Friday, March 31, 2006

White Sands National Monument, NM

Wow! We almost skipped this stop. What a mistake that would have been. (Click on pic to make it bigger)

These massive dunes of powdery gypsum (a mineral used in everything from cement to toothpaste) stretch for 30 miles along a wide valley set between the Sacramento and San Andres mountain ranges.

The highest dunes stand 60 feet. The sand is what's left of an ancient lake that began drying 10,000 years ago, exposing deposits of crystallized gypsum that for millions of years had washed into the pool from the surrounding mountains. Fierce winds pounded the crystals into the sand that forms the dunes.

Roswell, NM

From the looks of things in downtown Roswell, the alien trade ain't what it used to be. Unlike this short strip, most of the storefronts along the city's main downtown drag were empty.

No Katrina t-shirts here.

The diorama below depicts the mythological UFO crash scene from 1947 that made Roswell famous.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM

I had dreamed of touring this place since I was a kid, and the trip was well worth the wait and the effort to get here.

Some of the caverns are so big you have the feeling of being in a giant sports arena.

With a steady temperature of 56 degrees (F) and 90% humidity (drops of calcite-saturated water form the park's amazing stone structures) long sleeves and light jackets are needed for most of the tour.

About an hour's hike from the main entrance, 755 feet below the surface, is a fast-food restaurant and gift shop. You've got to love this country, don't you?

Of course, the Carlsbad area is know for the stuff underground but, as you can see from the picture below, the view on the surface isn't too shabby.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Middleofnowhere, TX (Pop. 3)

You can't get from Louisiana to Southern California without crossing West Texas, unless you make a major detour through even less interesting Midwestern terrain.

That's how we came to land in Ft. Stockton, Tx. (pop. 7,400). The first exit to the town proudly promotes a driving tour of the city's historic district. We bit.

Less than 10 minutes later we had passed down Main Street, a sad thoroughfare pockmarked by vacant lots and empty storefronts. The Pecos County Courthouse, a well-preserved hotel and the late 19th Century mission-styled Catholic church clustered around the old town square were comely, but the rest of town was far too Dust Bowl depressing.

One of the few picturesque places that we encountered during our six-hour trek from Austin was Johnson City, birthplace of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Nero expressed his gratitude for LBJ's service by whizzing on the front gate to the president's boyhood home.

Another slightly interesting stop was made in the town of Ozona, home of the David Crockett Memorial.

As most of you will undoubtedly recall, the Tennessee native made a name for himself by serving in Congress and later dying at the Alamo, making him a mythological god among Texans.

So the big modern sculpture of Crockett in the central square of Ozona begged this question: What was he doing in Bumf&%#, Texas?

Well, apparently, he never set foot in the town. Rather, the locals adopted him as one of their own after the surrounding Crocket County was created and named in his honor.

From Ozona's central square, you can see The Ozona Stockman office, home of the local newspaper.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

"Gooooo West . . .

. . . life is peaceful there." Or so the song goes.

I'm counting on that. After 14 years in New Orleans, I'm moving to southern California to take a job with the daily newspaper in San Diego.

My feelings about leaving south Louisiana, the only place I've ever lived, cover a pretty huge spectrum - excitement, sadness, hopefulness, guilt, ambition, sentimentality.

But not uncertainty. Many things have fallen in place to create this opportunity. I have no doubt I'm headed in the right direction at the right time.

I'll miss my family, football games in Tiger Stadium, the smell of coffee roasting outside my front door, Blue Plate mayonnaise, boiled crawfish. I won't miss the piles of garbage still filling the streets, the anxiety of another hurricane season, the hot, humid, miserable summers.

My family (and me taking the picture) enjoying boiled crawfish at DI's Restaurant in Basile, La., over the weekend - quite possibly my last taste of the Cajun delicacy for some time.

We Cajuns have spent centuries leaving our homes and carving out niches in new places. All the while, we've managed to carry in our hearts that special essence - that joie de vivre - that sets us apart from others.

South Louisiana will always be my home. I'll always be a Cajun. I'll be back . . . often.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Views of the Gulf Coast

We went to Pensacola last weekend and on the way we drove along the Mississippi Gulf Coast from Waveland to Biloxi. It was my first visit to that area since Katrina struck.

I knew exactly what to expect. I already had viewed tons of pictures of the area. I knew there basically was nothing left for six or eight blocks between the beach and railroad tracks that hug the coast.

Still, when we pulled onto the road that hugs the gulf and I took in the full view, it was devastating. We drove about two blocks and I broke down.

I cried because we were in an area where I spent parts of my summers when I was a kid with my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandmother.

Two of my aunts, who are nuns, belong to an order that had a camp along the beach in Waveland. Each aunt got the camp for two weeks every summer. I would spend the days there fishing off the pier for flounder and checking our crab traps. More often than not, I'd land a small ray or a trash catfish. If I was lucky, I'd find a hermit crab to keep as a pet for a few days.

In the afternoon, when the heat became unbearable, I would nap on a hammock inside a screened front porch. We'd take long walks along the water early in the evening, then eat a big family meal at night.

Some of my best childhood memories with my family come from those trips.

There was no point looking for the camp because nothing - and I mean nothing - was left standing in the area, except for St. Stanislaus School and the adjacent Catholic church, both sturdy brick structures.

The views along the coast reminded me of that strange Dali painting of a dead tree trunk and melting clocks.

The barrenness of the landscape is actually a good sign. The coast is weeks, if not months, ahead of the New Orleans area in cleaning up storm debris and removing structures that can't be rebuilt.