Looking Back on 2018

As we reach the end of the year, I thought I would write a post highlighting our travels in 2018.   It was a big year of travel as we journeyed through the South, covered all the states along the Eastern seaboard and into the Appalachian states.   We finished up the year back in California where we started in August of 2017.   Our travels will continue in 2019 when we leave California in February and head for Arizona.   At this time our plan is to focus on several southwestern states before heading up to the Midwest, our focus from late spring through fall.   For now, follow along with us for a monthly summary of where we landed this past year.

January found us in Alabama staying in the city of Mobile for a while before heading south to our two-week campsite on Mobile Bay near Gulf Shores.   In Alabama we enjoyed Gulf Coast beaches, a nature preserve and great shrimp.   Highlights were a visit to the U.S.S. Alabama ship and Mardi Gras museum.   The third week of January we headed to our next camping spot for two weeks in the Florida Panhandle and our first look at the turquoise waters near Panama City, a sight I will not soon forget.   Above is a sunset photo from Gulf Shores, Alabama.

In February we enjoyed exploring Florida State parks along the Gulf, visited the Pensacola Air Museum and on the 10th of the month arrived to St. Augustine on the Atlantic for two weeks.   This was one of my favorite camp spots and cities we visited this year.   As the oldest city in America, there were more attractions and things to do here than any other place we visited so I was kept quite happily busy.  Above is a photo of Flagler College, a favorite architectural gem in St. Augustine.

March found us in the beautiful cities of Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina.   People like to debate which of these two southern cities are their favorite.   Mark preferred Savannah but I fell in love with Charleston, although I found Savannah very nice too.   Exploring those cities on foot was a highlight and seeing all the azaleas in bloom made me very happy, especially at the plantation gardens near Charleston.   Above is a photo of azaleas at Savannah’s Forsyth Park, our favorite park to hang out in that city.   It was difficult to leave the South with the huge live oaks and hanging moss that I so enjoyed seeing every day.   Below a photo from the Wormsloe Estate in Savannah which features a 1.5 mile entrance of huge live oaks.

April found us spending four weeks in Virginia, two in Williamsburg and two in Charlottesville.   We saw lots of colonial history in Williamsburg, Jamestown and the Yorktown Battlefield.   In the Charlottesville area we visited the homes of three former presidents.   Spring in Virginia was gorgeous with green fields, hills and lots of blooming trees.   Below a photo of the fife and drum corp marching in Colonial Williamsburg.

In May we camped a week in Maryland, four nights in a state park in Delaware and then to New Jersey for our base camp while visiting Philadelphia.   Our family (Shannon, Jonathan, Luke and Levi) came out to join us for a wonderful week in this incredible city.   We walked the city seeing lots of historical sights and eating great food.   Mark and I then headed to the Amish country near Lancaster, Pennsylvania for a few weeks, an area I found fascinating to visit.   Below a picture of Independence Hall in Philadelphia.   Little Levi is dwarfed by the building.

June found us in Gettysburg where we toured the historic battlefield, the amazing National Park museum and the neat town of Gettysburg.   Mark and I had seen a number of Civil War sites in other states before arriving here and this turned out to be a perfect grand finale.   We got to camp here with our son and daughter-in-law, Matt and Emma.  In mid June we traveled to the lovely Finger Lakes area of New York, camping again with Matt and Emma.   We finished up the month in New York’s Hudson Valley where a highlight was visiting Franklin D. Roosevelt’s house and museum.   Below is a photo of Matt, Emma and me hanging out at Lincoln’s statue in the town of Gettysburg.

We spent the whole month of July in Maine, one of our favorite states.   Could this be the most beautiful state we visited this year?   After arriving it looked so good that I added on another week stay for us, making the total five weeks.   While staying at three different campgrounds we explored much of the coastal areas including Acadia National Park.   The lobster rolls were pretty good here too.

August found us in New Hampshire for a week staying in the beautiful White Mountains.   We explored waterfalls, rivers, a scenic byway and I took a tour up Mt. Washington, the highest mountain in the Northeastern U.S.   We next journeyed to the very green state of Vermont for a week before moving on to Massachusetts.    In the Berkshires we visited the museum of one of my favorite artists Norman Rockwell as well as a very cool Shaker farm.   Moving to another campsite in Massachusetts we explored the sites where the Revolutionary War started and hit the Massachusetts coast too in Gloucester.   Below, a photo of me near Glen Ellis Falls in New Hampshire.

In September we landed in delightful Newport, Rhode Island, another favorite city and some of the best weather on our trip – a whole week of sun and no rain!   Here we found history, beaches, coastal scenery, sailing, fancy homes to tour and a nature preserve to walk.   September also found us in Connecticut with much to explore including a trip highlight, the wonderful Mystic Seaport Museum.   We next headed to the rugged mountains of Eastern West Virginia where we had some of the funnest days of our trip enjoying several different historic train trips.   Below, a tall sailing ship in Newport, Rhode Island.

In October we enjoyed the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina, driving the Blue Ridge Parkway.   We had a great time listening to old-time mountain music and explored Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited park in America.   We also traveled and stayed for a week in southern Kentucky where we saw our first moon bow and then finished the month in Tennessee with visits to the Appalachian Museum and other scenic sights.   Below, late afternoon along the Blue Ridge in North Carolina.

