watched, Bruce and I enjoyed this one the most.

Towards the last day in Wichita Falls, Bruce and I enjoyed the swimming pool at the campground.  We were in there for hours just enjoying each others company and the cool water.  There was a children's water slide there that we both took turns going down, even though the pool said no diving; it wasn't technically diving.  We both had a lot of fun.

Oklahoma Casinos...Just Don't

On our last day in Wichita Falls I convinced Bruce to go to the casino across the border.  Needless to say, we didn't win big like we did in Vicksburg.  Additionally, the beers they served were what I call "half beers", only half the alcohol content as normal stuff due to some law in Oklahoma.

I won't go into more detail here, but Bruce and I did not enjoy this casino at all for a variety of reasons.

In the morning we would head back to Oklahoma; to Arnett, not that casino.  We had a long day ahead of us and we were both in a foul mood from our night at the casino.  We decided to go to bed early so we could head out early in the morning.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Day 30: The Last Battlefield

August 25, 2011 - Bruce and I have a running joke.  It took us three days to tour Gettysburg and the Battle of Gettysburg took three days.  It took us one day to tour the battlefield at Sharpsburg and the battle lasted one day.  The Siege of Vicksburg took a month and a half.

So where would that leave us if we followed that train of thought?

Although Bruce and I woke up a little late and a very dehydrated, we managed to get a lot of things done today.  Our main accomplishment was that we actually managed to finish the tour of Vicksburg in a day and a couple of hours.  We also managed to include another battlefield museum, a Waffle House, and continued our journey on towards Texas.  Wow, what a day!

Just some trees at Vicksburg Battlefield.

The Vicksburg Battle Museum

I won't bore you with the details of our Waffle House fun. but know that it was delicious as usual.  After our late breakfast we went to the Vicksburg Battle Museum.  The Museum, which isn't a part of the National Parks Service, was shaped like an old ironside gunboat.  Once inside the air conditioned building, we took the opportunity to explore while we waited for another video.  The video this time, however, would focus mainly on the Confederate civilian's point of view.

There were several good things about this museum.  First, it had a wonderful gift shop full of items we didn't find in the one on the actual battlefield.  Additionally, the main feature of this museum was the miniature diorama of the Siege of Vicksburg.

The miniature Shirley House, complete with Union foxholes in the backyard.

The detailed diorama helped to better understand the positions and layout of the battlefield.

The diorama helped to understand the layout of the battlefield.  When we were driving around yesterday, it was hard to understand how the battle was played out simply because it was a very large area.  The diorama at the museum helped to see the hills, troop placements, and significant features that we had seen just the day before.

Additionally, the museum had an extensive collection of model ships, over 200 of them.  The ships range from replicas of the ironsides used during the Civil War to the iconic steamboats.  With an emphasis on military naval history, this was definitely a good place to stop at.

Railroad Redoubt and Hovey's Approach

After spending time in the Vicksburg Battle Museum we made our way towards the part of the Vicksburg Battlefield we didn't get to see yet.  It was here that we saw some more state memorials and some rugged terrain that the Civil War soldiers fought over.

The Texas memorial was unique and inspiring.

The Alabama memorial.

The Georgia memorial was tucked away from the road and not easily accessible.

The Iowa memorial.
The rough terrain was more evident here than some other places of the battlefield.  It is hard to imaging soldiers moving the heavy cannons or running up and down the slopes of the hills to engage in combat.

The Texas memorial can be seen in the distance.

Farewell to Vicksburg

My final thoughts on the Siege of Vicksburg is the one of sadness.  Sadness in part to the lives that were lost in this conflict in our shared history, but more importantly, it would be the last battlefield that Bruce and I would explore on our trip.

While never having much appreciation for American History, thanks to Bruce I do now.  If it wasn't for Bruce's voracious appetite for all things Confederate I probably wouldn't have been interested in visiting old battlefields from the Civil War.  Additionally, having served in the Army for a time, I can doubly appreciate those who fought and died in the battlefields that Bruce and I were able to explore and be a part of.

The road out of Vicksburg National Battlefield.

Onwards To Texas

Crossing over the Mississippi River meant that our tour of the East Coast was finally at an end.  We crossed the river but another bridge was in the way.  Considering that I took a picture of the Mississippi when we first crossed it, I didn't want to miss out and taking another picture of it as we crossed it again...even if another bridge was in the way.

I took a picture of the river, not the bridge.

After crossing the Mississippi River the scenery changed dramatically.  It was all flat and farmlands; a big change from thick forests and rolling hills.  However, it wasn't that bad at all.

Flat...very flat.

