Christmas on the Coast: the Gulf Seashores of Mississippi

If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, but don’t like snow- then I suggest a trip to the US Gulf Coast. Stretching from Florida to Texas, the white sand beaches and quaint coastal towns, coupled with 70 degree days, are a delight in the off-peak winter months.

A “sandman” greets us at Christian Pass, Mississippi

The Gulf Coast isn’t complete without a ‘Pascagoula Run’, so avoid I-10 and take Highway 90 instead to Pascagoula. Are you a Parrothead? Look for the Buffet Bridge near Buffet Beach, a 2015 honor for local-boy-made-good Jimmy Buffet. You can also stop by his childhood home on Madison and see a plaque, and imagine a young Jimmy listening to tales from his grandfather, a ship captain.

Buffet Bridge, Pascagoula

Ready to fuel up on some lunch? According to Charles McCool of McCool Travel, you can’t beat the po’boys at Bozo’s Seafood Market. Order seafood at the deli, a sandwich from the counter, or just pick up some groceries at this market, which has been around since 1956. I recommend their shrimp or their oyster po’boy, or if you can’t decide, get their half-and-half. Watch out for their cocktail sauce- it has a nice kick!

Bozo’s Seafood Market, Pascagoula

On your way out of town, stop in at the Lighthouse Park. For $2, you can climb to the top and see the 360 degree views. Take a short walk to the boat launch, and look for the plaque commemorating the 1973 alien abduction of two men fishing the river one night. Hoax? True story? Decide for yourself.

Pascagoula Lighthouse

Heading west, consider stopping for the night at Ocean Springs. In the morning, be sure to grab a biscuit and a pour-over coffee at Greenhouse on Porter– they have a daily special combo of one sweet and one savory, and you can sit inside their actual greenhouse to eat your breakfast.

A chocolate chip oatmeal cranberry biscuit, and a cheesy broccoli with roasted tomato biscuit from Greenhouse on Porter’s, Ocean Springs

Ocean Springs is also home to the Gulf Islands National Seashore Visitor Center. You can take a guided walk with a ranger, watch the movie about the barrier islands, or fish off their piers. All kinds of pelicans, gulls, terns, and shorebirds can be spotted here. Ferries run to the uninhabited Gulf Shore islands from mid-May to mid-October.

Gulf Shores National Seashore Visitor’s Center

Crossing the Biloxi Bay Bridge, you’ll see several huge casinos and resorts- Harrah’s, MGM, Margaritaville, Beau Rivage, and more. If gambling is your thing, stay a night or two in the high rise hotels- what a great sunset view! Otherwise the beach side of Biloxi offers everything from campsites, to RV parks, motels, and bed and breakfasts.

Hard Rock Cafe, Biloxi

If you’re looking for a little bit of a different take on the standard Cajun cuisine, definitely pop in to Le Bakery, where you can get Vietnamese iced coffee, bubble tea, and bahn mi po’boys. We tried both the coconut curry chicken and the lemongrass pork. Dressed up with cilantro, daikon radish, pickled carrots, and fresh onion, drizzled with soy sauce, and served on crusty French bread, it’s really good. And under $5!

Bahn Mi Po’boys and Almond Bubble Tea from Le Bakery in Biloxi

There’s a section of the Biloxi beach front worth stopping in at for a little bit of history- the Biloxi Lighthouse Pier. A sign there tells the story of the 1960s civil rights “wade-ins” that spurred the creation of the Biloxi branch of the NAACP. From that beach, you can also get easy access to the grassy median full of old oak trees. Many have been damaged by fire, hurricanes, lightning, or old age, and artists have used the remaining stumps to carve designs into them. They are all up and down the coast, but here in Biloxi you can catch a dozen or so.

Oak Tree Carvings, Biloxi
Biloxi Beach

Heading west from Biloxi, a fun stop is historic downtown Gulfport. Plenty of small bars, restaurants, and coffee shops all back up to Fishbone Alley, covered from end to end with paintings, drawings, poetry, and street art. The paving stones used in the alley were actually discovered under the main street after hurricane Katrina destroyed part of the city, and date back to the turn of the century.

Fishbone Alley, Gulfport

At the University of Southern Mississippi Gulfport Campus is the Friendship Oak Tree, a huge monolithic oak tree (actually duolith, as it’s two trees that grew together into one!) that dates back to 1458. At over 500 years of age, this ancient tree has sure seen a lot of history. A plaque at the tree says that “Those who enter my shadow will remain friends forever”, so bring a loved one with you.

