By June Turner
Special to Okanogan Living
Fifteen thousand, six hundred eighty miles ago we left Okanogan on a road trip to the southeastern United States. And what a trip it was.
We left on Jan. 20 and arrived home April 5, exactly two and a half months later. Our goal was to see some of the states we had not been to before, visiting state capitols, National Parks, historical monuments and presidential libraries.
We have passport books for all of these and so received several new stamps in them. And, being a history buff, all the history we could absorb. And we absorbed a colossal amount.
We had been to Georgia on our honeymoon in 2011 and to South Carolina for our first anniversary and fell in love with the South and had to go back. We stayed in motels all the way. In fact, the question we were asked over and over was if we were in an RV. Nope. Was it always a slam dunk? Not hardly!
We had planned on zipping down the highway until we reached north central Arkansas. Since we have gone through a lot of the Western states several times and were wanting to avoid winter weather, we decided to go the most direct route to southern Kansas and follow the road across from there, it being a road we had not been on before. That was fine except for southern Idaho. Oh my gosh! Slick is a far understatement. Accidents all over. Thankfully, we made it without incident.
When we travel, we stick to the back roads as much as possible, stopping in small towns along the way. We feel like this is where you really get to see America at its best and get a chance to visit with some wonderful people. Back roads are easy in central Arkansas; that’s all there is.
It’s very pretty country, although would probably have been better with leaves on the trees. That is something we found all along the way on this trip. On the other hand, as my husband Wayne pointed out, I was able to get photos that would have been blocked by trees at a different time of the year. Also, our plan of getting away from the cold did not pan out too well.
It followed us everywhere we went, except for Florida. There were very few days when I did not wear a coat. As always, there were mishaps along the way, and the first happened right away.
Our cooler got switched to hot overnight. Pretty much tossed away the entire contents. Including meat. But we made sure it never happened again.
From Arkansas it was into Louisiana. The Cane River area and Natchitoches (which I can now pronounce) in the north central area was one of our favorites. Beautiful country. We enjoyed the Baton Rouge area, especially the USS Kidd destroyer and several plantation houses.
The Tabasco tour on Avery Island was informative and fun. And at a little hole-in-the wall cafe in the Mississippi delta town of Venice I had the best grilled shrimp and catfish I have had in my life!
New Orleans, though, you can keep. Loud and dirty. It’s one of those places that I can say been there, done that, never need to go back.
From there it was into Mississippi and the capitol at Jackson. We had been to Natchez before, so we skipped it this trip, although it is a favorite. We drove up to Holly Springs in the north just because I had read that the town maintained a plethora of houses from the 1800s, with 64 homes on the National Register of Historic Places. And hey, gas was still cheap then. Anyway, it definitely did not disappoint.
The museum there is probably in my all-time top ten, mostly because of all the vintage dresses and quilts. A stop in Starkville at Mississippi State University for the President Grant Presidential Museum. Two bonuses there were the Music Player Collection and the John Grisham Room.
Then there was the whole parking lot issue that we don’t talk much about. From there we wound our way south through little towns, stopping wherever along the way.
Our next goal in Mississippi was Laurel, hometown of HGTV’s Home Town with Ben and Erin. It was just by chance that we got there on the day of the town’s chili cookoff. I called it quits after sampling about 25 different varieties of chili. And—it was a nice warm day. Our other interesting stop in Mississippi was in Biloxi at the Jefferson Davis Presidential Museum. Very well done and informative. Also, there is Beauvoir, the home Jefferson Davis lived in after he was released from jail until his death. All in all, Mississippi is a great state to visit.
Alabama was not our favorite state, but it did have some high points, plus it was a state we had not been in before. The Tuskegee Airmen Museum is a must see. A lot of history there. Of course, the capitol at Montgomery was a must and the state history museum, along with several other historical sites.
Our favorite city in Alabama was Mobile. As stated, we are not city people, but we thoroughly liked what it had to offer.
We learned that Mobile is the actual home of Mardi Gras, not New Orleans. And what a contrast. We toured the USS Alabama battleship and the submarine USS Drum there with it. Must stops for anyone. And the Mardi Gras Museum. Oh my! All the costumes are really over the top. Completely unexpected. Loved it. Also did one of our favorite house tours there.
Florida was disappointing - to say the least.
Our overall impression was people, cars and freeways. And, of course, very expensive.
The capitol at Tallahassee was our least favorite of any of the 34 capitols we have seen. It’s looks like a modern office building. We did enjoy going through the old capitol building. Florida had some highlights, though.
The Ringling Museum and Ca’d’Zan, home of one of the Ringling brothers, and the art museum there which rivals some we have seen in Europe. The Thomas Edison and Henry Ford winter homes and museum were wonderful; the dolphin cruise; alligators and manatees.
Key West was another been there, done that, never need to go back. And it was on my bucket list.
St. Augustine was wonderful, hopefully will go back some day. But the highlight of Florida was the personal airboat ride that we got in the north central part of the state.
