It was a grey Monday morning when we headed out of Cheaha, but thankfully the predicted morning rain did not happen. We headed south on AL-49 to our first stop of the day, Horseshoe Bend National Military Park. As I’ve said before, MW (Mr. Wonderful) LOVES a good military park, and this one was pretty nice. The Visitor’s Center had quite a few exhibits and a movie about The Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Then a walk around the beautiful grounds puts you right in the action. Well, not me, because I can’t imagine troop movements or the smell of cordite in the air, but it certainly takes MW into the heat of battle.
It is hard to create a brief synopsis of the events that led up to the Creek War of 1813-1814, but I’ll do my best. After the American Revolution, Creek leadership reached out to the newly minted United States to establish a relationship. The leadership, including Hopothle Mico, traveled to New York City, the first US capital, where President George Washington agreed to the Treaty of New York in 1790. This agreement recognized the Creek Nation as independent and sovereign and promised that the Creeks would retain full rights to all of their traditional lands. For about 20 years, that was enough to keep the peace between the tribe and the settlers in neighboring Georgia. However, whispers of unrest began between Upper Creeks (whose red war clubs earned them the name “Red Sticks”) and Lower Creeks. Different factions of the tribe disagreed over the “civilization” program touted by Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins, which sought to make the tribe embrace white culture and let go of native traditions. As the kettle began to warm, squatters started setting up housekeeping on Creek land, tribe members who attacked them were punished by tribal leadership, and Shawnee Chief Tecumseh began his campaign for Indian nationalism and banding together to fight white expansion. By 1813, the pot was boiling over, when an Upper Creek war party, after being misinformed that war had broken out between the tribe and the U.S., murdered seven frontier families. The tribe executed those responsible, most likely in an attempt to calm tensions with the U.S. government. The Red Sticks, who agreed with Tecumseh, immediately began to retaliate for the executions and go back to tribal traditions. The conflict became an all-out war in July 1813, when Red Sticks returning from Pensacola with ammunition, were ambushed at Burnt Corn Creek in Alabama. In August they retaliated by attacking Fort Mims north of Mobile and killing 250 settlers. In an immediate response, the U.S. launched a full-scale campaign with the objective of crushing the Red Stick towns. Militias from the Mississippi Territory, Georgia, and Tennessee jumped in, the latter led by an unknown Major General Andrew Jackson. Several battles ensued, and by the winter of 1913, it wasn’t looking good for the Red Sticks. Warriors, led by the Great Warrior Chief Menawa, brought their families to the land inside the bend of the Tallapoosa, called Cholocco Litabixee or horse’s flat foot by the Creeks, and built the village of Tohopeka. They hoped the surrounding river, which was very deep and more than 100 yards wide, would provide protection on three sides. The fourth side they protected with a log barricade across the neck of the peninsula. Then they waited. In March of 1814, Jackson’s army arrived, reinforced by Cherokee and Lower Creek allies. On March 27, Jackson sent Brig. General John Coffee with infantry and native allies downstream to cross the river and surround the bend. The other 2000 men from the Tennessee militia and the Thirty-ninth U.S. Infantry headed into the peninsula. They began bombarding the barricade at 10:30 AM with no luck. At noon, Cherokees from Coffee’s group crossed the river and attacked from the rear. Jackson resumed the frontal assault and breached the barricade. By nightfall, at least 1800 of Menawa’s men were dead. (Menawa, severely wounded, escaped.) Jackson lost 49 men and had 154 wounded. Many remaining Red Sticks headed south to join the Seminoles in Florida. In August of 1814 Creek chiefs made their way to Fort Jackson (near Wetumpka, Alabama) and surrendered. In the Treaty of Fort Jackson that ended the conflict, the Creeks gave up 23 million acres (nearly half of their ancestral territory) to the United States. Alabama, which was created from the land, became a state in 1819. Their loss at Horseshoe Bend had far-reaching implications for many natives. Jackson, in part due to his fame in this battle and the Battle of New Orleans, was elected the seventh president in 1828. Two years later he signed the Indian Removal Act, which led to the mass relocation and the Trail of Tears.
After MW had a little time to walk around the battlefield and commune with the ghosts, we continued south to Alexander City, then west over to AL-9 to take the scenic route down to Wetumpka. We stopped at Ruby Tuesday’s for a salad lunch, then skirted Montgomery to end up at Prairie Creek COE on the Alabama River. Dinner was leftovers with a nice dose of relaxation.