In November we started driving west with a stop on the Mississippi River and the city of Memphis as well as a stay in Oklahoma City.   We made our way through the Texas Panhandle, New Mexico and Arizona followed closely by snow storms and freezing weather before finally arriving back in California.   We had a smoky drive north through the state, the result of the Camp fire in Northern California as well as other fires to the south.   We enjoyed a stay in Chico visiting with my parents and a very nice Thanksgiving with family.  After Thanksgiving on to French Camp RV park where we have been ever since.   Below, Mark enjoys a sunset at our Mississippi River campground.

I hope you enjoyed a look back on our year of traveling.   Wishing everyone a very happy New Year!

Holiday Fun in Northern California

We have been staying at the French Camp RV Park north of Manteca for over a month now and really enjoying being back near family and friends!   It has been a fun holiday season and I thought I would share some of our activities and photos.   Spending time with the grandkids and family was a goal and we were able to share with them some of the season highlights.   Luke tried out for his church’s Christmas play and won a part.   The group practiced for about four months and it was quite a production with lots of singing, dancing and stories about the birth of a very special baby in Bethlehem.   In the photo above, Luke plays a cow and can be seen second from the right (not just a cow, but the head cow).   After the play we went out for a big sushi dinner celebration, Luke’s choice.  For a young guy, he is a pretty good sushi eater!

The day after the Christmas play, a group of friends of our daughter Shannon and son-in-law Jonathan got together at their house for Christmas caroling in the neighborhood.    I hadn’t been caroling in some years and it was a vocal workout and a fun night.   We had a good-sized group of adults and kids and we stopped at a number of homes and saw some amazing decorations and lights.   Hopefully we brought some holiday cheer to a number of families that night!   See photo below.

One night Shannon, Jonathan, Luke, Levi and myself went to the Folsom Zoo Wild Nights and Holiday Lights event.   We were able to walk all around this small zoo that was decorated with many lights and Christmas trees.   We weren’t sure if any animals would be up at night to greet us but we were in luck.   We saw wolves, bear, tigers, donkeys, raccoon, bobcat and parrots.

Our grandson Levi is in kindergarten and on the last day of school before winter break, all of the kindergarten classes put on a program for family members and friends.   They sang quite a few songs and really got into the holiday spirit!   After the program we were invited to their classrooms for many treats.   In the picture Levi is on the back row, sixth from the left.

We had an early Christmas celebration with Shannon, Jonathan, Luke and Levi before they went to Texas to celebrate Christmas with Jonathan’s family.   Our son Matt and daughter-in-law Emma from the Los Angeles area also got to join us.   It was great to all be together again!

We had a tasty brunch, opened gifts and enjoyed each other’s company.   In the photo below, Mark wears his chauffeur hat he got – the perfect gift since he always talks about how he is my “driver” as we explore around the country together.

The grandkids kept things lively as we ran around shooting laser guns at each other and watched them race their new remote control cars on the street – crashing, tumbling upside down, running into us and trying out new obstacles, like the ramp in the photo below.

We then played the fun Saran Wrap ball game which has become a bit of a tradition.   Shannon and I before the game wrapped prizes in layer after layer of Saran Wrap creating a big ball.   To play, the person next to the first unwrapper rolls two die while the person quickly unwraps layers.   Any prizes that fall out the person gets to keep.   Once the roller hits doubles the person has to stop unwrapping and pass the ball to the person next to them and then starts rolling the die.   This goes on until the ball has been completely unwrapped.   In the photo below, Levi looks at the treats he unwrapped with the green plastic ball next to him.

There were 23 at my extended family’s Christmas Eve and Christmas Day festivities in El Dorado Hills.   It was a delight to see and catch up with so many family members again!   On Christmas Eve Dan hosted a marvelous homemade Cioppino seafood dinner set up in his garage.   In the photo below, my sister Barbara, Dan and nephew Jesse get the crab ready.

After we all ate dinner we played bingo, a family tradition that has been going on for so long that I have lost track of how many years.   The fun part of bingo is the many gifts or prizes.   If you bingo you can choose one or steal someone else’s.   It got louder and livelier as the game went on.   The bingo prizes used to be primarily simple items and often times gag gifts that sometimes reappeared year after year.   But now they have evolved to becoming nicer and more expensive.

Christmas Day was at my niece Elaine and and nephew Phillip’s house and they put on quite a gourmet meal.   My nephew Phillip is a whiz at prime rib and he had lots of meat to get ready, two big slabs.

There are actually a few gourmets in the family including my sister Barbara who always makes large pans of the most delicious yeast rolls you will ever taste.   Her rolls are demanded for every holiday dinner, it wouldn’t be one without them.   In addition, she and my nieces made a fancy four layer mousse cake for dessert that took parts of two days of their time.   It was beautiful to look at and just as good to eat, see photo below.   Besides this cake, they also made two large glass dishes of trifle for Christmas Eve dessert – one was cranberry and the other gingerbread.   For those that don’t know, trifle is a dessert made with sponge cake, fruit, custard and whipped cream.

After all that gourmet eating and great conversation it was quite a switch to go back to our quiet little trailer and more simple food.

We had wonderful holiday celebrations and hope the same with you!

