Friday, April 29, 2011

Red Bay, Alabama to Atlanta, Georgia

Thur, Fri & Sat - April 21st - 23rd

We left Tupelo heading for Red Bay, Alabama via Tammy Wynette Highway. Red Bay is just over the Mississippi state line and is home to Tiffin Motor Home Company. They make Allegros and Phaetons, among others. We went on a tour of the plant. This guy is just driving in a new chassis, so they can start building a new motor home. They took us thru all the different phases of the build and we were allowed to take all the pictures we wanted of everything. We were also told that we could hang around as long as we liked after the tour and go back to any areas we wanted on our own to watch more of anything we wanted to see. In fact, we were told to come back the next day, ask for a pass, and wander around as much as we liked. They seemed to be very organized and doing a good job, but they did have a lot of debris and clutter to step over, such as hoses, cords and spills. It was sure not like the factory I worked in!

Above they are putting on the subfloor and tile floor. Here they are preparing the roof.

Here they are building some of the slide outs. Below they are getting ready to put one of the slides into the RV.

We enjoyed the tour very much and did come back the next day to go thru some more of the finished ones.

We toured Helen Keller's birthplace (Ivy Green) in Tuscumbia. Her father was a captain in the Confederacy and his parent's built the home in 1820. Helen was born in the little cottage to the right of the home. The famous pump where she learned her first word (water) is just between the two homes. She was born normal, but became blind and deaf after an illness at 19 months old.

We saw this riverboat, Pickwick Belle, at nearby Sheffield. We also went to the Wilson Dam between Florence and Muscle Shoals. Then back to Tuscumbia, it's all sort of one continuous city.

This monument infront of the courthouse says, "The men were right who wore the gray, and right can never die. The manner of their death was the crowning glory of their lives 1861-1865. A tribute to Confederate soldiers of Colbert County by the Tuscumbia Chapter United Daughters of the Confederacy 1911. God of our fathers, help us to preserve for children the priceless treasure of the true story of the Confederate soldier.

A sign in front of this tree near the river labeled it the Andrew Jackson Black Walnut, saying that he camped nearby following the Battle of New Orleans in 1814. We just happened by it while we were driving thru a residential neighborhood.

The town was named after Chief Tuscumbia, a Chicksaw Rainmaker, in 1822. The town is well-remembered by Indian tribes for the compassionate treatment the townspeople gave the Indians as they traveled thru on the Trail of Tears. The government's removal policy relocated 90,000 Indians, while thousands died along the trail. There are two monuments in this city park to the Indians. Cold Water Falls in this park is the world's largest man-made natural stone waterfall to be known in existence. It's 80 feet wide and 48 feet high with 1,780 tons of sandstone, including the largest stone of 77,000 pounds. 4,320,000 gallons of water per day pass over the falls. President Carter opened his re-election campaign at this park in 1980.

On our way back to camp, we took a detour about seven miles down a windy road thru the woods to see the world's only Coon Dog Cemetery. It was established in 1937 and there were recent burials from this year. There were many homemade markers, but there were also many expensive, engraved cemetery stones. There are two outhouses and a picnic shelter here and they have a Coon Dog Cemetery Festival every Labor Day.

On our way to Alanta, John had to stop and see the Talladega Super Speedway. I wasn't that interested, so he went on a tour by himself. The stands hold 220,000, but they only had about 120,000 this year due to the economy.

The track is a mile long on the sides with a 33 and a half degree bank in the corners. John said they were leaning so far, he thought they would tip over.

Our campground near Atlanta is called Ghost Hill Campground. It is right next to a cemetery, my favorite place to go walking, no traffic, nice and peaceful and sometimes interesting or entertaining. This one has stones as old as 1838 that I could read, but lots were no longer readable, broken or completely missing. This one just said, "Little Alone Annie", broken off and laying there. Who knows if it is even where it belongs? Very sad.

This pair of graves was remarkable. It must have been a mother and baby who died in child birth in 1888, and yet the stones look fairly new with a recent stuffed animal place in front of the baby's grave. 124 years since they were buried and someone still cares that much.

There were several like this. I wondered if there were skeletons inside who came out at night and walked around our campground giving it the Ghost Hill name.

These three graves were very old. The guy in the middle was a delegate at the secession convention in 1860 and his wife and daughter. They all died in the late 1800s, but their stones have either been replaced or repaired. Some of the fairly recent stones are in very bad repair or neglected, yet some of the very old ones look very new or well cared for.

My advice, don't plant any bushes or trees anywhere near a gravestone, although this one is kind of cool.

