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!

The Museum of Appalachia, Part II

When John Rice Irwin, founder of the Museum of Appalachia set about collecting historical items from the Appalachian people, he was able to gather 250,000 artifacts during a 50 year period.   It is astounding that one man could accomplish so much and in the process bring to life the culture and daily life of so many people.   I think he summed it up well when he quoted:  “What better way is there to know a people than to study the everyday things they made, used, mended and cherished…and cared for with loving hands.”    In the last post I focused on some of the buildings he preserved and in this one I want to focus on some of the collections he amassed in three large buildings.    The Appalachian Hall of Fame Building gives tribute to the many accomplishments of these mountain people, some notable or famous and some not so much.    Different than many museums, Mr. Irwin did not make fancy signboards with computerized lettering and flashy titles for his exhibits.   That would have been rather difficult when the museum opened in 1969 and I liked that his original hand lettered signs and descriptions remain here.   It really gives a feel of an older time and place.

Although the many collectibles here are beautiful and very interesting to see, it was the stories of the people that captivated me most.   Stories like Dollie, 86 years old in the photo above who holds a little hand made basket given to her by a friend when they were both children.   She had gathered eggs in this basket for 65 years.   Or the story from Rowe Martin, a bachelor who used this chair to sit in with any women visitors.   In his 80’s he sold the chair to Mr. Irwin because he reported he was too old to be interested.

There were so many stories to read that sometimes I had to move on and skip some for the sake of time.   But some like the “The Thieving Pig Pie Safe” caught my attention.    Once located in a hotel dining room, the owner of the safe kept butter that he bought from local farms.   Back in the day there were no fence laws and cattle and hogs could legally run wild.   A big old sow ran loose in the town looking for scraps and garbage and smelling the fresh butter, learned how to open the front door of the hotel and also the safe, grabbing a pound of butter.   She would get caught with the butter in her mouth and be chased out with a broom.   Each time she got in to the pie safe more latches were added until there were three, but they couldn’t keep her out of the butter.   Problems like this finally led to the County passing a fence law.

Whittling or wood carving was one of the more popular past times for the Appalachian people and the Museum has many displays of this craft.    The wood carvings pictured below were made by a man named Dow Pugh who created many pieces of people, Indians, snakes, fish and birds.   He started this hobby one day after a log he carried in for the fire was too long so he left it on the hearth.   A few days later he got his hatchet out and started “hewing” on it, creating some sort of man.   “From there I just started fooling around with all sorts of things.”   Mr. Pugh was surprised when Mr. Irwin was interested in buying his pieces for the Museum as he didn’t think anyone would be willing to pay money for the things he did “just to be doin.”

Musical instruments were a mainstay in the lives of the mountain people and here you will find large displays of homemade instruments.   The unusual instruments were fun to see like the banjo made out of a bedpan (also called an Ukuweewee, in the lower part of the display case).   Several instruments are made from gourds, like the two on the top of the display and the one on the bottom in the middle.   And then there is the guitar made from the black commode seat, in the center.   They certainly made good use of whatever they had!

When you lived in a Tennessee hollow without a telephone and needed to call someone, what did you use?   Well, Granny Foust used this blowing horn, a very rare signal horn.   If there was an emergency she could call for family who were miles away out in the fields or hunting.   She could also call in the cattle or the hounds.  According to newspaper accounts she lived to be 115.  At one time when President Teddy Roosevelt visited the area she cooked him sweet potatoes, possum and cornbread.

There are many everyday items in the Museum hand made by the mountain people including baskets, quilts, clothes, furnishings, tools and pottery like the large collection of jugs and canning jars in the photo below.

Perhaps the display that surprised me the most was the eyeglass collection.   I would not have thought that eyeglasses would have sentimental value, but for the Appalachians they did.   When you saw a family member wear the same pair of glasses for years, it became part of their identity and something you did not get rid of after they passed.   So the museum has several display cases filled with many types of old eyeglasses.

Here was something a little different, a man who decorated his whole house both inside and out with polka dots.   Mr. Irwin thought that “Cedar Creek Charlie” was one of the more interesting characters he had encountered.   He never learned to read or write and after taking care of his mother until she died, he started painting almost everything in sight with red, white and blue polka dots or stripes.  Below is a photo of his bedroom.

