Day 15: Tampa, Florida to Indian Rocks, Florida

We got up bright and early and went to Carol’s house in St. Pete and cleaned her gutters and fixed a leak in her roof. She had a fenced backyard so Sprocket got to hang out, although he mostly slept on the shady side porch. After the morning’s work, we got lunch at the Portabella Grill and then headed for the beach.

Carol had to rush back to Tampa but her grandson, Anthony, happened to be hanging out at the beach condo. Forrest and I made a quick run to the store and bought Sprocket a soup bone. Back at the condo, Sprocket chewed his bone while F and I read the New York Times. It didn’t take F too long to suggest that we go swim in the gulf some. I’ve never turned down swimming in salt water and wasn’t about to start then! We had a blast splashing around in the most perfect temperature salt water. While we were out there, we spotted Anthony in the waves. Anthony deemed the water still a little cold (!) so we all headed up to the pool. Sprocket got to come down and join us. He hid out in the shade and made friends with the man hanging out in the shade.

After we both decided we’d had plenty of sun, we returned to the condo where Sprocket chewed on his bone some more and we did some TV watching. I got bored after awhile and took Sprocket on a walk. We had chicken for dinner and then headed for bed–listening to the sounds of the waves!

Thanks so much to Frank and Carol (and their family) for making our stay in the Tampa area so enjoyable!

Day 14: Lloyd, Florida to Tampa, Florida

We hit the road bound for Tampa with no real plan about what we were going to do between Lloyd and Tampa. As Tampa approached, we realized we’d need to find something to do with ourselves until Carol and Frank got home from work. Not really knowing where to begin, we called Roxanne and Brandon for some advice. They directed us to Cigar City Brewing (very nice directions by the way!). As we pulled into the nondescript parking lot to our dismay we found that they were closed on Mondays.

Fortunately, Tim was kind enough to open up the tasting room for us. We sampled their Humidor Series Grut, Madura Brown, and Jai Alai IPA.  The Grut is an old European style of beer brewed without hops and, like most of Cigar City’s Humidor beers, it was aged over cedar. We both found it quite yummy. The Madura and Jai Alai were both good too. He also poured us tastes of Swamphead Brewery’s Wildnight Honey Cream Ale and Cottonmouth Belgian Whit.

After our tasting, we headed to downtown Tampa and walked along the riverwalk. We also checked out Plant Park right next to the University of Southern Florida campus. After our walk around, it was time to head to Frank and Carol’s. After relaxing next to the pool for a bit while Sprocket played with their dog Uta we went to the Mellow Mushroom for dinner. Carol has been reading our blog and though we’d really enjoy the beer list there. She was certainly right! We ordered a sampler paddle and had Oskar Blue‘s Gordon IPA (Longmont, CO), Left Hand’s Milk Stout on nitro (also Longmont, CO), Dogfish Head‘s 90 Minute IPA (brewed in Milton, DE), Flying Dog‘s Doggy Style Pale (Aspen, CO), and Stone’s Ruination Double IPA (San Diego, CA). Our pizza, the house special, was also fantastic!

Back at the house, Forrest and I both got showers and Sprocket spazzed out a bit before we all headed for bed where Forrest and I caught up on our History Channel watching a bit before we crashed.

Day 13: New Orleans, Louisiana to Lloyd, Florida

We got up and hit the road this morning trying to be sure and miss Jazz Fest traffic. We cruised right on out of Louisiana and into Mississippi. We didn’t find much to do along I-10…we tried to check out the Mississippi Sandhill Crane wildlife refuge…but it’s closed on Sunday. In Alabama we didn’t find much to do either–we got gas and continued on to Florida.

Then we hit Florida. We checked out Blackwater River State Park–that doesn’t let dogs on the beach. Fortunately, we’d seen some other people cut off on a road prior to the park that wound through the pines and popped out on the river just east of the park. Sprocket did some more swimming and Forrest and I enjoyed the sunshine. Some Floridians had lots of suggestions of places to party and they were quite nice to Mr. Wiggles.

Pushing east on I-10, we picked up lunch at Whattaburger in Clearview and set out for Chattahoochee. After a walk around the city park we decided to push through Tallahassee before stopping for the night.

Day 12: New Orleans, Louisiana

After a lazy Saturday morning in Meg’s apartment, Meg, Forrest, Sprocket, and I headed for City Park. Due to Jazz Fest traffic we abandoned those plans and headed for “The Fly”–which is a walk along the Mississippi Levee. It was fun to just be outside with the Sprocket-meister. We went to the Parkway for lunch and had Po-boys. Forrest had a gravy smothered roast beef one while I had grilled alligator sausage.

