Archive for April, 2011

22: Maryland

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

From Charles Town, West Virginia, it was just a 1-hour freeway drive across Maryland to Baltimore, the state’s largest city.

Baltimore is a historic port city, at the northern end of Chesapeake Bay. I spent the evening in the city’s “Inner Harbor“, which has been turned into a major tourist attraction.

Inner Harbor, Baltimore

(I’ll now be taking a 1-week break from my trip, flying back to the Bay Area to take care of some business chores. The ’round-the-US’ trip will resume on May 2nd, starting with the District of Columbia.)

21: West Virginia

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

After leaving the Appalachian Mountains in western Virginia, I briefly passed through the north-eastern corner of West Virginia, driving through Charles Town (which is not to be confused with the state’s capital Charleston, which is not to be confused with Charleston, South Carolina, which is not to be confused with Charlotte, North Carolina). Charles Town was founded by George Washington’s younger brother Charles.

Charles Town

West Virginia is a very scenic state that I had spent several days driving around a few years ago. For this trip, however, I chose to visit it only briefly, en route to Maryland.

(West Virginia was originally part of Virginia, but broke away to become a separate state during the Civil War.)

20: Virginia

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Soon after I entered Virginia, I joined the Blue Ridge Parkway, that runs along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains. The “Blue Ridge Parkway” – like the “Natchez Trace Parkway” that I’d driven (in part) in Mississippi earlier in my trip – is a special scenic road run by the National Park Service.

A country store in the Appalachians

Mabry Mill, Blue Ridge Parkway

Rakes Mill Pond, Blue Ridge Parkway

An aggressive goose alongside the Blue Ridge Parkway

I took a short detour east from the Appalachian Mountains to take a tour of “Monticello“: Thomas Jefferson‘s mansion near Charlottesville. This mansion – designed and built by Jefferson – was where he spent his retirement (after serving as president from 1801-1809).

Tulips in the grounds of Monticello

Sunset over Shenandoah National Park

Great Falls Park (Virginia, near Washington, DC)

19: North Carolina

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

Driving into North Carolina from South Carolina, the clear skies and calm conditions belied the fact that just one day before, the state had been hit with dozens of tornadoes, killing more than 20 people. I did, however, see several uprooted trees, some damaged road signs, and, in one case, debris strewn across a field.

I stayed the night in the town of Wake Forest, near the state capital of Raleigh, at the home of old mountain biking friend Berry Stevens, who had moved here with his wife a couple of years earlier to be closer to their grandson. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to do any mountain biking during this visit, because the previous days’ rain had left the local trail beds too wet to ride on.

Tornado damage seen near Dunn, central North Carolina

A house in Wake Forest

I exited North Carolina to the northwest, entering Virginia via the Appalachian Mountains. Before leaving the state, I passed through the town of Mount Airy, which was the boyhood home of Andy Griffith, and the inspiration for the fictional town of Mayberry in “The Andy Griffith Show”. The downtown area is filled with signs noting the “Mayberry” connection, and some rather cheesy Mayberry-themed stores. I didn’t bother taking any photos there.

The Mount Airy area’s other claim to fame is that it was the home – in the 1800s – of Chang and Eng, the original ‘Siamese Twins’.

Pilot Mountain (northwestern North Carolina, near the Appalachian Mountains)

Grave of Chang and Eng - the original "Siamese Twins", near Mount Airy

18: South Carolina

Monday, April 18th, 2011

This was my first visit to South Carolina. I spent only one day here this time, but this is one of the states that I hope to revisit sometime in the future.

I spent most of the day in Charleston, a port city with a beautiful, historic downtown.



"Angel Oak" (300-400 years old), near Charleston

Fort Sumter, in Charleston harbor, where the Civil War started 150 years ago this week

17: Georgia

Friday, April 15th, 2011

From the Florida panhandle, I entered Georgia by crossing the Chattahoochee River on a country road. (Upon entering Georgia, I also entered the Eastern Time Zone, losing another hour – sigh…) I then drove through several farming towns, including Colquitt, which is noted for its murals, including one painted on a cluster of three grain silos. I stopped the first night in Albany, a city on the Flint River.

Mural on grain silos, Colquitt

"Ray Charles Plaza" in Albany (his birthplace)

Fisherman on the Flint River

Sorry, Claxton, but you're not even close 🙂

I ended my visit to Georgia in Savannah, a city in the northeast corner of the state. Like Natchez, Mississippi, which I’d visited a few days earlier (and unlike Atlanta – Georgia’s largest city and capital – which I bypassed on this trip), Savannah suffered little damage during the Civil War, and retains many historic buildings.

I also continue to be lucky with the weather. A strong weather system – which had brought heavy rain and killer tornadoes to Oklahoma and Mississippi (where I’d been a few days earlier) and North Carolina (where I’ll be in a couple of days) – passed through the Savannah area with nothing more than gale-force winds. It wasn’t the best weather for a trip to the beach, but I had one more thing I had to do before I left Georgia. I drove to nearby Tybee Island beach, and went for a swim in the Atlantic Ocean. I’d done it – I had driven across the country. Now it was time to continue my trip by visiting the remaining eastern states.

Savannah street at dusk

Tybee Island beach

16: Florida

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

The most well-known parts of Florida – Miami, the Everglades, the Florida Keys, Orlando, Disney World, the Kennedy Space Center – are in the southern, peninsular part of the state. In this trip, however, I stuck to the northern portion of the state: the ‘Florida panhandle‘. Entering the state from Alabama, I stayed one night in Pensacola, then moved on to Georgia.

