Roundup of our Bayou roadtrip

I belatedly realized that I hadn’t posted a summary of our Bayou roadtrip yet. Well, here it is. We drove 4,106 miles through 5 states in 11 days to see 11 parks, plus spend New Years Eve in the French Quarter of New Orleans. In doing so, we finished off the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arizona in our national park quest. I hope to get the photos posted in the next couple of weeks or so.

All in all, it was a great trip. I’m glad that I won’t have to drive through Texas again (we did it last winter for our Texas roadtrip and the summer before that for our post-wedding trip through the South) – and that was enough. It was interesting to see another part of the country (you’re up next New England!), though I am yearning for some large, wilderness parks.

  • Most surprising unit: Vicksburg National Military Park
  • Most disappointing unit: Chalmette Battlefield (or New Orleans Jazz NHP)
  • Unforgettable memory: New Years Eve in the French Quarter
  • Forgettable memory: having a dead car battery on Christmas Eve at a New Mexico rest area
  • Best food: Oceana, just off Bourbon Street. We ate there consecutive nights.
  • Worst food: Chuy’s restaurant in Van Horn, Texas.
  • If we would have had more time: we would done walking history tour of New Orleans
  • Best part of the trip: spending it with Kim

National Park Service units we visited (9 new, 2 repeat visits):

  • Big Thicket National Preserve (TX)
  • Cane River Creole National Historic Park (LA)
  • Poverty Point National Monument (LA)
  • Natchez Trace Parkway (MS)
  • Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail (MS)
  • Vicksburg National Military Park (MS)
  • Natchez National Historic Park (MS)
  • New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park (LA)
  • Jean Lafitte National Historic Park (LA)
  • Jean Lafitte National Preserve (LA)
  • Fort Bowie National Historic Site (AZ)

Blog posts on

  • An inauspicious start
  • Christmas driving, Riverwalk, and the Negotiator
  • The plantations of the Cane River Lake
  • Poverty Point and Vicksburg
  • Driving the Natchez Trace and touring an antebellum mansion
  • Ringing in the New Year in NOLA

Blog posts here on

Some final random thoughts:

  • Natchez Trace Parkway is full of really cool stuff and it’s a nice drive too. I definitely recommend some time along it.
  • Jean Lafitte National Historic Park & Preserve is one of the more diverse units in the system. It contains several cultural centers, a prime French Quarter visitor center, the Chalmette Battlefield and the Barataria Preserve. Not bad for a relatively obscure park.
  • Vicksburg National Military Park could do with a more reasonably priced auto tour drive – or at least allow visitors to borrow it for the tour (Lyndon Johnson National Historic Park did this well).

This just in: John Madden has terrible taste

John Madden's table and shrine at Chuy's in Van Horn, TX

We’ve stopped in Van Horn, Texas on a few occasions before. Each time, we managed to hear or read about the local Chuy’s restaurant, which is rather infamous. Apparently, the restaurant attracted the attention of John Madden years ago, who has said it’s his favorite place to eat. And Chuy’s has naturally exploited the hell outta it. For his part, Madden seems to have played along, at least initially.

How he ever decided to stop and eat there, we’ll never know.

Chuy’s is the name of a chain restaurant that Kim and I used to eat at nearly weekly for 2 years. We had received a set of 24 one-free-meal-a-month coupons for each of three windshields replaced in a 6-month time span. [Thanks Empire Glass!] And with all those free coupons, we made the most of it as we could. I never did really enjoy the food there. Well, ok, I guess I did like the chili – I’ve actually returned as a paying customer in the last few months to order it.

So as we were in need of dinner about the time we’d be in Van Horn, we figured we should give it a try. Besides, I was craving some of that chili. Of course, the Chuy’s isn’t the one we’re thinking of; it’s just an independent, family-owned Mexican restaurant. That’s ok, so we enter.

The menu’s pretty plain but was sure to make mention of Madden. The  food wasn’t any better, and the service was lacking. The restaurant has an area reserved for John Madden, but we were seated on the other wing of the place so we couldn’t even ogle the shrine. Besides the photo of the sign and the roadtrip memory (“Hey, remember that time we ate at that ridiculously indescript Mexican restaurant that John Madden loved?”), the stop was definitely a disappointment.

So I’m here to confirm the obvious: John Madden has terrible taste.

An inauspicious start to the roadtrip

I’ve been dying to go on another national park roadtrip for months now, so I’ve been anxiously awaiting this morning’s departure. I knew today was all about driving as far as we could get into Texas. I assumed it would a pretty boring day.

Unfortunately, I was wrong. We started out the day four hours later than expected – and with us both utterly exhausted. That doesn’t make for a great start, but the kicker happened just a third of the way through today’s drive:  our car battery died. At a nearly vacant rest area. In a small podunk town, on the afternoon of Christmas Eve.


Read more about today’s driving adventures over at

Brownie, the traveling bear. Or boot.

The original Brownie, the traveling bear

Kim and I have several traditions on our national park roadtrips. We get our passport stamps. We take our picture from my outstretched hand. We take a picture of the Forester in front of the park entrance sign. We get a separate shot of the entrance sign, too.

But on the eve of our wedding, we thought it made sense to add yet another ritual to our list.

Meet Brownie, the traveling bear.

Brownie was born when we purchased him from a gift shop in Yosemite National Park. He’s our contribution to the internet meme of capturing one object in a series of travel photos. His first duty came during the above picture, taken just minutes after our wedding ceremony. We faithfully included him – sometimes in a hand, sometimes sitting in the background – in pictures from each of the parks we visited after the wedding. Brownie was quickly becoming a fixture in our daily park routine.

