Atlanta, Georgia ~ June 5-9

We arrived in Atlanta later than intended, but missing a large thunderstorm with winds strong enough to scatter tree branches through the streets of the mid-town neighborhood in which we stayed. The attached apartment we found through Airbnb was in a perfect location situated close to everything we intended to visit while in Atlanta, which was primarily our daughter, Meredith.

Atlanta, Apt (2)

Part of our “we will figure it out” mentality has us waking up when our bodies tell us they’re ready instead of to the sound of an alarm clock.  After long drives, we allow ourselves to recuperate as necessary. This sometimes means that breakfast is at 11 a.m., and lunch is at 3:30 p.m., which is great for missing the crowds when eating out.  This was the case on our first full day in Atlanta.

We met Meredith at a nearby Whole Foods where we planned and shopped for meals for the next three days. The many cheese samples on display sustained us for a while, but we needed something much more substantial by the time we made it out of Whole Foods.  Meredith suggested a popular lunch spot that she had been wanting to try. There was still a bit of a wait at Highland Bakery, but the atmosphere, people watching and food made it worthwhile.

Meredith’s apartment is located off of a section of Atlanta’s 33-mile bike and running path, the Atlanta BeltLine.

Atlanta's BeltLine
Atlanta’s BeltLine

Saturday was a full day with tours:

New Echota Historical Site

New Echota is a national historical site maintained by the State of Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

New Echota, GA

Being the location of Cherokee council meetings, it was essentially the capitol of the Cherokee Nation before its members were forcibly removed from their homes by armed federal and state troops.

Worcester House, New Echota, GA
Worcester House, New Echota, GA

We were surprised and delighted to see the legacy of George Lowrey, my 5th great grandfather and Assistant Principle Chief of the Cherokees at the time of the removal (Trail of Tears), prominently displayed throughout the site.

Maj. George Lowrey Portrait in Cherokee Council House, New Echota, GA
Maj. George Lowrey Portrait in Cherokee Council House, New Echota, GA

The State of Georgia does an excellent job of preserving and maintaining the site and telling the Cherokee story.  I guess it is the least Georgia can do considering its history with the Cherokees — ignoring a Supreme Court ruling, and after the Cherokees’ were forced to march west, divvying up their property to Georgia citizens through a lottery. (A replica of the wooden revolving lottery drum is on display in the site’s museum.)

 Atlanta Botanical Garden

 Fetch! Atlanta Botanical Garden

Fetch! Atlanta Botanical Garden

The Atlanta Botanical Garden is a must see when visiting Atlanta. This isn’t your average city garden. It is a playful, wondrous, enchanted land where 200,000 plants come to life in the forms of unicorns, frogs, orangutans, butterflies and more!

Atlanta Botanical Garden

We loved strolling through the tree tops on the new canopy suspension bridges, and lost track of time in the conservatory’s orchard house.

Atlanta Botanical Garden 8

We were also particularly lucky to be visiting while artist Philip Haas’ installation, The Four Seasons, was on display.

The Four Seasons
The Four Seasons

Meredith and her boyfriend, Jordan, had plans for Sunday morning and afternoon, so it was up to Trey and me to figure out how to best spend the day. We had previously noticed signs in the area pointing the way to the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, so being dreamers of a better society and great admirers of Dr. King, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to learn more about him.

Atlanta, GA (2)

The visitor center, Dr. and Mrs. King’s tomb, and the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change are located in an easy walking distance within two city blocks, and adjacent to the expanded chapel of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, which is across the street from the original church where Dr. King’s father, and later, Dr. King, preached. His birthplace is a short half-block walk.

Atlanta, GA

We were already familiar with the March on Washington, the march to the Selma bridge following “Bloody Sunday,” and Dr. King’s tragic assignation in Memphis. However, we knew little of his history related to his birthplace of Atlanta, nor his history before rising to a national civil rights leader.