Oklahoma City National Memorial

The most well known attraction in Oklahoma City is also the most tragic – the National Memorial and Museum highlights the bombing of the Murrah Federal building on April 19, 1995 which killed 168 people and injured almost 700.   At the time, it was the biggest terrorist attack in the history of the U.S.   If I was to make a list of the top ten museums I have visited during this trip this would be on the list.   It is an exceptional memorial and museum.    One word kept going through my head as I wandered the museum exhibits, “powerful.”   The museum really brings to life the horror of this day and the aftermath for the citizens of Oklahoma City, a very sobering place and a not to be missed visit.   The original message in photo above was written by a rescue worker and is on the building where the museum is now located.

A visit here encompasses two experiences, the memorial and the museum.   I checked out the memorial first which is the former location of the Murrah Building.    Where the building once stood is now a field of empty chairs arranged in nine rows that show where victims were working or visiting when the bomb exploded.   There is a chair with the name etched of each person killed.

The reflecting pool was once NW Fifth Street in front of the building and at each end are the “Gates of Time.”    The 9:01 East Gate depicts the innocence before the attack and the 9:03 West Gate marks when healing began.

The museum is located in the former 80 year old Journal Record Building which sits across from the reflecting pool and field of chairs.    Prior to the bombing, this building housed a newspaper office, Masonic lodge and insurance company.   It survived but needed repairs and renovation before opening as a museum in 2011.

The museum has a large number of interactive exhibits and one of the first sets the stage for the attack.    I sat in a room with other visitors and listened to the only audio of the blast which was captured at the Oklahoma Water Resources Board Meeting located in a building across from the Murrah building.   The meeting had begun on time at 9:00 a.m. with introductory information provided until 9:02 when the explosion could clearly be heard followed by exclamations from board members.   Side doors of the room where I sat then opened and myself and others filed out to explore the many exhibits filled with photos, artifacts and information about the confusion and chaos that followed.   The force from the bombs collapsed almost half of the Murrah Building and destroyed nine other buildings in the vicinity.  Twenty-five other structures were also seriously damaged and across the downtown, 312 buildings had shattered glass and other damage.   Below is a photo showing the destroyed half of the building.

The museum has artifact displays brought out from the building including the rubble in the photo below filled with office remnants like a phone, reference book and personal items like an umbrella and shoe.   In the next photo you see a battered file cabinet and computer monitor.

Perhaps the saddest part of the bombing were the 19 children killed in the day care located on the second floor.   Below is a photo of a small shoe that was found on site.

One of the more interesting things I read was how location in the building could determine who lived or died.   Just stepping away from one’s desk to the bathroom or copy machine before the blast could change the outcome.   As the signboard pictured below shows, one employee survived while others near by did not.

Another factor that turned out to be a life saver was a change in work schedule that kept some workers away from the building for appointments or other responsibilities.   As I wrote this I thought about my own work schedule before retirement.    I am not a morning person and usually got to work about 9:00 a.m. which means if I was an employee at this building I would have just been getting myself situated at my desk when the bomb exploded.   Or if I was a few minutes late, I might have been walking in the main door when it was going off.

There were many exhibits about rescue operations and the heroes who spent days combing the wreckage, bringing out survivors and finding the dead.   I read in one account that more than 12,000 people took part as well as specially trained dogs.   On May 1, after a few weeks of searching, rescue operations ceased and on May 25 the building was demolished.   The most enduring symbol was the photo of a firefighter carrying out little Baylee who had just turned one year old.   She did not survive.   A sculpture was created depicting the event.

Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, army veterans and perpetrators of the crime were angry at the U.S. government and wanted to bomb a federal building.   The incident at Waco where 80 members of a religious cult died when the FBI stormed the compound is the incident believed to have set the pair off.   The April 19 date of the bombing was the second anniversary of the Waco standoff.   McVeigh drove a Ryder rental truck from Kansas and parked in front of the Murrah Building with explosives made out of all things, fertilizer ingredients.   In one account I read that McVeigh chose the Murrah Building because he believed federal agents in Oklahoma City had a connection to Waco and the building was an easy target.   McVeigh was arrested shortly after the bombing in his getaway car (above) which is exhibited at the museum.   He was stopped by an Oklahoma state trooper because his car did not have a license plate.   He was then arrested for driving without plates and illegal possession of a firearm.   In 2001, McVeigh was executed and co-conspirator Nichols was ordered to serve a life sentence.

After I was done with the exhibits, I took the above photo inside the museum looking out at the memorial and downtown Oklahoma City.   What a great visit – although it has been many years since the bombing, I am so glad I was finally able to visit this special place.

Thanks for checking in!   In my next post an update on our current stay in Northern California and family fun during the Christmas holiday!

Oklahoma City – Bones, Banjos and Beef

One of the more unusual museums I have visited is the Museum of Osteology with over 300 actual skeletons on display.   Many museums of natural science have some displays of skeletons but this museum is unique as it is only about skeletons.   There is only one other museum like this one in the U.S. and it opened in Florida in 2015.   It is run by the same company.

When I first got to the museum I was surprised that the building looked smaller outside than I expected, but inside it was packed with many exhibits on two floors.   The museum is quite detailed with skeletons of many animals seen around the world from large to small.   Although not an exhaustive list, here you can find displays from the families of whale, giraffe, hippo, rhino, elephant, horse, dog, cat, pig, camel, sheep, goat, primate, alligator, turtle, amphibian, snake, lizard, dolphin, fish and bird.  I found it to be a fascinating, informative and different way to look at the animal world.   There are also 400 human and animal skulls.

