Underground Treasure

I feel like a kid on Christmas morning. Except that Christmas is months in the past and there won’t be any presents.

But this is better than presents.

This is an adventure!

I’m about to venture into the depths of Jewel Cave in the Black Hills of South Dakota. This tour is considered the most strenuous wild cave tour in the National Park system. And I can hardly wait!

We started as strangers

Our group is comprised of 6 people. Our guide is Ranger Ken, a former school teacher who fell in love with caving, especially Jewel Cave. Leo from Washington State, who is in town for an event to support and promote higher education for Native Americans and  an oh-so-brave- teenager that is leaving her parents behind to join four complete strangers in a maze of dark tunnels, hundreds of feet beneath the earth. Two of my co-workers: Dale, who is almost as excited as I am, and Celeste, who is warily eyeing the tiny concrete block that we need to crawl through in order to prove that we can negotiate the tightest section of the cave.

I  have to admit….that concrete block does look small. Especially when I think about the fact that I’ll be crawling through that tiny space with more than 700 feet of solid rock above me and a swarm of butterflies break loose inside me.

The FIT test!

I’m the last to crawl through, then we’re off to the prep room to gear up in elbow and knee pads, gloves, hiking boots and helmets with three separate light sources.

One last task to complete before I descend into the depths of the earth. I must pee. Because the alternative is to pee in a jug while in the cave and then carry, said jug, for the next three to four hours.


Not me.

Down the elevator we go. And as we step into the cavern, a cool and constant 49 degrees, Ken announces that we are now 24 stories beneath the surface.

Celeste whispers, “I don’t think I can do this.” After a brief conversation with Ranger Ken, she is back on the elevator rising to the warmth of the sun.

Ranger Ken runs through safety tips and important information on how to protect the cave and then I climb over a rough boulder and descend into the darkness. The floor beneath me is covered in black manganese. There are two important things to know about manganese. First, when it comes to your feet – it’s slick. Second, when it comes to your clothing – it clings.

Manganese clings

I crouch and crawl through this first tunnel, guarding my fingers from crushage as I cross over the tilting rock known as the “traffic counter”.  The tunnel opens into a small cavern. There are at least five tunnels leading in all directions and I feel a growing admiration for the “true” spelunkers that mapped this cave, always moving forward into the unknown.  Ken points to an outcropping above us.  It’s known as the diving board and he promises that we will see it again, but from a very different perspective.

Now back into the tunnels. I crouch, gorilla walk, baby-crawl, army-crawl and at times wriggle forward on my belly through manganese and rock passageways. The ceiling  is covered in delicate, yet beautiful calcite crystals that I am careful not to touch. Each time we enter another cavern, I’m lost in the magic of swirling colors of golds, reds, browns, purples and black. Patches of frostwork and popcorn cover the ceilings and walls. And on occasion  I glimpse gypsum needles that look like tiny straws stretching in all directions.  In one cavern, there are hydromagnesite balloons. They look like tiny silvery white pearls attached to the wall. They are extremely fragile and can disintegrate with even a light touch. This is the only public cave tour where these can be seen.

Now comes the stirrup–a rope. Under the careful guidance of Ranger Ken, I step up onto the pile of rocks and place one foot into the stirrup. Using my elbows and other knee I work my butt up onto a thin ledge and brace my feet on the opposite wall. Keeping my butt level with my feet I hitch myself sideways for the next twentyish feet, glancing periodically down into the chasm below, each time thinking “If I fall, I won’t die, but I’ll definitely break something.” When I reach the other end, I join my fellow cavers in a tiny room, informally known as the clown car (No further description needed).

Next it’s down and through a narrow tunnel, at the end of which I squeeze through a space that I feel had to be the section represented by the concrete test block and into what is known as Hurricane Corner.  Ken explains that normally you can feel a breeze as you pass into this section of the cave, but today the air in the cave is still. And that little hole I just squeezed through. That’s not the smallest section of the cave. The butterflies swarm again. We rest in this room that would have felt cramped when we started, but now feels spacious. And this is where we perform the obligatory cave tour task of turning all the lights out and sitting in the stillness of absolute darkness.

