Photo of the month

Relaxed and all together in the same photo for a change, the Gehlkes take a break from checking out the Alamo on Sept. 28 to mug for the camera. Two weeks on the road exploring the heart of the southern United States provided us with a lifetime of memories. Read all about our travels and travails in this month's newsletter. Photo by Glenn.

October 2004

Sept. 15: Hurricane Ivan has its eye on the Gulf Coast, and we have our eye on the storm as it threatens New Orleans two days before our vacation. Photo by NOAA.

Sept. 17: Winging our way above the clouds over Texas, we near Houston on Continental Airlines Flight 231. Photo by Glenn.

Sept. 18: A Kudzu-covered barn is among the odd sights we encounter on the backroads between Houston and Baton Rouge. Photo by Roni.

Sept. 19: The Louisiana capitol towers above Ben as we explore Baton Rouge and the road east to New Orleans. Photo by Glenn.

Sept. 20: You can't go to New Orleans without trying at least one frozen drink. Roni enjoys here strawberry daiquiri in the French Quarter. Photo by Glenn.

Sept. 21: Crikey! Glenn's cornered a real live gator in the Barataria Preserve outside New Orleans. Photo by Roni.

Sept. 22: Any old fool can have fun at Mardi Gras World, where we got to try out some of the costumes worn during Fat Tuesday celebrations. Photo by Roni.

Sept. 23: Time to call in the big guns as we explore a Civil War battlefield in Vicksburg, Miss. Photo by Roni.

Sept. 24: Roni and Ben enjoy breakfast along the banks of the Big Muddy at Mud Island River Park in Memphis. Photo by Glenn.

Sept. 25: Ben pays a visit to the White House. Actually, it is the white house that was the first home of former President Bill Clinton in Hope, Ark. Photo by Glenn.

Sept. 26: Everything's bigger in Texas, including Big Tex, the mascot for the State Fair of Texas, where we spent a pleasant Sunday during our visit to Dallas. Photo by Glenn.

Sept. 27: Which way are the political winds blowing in Crawford, Texas? This windmill resides in the hometown of President George W. Bush. Photo by Roni.

Sept. 28: Ben is too young to remember the Alamo, but he is old enough to pose for a portrait in front of the most famous symbol of the Texas Revolution in San Antonio. Photo by Glenn.

Sept. 29: It's just a roll in the hay in the middle of a Texas field off Interstate 10. We journeyed from San Antonio to Houston. Photo by Glenn.

Sept. 30: The beach resort of Galveston provided us with the only ocean waves we saw on this trip. Roni enjoys the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Glenn.

Oct. 1: There's no place like home. At the end of our adventure we wait with our bags at the Sacramento airport. Photo by Roni.

We always enjoy hearing from our visitors. We welcome your comments.

Goin' South, y'all

October 16, 2004

It is easily the most ambitious vacation our family has ever attempted -- two weeks on the road in the Deep South, exploring portions of five states and six major cities, with over 2,600 miles of driving along the way. After 14 years of trying to schedule vacation getaways around the Oakley Almond Festival, this year gave us a rare opportunity. With Roni stepping aside from her festival and chamber of commerce involvement in June, that left us free to plan the trip we really wanted rather than one that merely fit around our busy schedules. This, as the cliché goes, was to be the vacation of a lifetime.

The planning started in mid July, when we talked about spending a few days in New Orleans. We thought we might fly in, stay a week, then fly back. Before we knew it, the week had turned to two weeks, and New Orleans became just one stop along a circuitous route that began and ended in Houston. The plans for the trip grew more involved as we discussed things that we wanted to see along the way. But it was all just talk until that fateful morning of July 21 when we booked our airline tickets online. Suddenly the fantasy vacation was on the fast track to becoming a reality, and for the next two months we got our hands on as much information about the region as we could. We sent away to visitors bureaus for vacation planners, and combed the shelves of the travel section at Barnes & Noble for books on Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas. We bought luggage. We reserved a rental car. And we got nervous as the date of departure neared, wondering if we were really up to such a long trip and praying that nothing would go wrong.