Upon entry I learned how the museum cleans the skeletons they get.   They use dermestid beetles which are nature’s decomposers.  They clean the bones and skulls by eating the soft tissue (muscle and skin) in all the hard to reach places, doing it quickly.   After the beetles are done the specimen is soaked in different chemicals to remove oils, whiten and sanitize the bones.    Although rather fascinating, I won’t be posting a photo of these beetles doing their work as some readers might find it a little much.

The museum came to be due to the efforts of one man named Jay Villemarette.   As a boy he became interested in collecting skulls and after graduating high school began selling skulls in his spare time.   In 1986 his hobby became a business in Oklahoma City called “Skulls Unlimited” which sold bones and skulls to interested clients.   That business continues today on the same property next door to the museum.   In 2010, the museum was opened.   This is a hobby and business I had not been exposed to before, certainly a unique venture!   Mark is a hobbyist and luckily this is one hobby he has not shown an interest in, at least not yet!   For those that are interested, the small gift shop sells some skeletons and skulls or others can be purchased through the business.

The American Banjo Museum has the largest collection of banjos on public display in the world. Located on two floors, I was amazed at the number of banjos that can be seen here, more than 400.  One room contained row after row, much more than one can take in.

Exhibits show the long history of the banjo and how the instrument evolved through the years. Starting with primitive banjos made by African slaves in the 1600’s, it moved from the plantation to the stage in the 1840’s with minstrel shows.   During the “classic era” of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, banjos became a popular instrument to perform in the concert halls by classically trained musicians.   In the jazz age of the 20’s and 30’s the best banjos were made with ornately decorated backs like the ones pictured below.

It was after World War II that the banjo found a new popularity with bluegrass music.   Mark and I have enjoyed a number of bluegrass shows featuring the banjo.   In fact, Mark and I met because of the banjo, but that is a story for another day.   Then in the 1950’s and 60’s the banjo was a favored instrument in traditional folk music.   The museum features exhibits of well known and famous bluegrass and folk musicians and their instruments.   The most fun exhibit is on Jim Henson and his Muppets creation, with a focus on Kermit the Frog.   Kermit was a banjo player and best known for playing and singing the “Rainbow Connection” at the beginning of the Muppet Movie.   It had been a long time since I had heard that song or seen the movie, so I was glad the museum was showing a film clip of it.

In the Muppet area is the Muppet Banjo, one of the most famous banjos originally owned and played by British musician Martin Kershaw.   Martin was part of the studio band for the Muppet Show.   Julie Andrews who was a guest of the show first signed the head of the banjo in 1977 and a tradition began.   During subsequent tapings of the Muppet Show guest stars including Gene Kelley, Roy Rogers, Johnny Cash, Elton John, Diana Ross, Peter Sellers and many more signed it until space could no longer be found.

For those that want to give banjo playing a try, there is the Learning Lounge with educational videos on how to play.   Visitors can also select a banjo hanging on the wall and follow one of the instructional videos.   Mark had been wanting to get a banjo for awhile and he was able to purchase one here, the exact one he had been looking into and it was on sale.    The museum staff were friendly and personable which made the visit even nicer.   One staff member named Lucas came down from his office to chat and brought his banjo to play for us.   At certain times Lucas plays in the special event room here which looks similar to the old Shakey’s Pizza Parlors that were popular back in the 70’s and 80’s.   Do you notice how his banjo has a honeycomb pattern on the head?   It was custom made for him because his family is the largest honey producer in Oklahoma.

After looking at bones and banjos it was time to get some beef for dinner!   The place that I had read about previously and people recommended to us could be found next to the National Stockyards in Stockyards City, a part of Oklahoma City.   Stockyards City was founded in 1910, built to serve the nation as a primary source for meat processing and packing.   Cattle, hogs and sheep were transported here first by cattle drive and later by railroad and truck.   The packing plants closed by 1961, but the Stockyards still operate with cattle trading and related businesses.   Stockyards City is the place that cowboys, cattlemen, ranchers and horsemen come to shop for clothing, equipment and supplies.   They also come to get a good meal like the one they can find at Cattlemen’s Cafe, one of the most famous restaurants in Oklahoma.

Cattlemen’s Cafe has also been around since 1910 and is known for their excellent steaks.   It had been a long time since we had eaten at a steak restaurant, perhaps the second time during this trip.   I am not a big steak person but I loved the steak I ordered here, it was so good!   It reminded me how great a perfectly cooked steak can be.    The atmosphere felt small town with the locals catching up with each other in the old fashioned dining room.

Thanks for reading!   In the next blog my favorite museum visit in Oklahoma City!

Oklahoma City – Capitol, Centennial Land Run & Cowboy Museum

We arrived at Oklahoma City, a place I had been wanting to visit for several years and the 31st state of our RV travels!   We stayed five nights and for me this became my “museum visit” because for several days in a row I explored five different museums, some of the best of our travels.   I was also able to add another capitol building to my list, bringing the total this trip to 13.   The Oklahoma Capitol has an unusual significance that you won’t see at any other – a working oil rig.   Standing in front of the building, it is named Petunia #1 because in 1941 it was drilled in the middle of a flower bed.   The Capitol grounds actually sit on an oil field that has produced millions of barrels over the years, more than enough to pay for the building.    There used to be more oil rigs but the wells dried up so Petunia is the only producing well left.

