Wednesday, April 1, 2009

On the Road - National Park Stamping

It always feels warmer standing in the driveway than it does underway on a motorcycle...on a whim, I put my Gerbing jacket on, just didn't plug it in. Once I got moving I was thankful I'd done that. But it did remind me I'd not packed longjohns for the more northern climes, so did a u-turn and went back the one or two blocks to the house.

It was overcast much of the day and I like riding in those conditions...especially when headed into the sun - no glare!

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My first stamping stop would be the Jean Lafitte Prairie Acadian Cultural Center in Eunice LA. It's a cute little town and the Center occupies a very nice old brick building on a corner of the main street in town. There's a really nice little museum inside, with information about the Acadian settlers. I loved how the sign headers were in French! That little touch really added to the feel of the exhibits!

Continuing north on LA 13 toward Mamou, I passed many rice fields, newly planted. There were dozens and dozens of what might be Glossy Ibis working the flooded fields. As I rode past, they all took off in flight. Definitely Ibis, from the long, downward curved bill, but dark color, not the white ones we see in Texas. Very cool!

Continuing on through Mamou I was watching a dust cropper plane running along side me to my left. As he got ahead of me he banked around and started heading back my way...right down the middle of the highway...flying very low....!! How cool was that?! I waved and he lifted up just as he got to me and banked right back over the fields. That was really neat...a little disconcerting at first, but very neat! He clearly was playing with me.

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The traffic was very light and I was making very good time toward Natchez and my next national park stamping stop. How many times have I ridden right past this Natchez visitor center, not even realizing there was a small National Parks counter in one little corner of the gift shop? I parked and walked inside and worked my way through the labyrinth of tours schedules and counters to the gift shop in the back. There I found three stamps: Natchez National Historical Park -Melrose (which is a couple blocks away from this tourist center), Natchez Trace Parkway (with AL, MS, TN in bottom rocker), and Natchez National Historical Park - William Johnson House. Eager to make it to Vicksburg before 5:00 when the Visitor Center closes, I did not stay long in Natchez.

The route to Vicksburg was clear sailing and I made it to the Vicksburg National Battlefield visitor center at 4:30, with plenty of time to get into the visitor center, get a stamp, then proceed onto the park road. The USS Cairo museum would be open until 6:00, and the park until 7:00 PM.

I love this park! This is my third time back, and none of these visits were stamp-and-runs. I like riding the park, taking my time. Several years ago I read extensively about the battles held here and, with the information fresh in my memory, came to the park on motorcycle and took more than half a day to visit the park, stopping frequently, reading the plaques, reconstructing the battles based on what I'd studied and what the lay of the land presented.

So this trip through was equally as enjoyable as the first...I took my time, made a few stops, pulled over when a car came up behind me.

I love the Ulysses Grant statue and the loop the goes around it. The USS Cairo exhibit is so incredible! To be able to view the planks, the metal spikes all more than 150 years old, handled and crafted by men who lived more than 150 years ago. Enough of the bow of the ship is still intact to see how the ship was constructed.

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Tonight I'm in a nearly new Comfort Suites, almost walking distance to the National Park. It's amazing how many brand new motels have been built in this area just in the last two years: La Quinta, Comfort Suites, Hampton Inn, Marriott Courtyard. Last time here, I stayed in a very dumpy Comfort Inn that is now an EconoLodge. I walked next door to get dinner and when I returned, a young couple were looking at my bike. I walked over to them and thanked them for admiring my bike which, of course, broke the ice, and we chatted quite a bit. The young woman said that they graduate in 36 days (!) and she wants to buy a bike...a Harley. I wished her congratulations on nearly finishing school and best of luck on the motorcycle thing. I also learned that there's a nursing student convention here this week, which would explain all the young adult females who were checking in about the same time I was.
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I'm watching the weather closely and trying to work out timing so that I'm not out there on the road tomorrow when the strong weather front pushes through. The weather forecast says strong possibility of large hail and tornados and it will be passing west to east right across my route of travel sometime in the afternoon on Thursday. Timing will be everything, so if I can get out of here early tomorrow morning, maybe skip a couple of planned stops in MS, and continue on into TN, I'll be of the road when it passes through. Here's hoping!
Tomorrow: (Weather permitting) Natchez Trace, Brices Crossroads, Corinth, Shiloh, then Jackson TN for the night.

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