Another unusual exhibit concerns Harrison Mayes, a coal miner who suffered a terrible accident and made a promise to God he would be a faithful servant if he survived.   He found his calling in 1917 as a roadside evangelist by erecting concrete crosses and signs on roadways in 44 states.   He made and installed them for 60 years, hand mixing and pouring concrete into homemade wooden molds in his backyard.   Using his truck, he set out for the highways where he dug holes nearby and set the crosses in place.

One of his signs was particularly eye-catching as he planned to not only place signs throughout the United States but also in outer space.

In the photo below are some of the memorabilia from Mr. Mayes, including the bike dedicated to outer space that he hoped to ride on the moon and many of the planets to erect his signs.

Thanks for checking in and I hope you enjoyed some of the stories and artifacts of the Appalachian people!

Museum of Appalachia in Clinton, Tennessee

Visiting the Museum of Appalachia was the perfect ending to our exploring the states in the Appalachian mountains.   Of all the museums we have visited on our travels, this is one of the best.   It is also the place to get the most complete understanding of Appalachian culture and daily life.   So, what is the Museum of Appalachia?   It is a living history museum on 65 acres that includes a recreated pioneer farm village with 35 buildings.   There are cabins, barns, a church, school, gristmill, smokehouse, sawmill and corn crib to name a few.   Many farm animals live here including goats, sheep, chickens, horses, peacocks and donkeys like the friendly little guy in the photo below.

There are three main exhibit buildings, the Appalachian Hall of Fame, Display Barn and People’s Building that house collections of photos, folk art, musical instruments, tools, and items related to the daily lives of the people.   There is so much here to see, that it takes the better part of a day.   And since I liked it so much and have of course so many photos I want to show, I thought I would write two blog posts on the museum.

Before venturing out to look at the exhibits we had an early lunch in the excellent on-site restaurant located in the same building as the gift shop.   The food is homemade country cooking and oh so good that locals come here just to eat on a regular basis.    We couldn’t resist coming back on another day to eat here again before we left the area.   Each day they have different plate lunch specials with a nice variety of sides to choose from.   The desserts are awfully good too.   In the photo below is a plate of chicken and dressing casserole, sweet potatoe casserole, turnip greens and cornbread.

On certain days the museum features live music and we were fortunate to hear the “Tenos” on one of our visits.   This family group of five gathered themselves in the middle of the gift shop and played some amazing bluegrass music while we and others ate lunch and listened.   In between playing, they posed for this picture for Mark.   The young man with his back to us played his mandolin the whole time with the gift shop’s cat on his lap.

The museum is in a beautiful forested setting and this was our view from the dining area looking out at the barn and gristmill in the distance.

The museum is the work of one man, John Rice Irwin, an educator and businessman descended from early pioneers in this part of Tennessee who acquired and moved historic buildings to this property to preserve them.   What is amazing is that he did this over a period of 50 years, traveling backroads and collecting thousands of everyday items that had belonged to the mountain people of Southern Appalachia.   It was important to him that the structures appear authentic, as if the families had just used or lived in them, so many of them are furnished in the period.   The museum began in 1969 with one structure and has since grown to many more.   In this post, I wanted to share about some of the buildings we saw and the interesting stories we learned.

Tom Cassidy was a musician who lived alone in this tiny one room shack for the last few decades of his life.    If he stretched his arms out, he could almost touch both walls of his eight foot by eight foot home.   Although tiny, it was enough for Tom who reported, “I’ve got that little cot in there, a chair, a stove for heat and cooking, a frying pan, a bean pot, an old dresser, my fiddle and my pistol.   What more does a man need?”   When the museum acquired the shack in 2007, it was just as Tom had left it.   Looking at the inside of this tiny dwelling made our small trailer not seem as small any more!

Located here is the cabin of Mark Twain’s parents who lived in “Possum Trot” in Tennessee’s Appalachian Mountains.   The Twain family made this home until moving to Missouri where the younger Twain grew up.   Speculation remains as to whether he actually lived here as a child or if he was born after the move to Missouri.   It was interesting to see his humble origins, especially after Mark and I saw the fancy home he purchased with his wife in Hartford, Connecticut.

The Peters Homestead House was built in 1840.   In 1856, Cordelia Peters, “Aunt Cordie” was born in this log house and lived here her whole life, giving birth to nine children.   She died in 1943 at the age of 87.   The house was donated by an heir and moved from the original location.   Below are two photos of the home.

