Day #50 – In the Arkansas boonies

LOCATION:  Out in the boonies in SE Arkansas
CAMPGROUND:  2nd night at Lake Merrisach Army Corps of Engineers
WEATHER:  Pretty nice; a bit humid.  High 78

The tarp worked successfully again last night.  It rained quite a bit, but Joy stayed nice and dry inside.  We will leave on the tarp….just in case it starts raining again.

Sure enough, the park ranger stopped by and said we had to move to another site; it is reserved for tonight.  So we did a minimal pack-up and hook-up and moved across the inlet to another waterfront site.  This one is almost better – a nice configuration of the covered picnic table fire pit, and grill.  We face the water and there aren’t many campers around us.  All good.

This is the view from our new site back to our old one

There are a lot of birds here, especially swallows.  As we were sitting under our picnic table shelter, they started to dive-bomb us!  We realized that there were 2 nests up in the rafters and the mother was trying to protect them from us.    George got this great photo of their eggs. 

Our lake is part of the Arkansas River, which is quite large.  It flows eventually into the Mississippi.  We watched this barge pass right by our campsite…

We took a drive around the area, checking out a few of the nearby locks on the river.  As we were driving down one remote road, a lynx jumped out in front of us.  Beautiful animal!

I got in my 11K steps walking around the park  while George got exercise by chopping up more wood for the campfire. 

DINNER:  Curry rice with chicken and squash.  When we visited America’s oldest rice mill a few weeks ago, I bought one of their curry rice packages.  I made it tonight, but had to add a lot more curry spice and cayenne to kick it up.  I added some chicken that we had grilled a few nights ago along with the butternut squash I had previously cooked.  I was careful not to make too much so we wouldn’t have leftovers! 

The sun set about 8:00 and was beautiful, over the water

Day# 49 – North to Arkansas!

LOCATION: Merrisach Lake in SE Arkansas.  Not close to anything!!!
CAMPGROUND:  Merrisach Lake Army Corps of Engineers Campground, part of Arkansas River -Wilbur Mills Dam.  Huge campground – more than 100 sites, and there are only about 15 sites filled.  Located right on lake.  Many (like ours) with lake views.  Electricity at site.  Water and dump station available.  Fairly level, paved site.  Firepit and stand-up grill.  Picnic table with cover.  Good bathrooms.   $18/night.    Too far from civilization for any cell service, TV reception, or internet.  4 stars out of 5.
WEATHER:  Mostly cloudy.  Humid.  High 86 – time to move north

We took our time enjoying all of the amenities at Lake D’Arbonne State Park – great showers, laundry, etc before we hit the road again.

Our drive was backroads again.  The only problem is that most of the state highways do not have any shoulders.  I am always afraid of needing to pull over for a flat tire.    Today, we encountered a lot of big lumber trucks and I had to pull as far over as I could.  Scary.

We arrived at this campground to find the registration office closed on Tuesdays!  Since we had reservations we went to our site.  It was kind of a dog-leg shape, and we didn’t think we could fit it in.  Since there were so many other sites available, we parked in another site.  We hope we won’t have to move.  Our new site is perfect – right on the water and no one near us. 

With rain predicted, we put the tarp up again.  Without a ladder, it is an annoyingly long and frustrating process.  The tarp keeps getting trapped around various things on top of Joy – like the air conditioner, solar panel, awning top, and vent fan.  We finally got it on, and celebrated with a drink next to the lake.

DINNER:  One of the things I enjoy about camping is re-purposing foods.  I write about our evening meal so that fellow campers can get some ideas about how I handle a small refrigerator/freezer and sometimes limited options in rural grocery stores. 

Tonight I re-purposed the grits  leftover from George’s  Sunday breakfast.  To the leftover grits, I added an egg and Parmesan cheese.  After stirring it up well, I padded it around a Pyrex dish to make a shell.

I baked the shell until it was crisp and brown.  Then, I added toppings:  George crisped up some sausage we had leftover from a previous evening’s cassoulet dish and some scallions, left over from last night’s steak roll-ups.   Other toppings were some tomato sauce, sauteed garlic and onion, and more Parmesan. I even added some of my frozen pesto that I had made before we hit the road 2 months ago!  I baked the casserole for about 10 minutes, until everything was hot and the cheese had melted.   This dish was tasty and easy.  A winner. 