After our po-boys, we dropped Sprocket off at Meg’s and went to the National World War II Museum. It was a nice museum, although even I found it a little heavy on the reading. From the museum we headed to Bacchanal for their free Saturday wine tasting. The shop was cute, although the owner wasn’t too excited about talking about wine. Meg also drove us through the lower 9th ward where much of the damage the levee breaches during Hurricane Katrina took place.

We made dinner at her house and then walked down to Cajun Creamery for ice cream. I’m up finishing a load of laundry and tomorrow we set out for Mississippi and Alabama!

Day 11: New Orleans, Louisiana

We woke up, got dressed and headed for the French Quarter because F had never tried beignets. The line at Cafe Du Monde was around the block so we continued down the street looking for an alternate beignets source. We fond a small cafe on Canal Street and ordered coffee and our beignets while Sprocket laid at our feet (I told the little guy he was quite Parisian). After Forrest got a second order of the sugar covered doughnuts we walked around the French Quarter a bit. We headed back to the car then went and checked out St. Louis Cemetery #2, I found the above ground tombs pretty fascinating.

Back at Meg’s we befriended her neighbor across the street and borrowed his hose to wash the jeep. As we were washing it, a thunderstorm started rolling through the area. We were able to wash the car before it really started raining and when it started raining it POURED. Sprocket went into his crate and Forrest and I headed for Whole Foods to get something for lunch. We got pretty soaked just running across the street from the car so we hung out and watched the storm roll by.

When Meg got back from work we headed for the Royal Street Bar (“R-Bar”) for a free crawfish feed. Were treated to big plates of crawfish. They really are just mini-lobsters–all we ate were the tails. The potatoes, carrots, and corn also in the boil were fabulous. After dinner, we wondered around the Marigny district. We were walking down the street and spotted a sign that said “Fosters on tap here” and all were briefly tricked into thinking that the adorable house might be a bar. The resident of the house and his neighbor were sitting around people watching and apparently decided that if someone interesting walked by they’d invited them up for a drink. Apparently the three of us were interesting enough and we had a few drinks and just talked for a bit. After that we walked back to the French Quarter and visited Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop for a grape daiquiri of some kind. From there, we walked back to Frenchman Street to listen to bands at the Spotted Cat. Once we got there, we discovered they were charging a cover so we bagged listening to a band for going to “The Joint” for some good barbeque. We all decided that we were ready for bed so we headed home.

Day 10: New Iberia, Louisiana to New Orleans, Louisiana

Our day started in a downtown parking lot of New Iberia after our night on the town. We briefly stopped at the city park to use the restroom and get ready for the day. Leaving town, Forrest stopped at a doughnut shack and picked us up a glazed and an old  for afashioned–they were really good! (Now I’ve got to find him a beignet here in New Orleans.) I loved the drive down Louisiana 182…there were all sorts of random old houses of all sizes. After awhile though, we realized that we’d be to New Orleans by two o’clock if we didn’t find some other explorations. So we turned south on LA 317, a road towards the gulf with no towns marked on the map.

The road passed over the Intracostal Waterway just as Sprocket started to demand a stop. Forrest drove us down a small road leading to a small plant on the waterway. Just as we got out of the car, a 15 passenger van pulled in behind us. It was a crew for a tugboat getting ready to go on their 28-day shift. Two of the young guys hung out with us and told us all about the job while they waited for the Miss Mollye D to pull up. When the boat got there they invited us aboard for a tour–quite spacious digs compared to the Wecoma!

After we left the Mollye, we headed further south. We found ourselves at Burn’s Point recreation area on Cote Blanche Bay on the Gulf. Sprocket enjoyed getting himself wet and then covering himself with sand. We drove around a bit on dirt levee roads looking for alligators before we headed for Morgan City, hoping to get some cajun food for lunch. After a disappointing stop downtown, we had almost resigned ourself to some non-local food when one of the gas station attendants told me about Rita Mae’s Cafe and promised us that there would be good southern food there.

When we found Rita Mae’s it really was just an old house converted to a restaurant. The service wasn’t exactly friendly, but my crawfish Étouffée was amazing, Forrest’s smothered pork chop was more so so. From there we headed north towards the Mississippi River to check out some of the plantations. They were all closed before we got there (not to mention tickets were really expensive) but I got to walk around the grounds of Oak Alley for a bit.

After letting Sprocket run around in the parking lot for a while, we were still undecided about where we’d stop for the night. As we drive east on LA 18, it became apparent that we weren’t going to see much more amazing along the route and that we were starting to get really close to New Orleans, so I called Meg to see if it was alright that we showed up early. She and her roommates were more than happy to have us a little bit early and we joined them at Juan’s Flying Burrito: A Cajun Taqueria on Magazine Street when we got into town. After dinner, we followed Meg back to her house where it was great just to catch up with her and of course to get showers! Sprocket loved all the attention from everyone as always.