The capitol building was having major work done with scaffolding, construction signs, temporary fences and cranes all around.   There was no way to get a photo without all that stuff in it.   It looks like a beautiful building and I would have liked to have seen it “unadorned.”  Due to time constraints I didn’t check out the inside and besides with all that was going on outside, I felt less enthusiastic about trying to locate the entrance.

Located nearby was the Flags Plaza of Indian Tribes of Oklahoma.   There are many in this state – 39 tribal nations with flags marking each one circling the plaza.   Most of the tribes were forced to migrate here from their ancestral homelands, for example the famous trail of tears for the Cherokee nation.   Only five tribes are indigenous to the State.   The name Oklahoma comes from the Choctaw words “Okla homma” which means “red people.”    As we drove through the State I really got a feel for how many tribal nations there are as we kept passing signs that we were leaving one tribal land and entering another.

The Centennial Land Run Monument is an amazing sculpture display of 38 life-like bronze figures.   The land run was an event in 1889 when the unassigned lands were opened up in Oklahoma territory and more than 50,000 Americans rushed off to be the first to grab 160 acres or a town lot.   The Monument depicts how they traveled which was by wagon, horse or on foot.

The fervor and excitement of that time period is shown in the faces and demeanor of the figures.   Since the monument is so big I couldn’t capture all the figures in one photo, but here are some views.    More are yet to be completed by the sculptor and I read they could be finished by 2020.   This Monument has the largest outdoor display of bronzed figures that I have seen in my travels.

Twin Fountains RV Park was our home base in Oklahoma City and staying here came with a nice perk, limousine service.    The Park has two limousines, one for a large group and another for just a few passengers.   A driver will take you wherever you want to go within a four mile radius of the Park and I decided to get a lift to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, just because I could.  This is one of the best museums in the U.S. related to the American West.   I was especially looking forward to seeing all the western art displayed here.   This place is really big with so much to see that I was there for more than five hours.    Below, a photo after my limo drop off.

The centerpiece upon museum entry is “The End of the Trail,” one of the more recognized images of the Native American experience.    The artist, James Earle Fraser grew up on the plains in South Dakota where he befriended many of the Plains Indians, sympathizing with their hardships as their lands were being taken.   He completed this sculpture in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.

Another favorite is called the “Canyon Princess” featuring an 18 foot tall cougar.   Completed by a self-taught sculptor, 31 tons of marble was carved down to eight tons, taking more than a year.   It is a gorgeous piece of art.

The museum has a number of rooms filled with historic western paintings and sculptures plus art from current artists that are part of an art show and also for sale.

The display of fancy saddles was interesting but I found the price tags to be incredible.   For example, the saddle pictured below had a price of $41,000 and most of the other saddles were priced at $30,000 and up.   That is more money than we have ever paid for any vehicle.

Besides artwork there are exhibits of Native American artifacts and rooms full of all things related to the cowboy.   The Western Performers Gallery has displays pertaining to Hollywood films and stars including film clips and kiosks to test your knowledge.   There are rooms on the Calvary and firearms.    One interesting exhibit features the rodeo with video monitors showing and explaining the different kinds of events.

A recreated frontier town called “Prosperity Junction” (pictured below) has a number of buildings alongside a Main Street complete with the sounds of town business being conducted as I walked into the various store fronts.

Perhaps the most unusual exhibit was on barbed wire and the Museum has a collection of more than 8,000 different strands of wire as well as 1,300 strands on display.    In the photo below,  I pulled open two of the drawers so you can see how the wire is displayed.   I cannot imagine wanting to examine all the wire in this room, I certainly didn’t have the focus for seeing more than a few strands of it.   It must take a real aficionado for the subject, but I did find it interesting that there were so many, many different kinds to be studied.

Once I was done inside the museum there was plenty to see out back in the attached park including more sculptures and memorials to faithful horses and a bull, a couple even buried in the park.   All in all, what a great museum!  When I was done I called for my limo pickup and headed back “home.”

I hope you enjoyed a taste of what Oklahoma City has to offer.   In the next post I visit more unique museums here.

Beale Street, Memphis and Camping by the Mississippi

It was a fun time exploring Beale Street, the most famous street in Memphis and the place that has given the city notoriety as one of the best places to hear the blues in the U.S.   Here you can find lots of neon signs, history, shops, restaurants and music venues.    Beale Street became an active scene at the turn of the century with its heyday in the 1920’s.   But after the 1930’s with the Great Depression, the street fell into disrepair and continued to decline through the 60’s with some buildings torn down.   Luckily the street was revitalized in the 1980’s and once again became a popular attraction.   The name BB King is a popular one on Beale with not only this store pictured above but also the well known BB King Blues Club.   Mr. King got his start in Memphis and was nicknamed the “Beale Street Blues Boy.”   The name was subsequently shortened to “Blues Boy” and finally “BB.”

Over the years lots of famous musicians have hung out or played on Beale Street.    Elvis Presley bought his clothes on Beale from Lansky Bros., “Clothier to the King.”   He was just 17 years old when he wandered in the store and once he became a superstar Lansky made most of his outfits including a suit he wore on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956.    The store is still in business today with Elvis memorabilia and for sale some of the sparkly, striped and flowery suits that Elvis once wore.

