Day 2: Mississippi, Louisiana, and the Republic of Texas

Vicksburg National Military Park

Welcome from the Louisiana-Mississippi border! On the advice of our friend, Eddie, we spent our morning in Vicksburg, MS at the Vicksburg National Military Park. The park contains most of the fighting positions the Union and Confederate Army held during the Siege of Vicksburg in the Civil War. The park had a palpable solemnity to it that reminded me of Gettysburg and Valley Forge back in Pennsylvania. The mood was amplified by the gloomy overcast skies that stuck with us from Mississippi all the way to Texas. For more on the Siege of Vicksburg, here is the Wiki page on the battle.
I spotted a Holly over the hill.

A Union cannon overlooking the Confederate hill in the distance.

Illinois' memorial to its troops that fought at Vicksburg.

One of the many plaques on the interior of the Illinois memorial.

After the park, we gassed up, hit the road, and were quickly into Louisiana. There isn’t much to say about the northern stretch of Louisiana. Their welcome center was closed and in a embarrassable state of disrepair. We stopped in Monroe, LA, and bought some groceries from probably the most foul-smelling Walmart we’ve seen. Why Walmart? Because in the middle of a massive shopping area, we couldn’t find a single person who knew where a grocery store might be.

Holly: Hello! Do you know where the nearest grocery store is?
Gas Station Clerk: Grocery store? (Furrows his brow and looks concerned)
Holly: Yes, a grocery store.
Gas Station Clerk: Man, I have no idea. Do you mean Walmart?

Louisiana's welcome sign above the Mississippi River.

Welcome to Louisiana! Keep on moving.

Our Walmart lunch wasn't actually that bad.

We chugged along and soon enough we crossed into Texas! Their welcome center was actually somewhat strange, it was this massive hulk of concrete and steel in a funky design that looked more like a high-end prison or high school (same thing?) than a welcome center. It was later brought to our attention that this was because it is built to act as a tornado shelter in the event of inclement weather. We didn’t have any tornados, but it rained nonstop for our last 3-4 hours of driving to Dallas.
The Great Republic of Texas.

Holly in Texas with the uber-secure welcome center behind her.

Stare at this image for 4 hours and you have our journey through eastern Texas in a nutshell.

Once in Dallas we headed south, to Midlothian, TX to stay with our friend Eddie’s sister, Amanda, and her family. We managed to navigate our way through some windy roads in the rain/fog to arrive at their house at around 8pm CST. Amanda whipped up an amazing homecooked southern meal of chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, green beans, and freshly baked biscuits with homemade plum jam. Welcome to Texas, indeed! We’ll be off the grid tomorrow camping at Guadalupe Mountain National Park, but should have another update in a few days!
This doggie came up to us at a random gas station south of Dallas.

I talk with my hands and chow down at the end of the day.


Day 1: South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi

Holly is just so happy, she loves packing so much.

It wouldn’t be a true David Dennis trip without starting two to three hours later than I intended, and I didn’t disappoint on this trip. We rolled out of my parent’s drive way at around 10:45ish EST and hit the road after a quick stop at the local Dunkin’ Donuts.
On the road, y'all.

We cruised into Georgia after only about 45 minutes of driving and stopped shortly before we got to Atlanta for an improvised lunch of turkey and provolone sammiches at Walmart. Grand total: $3.42.
Georgia. Land of peaches and some embarrassingly bad driving in the Augusta area.

HOTlanta which was actually dusted in snow.

We cruised along after Atlanta and were at the Georgia/Alabama border in no time. Not much to say, this part of the country isn’t much of a looker. We listened to a few episodes of This American Life from NPR and then popped in our first audiobook, A Walk In The Woods, about author Bill Bryson’s experience hiking the Appalachian Trail. It seemed fitting for this part of the country.
Apparently Alabama Welcomes Us. Thanks, Alabama, that's so kind of you.

I'm not sure if Holly was waving or trying to get the sun out of her eyes.

Alabama's welcome center. It was truly memorable. We spent almost a full ten minutes there.

See! I told you we were listening to Bill Bryson.