We had tried since Louisiana to do an airboat tour and it just never worked out, and then this just fell into our laps. Oh, my gosh! It was great. If you want to see Wayne with a big grin on his face, just mention it to him. And, of course, our flat tire happened in Florida.
What a chore to unload the car to get to the spare which we didn’t need because there was a tire repair shop on the other side of the motel. Praise God for small favors.
We made a quick dash into South Carolina to the capitol.
We had not visited them yet when we were there before, so we detoured this time to get our passport stamp. It was one of our favorites.
On to Georgia for the same reason, the capitol and Jimmy Carter’s Presidential Museum at Atlanta. Because they were predicting snow up north the way we had planned on going, we went aways south instead and went to FDRs Little White House. Definitely a trip highlight.
From there we went to northern Alabama to the Unclaimed Baggage Center. This was another bucket list item and so much fun. Covered bridges and waterfalls, both loves of ours, and it was over to northern Georgia. Chickamauga Civil War Battleground was another favorite stop. And more waterfalls. Northern Georgia is quite beautiful.
Then it was on to Tennessee, another new state for me, by way of the Great Smoky Mountains and another stamp in the National Park Passport book. It was not very attractive with bare trees and very cold.
Our favorite part of the park was Cades Cove. Lots of log houses and buildings from the 1800’s when it was settled plus beautiful scenery along the way. It was a whole day trip.
Our home base while there was Gatlinburg, and since a whole lot of schools were on spring break, the town was packed.
We did manage to get in two separate moonshine tastings while there. After that, who cared about all the people? Not us!
Then it was on to Dandridge, the home of Bush’s Beans and the best ever Chocolate Pinto Bean Pecan Pie. Ever!
In Lynchburg it the Jack Daniel’s distillery tour. Another great tour, with tastings after. Wayne enjoyed this one more than I did.
We stayed several nights in Franklin, just south of Nashville. So much civil war history in that area, we toured three houses that were involved in the war in one way or another. Then to a Confederate Civil War Museum presenting the southern perspective, President James Polk’s house tour, and Andrew Jackson’s The Hermitage. After all that history it was to the capitol at Nashville (and it’s about 200 steps to get up to it) and downtown Nashville. Can you say one expensive town?
We did enjoy the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Ryman Theater. We saw where Whoopie Pies are made.
Love, love, love Kentucky, another new state for me. I loved everything about it. Well, except for the rain and the cold.
And the eminent tornado alert. We’ll get to that.
Harrodsburg, the first town in Kentucky; Versailles area, with it’s million-dollar horse barns; the breathtaking countryside that is so green you almost need sunglasses on a cloudy day. The whole state is unbelievably green. And wild daffodils grow absolutely everywhere.
The capitol city is quite small by most capitol city standards, so of course we loved it. The miniatures of the inaugural gowns of the state’s first ladies were incredible. There was an extremely well-done state history museum, and Hoggy’s Ice Cream Parlor. I need say no more.
Our bucket list items for Kentucky were The Ark Encounter and The Creation Museum. All I will say is if you ever get a chance, go. If you don’t have the chance, go anyway. So well done and what a way to present a message. We dipped our toes into Ohio and Indiana then it was west to Louisville and the Louisville Slugger Museum and then the Kentucky Derby Museum and tour. Both were fun as well as informative.
On our way to western Kentucky we stopped at Lincolns Birthplace and two of his boyhood homes. Then not too far away we saw Jefferson Davis’s Birthplace. Some irony there. Then on to my much anticipated stop, Hancock’s of Paducah in, of all places, Paducah. Definitely lived up to expectations. (You probably need to be a quilter to understand this.)
Then things sort of took a turn for the worse.
We were just about ready to head into Missouri when I got a tornado alert on my phone. Then an eminent alert. Find shelter. Really?
When you’re driving down the road in a car? It was after 4 p.m., couldn’t be raining any harder, and the alert was for 4:30 p.m.
We went to the county courthouse, nice solid brick building that has stood for a bazillion years and sorry, we’re all going home because of the tornado warning. Just then a police officer pulled up at the adjacent station.
His advice: Maybe try the Dollar General (we had just passed it, they are everywhere down South) but they will probably be closing because of the tornado warning.
Our best bet: Drive back to Paducah and go to Walmart, 33 miles east of where we had just been.
By now it’s 4:19 p.m., and not being from tornado country we are totally freaking out.
So back to Paducah, to Walmart, and guess what? Yes, it really could rain harder. But no tornado, praise God.
The day before we had talked to people further east who told us about a tornado that had come through and we had seen the swath of trees it had broken and flattened. That sight rather sticks with you when you get a tornado alert.
The next day we did make it to Missouri, and over the course of several days it was southern Iowa, northern Nebraska, the Black Hills of South Dakota, Montana (forever), and on home.
How would we sum up this adventure?
Go. Do it. You won’t regret it.
Even the not so good parts make the good parts that much better. What we will remember is barbecue, boiled peanuts, pralines, sir and ma’am, all the house museums, the automobile museums, the history, the sunsets, all the unexpected bonuses we found along the way, and Florida sunshine.
And wonderful people in small towns, just like at home in Okanogan. ♦
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