We drove all the way through Louisiana and ended up at a truck stop for diner.  As we were entering Texas and into the Southwest I was loosing my opportunity to see an alligator.  Lucky for me, the truck stop had a whole bunch of them...well, the heads at least.  All different sizes.  I got one for a souvenir.

We crossed the border into Texas an stayed at a camper park for the night.  In the morning we would head on over to Wichita Falls, our next scheduled stop.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Day 29: The Siege of Vicksburg

August 24, 2011 -  Leaving the comfort and hospitality of our friends in Jackson was hard, but we had to press on.  Bruce and I said our goodbyes to our hosts and loaded back into the truck.  While we were leaving Jackson behind us, we still had some time left in Mississippi.  Our next stop would take us to another battlefield, Waffle House, and even a casino.

A cannon overlooking the Mississippi River at the Vicksburg National Battlefield.

Waffle House!

Before we left Jackson we did make one stop.  This would be the first time that I would get to dine at my favorite eatery; Waffle House.  Bruce is such a good buddy.  He knew that I wanted to eat at one of the many Waffle Houses scattered throughout the South so he treated me to breakfast before we continued our journey.

The story of my Waffle House fascination starts years ago when I had just graduated from basic training in the Army.  My dad and I drove around Ft. Jackson in South Carolina and saw signs for the famed waffle eatery everywhere.  We joked about it, wondering why people would only want to eat waffles.

Bruce took this photograph of me and my Waffle House.

It wasn't until one of my good friends in advanced training took me to a Waffle House that I discovered the goodness that was called Waffle House.  Ever since then, I have always associated Waffle House with my friends and I was pleased to induct Bruce into my Waffle House experience.

I could write an entire blog post on the subject.

The Vicksburg Battlefield

We made our way to Vicksburg, and easy drive from Jackson.  From there, we navigated to our next destination; the Vicksburg National Battlefield.  Before heading into the museum to start our tour (and watch a movie about the siege), Batman and Humberto had a little fun.

Batman takes careful aim.

Having missed the first time, Batman decides a different route to get rid of "Conehead".

After goofing of outside of the museum, we went into the museum and...yep, that's right, shopped.  Luckily we had some time to kill before the educational movie on the Siege of Vicksburg.  The movie was really informative and helped understand the siege before we headed out and did some sight seeing.

The Siege of Vicksburg

The siege started on May 18 of 1863 and ended on July 4 of the same year.  It was the last major battle of the Vicksburg Campaign.  The conclusion of the siege would signal the turning point of the war when coupled with the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg.

The Union Army. led by Maj. General Ulysses S. Grant had previously pushed back the Confederate forces, led by Lt. General John C. Pemberton.  Pemberton's army took up defensive lines in and around the city of Vicksburg.

The area surrounding Vicksburg easily allowed the Confederate forces to hold off Union troop advances.  Once the Union army figured that out, they resorted to cannons.  Eventually, with no reinforcements coming to their aid, the Confederate forces surrendered on the Fourth of July.  As a result, Independence Day celebrations wouldn't be held in Vicksburg for almost a hundred years.

The Tour Starts

We got back into the truck and headed through the Vicksburg Memorial Arch.  This spot would mark the beginning of the sixteen mile driving tour.  Driving through the Arch was, for somebody who has been to several battlefields, a very moving experience.  Not only did it mark the beginning of the tour, but also memorialized all those who had fought in this battle; on both sides.

The grand Vicksburg Memorial Arch, the start of the tour.

It didn't take long after driving through the Memorial Arch that Bruce and I saw some amazing monuments and got to experience the Siege of Vicksburg in a more personal setting by walking along the same lines that the soldiers during the Revolutionary War did.

State Monuments

Easily the most impressive monument in the Vicksburg Battlefield is the Illinois State Monument.  This amazing monument is modeled after Roman Parthenon and is accessible by forty-seven steps, the amount of days the Siege took place.  Once inside, visitors can see sixty bronze tablets that are inscribed with the names of all the soldiers from Illinois who participated in the Siege of Vicksburg; including Grant's son.

This is easily the most impressive monument I have seen in the battlefields I have visited.

The monument stands sixty-two feet in height.

The echos in this monument were booming.

While other state monuments didn't reach the physical grandness of Illinois, they each had their own unique quality about them, and were just as powerful in their ability to get the point across.

The Missouri monument has, perhaps, the saddest story.  The monument stands a symbolic forty-two feet which is the number of  units from the state; twenty-seven Union and fifteen Confederate.  The monument is placed where two Missouri units clashed in battle.

The bronze plaques on both sides represent both Confederate and Union troops.