The next morning I did a little blog work before getting dressed to head out. The first order of business was taking pictures of this amazing park (more on that below). We made our way back out to US-80 and headed west to Selma, for supplies. I’ve heard of Selma, Alabama, for almost my whole life. Its pivotal and historic place in voting rights history is legend. However, it wasn’t what I expected. We drove around this relatively small town a bit looking for a grocery store and checking out the downtown area. The overall impression was of a place that just doesn’t care. The skeletons of the north side of Craig Field greet you on your way in on US-80. (Once the location for undergraduate pilot training for the Air Force, the majority of the base closed in 1977. There is now a civilian airport, a state highway patrol training facility, and a Navy/Air Force aircraft repair unit on the south side of the field. They also converted some of the base housing to civilian neighborhoods.) As we drove through town, we noticed that the vast majority of houses were in various states of deterioration and/or disarray, the road easements were not mowed, and the otherwise beautiful cemetery was knee-high in grass. In startling contrast were the manicured lawns of the golf course/country club. There were lots of empty storefronts and derelict buildings that gave an overall run-down feel. There was some beautiful architecture downtown. Sadly, many of the storefronts were empty and quite a few of buildings were in need of serious repair. I’m sure the base closing didn’t help the economy, and what appears to be a slow exodus of additional businesses since has to have depleted it even more. To be fair, we did not drive over the river to the National Voting Rights Museum area, which I’m sure is beautiful. (There was a line of pretty serious storms headed our way, and we needed to get back to Petunia.) On the way out of downtown, there were bystanders and a news crew standing in the middle of the road looking at the bridge. Clearly they were waiting on something, but all we saw was one very decorated car. I never could find out anything else about it. We stopped in at Dollar General (I don’t do Walmart…whole ‘nother story…and there weren’t many other grocery options.) for a couple of quick things. On the way out, we stopped to make sure a young girl who was having radiator problems was okay before high-tailing it back as the rain started.
We spent the rest of the afternoon sitting inside, listening to the rain, trip planning, and watching westerns. About 6 PM , the edge of a serious line of storms was upon us, so we brought in the slide to be safe and add weight to the center of Petunia. The wind was CRAZY with gusts up to 50 mph according to the TV news guy, plus a tornado watch. It was longer and worse than the last bad storm we were in at Grant River in Wisconsin. Thankfully, the wind was coming at us from the back, which is the best way to ride out a storm in an RV. No kidding, though, it was ROUGH! The fact that we were parked beneath a huge oak tree was also a little concerning. After about 25 minutes it all calmed back down and just became rain, which went on for most of the night. (Yes, I slept like a baby!)
Prairie Creek Campground is a US Army Corps of Engineers park on the banks of R. E. (Bob) Woodruff Lake. (You may remember that we stayed on this lake last year at Gunter Hill Campground.) Technically, according to the campground map, it is actually on a point between the Alabama River (that becomes Woodruff Lake above the dam) and Prairie Creek. Let me just say that this campground is AMAZING!!! Yes, it deserves three exclamation points! It is very peaceful and wooded with old growth trees and Spanish moss to give it that true southern feel. With the exception of the tent area out on the point, all of the campsites were paved, very level, and spread out. In addition to the parking pad, each included one or two square areas that were hard-packed with small gravel. The sites included picnic tables, a grill, and a fire ring. On our site (51), they put two graveled areas, one beside the camper where we could enjoy the view across the grass, and another behind the camper if we preferred to look out at the lake. Water and 50-amp electric were provided at the site, and a two-sided dump station was conveniently located on the road out of the park. The walk-in, tent-only section was really cool, too, because unlike every other campground we have been to thus far, there was electricity and water at each site. It was also located out on the point (sites 56-62) where there was a lot of privacy and great water access. For the boaters and fishermen in the crowd, there was a boat ramp and quite a few courtesy docks along Prairie Creek, plus a fish cleaning station. Each campground loop has a bathhouse and playground, and there are a couple of overlooks along the Alabama River. The map shows bicycle/walking trails in an older section of campground that is now closed, but we did not go check those out. This is honestly the best park we have EVER stayed at. The grounds are extremely well maintained, and it is very peaceful. However, it is pretty remote. The nearest decent-sized town is Selma, which is a good 30 minute drive, but there is a Dollar General about 5 minutes away. For this visit (May 2021), we paid $52.00 for two nights.
