We woke up in Louisiana and had ourselves packed up and ready to hit the road by 8:30AM. We found our way out of the French Quarter and into some of the outlying neighborhoods. Tentatively, we weaved our way down crowded narrow streets and found the all but hidden exit to the highways. We drove out through mostly bridges that called themselves highways and admired all of the bayous and swamp land. It was an unbelievable feat of engineering that managed to connect the outlying swamp-lands to the mainland.
The next stop was at Vicksburg National Military Park in Vicksburg, Mississippi. This Civil War Memorial Park took us on a beautiful 16-mile self-guided driving tour of the battlefield, its trenches, relic cannons and monuments dedicated to the lives lost during the Civil War. What was unique about Vicksburg was that it identified the trenches used by each side as well as specific places throughout the park where important moments happened during the battle. The roads were beautifully manicured and very well maintained, it was a pleasure to drive along and discover the bits of history nestled in the grounds. We also got out and explored the USS Cairo and the museum exhibits there within. And you guessed it! Another field trip. Thankfully they had just finished walking through the ship remnants and museum, and they screamed their way across the street to the cemetery as we arrived. This allowed us to explore the Ironclad ship in peace and quiet. Both the ship and its excavation were revolutions in engineering. Each of these Ironclad ships took $89,600 (roughly $2.4 million today) to build and were specifically designed to travel in shallow river water and do battle along the great Mississippi River. We continued our trek through the rolling hills and admired the vast number of monuments. When we finished the tour, we searched for a campground to pitch for the night.
We stayed at River Town Campground where we were greeted by a miniature dust devil and set up just in time to watch several thunder heads roll by our “front door.” That was not all that rolled by – again we were an exhibit for the camping folk. Instead of our standard onlookers of curious children, it was a group of women walking their dogs who were discussing the oddity and questionable sanity of the car tent and its occupants. Grateful for the temperature drop that the approaching thunderstorm created, we relaxed comfortably in the breezy weather and watched as the dark clouds rolled in.
In the morning we woke up, packed up, and settled in for the drive to Little Rock, Arkansas. We were excited to get a glimpse into the past and stand in the shadow of the infamous Little Rock High School, where the desegregation of the nation finally reached its boiling point. “The Little Rock 9” were a group of black students who elected to transfer to Little Rock High School, as separate-but-equal was finally deemed unconstitutional. The one “shield” they had was the sheer volume of media coverage. This however, did not stop the bigotry and violence until the National Guard was mobilized and ordered to escort the students through the protestors and into the school. This small victory certainly wasn’t the end of the story and it’s easy to see there is still quite a bit of healing that lies ahead.
After wandering around and taking pictures of the monumental high school (which is still an active high school), we headed to Dempsey Bakery where I felt like a human again. EVERYTHING is gluten free and it was the best bakery bread I have had to date. They spoiled me with chocolate chip cookies dipped in chocolate and filled with icing, cheese cakes, breads, muffins, loaves, they even have pizza! (This I didn’t get to try but if the rest of the food is any indication it’s gotta be incredible.) They even offer baking services for wedding cakes and other special occasions. And! They don’t charge an arm and/or a leg for the convenience! The owner and employees were fabulous, the food was incredible, and I didn’t have to order from a different menu than everyone else. In the middle of the worst food desert I have been in on this trip Dempsey Bakery was a welcome oasis – as well as a welcome shelter from the torrential down pour that we yet again found ourselves caught within. Buying dessert for later, we ran out into the rain and treated ourselves to a Red Roof Inn for the night.
The counter people were lovely, and upon seeing our driver’s license questioned why we were so far from home. We explained that we were on our honeymoon, and we were traveling all 48 states. They excitedly tried to figure out how many states they had visited. They told us about local restaurants where we could go for dinner, as well as other interesting towns with fun attractions. We said our thank yous, unloaded the car and made our plans for the evening. We headed to Big Orange for burgers (veggie patty for Joe, gluten free bun from Dempsey for me) and Arnold Palmers.
After it rained all night we were happy we had opted for a hotel. We got on the road fairly early and at the urging of the hotel manager set our course for Hot Springs, Arkansas. We were truly not expecting to see much, but were greatly surprised by the thriving little town. We prepared for our wanderings by stopping at Kollective Coffee +Tea. With coffee in hand we traveled the length of the town. Several Museums (including a gangster museum), as well as bathhouses lines the streets and filled us in on the rich history that this little town contained. (Apparently it was the going to be Las Vegas before Las Vegas came into being.) We stopped in a store called “All Things Arkansas” and chatted with a woman who insisted that not all of Arkansas looked like the landscape we had driven through, which frankly was NOTHING but farms… for acres, and acres. There were streets without names and only numbers, County Roads and Farm-to-Market roads dotted the expansive landscape for what felt like an eternity. She promised us that Arkansas, when given the chance, could surprise you. We thanked her for her time, and headed back towards the car. We found out that a Mexican restaurant on this strip called Ronaldo’s offering safe gluten free options and treated ourselves to some lunch. Stuffed with good food, we hit the road toward Beavers Bend, Oklahoma where we would be spending the night.
When we arrived at Beavers Bend we were greeted in the standard fashion of rain and fog, but traversed the park in our car and enjoyed the sights from there. Known for their sightings of Bigfoot we peered through the brush with hopes of catching a glimpse, but were disheartened by the rain and fog limiting our gaze. With the Sasquatch nowhere to be seen, we opted for the next best thing – Pizza. The only pizza place around for literal miles that had any interest in feeding my folk was the best pizza I ever had the pleasure of ingesting…and it was in Oklahoma! The Grateful Head was a funky restaurant, with no shortage of seating or hospitality. Our server Josh, an incredibly gracious culinary student, had just completed his semester on Cross Contamination. Josh painstakingly went through the menu with me, explained what portions of each pizza I could eat and what would need to be done differently. He then personally supervised the assembly, cooking, and cutting of my pie to ensure I would not get sick. He apologized for how long the food had taken because of the scrutiny of the kitchen staff. I assured him that I didn’t mind, as quality takes time. Shortly thereafter, I informed Josh that he and his fellow coworkers had prepared the BEST pizza I have ever eaten (which partially scarred me, being from New York).
Waddling out of the restaurant after two pizzas, we crossed the street to Girls Gone Wine another funky place that offered multiple rooms of wine related gifts and tchotchke’s. At the end of the “treasure trail” was a wine bar that offered free tastings. C’mon, who’s gonna say no to free wine?? We enjoyed a flight and purchased a bottle aptly named “Roadtrip” and headed out to try and find lodging for the night since, you guessed it, it kept raining.
We made our way away from Beavers Bend and toward our next day’s destination of Fort Worth Texas and settled on a cheap hotel (Read – Mildly Scary) that was off the highway. However, it was fairly nice accommodations, offered free Wi-Fi, and the locks worked fabulously. We hunkered down for the night and excitedly awaited the next day’s journey.