Voodoo Nap Fest

On Sunday I was tired.

We had one last day of Voodoo Fest and my favorite musician, Jack White was headlining. I was hoping is all boy band was going to play because we’d recently seen him in Red Rocks, CO with his all girl band.

We started our day off at the local cafe, Li’l Dizzy’s Cafe. I’d read that it had the “best fried chicken in New Orleans” and all boyfriend cares about is bacon so we were excited. This place was a trip.

Li’l Dizzy’s is a family run cafe, owned by Wayne Baquet. When Baquet lost his original restaurant to looting during Katrina, he moved the operation over to Esplanade in the Treme. On a Sunday morning during brunch it is absolute chaos in the joint! Waitresses are yelling at each other, yelling at customers, you ask for ice tea five times before you get it, but no matter, the fried chicken was the best I’ve ever had. They serve buffet style but you can also order off the menu, but when you do, they look at you like “you be crazy.” And if you only go to the buffet once, as I did, they throw their hand on their hip and say with some sass, “What! Girl! Shit, that ain’t no buffet! That it?”

Our last day at Voodoo fest was filled with me spending a lot of time laying on the ground and napping. In between laying on the ground and napping I huddled in a jacket and scarf because it was freezing and sometimes wiggled my hips with very little energy. I spent the whole day wondering why I was so damn tired and then I realized it was from the half marathon. D’uh.

Standouts from the afternoon included the Tangiers Blues Band, The Lost Bayou Ramblers, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, who I think came on stage for a guest appearance with every single band that played on the Preservation Hall Stage that day, and of course, Jack White, who did, in fact play with his rough and tumble all boy band.

Voodoo Music Fest, New Orleans, Music Festivals, Jack White

From top left: 1. Preservation Hall Jazz Band, 2. Lost Bayou Ramblers, 3. Tangiers Blues Band, 4. Jack White

I only had my iphone with me all weekend to take photos, which was both a blessing and a curse. I saw plenty of people with DSLRs that they’d managed to get through security, though the info for Voodoo said no pro cameras allowed. I wasn’t willing to risk bringing all my stuff all the way to City Park and getting denied entrance since it was a 20 minute bike ride. While this prevented me from running around and getting great concert photos, which is a particular passion of mine, it allowed me to really sit back over the course of the weekend and just enjoy the music instead of thinking like a photographer the whole time. It was actually quite nice.

Running Half Marathons while Dancing

When I originally planned my trip to New Orleans, it was to run the Jazz Half Marathon. Once upon a time I came up with this ridiculous idea to run a half marathon in every state, among other things. While some of the things on the list I’m no longer interested in (my goals are in a constant state of re-evaluation), this is one that’s stuck around. It appeals to my innate thirst for things that both physically and mentally challenge me.

So far, I’ve ticked CA, UT, OR, and TX off the list, where I had the worst race of my life and they rubbed it in by listing me as a male even though I’m not and I missed out on a 2nd place age group award. I really wanted to get three states in this year, but I’ll take the two.

I digress.

So, I plan a trip to run a half marathon, discover that Voodoo Music Fest was the same weekend and decided that it was totally in the realm of possibility to run a half marathon AND go to a three day music fest on the same weekend.

No. Big. Deal.

We got up at 6 AM to ride bikes down to Lafayette Square in the downtown business district where the race was set to start. I hadn’t run in three weeks because of a nagging injury from the Bizz Johnson marathon so I was more than a bit nervous. My leg still wasn’t at 100% and I gave myself a caveat: I could bail at the 5k turn around if I wasn’t feeling up to it. While I had been running fairly steadily before the Bizz Johnson, by the time I hit mile 8 my quads were feeling quite thrashed, enough so that the miles from 10 to 13 were pretty damn rough. I will say that the “whiskey shot” rest stop at mile 12 did make me giggle. In the end, my efforts were enough for a 28th place finish in my age group and a time of 1:52:55. Not too shabby for more than 2,000 runners.