Wednesday was once again laundry day. WAIT! Old habits! We switched up the schedule to get on down and hang with the Pensacola Jones Crew, bro Mark and sis Jennifer. It’s Cinco de Mayo and there were celebration plans. (May 5 also happens to be my baby sister Kate’s birthday…sing with me…HBTY, HBTY, HBDK, HBTY amm!) There were a few limbs and blow downs in the park, including one across the main road, but we were able to by-pass through the other loop and exit. We stopped on the way out to talk with Patrick (the workamper and super nice guy) and compliment the park. It was grey and rainy as we headed south mostly on
AL-21 and AL-41 through Camden to Monroeville, once home to Truman Capote. By the time we hit Atmore, it was time for lunch. We found David’s Catfish House. When on the road with a 31′ fifth wheel following along, it’s important to stop at places that have good parking. To be honest, we have eaten at restaurants for no other reason than a large parking lot. The satellite view on Apple Maps comes in very handy for scoping it out. In this instance, we turned in on one side of the restaurant to circle around back and park there or on the opposite side. As we came down the side of the building, the manager came running out to make sure we were able to park. We’ve never had that happen before. He was super nice, and stopped by to talk to us after we finished eating. The food was pretty good with catfish, shrimp, oysters, and chicken, plus plenty of other stuff. We both opted for catfish, and I added shrimp to mine. Yum! We’d go back.
Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I do not typically write about political stuff, but a recurring theme continues on this trip that I think bears note. When we stopped for gas one day, I walked over to the Hardees across the street to grab some breakfast biscuits. The dining room was locked, and a nice lady who talked like the owner or manager drove up about that time and said they are open for drive-thru only. Well the first thought was the big C, but that was NOT the issue. She doesn’t have enough employees to staff an open restaurant. Why? Because people are being paid to stay home! “Why would someone get a job when they are being paid to stay home?” she said. Since he has a lot of long-term employees, the guy at David’s Catfish House was in a little better shape, but he echoed the same sentiment. A few days later I was in Belk at Cordova Mall in Pensacola where I overheard one of the managers explaining to a customer that the lines were so long because they cannot get people to come to work and don’t get enough applicants for jobs. Everywhere we go, and I do mean EVERYWHERE, shops, restaurants, fast food joints, and stores have “Now Hiring” signs up. There are millions of available jobs in this country. However, small businesses are closing or remaining closed, some permanently, because people don’t want to work. Why? Because the Government is paying them not to. Although I’m not a big fan of handing out money we don’t have in general, I understood the motivation behind the stimulus payments. Extending unemployment benefits or paying additional stimulus now is a whole other ball game. Spending any time out in the real world will tell you that there are plenty of jobs available, so just stop handing out the money! At this point the dole is hurting an entire nation of small businesses. Cutting off the money would be incentive to get back to work. The recent jobs report bears that out, and yet our President thinks it means we need to give out more money. In drug addiction clinics, that is called enabling. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I swear it is starting to look like a well-orchestrated plan to create more sheeple! That’s my $.02. It won’t get you anything.
Back on the road, we continued south on US-31 to Bay Minette, then took AL-59 to Loxley and zig-zagged on down to the Gulf Shores/Pensacola West/Lost Bay KOA in Lillian on the Foley Beach Highway and US-98. We were set up by 3 PM and relaxed for a bit before heading over the the Jones abode for chicken tacos and libations to celebrate the 5th of May.
Cinco de Mayo has nothing to do with “Mexican independence” as revelers are prone to declare. (Well, at least those who are not just out to get drunk on margaritas and eat good Mexican food.) It is the celebration of Mexico’s victory over the French in the ~13-hour Battle of Puebla in 1862. No, the battle did not end the Franco-Mexican war, nor was it terribly significant to the overall outcome. In fact, in Mexico the holiday is just a blip. However, in the U.S. it is well-celebrated with parades and parties, particularly in areas with large populations of Mexican origin and pretty much all bars. Americans are always up for a reason to party. Next year, though, as you raise your glass to toast Mexican independence because you’ve had too many margaritas and cannot remember the actual reason you are drinking, add a quick Happy Birthday wish for Kate. I’m sure she will feel it and smile.