Day 9: Houston, Texas to New Iberia, Louisiana

We pulled out of Houston headed for Winnie and our exit from I-10. We got into Port Arthur and ate breakfast at “The Causeway” where they were nice enough to let us use their wireless and to tell us that there was “nothing” out where we were headed. The road between Port Arthur and Cameron was pretty desolate with just a few houses along the gulf beach, which made it a perfect place to check out the beach.

Being on the road, we were really hoping to stop at a beach with showers so that we could rinse the salt water off before moving on but it quickly became apparent that was an unreasonable expectation. We settled for making friends at Mieaux’s Seafood (just an old man living on the beach in his trailer that delivers crab to his customers) and asking if we could use his water spigot to rinse off with–he was quite happy to let us, he just wanted us to know that he was “Fixing to go deliver some crab” so we’d have to help ourselves.

It was so nice to get out and spend some time at the beach. Sprocket finally dived in and swam after us but he wasn’t really sure how he felt about it though, he really just seemed to want us to come back to the beach. He was a sand dog though, and loved to go under the jeep and roll in it.

Leaving the beach, took the ferry to Cameron. On the ferry we asked one of the operators for advice on where to get lunch and he recommended Sha Sha’s in Creole. Getting off the ferry, we really started to see the effects of Hurricane Rita, everyone has a brand new house or mobile home–on stilts. In Creole, we did get lunch at Sha Sha’s–I had grilled shrimp and Forrest had fried catfish. My shrimp were fantastic and the catfish was pretty good too, neither one of us are big fried fish fans though. After lunch while we were letting Sprocket run around a bit, one of the waitresses came running out with the deep fried Oreos that she’d made for us.

After that we headed for Abbeville. Abbeville was supposed to have a great oyster house–it was closed (permanently) and there really didn’t seem to be anyone around so we headed for New Iberia. In ‘Beria as I was later told everyone calls it, we walked around the downtown, along the Bayou Teche (Snake Bayou), and checked out some of the cool old houses. After walking around we headed back to a bar with outdoor seating to see if we could meet some of the locals–and boy did we! We stumbled on to Clif Ayers 83rd birthday party and his wife and sons were more than happy to have us sit down. They old us all about New Iberia and the surrounding area and asked us all about our trip. Another friend of theirs, Roy, was also very happy to talk to us. As the evening wore on, Clif and Debbie headed for home and we (including Sprocket) went with Roy to another bar in town. We got to talk to a lot of people and Sprocket just slept on the barroom floor. What a night in southwest Louisiana!

Day 8: Pecos River, Texas to Houston, Texas

This morning we left our sweet campsite on the river and headed east. Our first real stop of the day was in Fredricksburg, Texas. We were happy with the town when we checked out the quilt shop and garden art center…but when we got into the adorable downtown we (especially me) were quite enamored with it. I tried the wine at Fredricksburg Winery…it wasn’t my favorite ever, most things were a little sweet for my taste, but it was certainly more than I’d expected from Texas wine. The woman pouring the wine told us some more about the area, including the location of the Fredericksburg Brewery. The three of us walked the street, and thanks to Frederickson liquor laws, Forrest and I tried their pale, red, and porter while sitting on a bench outside with Sprocket.

After our explorations of Fredricksburg, we headed just out of town for Luckenbach. It was the tourist trap it was promised to be, but unlike most tourist traps, this one was worth it. Forrest, Sprocket, and I listened to “Jimmy Lee Jones” play at the pickers circle while drinking a Lone Star and a Shiner Bock (had to have the Texas beers!). The dance hall, which was closed on a Tuesday afternoon, looked like a lot of fun though!

After Lukenbach, we set out looking for some Texas barbeque on our way to Austin. As we neared the city we settled on Cartwright’s BBQ. We had ribs and brisket that were pretty good, later when we found out we’d tried our Texas barbecue at a chain (albeit a small one) we were a little unhappy. We headed into downtown Austin to walk around a bit. We checked out the capitol, complete with cannons and Civil War memorial then walked down 6th Street (the center of Austin nightlife). It seemed like a nice city but really wasn’t that exceptional (maybe we should have stuck around for the bats flying out from under the bridges).

We finished our day by driving through Houston before stopping for the night. The TA Truck Stop wasn’t one of our prettier campsites but it worked alright.

Day 7: Artisia, New Mexico to the shores of the Pecos River (Crocket County, Texas)

This morning, bright and early, we left our cushy digs in the truck parking lot of a motel in Artisia, New Mexico in search of huevos rancheros. Artisia let us down and Carlsbad very nearly did. We finally found the “Pecos River Cafe” which seemed to be doing brisk prework business. Forrest had the huervos rancheros he’d been craving (“They’re a little different style, but still good.”) while I tried the eggs and green chili (I wish I would have gotten the cinnamon rolls that I spied on the way out the door). A half hour later we were pulling into Carlsbad Caverns National Park. It was early on a Monday morning so I ran Sprocket up and down the parking lot for a bit before settling him into his crate while we visited the caves. The weather was nice and cool and he had a brand new cow hoof so he didn’t seem too put out by our having an adventure without him.