Until, that is, we visited Davy Crockett’s birthplace in Tennessee. As I walked over to take a photo, Brownie slipped from my pocket and landed on the edge of a concrete pathway. It was a painful fall, and two of Brownie’s legs cracked off, though they remained stuck to the base. We attempted to superglue him back together again; but like Humpty Dumpty, it just wasn’t meant to be.

Brownie would never be the same.

During the rest of the trip, we continue to use Brownie – bad legs and all. But when we arrived in Texas that winter on another roadtrip, we decided that it was time to redefine what it means to be Brownie. We decided that any object we employ towards this goal automatically becomes a Brownie. We quickly settled on a Texas boot for this trip, and Brownie the traveling boot was born.

Brownie II, the traveling boot

Brownie II hasn’t been dropped yet and is still in great condition, but it’s also unclear if or when he’ll be replaced. Will we get a bayou-inspired Brownie on this winter’s trip? It’s hard to say at this juncture. Either way, Brownie will live on – in some form or another.

Do you have your brownie? Tell us about it in the comments.

Pictures from our Texas national park roadtrip

Big Bend National Park

It’s taken me nearly a year, but I finally posted pictures from our national park roadtrip to Texas last winter. I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long, but it’s clear that I’m losing some of the excitement of getting the perfect trip photos online. In fact, I spend noticeably less time taking pictures on trips (and am more likely to use my point-and-shoot than lug around my dslr), and I’m also taking far less time to edit, name, describe, and tag the photos I do take. So, please excuse the following albums for not containing those details…I’ll see if I can’t add some of them later on.

If you’d like to review the trip, we made sure to blog each night:

Our next trip starts in a few days, and if things go as planned, we’ll continue to blog each night. And yes, this time I’ll be sure to get the photos up much sooner.

Our winter National Parks roadtrip: LA, MS, AL


It’s nearly the holidays, and that means that Kim and I are planning another roadtrip. Usually, this trip is half-planned for us: it’s often centered around which bowl game ASU will be playing in. Sadly, that hasn’t been the case the last couple of years.

Last year, we took advantage of the planning freedom afforded us by a sub-par season to hit as any of the Texas National Park units as possible. We nearly completed them all, had I not managed to get sick and delay our departure.

This year, we’ll build on what we accomplished last winter and the summer prior to that by finishing off a good chunk of the South. In particular, we’ll finish up the states of Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi.

Not necessarily the places you’d think of, well, vacationing in, but it’ll get done an important chunk in our quest to visit all 392 units of the National Park Service. And we always enjoy our roadtrips, no matter where we end up. As we plan and get started, I’ll post additional information. For now, here’s our expected itinerary:

  • Big Thicket National Preserve
  • Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve
  • New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park
  • Gulf Islands National Seashore
  • Natchez National Historical Park
  • Vicksburg National Military Park
  • Poverty Point National Monument
  • Cane River Creole National Historical Park

We’ll also try to spend some time in the city of New Orleans, tour an old plantation, and maybe even mark Fort Bowie National Historic Site (Arizona) and/or Chickasaw National Recreation Area (Oklahoma) off the list, too.

Observations from our Texas roadtrip

We’re back from our Texas Roadtrip. While it wasn’t quite what we had originally planned – we ditched the camping entirely, for instance – we still had a good time and managed to see quite a bit. A few observations gleaned from our trip:

  • It’s great to get back a day early, so you have time to unpack, unwind, collect yourself, and get ready for the shock of going back to work. It feels great to arrive home early enough to unload the car, unpack our bags, get laundry started, and start to get things back to order.
  • Nobody goes to Texas. It was incredible how few out of state license plates we saw on the trip. Usually at national park sites, many if not most, are out of state, plus some Canadian plates mixed in. But not in Texas – only Texans go to Texas parks. I guess that’s not too surprising, as Texas plates are always underrepresented at other national parks.
  • The Alamo is worth a quick stop, but don’t arrive with high hopes and don’t waste your time standing in line. It’s small, surrounded by tourist trap attractions, and let’s face it, only Texans care about this place. It’s a cool place for a photo or two, though, to help alleviate that burning childhood desire to see an inflated icon of the West, and to mark it off the life list.
  • Texas is windy as hell, and it’ll affect how much fun you’ll have at several sites – Fort Davis, Guadalupe Mountains, and Padre Island to name a few. Wind blows.
  • The iPhone 3G is quite possibly the best piece of roadtrip gear ever. We used it to listen to music and audiobooks during the drive, and even streamed an NFL game from a NY radio station. We used the Maps app to calculate driving directions, find restaurants, and even used Street View to preview a site. We typed draft blog posts on its WordPress app, used the clock feature as our morning alarm clock, and updated friends and family using the Twitter and Facebook apps. The camera and a couple of camera apps allowed some quick shots when the camera wasn’t handy. I checked and replied to email, kept up to date on my Reader items, and checked wikipedia for additional information on some of the places we visited. We searched hotel listings and prices, checked photos, and reserved online hotel deals every night – and looked up rewards account numbers. I added tasks to my to do list, blog article ideas to Evernote, and checked the next day’s weather. We kept up to speed on bowl game scores and NFL stats. I even used an app to locate free wifi networks for my MacBook Pro and consulted an app on Texas speed traps. And of course, we used Safari to hit a bunch of other websites. We did all of this on a small, elegant device that fits into my pocket – wow, what a great roadtrip device.