Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Road to Big Thicket

My original plan was to pick up The Land Between the Lakes and Fort Donelson National Battlefield stamps on my way south to Shiloh. For a variety of family reasons I visited both of these parks the week before Carolyn and I left for Big Thicket. The Land Between the Lakes is a National Recreation Area. The National Park stamp can be found at the Golden Pond Visitor Center on The LBL Trace. Fort Donelson is strategically located atop a hill overlooking the Tennessee River, near Dover, TN. This fort was the site of a major Civil War battle as Grant moved his Union Army south to Shiloh, Tupelo, Vicksburg and Natchez. The Visitor Center at Fort Donelson. Cannons positioned north, covering Grant's approach on the Tennessee River.

Carolyn and I departed Paducah Sunday morning, November 11th, around 9 am, heading south to Shiloh National Military Park. This park is the site of a Civil War Battlefield and Cemetery. While there, we toured the grounds and watched the National Park video.

I always come away with a greater understanding of the tremendous costs our civil war inflicted on both our country and it’s people. I never cease to be astonished at the enormous numbers of troops involved in each of the major battles and the astounding death and causalities. The Shiloh Visitor Center. This site also has the Tennessee Trail of Tears Stamp.The National Park stamp can be found in the Shiloh Book Store.The Shiloh National Cemetery entrance.The fall colors only added to the beauty of the park.Canons overlooking the Tennessee River. From Shiloh we rode southeast into northwestern corner of Alabama to Colbert Ferry on The Natchez Trace. This is an Alabama state site with a National Park designation. Unfortunately, the visitor center was closed for some unexplained reason and we were not able to collect this stamp. All was not lost as the beautiful fall colors along the route more than made up for the effort. From Colbert Ferry we continued southwest, riding the Natchez Trace to Tupelo, MS where we found the visitor center for the Trace, Brice’s Cross Roads and The Tupelo National Battlefield.

We called it a day here and stayed in Tupelo for the evening. The next morning we continued our scenic ride down The Natchez Trace, enjoying the fall beauty at every turn. Eventually we arrived at Vicksburg, MS where we toured Vicksburg National Military Park and watched the National Park video. This battlefield site was the next in the series as the Union troops moved south to free the Mississippi River at fortress called Natchez.From Vicksburg we crossed the Mississippi River and rode northwest to Poverty Point State Historic Site at Epps, LA. This park was approved for National Park status but, as it turned out, turned down the designation. Therefore, the park stamp will not count for the Ironbutt Tour.

This site preserves the archeological digs of the oldest known people ever found in North America. Poverty Point commemorates a culture that thrived during the first and second millennia B.C. Carolyn and I both found it to be one of the most interesting sites we have visited. Here we watched the video and took a riding tour of the site.

It started to rain as we left Poverty Point and continued raining for the 80-mile ride south where we crossed back into Mississippi at Natchez.

After riding in Mississippi many times, I finally collected a picture of their state sign (in the rain) for my collection. Mississippi seems to have a habit of placing their state signs in dangerous locations. Arriving in Natchez late in the afternoon, we quickly rode to The Natchez National Historic Park at Melrose. From the magnificent antebellum estate of John McMurran, to the downtown home of African-American barber and diarist William Johnson, to the French Fort Rosalie, this park is dedicated to the rich history of Natchez, it's people and the key role Natchez played in the Civil War. The picture above is the back of the Melrose Mansion seen above.

Leaving Melrose near dark, we called it a day Tuesday morning we left the Natchez area and rode west across Louisiana to Alexandria, where we turned south to join I-10. After picking up the interstate, we rode west to Beaumont, TX and on northeast for 30 miles to Kountze, TX and The Big Thicket National Game Preserve.

Big Thicket was the first National Game Preserve. Designation of Big Thicket as a national preserve created a different management concept for the National Park Service. Preserve status prevents further timber harvesting but allows oil and gas exploration, hunting, and trapping to continue. In 2001 the American Bird Conservancy designated Big Thicket National Preserve a Globally Important Bird Area. The preserve is composed of 12 units comprising 97,500 acres. It was designated an International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations in 1981. The protected area will provide a standard for measuring human impact on the environment.

Big Thicket treated us to temps of 85 degrees and overwhelming humidity. It did not take us long to change to our summer riding gear, regardless of the impending pop-up rain showers. We returned to I-10 and rode east to Lake Charles, LA where we spent the night. Wednesday morning we left Lake Charles and traveled east on I-10. Arriving in New Orleans we rode into the French Quarter and found parking on the street. We removed anything of value on the Wing and covered the bike while we walked to the two National Parks.

The first park was The New Orleans Jazz National Historial Park, obviously celebrating New Orleans contributions to Jazz.

Carolyn, taking a break with a new found friend..... Five blocks up Decateur St. we found the second National Park. Jean Lafitte National Historical Park celebrates:
Acadian Cultural Center - Lafayette
Prairie Acadian Cultural Center - Eunice
Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center - Thibodaux
Barataria Preserve - Marrero
Chalmette Battlefield and National Cemetery - Chalmette
French Quarter Visitor Center - New Orleans

Picturesque Jackson Square The historic New Orleans French Quarter. Cafe du Monde - Home of lengendary powdered sugar beignets and chicory coffee.We left New Orleans mid-day and quickly crossed the Mississippi River, hugging the Gulf Coast on Hwy 90, through Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, and Biloxi.

