If you’ve never been Central Louisiana is terrifying, properly terrifying. I 100% understand why so many horror stories, movies and television shows are set here. I get why True Dectectives set their uber creepy crime drama here, and why Anne Rice (author of vampire thrillers) set all her stories here, it is a scary, scary place. It’s dark and damp, the trees hang thick with moss and (no exaggeration) at least every 5th house is abandoned. But not abandoned like the families packed up their stuff in a congenial manner to have a better life somewhere, but like ‘sh*t hit the fan’ and they had to leave - they left stuff, creepy toys and even cars. What is about toys that they suddenly become disturbing when left behind?
We opted to take the scenic route to New Orleans, the leisurely country route, we also wanted to see the place where Bonnie and Clyde were captured and absolutely shot to smithereens (there are pictures, Google it). The town had a small “museum” I use the term museum loosely as clearly it was run by some gold ol’ boy with an unhealthy obsession with Bonnie, a lot of facial piercings and just a few teeth (he was also wearing dungarees/overalls if that rounds out the picture for you). After that it was a country road to Alexandria, we thought we’d stop in a State Park to camp up for the night as it was free. I did not sleep. I was so worked up by the creepiness of it all and the surroundings, and then people in pick up trucks kept driving around (well three of them), even though we were deep in to the forest and had seen no one else for a while. I was sure they were going to come back in the middle of the night and string us up. Fortunately, there was a massive thunderstorm and they were unable to return and so we survived the night.
On yet another level of interesting and slightly disturbing, we found we were passing through on the day of the Louisiana State Penitentiary Rodeo (not the 4th word you were expecting was it?), apparently this has been going on for some time and the prisoners like it. Every weekend in October and one weekend in April the prisoners get to put on a rodeo as well as a market to sell their wares. The legality and the morality of this is questionable at best, as the last “competition” was 50 prisoners trying to take a poker chip off the bull’s head to win $1,000, but we went for it anyways. This is by no means a low security prison. 70% of the inmates are in for life, but it’s a way for them to see their family and friends, and I guess a healthy sense of pride in a job well done/a chair well made/a bull poorly ridden but ridden is a good thing for people who are in prison for life. It was a fun afternoon and the atmosphere was convivial. There were also monkeys riding sheepdogs herding goats, that was not a mistype, I saw it with my own eyes, so it was totally worth it.
New Orleans is amazing; it’s got character and cuisine and contrasts - my three favourite words for a city. I love the way it looks and feels and Jonathan is already angling to come back here one day, we’ll see. I’m just happy we’ve got a month to relax and really get into the city. We’ve managed to find a place to park up close to my work, and close to town so I think we’ll have a better time than in Austin (provided the weather holds out). We’ve got a check-list of 16 things to do while we’re here so that, at the very least, should keep us busy.
So, I took a couple of basic woodworking courses whilst I was in London last winter. Just the basic stuff, but enough for me to feel confident in drilling in a screw, and sawing off a bit of wood. As our bed had a rather un-nerving wobble to it when laid out, it was time to get to Lowes/Home Depot and start building that dream, slide bed I’d always pictured.
Meg found us a small town in Texas (called Borger, although maybe not so small, as it was the world’s biggest oil refinery town – or something like that), which had free RV parking and hook-ups, and had an ACE hardware nearby for all those items I had forgotten/broken. I’d given myself 5 days to do it.
Now, it should be apparent by now, that both myself & Meg are not the most ‘practical’ of people. I still have no sense of direction, and I’ve lost count on the number of things we have ‘lost’, ‘broken’, ‘dropped’, ‘misplaced’ or simply ‘forgotten’ (I am surprised sometimes that the dog is still with us). And unfortunately, this shows in my DIY skills. I don’t know for the life of me, why everything I build, amend or tweak, just goes to pot. And the bed was no exception. It was essentially 4 days of frustration – cutting, sanding, cutting some more, throwing that piece away because I’d cut too much, starting again, not knowing how to make something straight, and lots of padding & strange angles to make things work. However, we got there in the end, and even though the drawers need amending, so far the bed is holding firm. Touch wood people. Literally, touch wood.
As Meg has some work lined up in New Orleans, we now have only 4 or 5 days to get back to New Orleans, so onto the road we go. The first stop was Fort Worth & Dallas. Fort Worth had a nice little downtown, and ‘ye olde’ Stockyard area where we watched some people on horses walk some cows down the street. A little bit too touristy for our liking, but interesting nonetheless (although I did see one of the world’s best offices – leather couches, a wooden bar, and about 20 deer heads stuck to the walls – proper JR Ewing). Dallas was then just a flying visit the next day to see the JFK/6th storey museum - where Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly shot JFK. A really good museum, very busy, and somewhat eerie (much like the Martin Luther King museum) showing the actual spot where he took the shots, and looking out the window to the x’s on the road marking where JFK was hit. Time to download some JFK conspiracy theories I think….