We learned that Dr. King was greatly influenced by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, and that he and his wife, Coretta, spent a month in India visiting with Gandhi’s family and studying his example of peaceful resistance.

Ghandi, MLK Center, Atlanta, GA

In fact, the bronze statue that greets visitors as they approach the MLK visitor center is not the form of Dr. King, but rather it is of Gandhi.

In the afternoon, we walked from our apartment to the Virginia-Highland Summerfest,

Virginia-Highland Summerfest
Virginia-Highland Summerfest

an annual neighborhood art festival, where we perused the artists’ booths, ate Thai noodles and double-dip ice cream cones from food trucks, and listened to a talented local band play.

Virginia-Highland Summerfest, Atlanta, GA 3

We decided to take a short cut on the walk back to our apartment and were stopped in our tracks by the sound of an amazing voice belting out across the parking lot we were cutting through. A band had begun playing on the patio of a beer joint and the female lead singer (Tray Dahl) seemed to be channeling a voice and style from another time.  A strong, solid, yet smooth, voice that evoked comparisons to Ella Fitzgerald from both of us.

We had noticed the name of the band written on a chalkboard outside of the bar’s door when we’d walked by before the band started playing — The Jugtime Ragband.  We initially agreed that the band should work on its name, but after checking out the band’s website and reading about them, I think the name probably well suits their distinct style.

Our last evening in Atlanta was spent with Meredith and Jordan at a local upscale pizza restaurant.  The pizza was great, but we were so happy to be in the company of Meredith and Jordan that it didn’t really matter where we were or what we were eating.

Atlanta Botanical Garden
Atlanta Botanical Garden

 

Atlanta Botanical Garden
Atlanta Botanical Garden

 

Virginia-Highland Summerfest
Virginia-Highland Summerfest
Atlanta Botanical Garden
Atlanta Botanical Garden

New Orleans, Louisiana ~ June 2–5

When traveling to New Orleans, one should really plan to be there long enough to be able to eat all the wonderful and unique foods the city has to offer.

Coffee and Beignets @ Cafe Du Monde
Coffee and Beignets @ Cafe Du Monde

We did our best in the three days we had, so will definitely have to schedule another visit for some of the culinary delights we missed.

We stayed in the French Quarter which was very much alive and filled with a mix of tourists and locals, some who seemed to wander aimlessly looking for their next drink.

View of Bourbon & Toulouse Streets from Hotel Room
View of Bourbon & Toulouse Streets from Hotel Room

First impressions were gladness to see that the city seemed to be thriving almost nine years after Katrina, plus a bit of uneasiness at what I was witnessing on Bourbon Street.

Bourbon St 2, NOLA

However, after spending time in the quarter I soon began seeing and accepting the quarter for what it is – a place with a soul of its own fed from the music, the food and the creativity of the mix of artists and individuals that call it home.  A perfect host to both those that contribute to its soul, and to the traumatized looking to self-soothe in the abundance of its sex and alcohol.  The two provide a balance — it’s a complete circle — a complete, big easy, circle.

Bourbon Street - "Relax...It's Just Sex"
Bourbon Street – “Relax…It’s Just Sex”

In between eating, we shopped in the French Market, the oldest open air market in the country; admired the southern mansions in the Garden District; danced at some jazz dives on Frenchman Street;

The Spotted Cat, Frenchman Street
The Spotted Cat, Frenchman Street

and strolled through beautiful Audubon Park.

Audubon Park
Audubon Park

We used the Trolley car to travel much of the city,

Trolley through Garden District, NOLA

taking it from the Mississippi River, up Canal Street and out to the end of St. Charles, stopping at the Camellia Grill for pie.

Camellia Grill
Camellia Grill

On one of our evening jaunts, we walked around ending up at the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone on Royal Street, later traveling back up Bourbon Street which had grown even wilder in the late hour.

