Now some of you may have noticed that we had already uploaded this post about two weeks ago and some were even kind enough to make comments. However, due to the magic of the internet (which has been less than consistent in its coverage despite the most expensive data sim card to date!!!), it vanished leaving no trace of it’s existence in any way or form along with your comments
!!! So we are having another go and hope this one might stick around???
Travelling the length of the Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park, south from the small town of Front Royal, Virginia, we enjoyed a relaxed pace along quiet roads. Overall however, the scenery was not on the scale of grandeur that I’d been expecting – just a nice pleasant route to follow and certainly better than travelling the interstate!!
What I was feeling vindicated about, however, was the decision to ship the Patrol into Baltimore rather than Halifax. The weather certainly had not made much headway toward the warmth we had hoped to encounter during spring.
Camping at a site called Lewis Mountain, we experienced -5.5 Celsius and winds approaching 70 mph! Rather unpleasant all around and that observation was easily backed up by the fact the almost full campsite the previous evening was devoid of patrons as morning broke!
As we continued south, the Skyline Drive morphed into the Blue Ridge Parkway Drive, losing its National Park status. As such, I was expecting a transit along less attractive countryside but was more than pleasantly surprised to find it quite a bit more scenic– well in my opinion anyway!
One of the more interesting experiences to date was a quick resupply at a Walmart, providing us with our first taste of American civilian gun culture! Certainly the first time anywhere in the world that I’ve travelled where I’ve observed a woman grocery shopping with her children whilst sporting a handgun on her belt! Nice to see it secured tightly in place, partly due to the fact her belt was a few holes too tight, but hey, I guess muffin tops are in fashion and can be useful!
Not being naive to the fact that such a culture exists in the US, it’s still quite odd for us, seeing firearms displayed in public in such a manner. It does sadden me to think that some locals feel so frightened within their own community that they feel they need to trust in carrying a firearm! I just can’t imagine loading and holstering a 9mm Glock before going down to Woolworths to pick up some milk!!
Off course there will always be conflicting opinions on this subject and it is every nations right to choose their own path.
Being in need of butane cannisters, we were on a little bit of a shopping hunt, which led us to an “Outdoor World/Bass Pro Shop”! Absolutely unbelievable!!! I’ll not even try to explain the shopping experience that awaits consumers in such establishments. The pictures might help a little…
We headed westward toward Daniel Boone country and Cumberland Gap National Park. The Park encompasses the aforementioned “gap” in the Appalachian Mountains where Daniel Boone managed to find a passage west after following the native Indians along a trading path. It was at this park that we found ourselves in stitches of laughter as a Park Police Officer entertained us.
Before I go on, I’ll have to explain the Park Police idea here in the US. Along with National Park Rangers, these guys provide a Police Service to the National Parks. As they are Federal officers rather than state, they have powers on a national level and across state borders. Having police cruising campgrounds whilst armed with Tazers and handguns, hand cuffs and protected with bullet proof vests (we should note here that he pointed out that wearing his bullet proof vest inside his shirt avoided assailants knowing that they should shoot him in the head!!!), oh and not forgetting the AR15 assault rifle, pump action shot gun and the considerable armoury of ammunition preloaded in clips in the police vehicle along with who knows what else, is also a surprise to us Aussies!
Imagine that at Kakadu or on Fraser Island?? Still I guess we’d have less people dodging the honor box at some campsites!! Hahaha
Anyway this guy was hilarious. His animated description of the local hill folk along with so many other dissections of some portions of American life and personal experiences made for an entertaining afternoon!!
Great Smokey Mountains National Park was next in our sights and finally we had the chance to travel some dirt roads within the park and walk some interesting hiking trails
There is an obvious gap between the haves and have-nots as you wander the backcountry. From magnificent log mansions nestled amongst acres of stunning green undulating terrain, to the other end of the spectrum – acres of stereotypical trailer park homes with corrugated iron fixed in various ways in an attempt at covering the chassis to conceal their mobile beginnings I guess.
They come in all shapes and sizes, some quite attractive and modern along with those examples that haven’t seen any form of maintenance since they departed the factory!
Many are obviously not weather tight and many have sunken and degraded foundations causing them to be far from level platforms to live in (guess the rain runs off better that way!!) Much of the time, even the most derelict building that you’d surely think condemned, will show the obvious signs of habitation, generally demonstrated in the form of a very expensive or late model car out front or maybe even a classic American Muscle car completely restored! Initially I wasn’t sure if my observations were just, however I’ve had it confirmed to me on numerous occasions by locals, that yes, a $60 000 Dodge Ram is far more important than a watertight healthy living space!
Still the Americans certainly are a very patriotic bunch with the Red White and Blue proudly displayed no matter the home. I haven’t seen such open patriotism since our travels in Russia.
Another observation is the amount of dead and decaying cars scattered amongst not only these lower economic areas, but also regularly viewed on expensive acreage, to the point where the quantity of wrecks must almost be viewed as some sort of status symbol.
Onward through Cherokee Indian Land and our first observation of how the Casino Industry has transformed the freedom to gamble on such native lands into a multi million-dollar venture! Huge hotel structures with “—- Casino” emblazened across the facade and in most cases RV parking right next door crammed full of fifth wheel’s and motor homes – shuttle buses running the hopeful punters back and forth as they pursue their chance at the big time…
Following the very scenic Ocoee River, we were rewarded with gorgeous views and watched on as large groups of white water rafting enthusiasts bobbed along. I could only guess at the competition between the many companies advertising adventure sports and rafting as we traversed the valley – how steep the competition must be during those few months of activity.
