Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sweet Home, Alabama!

My Daddy was from Alabama. Bridgeport, in fact, in north Alabama. We've made many visits over the years to the state, visiting family mostly, but they were usually short visits, one or two days with a couple of longer trips thrown in over the years. But Mary and I are making a very intentional visit to the state. We've now spent more time in Alabama than I've ever spent at one time ... and it's been fun!

Right now (Nov. 25), we are parked in the Styx River Resort near Robertsdale, AL, just north of Interstate 10. We've been here since Nov. 14 and will be here until the 30th. I'll come back to the Styx River later.

On Nov. 7, we arrived in Florence, AL. I have some cousins in Florence and we stopped there to visit them, but it was much more than just a few minutes visiting family. Florence is an interesting small city in northwest AL right on the Tennessee River. That river provided some beautiful sights, interesting scenes, and downright enjoyable hours while we were there. Great blue herons were regular companions through our days there. Tug boats and barges chugged by (I don't know why we didn't get any pictures of them). Lots of fishermen and women along the banks. Beautiful fog shrouded sunrises were part of several days (and since we weren't having to drive anywhere on a time schedule, the fog was pretty and not a hazard).

Downstream on the Tennessee River from McFarland Park, Florence, AL
The view across the Tennessee River at McFarland Park, Florence, AL
Great Blue Heron in the slough at McFarland Park
Larry Gautney was a magnificent tour guide. He took us around Florence, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia, introducing us to interesting sights and places. Larry's retired from TVA so he knows a lot about the river and could point out lots of interesting places and tell interesting stories. Actually, Larry knows a lot about all sorts of things and used his knowledge to entertain and instruct us. Thanks, Larry! And thanks to Nancy (Larry's wife and my cousin) and her sister, Ellen, for being lovely hostesses and sharing in our delightful visit to Florence.

Other than the great fun we had with Nancy, Larry, and Ellen, four things stand out about our visit to Florence. First was a visit to "The Wall". More properly, it is the Wachahpi Commemorative Stone Wall. It's located over near the historic Natchez Trace in NW AL. For over 30 years, Tom Hendrix has been building a stone wall in memory of the journey of his great-great-grandmother Te-la-nay along the Trail of Tears and back. She was part of the great removal of Native Americans from North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama to the Oklahoma Territory in the 1800s. She walked to Oklahoma. And then walked back to Alabama because the rivers in Oklahoma didn't sing and the Tennessee River did. It's quite a tale and Tom Hendrix is quite a story teller. We got to see his wall and to listen to Mr. Hendrix tell the story of the wall and of Te-la-nay's journey and life. At its simplest, it was inspirational, interesting, and motivational, but there are much greater depths to the story than a simple blog entry can tell. The Wall can best be experienced. And it is a spiritual experience, to be sure. There were no pictures taken of The Wall, by the way, because it was something that had to be experienced and could not be captured through a lens. But Mr. Hendrix has written his story (and the story of the great-great-grandmother) in a book, If The Legends Fade.

A second outstanding moment was a visit to the Coondog Cemetery. Yep, a coondog cemetery. It's located in the hills of NW AL west of Florence and started as one man's tribute to his championship coondog upon the death of the dog and has become the burial ground of many beloved coondogs (ONLY dogs that can be proven to be authentic, real coondogs; no other breeds allowed!).

Coon Dog Cemetery, AL
Coon Dog Cemetery

Troop, the FIRST Coon Dog buried in the cemetery

The third interesting moment was a visit to the Tiffin RV factory in Red Bay, AL. Yes, we own a Fleetwood motorhome. And we've toured their factory, too. But I've long heard of the Tiffin Company in little Red Bay and the high quality motorhomes they build so since we were less than an hour away we drove over to Red Bay and took a tour of the factory. And we definitely saw some fine motorhomes. There could be a Tiffin in our future. Or maybe not. We'll see. One of the interesting things was the contrast between the extremely time conscious assembly line of the Fleetwood factory and the much more relaxed line at Tiffin. There was an emphasis on quality at both factories but they sure did go about attaining it differently!

And, fourth, in our moments of interest was a visit to Huntsville and the US Space and Rocket Center there. WOW! What a place!

Space Shuttle at US Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, AL
"Blackbird" (A-12) at US Space and Rocket Center
BIG Rocket! (I didn't write down the name)

Eventually, we had to leave Florence. It was time to head south for the winter. We had "won" a free week of camping in a membership campground, the Styx River Resort outside Robertsdale, AL, down in LA (that's Lower Alabama if you don't recognize the acronym). So we drove down to Baldwin County, the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. We're north of Gulf Shores and its beautiful beaches. By the time we leave here, we'll have spent two weeks and two days at the Styx River Resort. Our Thanksgiving Dinner was a potluck here at the resort with many of the other guests. The resort cooked turkey three different ways, deep fried, baked, and smoked, and all of us brought various dishes to share. There was LOTS and LOTS of food, so much in fact that we came back for supper and turkey sandwiches and other leftovers that evening. We'll be back to this park, I'm sure, and to some of it's sister parks located in various places, including on the shores of Guntersville Lake in north Alabama and Abita Lake in Louisana.

While we've been here in LA, we have walked on the sandy beaches of Gulf Shores, AL, toured the battleship USS Alabama, moored here in Mobile at Battleship Park (and the submarine USS Drum at the same site), toured Fort Morgan, a Civil War site, and had a couple of "meet-ups".

USS Alabama, looking backward from the bow of the ship
USS Alabama from the shore
Pelicans at Gulf Shores
The Sandy Beaches of Gulf Shores
We met up with some RVers who have just started full-timing and with whom I've chatted on facebook. It was fun to get to know William Roach and Loretta Perno. I suspect we'll cross their path again sometime. They were camped in Gulf Shores and headed for Arizona. And this next Thursday, we'll meet some other RVers I know from facebook as we get together for coffee at Starbucks.       
We met up with Bill and Loretta at Lambert's Cafe,
the home of "throwed rolls"

The most fun get-together was meeting up with my High School classmate Judy Gordon Simpson who lives in Daphne, AL, another eastern shore community. We took a short tour of Mobile with her, learned enough about Mardi Gras in Mobile to make us want to come back sometime for that, and then were treated to dinner at Ed's. Thanks, Judy, for taking time to get together with us!

Ed's Seafood Shed, Mobile, AL

Sunset from Ed's Seafood Shed, Mobile, AL
We haven't found any alligators yet and we aren't in a big hurry to find them either, but we know they're around. 

While we've been here, we have also visited Gulf Shores United Methodist Church (a fine example of how a church should be working and doing ministry), met briefly with a fellow coach (and my coach for a while), Jim Robey, and toured Fairhope, AL, a pretty, artsy town on the eastern shore. It's been a fun time and we STILL have a few days to enjoy the area. TTYL.

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