Friendship Oak, Gulfport

It’s tempting to finish off a Gulf Coast trip in Gulfport- but continue west to Pass Christian and Bay St Louis for a small town, unique beach vibe. In Pass Christian, take a short detour onto Scenic Drive and see some of the prettiest beach-front homes in the state. They look especially nice all done up with holiday lights and decorations.

Crossing the bay bridge into Bay St Louis, the small town features dozens of locally owned boutiques, b-and-b’s, bars, yoga studios, art galleries, antique shops, and ice creameries. Dotted around town you can also find four different “Angel” tree statues carved by chainsaw artist Dayle Lewis, carved from oaks destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. There’s a community garden, and I spotted at least two Little Free Libraries. Clearly this is a town that places a high value on community, which is nice to enjoy even when on vacation.

Bay St Louis
Crawfish Étouffée Omelette at The Buttercup on 2nd, Bay St Louis

There’s more Gulf Coast to see, once you pass into Louisiana and then Texas, or if you head east to Alabama and Florida. For more information on the Gulf Coast shores, visit the US Gulf Coast Travel website, or download the “My Gulf Coast” app from the Coastal Mississippi website. There’s also a few visitors centers dotted along the beach road, and their staff are always happy to point you in a good direction.

What’s your favorite Gulf Coast destination?

Road Trip 2018 Wrap Up

Four months ago, Chris and I turned over the keys to the new owner of our house, and left on a road trip across the US and Canada. We drove 16,000 miles, and visited 18 states, four Canadian provinces, and 22 national parks. Plus a one week cruise, two flights, and two ferries! We made it to Burning Man festival in Nevada, and we got to stay with several friends along the way (always the best part of travel). We also spent ten days in Texas visiting family and friends, and then returned to Virginia for another ten days to visit family and friends, and pack for our next trip.

In case you missed any of the posts from the past few months, here they are:

Road Trip: Michigan to Minnesota 

Road Trip: South Dakota to Montana

Road Trip: Canada Northbound to Alaska

Road Trip: Alaska

Road Trip: Pacific Northwest

Burning Man 2018

Road Trip: Utah, Idaho, Yellowstone, Colorado, New Mexico

Tomorrow we leave for Nepal. There, we  plan to go trekking in the Annapurna Mountains, and we hope to do a side trip to visit Bhutan. We’d like to see Bangladesh, Maldives, and then spend the winter in India. If weather and international relations permit, we will try to visit the various ‘Stans in the spring. Click on the “Follow” button below if you want my blog post to come to your email each time I write one (about every 3 weeks).

Road Trip: Utah, Idaho, Yellowstone, Colorado, New Mexico

bison in front of steam geysers Yellowstone national park Wyoming

After a couple of days in Reno getting all the playa dust off of ourselves and our stuff, and generally recovering from Burning Man (does anyone ever really recover from Burning Man?), we headed to Utah. We went to Salt Lake City and their awesome Visitor Center (seriously, they gave us espressos, biscotti, popcorn, and great brochures), visited Temple Square, and also spent some time out at Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake, where you can float in the salty water, drive amongst bison and sheep, and hike.

Salt Lake City Temple

Chris Floating in Salt Lake

Antelope Island Bison

Heading into Idaho, we decided to stop and see Shoshone Falls, and were glad we did. It’s a beautiful park and not to be missed if you have the time for a quick stop.

Shoshone Falls

Driving east, we stopped next at Craters of the Moon National Park. We camped for a night there, and visited each of the stopping points on the seven mile park loop. What a strange and fantastic landscape! The 750,000 acres of volcanic debris are the perfect setting for NASA’s Mars experiments, and gives the visitor a glimpse into what our world looked like in the time of the volcanoes.

Craters Of The Moon National Park

Craters of the Moon National Park

And then we were in Yellowstone National Park! We were able to get three nights’ at a campground, and we spent the first day going to see Old Faithful and the lower geyser basin.  On our second day, we drove to Lake Yellowstsone (it’s huge!) and also checked out the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. On the third day, we went to Mammoth Falls and some of the other mudpots, geysers, and hot springs. And everywhere we went we saw animals, from pronghorn deer, to elk, to bison. Even though it was after Labor Day, the park was still really crowded- and the nights got down to 34 degrees! After three nights I had had enough and was ready to head south.

Chris Capturing the Beauty of Yellowstone

An Elk at Yellowstone

Mammoth Falls

We drove south through Grand Teton National Park, where we saw a huge grizzly bear! Seriously huge, probably 600 pounds. That, coupled with the extreme beauty of the Tetons, made it an awesome day. A park not to be missed.

The Tetons

Wildlife at Grand Teton National Park

A grizzly bear!

