Mississippi Delta – National Parks Road Trip – Day 21 –Mississippi Blues Trail

Shortly after leaving for the day we arrived in downtown Texarkana, at the state line of the city where the US Post Office straddles the state line between Texas and Arkansas. A nice old lady who had come to pick up her mail from her post office box took our photo at the state line marker in front of the post office. Now that we saw the one thing to see in Texarkana, we moved on essentially driving straight through to Vicksburg, Mississippi (while going through Louisiana – my last of the lower 48 states).

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The Vicksburg visitor center, overlooking the Mississippi River, provided us information on the Mississippi Blues Trail. Outside on the property at the Visitor Center were cannons from the Civil War and a train crossing an old bridge passing a riverboat casino.

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We paused for lunch in Vicksburg at Rouxater, a small cafe and bakery. We ate chicken salad sandwiches with some sweet tea. The chicken salad was not tasty and it was on stale white bread. Ugh! We went to the Coke a Cola museum next door after lunch. It featured a soda fountain that used coke syrup to make the cola at the fountain. The museum had all the equipment from long ago to mix the ingredients. One bottle was made at a time to fill a case and then sent for delivery for purchase. Lots of other Coke items were seen as we wandered through the store as well as hundreds of old bottles of Coke lining the shelved walls. I have often heard of Vicksburg being beautiful but that day, and the places we went it seemed an old tired river town.

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Leaving Vicksburg heading north on the legendary Route 61, aka – Blues Highway, we passed cotton fields on our way north and listened to blues music by B.B King, Muddy Waters and others making our way through Mississippi, home of the Delta blues. Interestingly while it used to take throngs of people to pick the cotton, as we drove we would see one lonely, huge, John Deer combine picking the entire field with one guy sitting in the air conditioned cab (likely NOT listening to the blues).

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The Blues Trail led us to Rolling Fork where McKinley Morganfield, aka, Muddy Waters lived as a child. There was a bold blue marker with a small record at its peak designating it part of the Blues Trail along with a tribute guitar with Muddy’s signature and noting the town of Rolling Fork in one of his song lyrics. We saw the shotgun cabin where he lived. The term shotgun cabin came to be known from the way that a gunshot could run through all the rooms in a straight line since the rooms are stacked behind each other without a hallway and one had to walk through one room to get to the next room. The cabin was incredibly small. In fact, it was really only half the size of an actual sharecropper’s home. Rolling Fork also had a carved statue of Teddy Roosevelt and a bear. We saw bear crossing signs in the city limits.

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The cotton fields are bright white for acres in all directions as we drove on the Blues Trail Highway. A crop duster sprayed fields; it was truly amazing to see how low he flew over the crops. Huge machines picked cotton as we continued through Mississippi. Bits of cotton lined the edge of the road so I suddenly stopped the car and ordered her to go pick cotton. He wanted a ball of cotton as a souvenir and the joy of me picking it. She grabbed a dirty little ball of cotton left at the side of the road hoping that we do not infest the flora back home when we get there.

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We got to Leland, Mississippi mid afternoon to see the B. B. King Museum. The museum had a theater and a lot of history about B.B. King’s life and stages of his success. King’s real name is Riley King but he changed it when he went to Tennessee to start his career in music. He named his guitar Lucille when he went back into a burning building to save his guitar from the fire that was started by a woman named Lucille who caused a brawl between the men and tipped over the heater fuel that started the fire. The museum noted that King began with gospel music but when his gospel band didn’t want to go to Tennessee with him, King moved there on his own. He needed a catchy name for his new radio show in Memphis: “Beale Street Blues Boy” was shortened to “Blues Boy King” and finally to B.B. King. The museum also exhibited the hard times that King and his band encountered because of prejudice and Jim Crow Laws in the south. B. B. King passed away in 2015 and is buried on the museum property.

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Late afternoon found us at our hotel, a Holiday Inn Express in Greenville, Mississippi. As we checked in the desk clerk said ‘have you heard about our water here in the Delta?’. Why no – what about the water. It seems it has a brown haze to it (think Marty McFly in Back to the Future III when he is in the cabin), but they assured us it was safe, but if liked we could get some bottles of water for free – which we took them up on. And yes the water is a dirty color.