Lights back on and I am on my way back through the narrow tunnel. across the butt-scootch chasm, and down the stirrup.

The next obstacle is a smooth, steep “hill” which thankfully has a rope assist.  The trip up is easier than it looks, thanks to Ken’s coaching to “Stand up straight so that your legs do the work, not your arms.” At the top of the rope assist is Martha’s Kettle which is the most challenging section for me. Step up on this rock. Brace left knee against this wall, right elbow against this rock. Left elbow wedged. Stretch with the right hand and reach up. Grab that little nub. Pull. Drag. Brace against the wall with a knee and elbow. Slipping! Traction with toes.  Both elbows pull forward. Made it.

Now down the Otter Slide – which is exactly what you might think it is. A narrow tunnel that goes down and the only way to do it is on your belly. At the bottom is the rollercoaster. This is the longest section of belly crawling on the tour. And it really is belly crawling because, there’s just enough space for me to look far enough ahead to see the bottom of Dale’s shoes. Several times I raise my head a little too far and it scrapes against the ceiling. I keep pushing forward using my toes and elbows against the side of the tunnel. Loose rocks roll across my belly. Ahead of me, Dale’s feet stop. I watch them turn side to side a few times and then finally begin moving forward. Once again, I find myself thinking of those that originally discovered this passage and thinking it would not be fun to reach the end and find a solid wall and then have to wriggle backwards.

Dale’s feet have disappeared and I can see Ranger Ken’s boots. He is standing just beyond another small opening. I creep forward to make my way through the hole. Clunk. My helmet bounces off the top of this tiny opening. I realize that it’s smaller than it looks. I turn my head to the right. No. That’ won’t work. I turn left and slide my head through. And now my right shoulder. I push with my toes and twist and feel my left shoulder slide through.

“That’s right,” Ken says, “Be the puzzle piece.”

With both my arms free of the tunnel I can lift my chest up off the ground and pull myself the rest of the way through. I’d just successfully maneuvered the Brain Drain, the tightest section of the wild cave tour. I thought of everything I’d learned since the start of the tour and realized that without those three and a half hours of experience, I wouldn’t have managed that puzzle piece move.

And now, down the rabbit hole, feet first this time, over the toilet bowl. Don’t get flushed, oh hey, there’s the diving board, way down there and I really don’t want to get flushed all the way down.

A map of Jewel Cave and it’s many passageways. The darkened area represents the wild cave tour.

And then we were back in the large cavern known as the Target room. But we weren’t the same strangers that started the tour. We have a bond. The bond of encouraging, learning and squeezing our way through Jewel Cave.

Bonded through the adventure of caving














That Place

On each assignment, I search for That Place.

It only has a few requirements.

      It must be nearby.

      It must bring me closer to nature.

      It must allow dogs (I do make an exception to this rule when Rocky doesn’t travel with me.)

      It must center me.

Sometimes I’ll be almost through my assignment before I find That Place.

In North Carolina, it was Battleground Park in Greensboro. I so loved walking along the winding paved pathways sheltered beneath the branches of great trees, as I watched bluebirds, woodpeckers, cardinals and the occasional vulture. The best part….I shared this time with my closest friend, Jeanne Curtin.

In South Carolina, it was Lake Conestee.  I watched baby herons grow to adulthood, discovered red-shouldered hawk nests, glimpsed a beaver and discovered one of my first tree creatures in this preserve.

In Maine, it was a magical trail in downtown Corinna. It began as a boardwalk at a small dam and wove its way through a marshland rich with touch-me-nots, ducks, butterflies and the occasional hummingbird. It connects with the rail trail, bordered by wetlands on one side and farmland on the other.

In Florida, I never found That Place. There were very few trails nearby that allowed dogs. I considered risking bringing Rocky along in his pouch and throwing out the argument that you can barely consider him a dog.

Today I found That Place here in California. It took some searching, but I knew that it had to be here.