BOOK:  “Among the Mad” by Jacqueline Winspear.  This is part of a series of a female investigator/psychologist that takes place in England in the 1930s.  One of these books is always a nice fall-back while I am waiting for other books to become available online.  4 stars out of 5.

Day #48: Winding up Louisiana visit

LOCATION:  Near Bastrop, Louisiana – in very north central part of Louisiana
CAMPGROUND:  2nd night at Chemin-a-Haut State Park
WEATHER:  Mostly cloudy.  Very pleasant temps – 78

We hiked around the state park, finding other sections.  One is for group camping.  They have a lodge that will accommodate 38 people and a camping tent area, with dish-washing sinks, which you rarely see in USA campgrounds.  (They are more common in Canada.)

Another section has a big “rally” room for day use with a nice swimming pool and playground.  There are two sections of cabins that will sleep 8-10 people.  It would be a great venue for a family vacation or reunion. 

We found the bayou and the lake.  The area is famous for its old-growth cypress trees. 

We will be leaving Louisiana tomorrow, and we will miss these bayou/cypress tree views

We returned to the campground via a trail in the woods.  It wasn’t well-maintained and we were a little afraid that it would just peter out, but it took us back to “civilization”.  On our way, we saw some bear print paw prints in the mud. 

I have mentioned before that we have really enjoyed Louisiana state park camping.  We have stayed in 9 (out of 21).  All have electricity and water at sites; some are full hook-ups..  They all have nice paved pads for RVs and a tent pad – convenient if you have more family members/friends accompanying you.  They have fire pits, stand-up grills, and picnic tables.  All have the best bathrooms/showers we have ever experienced camping.  Most have laundries, unusual for state parks.  Most have cabins or yurts in addition to RV/tent camping.  Most have swimming pools or splash pads.  Here is our route to state parks after we left the Cajun Fest in early April…

Tomorrow we cross the border to Arkansas.  Although we really enjoyed our time here, I would not want to be camping in Louisiana in the summer.  I imagine it is very hot, humid, and buggy.

DINNER:  We watched a cooking show on PBS recently where they made these Asian steak roll-ups, so thought we would give them a try.  We bought some flank steak pieces and pounded them out to be thin.  We rolled them up with scallions in the middle. 

Meanwhile, I made a Vietnamese dipping sauce with fish sauce, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, garlic, chile paste, sugar, and sake.  We coated the roll-ups with the sauce as they cooked. 

When they had cooled, we cut them up to look like sushi rolls. 

For serving, we drizzled more of the dipping sauce over the rolls and some rice (I would have used Asian noodles but we were out).  Side was peas. 

All very good!  They would be great for a party.

Day #47 – Happy Birthday, Dear George!

LOCATION:  Near Bastrop, Louisiana in north central Louisiana, almost on the Arkansas border
CAMPGROUND:  Chemin -a-Haut State Park.  Another great Louisiana state park.  Full hook-ups, level and long site with fire pit, stand-up grill, picnic table, and tent site.  Wifi.  Sites are well-spaced out with lots of trees.  Squeaky clean bathrooms and showers.  Laundry and library.  On a lake, but not visible from camping area.  $18/night.  5 stars out of 5
WEATHER:  Beautiful.  Sunny.  High 80

We hung out at Lake D’Arbonne as we weren’t in a hurry to move on.  We hiked some more of the trails there.  The workers have chopped up and moved some logs from trails and roads, but there are still many more to work on.  It was interesting to see how the tornado hopped around, sparing some areas, but absolutely devastating others. 

We made several detours around trees blocking our path. Not bad for a now 76-year-old!

These upended tree roots are massive.

They are building some tents for campers.  They are very nice, but are deep in the woods…Campers would have to haul in water and all their supplies for quite a long distance.

We drove a bit east and north to our final Louisiana destination.  It is very remote, but we do get some TV and a tiny bit of cell service.  We are not going to unhook as there is nothing around here to visit.  While we are here, we will hike and maybe rent a kayak.