We drove through Cheyenne, WY next, and stopped for some excellent barbecue at Tasty Bones, and visited a really great- and free!- museum on Wyoming’s history.  Some surprisingly interesting stuff in there!

Cheyenne, Wyoming

Instead of taking the boring ol’ highway south, we drove through Rocky Mountain National Park on the way from Cheyenne to Colorado Springs. We timed our drive around sunset, and saw tons of elk and deer, as well as some beautiful fall colors. We spent the night in Winter Park, a very cute ski town.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Next we spent a couple of days at Colorado Springs, home of the Air Force Academy. Mike took each of us up flying in a Cessna, so we got to see Colorado Springs from above. We also visited Garden of the Gods and drove to the top of Pike’s Peak.

Garden of the Gods, seen from above

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Chris and Deah at Pike’s Peak

Leaving Colorado Springs, we headed west a little bit and passed through Great Sand Dunes National Park. Huuuuge sand dunes! There was no way I was making it even to the top of the first one. Check out how tiny the people look in this photo below:

Chris at Great Sand Dunes National Park

We arrived in Durango and spent two nights with two old friends of mine, Paul and Julie. We got to catch up with everything that’s happening in their lives, and we also got to drive out to see Mesa Verde National Park. These mesa-top alcove pueblos date back to the 13th century and give tons of clues about life in those times, while still leaving us with basic questions about the cliff dwellers.

Mesa Verde National Park

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A Kiva at Mesa Verde

From Durango we headed to New Mexico, where my friend Karen had invited us for an evening with her family. We spent the day wandering around Manhattan Project National Historic Park, which I really enjoyed. I had no idea there was a boys’ Ranch School on the site previously, and that it was appropriated by the War Department. We got to wander through some homes on Bathtub Row, and then we visited the Bradbury Science Museum– a super hands-on and informative museum about the Los Alamos Research Laboratory.

Los Alamos Ranch School

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Oppenheimer’s house at Los Alamos

Between Los Alamos and Santa Fe, we had time to make a very quick stop in at Bandelier National Park- home to multi-storied alcove cliff homes dating back to the 1400s, as well as the remnants of a larger circular village named Tyuonyi, with over 500 rooms.

Deah at Bandelier National Park

Tyuioni village

We walked around historic Santa Fe, including their beautiful church dating back to 1610, and of course ate tons of New Mexican food. On the way out of town, we spent the afternoon at Meow Wolf, a very interesting and strange immersive art experience. At $25, it’s pretty expensive, but it is such a unique experience that I’d recommend checking it out- there’s one coming to Denver and to Las Vegas soon. It’s too hard to describe in words so here’s a few pictures.

Santa Fe Cathedral

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Red or Green?

Meow Wolf

We took the Turquoise Trail from Santa Fe to Albuquerque, and then stayed with two of our friends from Burning Man, Alex and Debbie, at their home near Sandia Peak. A rainstorm rolled in and we watched it through the massive windows of their house, overlooking the city. We had a great evening with them as we talked about our Burning Man experiences and thoughts on the festival and travel in general.

Watching the rain pass over Albuquerque

In Albuquerque the next day, we strolled through historic old town. Our favorite part was the Albuquerque Museum, which has seven galleries, of which the New Mexico Jewelry exhibit was our favorite. Amazing craftsmanship of both old and new jewelry, ranging from silver and turquoise to feathers and other found materials. Worth going to, and a very inexpensive museum at $6.

Albuquerque Museum

That was our furthest point west for this leg of the trip- we turned east and passed into Texas (my home state). We stayed the night in Amarillo, where we visited Carhenge (also known as Cadillac Ranch), a series of 10 Cadillacs that were buried in a farm field back in the 60’s. From there we went through Lubbock, keeping an eye out for fun street murals and Buddy Holly memorabilia (he was from there). And then finally we arrived in Arlington, Texas, my hometown, where some catching up with family and friends will now occur!

Carhenge

We fly to Nepal on October 15, so click the “Follow” button down below to get a post about our trekking there!

Have you been to any of these states? What was your favorite things to see there? What part of vacations do you like best- wild animals, beautiful scenery, or catching up with friends and family?

Burning Man 2018

It’s pretty hard to quantify Burning Man into words, so this one will be a photo essay of this year’s theme, I Robot. Enjoy just a few of the sights- I doubt I saw even half of what was going on there! There’s lots of photos here so they take a minute to load- be patient. Click on any image you want to enlarge.

Playa Art by Day

Playa Art by Night

Burning The Man and The Temple

 

For more detailed info on the art, the camps, and the daily events, I suggest looking through the iBurn app or the TimeToBurn app.

