More than ever I embrace a road trip to re-visit and experience the Greater USA. Lacking a rigid schedule, the Bruun Grand Caravan encourages visits unavailable to air travelers. A continued virus bombardment and an ensuing smorgasbord of idiocy practiced by those ignoring my safety in public further encourages using our own transportation.
Using south and east driving exits from Jackson resemble early sailing vessel’s “waiting for the tide.” Beginning in November traveler scrutiny of wind and weather forecasts between Rock Springs and Cheyenne along I-80 is imperative. Gale force conditions delayed our departure nearly a week. Jean and I don’t embrace the Ho Chi Wind Trail’s fabled meteoric crosswind gusts that involuntarily blow vehicles into another lane. We’re also against our outfit absorbing torturous paint and windshield mayhem from semi-truck-propelled highway gravel when locked into 18-wheeler parades.
Careful weather plotting paid off with a sunshiny early drive — fed by a welcome Daniel Junction lunch/dinner burrito roundup — that landed us in Colorado Springs.
Half the next day was spent visiting with Jean’s long-time friends — Brad Tomlinson and his mom, Sherrie, whose tiny guide service, tackle and Patagonia clothing space in Colorado Springs’ world famous Broadmoor Resort was too successful. Piggish hotel types forced them out and grabbed the store. Putting that behind them, Brad and Sherrie opened The Peak Fly Shop, a deluxe fly-fishing showcase on Academy Boulevard. A smaller shop in Woodland Park is even closer to great South Platte water. Having grown up exploring then guiding on Colorado streams, Jean indulged in a good catchup with the Peak owners. Despite a new prescription, my eyes began watering while I examined endless bins of colorful dandruff-size nymphs and emergers that mimic popular Colorado trout foods.
We I-25’ed toward New Mexico from Colorado Springs and overnighted in Raton. When heading west to Clayton it took only a minute to backtrack east on US 87 for a delicious reunion with the nice family operating Alfonso’s Mexican Food, neatly tucked in one of the area’s numerous Alta/Marathon C-stores. We refueled with superb chile rellenos and chile verde combos, spicy homemade sauces and beef tacos for the desolate ride east.
It was sadly obvious that COVID repercussions have thinned the modest food stops Jean and I treasure. Clayton, New Mexico favorite green chile go-to, the Rabbit Ear Cafe (formerly the HiHo, where its big metal stove once stopped an uninvited, out-of-control semi truck), had turned into a gift shop. Now Alisha Raines, the cafe owners’ daughter, smothers cheesy fries in her red and green chile from a customized trailer, The Local Hive, to coincide with the Clayton HS Yellow Jackets.
We embrace touring Texas by road, whether it’s seeking smoked meat and paper-thin pastry crusts in the Hill Country or slugging down the perfect brisket and constantly seeking the ultimate treasure of barbecued cabrito (the veal of young goats). With over 700 locations in Texas, Whataburger stands, founded in the 1950s in Corpus Christi, are signature Longhorn State trademarks that occasionally creep into a few portions of neighboring southern locations. Happily, during our recent trip every Whataburger we saw was boasting “fresh roasted Hatch (New Mexico) chiles” in breakfast, lunch and dinner sandwiches. We feasted on this special all the way to Tallahassee.
Our Texas destination was Lubbock, to visit Jackson part-timers Duncan and Melanie Burkholder. Somehow it got pretty late due to practicing backyard fly casting, indoor plinking with Duncan’s latest .22 silencer-modified semi-auto and margarita glass salt rim testing.
“Don’t worry,” Duncan assured, “Rudy’s is still open, I promise,” as we motored to one of Texas’ most memorable barbecue houses that continues migrations well beyond its colorful roots in Leon Springs, little else than a huge dance hall spot outside San Antonio. Gnawing Rudy’s oak-smoked St. Louis ribs, coleslaw, jalapenos and an ice-cold Shiner Bock are all I need!
From Lubbock we slipped through Dallas and on toward the Piney Woods for an overnight in Marshall. I always wanted to see and drive across Toledo Bend Reservoir, the fabled East Texas largemouth bass factory bordering Louisiana. Expecting the usual boilerplate, drive-through fast food, we couldn’t resist entering the neat appearing InJapan Steak House & Sushi Bar. What a surprise to indulge in tasty orders of fried soft shell crab, jumbo tempura shrimp and spicy tuna sushi in East Texas.
The owner’s daughter operated their second pure Asian restaurant 45 miles east in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Once across sprawling, stickup-filled Toledo Bend and through Many we joined I-49, a north-south interstate built to connect I-20 at Shreveport with the fabled lower Louisiana Cajun country of Lafayette and I-10. The Bruun van automatically understands to head east before Lafayette on U.S. 190, exiting into the historical community of Port Barre, where Bayou Teche begins.
While hurrying across Louisiana 15 years ago to meet fishing pals in Slidell, an hour east of New Orleans, I needed a bite of lunch and a drink. After entering the modest looking Bourque’s Super Market I was staggered by the array of Cajun goodies, sensational produce, spices, rubs and a butcher department that featured at least three kinds of boudin (smoked, regular and crawfish), extensive smoked andouille sausage, tasso ham and oodles of fresh cracklins. The hot sauce lineup was pure artistry, and the rice selection was exceptional.
Ever since that visit I cannot travel through Louisiana without paying the Bourque family market a visit. Widely known for its unique specialty jalapeno sausage cheese bread, the popular BoudinLink.com rates Bourque’s homemade products at the top of south Louisiana eats. They’re now online at BourqueSpecialties.com. That’s good enough for me.
One of those long-ago fishing pals was LA (Lower Alabama) celebrity shrimp boat operator, Bon Secoeur Seafood Company manager, duck and snipe hunter, kayak designer/salesman and now Mobile Delta Excursion provider Jimbo Meador. Friends recognize that Jimbo was the prototype whom the late southern author Winston Groom designed his legendary Forrest Gump character around. Winston and Jimbo grew up together on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay in the vacation area known mainly as Fairhope, Point Clear and Foley. Actor Tom Hanks spent hours on the phone absorbing Jimbo’s unique accent and intonation.
Jean saw the spotless Beignets And Cafe Au Lait! shop in Pearl River, Mississippi, as we hurried toward Jimbo and Lynn’s dreamy back porch facing Mobile Bay, and loaded up on fresh powder sugar-covered French treats. We spent a glorious afternoon watching the mullet jump, hearing waves slap and Jimbo extolling his latest tour adventures while playing with Luke, his enthusiastic English field cocker.
Our last 2021 X-C adventure wound down after Jimbo’s going east to Pensacola, Tallahassee and then I-10 over to Jacksonville and I-95 south to Fort Pierce. A quick St. Augustine stop at Barnacle Bill’s for Datl Pepper Shrimp, a unique Florida pepper now subject to a variety of popular sauces was worthwhile, but more about that in another travel tale.