Now to celebrate George’s 76th birthday!  I made some Aperol Spritzes that we discovered in Venice.  They are made with aperol, champagne, and a little fizzy water.  Quite refreshing!

George made a fire and grilled some chicken that I had marinated in a garlic and harissa paste –  a tip from our friends the Glanvilles with whom we camped earlier this trip.

DINNER:  In addition to the chicken thighs, I had George char some butternut squash (previously baked) and an onion half.  Then, I followed the recipe on the vegetable “better than bouillon” jar to make a sauce for the veggies.   It was quite good – made with the bouillion paste, balsamic vinegar, parmesan, and olive oil.  Another side was mushroom risotto.  We paired it with the champagne left from the spritzes. 

We watched my buddy Rick Steves’ Monday night podcast about European travel. 

Not a bad way to celebrate a birthday! 

Day #46…In sportsmen’s paradise

LOCATION:  Farmerville, Louisiana in North Central part of state
CAMPGROUND:  2nd night at Lake D’Arbonne State Park
WEATHER:  Just great.  Sunny.  High 75

We listened to a symphony during the night – coyotes howling, owls hooting, and a strange yowl that George says was raccoons.

We enjoyed our regular Sunday morning routine — While watching CBS Sunday Morning, George made his Sunday morning eggs and grits. Yummy as always

This part of Louisiana is called “Sportsmen’s Paradise”.  It is sparsely populated and is full of lakes.  Fishing and camping are popular.  There were a few fishing boats on the lake.  This is the view from our front door…

We took a hike around the campground.  From one of the piers, we spotted a lot of turtles sunning themselves on logs.

Here I am waving to George – from one pier to the next.

It is very green here!

Being Sunday, most of the other campers left.   About 10 campsites (out of 100+) remain occupied.  Nice and quiet.

While I did some cleaning jobs, George chopped up wood that he had scrounged from some new construction in the park.

I took a walk by myself to get some more exercise, taking the main park road to a different section of the park.  It is hilly here!  I was checking out the destroyed visitor center (now just a huge hole in the ground) when a lady and child popped out of the woods.  They had taken a trail and were lost.  They invited me to join them on the trail (versus the paved road) back to the campground.  The lady is very “southern”.  When she talked with me, every other word was “yes, ma’am”. When the daughter forgot to add “yes, ma’am” to a response, she reminded her.    It was a little annoying – very Southern. 

DINNER:  Cassoulet.  It is made with sausage and white beans.  It is a dish most famous in the section of France where we hope to be going this fall.  The secret is using the best sausage you can find.  Tonight, I used some sausage I found called “garlic sausage” that was very good.  I also added some andouille, since we are in Louisiana.  I had George char the sausage over the fire before I added it to the casserole.  Very tasty! 

Day #45 – Camping after tornado destruction

LOCATION:  Farmerville, Louisiana in North Central part of state
CAMPGROUND:  Lake D’Arbonne State Park.  Beautiful, woodsy park on huge lake.  Full hook-ups.  Clean bathrooms/showers/laundry.  Good wifi.  Good phone and TV (PBS) reception.  With senior discount, $14/night.  Can’t beat that!  4 stars out of 5. (See below)
WEATHER:  Mostly sunny.  High 68

It was a dark and stormy night.  Rains pelleted us for hours.  Then the wind howled and howled, with the noise exacerbated by the billowing tarp we had placed over Joy. 

We awoke at the blueberry farm to the crowing of the rooster, and checked out possible damage.  Yay!  The tarp held tight and it did its job – there was no sign of a leak.  The leak must be on the top of the Airstream and the water must be seeping down behind, then under, the refrigerator.  With the tarp on, we kept the water out. 

The owner came by to bid us farewell.  A cute young couple own this blueberry farm.  Then, we drove north and east to another great Louisiana park.  We are hovering in this area for awhile, as the parks are nice and the weather is just about perfect for camping. Our site is near the 15,000+ acre lake…

We were surprised that the campground is only about 25% occupied, even though it is a weekend.  We took a hike on one of the trails…

We learned that a tornado struck the park about a month ago.  There are huge trees down all over the place.  There was a lot of damage.  It completely took out the visitor center and swimming pool.  Huge holes are all that are left. 