The desk manager recommended a BBQ diner called Tabb’s for us and we took off to find some good eats. We drove for a while but could not find the restaurant. We asked a man in the parking lot where we thought it should be and he said it closed down a while ago. I guess the Holiday Express needs a concierge. We drove to the end of town and decided on Revel’s Steakhouse, we both had shrimp. Our plates were piled high with so much food that neither of us could finish our meals. The rice had a distinct flavor that I did not recognize so Allison our waitress brought a sample for us to take with us. The flavoring is called Cavender Greek Seasoning and comes from the Ozark region in Arkansas.

We drove across town to see the mighty Mississippi River. The road led us to the top of the levee. The river here is stronger and wider than where we saw the trickling stream of the headwaters in Minnesota. I read a marker that noted the river rose 64.2 feet at this point in 2011 as we sat and watched the sun set on the river.

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Oklahoma and Texas – National Parks Road Trip – Day 20

Day 20 started out checking some of the sights of Oklahoma City that we missed yesterday, starting at the Centennial Land Rush Monument commemorating the 1889 Oklahoma Land Rush. It was at the edge of the Unassigned Lands reserved for the Indians where 50,000 people lined up ready to claim land for themselves. The land rush allowed Oklahoma to become a territory and apply for statehood with the instant increase in population.

There are 35 statues of men, women, children, and animals racing frozen in motion. It begins with a man firing a cannon to start the rush. There are a few statues of people already across the line, or Sooners as they became known who did not wait for the cannon fire. The Land Rush is one of the largest freestanding bronze sculptures in the world. As we left the park of the Land Rush Monument, we saw a single statue of Chickasaw, a native of the area.

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From there we drove to the Oklahoma State Capitol building, which is amazingly fronted by an oil derrick at the center of the entrance complete with the smell of oil.

Just down the street was a collection of Miss America statues at the Oklahoma City University. There to greet you are a trio of bronze statues dedicated to the school’s three Miss America winners, Jane Jayroe, Susan Powell and Shawntel Smith along with a walk of fame. I recognized the star of Kristen Chenowith on the walk of fame. How ironic that our road trip took us to the museum where earlier we saw the bus from the movie RV which she played the role of Mary Jo Gornicke whose family lived on the bus.

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South of Oklahoma City is the Museum of Osteology. The museum is the result of Skulls Unlimited, a business that processes the cleaning of skeletons and resells the skeletons or bones to schools, collectors, and labs. The business started when the owner was an seven year old boy and found a dog skull. His family encouraged him to pursue his interest and later in life he opened the museum to display donated and legally purchased bones and skeletons from around the world. A humpback whale skeleton suspends from the ceiling of the two-story museum. A skeleton of a giraffe stands 13 feet tall while skulls of hippos, elephant, reptiles and many mammals and fish are displayed behind lit glass. Facts about the animal such as diet and habitat are posted next to the skeletons. Approximately 600 skeletons were on display. Mounted heads of antelope, deer, and moose lined the walls of the lobby and gift shop. There are also some fossilized pieces from thousands of years ago.

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A video showing the steps involved to archive the white clean bones played. Mike Rowe of the television show Dirty Jobs featured an episode when he visited Skulls Unlimited to clean an elephant skull. I was surprised that part of the process was done by the use of domestic beetles to devour the remaining bits of flesh off of the bones after flencing. The bones then take a hydrogen peroxide bath to whiten the bones. Later the bones are put together into an action pose with rods drilled into the bones and putty. The skeletons are then placed in the museum as pieces of art.

Norman, Oklahoma is a city not far from Oklahoma City where the actor, James Garner is honored with a statue, as well as Oklahoma University, with an impressive football stadium

Another stop in Norman, OK was the headquarters of the National Weather Service, part of NOAA, at the campus of the University of Oklahoma. We got there about 11 am to find that tours require scheduling weeks in advance but security allowed us to skim the first floor of the atrium that held posters and monitors with complicated calculations regarding floods in Africa. The NOAA had images of clouds in a database detailing constant radar of weather around the world. Although our visit was limited, the building itself was impressive.