I wasn't sure. Is this the guy's name or are we just supposed to guess who is buried here?

Don't let the goblins spook you.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Natchez Trace to Tupelo & Oxford, Mississippi

Fri, April 15th - Wed, April 20th

There was a tornado in Jackson yesterday just a few miles from our campground. It did considerable damage, but luckily we just got a little wind and rain at the campground. Friday we drove part of the Natchez Trace Parkway from Jackson to Tupelo. It's a scenic drive with very little traffic, no trucks allowed. Springtime is awesome here with the Dogwood trees, and the wildflowers in bloom along all the highways. The Natchez Trace is 444 miles from Natchez, Ms. to Nashville, Tn. Trace is a French word meaning animal tracks. The trail has been worn over thousands of years by animals, ancient tribes, Native Americans, pioneers, fur traders and outlaws. The Kaintucks, farmer-boatmen, from the Ohio River Valley (Kentucky to Pennsylvania) took their crops and goods by boat to Natchez or New Orleans. They sold their goods and boats for lumber, and walked (30 days) or rode horse (20 days) along the Trace to get back home. We saw 6 or 7 wild turkeys, three wild pigs with a bunch of little ones, a heron, an egret and a coyote along the way. You can see Pharr Indian burial mounds in the distance near the trees made by nomadic Indians 100 to 200 AD.

The Jeff Busby Campground along the Trace is free. It is named in honor of a senator whose efforts made the Parkway part of the National Park System. We hiked up to the observation point here and all we could see was trees. It was once part of the largest hardwood forest in the world. A squirrel could have traveled from Maine to Texas without ever touching the ground.

We took a short walk into the woods here to see these 13 unknown Confederate gravesites. The original markers probably had names, but were long since gone, so a Senator had marble headstones put up in 1940. They were stolen, so the Park Service put these up. In the 1830s steamboats made travel faster, easier and safer. The Trace was pretty much been abandoned, but the soldiers marched, camped and fought along portions of it.

We saw lots of trees down from yesterday's storm, so we were not surprized to come upon this scene. It couldn't have fallen long before we got there, as there was only one pickup waiting and he had just passed us a few minutes earlier.

As we were waiting, the guys on the motorcycles arrived. I wanted to invite them in out of the rain, but John said if they were stupid enough to ride in the rain without a jacket, they deserved to get wet. It took less than an hour for them to get equipment there, cut up the tree, clear the road and get us on our way again.

We arrived at Trace State Campground just before sunset and it was beautiful. I can't say enough good stuff about the state campgrounds in Mississippi. Every site had a picnic table, stone fire ring and grill. They were busy mowing, trimming and blowing leaves while we were there and they had very nice shower rooms and laundry facilities.

Saturday morning we drove over to Oxford. I had never seen a square like their's. It had two streets going around the courthouse, an inner street and an outer, and each of them had parking on both sides of the street and it was full. We asked the lady in the visitor center about it being so busy. She said it is usually much busier during the week. There was lots of stuff on campus that day including tennis matches, spring football game, baseball game, Easter Egg Hunt and alumni stuff. So by afternoon the traffic downtown was backed up a block or two on all eight of the streets leading to the square. A lot of towns we have been in are struggling, but Oxford has over 100 businesses within a block or two of the square, not to mention several miles of businesses along the main roads thru town.

On campus this guy was serving box lunches of chicken tenders, catfish or BBQ. We got a kick out of the sign on the side, "EAT or we both starve". The guy standing in front didn't look like he was in much danger of starving anytime soon.

The first class at the University of Mississippi was held in the Lyceum in 1848. It was also used as a hospital for Confederate and Union troops. It is famous for the night-long civil rights riot in 1962 with Federal Marshalls standing guard. President Kennedy sent the National Guard, but they got lost on the back roads. It was considered the Federal Marshalls' finest hour. The next morning James Meredith was the first African American student to enroll at U. of Ms. With all the people on campus, we didn't see more than a half dozen or so African Americans. In 2008 Barack Obama and John McCain held their first presidential debate here in the Performing Arts Building.

Behind the coliseum is an old cemetery for over 700 Confederate and Union troops. At some point, a caretaker took all the markers down, so he could mow and forgot where they belonged. So they just put up one monument with the names of some of the men they knew were there. I thought this was bizarre. Who would move grave markers in the first place, much less forget to put them back?

There is a street along all the sports fields and buildings with a big concrete sign declaring it Manning Way in honor of Archie Manning. The speed limit on that street is 18 mph, which just happens to have been his jersey number.

