This will make four posts in four days, we usually aren’t this active, but we have a lot that we have been working on, and it’s all kind of come together just now.
We didn’t know where we were headed but landed in St. Augustine after choosing it out of our NPS passport book. All the advertisements were great saying it’s America’s oldest city and that Jamestown had no idea what it was talking about. It’s true. St. Augustine is 42 years older than Jamestown. We arrived at a hotel we had picked out real quick after making the snap decision. It looked seedy but the guy was nicer than could be and the inside was actually quite nice.
We walked to the historical downtown – they aren’t kidding. It’s historical. It looked like a living museum of colonial times.
We went to Taberna del Caballo that had local-Spanish fusion foods. It really was a tavern in there with creaky wooden furniture and candles for lights. Very cool.
The next day we headed to St. Augustine (Fort Marion) NPS Fort. We hadn’t been to an NPS site in too long so we spent hours reading every sign and enjoying it. Living history guys all dressed up fired some real cannons and discussed the sieges that had taken place there.
The Pirate Museum looked really cool but as soon as we walked in to get a ticket it was just blaring Pirates of the Caribbean music while children fought in the play ship just behind the gift shop. It looked out of our age range. Instead we headed to something in our age range – the St Augustine Distillery.
The tour guide was out of control but everyone we met there was really passionate about what they were doing and answered every question. Pictures took you through the whole process and if that wasn’t enough it was in an old ice factory so we learned a ton about how folks used to get ice. It was a very well rounded drink tour- ice and booze.
Since we had booked last minute we couldn’t stay another night in the same motel. We had to go across the bridge to the other part of the city. This place looked just as seedy as the other but this time, it was. There was trash, one towel wasn’t clean and the carpet was ripped up everywhere, not to mention the three broken lamps and the clogged shower AND sink drains. We went back to the front desk where the guy just narrowed his dead-inside-eyes and said “I know” in a hopeless way. He begrudgingly allowed us to change rooms, it was better, but you know, everything was still broken. The drain drained so that was good enough for us!
We headed out of there to get dinner at a speakeasy-style restaurant, Prohibition Kitchen. We ordered just drinks and appetizers. After two drinks we were brave enough to order boiled peanuts. A couple people walking by our table actually asked us what it was so while this is a “local food” it’s unfamiliar to most. We asked the waitress how to even eat them – like shell them or are they boiled to the point you can eat the shell? “You can do either” she said. That didn’t answer our question so we had to science the answer – the shell still is shell-y and really probably shouldn’t be consumed.
We walked around and saw a local school was holding prom in a very old building. It was unreal how old and beautiful the buildings are (have been maintained or rebuilt, we don’t know).
We slept pretty good considering all the ants all over the walls. Something about having 4 broken lamps in the corner guarding you really brings a person comfort. We checked out and headed to Georgia. For no reason than because we could we headed to Lane Orchards. We had heard good things about it online and it sounded quaint with strawberry picking and hay rides. Turns out it’s a huuuugggeee Walmart sized building full of all their products. This turned out to be more interesting than we expected. There were tons of things we had never heard of before: pickled peaches, blueberry salsa, scuppernong cider, muscadine cider, and peach bread.
We shopped for a while then ate at their cafe – peach cobbler and pecan pie (their two main products: peaches and pecans).
Outside was a huge peach so we took a picture with it. Also there were about 50 rocking chairs for people to sit on the mecha-porch and eat their cobblers.
We checked the NPS passport book to see what was in our area – Andersonville. Like Louisiana I didn’t know what this was so had to ask Chris. I had never learned about it in school but Chris knew it was a Civil War POW camp (from his own interest in the Civil War as a child). We headed up there.
Turns out it isn’t just the POW site but also a national POW museum. It went over the history of POW treatment in the US and American POWs abroad. They had a replicated Vietnam torture cell with music playing loudly and on repeat. They profiled the USS Pueblo (which I had never heard of) as well as a German WW1 camp in Georgia. The whole thing was incredibly powerful with photos and objects. If that’s not enough then you go outside to the Andersonville camp itself. A place where 2,000 men should fit, but had been packed with 30,000 men left to just die. The drawings and photos show Auschwitz level emaciation. It’s a lot for one afternoon. They closed a few minutes after we arrived and it was getting dark so we planned to return the next day. At the exit we could see an advertisement for Andersonville civil war village and RV park. Perfect!