The Missouri Monument from a distance.

The "Spirit of the Republic".

Another impressive monument we saw was the one dedicated to the troops of Arkansas.  The monument, at first, appears to be just a simple design until you read the inscription:  "To the Arkansas Confederate Soldiers and Sailors,a part of a nation divided by the sword and reunited at the altar of faith."

The Arkansas Monument.

See the sword?  See the altar of faith?  Pretty cool, huh?

Another impressive monument that stands out in my mind was the Mississippi state monument. While I didn't get a chance to get very close to it; the size and design was impressive even from the truck.

The Mississippi Monument.

Landmarks and Battlefields

All throughout the tour Bruce and I were able to get out of the truck and trudge around the same areas that the soldiers from both sides of the American Civil War did a long time ago.

The Shirley House; one of the Union army's main locations.

A hole Union soldiers may have lived in during the Siege near The Shirley House.

The USS Cairo

Driving our way through the Vicksburg Battlefield we ran across something we didn't really expect to see.  The USS Cairo was a ironclad Union gunboat that was the first armored warship sunk by a electrically detonated mine...ever.  The Cairo was sunk in the Yazoo River on December 12, 1862.

The USS Cairo is protected from the elements by a very large...sail.

The USS Cairo was recovered in 1964, but most of the ship was destroyed when the cables used to lift it out of the mud cut into the hull.  What visitors can see now is a mixture of new and old.  Portions of the vessel remain while newer wooden beams replace those that were destroyed.

Visitors can walk all the way around the Cairo and even inside of it on walkways.  Seeing the amazing artifact from the Civil War was amazing.  Interestingly enough, when the Cairo sank, there were no hands lost.

The newer beams are evident when compared to the original wood of the ship.

Another picture of the USS Cairo.

Did I mention there was a museum and gift shop at the USS Cairo?  Yep, there was.

A Grand View

Above the USS Cairo is Fort Hill, a place where Confederate troops placed cannons in which to fire upon Union ships coming down the Mississippi River.  Driving up the hill was quite a task, but it was well worth it.  Once up on the summit of Fort Hill, we were awarded with an amazing view of the Mississippi River.

The mighty Mississippi River; there, in the distance.

Fort Hill.  From here, the Confederates guarded the Mississippi River.

From here, our tour of Vicksburg started winding down for the day.  We two more major stops before calling it good, the Great Redoubt and the Second Texas Lunette.  From here, we took the road out of the battlefield and made our way to a camper park and for some fun out on the town.

Casino Time; Vicksburg Style

After setting up the camper and taking a dip in the pool; Bruce and I decided to go to the casino and try our luck.  Luckily the place we stayed at was run by the casino that we went to and they had free shuttle service to and from the casino.  We took this opportunity to have some fun.

Our first stop when getting to the casino was the buffet.  Wow!  What a selection.  Bruce and I filled up on food before heading downstairs to the main floor.  After starting off with the nickle slots and a few beers later; Bruce and I found our luck was with us that night.

The machine kept ringing and ringing and people were coming over to look over my shoulder.

After winning big on the nickle slots we went over to the bar.  I tried my hand at the games there but kept on loosing.  Eventually, Bruce directed me over to a quarter slot machine right outside of the bar and I tried my luck there.

I won big time!  Let me rephrase that:  Bruce and I won BIG time!

The rest of the night Bruce would get a lucky feeling on certain slot machines and I would win on them; just like that.  We spent the whole night, and part of the early morning, having a fun time and drinking way too much.  In the end, Bruce and I had won over $800.  Not bad for some Alaskan boys!

However, all good things come to an end and we started loosing more than we were winning.  We called it a night and headed back to the camper via the shuttle service after taking a brief stop at the local Waffle House. After a quick meal and exhausted from our long day, we went to bed.

Tomorrow would bring us to the Vicksburg Battlefield again to finish up our tour and then across the Mississippi River to continue our trip.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Day 25-28: Southern Hospitality

August 20 - 23, 2011 - We travelled through the rest of Georgia and all of Alabama to reach our next destination; Jackson, Mississippi.  The drive was pleasant and beautiful, with lots of trees and hills to look at.  Not a lot else, though.  We wanted to make it to our destination in time for something special, so we didn't dawdle.


The state is famous for gumbo, casinos, and the blues. I loved this state. Bruce and I had such an amazing time here.  Known as the "Hospitality State", Mississippi definitely lived up to its name; it was by far the most welcoming place we visited so far on our trip.

Finally, another Welcome Center; it seems like forever since I saw one.