One of the more unique exhibits is the whiskey still of “Popcorn” Sutton, a lifelong moonshiner who was considered the last living authority on the subject.   He wrote and published his autobiography called, “Me and My Likker.”   He actually built the still here on museum property.   In 2009, at the age of 62, he was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for his moonshine activities, but he took his own life before he went to prison.   His wife discovered his body in his Ford Fairlane and commented, “He called it his 3-jug car because he gave 3 jugs of liquor for it.”

At a young age, General Bunch helped his father build this house where he lived with his eleven siblings in two rooms.   The last time he visited the museum he talked of his early years:   “I was just eight years old, but I drug the logs in from the mountains with a yoke of oxen.   We had to walk twelve miles across the mountains to the nearest store where we could buy a bag of salt.”

I hope you enjoyed this peek at the lives of the Southern Appalachian people.   I will close with this photo of a wagon from a former medicine show.   These old time shows featured music and plenty of tonics to cure every known ailment.

Cumberland Gap National Historic Site

When I was planning our visit to Kentucky, Mark mentioned to me a few times how he hoped we would be visiting Cumberland Gap.   During our travels Mark has had few requests for places he is hoping to see.   He usually leaves that up to me and my “wisdom,” but the Cumberland Gap was different.   I think I missed learning about it in history classes or it didn’t make an impression on me, so it was here that I learned the significance of this place in the Appalachian Mountains.   The Park is situated in three states, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, with the National Park Visitor Center located in Kentucky.   We started there to get the passport book stamped, see the exhibits and watch an interesting film on Daniel Boone.   The mural in photo above is of Daniel Boone leading settlers through the Cumberland Gap in 1775.

At one time in the history of our country, the rugged Appalachian Mountains (photo above) were seen by easterners as a barrier to exploring and settling the country out west.   In the 1700’s this area was considered the frontier with abundant fertile land that was a draw for pioneers.   The Cumberland Gap was first used by buffalo and other game animals to cross the Appalachians followed by Native Americans who used the route for hunting and trading with other tribes.   It was subsequently discovered by hunters and traders with explorers like Daniel Boone developing the Wilderness Road to pass through the Gap.    Today, you can still walk the Wilderness Road and follow the footsteps of many former pioneers.    But before heading over to the trailhead, we drove up to the Pinnacle Overlook, one of the most popular places to visit in the Park.   From this lofty point, we had views of the Appalachian Mountains as well as views into three states.

From this point we were not only able to see the beautiful, wide vistas but also boundaries of the three states of Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky in relation to the Gap.   In the photo below is a rough circle around the Gap.   While standing here it took us a long time to figure out exactly where the Gap was, LOL.

Leaving the overlook, we drove down, passing through a mountain tunnel from Kentucky to Tennessee and the starting point for our trek to the Cumberland Gap.

Between 1775 and 1810, 200,000 to 300,000 people crossed the mountains here on the Wilderness Road into an area they called “Kaintuck,” which became Kentucky.   We learned that they often made the journey during winter time so they could arrive to their new land in time for spring planting.    Below are photos of our walk including a creek crossing on a log bridge.

I liked arriving to find this sign that we had made it to the Gap and who had passed here before.

We found a monument erected here commemorating Daniel Boone as a trail blazer.   Due to his efforts the first settlements in Kentucky were made including the town of Boonesboro where Boone established a fort in 1775.   Kentucky became the 15th state in 1792.

From here I continued on up the Tri-State Peak trail to the top where a monument has been erected for Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.   At this point all three states meet which is kind of cool to find at the end of a trail.   There is a view looking out into Kentucky but not as good or expansive as the ones we saw at the Pinnacle Overlook.   Below is a photo of the three state markers.

I thought I would close this post with some pictures from Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park in the town of London, Kentucky about 56 miles north from Cumberland Gap.   At this park you can also walk a portion of the historic Wilderness Road.    We didn’t spend any time walking the trails here, but we did stop to look at one of the more unusual collections I have seen – several dozen historic millstones once used to grind corn and grain.   They are lined up along both sides of the walkways leading to McHargue’s Mill.    We have seen a number of millstones throughout our travels, but never a collection like this, said to be the largest in the U.S.

A sign explained how the millstones were “dressed” and kept in working order.   Another explained where they came from (many from Europe).   As heavy as they look and weigh, it must have been a feat to get them placed and lined up here.   Besides the historic Wilderness Road and millstones, this park has another claim to fame.   In 1786 one of the most tragic events occurred in Kentucky’s history when 14 families traveling through stopped to camp and failed to post a guard for the night.   They were attacked by Indians with twenty-four people killed and only three survivors.