Just a short path thru the woods from campus is William Faulkner's home. Rowan Oak was built in 1848. He bought it in 1930 and lived there until his death in 1962. His parents, grandparents and great-grandparents lived in the area since the 1820s. His novels about the fictional Yonapatawpha County with characters and places based on local people and this area won him a Nobel Prize. I especially liked this quote of his as we walked through the house.

He also said, "My own experience has been that the tools I need for my trade are paper, tobacco, food and a little whiskey." Judging by his grave, the rumors about more than "a little whiskey" might not have been exaggerated.

Tupelo National Battlefield was the last major Civil War conflict in Mississippi. A monument erected in 1918 says, "To our Confederate dead that gave their lives in battle here on July 14, 1864 for their rights". The larger monument says, "In memory of the Federal and the Confederate Armies who took part in the battle of Tupelo or Harrisburg July 14-15 which resulted in a victory for the Federal forces under Major General Andrew J. Smith".

At the Tupelo Courthouse there is a Confederate soldier facing south and a monument for the Tupelo Women's Christian Temperance Union in memory of statewide prohibition Jan. 1, 1908. There is also a monument to honor all Lee County citizens who worked, served and participated in the 50s, 60s and 70s civil and human rights movement. They placed their lives, families and jobs in jeopardy to fight for justice and equality.

And of course, we can't forget the "King". These guitars are all around downtown on arrow-shaped bases that point toward places of interest such as the schools, library, courthouse and so on.

This is the two-room home where Elvis was born in 1935. It was built by his father, grandfather and uncle in East Tupelo. There is a stone timeline along the walkway of the 13 years Elvis lived in Tupelo, a statue of a 13 year old Elvis in overalls, a 1939 Plymouth like the one they had when they moved to Memphis, personal stories from family and friends on the outside walls of the museum and a chapel built from fan's donations with gospel songs by Elvis playing continuously. That much is free. If you want more, you can pay to go in the house, a small (but very nice) museum and watch a slide presentation in the Assembly of God Church his family attended. The church was moved to the park from a block away and restored. The slide re-enactment of a 1940s church service done by locals is very good. They pull three large screens down that cover the whole front and sides of the church. People appear to be sitting in pews on either side of you and you feel like you are right in the middle of the service.

A cousin of his does the tour in the house. She said the neighborhood for several blocks in all directions was overflowing with Presleys. Their grandpas came from a large family and they all had between 8 and 17 children. Elvis's father sold a pig to the man who loaned him $180.00 so he could build his house. His father was upset because he felt the man had not paid him enough for the pig. He got to drinking with some buddies that evening and decided to alter the check to a larger amount. He ended up spending 8 months in prison at Parchman and lost their house. Elvis was three at the time and took a five hour bus trip with his mother several times to visit him.

One of the places they lived after that was Shake Rag, a historic African American community, where the shanty-like homes made their previous home seem like a mansion. In Shake Rag the blues and jazz from the restaurants, house parties and jukeboxes and the gospel music of the churches inspired Elvis. In the 60s an urban renewal project got rid of these old neighborhoods and the fairgrounds, making room for a new City Hall, Convention Center, parks, etc. The East Heights Garden Club got busy fixing up Presley Park renovating the home, church and grounds. It now says Presley Heights on the water tower.

Elvis had returned in 1956 and 57 to do concerts at the Fairgrounds. He donated the proceeds from the 1957 concert to buy a park for the children in his old neighborhood, because there had never been a park in that part of town. It was at that time that the 15 acres including his birthplace was purchased. A swimming pool, children's complex and lake for fishing were put in for the children. More parks were added during the urban renewal and this park was turned into a memorial for Elvis after his death. They get 100,000 visitors a year. A couple from Germany were in the house when I was there.

We stopped at Johnnie's Drive-In for a burger, where Elvis used to stop for a cheeseburger and RC Cola after school with his friends. I couldn't resist buying a Johnnie's Drive-In t-shirt.

As we left town, we went by the Tupelo Hardware Store where Elvis went with his mother on his 11th birthday to get a bike. He saw a 22 rifle he wanted instead, but his mother wouldn't buy it because she didn't think it was safe. After some heated discussion and guidance from the salesman, he settled for a guitar. His parents bought him a $7.90 guitar and the rest, as they say, is history.

Thank you. Thank you very much.....

for reading my blog.

Elvis has left the building, and I am going to bed.