I was really looking forward to hearing the blues and at Handy Park a band was playing.   The park is named after W.C. Handy, considered the father of the Blues with a statue commemorating him.   The band was great and it was fun to see some of the old timers dancing to the music.   The lead singer interacted regularly with the crowd asking people where they were from and everyone would clap and cheer.   When we said we were from California he said, “Okay, California here is a song for you!”   They then played, “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.”  For the Alabamians in the crowd they played, “Sweet Home Alabama.”

We even found entertainment in the street including this young guy doing stunts to try and drum up money from the crowd.   In the photo above he did a hand spring and shot over the backs of brave members of the crowd to oohs and ahhs from onlookers.

On Beale you have to eat BBQ which is good because BBQ is one of my favorite foods.   In fact, looking back on our trip so far some of our most memorable meals have been at BBQ places.   We have had delicious BBQ in Topeka Kansas, Independence Missouri, Baton Rouge Louisiana, Waynesville North Carolina and Charleston South Carolina to name several.   It is funny, but our least favorite on the road has been Mexican.    When you are from California with really great Mexican food, it was hard for us to find the same quality in the Eastern U.S.

We dropped in to the Blues City Cafe, an atmospheric place.   I liked the neon sign on the outside window advertising “Put Some South in Your Mouth,” an apt phrase since this place is all about Southern food.   Perhaps you can see the sign in the photo above.    I tried the ribs which is my favorite kind of BBQ and they were delicious and too much to finish at one sitting.   But as I have been known to do in the past, I left my to-go box on the table, so no leftovers (sigh).    A blues band was playing in the bar connected to the cafe and we took our dessert to a table in there so we could hear the music.   While we listened I couldn’t help but think that only two days before we had been listening to a family bluegrass band at the Appalachian Museum and now we were hearing the gritty blues!    It was a nice way to end our time on Beale Street.

It was great to be camping again along the Mississippi at Tom Sawyer RV Park in Arkansas just across the river from Memphis.   For those that might remember, we camped along the Mississippi in Louisiana last December.    We loved the campground there and spent lots of time watching the barges go by day and night and walking the long paved trail along the river.   The Tom Sawyer Park was also great, although did not have the nice long paved walking path.   But at Tom Sawyer our campsite was closer to the river, so just a few steps and we were there.   Below, Mark checks out a passing barge.

There is nothing quite like being by the Mississippi with all the river traffic.   I even like how at night while in bed you can still hear the distinctive rumble of a barge as it chugs up or down the river.  Evening is a favorite time for me and below are some photos of the river and campground.

Having a campsite by the Mississippi can have its disadvantages though.    Some times the RV park becomes part of the river during the spring season when flooding can occur.   In May 2011, the river crested to 48 feet, a record since 1938 when it was about a foot over that.   The park usually gets advance notice that the river will be flooding and can prepare by removing some things and then putting the park back together when the waters recede.   They can also alert people who plan to stay there that the park will be closed.     Here is a photo showing the high water mark on one of the buildings.

I would like to have stayed longer at Tom Sawyer but we wanted to spend some time in Oklahoma City and then leisurely make our way back to California, so it was just a short three night stay.    The day we left Mark had to get the RV ready to go in the rain, so he finally got to use both his rain gear and rubber boots.

Goodbye for now.   In the next blog we head to Oklahoma City!

Memphis Backbeat Mojo Tour and Famous Ducks


When planning a visit to Memphis, I knew I wanted to do some kind of city tour.   I found out about the Backbeat Mojo Tour which combines live music and narration to learn about the musical heritage of Memphis.   This had great reviews and sounded fun so I reserved a time for the three hour tour.   Mark planned to drop me off downtown and return later so we could explore Beale Street together, the famous street known for music venues and restaurants.  I should note that Mark does not prefer the big cities.   He was concerned after reading that Memphis was unsafe and didn’t want me wandering alone around Beale Street and the area while I waited for my tour to start.    I agreed rather reluctantly as I am a natural wanderer who really enjoys the big cities and is energized by them.   I have wandered by myself in such places as Old San Juan in Puerto Rico, the capital city of San Jose in Costa Rica, San Francisco, New Orleans and Minneapolis to name a few.

My first contact with a Memphis citizen was shortly after drop off when an officer on a bike stopped and asked me what and how I was doing in the city.   Now I am the kind of person that gets nervous when I see a police car driving behind me as I immediately wonder if I have broken some kind of traffic law.   So, this contact at first had me wondering if perhaps I was at the wrong place at the wrong time.   But this turned out to be a very welcoming figure who just wanted to know if I had any questions about Memphis and if he could give me some tips.   After this friendly encounter and my tour check-in I decided I had time to visit the Peabody Hotel ducks just a half block away.   Could these be the most famous ducks in America?  Or if not the most famous, the most pampered?   The elegant Peabody Hotel presents them this way and my guess is there are no other ducks in the country who live in a penthouse and each day at 11:00 are brought down in the elevator to the lobby fountain with great ceremony.