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Continuing through southern Oklahoma we found a small church in an old warehouse called the Lexington Worship Center, who has, for unknown reasons, a VW spider, literally a VW Beetle propped up on 6 giant spider legs. This seemed an unusual place for this odd piece of art. The artist must have gotten confused since spiders have eight legs. The hood is painted with two wide white stripes and two eyes where the headlights once were and it stands about 15 feet tall.

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Our next stop was at the Cloverleaf, a store in Ardmore, Oklahoma. The store is painted bright pink with pastel colored accents and lots of painted trash used as art inside and out. The entrance has painted bicycles of pink and green that line a circle driveway. Painted mannequins are positioned on some of the bicycles while dozens of pink flamingoes are planted in the grassy yard. Chinese lions and other lawn art are piled up at the front door. We found a variety of novelties inside the store. As we strolled through the shop, the owner’s pet poodles walked with us hoping for attention. A caged cockatiel in the back of the store squawked at us and said a few words. We did not buy anything but talked with the staff and petted the dogs. It was a nice stop to stretch our legs.

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We drove a short way from the highway to see the giant people, a quirky item posted on Roadside America. The people were indeed giant concrete structures in Gainesville, Texas. There are still a number of these muffler men as they are known throughout the country but here are five giant people known as the first ever public gathering of two Muffler Men, a Uniroyal Gal, and two Big Johns. These giants stand in front of the headquarters of Glenn Goode, the self-proclaimed fiberglass man. These goliaths are self-standing without guide wires. The size of these big people towered over a cow statue beneath them. Uniroyal Gal is 17 feet tall while the Muffler Men are each 22 feet tall and the Big Johns are both 24 feet tall.

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We moved onward to Paris, Texas, a town that most people have heard of despite its size. We stopped at the Visitor Center where Ken and Becky were glad to help and provide yet another t-shirt (Bonjour Y’all from Paris – Texas). They gave us tips of what to see and shop. Ken who is also a member of the Chamber of Commerce walked us around the corner to snap a photo under the painted Paris name on the side of a building. The word PAR*S is missing the letter “I” so that the person standing for the photo becomes the letter “I” in the name while and dotted with the star. Ken urged us to wear his cowboy hat to pose for her turn in the photograph, I passed but did wear my new Paris t-shirt. We drove out of town to see Jesus wearing cowboy boots on a gravestone. Under Jesus’ robe is the exposed cowboy boot and is one of the tallest gravestones in the cemetery. The grave is for Willis Babcock.

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We drove to the signature feature that best identifies the town of Paris, Texas. Next to the Love County Civic Center stands a 65 foot imitation version of the Eiffel Tower built in 1993. In 1998, as a response to the 1993 construction of a 60-foot tower in Paris, Tennessee, Paris, Texas placed a giant red cowboy hat atop the tower to outdo the Tennessee construction reaching its current height of 65 feet. The current tower is at least the second Eiffel Tower replica built in Texas; the first was constructed of wood and later destroyed by a tornado.

We planned our stay in Texarkana, Texas for the night at the Residence Inn. The hotel had dessert night when we arrived so we grabbed some super sweet chocolate cake and fudge for after dinner. Dinner was at the Longhorn Steakhouse.

Amarillo & Oklahoma City – National Parks Road Trip – Day 19

A cold, rainy , dark morning greeting us as we left Albuquerque for the long drive to Oklahoma City. Our route, I-40, parallels U.S. 66 the entire route, and most of the towns that have been bypassed try and entice you off the interstate with Route 66 kitsch. We finally succumbed to the allure at Tucumcari, New Mexico as we drove along Route 66. The town now seems vacant and most buildings are boarded up and dilapidated. We did see some Route 66 murals and signs of a once vibrant area.

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After passing through town, essentially non stop, we were back on the Interstate.Just before the Texas border we near Glenrio, New Mexico at Russell’s Traveland.  Here the owner has a private collection of cars and 1950’s memorabilia nicely displayed next to a 1950’s diner, novelty store and gas station.

