Updated: Mar 30
travel stories with landscape photographic artist
kent j burkhardsmeier
9 more miles
Table of Content
—> Texas Two Stop
Returning to Florida with a Foggy Finish
December started as I left the surreal experience at White Sands National Park, heading east over the Sacramento Mountains and descending down to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Continuing eastward from Carlsbad, I headed into Texas through Gail and Roscoe on my way to Abilene for a night's rest before reaching Dallas.
From Dallas, I headed south to Austin for a few days, then to Beaumont (TX) for a rest night on my way to Madisonville (LA) to visit family. After Madisonville, I made a short jaunt to Gulfport (MS) to see more family. Then I headed across Alabama, into Florida, and to Georgia. I spent the holiday season (Christmas through New Year's Day) in Georgia before traveling back into Florida, working my way along the Atlantic coast to my place of domicile in South Florida.
Many mornings on this leg of the adventure were greeted by some moody and mystic fog—offering moments of contemplation plus opportunities for capturing ethereal images. December 2021 ended somberly, from a family perspective with the hospitalization followed by my father's death on December 28th.
The new year of 2022 had me driving back into Florida and returning to South Florida—completing a round trip.
A Land Below
(December 1 - 9)
From the pristine white dune fields of White Sands NP, I traveled east up through the Sacramento Mountains, stopped for a great pizza lunch in Cloudcroft (NM), and continued down through the mountains to Carlsbad (NM). I arrived at a KOA campsite outside of Carlsbad—about 30 minutes from Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
Descending through an opening on a hillside within the Chihuahuan Desert, you enter a large chamber—a bat cave to the underworld. Within the park, there are more than 100 caves hidden beneath the surface.
Words to describe Carlsbad Cavern don't flow easily, nor do images properly show its marvels. To experience the magnitude of the cavern(s) requires a personal visit. I recommend descending through the natural entrance, walk around the cavern, and then ascend back to the surface via the elevators.
North of Alamogordo (NM) in a remote, isolated and unpopulated area of New Mexico lies a rough-sided, obelisk marker. This lava-rock marker is 12 feet high and sits on the hypocenter where the first atomic bomb was detonated on July 6, 1945. Trinity Site is a National Historical Landmark.
Pizza (and Beer)
On my route from Alamogordo (NM) to Carlsbad (NM) along US-82 lies the mountain village of Cloudcroft—what a beautiful name. The camp host at the Alamogordo KOA had recommended a pizzeria in the mountain town. So instead of homemade sandwiches while driving to Carlsbad, it was homemade pizza at Cloudcroft Brewing Company.
Solar, Wind, and Condensed Milk
Dallas (TX), my next destination, was too far to drive in a day's journey, so I stopped for a night in Abilene (TX). Departing Carlsbad, I headed east along US-180, then US-84 and lastly l-20 into Abilene. You see and learn a lot of interesting things when you travel via non-interstate roads. The interstates bypass many of them.
Along US-180, about 13 miles west of Gail (TX) sits a 225 MW solar power plant, named Long Draw Solar Power Plant There are over 800,000 solar panels across 1,600 acres. That is a lot of solar panels on a lot of range land—no bull!
Gail is the county seat for the Texas county of Bordon. Both the town and the county were named for a native New Yorker who settled in Texas in 1829—Gail Bordon. He is known for many things, but I really appreciated learning that in 1853 he created the process for making sweetened condensed milk. After his death in 1874, his company NY Condensed Milk Company was renamed to Borden Dairy Company. One of my favorite holiday sweets uses Borden's Eagle Brand condensed milk. An 'easy' way to make dulce de leche uses sweetened condensed milk. Borden offers lots of recipes for using condensed milk.
Along highway US-84 near Roscoe (TX) the massive 781 MW Roscoe Wind Farm fills the landscape with over 625 wind turbines. When the wind farm was completed in 2009, it was the largest wind farm in the world!
Pulling a large RV like Whispers and seeing lots of wind turbines makes me nervous. If they are spinning, I'm stopping!!
Deep in the Heart of Texas
(December 9 - 15)
Hickory Creek (TX)
After spending a rest night in Abilene (TX) my trip took me to Hickory Creek Park on Lewisville Lake outside of Dallas (TX). The US Army Corp of Engineers run the campgrounds. It is a beautiful park with wide campsites. The campgrounds made a perfect location while visiting friends, family, and my sales representative for Friesens—printers of my two books (Stillness and Awareness).
