Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A LARGE ARK PLEASE...UM, OKAY, MAKE THAT A VENTI

This is not a day to go anywhere. The weather front that has been lingering along the Kentucky Tennessee border, the one that did so much damage in Missouri has finally reached out and touched me.
It was inevitable. It has been held away from us by hot weather rising up through Alabama and Mississippi from the Gulf of Mexico. Yesterday and the day before the humidity began to fall as did the barometer. We all knew it would catch us. It was only a matter of time and attendant ferocity. The thunder and lighting in the dark hours of the morning told us it was here along with the flood watches and tornado warnings that attend such things. It will lessen today and resume tonight. We have been spared the worst—at least so far—and would be happy to miss the rest as it moves north and east. I am headed east so hope to stay below it until it has blown itself out. Rain suits will be the uniform of the day in the morning when we pull out with the hope that as we move into eastern Tennessee and reach the base of the Smoky Mountains we once again be in the clear.
We are settled in the Davey Crockett State Forest and Park, a verdant place on Shoal Creek near Lawrenceburg, TN with more tree pollen at present than can possibly be good for anyone. My neighbors include a pair of true full-timers and a pair from Syracuse New York who are on their way back for the summer. He eschews the title of full-timer because he still owns a house there, but they have been on the road since late fall. All a congenial companions and we all seem to be getting our weather information from different sources. NOAA tells me that tomorrow will be awful here which makes getting away problematic. Helen, the full-timer with a dog named Roy believes the worst is over. Tom, he with the two young a fun loving Pomeranians, thinks we will have tornados tonight which seem to worry him more because he just missed one in Oklahoma by two miles. It was first he ever heard and is less sanguine about getting through the night without a trip to the shelter.
If it rains all day, we will get very close to the Smoky Mountains tomorrow. If the weather improves in the Eastern part of the state, a stop at the Chickamauga Military Park near Chattanooga is planned and that will mean an overnight stop there before going on to Cosby which is in one of the more remote parts of the National Park. The weather is good there today and if the front moves north and east, will be when we get there. Cosby comes highly recommended by those who are regular visitors to the part. We shall see.
The Shiloh stop was both peaceful and sobering. I am posting some of the photos. The Military Park, which will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the battle on April 5th and 6th, next year. The history deserves to be read. It is well written by the late Shelby Foote and other far more accurate historians than I am. As with all the other places I have been and written of that involve that war, the ironies of the place are the fascination for me. Examples include:
--A drummer, the youngest known participant who was age ten, named Clem (last name) remained in the army and retired as a Major General 35 years later.
--Henry M. Stanley, who would famously find Dr. Livingston, was a confederate infantryman who survived the battle unscathed.
-- More than 102,000 troops participated in the battle, one of the largest forces ever during the war.
--The Confederate Commanding General of the Army of Mississippi, Albert Sidney Johnston, a West Point Graduate considered one of the ablest leaders in the CSA died here from a bullet in his leg. He had sent all his aides away to take messages to various regiments just before he was hit. Had he been attended to sooner, he would likely have survived. His loss is considered a major blow to the Confederate military leadership. He was succeeded by P.T. Beauregard, whose forces fired the first shot of the war at Ft. Sumter.
--The first field hospital of the war was established on the battlefield during the battle of Shiloh, the precursor to the modern MASH units.
--Because of the intense heat, the dead were buried quickly and in mass graves. The Confederate soldiers remain in these burial mounds today, while the Union remains were relocated to the Shiloh National Cemetery. There are two Confederates buried there. Both were prisoners of war.
There is much more about this now quiet, beautiful, heavily wooded place. It is reminiscent of Gettysburg yet there is no town of substance, only Pittsburgh Landing where Grant had crossed the Tennessee River in his quest to control the river and railroad trade routes of the Confederacy. It is not commercialized, and there is an apparent reverence for both armies not found at some of the other places I have visited. Two monuments to the CSA dead fly the “Stars and Bars” within the Park.