They have been busy sawing the trees up.  There are piles everywhere. I would have rated this park a 5, but because of all the damage and clean-up work, it is muddy and (temporarily) unattractive in parts. 

We went in to town, in search of a nice lake-side restaurant/bar to have a drink.  No such thing.  So, we returned to the campground and had a drink at Reids’ Bistro around the fire…

DINNER:  We are still working through the frozen leftovers from the Cajun Fest.  Tonight, I warmed up some gumbo and added more chicken, sausage, and okra to it.  Unfortunately, it made a lot!

BOOK:  “204 Rosewood Lane” by Debbie Macomber.  Kind of a sappy, soap-opera type book that I picked up at a campground library when I needed something to read while offline.  I’ve read a few other of her books – all chronicling the lives of people in a fictitious Washington state town.  2 stars out of 5

Day #44 – Amid the blueberries…

LOCATION:  Ringgold, Louisiana – in northwest part of state
CAMPGROUND:  McCain Family Farm.  Another Harvest Host site; it is a blueberry farm.  We are down a farm lane to the back of their farm, smack dab in the middle of the blueberry bushes.  Enough space for 2 RVs, but we were the only ones there.  Very nice young couple/owners.  5 stars out of 5
WEATHER:  Rain forecast, but only started in the early evening.  Mostly cloudy..  High 72

It was a bit nippy when we woke up at the Harvest Host winery.  Being off-grid (aka boon-docking or dry camping), we try to conserve our battery use.  We have 2 heaters built it to the Airstream – one that uses propane and a heat pump that uses electricity.  We could have used the propane furnace, but that also takes a bit of battery.  So, George bought this propane space heater, one that is safe for indoor use, and connected it to our main propane tank, so we don’t need to buy canisters.  We call it our fireplace!

George does exercises each morning.  Here he is doing some yoga moves before we took off.

I was pleased that the winery has some outdoor toilets.  These are set up for their upcoming concert.

We took back country roads going slightly south and west.  We commented that these back roads allow us to really see the countryside, rather than speed from Point A to Point B on the interstate.  Today we went further afield, as a bridge was washed out and we had to take a detour.  We drove through lots of little towns, mostly with just a house or two as well as at least 2 churches.  People sitting in their front yards and farmers in their fields wave to us as we pass by.  They must be pretty lonely!

Thunderstorms with 100% chance of rain were predicted during the night, so we stopped at a Dollar General store to buy a tarp for Joy.  There are Dollar General stores everywhere!  We read that there are more Dollar General stores in the USA than McDonald’s and Starbucks combined!

It was still early when we arrived in Ringgold, so we stopped at their lovely library to use the internet.  It was popcorn Friday so the librarian invited us to munch on some as we did our computer work.  One lady arrived singing Gospel music joyfully.  We are in the South, y’all!

The blueberry farm owner met us and made sure we got set up ok in their field.  The area we parked in is grassy but we were sure to be near the gravel road in case it is muddy in the AM.  This is a blueberry farm, but it is still too early for blueberries. The bushes are full of them; they will be ready in about a month.  They also sell honey, but are out of that, too. 

Joy is content right in the middle of the farm

We walked around the farm, introducing ourselves to the rooster…

And to the sheep…(including a baby lamb)

And to a cow that thinks it is a sheep

It is all very rustic and charming.

They even have a bathroom!  First class!

The clouds started rolling in during the late afternoon, so we decided to hang the tarp over Joy.  It took us more than an hour as we don’t have a ladder with us, and had a hard time getting the tarp placed between the different vents and A/C on top.  Finally, we got it tied down tightly.

DINNER:  I jazzed up some leftovers from a pasta dish I made the other night with bowtie pasta and sausage.  To that, I added some sauteed onions, mushrooms, and garlic, and then swirled in some leftover ricotta.  I made George eat the whole thing as I didn’t want leftover leftovers! 