I had tried the Avocado Rim trail. It was disgustingly dirty and really more of a road than a trail.

I had parked at the dam and walked along the river. It was clean, but once again, more of a road than a trail.

I had tried the other side of the river. But the trail petered out into a field of burrs that clung to my socks then worked their way into my shoes. Rocky didn’t like this field any better than me. He insisted on being carried through the burry grass.

Today I headed out intent on settling for a walk along the road across from the dam. As I drove along the Pine Flat road, I passed a sign that said ‘River Access No Camping’. As I rounded the corner, I spotted a Kiosk a few feet beyond the parking area.

Kiosks mean trails!

I made a U-turn, turned into the access point and my oh-too-low-to-the-ground car crept down the partially washed out, steep drive.

The moment I stepped out of my car, I knew I’d found it. This was That Place.


The river drifted lazily around a tiny island crowded with sycamore trees. A few people fished along the river, but not so much to feel crowded. And there, beyond the Kiosk was a trail. Not a road, but an actual trail.


And it was perfect.

Scattered craggy trees with their branches twisting over the trail.


The river’s melody plays alongside me.

Swallows perform their acrobatic aerial dance as they gather their dinner.

Stalks filled with yellow flowers, wild roses, and some tiny flowers that remind me of miniature dragons border my path.

A scrub jays squawks as I pass beneath the branches of its tree.

I scramble up a hill of granite boulders that makes me wish I’d worn my hiking shoes.


Tiny birds, not much bigger than hummingbirds flit about on giant thistles with variegated leaves.

A waterfall of yellow flowers spills down a rocky hill.


A red shouldered hawk soars across the river

I climb to the top of a hill that is solid rock. From here I can see the dam, the rolling golden California hills and the mountains beyond. I realize that I’ve made my way almost to the trail that had petered out into a burry field.

Across the river, crows and vultures perch, waiting on bare branches.


Beyond the rock hill, the trail becomes more difficult to follow. Two picnic tables, one overtaken by tall green grass spur me forward.IMG_8553.JPG

A rustle of grass and a glimpse of a ground squirrel scurrying out of site.

Two quails dash into the underbrush. I’ll remember this spot, because I’d love to get a picture of them.

Across the river, a cow ‘moos.’ I looked toward the sound and spot what I believe is a cormorant with a speckled white upper body and brown lower half.

I stand quietly, my eyes closed and listen to the sounds of the river, birds and the solitary cow. The peacefulness of nature centers me.


This is That Place





Morning musings 

Morning…I awake to the rich fragrance of orange blossoms that wafts into my new bedroom on a gentle breeze.  

 Not fully awake, I stumble outside and down to the river. A scrub jay squawks at me from the sycamore tree that stretches its branches out over the river.  A phainopepla (a crested black bird with white stripes on the end of the wings that are only seen when in flight) soars to the trees in the opposite bank.  

 Something splashes in the water. Was it a fish? I’m not certain. I could stay here all day listening, watching, feeling…. But a long list of things still needing to be done calls to me and I rise to perform the mundane, yet necessary tasks of the day. 

Day 8:  Journey’s End…for now!

Today I will arrive at my new home! I’m so excited that I have butterflies!!! Rocky senses the excitement as well. I notice an extra spring in his step. 

It takes a conscious effort to focus on being “where I am” I don’t want to be so focused on my destination  that I mentally skip past this phase of my journey. 

I see  the desert with new eyes today. What I thought was just dry, dull earth is really  golden grass. Low growing shrubs and the occasional ‘tree’ add depth to the terrain. Rugged mountains rise toward the cloudy sky, completing the portrait.


I spot a sign: Desert Tortoise terrain 13 miles. Shockingly, I veer off the highway with high hopes of spotting a tortoise in the wild. 

Ten miles pass without a sighting and I return to the highway. 

Oil pumps slide by on my right. A wind farm begins at the foot of the mountains ahead, stretching over its peak. This ‘farm’ is unlike any I’ve seen in my travels. In addition to the giant turbines, there are smaller turbines of varying sizes as if baby wind machines are growing beneath their parents. 