Pensacola Beach (on the Gulf of Mexico)

"Dome of a Home", Pensacola Beach

The whole state of Florida is remarkably flat. The highest (natural) point in the state is at an elevation of only 345 feet (105 meters). (Several high-rise buildings elsewhere in the state rise higher than this.) For fun, I decided to visit this point, en route to Georgia.

The highest point in Florida!

I think he meant to write "Posted". Welcome to Florida...

15: Alabama

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Crossing the Mississippi River for the final time (on this outbound leg of the trip), I left New Orleans’ eastern suburbs and drove eastwards along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. I first passed briefly through Mississippi once again, and then Alabama. (Mississippi and Alabama each have very short coastal sections that you can drive through in about an hour.)

This was my third visit to Alabama. (I once attended a conference in Huntsville, in the northern part of the state; I had also passed through the Gulf region on another visit.) So I decided not to spend much time here this time (although I did stop for lunch at an excellent oyster restaurant in Mobile – the major city in this part of the state).

Downtown Mobile

Wintzell's Oyster House, Mobile

14: Louisiana

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

From Natchez, Mississippi, I crossed back westwards over the Mississippi River into Louisiana. Shortly afterwards, I briefly experienced the first bad weather on this trip: A short thunderstorm with strong wind and heavy rain. It was over in less than half an hour, during which time the temperature dropped from 86 F to 70 F (30 C to 21 C). (This was the same weather system that dropped snow on northern Arizona a couple of days earlier.)

I spent my first day in the ‘Acadiana‘ (aka. ‘Cajun‘) region of Louisiana. This is the area settled extensively in the 1700s by French-speaking refugees from Nova Scotia, following the British capture of Nova Scotia from the French. Consequently, the names of many towns and streets in this area are French, as are many people’s surnames.

The Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist, Lafayette

A cemetery in St. Martinville. (Note the French names: "Tournet", "Ardeneaux", "Champagne", "Oubre")

On my second day – while en route to New Orleans – I visited the southern coastal town of Grand Isle. This town is frequently hit (or brushed) by hurricanes. For protection against hurricane storm surges, all houses in the town are on stilts.

This area was also hit – one year earlier – by the large BP oil spill. Walking along the beach, I didn’t see any remaining signs of oil on the beach (but because the sea water looked murky, I didn’t do any more than wade in it).

Grand Isle

The beach (Gulf of Mexico) at Grand Isle

Two of the (many) offshore oil rigs visible in the Gulf of Mexico

The only people to benefit from the BP oil spill: Lawyers

The highlight of any visit to Louisiana is, of course, the city of New Orleans. This was my second visit to New Orleans, but my first since the disastrous Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Before I left New Orleans, I drove through the “Lower Ninth Ward” – an area of the city badly flooded after Hurricane Katrina. Driving through the area, almost 6 years afterwards, I could see many condemned homes, many cleared sections (where homes had been bulldozed and removed), but also several new homes, built after the hurricane.

Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans

Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans

Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans

Unlike much of the rest of the city, the “French Quarter” – New Orleans’ tourist mecca – was not significantly damaged by the hurricane. One could spend days here sampling the many Cajun and Creole restaurants on offer. I will certainly visit New Orleans again, but on this trip I spent just one day here, before continuing eastward.

Bourbon Street, French Quarter, New Orleans

Bourbon Street, French Quarter, New Orleans

13: Mississippi

Monday, April 11th, 2011

The Tennessee-Mississippi state line passes through the southern suburbs of Memphis (not far from Graceland), so I crossed into Mississippi soon after leaving Memphis.

The state of Mississippi is frequently the butt of jokes in the rest of the country. It consistently ranks last, or near-last among the states in life expectancy, infant mortality, obesity, education level, and poverty. And yes, there are many poor parts of Mississippi. But I also saw several prosperous areas, including Tunica, at the north-west corner of the state (thanks to tax revenue from the several casinos in the area), and parts of Natchez (thanks to tourism). Also, the the town of Oxford (home of the University of MIssissippi) – where I spent one night – is one of the nicest, tidiest college towns that I’ve seen.

I got to see a large part of the state by driving along much of the Natchez Trace Parkway. This is a 444-mile long road, run by the National Park Service, that runs between Nashville, Tennessee, and Natchez, Mississippi. The road is dedicated to scenic touring only. There are no commercial businesses on the road (and commercial trucks and vans are not allowed to drive on it). I got to drive a 265-mile section of the parkway – from Tupelo, Mississippi, to Natchez.

Natchez Trace Parkway, near Tupelo

Red clover beside the Natchez Trace Parkway, near Jackson

Pipevine Swallowtail

Cypress swamp

Old cotton oil factory, near Port Gibson

One of the many civil war sites in southwestern Mississippi

The town of Natchez – on the Mississippi River at the southwestern corner of the state – is famous for its many well-preserved antebellum (pre-Civil War) mansions. (Unlike many other towns, Natchez fell quickly to Union forces, with little damage.)

Overlooking the Mississippi River, at Natchez

Riverboat casino, Natchez

Dunleith mansion (1856), Natchez

Auburn mansion (1812), Natchez

I’ve had good luck with the weather so far on this trip. While I was in Mississippi, a snow storm was hitting Flagstaff, Arizona (where I’d been just a week and a half earlier). But in Mississippi, it was warmer than usual for this time of year, with temperatures getting as high as 90 F (32 C). These are temperatures more typical for summer than spring, but without the stifling summertime humidity common in this part of the country. (Nonetheless, even now, it’s noticeably more humid here than in the western US.)