Day #43 – Surprise! Louisiana has good wine!

LOCATION:  West Monroe, Louisiana, in north central part of state
CAMPGROUND:  Landry Vineyards – a Harvest Host vineyard and winery.  Perfect set-up for RVs.  Four of us tonight lined up near the vineyards.  Beautiful tasting room.  Outdoor bathrooms.  🙂 
5 stars out of 5
WEATHER:  Very nice.  Mostly sunny.  High 70

We putzed around at the state park campground, since we didn’t have a long drive today.  George worked on the rear-view camera as it gets fogged up all the time.  He took it apart, dried it out with my hair dryer, and then re-sealed it.  Let’s hope it stays clear! 

We took an alternate route to avoid Interstate 20.  The flowers along the roadside are pretty.  I don’t know what these are…

These spider lilies must like the wet soil as we see them a lot in water-filled ditches

The owner of the winery greeted us and led us to the parking space in his golf cart.  Very nice.  He has a success story…..Their home and property near New Orleans got wiped out in Hurricane Katrina.  They decided to invest in this part of the state and developed the vineyards, then the winery.  It is a big, successful operation. 

They have huge events on most Saturdays. Bands set up in this pavilion…

They told us that 800-1200 people come to listen to the music and drink wine.  People set up all up and down these hills. 

We did a wine-tasting and chatted with the other RVer.  He grew up in this area.  He says people in the city use this winery venue for events, like his class reunion.  It is nice that people support it. 

We enjoyed the tasting; the wines we tasted were especially good.  We bought a few bottles plus a bottle of their port. 

DINNER:  We try to do at least one meatless dish a week.  I had some farro (an ancient grain like rice but nuttier) to use up and found this recipe.  We think it turned out great!

BUTTERNUT SQUASH FARRO BAKE (Serves 12 – I cut the recipe to make enough for 4)

3 cups uncooked farro
1 T olive oil
1.5 pound butternut squash, cut in small chunks
2 cups diced red bell pepper
2 T chopped garlic
2 cup thinly sliced shallots
5 T chopped fresh sage
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
10 oz baby spinach or kale
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 T grated lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 cup shredded Gruyere
1 cup toasted, chopped walnuts
1/4 cup grated pecorino Romano

I modified the recipe a bit….I split the squash in half and partially baked it – mostly to soften it up.  I peeled the skin off, and saved half of it for another recipe.  Meanwhile, I cooked the farro.  Depending on whether you use whole or partially hulled farro, cooking time will vary.  Cook according to your package directions.   

In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil.  Add the partially cooked squash cubes, shallots, bell pepper, and garlic.  Cook about 5 minutes.  Add the cayenne and half of the sage.  Cook another 2-3 minutes.  Add spinach (or kale) and cook until wilted.  Add squash mixture to farro.  Toss to combine.  Stir in broth, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and Gruyere.  Spoon the mixture into a casserole dish.

In a small bowl, combine walnuts, pecorino, and remaining sage.  Sprinkle over the farro mixture.  Cover with foil and bake at 375 for 15 minutes.  Remove foil and cook another 5 minutes until topping is browned.

When I went shopping for this meal, I was in a small country grocery store and some of the ingredients were not available…..  I had to substitute green bell pepper for the red bell pepper.  The curly kale looked nice so I bought that instead of sorry-looking spinach.  They didn’t sell fresh herbs, so I used dry sage instead.  When I asked the clerk for assistance in the store, she had never heard of Gruyere, so I substituted Fontina.  I’m sure Gruyere would have been better.  Nor did they have any pecorino Romano so I used Parmesan.

Although I cut back on the farro, bell pepper, and squash, I used an entire bunch of kale, as well as  a lot of shallots and garlic.   I had some bread crumbs to use up, so I added them to the walnut/pecorino topping.   

We paired this with a dry Rose’ that we bought at the winery this afternoon.  Very nice!