Lewisville Lake was built in 1927 as a multi-purpose lake (flood control, water source for Dallas, and recreation). Dallas Lake was the original name of the lake but renamed to Lewisville Lake after expansion in the 1940s and 1950s. There are a lot of great campsites and outdoor activities at this campground.
From Dallas, I traveled down Interstate I-35 to McKinney Falls State Park on the edge of Austin (TX). Several years ago, while attending a wedding in Austin, I spent a day at the state park walking among the falls. I knew this park would be a good campsite to spend several days on my return to Austin. And it was!
Late autumn / early winter weather provided the perfect ingredients for morning fog along the Onion River bottoms. The ethereal effect of fog, trees, and water created nirvana for this photographer—mood, composition, and connectedness to nature. Foggy images offer mystery to the viewer—an opportunity of exploration on their own terms. As the photographic artist, I may provide clues into what I'm experiencing during my eye of capture. However, as the viewer, you might explore a different path unfamiliar to me as the artist.
Near Enough to Nawlins (New Orleans)
(December 15 - 19)
From Austin, my next multi-night destination was at Fairview Riverside State Park in Madisonville (LA). Madisonville is a charming, historical river town on the Tchefuncte River that feeds into Lake Pontchartrain. Fairview Riverside SP is a quaint campground with full hookups on the river.
Fortunately, we have family in the area who treated us to classic Nawlins cuisine (crab cakes, fried crab fingers, shrimp po' boys, chargrilled oysters, shrimp gumbo, alligator sausage, boudin sausage, king cake, and an obligatory Bloody Mary). Thank you, family!! I rolled out of town.
Nature blessed my visit with amazing sunsets along the brackish bayou around the park and the Tchefuncte River. Thick swampy fog settled in overnight, providing surreal calmness and eerie beauty on the water.
colors muted, birdsongs echoed subtly,
dense fog coated the swamp
as the waking sun worked to burn off the fog,
like dames wearing boas, moss draped cypress trees,
oak trees lined the promenade like men smoking on the docks,
the trees bowed in reflections—
as a lone coot wafted
along the Tchefuncte
Beignet—A Real Dunkin' Doughnut Experience!
When visiting Nawlins or within a "throws" distance from the Big Easy, a required stop is Café du Monde for an order of beignet and café au lait. Café du Monde has several locations in addition to their iconic French Market cafe! Thankfully, the Mandeville location was only 5 minutes from the Fairview Riverside SP!
New Orleanians (and their offspring) dunk the heavily powdered beignets into the chicory coffee before devouring them. Trust me, I'm married to an offspring of two New Orleanians who insists it is the only way to eat them. No need to add sugar to your café au lait, since one dunk will supply more than enough sugar for your coffee.
The traditional order at Café du Monde includes 3 beignets doused with powdered sugar, café au lait in a diner coffee cup, and a silver teaspoon. Don't eat them on the go, unless you're planning on detailing the inside of your vehicle immediately after you finish the beignets. You will have white powdered sugar EVERYWHERE! Instead, eat them at the cafe on one of their small diner tables. Each table comes with classic diner napkin dispenser, granular sugar pourer, and a powder sugar shaker (just in case you didn't have enough already covering your beignets). Two or more orders are guaranteed NOT to fit on the table but that is part of the fun! The mess created will happily be cleaned up by one of the cafe's workers—another reason to eat them at the cafe.
There are so many reasons to visit New Orleans and its surroundings but beignets and café au lait at Café du Monde is a must! [Note: once I ate at the original French Market location three times in a single "day:" morning, afternoon, and after midnight.]
Continuing east out of Madisonville (LA), I made a stop in Gulfport (MS) to visit family in Long Beach (LA). Both towns are along the white sand shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Gulfport is second largest city in Mississippi and home of the US Navy Atlantic Fleet Seabees. Unfortunately, both Gulfport and Long Beach were ravished by hurricane Katrina in 2005. But they have been rebuilt. Rain hampered my visit around the area, but it didn't dampen precious family time spent in the area.
Georgia on My Mind—Why Not?
(December 19 - January 2)
Riding bikes, I was not sure if I was coming or going! Same road . . . same bikes . . . same location . . . same time . . . different state . . . different counties.
The road signs didn't help with my confusion. Where am I?
Florida Georgia Line!