We rode through the heart of the Katrina damage, in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, still plainly visible two years later. I was very encouraged by the new construction, both private and government. Almost all of the major bridges we crossed were new construction.
We soon arrived at Gulf Islands National Park at Ocean Springs, MS. This is the first of two Gulf Island Parks. After touring the visitor center and collecting the stamp, we located a motel and restaurant at Pascagoula, MS for the evening. The next morning we woke to a steady twenty mph wind with gusts to forty. This presented a big problem riding the coast highway with all the sand. We continued riding east along Hwy 90, following the coast and circling Mobile Bay through Battles Wharf, Faithhope, Foley, and on to Pensacola, FL. Arriving in Pensacola, FL, we crossed the bay bridge to visit Gulf Islands National Seashore. After leaving Gulf Breeze, FL we turned north and continued to fight the strong winds, riding I-65 to Montgomery, AL before calling it a day.

Overnight the temps dropped dramatically with morning temps of 29 degrees. We took our time leaving, allowing the temps to rise to 41 by the time we left. Fortunately the strong winds had subsided. It was 427 miles home and the temps were never warmer than a chilly 54 degrees. Quiet cold at Interstate speeds for long periods.

We arrived home at 4:15 pm, after riding a total of 2,218 miles.

"Motorcycling in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to a similar degree to aviation, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness,incapacity or neglect." ~Unknown~

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Great Ohio River Run...... (Not!)

For various reasons, I have been unable to pick up a National Park in the state of Ohio. This oversight presented an ideal opportunity for yet another great solo bike trip.

The planned date of departure, Tuesday, Oct 23rd, predictably arrived amidst a monsoon, breaking a summer long drought.

It had been raining steadily for several days and there were few signs of it letting up. Reluctantly, I decided to postpone my departure one more day, all the while keeping a keen eye on the weather channel.

My original plan was to take three “leisurely” days to make this trip, with a planned three or four day stop at my daughters home. I also had planned a much anticipated two-lane ride up the Illinois, Indiana and Ohio side of the Ohio River. Delaying my departure cut my trip time by one third, making it impossible to ride the river road, while visiting the National Parks I had planned.

Wednesday morning, Oct. 24th, I woke up at 4:30 am and checked the weather radar on both the TV and my laptop. Both confirmed light showers around the Paducah area, forty-eight degrees, with clearing skies to the east. On that somewhat optimistic note, I grabbed the last few items that were not already packed, kissed Carolyn goodbye, and headed out the door at 5 am.

So much for the weatherman!

My first stop came at 6:45 am in Beaver Dam, KY, after riding 120 miles in the dark, in a steady rain. I grabbed a cup of coffee and a breakfast biscuit and continued on to Louisville where the rain finally let up for a brief 30 minutes. After quickly negotiating the dry Waterson Expressway, I rode the now rain soaked I-71 northeast to downtown Cincinnati, OH where I found the first park on my list.

William Howard Taft National Historic Site
A memorial to the 27th President and 10th Chief Justice of The United States.

Leaving Cincinnati, I rode northeast 120 miles to Chillicothe, OH to visit Hopewell Culture National Historical Park.

Earthen mounds of various shapes and enclosures, often built in geometric patterns, dot the landscape of this Ohio River Valley. These earthen structures were doubtless the work of many human hands. Evidence suggests that Hopewell earthworks were used for a variety of ceremonial and social activities between 200 BC to AD 500. Finally! Beautiful two-lane roads south from Chillicothe, OH to the Ohio River crossing at Maysville, KY. Southern Ohio was at peak fall color and a delight to see, even in the rain. It's a shame my snapshots rarely convey the real fall beauty.

From Maysville I rode south, eventually connecting with I-64 thirty miles east of Winchester, KY. It was on westward to Lexington, KY where, after riding 643 miles, I stopped for dinner at the Cracker Barrel and called it a day.

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area
Stearns, KY

Thursday morning, after waiting for daylight forever, I left at 7:00 am in the dark with light rain, 47 degree temps and a 30 mile per hour wind. It didn't take long to ride the 85 miles south to the Kentucky entrance to Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area at Stearns, KY. This park straddles the KY-TN line and has a visitor center in both states.

Big South Fork has some amazing mountain twisties (roads) within the park that rival anything found at Deals Gap. I found the Gorge especially challenging on very steep, wet-leaf strewn switch backs. Fortunately, due to the time of the year, I had the road to myself.

Encompassing 125,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area protects the free-flowing Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and its tributaries. The visitor center at Stearns, KY is located in an old train station.

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area
Oneida, TN

After riding south through the park, another thirty miles, I left Big South Fork at Oneida, TN. I exited the west entrance and circled south, around the park, heading east toward I-75 once again.

Fall beauty at every turn!

I continued following two lane mountain roads, crossing I-75, east to Cumberland Gap National Historic Park at Middlesboro, KY. I also rode through the Cumberland Gap Tunnel, which joins Kentucky and Tennessee at this point.

It was 76 miles of beautiful two-lane mountain roads, due east, to Greenville, TN, and my next park.

The Andrew Johnson National Historic Site honors the life of the 17th President. Andrew Johnson's presidency, 1865-1869, illustrates the United States Constitution at work following President Lincoln's assassination and during attempts to reunify a nation torn by civil war. Andrew Johnson's original home.Andrew Johnson is buried in the family cemetery on top of a hill overlooking downtown Greenville, TN.

After visiting this park, I punched "Go to Keaton's Home" (our grandson) on my faithful Garmin and, 248 miles later, I arrived at my daughter's home in Murfreesboro, TN at 7:15 pm.

Another awesome day, riding 674 miles total. The mountains of eastern KY and eastern TN were nothing short of spectacular!

"Great things are done by a series of small things brought together." ~ Vincent Van Gogh ~