Thursday, January 31, 2013

ALMOST to Florida

From Eufaula, the road shoots due South to find itself ending in Dothan, Alabama where it joins US Highway 231 out of Montgomery.  US 231 is the gateway to Florida from that part of Alabama.  Just before reaching Dothan, we passed a marshalling area for harvested cotton modules. A cotton module is essentially a tractor-trailer load of compressed raw cotton, ready for the gin (which is called that for short because at first it was called "Eli Whitney's Cotton EnGINe". In any case, I was impressed by the number of modules we saw. I am guessing we saw at least 500 modules in a single location --  and each consisting of about 40, 500 pound bales or 10 metric tons.  I have seen 40 or 50 at a time around the gin at Jay, Florida, near home and it is common to see a half dozen or even a dozen after some of the local fields near home are picked.  But to see 500. That was a lot.  The cotton is already transferred from the farmer to the gin as property once the cotton is in a module. This is a practical matter of liability and commerce. Here is a book I highly recommend.

Just to the West of us at this point is Fort Rucker, US Army Post. It is not unusual around here to see an Army helicopter chopping along. My great-grandpa Carswell came back to that area around Daleville after the “Late Unpleasantness” to become a  minister and rather poor dirt farmer. He never talked much about his experience with the US Army in 1864-65. He was their prisoner at Rock Island in Southern Illinois after being captured by Sheridan’s people at Chattanooga’s Missionary Ridge. Only one in four who walked in the gates came out alive. He was one of the 500 survivors. My friend from High School, Dan Holt, had a great grandfather at the same prison. He was in a sister brigade beside my great grandfather on Missionary Ridge that day when Sheridan’s troops disobeyed his order to hold at the base of the hill and instead, rushed forward against thin lines and broke the siege of Chattanooga.  My ancestor, Robert Knight Carswell was a lifelong Democrat until he was on his deathbed. At that point, he had his voter registration changed to REPUBLICAN because he wanted one more Republican (same thing as a “union soldier” in his mind ) to die off the voter rolls rather than a Democrat.

Dothan, Alabama impresses me.  There are obvious signs of economic growth in this town. I think Dothan is the one of the top five largest cities in Alabama now. (Birmingham and Hoover are one metro area. Huntsville and Decatur rank as one metro area too.)  I hate to make comparisons but I get the sense Dothan and Huntsville and Birmingham have the greatest progress among Alabama cities in the last decades. Montgomery is in decay on the inside with an Eastward bulge of economic success OUTSIDE of the city limits. Mobile has large blighted areas but is kindling success with new industry growth around ship-building and aircraft manufacture. Selma looks sadly "dead" downtown, its days of high commerce long gone.  Well, enough about Alabama. It is on our list to spend many weeks there in discovery.  There is much to see. OK -- I promise - the OLD FLORIDA tour begins with the next post (You can select to be notified of the next post using the link in the upper right corner of the blog.)

Friday, January 18, 2013

Getting to Florida

Through a turn of events we actually began our Florida tour coming out of Auburn, Alabama where our son is in his senior year of college.  We picked up state connecting roads out of Opelika to take us to US Highway 431 South, which is a superb four lane highway.

The Marquis de LaFayette, passed this way in 1825 on his grand tour of the America he helped to birth some five decades earlier. He was the last surviving general of the American Revolution. He was like a Rock Star of the day.  The Creek Indians participated in the welcome (the Creek War was about 10 years earlier - an extending circumstance of the War of 1812 with Britain - (yet again, the Brits). They held a ball game  in the Marquis’ honor (like lacrosse). The game ran late and traffic held up the wagons causing a day’s delay in his arrival at Montgomery where a special ball and party was planned the night before. Traffic on game day is still a problem in the area. Did I mention that George Washington was with the Marquis on that trip? Well, his son, George W was named after the Marquis’  former boss. The tavern he stayed in prior to arriving in Montgomery is preserved in Old Alabama Town.

Essentially Highway 431  follows the Chattahoochee RIver for most of the route and then bears South West. The town of Eufaula, there on the banks of the River facing Georgia, carries some of the glory of "The Old South" in character of the old homes. I've always liked Eufaula. It was one of my favorite places to stay overnight decades ago when I travelled the South for an Animal Health company.  

I'd usually stop by the Tom Mann fish aquarium and shop for plastic fishing worms in his store. He made one of the early fortunes in artificial plastic worms for fishing.  Tom Mann was a Creek Indian and he knew so much more than most of us will ever forget about the history that passed those river banks. He is dead now. The old aquarium is gone. The store is gone. I miss that.  But the area around Eufaula seems to be thriving. They had some upscale stores South of town.

Keep Eufaula and the upper reaches of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers in mind because they form the Apalachicola River and  if won’t be long before you’ll be reading my posts about the connection this River made with ports on the Southern end. The next blog post will take us from Here to Panama City. Then we will get back over to the Apalachicola River a few days later.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Natives Tour Florida

From 2012-10c
We started this expedition in Florida in early January. We are not exactly typical Florida tourists. We are native to the state ... although from the forgotten part of the state at that - the far NW Panhandle. But we have lived AWAY from our roots for the past 40 years - the last 25 in New Jersey. We remembered glimpses of the state from visits in that time but we never got to absorb the region as we can now - from a small motorhome.

We were surprised in December to travel only three hours from home near Pensacola to Wakulla Springs and find herds of manatees in the river there. We expected the other wildlife, the alligators, the birds -- but we thought the manatees were a fixture of SOUTH Florida. And, here they were - right up at our latitude. To be fair - they do not even advertise in the Wakulla Springs brochure that there are manatees there because nearly all their tourism is in the summer and the manatees don't come up the river in the summer because they do not need the protection of the constant 68 degree water in the summer. Winter at that latitude can put a sheet of thin ice over these shallow spring fed rivers and it is deadly to manatees.  So, they move North in the river to the springs and find relative warmth. We liked the boat ride so much we took a second trip to Wakulla Springs a few weeks after our first.  

The wildlife in and around the river there has not been hunted or fished in nearly 100 years. They observe the passing boats with tourists as a  minor distraction to be ignored. It is a photographer's playground.

The December trip led us to explore a potential extended Florida camping trip, similar to the Black Hills trip we took in late 2011.  The winter season is more comfortable for Florida and it turns out that even with snowbirds in relative abundance, the natural parts of Florida are not terribly crowded.  So, our January plans were put in motion. - Follow this blog for progress reports.