Not the country music duo but the actual state line as experienced at East Bank Campground. This park is another wonderful US Army Corp of Engineers campsite. It is a little remote, but its remoteness adds to the park's splendor. The campground is located in Georgia on Lake Seminole near Chattahoochee (FL).
The park offers great campsites with nice water views, picnic tables, fire pits, and a fish cleaning station. Wonderful trails for hiking and biking are located in and around the park. I would return to this campground.
From East Bank Park, I headed north along the Flint River to Georgia Veterans State Park on Lake Blackshear. Here, I parked Criss and Whispers while renting a lake house to spend Christmas and New Years with my daughter. Beautiful sunsets, festive foods, games, puzzles, foggy mornings, and family time provided a great holiday vacation.
The 3-bedroom house rented offered a nice view of the lake, especially from the connected boat dock. It had a sunroom overlooking the backyard, dock and lake, and a big kitchen for preparing all the holiday meals.
The state park offered a lot of nature trails through woods and along Lake Blackshear. Since it was only 5 minutes away from the rented house, I visited the park often during my stay. Whispers was never lonely. Typically, in the morning, I would drive over to Whispers, park Criss alongside her, and go walking around the park. On a couple of occasions, we went over in the evening to grill s'mores around the firepit—s'mores seem to taste better at a campsite.
Fog on a lake and in the woods provided amazing photographic opportunities. During my two weeks in the area, I tried to capture as many opportunities as nature offered me.
Peanut Farmer from Plains
About an hour away lies the historical town of Plains (GA)—the residence of the 39th President of the United States, Jimmy Carter. President Carter grew up on a farm 3 miles outside of Plains (GA) in the unincorporated community of Archery (GA). The Jimmy Carter National Park consists of Plains High School, Jimmy Carter Boyhood Farm, The Plains Train Depot, and Plains Historical District.
President Carter and his wife Rosalynn live in Plains. He turned 97 on 01 October 2021. "At 97 years old and with a 41-year-long retirement, Carter is both the oldest living and longest-lived president, as well as the one with the longest post-presidency, and his 75-year-long marriage makes him the longest married president. He is also the fifth-oldest living person to have served as a state leader." —Wikipedia
On December 28, 2021, after a month-long battle with COVID-19, my father died from COVID-related pneumonia. It was a difficult month for him—22 days in hospital isolation, 17 days in ICU, and 12 days on a ventilator. He was 82.
My appreciation and love for nature began as a youth growing up in North Dakota. My family went camping, fishing, and boating most summer weekends. During Autumn, several fathers and their sons would go camping and hunting together on the weekends.
My fondest memories of him involve being out in nature—the plains of North Dakota, the mountains of Montana, the lakes of Canada, and the rivers of Alaska.
May he rest in peace with nature.
Returning to Florida
(January 2 - 7)
St Augustine (FL)
Pompano Beach (FL)
January 2, 2022, I re-entered Florida as I entered the home stretch of my RV adventure—to Deerfield Beach (FL). The first Florida stop was at a beach-side RV resort along highway US-A1A in St. Augustine (FL). St. Augustine, established by the Spaniards in 1565, has a great historical center worth walking around.
St Augustine beach brought back sensations of home—those feelings of familiarity. All of my senses experienced feelings of welcome. Golden sunsets on the intercoastal waterway, warm tropical temperatures, ocean spray laced with sea salt, sandpipers scurrying in front of water rolling in, and sand between my toes were welcoming gestures from nature.
My last stop before the "off-season" was Wellington. Since May 2021, my Mini Cooper Convertible has been staying with friends. It was time to pick her up and introduce her to my adventure buddies. I think it was a happy meeting for all—I know I was glad to see them all together.
Back in Town—Deerfield Beach
May 24, 2021, I departed Deerfield Beach (FL) in a rental Class C recreational vehicle (RV) towing a U-Haul trailer. January 7, 2022, I returned to Deerfield Beach (FL) in Criss and Whispers.
Two hundred and twenty-eight days after departing, I returned with a new truck, a fifth-wheel toy hauler, and many images captured from nature.
Stay tune for a recap of my adventure as a photographic artist living full-time in an RV while traveling across the USA.
trees firmly planted,
lost soul lifted in warm light
floating is heaven
Feel free to share a story from your journeys in the comment section.
Or, add a comment on connecting with nature.
how much longer?
are we there yet?
how far to the next rest area?
“9 more miles”
9 more miles segment is a place where I share random road tidbits along the way during my capturing whispers from nature adventures.
In case you are wondering "are we there yet?"