We almost ran out of gas (only time ever in our road trips) so after a harrowing trip up the road for gas we returned. The village and NPS site closed at the same time so when we arrived a kindly woman was closing up her tourist shop and the RV people were gone. We asked about the RV park and we chatted for a bit. She decided since we had no hookups and were just spending the night real quick we could have it for 7 bucks. Cheapest RV park ever.
We explored the village. There was a neighborhood around it filled with run down homes and plantation style homes. There were ancient family plots with Confederate flags still flying on them. After cooking a dinner of probably just some beans and rice we watched fire flies (lightning bugs for you Easterners) light up the whole forest around the truck.
We returned to the POW camp the next day and spent a long time looking at all of it.
As far as the eye can see would’ve just been men standing and sleeping in squalorOf the 45,000 men put into the camp, 13,000 died. It was an absolute death camp. A Confederate captain asked to exchange prisoners with the Union just to reduce the overcrowding but the request was denied. At one point they offered to just give many prisoners back if the Union would just come get them – they didn’t.
I thought the museum did a good job showing both sides of the argument – were they deliberately starving the soldiers since they were enemies or were they too poor to provide food. People can’t decide so they provided both possibilities.
We headed to Alabama to Horseshoe Bend Military Park NPS which was one of the few NPS sites we haven’t enjoyed. It was the site of the last battle between warring Creek tribes. Andrew Jackson (a genocidal racist) participated and over 800 Creeks were killed (the most Native Americans killed in a single battle) Their land – 23 million acres was given to the US government. Jackson would kill women and children after killing the men; he also, of course, instated the Indian Removal Act and was just an all around dick. You wouldn’t know any of this stuff at Horseshoe Bend, instead he is referred to with many honorifics and celebration of his brilliance and tactics. This is fine – if you provide the other story, as well. But they never do. And there are hardly any memorials to the hundreds slaughtered there. They mention 300-500 women and children taken captive but never say what happened to them afterwards – I think we can guess. Also Andrew Jackson has 2 whole walls devoted to his military achievements while completely ignoring the loss of life. It was a real bummer.
We started driving across Alabama and Mississippi to get to Texas. We got caught in the worst rainstorm I’ve ever been on – on the Interstate. People were still flying by us at 70 MPH while the wipers could barely keep up with the rain. When there was a reprieve from the rain the clouds started looking super weird.
We stopped at the Mississippi state line welcome center. They gave us a free cup of coffee and we watched the weather channel announce there had been loads of tornado touchdowns everywhere and half the counties were under tornado watch. Super great.
We made it without seeing a tornado (both glad and dissapointed) to Vicksburg Mississippi. We ate at Cracker Barrel because that’s a novelty for us. Late at night we listened to shout-y gospel music and hell fire sermons on every radio station. We were in the thick of it. Everyone was yes ma’am, no sir. And everyone said “excuse me” when they were just vaguely near you, not when they wanted you to move. It was really different than anything we’ve ever seen. I kept moving for people because I thought they were trying to get by but no, they just said it as like a proximity thing.
We went to the Vicksburg Battlefield NPS and holy crap is it concise. After the war everyone went back to the battlefield and pointed at the exact spot they had fought – so they erected a sign there. There are signs everywhere. I mean evvverrryyywwheeerrreee. All in blue and red to show union and confederate positions. The signs were insanely concise, too. Like detailing the exact times, movements, numbers, and conversations that happened on every scrap of earth. And since the battle moved back and forth, the signs all overlap and none of them make any sense on their own. The idea is really cool though, to have every exact detail known from a battle that happened 150+ years ago, it’s mind boggling in scope.
It was great to stop and read some of the signs but after about 10 of those it led to more questions than answers. It was better to just read the “interpretive signs” put up by the NPS rather than the signs erected by the soldiers.
The signs and stops were arbitrary which I think highlights the arbitrary-ness of war. Like how in that moment the most important thing in your life is that hill. That one hill is your hill and no one from the other side is going to cross it. That hill is so important you’ll die for it. And people did. And in the grand scheme of things no one will ever know your name or that this hill ever made a difference for slavery or states rights. But it did make a small difference and that’s just insane to think about.
They also had the remains of the USS Cairo, an ironclad that had sunk just upriver. Parts of it were original, but almost everything dissolved in the river. They reconstructed it enough that you could walk around in it, which was really really cool.
Then we drove across the Mississippi again – which traditionally meant we had to listen to Black Water by the Doobie Brothers – every time we crossed it. Just like Sweet Home Alabama every time you cross into Alabama. It’s just what you do.