After the race, we had an amazing southern brunch at Rae’s grandparents’ house and headed over to Voodoo Fest for day 2. Highlights from the day included: Treme Brass Band, K’nann (where the hell have I been? This guy is awesome!), Soul Rebels, and my favorite new find, Zeale, a kid from Austin with insane energy, a heart of gold, and mad verbal skills. I LOVED him.

I also checked out Justice, who I used to adore but apparently has been touring with the same exact show for more than three years and Metallica which was overwhelming times gazillions.

Voodoo Music Experience, Voodoo Fest, New Orleans

Clockwise from top: Voodoo Music Carnival, Zeale, Gary Clark JR, Big Chief Bo Dollis and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux with the 101 Runners.

Thanks to running a swift 13.1 miles that morning, I ended up quite saucy by the end of the day. Running + dancing = success.

Voodoo Music Experience

Our original plan had been to visit New Orleans for simply a weekend, heading to Voodoo Music Festival and showing off a bit of the city to Buddy. When I realized a good friend was getting married in Austin the following weekend, we decided to stay in LA the entire week: it simply made no sense to burn multiple days of vacation flying back and forth from CA. After missing my favorite fest, ACL Fest to move, I was jonesing for some great and new music.

We arrived in New Orleans on Thursday and after partying until the wee hours of the morning at Vaughan’s, woke up feeling not so sparky. Desperate for breakfast despite the late hour of noon, we hit up Restaurant Stanley on a tip from another cafe. This is what I ate:

Stanley, New Orleans, Creole Food, Cajun Food, Eggs Rockefeller, Jackson Square, French Quarter

That’s right. It was like THAT. Eggs Stanley: Cornmeal-Crusted Oysters, Poached Eggs, Canadian Bacon and Creole Hollandaise on a Toasted English Muffin. Serious breakfast, ALL DAY LONG. Like breakfast SHOULD be: an ALL the time food.

Voodoo Fest takes place in New Orleans’ massive “City Park,” a 1,300 acre park in the center of the city. It is the 6th-largest and 7th-most-visited urban public park in the United States! It’s also famous for holding the world’s largest collection of ancient live oak trees, some more than 600 years old. The city hosts multiple festivals a year there, including Jazz Fest.

We arrived pretty late, thanks to our headaches and need for bacon, but had plenty of time during the day to catch some standout acts. My favorites from Friday included CC Adcock and the Lafayette Marquis, The 101 Runners and their tribute to Big Chief Bo Dollis featuring Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and members of various local brass bands, Gary Clark JR, and, oddly enough, The Avett Brothers. The Avett Brothers are this band that everyone just LOVES and you’re supposed to LOVE them to and I have the albums and I just didn’t LOVE them. Until I saw the show. What is subdued, underplayed and downright boring and mellow on their album is taken to a whole new level of power and persuasiveness in their live show. I don’t know that I’ll listen to the albums still, but I would definitely go out of my way to see them tour again.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse were playing but after hearing lackluster reviews from everyone about their live show, I decided to be responsible and skip it since I had to get up at 6 AM to go run a half marathon. It was a good idea. Day 1 of Voodoo fest was in the bag and we were happy, filled with music, and worked!

Introduction to the Big Easy

We arrived on a Thursday and settled into our adorable shotgun house in the Tremé. A shotgun house is a narrow long rectangular home, usually more more than 12 feet wide. Our hosts have purchased one that used to be a duplex and are busy converting it into one big long house, which makes it considerably more comfortable. In most single shotgun homes, you have to walk through one room to get to another, meaning that your bedroom is often also the hallway. Shotgun homes are prevalent in the south and particularly in New Orleans.

As an Airbnb host myself, it is now my preferred way to travel. I would much rather stay in a local’s home than in a hotel. The beds may not be as new, the comforters as fluffy, but they undoubtedly always have more character and charm than any Best Western.

Our home was conveniently located in Tremé, which is also known as the 6th Ward, which is one of the oldest neighborhoods in New Orleans. Early in the city’s history, the Treme was the main neighborhood for free people of color. Some of my favorite New Orleans musicians grew up in the Treme, including Kermit Ruffins and Joe’s Cozy Corner in Tremé is often considered the birthplace of my favorite band, the Rebirth Brass Band.

