Saturday, April 23, 2011

Campout at Bogue Chitto [J's Account]

First campfire, first smores

Hey Mom and Dad,

I'm gonna send a few photos of our trip to the Bogue Chitto State Park. It's a new state park 1.5 hours from New Orleans, just on the outskirts of Franklinton Louisiana which is where they hold the "worlds largest free fair". The campground was very nice for drive-in camping. I selected a site on-line right next to the bathrooms/showers. I had borrowed a 15x9 foot tent from a neighbor and once in place it was like the Taj Mahal of tents -- we could stand in it and even with three beds there was plenty of room to meander around. It was nothing like my memory of camping as a child -- and I mean that in a positive way. Space is a good thing. So the first thing I noticed upon arriving at Bogue Chitto was how slow everyone drove. The speed limit said 15 mph and most drivers, even those in big manly trucks, seemed to fall shy of this. Later that day I would find out the reason for this restraint.

Once at our campground, I got to the work of setting up our alternate world while K entertained the kids. It took about 40 minutes to unload the car, set up the massive tent, prepare the bedding and get our foodstuffs in place. We were ready for fun by around 11 a.m. Saturday morning, and our first adventure was to be a trip the "gorge trail". This was a lovely little "trail" on a wooden bridge going through a boggy swampy type terrain -- lots of cypress trees and dragonflies and spiders. The kids loved it as it was the perfect structure to run wildly on. They climbed small clay mountains, danced around screaming "Champion!", and learned how to walk on logs without falling down. We went back to the tent, tried to nap, and realized that with the light and sounds of the woods, the ritual two hour nap simply wasn't going to happen. K suggested that we take a drive to get the kids to sleep -- I agreed, we hopped in the car, and two hours later they were still wide awake with the excitement of a new environment.

Learning to balance on a log

Back at the campground K and I each drank a beer and decided that the next option would be to check out the water park where the pamphlet had promised 30 foot water spouts coming out of the ground and all kinds of gizmos the kids would love. We all hopped in the car. K placed her bottle of beer in the cup holder and I said something to the effect "Honey, please put that down, we're not in New Orleans anymore.” and she said "What do you think is going to happen out here in the woods?", to which I said, "I don't know, don't they have park rangers prowling around?" She laughed at my silliness but relented by placing the nearly empty bottle under a newspaper on the floor. I suppose you can see where this is going. About 2 minutes into our drive through the campground, a state trooper on a fricking golf cart starts driving behind us and flashing his lights for me to pull over. My fear of police has always been a major problem. The officer approached and the conversation went something like this:

Policeman: We've received a few complaints about you speeding already and I just saw you going about 25 mph in a 5mph zone

J: I'm very sorry officer. I had no idea I was going so far above the limit

P: I'd like to see your registration, license, and insurance card.

J: Yes sir (and amazingly, it was all there; the kids rummage through the car so often, I was surprised it hadn't "disappeared").

V (as the officer retreated to his car, V says repeatedly): "Why doesn't he have eyes?" He was wearing chips style sunglasses.

I start to push the beer bottle further down under the seat and K says: “Don't mess with it, he's gonna see you.”

J to K : “Stop smiling, do you think this is funny?”

K: “Calm down, it's going to be fine, no one's going to jail.”

And I realize that her window is down and he's about 4 feet away listening to this conversation

So the policeman comes back : “I'm gonna give you a warning this time. If you hit someone it's gonna be a whole different story though. You've got two kids and I know you don't want other people speeding around them.”

J: “Yessir, I take this very seriously. I won't do it again. Thank you for the warning.”

We drove off, and I felt simultaneously shaken by the interaction and vindicated that my complete paranoia had come to fruition. These kinds of thoughts occur all the time, but it’s rare for them to be realized. It’s like all the years of worry had paid off.

So we had a great time at the splash park after that, and then returned to our campground VERY SLOWLY, maybe 8 mph tops, to get ready for bed. I got a fire going and we did the whole "camping" thing -- smores, singalongs, bedtime stories, and snuggling in sleeping bags with the kids who were genuinely fascinated by these devices. V struggled to get to sleep but it was no problem, we were all so cozily ensconced.

Happy times

The next morning I awoke at 5 a.m. feeling completely frozen. Weirdly the bag I was using was hot enough that I was sweating but the sweat was then turning into ice crystals on my skin -- at least that was my impression. We all got up early and decided that the next best course of action would be to go to the well-heated McDonalds in Franklinton where cheap coffee was plenty and, to top it off, they had an indoor playground. At 6:30 a.m. in the freezing cold, this sounded like the Elysian Fields. We made it there, had a nice talk with one of the grill workers on break who told us all about the Franklinton Fair, again "the worlds largest free fair", and after this we actually headed to the fairgrounds to check it out. Believe it or not, a cop car started trailing us at this point, and it was at this moment that I realized that they run a very tight ship in small town Louisiana.

Finding treasures in the woods

So eventually we found ourselves back at the campground. The Bogue Chitto is a river that winds its way through both Louisiana and Mississippi eventually emptying into the Gulf of Mexico. We decided to check out the beach of the Bogue Chitto State Park and we were surprised to find a huge 1/4 mile long stretch of sand decorated with rented beach chairs and umbrellas. And it was totally empty. An abandoned Riviera in the deepest part of Louisiana. Amazing. I imparted some wisdom to the kids regarding stone skipping, but frankly they didn't seem very impressed. L gave it a go and V seemed more interested in eating sand. The last time we were at a beach V was about 9 months old and when she ate sand then, we thought she'll definitely outgrow this yen. Apparently we were oh so wrong as you can tell by this very disturbing photo.

Help me – I can’t stop eating sand

After this adventure, we slowly crawled over to the water park again where the kids had a great time and then realized that the it was time to go home. My reputation was intact, I hadn't been jailed, the kids had had a great time, and we were going home. It was a total success.



Wandering down to the gorge at Bogue Chitto

King of the hill


Fun at the Splash Park

Race around the pool

Ooh that’s chilly

Skipping rocks on the Bogue Chitto

G-Mail Comments

-Ami G (4-24): Dear David: Thanks for sending J***'s story to us. You and he are amazing story tellers via e-mail, as well as great photographers. I'm so glad that J*** got out of there alive! Much love. Ami

-Vicki L (4-24): Hi David, Great letter from J*** - what a couple of gems (both parents and kids). Happy Easter. Sis

-Jennifer M (4-23): Great pics and a fun story. Thanks to J for sharing!

-Donna D (4-23): Thanks so much for sending this to me David. I loved it!!!!

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