Driving through Mississippi was fun.  The scenery, while similar to the other states we drove through in the South; has its own unique charm and feel.  The heavy trees and slow rivers helped Bruce and I start to relax from our hectic days in Washington D.C.  In all, I found most of the South this way.

Tall trees in the median; taken while I was driving.

Bruce was sleeping in the reclined position so I could take a picture of the river.

While driving through Mississippi there was a major rain storm.  I happened to be driving at the time and managed to keep my cool through the downpour.  It was so bad that you could barely see the person in front of you on the highway.  A lot of people were pulling off to the side of the road to wait it out.  However, I didn't know the road very well (even though it was a highway) and the truck set-up weighs a lot.  I decided to keep driving only at a reduced speed; a very reduced speed.

After the storm the clouds cleared up like nothing ever happened.

I eventually passed through the downpour and encountered another challenge while driving.  The roads were still hot from the earlier part of the day and the rain was starting to steam up.  Like driving through a thick fog except it was coming from the road, which made seeing the lines on the highway extremely difficult.

In retrospect, I probably should have pulled off to the side of the road.  Bruce probably thought the same thing but hasn't said anything to me about it.  We managed to make it through the rainstorm and the steam without any problems, however, and I can thank the show Ice Road Truckers and the winters in my home state for my driving competency.

I think Bruce has a couple more white hairs on his head after this experience.


In Jackson, we met up with Bruce's sister to stay with for a couple of days.  Laura is the Southern Belle of Hospitality. She took us around town after she made sure we had a home-cooked meal. She made sure we had everything we needed.  Her husband, Chris, is an awesome guy too. A talented musician and very friendly Mississippian. Chris and Laura welcomed us into his home with open arms and a friendly smile.

The neighborhood we stayed at.

In all of the parts of The South, I have experienced the famed Southern Hospitality in full force in Mississippi. From friendly greetings from strangers to locals asking how you are doing, Mississippi stands out as the friendliest state I have experienced so far.  Did I mention that already?

The Rainbow Casino

On the first night, the night we arrived, Laura took us to the casino to see her husband's band.  This was the reason we wanted to get to Jackson in time for.  While I do not normally listen to the style of music that they played, I found the experience enjoyable.  I found the Blues amazing; and what better state to listen to it in? 

I also got to play the quarter games at the bar and ended up making ten dollars from my first real gambling experience. I was rather proud of myself for remembering what my Dad told me about gambling responsibly; don't spend more than the cash you came in with and have fun.

Once we came back from a night on the town, we had comfortable beds to sleep in; a big change from the camper.

Relaxing and Exploring

Bruce and I took the next couple of days just relaxing.  The trip hasn't been too stressful up to this point, but it was nice to just relax from driving all the time.  I took a couple of opportunities to explore the area while Bruce was playing on his phone or taking a nap.

A beautiful house.

You don't see this kind of stuff in Alaska that often.

Eventually I got bolder and went a little further out.  After inviting Bruce to head out on foot (which he politely declined), I did some exploring on the outer edges of the neighborhood.  I found a path and followed it and was rewarded with a couple of pictures and no alligators.

While not technically in the wild, the scenery was beautiful.

A marsh bird of some type.

On the way back I saw some interesting flowers.

Bumper Stickers Anonymous

Some of you may remember reading that Bruce and I have been purchasing bumper stickers; a lot of them.  I wanted to share with you what we've been doing with them, just so that you know we aren't doing anything illegal with them or sticking them up in the rest stops we encounter.  If you haven't read that we've been buying bumper stickers then read some of the past posts; I know I've mentioned it before.

Before the trip started, Bruce and I thought it would be a good idea to put stickers on the back part of the trailer.  At first, these stickers would be the states that we travelled through and the various Society for Creative Anachronism kingdoms that we visited on our journey.  Well, it expanded to more different types of stickers...

The states we've been through so far.

We got a little carried away obviously.

So far so good; but so much more to go.

Some of my favorite stickers are the zombie family, "You Touch You Die", " I See Debt People", and "Beer Is Cheaper Than Gasoline".  We plan on getting more during the rest of our trip and the goal is to have the back of the trailer completely covered.  I think its a good challenge.

Mississippi Nightlife

Chris and Laura took Bruce and I out every night to see the town.  We ate at some wonderful places, ate some local cuisine, and got to experience the Blues the way they were meant to be.  I tried a variety of different dishes; my favorite was the gumbo, and thoroughly enjoyed myself.  I could tell Bruce did too.

Packing Up

Tomorrow would come, and with it the continuation of our trip.  In the morning we would have to say goodbye to our gracious hosts and continue on the road again.  While I was a little sad at first, I was looking forward to our next stop; Vicksburg.

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