Florida to New Orleans

We packed up early this morning and didn’t take much time to get ready since we took showers in the heated and lovely state park bathrooms right next to our campsite in addition to having a pull-through site eliminating hook-ups for the baby car.

The white sand was so lovely on the beach, but a bit less so stuck to everything. The sugar sand actually sticks like sugar if there is the least bit of moisture in the air, and there is ALWAYS moisture in the air!

We drove west on HWY 90 which is the Old Spanish Trail and actually traverses the southern US from coast to coast. Driving in Panama City Beach was the Florida From Hell that so many people equate with the state, Mile after mile of high rise condos between the road and the beach, with limited views of the water and kitchy stores and bars and seafood restaurants. We kept trying to find a place to go for a walk with Abby along the beach, but all the access points said no dogs. Finally we stopped along a place on the Inland Waterway and made grilled cheese sandwiches and let abby run a bit, but it was windy and really too cool to enjoy much, and the waterway water isn’t nearly as clean and beautiful as the beach water.

Finally stopped at a County Beach park along 30A near Destin for my white sand beach fix. There were huge high rises all around that were built in the Italian Villa style, pretty ritzy area, and still no dogs allowed on the beach, so Mo walked abby along the walkway while I went down to the beach. The wind was blowing hard, but warmer, and the sky was filled with long slim clouds. Suddenly as I turned to the Gulf, it was as though I had stepped into another world entirely. Everything behind me became irrelevant in the view of the pure crystal water and perfect blinding white sugar sand. In the wind I couldn’t hear anything at all behind me and as long as I was on that beach I couldn’t see any of the buildings. Just water and sand. It was a truly magical moment and illuminated for me the draw of that area that looks so awful when you are on the roads, and yet it’s filled with row after row of condos. People just go there for that beach, that water, that sky, and like me, when they are sitting there watching that water, all the development becomes irrelevant. It was a magical and eye opening moment for me.

We continued along the coast trying to get through Destin and Pensacola, with mile after mile of busy roads and 4 lane highway with traffic signals. It was starting to rain and we approached Alabama in a deepening storm. The rain started coming down in buckets with the side roads filling up with brown muddy water and the wipers struggling to keep up. Mo held on to the wheel while the rain poured and the lightening struck here and there. It continued like that all the way across Alabama, so we didn’t really see much of that state except for rain and mud and more rain.

Into Mississippi is was much the same way, but we decided to stay on HWY90 hoping that we could see a bit of the Mississippi coast. Approaching Biloxi, the rain continued, but started to lift just enough that we could see the devastation left behind by Katrina. The waterfront area across the entire state of Mississippi was gone, just completely gone. There was sand and mud at the same level as the gulf all along the highway, just flat, with construction cutting the road down to a single bumpy lane with big piles of sand that would appear unexpectedly. On the left was the gulf, and on the right was the most eerie landscape I think I have ever experienced. Mile after mile of neighborhoods, with driveways, and street signs, and huge old live oaks, still alive, but nowhere was there a house still standing. No street lights, to telephone poles, just these driveways going nowhere, and then a big casino would appear all lit up. I guess they rebuilt the casinos first.

Then, as I have seen on CNN reported by a woman who is from Biloxi, every now and then would be a huge mansion left standing, with nothing around it for miles, lonely and a faint beacon of light surrounded by darkness, and more miles of driveways and trees. I think the part that was most devastating to me was the enormity of the area destroyed, the miles and miles and miles of it, all along what was once a magnificent coastal area lined with really beautiful homes. Sometimes there would be a FEMA trailer parked next to an old foundation, and sometimes the trailers were covered with Christmas lights, trying to appear optimistic in the midst of the devastation.

Katrina hit 2.5 years ago, and looking at this landscape, I have no idea how it will ever rebuild. The only thing that may rebuild are the casinos, the money makers, but what will rebuild the history and family and neighborhoods. Seeing a followup story on Katrina, a gentleman talked of how his home had survived and that it was the worst thing that ever happened to him because he got no compensation, and couldn’t sell it, and his neighborhood and friends and community were completely gone. I remembered that story vividly as we drove for mile after mile along that coast.

Finally at Gulf Port the road left the coast and the devastation was less apparent. The rain lessened a bit as we approached New Orleans, but it was still dark and very wet and the roads were a nightmare of bumps and construction. We crossed the Twin Span bridge that had also been destroyed in the hurricane and was recently repaired, but oh my goodness, I thought the motorhome was going to jump right out of the lanes with every bump. Somehow the cement paving was buckled and twisted and still really awful to drive. Thought for a bit we might lose the baby car, but everything held together ok.

New Orleans was dark and scary at first, but we found our way to the French Quarter Motor Coach Resort after dark.

There were brick walls and cast wrought iron gates for full security at the park, which turned out to be behind the huge parking lot and empty shell of what had once been a big Winn-Dixie supermarket. The staff at the RV park offered to shuttle us to the French Quarter any time of the day or night, just a phone call would bring their little golf carts zipping down to the beautiful new information center. Just across from us, beyond the abandoned parking lot were row after row of project housing, and on the other side of us was a fenced in area of FEMA trailers. It was surreal. We could see the tall buildings of New Orleans just a few blocks away, and couldn’t understand why we couldn’t just walk the 1000 yards or so to the center ourselves, until we did in the next day in the daylight, and saw some things that helped us understand. We made use of that shuttle several times and were glad to have it.

The park itself was a strange walled in world of brick and coach lights with brick cobblestone parking areas, a lovely recreation room and complex, and many rows of truly big rigs. We were right next to the I-10 freeway as well, with all the associated sound effects and lights. The funniest thing of all is that this was the most expensive park on the route so far, at 69 per night, and they wouldn’t honor the CampClub rate for Friday night since there was a big football game in town.

In spite of the fact that it was New Orleans it had been a very long day and we were tired and just turned on the tv and computer where I again finally had good reception, and ate crackers for dinner.

Author: kyotesue

Soil scientist/mapper working for 35 years in the wild lands of the West. I am now retired, enjoying my freedom to travel, to hike without a shovel and a pack, to knit and quilt and play, to play with photography and write stories about all of it.

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