Have you been to Burning Man? What was your favorite part? Would you like to go one day? Tell me your thoughts on the festival!

Road Trip: Pacific Northwest

Upon leaving Alaska, we drove some of the same stretch south along the Alaska Highway through Yukon. We stayed at a couple of provincial campgrounds near beautiful lakes and hiked a few hikes. Yukon is a pretty wild province, and there is a ruggedness to it… as well as a propensity towards mosquitos.

Watson Lake campground

Once we got as far south as British Columbia, we decided to take the Stewart – Cassier highway, which is a little less traveled and equally beautiful as the Alaska Highway. In one small village, Kitwanga, we stayed in a free municipal campground. At the end of the Stewart Cassier highway, in Stewart, we found that the road dead ends at a small ghost town called Hyder which is actually in America. We crossed over a nonexistent border between Canada and the United States and spent one night in Hyder. Some locals told us about a gravel road that we could take for about 25 miles up into the hills and at the top we discovered the Salmon Glacier- about 60 miles long and is the worlds largest glacier that is accessible by car. What a really beautiful site!

Salmon Glacier

Heading further south in BC, we stopped for two nights at Whistler, the site of the 2010 winter Olympics. It was BC Day and there was a yoga festival going on in Whistler so it was very crowded and had a fun festival atmosphere. We met two of Chris’s friends from Burning Man for some beers and had a nice chat with them. It was a hot day, so we hiked around a small lake and took a dip in the alpine water. We do a lot of driving, so we try to work in short hikes each day that we’re on the road so we can get our steps in!

Lost Lake at Whistler

Our next stop was the city of Vancouver, where we enjoyed visiting the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, Stanley Park, and the UBC Museum of Anthropology. We did a free walking tour of the city and explored downtown and Gastown, visiting several bars along the way home.

The Museum of Anthropology has over 10,000 artifacts from First Nations around the world, not just Canada

We took a ferry over to Vancouver Island, where we spent the next three days camping with some old friends of ours, Tom and Sue, who I taught with in Haiti. We swam, explored the island, and watched the Pleiades meteor shower. It was a lot of fun catching up with my former housemates.

Deah, Chris, Tom, and Sue

We drove to Victoria and got in line for the ferry and were able to spend a few hours exploring the capital city of BC. We watched Dragonboat racing and caught the tail end of an Indian Mela festival, and did a short self-guided walking tour to see their government buildings and the Empress Hotel.

Even on an island, the Canadian National Railroad built their railroad hotels in a recognizable neo-Chateau style

Arriving back in the United States by ferry at Port Angeles, we explored the Olympic National Park in the state of Washington for the next couple of days. It feels like a lost Jurassic world in there! We saw towering redwoods and old growth cedar trees, as well as dense rain forests, misty coastlines and imposing mountains.

Waterfall at Olympic

Beach walk at dawn on the Oregon coast

Further south into Washington state we visited Mount Saint Helens and its very informative visitors center. Unfortunately, due to smoke from fires further south and east, visibility was quite low. We had an impromptu lunch with our friend Rob, who used to work with us when we lived in Chad, and then continued south.

Imagine the force of the blast that snapped this tree like a twig

Arriving in Vancouver Washington, we spent several days with fellow travel enthusiasts Shyla and Dan. They own a travel business (Wild Spirit Travel) and we had met them last year while we were all visiting El Salvador. What a fun few days we spent with them! For Dan’s birthday we hiked around the Columbia Gorge, seeing the waterfalls and Beacon Rock. They took us to several McMenamin’s pubs and breweries- so wild! We explored some of downtown Portland, sampled food trucks and went to Powell’s Bookstore, and visited drafthouses on Main Street in Vancouver. I discovered I’m a big fan of sour beers (its like a margarita mixed with a beer kind of taste). We all spent the night at historic Fort Vancouver for a stargazing event- we could see four planets and the moon through a dozen high-powered telescopes. On our last day, they took us to visit some friends who live on the Washougal River for a day of floating down the river and travel talk that evening- their friends are outfitting a bus to drive from Alaska to Argentina. What an adventure!

The moon, seen through a telescope

After a night sleeping outside next to the river at Andi and Kevin’s AirBnB, we left Washington and headed south. We stopped for coffee with a friend of mine from junior high, and we visited Bend and Crater Lake. We couldn’t see across the lake because of the smoke from several nearby fires, but we could see down to the crystal clear waters in some parts. Five trillion gallons of water! It’s hard to imagine.

Crater Lake

We’ve just passed 10,000 miles on our road trip, and we are heading into Reno, where we will shop and pack for our Burning Man experience. We’ll be back online after September 4th so look for an update then!

That’s a lot of miles!