Here in Lawrenceburg, Crockett Park is here because its namesake settled on Shoal Creek and served as a justice of the peace, a colonel in the militia, and a state representative from Lawrence County. He built a distillery, gristmill, and powdermill here. He was well on his way to being a successful businessman when the flood of 1821 wiped out all three. Broke, he moved on to western Tennessee where he was elected to Congress. Fifteen years later, he was killed at the Alamo Mission while fighting for Texas independence from Mexico.
We will leave here tomorrow to travel as far as the weather and flooded roads will let us.

And so it goes...

Saturday, April 23, 2011

THE MUSIC OF EASTERN ARKANSAS

Friday, we made our way across the eastern side of Arkansas on a day that could have been painted for the occasion. After all the humidity and overcast skies of the last few days, a drive on U.S. 62/63 and a few state routes through towns with music in their names was a tonic for the annoying heat and occasional rain in the previous two days.
There is much green country out here. Jonesboro, the home of Arkansas State University is the usual urban mess trying to find a city center, but beyond that it opens into rolling hills, two and four lane roads with little traffic and about as rural as it gets. The County Seat of Marion County is Yellville, named, it is said for the first Congressman from Arkansas and then Governor, Archibald Yell. The story is that he offered the town fathers $50.00 to name it after him. They did, and he failed to make the payment. It doesn’t seem politics has changed much.

Yellville is famous for the Turkey Trot Festival that has been going on longer than any of us have been alive. It has been parodied on television and “exposed” in 1989 by the National Enquirer but survives today where every year they name a Miss Turkey Trot as well as a Miss Drumstickz—you can guess that one. They used to drop live turkeys to see how far they could fall without dying until they got too much publicity---it fails my imagination that one can be found guilty of cruelty to a turkey since they lack a brain—but the rest of its rural charms survive.

Traveling down U.S.62 is to move through the isolation and beauty of the Ozark’s small towns—most fewer than 500, some fewer than 200 that dot the landscape. Through the day we moved through Bull Shoals, Flippin (does anyone remember “Whitewater”—it’s still there), Ash Flats, Pocahontas, Marked Tree, Gooberville, Rush, Eureka Springs, Fifty-Six, and more. We travel as far as Paragould to a wonderful  state park called Crowleys Ridge. It was our last stop before Memphis. Built by the CCC in the Depression, it has been updated but not modernized. It is a wonderfully green, quiet, nearly empty place this week before Easter. Here, seemingly in the middle of no place in particular, you find a dance pavilion dating from the 1930’s, two lakes, trails to hike and wildlife to watch. The trees are near full here now while the dogwoods flower still. It is a wonderful place to be on an April day and for a pleasant drive where lunch can be enjoyed by the side of the road and time seems irrelevant to the journey.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

KANSAS AND MISSOURI

Darlin' we don't need a lifestyle
So throw all those chairs in the lake
We'll take our chances
In Wichita Kansas....

Garrison Kieller





Kansas on a Sunday. It seems it is always Sunday when we pass through here. After sitting out the wind, or so we thought, in Meade State Park, the departure this morning came early and under overcast skies. The plan was to cross the most southern part of Kansas since NOAA said the weather was good and the wind was down. Well, it was half right. The overcast skies wear present all day as was the humidity, but the wind was back, albeit not as strong, but 25 mph is enough to alter your driving.
There has to be a reason why I am fascinated by the small towns, farms and emptiness of Kansas (that is viewed as redundant by anyone who does not live here). I wish I knew. Perhaps it is the peacefulness that a Sunday brings. The machinery of agriculture is silent. The church parking lot is full, young families fill both restaurants by midday in town. The yards near the barns are quiet. Even the cows seem to relax, not move from place to place in a seemingly random manner as seems to be their habit during the week. Before the family went to church and on to the restaurant, or the neighbors they piled hay high to be enjoyed at their leisure and they seem to know it.
We have stayed a night in Independence, the place of the fateful failed surgery and successful replacement of La Coachasita’s transmission last year. It is warm, yet the wind was a sustained 25 mph at the Lake. We stay the night this time and not two weeks as before.
The weather may hold for another few days in that it will be dry but it will remain windy. We are in beautiful Blue Eye Missouri tonight and then on into Tennessee, passing through the very far eastern corner of Arkansas on the way. Rain is inevitable and the troublesome storms and tornadoes are facts of life here. There are warnings tonight and a few thunder showers. It was 80 today. It will be 45 tonight as the front passes.That's fine. It’s expected.
The route takes me through Commerce Oklahoma the birthplace of the late Mickey Mantle. There is an excellent sculpture of him in front of the baseball complex there. He left as a teenager and went up the road to Independence where he paid his first professional game.
The quiet of this year is significant. Whether is it the price of gas or just early, there are fewer out here. It will be interesting to see if it continues. Easter is coming, vacations for schools. I am glad the 346.5 miles f Kansas is now a memory. I enjoyed the peace, the lack of traffic, the view of the farms and their people. It is enough.