We blasted into Mississippi at around 8 o’clock CST and stopped for a short break at a local establishment called “Chick-Fil-A”. It was pretty delicious, I think they have something on their hands there. Maybe they can start a franchise? We hopped back on the road and decided to press on to Vicksburg, MS as our stopping point based off the advice of Eddie Downey. It was a wise decision as we were making great time and wide awake. Might as well cram in as much driving before the vast flatness of west Texas and New Mexico saps our will to drive. We stopped at a hotel and are planning on visiting the National Military Park in Vicksburg before heading onwards to Dallas. Lone Star State here we come!
Me in M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I.

I guess Holly was more excited than I was.

Mileage: 581 miles driven, ~2100 to go.
States we are so over with: South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, most of Mississippi.
Most awkward gas station moment: Knoxville, AL’s impromptu hunting convention at 8pm on a Monday evening. We were the only people not in hunting camo =(

A White Christmas in Greenville

The bestest friends in the world.
The bestest friends in the world.

My wife and I spent our last week on the east coast celebrating Christmas at my parent’s house in Greenville, SC. The night of the 18th, we drove up from Augusta with the Downeys and Mr. Evan Robbins and we spent a final night of just hanging out and enjoying each other’s company before they had to return to Augusta. Goodbyes are always painful, and this one was no exception.

Cabin Five, Table Rock State Park

The next day, my family and Holly and I went up to spent a few days at a cabin in nearby Table Rock State Park, which is one of my most favorite places to hike in this neck of the woods. It is such a grand mountain in the middle of nowhere. As you can see, there wasn’t much of view from our porch.

Not much going on here. Some rocks, some trees.

We spent our time out hiking and inside playing card games, building puzzles, and reading. It was a great way to spend the last week with our family.

Good times.
Table Rock in all its glory.
The fam after a hike.

We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas with an Egyptian Fulbright student named Yosri who is studying at a local college. My parents act as a sort of mentor/liaison/guide to help him make the adjustment to life in America during his year here. He even got his own stocking full of candy and fatty snack foods, you can’t get more American than that.

Opening presents for the epic win.
Holly's dominos hand all lined up.
The Brothers Dennis

Steaks, Mello Yello, and a telescope… just another evening at the Downey’s.

Just like any other night, I was over at the Downey’s drowning my worries in a coffee mug filled with Mello Yello and thinking about the steak working its way into my belly when Eddie blurted out, “Oh, have we told you about the telescope we got in the mail?”

Seeing as how Eddie has not yet confided in me any deep passion for charting the stars, I was quite intrigued when he walked over to show me a giant box with a $500 telescope inside. Eddie explained that it just showed up randomly a few days ago to his townhouse which is currently being rented out to some girls. The mailing label was addressed to them and even had his wife’s current cell phone number. They were about as confused my wife an I were. Was it a postal error? A generous secret Santa?

Further investigation of a secondary shipping invoice on the side only deepened the mystery, as the “ship to” portion of the second invoice was actually to completely different people up in the northeastern US. Since I’m a classy guy and respectful of other people’s privacy, I immediately went to Facebook and looked up the two people mentioned on the invoice as well as their immediate family, looking for any sort of clues as to whether they were the sort of people predisposed to astronomy. Besides their complete lack of Facebook privacy controls they seemed like legit folks so I closed their profiles and we went back to the business of figured out What Is This Box. Since the actual box itself was addressed to Eddie, we decided to bust it out and:

1. Look for clues.
2. Play around.
3. Search for alien life.
4. Lose feeling in our fingers while standing around in the cold waiting for the stupid device to fail at aligning itself.

We basically spent about a total of two hours putting it together, trying (and failing) to make it functional, watching some football, and then belatedly dragging it back inside to disassemble it and stuff it back into its ordinary looking cardboard box. I saw some bright stars but that was about it. Tomorrow it will most likely be back on some FedEx truck making its grand journey back up north. Who knows, maybe the people who actually ordered it will make do better than we did at this whole astronomy thing. I’ll stick to pointing at dim stars and making up constellations as I go along.

Who turned up the lights.
"See, that one? Right there? That is what we call Aristotle's Checkmark. No really man, he thought it was swell."