BOOK:  “Lewis Man” by Peter May.  This is 2nd in a murder/detective series.  The characters are interesting, and it takes place on the remote Isle of Lewis which makes it unique.  5 stars out of 5

Day #42 – Civil War History Day

LOCATION:  Delhi, Louisiana in Northeast part of state
CAMPGROUND:  3rd night at Poverty Point Reservoir State Park
WEATHER:  Sunny.  Turned cooler – High 60

Today was a trip to historic Vicksburg, Mississippi, on the Mississippi River.  It is famous for its Civil War battle/siege.  We crossed over the river from Louisiana…

First up was lunch.  We found a great place for some local food in the historic section, right on the River.  We had their specialty – fried green tomatoes with a hollandaise sauce and crab meat.  We shared this plate, but the guy next to us ate the whole thing himself PLUS a huge oyster po’boy sandwich and fries.  I heard the waitress order – “blackened shrimp, fries, and cheese grits”.  We are in the South, y’all.

We did the self-guided 16-mile driving tour around the Battlefield National Park.  Normally it costs $20, but with Covid, the visitors’ center and ticket office were closed, so you just enter and drive around.  The drive first takes you on “Union Avenue” where you see monument after monument recognizing infantries from various Northern states.  This one was to honor troops from Iowa.

There must be more than 1000 of these monuments.  Also, signs pointing out different battle lines.  We listened to a narrative describing at each tour stop that explained each battle – which side took which battle or hill.

We continued on through “Confederate Avenue” with monuments honoring the Southern state troops.  This is an example – one honoring Louisiana.  . It was a 6-month battle with lots of casualties and harm to the city of Vicksburg itself.  In the end, the North won. 

We drove back across the Mississippi, spotting this big barge….

Back home, George went foraging.  He picked me some wild flowers for a vase on the dining room table (nice), and some wild asparagus and wild green onions for dinner.  We grilled the very delicate asparagus for about 5 seconds, then enjoyed them as an appetizer.  I added the green onions to tonight’s dinner.  Very fragrant.

DINNER:  Grilled chicken.  This is a trick I learned a while ago….I save the juice from kalamata olives and use it as a marinade.  Side was tagliatelle pasta with an onion/mushroom cream sauce.  Also, another night of fresh, steamed green beans.  (The bag I bought is lasting a long time!) 

Day #41. Exploring Indian mounds

LOCATION:  Delhi, Louisiana – in Northeast part of state.  Not far from Mississippi
CAMPGROUND:  2nd night at Poverty Point Reservoir State Park
WEATHER:  Another gorgeous day.  Sunny.  High 76

George decided to see if he could find the source of our leak. He moved the truck parallel to Joy, then precariously set up the step stool on top of the back of the truck in order to climb up.   I could hardly watch.  He could not find any place where the rain could be coming in.  Hmmnn

We visited the World Heritage site of Poverty Point, about 15 miles from our campground.  It is North America’s largest hunter-gatherer site from about 1700 BC. 

We took the self-guided driving tour, visiting several of their big mounds.  Archaeologists don’t know how they used the mounds, but they are not burial mounds.  We climbed this one that was designed in the shape of a bird.

This is the view from the top.  They had to move about 150 million tons of earth to build these mounds, using small bags.  An amazing feat!

Based on their artifact findings, archaeologists think they were a very advanced civilization.  These circles (reminded me of Stonehenge) are where they found huge holes where poles had stood for some ceremony.

I asked where the name Poverty Point came from. It doesn’t have anything to do with the Indian mounds. In the 1800s, a European settler had a plantation here that went bust.

Our state park owns a nice golf course and marina, in addition to the campground.  We decided to check out the golf course’s bistro for a drink and to use their wifi. 

DINNER:  On the stand-up grill, George made a nice fire and grilled the last of the frozen tuna (the free steaks that a fisherman gave us from the Gulf a few weeks ago).  I made a wasabi/soy sauce to drizzle on them.  Sides were ramen noodles and carrot sunomono. (Sunomono means vinegared foods in Japanese.  They are common side dishes.)  I made this by cutting carrots in tiny matchstick pieces and marinating them all day in a sauce made with rice vinegar, soy sauce, and a bit of sugar.  I sprinkled sesame seeds on top to serve.   We had a glass of sake to pair with the meal. As they say in Japanese…Ooishii!