Our hosts have four bikes for their guests to use and they were going to be our primary mode of transportation. Their house was conveniently located centrally in between City Park, home to New Orleans’ various music festivals, and the bustling French Quarter, the oldest neighborhood in the city.

Jackson Square, French Quarter, New Orleans

Since Buddy had never been to the city, the first thing we did was cruise our bikes around Jackson Square for a bit. At any given moment in Jackson Square, the plaza is bustling with street musicians, artists, performers, pan handlers and hustlers. Be wary of the hustlers: they are aggressive, angry, demanding and not worth your dollar.

Jakcson Square, Brass Bands, Street Music, New Orleans, French Quarter

After a cruise around the Square, we headed to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, generally considered the oldest bar in the US. According to legend it was used by the Pirate Jean Lafitte as a home base for his operations. Just around the corner from Lafitte’s is Eat, where they serve up Louisiana fare using locally farmed produce and ingredients. It’s BYOB and there is no corkage fee for the first six pack or bottle of wine. We started with crawfish boullettes (similar to hushpuppies but made of crawfish) and stuffed artichoke and leek gratin, both of which I would recommend. I followed it up with crawfish pie (a casserole form of etouffee) and it was far more food than I could eat!

Vaughan's, Kermit Ruffins, New Orleans, Brass Bands, By-Water, Dive Bars

It was Thursday, which meant that Kermit Ruffins at Vaughan’s in the By-Water was a must-see. Kermit and his band covered everything from New Orleans brass band staples to Louis Armstrong followed back to back by the Black Eyed Peas. I’m not even joking. Dance with the lcoals, don’t smoke while Kermit’s playing and make sure you have some red beans and rice.

Kermit Ruffins, Vaughan's, By-Water, New Orleans

Who dat! N’awlins!

Chartres Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, Crescent City, Jackson Square, French Quarter

We don’t have cable at my house, just netflix and hulu and as such, I have a tendency to watch tv shows much later and all at once. When I discovered The Wire a few years ago, I became a huge fan, devouring all the seasons back to back. When HBO debuted David Simon’s new show Treme, now on it’s third season, I was thrilled. As a Texan, I had traveled to New Orleans a few times a year for festivals, celebrations, or just to go. My college roommate has family there and in BJ and Jim’s Garden District house, I always felt like I was in my 2nd home. New Orleans people are like no other and their spirit is celebratory and always fun, despite whatever life may throw them.

When I moved to California in 2006, my path no longer took me to New Orleans and as I watched the first season of Treme in the summer 2011, I had extreme guilt. Not only had I not been back in awhile, but I hadn’t been back since Katrina and I felt like it was my responsibility to help infuse some money into my favorite city in the world. I wasn’t able to make it back to Nola, so I did the next best thing: I flew to Denver to see New Orlean’s most celebrated brass band, Rebirth, play.

This past summer, I watched the 2nd season of Treme. Again, I had guilt. I knew that no side trip to see a New Orleans band would do it: I had to go to the Crescent City. I found a half marathon to run at the end of October and then discovered that it was the same weekend as Voodoo Fest. Run a half marathon and go to a three day music festival in the same weekend? No problem!

When I realized that one of my friends was getting married in Texas the following weekend, we decided to just make a week of it in New Orleans: no reason to waste vacation days flying back and forth from California when there is so much to see and do there! Besides, boyfriend had never been and I was excited to show off this proud and vibrant city.

So, we booked an amazing room to stay in on Airbnb with wonderful hosts in the Treme, rushed to move and unpack our house, and headed down south to feast on fried food, remoulade and hollandaise, and dance our ass off listening to a lot of brass bands.

New Orleans, Brass Bands, French Quarter, Street Music, Jackson Square, Chartres St, New Orleans

Never been to N’awlins? In the coming days I’ll post our adventures, photos, and my suggestions and absolute requirements for any trip to the Big Easy.

Driving the Northern CA Coast

The Humboldt Redwoods State Park isn’t nearly as remote as Jedediah Smith. It’s easily accessed by Hwy 101, which runs smack down the middle of it and hundreds of cars a day take the scenic drive down the “Avenue of the Giants.”