Prior to their appearance, the Duck Master decked out in uniform and holding a special cane with a duck shaped handle, gives a speech in a commanding voice on how the ducks came to be at the hotel.   It all began in the 1930’s when the hotel’s general manager and his friend returned from a weekend hunting trip in Arkansas.   They had drank too much whiskey and thought it would be funny to place some of their live duck decoys in the beautiful Peabody fountain.   Guests loved seeing the ducks and the tradition was begun.   Today, people line up along the red carpet and around the fountain area to watch the duck march.   I was able to see them when they first came out of the elevator and snapped the blurry photo above.   Five drab and skinny mallards quickly made their way to the fountain and it was all over in less than a minute.   This is such a sappy and overrated attraction that it is worth the visit to witness all the “oopla.”   People love the spectacle and stand waiting for an hour or more to get the best viewing spot.   Small children are allowed to sit along the side of the red carpet so they can see the ducks walk past.

At 5:00 each day the duck march begins again when the ducks leave the fountain and walk back to the elevator for the return to their rooftop home.   Ducks serve at the hotel for three months before returning to the farm where they came from.   During their stay they are considered “wild” and are not treated as pets or even named.   Above is another blurry photo of these ducks as they swam quickly around the fountain as if chasing each other.

The Mojo tour turned out to be a fun trip around the city with our musician guide playing the guitar and educating us on all the big named stars that had their start or at least contributed to the important music history of Memphis.   He played blues, gospel, country and rock and roll and we were encouraged to use the provided egg shakers and sing along as we toured the city.   We drove through neighborhoods including one where soul music developed and was produced at Stax Records.   We stopped at places of historical significance like the brick apartment building where Elvis lived with his family, practiced his music in the basement and played for neighbors on the front steps.   We got off the bus at the Overton Park Shell where Elvis got his first big break.   On July 30, 1954, Hillbilly Hoedown was the entertainment for the evening and the concert opened with an unknown local guitar player who was making his first live professional appearance.   Our guide told the story that when Elvis sang and shook his leg in time with the music the crowd went crazy yelling and applauding.   Elvis was confused why people were yelling at him.   The stage manager told him that the crowd was cheering him and to go out and do the songs again which he did.   One of the songs was called, “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”    People in the tour group liked posing on the stage for pictures using our guide’s guitar.

Moving on we saw the apartment building where Johnny Cash lived after moving to Memphis in 1954.   The building pictured below is still in use as apartments.

Perhaps the biggest attraction in Memphis is the National Civil Rights Museum where we stopped for a quick look.   Part of the museum uses the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, 1968.   A wreath marks the spot on the second floor balcony where he was shot.   I would have really liked to tour that museum but Mark and I didn’t stay long enough in the area to make it back.   Hopefully another time.

Our last stop was the famous Sun Studio, the birth place of rock ‘n’ roll.   It was here that Elvis Presley walked in, asked if he could record a song and a new legend was born.   Other stars also had their beginnings here such as BB King, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis.

There is lots of memorabilia to see including original recording equipment, guitars, photos, posters and records.   The studio guide took us around the building telling stories about the musicians and playing excerpts from recorded songs.  We were able to see the room where recordings took place and could pose for pictures with a similar microphone.

It was here in 1956 that Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins (pictured below) did an impromptu jam session and recording that became known as the “Million Dollar Quartet,” an important moment for rock and roll.

Thanks for reading!   In the next blog more on Beale Street and camping by the Mississippi River.

Green McAdoo Cultural Center and Common Threads

Mark and I often talk about the common threads that seem to weave through our travels.   We come across the same people or events as we move through the different states and regions.   This was true while staying in Clinton, Tennessee, a small town that has the Green McAdoo Cultural Center with important events related to Civil Rights.    The town of Clinton shares similarities to the city of Little Rock as they both had high schools dealing with issues of desegregation that made headline news.   Somehow I thought that Little Rock Central High School was the first to become desegregated since so much news focus was on the events here in 1957.   Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site is one of my favorite attractions since we have been traveling.   I was very moved by this site and all that the “Little Rock Nine”  suffered during the desegregation process.    But in the town of Clinton, twelve black students suffered similar trials in 1956, a year before the Little Rock Nine.   They were the first students to desegregate a state supported high school in the south.

The events in Clinton are portrayed in this museum, the former Green McAdoo Elementary School for black students.   The building that houses the museum shares a common thread not only with Little Rock but also the Brown vs. Board of Education National Historic Site we visited in Topeka, Kansas.   At this site we viewed exhibits in a former segregated elementary school for black students about the landmark Supreme Court case of 1954 which led to the order that schools be desegregated in the South.   Below is a photo of the museum building.

This is a small museum but a powerful one.   To commemorate the 50-year anniversary of the first desegregation, twelve life size bronze statues of the first students were created.   The statues are in front of the museum looking down on the town, a significant location because the students would have walked down this hill from their homes to reach their new high school.    Life size bronze statues of the Little Rock Nine were also created, another common thread.   They are located next to the Arkansas Capital building and I have a photo of them in a previous blog.

Although the Little Rock Nine experienced protests from their city and state from the beginning, the “Clinton 12” were able to begin desegregation peacefully.   For the most part, the community as well as the state of Tennessee were cooperative with the process as they wanted to follow the “law of the land.”   This changed when a group came to town stirring up the citizens with anti-integration information.   This was mostly fueled by one man, John Kasper, a white supremacist from New Jersey.   During that first week of desegregation, violence erupted with threats to the students and some of the townspeople that supported the students.  National Guard troops were called into the city to keep order.   In the photo above take note of the clock on the wall in the top righthand corner with the time of 4:22.   I will talk more about that later in this post.