I’ve been transported into a new world! The desert has disappeared and I am surrounded by rolling hills and mountains clothed in green grass. Many of the slopes display blankets of purple and yellow flowers. I desperately search for a safe place to pull over for a picture, but without success. In this moment I realize that I’ve missed the lush green of grass and leafy trees.  

 Another diversion calls to me in the midst of the green mountains. It is the Cesar Chavez National Monument. He is known for his efforts to improve the lives of the farm workers and for his gentle spirit.  I enjoy this chance to learn a bit of history surrounding my new home.  



 The mountains are behind me and for a brief period the desert has returned.  It ends in a sudden starling appearance of lush green. This transformation of dry earth to an  oasis of greenery springs from the innovation of irrigation systems. Groves of citrus trees and vineyards slide past my windows, all supported by the wonder of irrigation systems. I exit the highway and continue through flat farmlands, trying not to be disappointed that the mountains have disappeared. 

I am only a half hour from “home” when they mountains return!   

      I have traveled through 8 states and 3 time zones, listened to 5 audiobooks, slept in 6 campsites and one motel, survived a creeper and now I am here! I couldn’t be more satisfied with my little mother-in-law apartment. And my landlords feel like long lost friends!  

 Thank you for journeying with me! 

Day 7: Nothing ventured Nothing gained 

“Gotta find my keys.” That’s my first thought as I wake. I slept soundly last night after being  lulled to sleep by a screeching child- a welcome change after lastnight’s  adventure, but before tucking into my sleeping bag I realized the keys were  missing. 

Keys in the ignition, freshly showered I look at my itinerary: Montezuma’s Castle, a place I visited my last trip here, is on 89, but I’d learned of The Red Rock Highway  on 179.  I opted for the unknown. 

The Red Rock Highway is breathtaking! 

  And it is not just a highway. About every 3/4 miles are parking areas with breath taking views and access to trails to hike into the towering formations of red rocks. You do need to stop at the Ranger’s station for a pass to park long enough to hike or bike (national park pass is accepted)

179 takes me into Oak Creek Village.   

 This is a bustling community with homes built into the mountain, restaraunts for every palate and what looks like a McDonald’s with teal  colored  arches? 

There are several jeeps with logos on the side panels and I wonder why so many people would choose this option over taking their own vehicle. Oak Creek is definitely a place to return too.  

Beyond the village I head toward Devils Bridge. I’ve programmed it into my GPS and I take in the magnificent views. 

Ahead the road turns to dirt littered with near Boulder size rocks–hence the jeeps. With no time to hike and my Chevy Aveo, Devil’s Bridge will wait for another day. Next destination: Mojave National Preserve. 

I take 89 back to I-17 and the views on this route do not disappoint. I am so near the Grand Canyon that I’m tempted to divert off my path yet again. But I want to save that visit for when my hubby is with me, so I steer past the exits that try to draw me into the canyon.  

 The desert that slides past me is dry. The only plant life are scattered patches of grass and parched shrubs. Miniature dust funnels appear randomly. There is no one behind me so I slow to try to film one of these miniature dust tornados…but I’m not sure how it will come out through Rocky’s window that is smeared with paw prints.

I’ve finally reached the Mojave Preserve and it is another beautiful desert terrain. 

  I pass a sign with flashing yellow lights warning me of desert tortoises crossing.  I hope I see a tortoise! 

To my left are the Kelso dunes.  

 Golden sand rising up to the sky. My GPS wants me to turn toward them. I look warily at the dirt road and then ahead at what appears to be some sort of structure. I choose the structure ahead. 

The structure is the Kelso Depot and Visitor Center. It’s only open Thursday through Sunday.  

  I see a sign that indicates campgrounds are 26 miles away. It’s a few minutes befor 5 and I decide not to chance the trip to a campground that I may or may not be able to check into. Instead I explore the Depot. There is an old post office building,  a ‘cage’ claiming the title of Kelso jail.  