I had forgotten to take melatonin that night and slept horribly. Regardless, I roused myself out of my bad mood and out of my sleepless bed at 6 am to ride my road bike and hunt for good picture opportunities in the quiet dawn. I didn’t end up with any stellar photos, but the hour long ride did manage to squelch my grumpiness.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park

To tell you the truth, we were all a little sick of big trees. We were ready to move on. Not wanting to pass up the opportunity of being there, we made quick laps through the Rockefellor Loop Trail and the Founder’s Grove, which were both flat, short and scenic laps of less than a mile with some really big gorgeous old growth trees. Some of the standouts of this forest, in particular, were the massive downed trees that have been sliced open so that you can walk through the cross sections.

R, exploring Founder’s Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

Some of the living trees here, because of the foot traffic, have walkways built around them, which I found an interesting solution to the issue of human interest.

Super creative name you guys! The “Giant Tree,” Humboldt Redwoods State Park

After our rapid hikes through the trees, we were anxious to head south to the coast. We had a mission for our afternoon and next day and it included: Mendocino coast, Boonville and lots of breweries!

We stopped briefly outside of Mendocino to wine taste at Pacific Star Winery. Pros about Pacific Star: gorgeous views and a lovely picnic area. Cons about Pacific Star: terrible wine, $5 tasting fee that isn’t waved with the purchase of a bottle. I highly recommend that you go picnic on Pacific Star Winery’s lawn with wine from a different vineyard.

Taking in the view at Pacific Star Winery.

After quickly setting up camp at the gorgeous and highly recommended Russian Gulch Campground (another one of the list of best campgrounds in CA), we headed back north into Fort Bragg for some early dinner and beer tasting at North Coast Brewing Co. Their food was some of the best I’ve had in a brewery. Garlic waffle fries? Yes, please.

Beer Sampler at North Coast Brewery

That night we played on the beach in Russian Gulch, drank wine, had an extremely long game of corn hole, and all ate far too many s’mores. It was our last night before we returned home and we wanted to savoir the outdoors (not that we didn’t have an amazing day planned already for the route home).

Russian Gulch State Park

The Hunt for Iluvitar

Because Jedediah Smith was so popular, we were only able to make camping reservations for two weeknights there. We decided that we would break up our drives by meandering down the northern CA coast and stopping in the Humboldt Redwoods as well. On our way out of the area, we stopped at Enderts Beach because the sun was out and R was interested in looking at tide pools.

Enderts Beach, Crescent City, CA

While we hanging out at the scenic overlook, we struck up a conversation with a man who seemingly knew everything. EVERYTHING. He was telling us about the history of the city, about the birds, about the tides, about the forest.

Now, let me back up a few days: on our first full day in the park, we had gone on a nature walk with Ranger Dan, who tried to discourage us from going to see the Grove of the Titans, because “it’s not that interesting.” I had also asked him if he often had to rescue people who were lost in the forest looking for it. He had admitted that 99% of the people who come through the area have never even heard of the Grove, much less gone looking for it, but there was one guy, “The Professor,” who returned every few summers hunting the hidden trees that lived out of this car. He spent his year teaching at a college in Boston.

Flashback to today: we are talking with this man and he mentions hidden trees. We admit that we managed tp visit the Grove of the Titans. He lights up with delight and all the sudden I realize: this MUST be the professor. “Are you the professor? Are you living out of your car?”

We had not only managed to enter the Grove of the Titans, but we had somehow stumbled upon the Professor as well. What good fortune! In the end, we spent almost an hour chatting with him as he pulled out maps and lists and filled our brains with more information than we could later remember. Two amazing things came out of our discussion: 1) a fantastic place to stop for dinner (the Samoa Cookhouse) and 2) that we absolutely MUST stop in the Prairie Creek Redwoods Forest to see the hidden tree, Iluvitar.

Iluvitar is the world’s third largest redwood tree. It’s 20.5 feet in diameter and 320 feet tall. If you’re looking in the woods for Iluvitar and mucking around in the forest where you shouldn’t be, you are in the wrong place.