The caverns were really pretty cool. Forrest had been there before so I think it was a little anticlimactic for him, but we both enjoyed poking around. We did both self-guided tours: the natural entrance and the big room. We took lots of pictures, some of which turned out and some of which didn’t…but over all they’re pretty good for cave pictures!

After our tours we returned to the parking lot where Sprocket got to do some more running around before we loaded up in the ol’ red rocket jeep for the drive to Texas. About the only things of note on the drive from Carlbad to Fort Stockton was the house with all the old tractors lined up (Andrew would be so proud), my first oil derrick sighting (followed by many more), and a vista that just never changed. In Fort Stockton we were hoping for some good steaks or BBQ and perhaps a cute and historic downtown…we found none of these. In fact, we found some subpar Mexican food and bought some ill advised two-for-one Blizzards at DQ (“I was sucked in by the marketing!”). We gladly hit the road east away from Fort Stockton (if you’re ever on I-10…don’t stop).

We hopped off the road again just north of Sheffield (which proudly lists their soldiers serving under “The Commander in Chief: George W. Bush”…obviously things don’t change too quickly in Sheffield. We were hoping to be able to check out (and perhaps camp at) Fort Lancaster State Historic Park. We were foiled by a gate that a McRancher could be proud of. So, I write this at our campsite (to be posted at the next wifi) in a wash on private property off some county road off of Texas Route 290. Got to run…need to keep Sprocket away from the deer carcass on the other side of the wash…

Day 6: Moab, Utah to Artisia, New Mexico

We departed Moab this morning at about eight after packing up our clean laundry and mostly clean puppy dog. Sprocket settled right in for the ride as we headed south out of town. At Monticello we headed east for Colorado (a new state for me!). We got gas and the most fabulous gas station burrito I’ve ever had at the gas station in Dove Creek.

We headed to Dolores to see the Galloping Goose and found that the train was interesting but that the town itself was pretty interesting—there were lots of old cool buildings and a brewery (which sadly was closed). Before heading out towards Durango we stopped to visit Tony & Brenda, friends Forrest made riding the trials circuit. It was nice to just get out of the car and Sprocket really enjoyed eating all of the sticks in the yard and drinking out of Brenda’s fountain.

In Durango, we made a quick tour through the historic downtown but there was lots of construction and not really anywhere to park so we didn’t stop. We headed to Walmart to try and remedy the no camera situation and decided to postpone our purchase until Santa Fe (bad choice).

We drove through some really pretty country in southwestern Colorado to Pagosa Springs. Just before getting into town we passed two microbreweries (Pagosa Brewing Co. and Pagosa Brew Stop) but both were closed at 2pm on a Sunday. In downtown, there were still some cool old buildings but the town was certainly dominated by the large hotels and spas on the rivers using the hot springs. Sprocket’s nose was going a mile a minute trying to understand that sulfer smell! I was a little mean to the little guy and let him sniff and take a sip out of the hot springs water in a fountain in town—he couldn’t quite figure out if it was good or plain awful.

In New Mexico, we made a stop at the Echo Amphitheater in Carson National Forest. It was a really beautiful, almost perfectly semicircular gouge in the wall of a cliff. Sprocket and I sprinted the whole way back down the trail (not very long…maybe a quarter mile) and he loved it—it’s certainly his favorite to run with me off the leash.

In Santa Fe we tried to stop and get some “southwestern” food and try some micros but downtown Santa Fe was a zoo. Forrest and I decided that the food would probably be pretty pricey and the stop would probably turn out longer than we’d hoped for so we just headed for Walmart where we bought a camera (that means pictures from here on!!). We filled up before leaving town and found that we’re getting pretty unbelievable gas mileage—we calculated 29.3 mpg if you can possibly believe it.

We miscalculated and guessed that at the US 285 and I-40 interchange…”Clive Corners”…there would be food of some kind. We were pretty wrong. There wasn’t even gas station food so we settled for bagels and cream cheese in the parking lot and decided to press on to Roswell for the night. We’re joked about “looking for UFO’s” as we’re cruising towards town while listening to “The Country Giant” that promises a “Strait Shot” once an hour—that’s a George Strait song at least once an hour all day long, love it! Unfortunately, I directed us onto the truck route around Roswell so we went all the way down to Artisia before we found anywhere to sleep, but boy were we ready for bed when we got there!