 I can’t imagine being confined to this jail, baking in the desert sun all day and then shivering in the cold at night.  

 it’s nearing 6 pm and I make the decision to stay in a motel in Barstow  tonight. 

I call the Days Inn- the picture and ratings look good. But when I arrive it is not what I saw in the pictures. I hesitate, but I’m tired and don’t want to keep looking. I drive around to where my room is, but I don’t even go in. I drive back the front desk and tell them I am not staying. I’d feel safer back in my tent at Collosal Cave with the creeper! 

Six miles up the interstate I discover a Comfort Inn Suites. This is my home for the night. 

  I soak in the hot tub, then Rocky  gets a bath too.  He’s actually happy about it and races around the room after he’s dried off. 

It’s nice to be sleeping on a bed, but part of me misses the sounds of night time. 

Day 6: A Short Day

I’m up, but tired. 

I start my day interviewing my neighboring camp mates. No they didn’t hear anything last night. No they didn’t come down to check on me.

But the creeper will not ruin my day or my trip. I set out to explore Collosal Cave Moubtain Park.  I am to see a roadrunner. 

I see some sort of orange ringtail critter.

A deer. 

Lots of birds. 

No roadrunner.

I took pictures of these with my regular camera. Once I get back to civilization I will update this post with the photos. (I’ve typed all these blogs from my phone!)

I’m off to Saguara National. This is an unplanned excursion, but it’s only 10 miles away.  And it is so worth it. I drive the 8 mile loop taking pictures of the desert.  

 There is a cactus forest. I never thought of cacti all together as being a forest.  But they are as big as a tree and birds do build nests in them. 

I look at the time and gauge how long it will take me to arrive at my planned camping destination. And I realize, I’m just to tired. 

I choose a site only 3 hours away, call for a reservation and I’m on my way. 

The roadside views are breathtaking

And the camp is beautiful.  

 I’m sitting by my fire. The stars are brilliant in the night sky. There are two families and bunches of kids on either side of me. And you know what?  I don’t mind their noisy kid sounds one bit!  

Day 5- addendum: the Creeper

My eyes fly open and I lay still, listening. 

Crunch. Crunch. The distinct sound of footsteps approach. 

A million thoughts race through my head…the gate’s locked. No one is camping near me. I am completely alone.  The bathroom is in the other direction. The couple in their camper won’t hear me scream…

The steps draw closer and Rocky growls. 

A light  shines  into my tent. 

“Hello,” I call. “What do you need?” 

Inside my intestines clench.

The light goes out. 

Rocky barks frantically.

The footsteps continue–Hard soled, landing heavily in the dry dry earth. 

I grope in the darkness for my light and turn it on.

The foot steps are alongside my tent.

I grip my tazer in one hand and knife in the other. For the first time ever, I wish I had a gun. 

My heart pounds so hard  that it drowns out the footsteps

I don’t breathe. I don’t  move. 

The footsteps move away and down into the wash that runs alongside my campsite. 

I set the tazer on my lap and pick up my phone. Should I dial 911? I look at the screen…No Service. 


Minutes pass.


Half hour passes. 

I unzip my tent and shine my light around my site. 


I lay down. 

The footsteps move out of the wash and back toward my tent. 

I stop breathing. 

I pray.

The steps move away. 

I grip the knife handle. I’m on the ground. I’ll go for the femoral artery. No bones to protect it. 


An hour. 


Two hours.

I lay down, still clutching the knife.   

2:50 in the morning. I hear the snorting of a wild pig.

3:15–I smell a skunk. 

4:50 — Digging and snuffling near one of the trash cans 

6:00 — daylight

Lesson…I will never again choose the isolated campsite. 

FYI:  NOT kidding. 

Day 5: There and Back

 I am awake. And I’m excited, not just because of the amazing sunrise or the way the sun sets the mountains behind me on fire! 