One of the most ardent supporters was a man named Paul Turner, the white minister of the local Baptist Church.   He was severely beaten after escorting the twelve students to school.   Later in his church with his bruised face he preached a sermon called, “There is no color line at the cross.”

The high school principal, Mr Brittain was also threatened including demands that he resign from his job.   He reported that he would do so if he received less than 51% of the student vote.   The high school voted unanimously that he remain.   Many felt it was the positive leadership of Jerry Shattuck, president of the student council and captain of the football team that set the tone for the students.  He is pictured below second from the left.

In retaliation, white supremacists bombed the high school in 1958, with three bombs  destroying the building.   Luckily the bombings occurred during the early morning hours when no one was present.   The clock that I first mentioned in the photo above is from the high school and it stopped at the time of the first bombing, 4:22 a.m.   The identity of the bomber was never discovered.   An empty elementary school in the nearby town of Oak Ridge was refurbished so the Clinton High School students could still attend school until the high school was rebuilt.

The museum features a wall of original letters, cards and telegrams received in Clinton from all over the world.   It was very disheartening to read many of the letters against the desegregation.   The mindset of people from that time period and the language used about the black community was shocking to say the least.   But there were also letters of support and encouragement.

On May 17, 1957, Bobby Cain was the first black male student to graduate from a desegregated public high school.   Bobby was reported to say:   “It’s been a rough year and I wouldn’t want to go through it again.  But I’m not sorry that I went to Clinton High School.”   The following year, Gail Epps became the first female graduate.   She is pictured with Bobby above.

After seeing the museum, I wanted to visit a few of the places around town that also had some significance.   Mt. Sinai Baptist Church located up the hill from the museum became a place of refuge for the African American community during the hostilities.  Families living in fear for their lives camped out in this building.   Worship services are still held here.

Hoskins Rexall Drug Store has been a popular fixture in town for 88 years.   People love to come eat lunch here or have an ice cream treat at the old fashioned counter lined with many stools or in one of the booths.   Medical supplies and gift items can be purchased as well as prescriptions filled.   The store still has the same glass cases where merchandise is displayed.   It is one of those old fashioned places that is seldom seen in today’s modern world.   But a newspaper photo on display at the museum from 1956 showed a more troubling time for Hoskins.    The National Guard can be seen wearing gas masks and holding drawn bayonets in front of the store where a mob had gathered.

I walked over to see the rebuilt high school where the students attended during desegregation. It is now Clinton Middle School with a sign noting the struggle that students faced during that monumental time.

Thanks for reading!   Stay tuned for my next post on a fun day in the city of Memphis.

Obed Wild and Scenic River in Eastern Tennessee

It was a piece of good luck that we stopped at the National Park Service (NPS) Visitor Center in Oak Ridge (nickname “Atomic City”) Tennessee to find out about tours of the Manhattan Project where the atomic bomb was developed during World War II.   We found out the NPS didn’t arrange those tours but the ranger did tell us we shouldn’t miss the Obed Wild and Scenic River and Lilly Bluff Scenic Overlook.   After our stop at Oak Ridge we had planned to drive to Frozen Head State Park to enjoy some nature and walking in the forest.    But the Obed River area sounded like something we needed to see, so we decided to drive there first.   Above is a photo of me near the Obed.

The Obed River is a popular place for white water kayaking, fishing and rock climbing.   There are only a few accessible overlooks into the rugged canyon with Lilly Bluff the most popular.  A short trail leads to an impressive series of overlook platforms.   I was impressed with how the platforms were situated on large sandstone outcroppings with different viewpoints and benches.   The scenery was spectacular, better than I think the photos convey, but that’s the way it goes with photography.  The fall colors were starting to show which was nice as colors have been late this year and we were going to miss seeing peak color in Tennessee as we were heading west in a few days.

Spending time at Lilly Bluff Overlook was a really nice way to end our time in the Appalachian Mountains.   I was so glad we received that tip from the park ranger.   The photo below shows one of the overlooks in the top left hand corner.

From the parking lot are several trails including one to the Lilly Boulder Field Stone Preserve with its many rock formations.

These house sized boulders were pretty interesting and rather mysterious looking with some of them standing alone and others creating passageways of rock through the forest.   Supposedly they came from an ancient sea that once covered much of Tennessee.   This boulder field is now protected by the Nature Conservancy.

Kids would love this place as of course there are lots of rocks to climb as well as hidden areas to explore.   My favorite feature was how the trees grew on the boulders with their roots hanging over reaching for the ground.   It is always interesting to see how nature adapts in the most difficult situations.

When we finished up with the Obed River area we drove to Frozen Head State Park.   This unusual name comes from the Park’s highest peak with its cap of snow and ice during the winter.    I did a little hike to DeBord Falls one of two falls located here.   Since we spent time at the Lilly Bluff Overlook and the Obed NPS Visitor Center, I didn’t have time to hike to the second one.    As you might know from previous posts, it is hard for me to pass up seeing a waterfall!

This waterfall was small, but the best part was that I had it to myself, a first in my waterfall jaunts.   There were no people clamoring around the pool in front of the falls, it was all very peaceful.

I hope you enjoyed this post about our time in the Tennessee outdoors!