On Thursday washing clothes was really a necessity. Jennifer offered to let me do it at her house, but I like the 2-hour laundromat option, so I checked out Blue Angel Laundry (very clean with tables to sit at, a pool table, some arcade games, TVs, and vending). Chore complete, I headed back to Petunia to get it all put away and pick up MW to go to lunch with an old ‘troller buddy of mine, Devoy Mackenzie. We worked together at Dekalb-Peachtree Airport in Atlanta, then he headed up to South Bend, Indiana, where he stayed until retirement. A few years back he relocated to Pensacola. A few days ago someone hacked my Facebook account, which required a lot of notifications after a nasty message went out to my entire friends list. He was one of the notifications, and in the process I found out that we both happened to be in Pensacola this week. That is what I call a silver lining! We met him over at Miller’s Ale House (good food and beer) and visited for a couple of hours. It’s always nice to catch up with folks from the past. After lunch, we made it back for a business call for me, then headed over to the Florida Jones hacienda for another delicious meal (amazing pork chops) and visiting.
Friday started with work. The tax deadline is approaching, and there are returns to be done. Later I ran out to Cordova Mall to check out a sale at Belk’s for some needed shirts. On the way back I sat in traffic from a wreck for 1/2 hour, which reminded me 1) how much I hate traffic, and 2) to take my driver with me EVERYWHERE! (He doesn’t agree with the latter. LOL) Back at Petunia I worked on this blog a bit, waiting for the FL Jones Crew to pick us up. They arrived earlier than expected, and we headed over for the Balloon Glow kickoff of the Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival in Foley, Alabama. We all know that MW LOVES fair food, and he was not disappointed. We had drinks and dinner, walked around a bit, then watched the highlight of the evening, the Balloon Glow, where they light them up after sunset. It was a perfect evening with our wonderful bro and sis! The event was held at OWA, which is a pretty neat complex with lots of restaurants and bars, shopping, a hotel, an event center, and a park with a lake. It certainly packs a punch with its 520 acres, and would be a great destination any time.
Saturday was again started with work, but we headed out for one of MW’s favorite lunches…Whataburger. (Don’t ask me why. I don’t understand it!) While waiting in line (10 minutes), we found out from one of the workers on break that they are having the same problem with a lack of workers. (He was an older fellow and had been working for 7 hours non-stop, and was slated for another two after his lunch break. He said he normally cleans up the dining room, but now is doing a bit of everything, which “isn’t hard, but is more tiring” because it isn’t his regular gig.) It took another 20 minutes for us to get our food. Everyone was really nice, but those people were tired! There was even a manager cooking and another filling orders. Add another place to the rant above.
After lunch we headed to the the Jones manor to hang out with them and another high school buddy, Jeff Lanier, and his wife, Tracy. We spent the afternoon catching up, then headed over to the Islander Food Shack on Perdido Key for dinner…shrimp tacos for me and lamb sliders for MW. Delicious! The trip back to their house was VERY SLOW in traffic with the hundreds of people heading back from the beach. (The Pensacola Bay Bridge has been closed since hurricane Sally back in September 2020 making the only close beaches out on Perdido Key. It has created crazy traffic!) After a bit more visiting and Key Lime Pie for dessert, we headed back to Petunia.
The Gulf Shores/Pensacola West/Lost Bay KOA is our go-to campground for visiting the fam in the area. It is a typical private campground with sites stacked in close and some long-term folks. Fire rings are sparse, but all sites have picnic tables (some not in very good shape). They are located right on the bay, although you can’t really see it from most of the sites. There are a variety of full-hookup site options, including some with patios, plus cabins. Other amenities include a cable tv, wi-fi, dog park, swimming pool, hot tub/sauna, and fishing in the bay. The camp store sells propane, too. While not somewhere we would stay and hang out at the campsite, it is convenient and usually has sites available. The state parks in the area are booked up months in advance for that time of year.
Sunday was Mother’s Day, and the six of us headed over to the Brick and Spoon in Orange Beach. My bro was watching out for me, because they have Soft-Shelled Crab Benedict, and I LOVE me some SSC! (Actually, I think niece Taylor told him to bring me here, but I’ll give him some credit.) Despite not taking reservations, our wait was only 10 minutes or so for 6 people, which I thought was pretty darned good. Add that to the delicious food, and you’ve got a winner, winner situation. Stuffed, we headed back to the Jones villa and visited before Jeff and Tracy left mid-afternoon. Later Mark cooked some delicious steaks for dinner, so he got a lot of points for the day. It was a great visit, but it always is with these guys. I’m always a little sad to leave, too.
Next up…Savannah (Not GA), the Crazy Uncle,
Eagles Pelicans, and Friends. See you on the path!
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