We had been going too fast, much too fast, we had promised ourselves that this trip we would do things properly, we weren’t in a hurry we have all the time in the world (though not really, maths tell us we’re already behind and we haven’t got enough time to do the whole country). But unfortunately we had put Milly the sloth in the cupboard and forgotten all of this. However we got it back on track this week. Lucky us to help slow down Colorado has what you might call very liberal laws so we took full advantage and did some free camping in beautiful surroundings whilst relaxing.
We started in Mesa Verde to see some ancient cave dwellings then headed on to Durango; which we will both admit is a wicked name. Durango is a small town that looks lost in time but is very modern in the fact that it has 5 microbreweries. Apparently microbreweries are literally rejuvenating the American economy and Durango is leading the way. We haven’t been out in the evening much, to be honest we weren’t even out late in Las Vegas (didn’t like it, don’t get it, moving on) but we decided to do a tour of the breweries and try a flight of each of their beers. Jonathan thought they all had too much flavour (seriously) but I enjoyed them all, the rest of the world is grossly misinformed about our beer it is not all flavourless. We stumbled back to Milton whom has resting on a beautiful street lines with cherry blossoms, transitioned to night mode and slept like logs.
The next day we gathered some supplies and headed into the mountains. We parked up in a free spot beside a mountain stream for a few days and sampled some of Colorado’s newest products. Kaegogi discovered the joys of mountain streams, seriously the pup drank the water and then ran and leaped about, I feel like we should bottle it and sell it as Puppy Power, the pet sports drink. He’s never leaped over anything and he jumped three logs like he was in a steeplechase.
After that we just carried on from mountain pass to mountain pass, we parked up one night and saw a man fly fishing in the river while the goats we was tending grazed nearby. It’s a different sort of life, and I don’t know who lives in these mountain pass towns or how they make any money whatsoever but it’s a question we seem to ask a lot all over the world so they must be doing something. One man in these mountains is building a castle. Literally, how or why no idea, we couldn’t get a clear answer. He’s apparently been working on it for 40 years (honestly it doesn’t show), high up in the mountains, grossly out of our way, we drove to have a look. It was… interesting, cool, a bit scary, gothic, wayward and clearly a work of the deranged but worth the drive. More… special people in the middle of nowhere should build special things...
Into Vegas we go. I hadn’t been there for about 20 years (old man), so I was keen to see how much had changed, and how much I remembered (previous memory was mostly of not being able to find an exit out of any of the casinos). We’d got a tip that we could park for free in Bally’s, just off the strip, so that’s where we hunkered up for the first night. As it’s Vegas there’s still so much to see and do, so the first night we just took advantage of the free G&Ts, and soaked it all up. However, the neon lights were much how I remembered it, but now with more neon, and a few more super casinos, all offering much the same, as long as you have cash to blow. The next day we therefore took in the old ‘strip’ (Freemont St) – they’d jazzed that up a bit, but it was the surrounding few blocks that had the feel of the original Vegas, with it’s cool little used clothes & furniture stores, street art, and the odd bit of 50’s neon.
A couple of days was fine to be honest. It was just all a bit too garish, chintzy, busy and expensive. Time to take in some nature, so it was off to Monument Valley.
First was Horseshoe bend. Google it, and it is that picture that is always on the covers of travel stuff & on TV. Very impressive. Monument Valley is exactly as the movies portray. This sweeping red’ish dessert, with huge rocks & outcroppings dotted all around. We gave Milton a bit of a challenge as there was only dirt tracks around some of the rocks, and only a couple of brakes sliding with no control…we’ll be fine on the single track mountain passes in Peru!
So far, Colorado, so good.
I feel that now it has been a few months, I should jot down a couple of US observations, whilst the UK is still vaguely fresh in the mind. Firstly, petrol station/gas prices. Not only are there like 3 or 4 literally across or opposite from each other at a junction, but they all have different prices. And I’m not talking the odd cent here or there. There wil be one with say $2.11, one across the road at $2.16, and then another one on another corner at $2.24. It makes absolutely zero sense to me. Why would anyone go to the most expensive one when they are next to each other. Surely Americans aren’t that lazy to wait for the lights to change, to go to the cheapest one? Somebody please explain this to me…
The next, is the attitude of just leaving things to rust. Outside (admittedly out of the cities predominantly), there will be one, two, three, four or five abandoned cars or trucks just rusting away. Or an RV, or a mobile home, or in actually some instances a whole home. They will just leave it, let it rust/collapse, whilst they have bought a new car, or built a new home next door to the one they are leaving abandoned to nature. Perhaps it’s just the space that is available, but just seems lazy to me – surely they could sell them, or pay someone to pick it up & get rid of it, or take a sledgehammer to an old house?
However, these are just minor observations, and overall I really do just love the US. Really I do…
Footnote: we’re not bust.