And so it goes….

Friday, April 15, 2011

BLOWIN' IN THE WIND

I have been on the road for three days.So far I have seen dust, wind and a great deal of Interstate 40. I decided that when I left I would not spend time in the desert. The weather is cool but incredibly dry and windy. In the northern part of both Arizona and New Mexico, all open fires are banned, and the people live up in the hills say the have never seen it this dry.

The wind became stronger around Flagstaff, AZ and continued all that day. The first travel day was long simply because there was little to do on a day that windy. The temperatures are cool and very dry, so night time lows are still in the high 30's. Chilly getting the van moving in the morning but otherwise quite pleasant.

Driving with a straight steering wheel has been all but impossible except at the slowest of speeds. The second leg was from just west of Albuquerque to Tucumcari. They closed I-40 for about three hours at mid-day because of the blowing dust. Had lunch in a rest area and caught a nap and then wrestled the wheel the rest of the way. This morning dawned bright and clear and calm. As we headed north and east on U.S. 54 through the rest of New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma the wind rose to a sustained 40 and a gusty 60. It is a road I have driven often. It is not a pretty place. There are feed lots where thousand of cows stand with their backs to the wind looking miserable. The horses, whose fate may be more kind, look no happier. There are many plowed fields on very flat land. When the wind is up as it was today, it is a risky place. The speeds are high, the truckers don't slow and we in our high profile  vehicles without much experience at this, grit our teeth and try to keep up.Happily, we reached Meade State Park before the gusts got any higher and as the evening moves to night, the wind is dying. We will stay here until Sunday as tomorrow is to be pleasant NOAA tells us and then we will move on hoping that another line of tornadoes has not been spawned and the howling wind will have stopped.

The pictures here are the four or so I have managed to take in this part of the"drive until you drop" leg of the trip. We will proceed more slowly now, weather permitting and hope to do more than drive and hook up the electricity and then eat and sleep.

Things will get better. Jim told me just this evening.

Monday, April 11, 2011

COWBOY UP !

“My Heroes have always been cowboys,
Still are it seems,
Sadly in search and one step
In back of themselves and their slow movin’ dreams.
Willie Nelson



The origin of the phrase that is the title here is unknown to me. It has replaced “saddle up” in the vocabulary at least for this week. It is what we are doing. A Marine friend--a former Marine, actually, but in their world they are a Marine forever—uses this expression all the time. It may be synonymous with the no longer politically correct “Man Up!” or it may, as Wikipedia has it, come from the rodeo, mainly among bull riders, who use it to mean get tough, or prepare to be.
Most men like to think they have a little cowboy in them. Generally they don’t, but they like the image. The mentality appeals to them because it gives the aura of independence, the lack of need for others, of finding their own way in the world, saying little except what may mean a lot. Most aren’t that way no matter how much they wish they were.
If you are little less fearful than others, never mind being alone, and have no idea what one’s real goals are in life until it’s too late to change them well, people like that are cowboys, too. Being a cowboy is a state of mind, not a vocation.

Yet I digress.