 I am excited because today,  for the first time, I know where I am going. Years ago I visited Collosal Cave Mountain Park and fell in love with the surrounding desert, so when I realized that I could make this one of my stops I was ecstatic. I am ready to go back! But I’m also working on embracing the here and now, so before I hit the road, Rocky and I set out to explore one of the trails at Rock Hound State Park. 

On our journey, I spot a cottontail. He freezes on the path, waits for us to get closer than hops a little farther down the path. I can’t help wondering if I’m following Peter Cottontail down his bunny trail or if I’m Alice being led to wonderland!   

 At the end of my walk, I notice this sign. And I think: if this was the end of the road for me, it’s a good place to be.  

 On my way back to the interstate I discover a Walmart!!  Yay! So happy to stock up on real food.

In the parking lot I meet, Tim.  He strides over to my car with his white cowboy hat, black vest, faded jeans and cowboy boots wearing a smile beneath his oh-so-western mustache and a sparkle in his blue eyes and says, “Maine, now you’re a long way from home.” 

I spent the next half hour learning bout Tim: retired after thirty years in the military, Forester, engineer and now Pecan Farmer.  He tips me off to breakfast at Si Senorita and I have my first Mexican breakfast…Yum!!   

 Per my usually ADHD while driving,  I wander off the interstate in search of another historical Fort. This time I find it!  Rocky and I head down the 1.5 mile trail to the fort. He really isn’t up to the task and I find myself carrying him most of the way. 




After about a mile I am stopped by two border control officers. They want me to know that they are after an illegal who is here in the woods. He’s wearing a red hoodie. I hesitate for a moment, then decide to finish my hike. 

I meet a few people, but no red hoodies. And here’s where I’ll probably irritate a few people. When I think of illegal immigrants, I don’t want them crossing the border illegally…but then I think of the person and I wonder what they are running from that would drive them over the mountains and into this desert.  It’s easy to feel strongly about a concept, but more difficult to apply that to a living, breathing person. 

 I considered another tale about finding the illegal hidden away in my car….

I arrive at Collosal Cave and it’s everything I remember. 

Camping is only $5 and there are only two other people in the section of the campground I’m. I pick a site way in the back so that I can have privacy for the first time this week!  

 The one strange thing… The gate to the campground is locked at 5 and opened at 7:30 am. There is no cell reception, but if need to, I can run a 1/4 mile to the 911 phone that rings automatically to the sheriff.  

Filled with plans for morning and thankful that it’s not dropping below 60 tonight, I settle in to sleep.  


Day 3: The problem with boredom 

I would make the absolute worst long distance truck driver on the planet!  You see, I don’t seem to last more than 2 hours before I need to get out of the car, if only for a minute. And it was this propensity to boredom that led to the story that follows. 

  After San Antonio, Texas I-10 is an never ending stretch of high desert landscape scattered with prickly pear cactus,  colorful flowers, shrubs and low growing trees. Mesas rise up toward the endless blue sky, providing an array of tabletops for the gods. It really is beautiful country.  On occasion, herds of cows graze on the dry grasses. A wind farm stretches across a row of mesas. Oil pumps bob slowly up and down. And I love it! Its exciting and breathtakingly beautiful.   

 But after oh, 300 or so miles I begin to crave a change of scenery, even if only for a moment. So when I spot a sign for an historical fort, I flip my blinker on and off I go. 

My car winds along the deserted road as I search for another sign. Miles clicked by. Rocky gives up on the adventure and curls up in his seat, sound asleep. 

 Still, there is no sign of the fort.  I spot a section on the side of the road large enough for me to pull into. With the car in park, I take out my phone to google the fort. Rocky doesn’t even lift his head. 

My door flies open. Strong hands grasp my shoulder and rip me from my seat. 

I kick and twist. I can’t break free. 

Behind me I here a sound. A howling canine screech. I glimpse a flash of brown and black fur fly past me. 

The iron grip releases and I leap away.  

 My attacker screams. His arms flail trying to free himself from the Yorkshire terrier attached to his neck.  Rocky’s jaw is clamped shut, his body swings outward as the man spins. His hands close around Rocky. He rips the dog from his neck and flings him out into the road. The  little body sails through the air and lands with a sickening thump. 