Taking snapshots of Iluvitar.

Thanks to the Professor, we had a bit of a road-map straight to the large tree, which, according to the Professor, has the most “sophisticated canopy” of any redwood.

Looking up at the bungled canopy of Iluvitar, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

Also thanks to the Professor, we made our dinner stop at the Samoa Cookhouse, where dinner is served family style and there is no choice in your dish. R was thrilled that it was Southern Fried Chicken Night!

Samoa Cookhouse Price Board.

The Samoa Cookhouse is the last surviving cookhouse in the west and is where the lumberman in Northern CA used to eat their three meals a day. You sit at long family tables covered in camp style checkered cloth. It was quite an experience!

Samoa Cookhouse, outside Eureka, CA.

Strangely enough there was some sort of classic car club meeting there that night and the parking lot was even more of a blast from the past!

Classic cars at a classic cookhouse: surreal.

After our long winding adventure down 101 hunting more hidden trees and gorging ourselves on classic American fare, we were exhausted. Thankfully, we had booked a campsite ahead of time at Albee Creek Campground, which is a little bit more off the beaten path. It was a wise choice we would find the next morning. The Humboldt Redwoods, though phenomenal and spectacular in their own right, don’t feel nearly as removed from the world as Jedediah Smith, mostly because hwy 101 runs smack through the middle of them, something we wouldn’t witness until dawn.

Grove of the Titans

Exploring Mill Creek Trail, Jedediah Smith State Park

The next day we woke up quite late, enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, and then wasted time exploring the Mill Creek Trail in the park until it was the appointed time we had set to meet our guide to The Grove of the Titans. Thanks to our friendly nature, vivacious personalities, hysterical antics and ability to small talk, finding the infamous Grove of the Titans was a piece of cake: we just had someone take us there, which, was my plan all along. Because really, tromping through the forest and bushwhacking through redwood groves is just plain dumb. Don’t do it.

I will not disclose the location of the grove, I won’t tell you how to get there. What I will tell you is that if you are bushwhacking for miles off trail you are way off base. These trees are hidden right under your nose and there are small hidden social trails leading to all of them. They are within a quarter mile of major roads. If you spend weeks getting muddy and scraped up and dirty and lost and etc, just stop!

The Del Norte Titan, Grove of the Titans

This is the first Titan we went to see, the Del Norte Titan. It’s fourth on the list of the “Largest Redwood Trees” and has a cubic volume of 37,200 feet and is 307 feet high.

This was where our guide left us, giving us instructions on how to find the others. They are all in close proximity to each other.

R, forging the creek to find more Titans, Grove of the Titans, Jedediah Smith State Park

The trees are hysterically not well hidden. So much so, that reading people’s accounts of doing months of searching via foot and the internet is somewhat comical.

El Viejo Del Norte, Grove of the Titans, Jedediah Smith State Park

El Viejo Del Norte is the 5th largest known coast redwood. At 332.8 feet, it has a cubic volume of 35,400 cubic feet!

El Viejo Del Norte, Grove of the Titans, Jedediah Smith State Park

The Screaming Titans are neighbors to El Viejo Del Norte. They are very unusual as they are two massive redwoods fused together. They have a combined diameter of thirty feet

Screaming Titans, Grove of the Titans, Jedediah Smith State Park

Screaming Titans, Grove of the Titans, Jedediah Smith State Park

I’m so thrilled that I accomplished my ridiculous goal to find a not-so-hidden grove of trees with absolutely zero research and two days in the park. And actually, after we found the Grove of the Titans, all the other trees paled in comparison. But the walk out of the grove along Mill Creek Trail was absolutely stunning!

Here are a few of my other favorite photos from our afternoon in the Grove of the Titans.

That being said, there is one reason that these massive trees are being kept hidden and it’s clear and in abundance in Stout Grove: grafitti. Why a person would want to carve their name into the side of trees is beyond me, but it’s everywhere and very sad. So, if you do decide to go into a hidden grove, have respect. Be careful where you tread and for goodness sake, don’t carve your name or anything else into the trunk of these majestic beasts.