Our plans were sailing along so nicely that we scarcely paid attention to all the hurricanes smashing into the Florida coast. Everything we'd read said that September is the best time of year for a jaunt down to the Gulf Coast, when the weather is mild and the skies mostly clear. Florida's problems were not our problems. Or were they? Then, with a couple of weeks to go before our Sept. 17 flight, the weather forecasters started getting interested in Tropical Storm Ivan, which over the next few days grew to become Hurricane Ivan as it cut a path of destruction through the Caribbean. Everyone said the powerful storm would track north through Florida. But it kept heading west, eventually moving into the gulf and drawing a bead on New Orleans. Every day we watched The Weather Channel to check the storm's progress. And right up until the storm veered east and into Alabama we expected our visit to New Orleans would find us slogging through waist-deep water amid the ruins of the French Quarter. We even considered changing our travel itinerary to avoid Louisiana until the end of our trip, in hopes that the area would dry out before we got there.

But in the end we changed nothing. Our flight from Sacramento to Houston went off smoothly, and two days later we arrived at New Orleans in our rented Dodge Stratus to find a city scarcely affected by the hurricane, but still not fully recovered from its storm preparations. A lot of people who fled the approaching storm had yet to return, as did the sea of tourists. That made it great for folks like us who hate huge crowds. We got to enjoy New Orleans and the rest of the trip with only a sprinkle of rain one day in Little Rock, Ark. What had the makings of the storm of the century turned into a huge non-event for us.

We shot over 1,400 pictures during our trip, and while we would love to share all of them with you there is simply no way to do it and have this newsletter posted before next October. Likewise, the full text of our travelogue weighs in at a hefty 33,000 words, which we know is far too long to post on this page or for most readers to stay with to the end. So we've come up with a slightly different approach -- to break the journey down by day, posting separate pages with text and photos that you can refer to as you find interesting. Clicking on any of the images in the lefthand margin of this page will take you to that day's travelogue. Similarly, the rest of this page contains a synopsis of the trip with clickable links to where you can read Glenn's riveting descriptions and commentary on the Deep South. (By the way, each of the headlines for the individual days are song titles. Can you name the artists? Answers below...)


The Gehlke Family
2004 Southern Vacation Travelogue

Day 0: Prologue -- With Hurricane Ivan bearing down on the Gulf Coast, we worry about its impact on our travel plans and describe some of the preparations for our journey.

Day 1: Oakley to Houston -- We boogie on out of town early on Friday morning to catch our Continental Airlines flight from Sacramento to Intercontinental Airport at Houston. This is Ben's first flight since he was not quite two years old and is quite an experience for us all. We rent a car and track down our first hotel near the airport.

Day 2: Houston to Baton Rouge -- Our journey takes us through a lazy Texas backroad and onto Interstate 10 with the crazy drivers. We visit Lake Charles, La., and then get on to Highway 14 through the sugar cane fields and wildlife-filled acreage of southwest Louisiana's Cajun country.

Day 3: Baton Rouge to New Orleans -- We cruise around Baton Rouge, stopping to check out the state capitol and its history. Then we hook up with the River Road through plantation country, trying in vain to find a spot to view the Mississippi River. We arrive at New Orleans in the late afternoon and check into the Maison St. Charles on historic St. Charles Avenue. The hotel is an eclectic collection of five renovated buildings across from the streetcar stop.

Day 4: A visit to the French Quarter -- No need to drive where we're headed today. We take the streetcar downtown to Bourbon Street and strike out for a walking tour of New Orleans' French Quarter. We eat beignets and sip hurricanes in outdoor cafés, check out the trinkets at the French Market, and watch the riverboats on the Mississippi. We hit the swimming pool and spa at the hotel after a long day and sore feet.

Day 5: Gator hunting in the bayou -- We use New Orleans as a home base to investigate some of the Louisiana bayou country. Our drive takes us on a ferry across the Mississippi and south to the river town of Lafitte, and to the Barataria Preserve where we swat mosquitoes and look for alligators in a dark, overgrown swamp. We almost manage to get ourselves locked in at closing time!

Day 6: New Orleans to Jackson, Miss. -- We head north, but only after stopping at Mardi Gras World to see how the huge parade floats are built. We cross over Lake Ponchartrain on its 26-mile causeway, and discover the Interstate 55 through southern Mississippi is one huge forest. We dine at our first Sonic drive-in. Woo hoo!

Day 7: Jackson to West Memphis, Ark. -- We go in search of the "real" Mississippi, first visiting the state capitol in Jackson before heading west to Vicksburg and touring a Civil War battlefield memorial. Then we follow Highway 61 north to Tennessee and see enough cotton along the way to last three lifetimes. We wrap up the day by attending the dog races at Southland Greyhound Park cross the freeway from our hotel.