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Next stop was Adrian, Texas, who has the appeal of being the midpoint of Route 66 from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California. It is exactly 1139 miles to each end of Route 66. The town had a few buildings, and a cafe. A historical marker noted the midway point while the exact midway point is also painted on the road.

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After a quick couple of photos, it was back onto I-40 headed to Amarillo, Texas for what I expected to be a highlight of a lap around America tour, Cadillac Ranch. It is raining as we drive down the freeway and we can see the back ends of the Cadillacs sticking out of the ground.

Parking behind other tourists making the trip through the mud to get a close up look at the Cadillacs, I schlepped through the mud to walk back to the cars. The Cadillacs were thick with inches of paint over every inch of surface inside and out of the cars. People who have visited from all over the world left their mark on these cars by spray painting bright colored graffiti and attaching items.

It was amusing as we watched other tourist trying to remove shoes caked in mud. The mud was so thick on their shoes that they had trouble walking. I foruntately had put on my ‘mudders’, so after a quick shoe change we were off again on I-40.

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On the south side of Amarillo, Texas is an RV museum, which is actually a personal collection at Jack Sizemore’s RV Traveland. The Sizemore’s began restoring and collecting unusual vintage RV’s over 25 years ago. They built a museum that houses many of the RV’s in their collection.

These include the Flexible Bus from the Movie RV and the first Itasca motor home ever built. The museum also had a great display of motorcycles that sat upon shelves on the wall, camping items, and 50’s and 70’s memorabilia strewn about relating to different campers and RV’s through the decades. All were open, so we wandered in and out of them for about an hour, including the retro RV driven by the Gornick’s in the movie.

We signed the guest book and pinned our town of Columbus, Ohio on the map at the exit. Two world maps were posted since so many people have come to see the museum and marked their homeland with a pin. Europe and the USA were jammed with pins but other countries around the world were pinned also.

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We arrived at Oklahoma City about late afternoon, and after checking into the Holiday Express in the old Bricktown section. As we walked through the city, we found the Chickasaw Brickyard Stadium, home for the Oklahoma AAA baseball team. It is a minor league team for the L A Dodgers. We sneaked a peek at batting practice before we were asked to leave. After dinner at the Bourbon Street Restaurant for dinner, we continued to tour downtown Oklahoma City.

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At the edge of downtown is the Oklahoma City National Memorial dedicated to the 168 killed in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and their families. Two gates tower at each end of the reflective pool. One gate marks the time one minute before the bombing and the other gate marks the time one minute after the bombing. The later time stands for the start of healing.

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A museum detailing the disaster stands on one side of the pool and black metal chairs placed in rows upon the lawn line the opposite side of the pool. The nine rows of chairs represent the nine floors of the building and each chair is the position of the floor for each victim.

The large chairs embody each adult victim and the small chairs symbolize each child victim within the building’s daycare who died. Five separate chairs signify those victims who perished outside the building at the time of the bombing.

As the sun set through the opening of the west gate, lights illuminated the chairs. Though the scene was a perfect photographic moment, the memorial posed a somber reflection for all.

 

Dallas/Ft Worth – August 2009 – A True Cowtown

Our last stop on our quick tour of Texas was the Dallas – Fort Worth area. Our hotel was way up in Frisco, and we spent one day in Fort Worth, and the other in Dallas so we put a lot of miles on our lame rental mini van.

Driving Through Downtown Dallas

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Minor League Baseball Stadium in Frisco

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Cowboys Stadium in Arlington

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Forth Worth is proud of their cows

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Dallas

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Austin – August 2009 – Going Bats in Texas

I had been to Austin in the mid 1990s but was in and out of town in just a few hours, so I really didn’t see the city. This time we had time to check out the University of Texas campus, the neighborhoods, downtown, the State Capital and the Congress Street Bridge, home of a million bats.

All in all I enjoyed Austin very much; I don’t think it is as ‘weird’ as Portland, as they often market, but it was a cool place to visit.

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