Carousel Bar
Carousel Bar

The highlight of our exploring the city was the National World War II Museum.  If you enjoy U.S. history, this should be at the top of your list for a visit to New Orleans.  The museum has an extensive collection of war craft and equipment, including a German enigma machine and a parachute dummy used as a decoy in the complex Normandy invasion plan.

DSC00304

Exhibits cover all aspects of the war from the Navaho code talkers, the critical role and contribution of women, to the allied troops’ discovery of the horrific concentration camps.

The film produced for the museum, Beyond All Boundaries¸ does an excellent job at presenting the timeline of events across the globe, tying the big picture together visually with details on both the European and Pacific campaigns.

German Howitzer
German Howitzer

Why the National WWII Museum is located in New Orleans instead of Washington D.C. is a fascinating story.  Andrew Higgins was a swamp boat designer and maker working in New Orleans when he approached the US military with a design especially for amphibian landings.  The famous “Higgins Boats” were built in New Orleans and credited by President Eisenhower as being responsible for the allied victory.

Higgins Boat
Higgins Boat

In the three short days we spent in New Orleans we went from my initial uneasiness, to feeling really comfortable and enjoying the city, to ultimately feeling we could live there.

New Orleans - Old & New
New Orleans – Old & New

 

 

 

 

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge – May 23-24

WICHITA MOUNTAINS NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE – May 23-24, 2014

The Wichita Mountains were a favored camping destination for my family when I was a young child and are located about 80 miles north of Wichita Falls, just west of Lawton, Oklahoma.

WMWR - Ascending Elk Mountain

More than half of the park’s 59,000 acres is a fenced off protected area to allow the white tailed deer, mountain elk and buffalo an environment void of human contact.  The remaining refuge, which also has wildlife roaming freely through it, consists of campsites, public hiking trails and a vast wilderness area.

WMWF - BuffaloWMWR - Wild TurkeyWMWR - Trailmate 2

Setting up camp was a bit of a wet experience, but we were able to do so quickly and managed to keep the inside of the tent dry along with our sleeping bags and mats.  Despite the rain, the campground was full.

WMWR - Near Campsite

We awoke Saturday morning to unseasonably cool weather and sunshine – it was beautiful!  We decided to start the day with a short hike to the top of Elk Mountain. The trail was marked moderate to easy being a rocky, but scenic trail.

The Elk Mountain trail head was at the west end of the park and led into a large designated wilderness area where hiking and backcountry camping are allowed by permit.

The entire “wilderness area” seemed to be visible from the peak of Elk Mountain beginning with a gradual slope of stacked pink granite boulders.

View of wilderness area from the top of Elk Mountain
View of wilderness area from the top of Elk Mountain

Trey wanted to venture out on the rocks for a better vantage point. Unsure at first, I mustered up the courage to join Trey, which required stepping over deep crevices between the large boulders that seemed be vicariously sitting on the mountain’s ledge.

WMWR - Top of Elk Mt

Elk Mountain trail was a great first choice, but unfortunately, was our only hike and adventure in the wildlife refuge. I turned my ankle about ¾ of the way down the mountain.  I heard a crack, but convinced myself that it was just a sprain so that I could make it the rest of the way down the mountain – which I did with help from Trey.

An x-ray at a Lawton hospital confirmed a small fracture of the left distal fibula. The advice of the ER physician was to see an orthopedist after Memorial Day.

WMWR - End of the Trail

At that point, we decided it was best to pack up our campsite and get a hotel for the night, and then head to Austin in the morning to seek treatment.  We were mostly disappointed that our time was cut short in Oklahoma, as we were very much looking forward to reunions with cousins and exploring Tulsa and Tahlequah.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/wewillfigureitout/sets/72157644959209346/

Interest facts about the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge (from their website):

  • More than 50 mammal, 240 bird, 64 reptile and amphibian, 36 fish, and 806 plant species thrive on this important refuge
  • The buffalo herd is maintained at 650 through annual public auctions
  • The granite mountains date back 500 million years