What do these things have in common? They are included in the next leg of our journey. The Desoto National Forest has plenty to offer in the way of camping, hiking and history. The German POW had great views it seems and from the stories I've read, they were treated very well. Many even returned to Mississippi after the war to see the POW camp that quite literally may have saved their lives.
Darin and I consider ourselves to be pretty handy when it comes to DIY. We love creating and experimenting with bits and pieces of knowledge we have gained over the years. One way we entertain ourselves is by watching HGTV, Hometown is one of our favorites. Hosts Ben and Erin have a show based in the quaint little town of Laurel, Mississippi. We couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit Laurel when we were so close to it. So here is a shout out to the Scotsman! Due to COVID much of the town was closed but we managed to find a great gift shop for souvenirs and STICKERS! No, not sand spurs... We search for stickers to plaster all over the inside and some make it to the outside of our van. These help us reminisce about our travels.
We had a quick breakfast in the area and headed south toward the Big Easy. There were a couple of Louisiana State Park campgrounds on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain to choose from. The choice was made for us, as one was full and the other wasn't. So let's keep it simple. The Fairview Riverside State Park was nice and big with ample room to get out and stretch our legs. Just watch out for alligators, this is Louisiana after all.
We set up camp and had a really nice walk around the area. When we returned to the campsite we spotted another Sprinter van and decided to introduce ourselves. Chris and Tina are a really great couple that own a van rental company. They convert and customize vans and rent them out to vacationers. If you want to test drive Van-Life look them up and rent a luxury van. Check them out at www.myroadventures.com. We shared a set of K.I.S.S. Airflow window screens with them and exchanged contact info. They were headed east and we were headed west.
Later in the evening we heard a ruckus and opened the door to check it out. Drunken campers were fighting, voices were raised, fists were flying and handcuffs came out once the police arrived. We closed the door and went back to sleep, the obnoxious show was over as fast as it started up.
Just across Lake Pontchartrain is New Orleans. We didn't spend much time there. Basically drove in and around and back out. It is pretty much the same as when we were there before. If you haven't been - you should go at least once. The cemeteries alone are well worth the visit. The food, history, shops and, of course, the voodoo all add up to a ton of fun. The night-life of New Orleans is altogether different than I've experienced in any other city.
The old grand Plantations are a huge attraction in Louisiana. The moss-draped Oak trees and huge homes along River Road all have their own personality and individual history. The tours are usually guided and some homes are still occupied by the owners. We visited Houmas House this trip, which was at one point the largest sugar producer in the US.
After the Plantation tour we had worked up an appetite and made our way to Gonzales for a great meal at Mike Anderson's Seafood. The portions were huge and oh so delicious. We got back on I-10 and drove through Baton Rouge, exited on to Whiskey Bay Hwy and headed to Breaux Bridge in search of a campsite we found on the iOverlander App. Very rural area, so as you drive down this bumpy dirt and gravel road take your time and be patient. You'll see signs indicating no camping for a bit then boom turn left and drive up onto what looks like a levee. Pull up next to a fire pit and enjoy a quiet night of sleeping at the edge of the woods. A little spooky but totally cool. This is the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge.
The next morning as we continued along the dirt road we passed a larger camping area that had bathrooms and a boat launch. Only one camper in sight. We followed the road out which eventually was paved and continued north to Arkansas. My mom had suggested Crater of Diamonds State Park. There is a campground nearby that we called to get a spot for the night. They were booked full but recommended a place not far away in Kirby, Arkansas. This campground was a real revelation for us. It was an Army Corps of Engineers Campground. Beautiful views, hot showers, fresh water, electrical hook-ups, hiking trails, boat launch and a beach area all for $20. Incredible!
We didn't find any diamonds the next day at the Crater of Diamonds State Park but we were really excited about the gem of a campground at Kirby Landing. So much so that we stayed an extra night. Be sure to get your copy of this guide: The Wright Guide to Camping with the Corps of Engineers.
We departed Arkansas and entered Oklahoma, this checked a box for us as the last of the lower 48 traveled as a couple. At this point in our journey we were reviewing our 2020 travels and checking off all the states we had visited. Much to my dismay, we had not yet ventured into Texas in 2020. Darin and I both have been to Texas many times, just not in 2020. I have Texas stories that would curl your hair, but this is not the time or place for that. So we decided to take a quick trip into Paris, Texas to check that state off our 2020 list. We reentered Oklahoma and realized that if we hit two more states we will have visited all of the lower 48 in 2020. Actually, all of the lower 48 in 5 months. Let's do this! After hitting Texas all that was left was South Dakota and New Mexico. Again, Darin and I have been to those states, just not in 2020. In fact several years ago we rode our motorcycle from San Clemente, CA to Sturgis, SD. That's also a story for another time.
However, this is time to talk more about the US Army Corps of Engineers Campgrounds. According to Wright, Don; Wright, Joyce. The Wright Guide to Camping With The Corps of Engineers (p. 9). The Wright Guide. Kindle Edition, "The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers is the nation’s leading federal provider of high quality outdoor recreation opportunities for the public. The Corps operates more than 2,500 recreation areas and leases an additional 1,800 sites. The Corps hosts 360 million visits a year at its lakes, beaches and other areas with estimates that 25 million Americans visit a Corps project at least once a year." After reading this I was even more intrigued and dumbfounded that I had never heard of them before. These campgrounds are in at least 34 states, the next one we visited was near McAlester, Oklahoma on Eufaula Lake.
Now we have another mission. How many USACOE Campgrounds can we check out? Join us again and we'll see some more of these as well as complete our Southern States Tour by checking off the rest of the lower 48 in 2020. By the way, since these campgrounds are near water and the woods, you will need bug screens. The K.I.S.S. Airflow will make your nights way more comfortable.