Blood pumps from the gaping hole  man’s neck and my hands reach to apply pressure.  But the instinct to survive overtakes my training as a nurse and I step back. 

I watch him fall. I watch his blood seep into the dry thirsty earth. My eyes never leave him as I go and scoop up Rocky. He barks and a piece of flesh falls from his mouth. I let out the long breath that I hadn’t realized I was holding as I cradle my pup and climb into my car.

The light fades from the man’s eyes. I press a 9 and a 1 on my phone and then stop.

 The police will take hours. 

I have a campsite waiting for me. 

I turn the key and the engine comes alive.  As I drive back down the lonely winding road,  a shadow crosses my path. And then another. I look up. The vultures are circling. 

Just kidding. 

That was true right up until the man. 

But I’m on my third murder mystery by Nevada Barr set in National parks and maybe my inagination got away from me!  

Here’s a few photos from my real day which included, barbecue for breakfast, cactus love from Texas on a nature walk at a rest area, a giant roadrunner and a perfect end to my day watching the sun set from my campground. I sure do love Texas! 






Day 2: Into the night…

“It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.” J. R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings 

The soft patter of rain on my tent is soothing, so much so that I tap the snooze button on my phone and nestle a little deeper beneath the covers. But after a moment my eyes open and I toss the covers off.  California isn’t coming to me, after all. 

Rocky springs up, brown eyes bright with anticipation as he looks up at me wondering what we are doing next–excited about whatever it is. 

 Getting up was a good thing.  No sooner had I repacked my car when the soft drizzle transitioned into steady rain. By the time we reached the road it had escalated to a downpour.   
 Mississippi ushered me on my way with lights and sirens of the thunder and lightening variety.

I wish I could safely  pullover to snap a picture of this bridge that is transporting me into Lousiana! It isn’t so much the bridge, but the lush green trees rushing by beneath me. You see, Louisiana is one big mysteriously magical beautiful swamp.  

And I have to spend a little time exploring it! 

Moments later a visitors center sign beckons to me and I pull off the interstate. A charming white house  surrounded by green grass and flowers laid claim to the title of ‘Visitor’s Center’. Standing just as proudly, but in startling contrast across the road is the Swamp Shack gift shop.  

I spend some time chatting with the owner of the Swamp Shack, a friendly woman with a bounty of southern charm. She proudly shares with me that very soon I will be traveling  across an 18 mile bridge that will carry me across the largest swamp in the US. And she tried very hard to get me to buy an alligator head or claw (Nope!)

The 18 mile bridge really is 18 miles and it crosses the Atchafalaya swamp. Right in he center of it is another visitor’s center.   


Louisiana with its swamps, wading birds and Spanish moss slips apast the windows of my car until I reach Jenkins and I once again leave the interstate for adventure. 

At the Gator Chateau a line of kids, maybe ages 6-10 filed through the door before me. For a less than a moment I consider abandoning my quest. After all, I seemed to be the only grown-up interested….So what‽   

As I sat on the bench and stroked the surprisingly soft skin of the baby alligator, I ask if all this human contact effects the gators when they are released (The Gator  Chateau is an alligator rescue and release program) 

No, she reassures me, gators don’t form bonds. I think about that as I drive away. Does that mean the gators are like sociopaths? Then why does a mother protect its nest and babies? Is it really just instinct?  

 By the time I reach Texas, my second audio book was done, and I still haven’t determined if gators are sociopaths…

Houstin is huge! At least to this Maine girl it is! And I manage to hit it around 4 in the afternoon. Fourteen lanes, tangles of overpasses above me, buildings towering in the distance. I’m glad my tank is full and my bladder is empty! 

 And now I’m here at Stephen F. Austin State Park, 45 short minutes beyond Houston, bundled into my sleeping bag as I listen to the night time songs of insects, the occasional hoot and howl from the woods behind my tent and enjoy the warm smell of wood smoke.