Spotting a supermarket called Piggly Wiggly and needing a few items, we just had to try out a store with such a name! Turns out that in 1916 it was dubbed the world’s first “supermarket” by offering self-service shopping such as we all enjoy today! Just a little trivia to keep you enthralled…
Through Chattanooga (choo-choo) and, well, that’s about as exciting as we found this well-known town.
Lynchburg, home of Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey, was next. We enjoyed a tour of the distillery and a wander around the historic town, which was really nice.
I do have to recount one conversation that we had at the distillery however. We purchased a bottle of “Gentleman Jack” at the cellar door where they offer a service where by they can etch the bottle with text and or a logo. Of course we opted for GLOBATROL as the text and were perusing the clipart with the assistance of a young sales girl, looking for something that might enhance it further. The sales girl suggested an outline of the State of Tennessee and we considered the fact that it might look quite good!
Jen pointed out, however, that just an outline of the State wouldn’t be obviously recognizable to anyone at home as being the State of Tennessee to which the sales girl replied – “well I don’t know what it’s like in your country, but here we have to learn that in school so everyone will know it’s the outline of Tennessee!” Now had I been a little faster off the mark, instead of staring at her and wondering if I’d heard correctly, I’d like to have suggested she draw the State of Western Australia for me! We can all guess the result that would have had!
I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt though, as she was quite young and hopefully will come to understand that there is a wide world out there full of other wondrous things!
Continuing west we visited many quintessential American towns and ended the day camped on the Natchez Trace Parkway, An historic Native American Indian trading route, camped at a site called Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clarke expedition notoriety. The expedition basically opened up the country west of the Mississippi.
Arriving in Memphis and it was straight to Graceland, home of the King, which was far better than I’d expected, as I’m not a huge Elvis fan. I do have a lot more admiration for his career and the man himself now that I’ve enjoyed the experience.
There is also another Bass Pro shop in Memphis – unbelievable and there are others yet to visit!
Trusting our SatNav to Guide us south, led us through some less than desirable suburbs not far from downtown Memphis and was the first time since leaving Australia that we felt it prudent to lock the doors on the car as we transited.
Having survived the foray into dodgy territory, we couldn’t visit Memphis without sampling some famous Memphis BBQ and we chose Marlowe’s, which we had seen on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-in’s and Dives.” Disappointed we were not! Delectable dry rubbed bbq pork ribs, coleslaw and baked beans the likes of which we had never tasted before! We crawled out the door a while later and no – we didn’t finish it all but they obligingly packed the remains into a doggy bag for us to enjoy later!
South along the grand Mississippi River and I was surprised to find that viewing this snaking body of water is all but impossible as it’s bordered both sides by a levee bank to provide flood defences – guess I should have researched it a little better! It wasn’t overly easy finding campsites either as we descended south. There had recently been very heavy rains and flooding in the area and as such nearly all of the small campgrounds along the route were well and truly under water. It did however provide us with the opportunity to camp in a bayou and experience some very loud splashes and unusual noises during the hours of darkness – I locked the back door that dark night.
Vicksburg and Natchez were inviting towns along the drive south and afforded us a nice glimpse of southern life before we made our way into New Orleans.
We caught the historic Algiers Ferry across the Mississippi and arrived right in the heart of the downtown New Orleans.
Now this is a district that I’m sure if you’ve not visited, you’ve probably heard about. Bourbon Street, in the French Quarter, is supposed to be the main attraction but personally, I couldn’t get out of there quick enough – nothing like the stench of stale urine, homeless folk everywhere and a sleezy bar scene, mixed with a good percentage of weirdo’s and those only interested in separating you from your cash! A tourist destination not to be missed??
However just south of this tourist trap street, there are some exquisite historic streets lined with lovely architecture toting café’s and quaint little shops and galleries and an open air plaza providing a space for artists, street performers and musicians to captivate you as you wander around. So in the end, the French Quarter in New Orleans was well worth the effort but I expect it will be my only visit.
North of New Orleans along the Mississippi sits a string of grand houses from the days of slavery and sugar cane plantations. Most have been restored or converted into upmarket venues or period tourist attractions, whilst some still remain in private hands as residences.
Evergreen is one of the few more original plantation houses and also has the largest surviving group of original slave quarters. We ended up being on a tour with a group of school students and were the only ones not associated with the school! I was less than excited about that idea when we bought the tickets but as it turned out, they were not only extremely well behaved, but we were able to glean a little more information than the general tour as the guide and teacher went to great depths to explain the goings on in those days.
Evergreen is also a favourite film location for film-makers for films such as Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” due to its original state. Evergreen had only just reopened after filming a remake of “Roots” with Forrest Whitaker. As the crew were just cleaning up when we arrived, we enjoyed an interesting chat with some of them.
Onward thorough the land of the “Swamp People” (yep, where they actually live!) and a deviation allowed us our first view of the Gulf of Mexico and a look at some amazing homes erected on hefty stilts due to the obvious flood risk and built along small waterways that provides them easy access to the sea.
A brief stint on the Interstate (not a pleasurable way to travel) as we made for Texas and the sky told us that a change in the weather was imminent – from blue to black with solid rain and heavy winds. Thankfully we dodged most of the nasty weather that tormented Houston with flooding and it was a reminder of how nasty the elements can be!
In East Texas, we had a terrific encounter with first hand UFO witnesses and a discussion on Satan’s army and his plans for sapping strength from the USA with his gang of Giant Fallen Angel beings!
I kid you not……..Stay tuned for details but before we sign off here are some random snaps to keep you entertained…
Cheers for now