Tarra, the RV Queen

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Jackson, Mississippi

Mon, April 11th - Thur, April 14th

Last Monday was the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War at Fort Sumter, just a little trivia. The State Capitol erected on the site of the old penitentiary in 1903 at a cost of $1 million, was renovated in 1982 for $19 million.

View of the interior. There are lights framing all the archways and trim. It is quite beautiful.

We toured the Governor's Mansion which was designed by the same man who designed the Capitol. It was first occupied in 1842 and is the second oldest continuously occupied governors residence in the United States. No, I don't know which one is the oldest, but I'm sure we will get there eventually. JFK slept here while he was campaigning for president. Sherman and his officers celebrated here after the surrender of Vicksburg. The King and Queen of the Netherlands and Spain dined here, and even The Terminator himself has dined here.

This is City Hall with a statue of Andrew Jackson out front. There are beautiful gardens and fountains, which had pink water this week in honor of breast cancer awareness. It is one of the few buildings to have survived the three burnings of the city during the war, which gave the city the nickname of Chimneyville. It was built in 1846-47 of handmade brick by slave labor for $7,505.58.

The Old Capitol Museum was the Capitol from 1839 to 1903. When the new Capitol opened it was state offices until 1961 when it became the State Historical Museum. In 2005 it was badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina and reopened again in 2009 as a museum to itself and it's history.

It was built of brick, but covered with stucco that was scored to look like stone. The back faced a swamp and was not considered important, so it was left bare.

These figures in the senate chamber debated some of the historically important bills, with the spotlight on whoever was talking. It was kind of fun to watch. Mississippi was the second state to secede with a vote of 84 to 15. Their state flag was made in 1894 with the left half very much resembing the confederate flag. They did not ratify the U.S. constitutional ban on slavery until 1968.

There are lots of these historical markers around town with the magnolia on top for the Magnolia State. But this one is in the museum, I think because it refers to the Constitutional Convention of 1868 as the Black and Tan Convention.

On one side of the museum is the Confederate Monument Park. The monument was put up in 1891 after the death of Jefferson Davis with a private on top standing watch and Davis inside the bottom. The plaque says, "God and our consciences alone, Give us measures of right and wrong. The race may fall unto the swift, And the battle to the strong; But the truth will shine in history, And blossom into song. The men to whom this monument is dedicated were the martyrs of their creed; their justifcation is in the Holy keeping of the God of History."

On the other side is another war memorial with this inscription inside. "Home to God who made their soldiers heart beat with selfless zeal to right satanic wrong; How sweet must be the peace the heroes find, when crusade ended, death has borne them home."

Statue of Medgar Evers at the public library near his home. We also drove by his home, where someone waited at the end of his block, and when he came out to go to work, assasinated him in 1963.

Home of Eudora Welty, one of the most acclaimed authors of the 20th century. She wrote novels and short stories about a bygone era of American life in the south. She won the Presidential Medal of Freedom, some French writer's award and the Pulitzer Prize for The Optimists daughter. I had never heard of her. We just decided to go when John noticed that is was free if the 13th fell on a day they were open. As it turned out, April 13th happened to be her birthday and they were serving cake and lemonade in the garden, which was huge and beautiful and restored to how her mother had it in 1925. Now that I have read some excerpts from her books, I am anxious to read some of them. Her name and image has appeared in settings such as The Simpsons, West Wing, Jeopardy and cartooons. Mary Chapin Carpenter wrote a book and a song based on one of her stories, plus other plays and films have been made based on her stories. This was a really nice tour. If you are a fan of hers, it is a must see.

Back at our beautiful and peaceful campground.

We are camped at Le Fleur State Campground which is right in the middle of the city of Jackson, but you would never know it. We are surrounded by the lake, woods, bogs or bayous or whatever they are called, and the boat launch for the river is just a few hundred yards away.

There are lots of nature trails and we have been doing a lot of hiking. The restrooms are built up high for when the floods come, but they are very nice with showers and even a washer and dryer.

This shows how the kudzu or vines wrap around the trees and eventually can kill the tree. They will even completely cover a house in a years time, if you don't keep cutting them back.

I stopped to take a picture of these turtles and must have startled them. About 30 of them dove in the water simultaneously. I stood there and watched for a minute and they all started climbing back up on the log, one by one. I counted over 40 on one of my pictures and I'm sure I didn't get them all on there.

I love it when I can get cool photos of animals. I wish my grandkids were here to see them with me.

Lucky shot!

View of the river. It's so pretty here. Moving on to Tupelo tomorrow to see the "King's" birthplace and childhood home.

Just breezin by the bayous.