Day 8: Memphis to Little Rock, Ark. -- We start our day at the Mud Island River Park in Memphis, Tenn., then do a drive-by of Graceland. Heading east into Arkansas, we divert from I-40 to find the "other" Arkansas in the towns of Parkin and Earle. We have lunch at deserted Village Creek State Park. We check into our hotel and learn interesting trivia about Arkansas from the desk clerk, such as how you can't buy beer on Sunday.

Day 9: Little Rock to Dallas -- One of the trip's longest drives doesn't get started until well after 1 p.m. because we first visit the River Market in downtown Little Rock, drive by the state capitol for photos and get lost trying to see the under-construction Clinton Presidential Library. Then we look for a Barnes & Noble in a new shopping mall. We follow I-30 west for several hours, stopping at Hope, Ark., to visit Bill Clinton's boyhood home. At last we roll up to our hotel in Mesquite, Texas, proud of the fact we didn't get lost on the way to finding it, and promptly turn into the wrong driveway.

Day 10: State Fair of Texas -- Everything's bigger in Texas, including its state fair. We check out the deep fried foods and such fine entertainment as the flying cats show. Roni falls in love with her very own cowboy hat. There are hundreds of exhibits, of which we only get to sample a small portion by the time we call it a day at 5 p.m. We venture into downtown Dallas to visit the John F. Kennedy memorial.

Day 11: Dallas to San Antonio -- Glenn goes on a futile search for postcards. We drive around Waco. We head to Crawford, home of President George W. Bush, and try to locate his ranch, only to meet up with the Secret Service. We get mired in rush hour traffic at Austin. We visit the Texas capitol, only to find it closed for the day. We arrive at our hotel after dark and cap off the day by scraping up the rental car.

Day 12: Remembering the Alamo -- We leave the car at the hotel and make tracks around San Antonio on its famous Riverwalk. Ben feeds the pigeons and the pigeons turn the tables. We hit half a jillion gift shops and tour the Alamo. We take a boat ride through the canals of downtown. We get the hotel's restaurant all to ourselves for dinner.

Day 13: San Antonio to Houston -- Almost back to where we started from, we take a mostly uneventful drive along I-10 east to Houston. We go on a search for auto parts stores in Katy. We slog through traffic until we reach the airport and locate a cheap-but-convenient hotel we remembered seeing the day we arrived in Houston. Glenn applies his artistic abilities to the rental car.

Day 14: A visit to Galveston -- We drive into downtown Houston to ooh and aah at the tall buildings, then take Ben to see Butterfly World. We take the backroads through bayou country to the island community of Galveston with all its Victorian homes. We check out Moody Gardens and The Strand, finishing our day by dipping our toes in the Gulf of Mexico.

Day 15: Houston to home -- We set ourselves up for a classic case of jet lag by waking before 6 a.m. to catch a 9:30 flight out of Intercontinental Airport of Houston. We drop off the rental car and proceed through ticketing and baggage check-in without a hitch. Airport security detains Glenn briefly when he forgets to remove his shoes at the screening station. We fly over boring Utah and Nevada before seeing Lake Tahoe and landing at Sacramento. We anticipate being home and wrap up our travels.

We think you can see from the synopsis that this was a full trip for us. We hope you'll take the time to read and enjoy at least some of the travelogue; it is unedited, but it does a much better job at capturing some of the flavor of the South than we have space to provide on this page.

Now it is time to head back to work and school while we watch to see the outcome of the upcoming presidential election and wait eagerly for gas prices to crash following the political season. Enjoy your Halloween hauntings until we meet again next month.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

Answers to the song title/artist quiz by day (There are no right answers for several of these, but here are some good choices): 0=The Doors, 1=John Denver, 2=Garth Brooks, 3=The Meters, 4=Fats Domino, 5=Credence Clearwater Revival, 6=The Meters (again), 7=Charley Pride, 8=Michelle Shocked (or any of about a hundred others), 9=Carlene Carter, 10=Graham Parker, 11=Dave Edmunds (and others), 12=George Jones, 13=Gatlin Brothers, 14=Glen Campbell, 15=Simon & Garfunkel.

This page was last updated on Sunday, November 14, 2004 at 17:26 hrs.

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