La Coachasita had a terrible winter, with a bad water pump, leaky roof, drain valves that refused to cooperate when replaced and other maladies. She is now well and says she is ready to Cowboy Up. She sits fully loaded with all but foodstuffs breathing heavily and figuratively pawing at the concrete driveway ready to do battle again.
The plan is to actually reach the Smoky Mountains this time rather than blow a transmission in Kansas, yet we know not what time and the road will bring. She is clearly aging and this may well be her last coast-to-coast trip. She wishes to reassess priorities when we return. Perhaps we will focus more on the Western States and British Columbia, taking more sedate journeys and staying in one place longer. She is tired of the longer trips across three time zones, tired of preparing for them, and neither of us is getting younger.
As long time readers know, these trips all have a theme. This one will be seeing many of the Civil War battlefields in the south that dot Tennessee, the Carolinas, and Virginia. We will go to Appomattox at the end of the eastward leg—perhaps someone will accept my sword in surrender. Davy Crockett’s Birthplace is also on the way and we will stop there simply because we can. The country is alive with Civil War re-enactments and doings this spring as the anniversary of Ft. Sumter draws near.
The Tennessee Smokies are a Double A franchise of the Chicago Cubs in the Southern League now after a 22-year affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays and brief two-year courtships by the St. Louis Cardinals and the Arizona Diamondbacks. AA Franchises have a habit of having working agreements with teams for short periods but are sometimes blessed with a long time tenant. I was last there in the Blue Jay era. They have built a new stadium which seats 8,000 in Sevierville which is cheek by jowl to the Smoky Mountain National Park. It is a storied franchise and a famous league (formerly known as the “Sally League” when it was A level baseball) having been in existence since 1896 when the tickets were 75 cents and a packed house of 3,000 came to Baldwin Park in Knoxville. I hope for a three game home stand. Some of the “boys of spring” will be there and I look forward to catching up on their progress.
Some of the other things missed the last time we passed through include a good deal of the Park with stunning waterfalls, the Vanderbilt Mansion near Lake Fontana, and the downright rural nature of the place. The Falls have wonderful names—Mouse Creek, Mingo, Juney Whank, Hen Wallow, and Grotto—are just a few.
The state line of North Carolina runs through the middle of the National Park. While it is the most visited National Park, it is also one of the youngest and the only one without an admission fee. As always, the reasons are peculiar. The no fee rule is so because the road that runs through the main “gap” in the mountains is U.S. 441, the Newfound Gap Road that was the main commerce route to the East Coast for Tennessee at the time it agreed to sell the land to the Federal Government. The deeding included the provision that “no toll or license fee shall ever be imposed” to use the road. While I-40 has long ago replaced the route, the legislature has never changed the provision. North Carolina transferred its section of the road by “abandonment” and no restriction was imposed. It is called a “Gap” because that low place between peaks in the South is called that instead of a “Pass” as in the West and a “Notch” in New England.
It is a “young” Park because it was created by President Franklin Roosevelt in when much of it was settled land. Unlike the many parks in Western States that were still on Government or vacant land, the land had to be purchased from states and private individuals to create the Park. Cades Cove, a farm community on top of the mountains was the community most opposed to the formation of the park. John W. Oliver fought to keep it out of the park well into the 1930’s. More about John later in the trip. The Baptist Congregation remained outraged enough to defy the Park Service by using the existing “Primitive” church in the farm community until well into the 1960’s.
It is another of those hauntingly beautiful places I recall from my trip through it ten years ago. Much of the beauty takes time to find behind the commercialism of the nearby communities. We have resolved to spend enough of it this trip before rolling north on the Blue Ridge Parkway and through the Shenandoah. The Western leg will likely be a northern one with maybe a little of Canada and old friends along the way.
We’d be pleased to have you with us, my faithful iron Lady and me. We have a new traveling companion. “Jim,” a Gnome who watches over us from the dashboard when we stop at night. He is also known as Santiago in deference to my traveling companion’s preference for things Spanish. He’s a cowboy. Never says much, just stands there with his hands in his pockets with a smile and a twinkle in his eye.
So saddle up and come along, we’ll be glad for the company and will try to amuse, enlighten, or inform as we travel the back roads from here to there by way of the any excellent adventure we may find up arround the bend.