In the next blog I plan a post in real time on where we are now!

Exploring Smoky Mountains National Park – Part II


I commented in my last post that I was a little concerned about traveling through Smoky Mountains National Park because of crowds that would result in delays along the roads and parking issues.   It ended up not being that bad and coming in through the North Carolina side made much of the drive less busy.   When we got to the Tennessee side, it did become busier especially at popular hiking spots.   There were still places though to pull off the road and enjoy some serenity and scenery.   The photo below was at one of those places, a beautiful creek that was a very short walk from the road.   I met a family there and the wife told me that this is their favorite spot in the Park, a place they return to during each Smoky Mountain visit.

Moving on, we came upon a line of cars parked for perhaps a half a mile or more in each direction, overflow from a crowded parking lot at a favorite trail head.   This can be common in other National Parks, so no surprise here either.

The Park has set up “Quiet Walkways,” shorter trails off some of the roads where one can walk with less crowds to areas of scenic interest.    Periodically, we would see a sign for one of those.    We stopped at one that led to this delightful rushing stream in the photo below.   I had the trail and stream to myself until walking a little further when I came upon a young man fly fishing in the middle of the stream.

After my “quiet walk” we headed back the way we came on Newfound Gap Road, stopping at the Newfound Gap Scenic Overlook.   When we had driven past earlier in the day, the parking lot was very crowded and after some attempts and still not finding a parking spot we drove on.   When we stopped on the way back we were able to get one.   The overlook is noteworthy for several reasons.   it is here that the borders of North Carolina and Tennessee meet.

The Rockefeller Monument made from stone is located next to the parking lot and can be seen in the left hand side of the photo above.   Completed in September 1939, it was on this spot where President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated Great Smoky Mountain National Park in September 1940.   A plaque on the monument states that the park was given by the states of North Carolina and Tennessee as well as donations in memory of Laura Spellman Rockefeller by her husband John.

This is also the only place in the Park where the Appalachian Trail passes across a road.   During our travels, we have run into the trail in several different states.   In the photo above, you might notice on the smaller sign that it is 1,972 miles to Katahdin Maine, the ending point for the trail and a long trek ahead for the weary hiker!   I read that the Appalachian Trail runs for more than 71 miles through the Park and the highest point on the whole trail is reached here in the Smoky Mountains at Clingmans Dome which is 6,625 feet.

The road to Clingmans Dome leaves from Newfound Gap and in seven miles you reach a parking lot and can walk to an overlook at the highest point in Tennessee.   We contemplated driving up to this very popular spot, but I read reviews where people talked about waiting for an hour along the road to get a parking spot, so we decided to move on.   Above is a view from the Newfound Gap Overlook.

When people come to the park, they really hope to see wildlife, especially elk and black bear.   We didn’t see any bear during our visit, but upon arriving back at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center area in North Carolina we did see a herd of elk in the large meadow.   They tend to gather here in the late afternoon/early evenings and I counted almost 30 of them.   Fall is the rutting or mating season when the males make bugling calls to challenge other males and attract females.   Dominant males gather a harem of up to 20 females.   In the photo below, I watched a mother tending her baby.

Elk once roamed the southern Appalachian mountains as well as other areas in the Eastern U.S. but due to over hunting and loss of habitat they started disappearing.   I read that the last elk in North Carolina was believed to have been killed in the late 1700’s and in Tennessee in the mid 1800’s.   By 1900, there was concern that they could be headed for extinction.   The National Park Service began reintroducing elk into Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2001 when 25 elk were brought from the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area along the Tennessee-Kentucky border.   In 2002, another 27 animals were brought into the Park.

During our stop there was a line of people standing along the edge of the meadow.   The National Park Service has strict rules about observing elk.   Visitors have to remain by the roadside while viewing and cannot enter the fields where elk are located.   The Park website states it is illegal to approach within 50 yards and violation can result in fines and arrest.   I noted that there were some park employees along the road when the elk were in the meadow.   I have seen elk before in my travels, but this was the largest gathering I have ever seen.    It was neat to see them, especially when they are now making a comeback after being absent from this area for so many years.

Thanks for reading!   In the next post we move on to Kentucky!