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November 6

I neglected to report on the most unusual thing we saw on the trip.

Driving along the Alaska Highway (a.k.a. Alcan) in Yukon, pretty much in the middle of nowhere as you can get on a road in North America, we passed a fellow on a unicycle.

We are home.

Our trip took 120 days, plus 20 days on the ill-fated Michigan leg.

We covered a grand total of 18,693 miles (make that 19,000 if you add in the hiking miles).

We visited 32 states.

Thanks for going along for the ride.

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First stop, last stop

November 4

New State:  South Carolina

Where's James?

Where’s James? (RT photo)

The eastern continental divide runs down Atlanta’s Peachtree Street.  The Chattahoochee River flows to the Gulf of Mexico, even though it is well east of the Appalachian Mountains that spill into Alabama. If you spit on Peachtree Street there’s a fifty-fifty chance your spittle will go to the Atlantic or the Gulf.

The Blue Ridge escarpment marks the eastern edge of the Appalachians, but any rain that falls on the mountains proper will run west.

The road from Atlanta to Charlotte, I-85, runs through the piedmont, just parallel to real mountains.  Looking off to the north, you can almost see the mountains; in Greenville, you actually can.  Just south of Charlotte you pass close to King’s and Crowder Mountains.  The road is consistently hilly, just enough to challenge your cruise control, or to keep you guessing whether those trucks are going to hold you up or run you down.

There’s been a lot of rain lately, so all the rivers and creeks we crossed along the way were near or over their banks.  And autumn is catching back up with us – the leaves are growing colorful, although they are draped in a gray mist.

There's a signpost up ahead ... (RT photo)

There’s a signpost up ahead … (RT photo)

When we reached Charlotte, we detoured north.  One more stop before finally reaching home:  Troutman.  It was our first stop on the way out, and it is our last stop on the way back, to visit Rebecca’s mother and family.

Our “hike” is up and down Troutman Farm Road.  Despite the “No Outlet” nature of the street, neighbors tend to whiz by, keeping walkers on their toes.  There’s also a state park, Lake Norman State Park, with a trail system along the lakeshore, but we assume it is too muddy right now.

The Troutman homestead is located just off Old Mountain Road, which runs along a ridgeline through farmland from Troutman to Hiddenite (Iredell to Alexander Counties, if you prefer).  Hiddenite is a rich source of gemstones, including emeralds.

Hiddenite sits at the edge of the Brushy Mountains.  The Brushies are not particularly tall, but they are significant:  They mark the true beginning of the Blue Ridge, which has retreated significantly over the ages (op cit).

The Brushies have a lot of exposed rock faces between Hiddenite and Wilkesboro, but alas no public lands or hiking trails (to my knowledge).  They are a good source for apples.

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Kennesaw Mountain

November 1

New states:  Mississippi; Alabama; Georgia

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Turns out the road home goes through home for both Rebecca and me.

We decided to drive to visit my father who lives at the foot of Kennesaw Mountain, a Civil War Battlefield Park in Marietta, Georgia.

ackyard view of one ofmthe new neighboring mansions.

ackyard view of one ofmthe new neighboring mansions.

Our route took us through Birmingham, Alabama, which is tucked into the lowest reaches of the Appalachian Mountains.  You might be surprised at how mountainous that region is.  The interstate highway just cuts through it, but one can imagine the backroads through the hills could be as steep and winding as those in the Ozarks.

We crossed the border into Georgia in time for our dashboard clock to be correct – for two days.  We’d left it on Eastern time through four time zones, but today it’s off by an hour anyway:  Today is the longest day of the year.

Growing up I did not spend a lot of time on Kennesaw Mountain, but we’ve made up for it since I’ve moved away.  We hike to Cheatham Hill or up the mountain more than once on every trip to town.

The best trail climbs Pigeon Hill, then ascends Little Kennesaw, drops to a saddle, then rises to the top of Kennesaw at 1800 feet, an elevation gain of 650 feet over two miles, not counting the extra hundred feet resulting from the saddle.  There are great views of the Atlanta skyline from several places on the mountains.

Visitors' Center

Visitors’ Center

There’s a new trail, the 24-battery trail, that starts close to my dad’s house that goes to the visitors’ center, aother four-mile round trip.  The 24 battery placements are the most interesting artifacts of the war in the park.

The Civil War was lost, or won, by the time Sherman reached Cobb County, but there was plenty of dying left to be done, along with the burning of the state.  The battle was especially ridiculous.  The Confederates were dug in in an unassailable position, but Sherman, with his superior forces, tried to take the mountain. Fought in heavy rain in June, 1864, the assault accomplished nothing more that convincing Sherman to go around the Confederates to get to Atlanta instead of through them.

When I was a kid on the other side of Atlanta, near Emory, Kennesaw Mountain was way out in the country.  We might have gone there once, before we moved to Marietta.  Now it’s just another suburb.  The park has become a major recreational destination.  The parking lots are always full, and the trails are crowded.

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When I was in college, my family went on a trip in an RV to the Gaspe peninsula.  When we got back, my father got involved in a business venture, leasing a prime location on Highway 41, the major southbound artery into Atlanta, near Lake Alatoona.  He built an RV campground.  It was very nice, in the woods with hillside, private sites.

I was the first manager of Lakeside Campground, which wasn’t on the lake.  It was a depressing job, as there were never more than two or three campers in the campground on any night.

Battery atop Little Kennesaw

Battery atop Little Kennesaw

Blues

October 28

Does this picture resonate with you?

Does this picture resonate with you? Looks like a ghost in one of the rooms.

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Coming east out of the Ozarks, the landscape gets really flat.

It’s agricultural country. We passed huge fields that had just been plowed. Further west it would have been corn, or maybe at this time of year wheat. Giant silos suggested grain. We saw a telltale sign:

Rice.

EB1A0063Rice, in Arkansas? Turns out Arkansas is the Vietnam of the U.S., rice-wise.

Over the 10,000 years of its existence, the Mississippi River has created a rich delta that reaches north at least to Tennessee.

We checked into our first-ever AirBNB suite in Memphis. It was a few blocks south of Beale Street and two blocks from the Lorraine Motel.

If you are my age, you will immediately recognize the Lorraine Motel as the site of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination almost 50 years ago. It’s weird to make a public shrine and museum (Civil Rights Museum0 out of a place where somebody was murdered, but I found it moving and appropriate.

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The monorail to Mud Island.

Memphis is a curious town. We learned from our walking tour guide, Rooster, it was named after an Egyptian city located in a position on the Nile similar to Memphis’s on the Mississippi.  It’s got a rich history as a distribution center, especially for cotton and slaves. It’s strategic significance in the Civil War is less than that of Vicksburg, Mississippi.

EB1A0044Present-day Memphis is a typical middle-sized Big League city with a lot of older warehouse-type buildings being converted into condos. We were a little cEB1A0033onfused by the lack of traffic in town: We walked more than a mile through town at several different times of day and barely had to look out for cars when crossing the street.

One peculiarity of the town is the duck march inside the Peabody Hotel at 11 a.m. every morning.

The biggest tourist attraction is Beale Street. For two blocks, every establishment is a bar with live (mostly) electric blues. We went to B.B. King’s Blues Club, where we caught Preston Shannon, a Memphis legend who can play a guitar. The food was mediocre and the drinks overpriced, but the music and ambiance were worth the effort.

Oh, and Beale Street has great neon.

A cotton bale weighs almost 500 pounds.

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We ate real Memphis food on the visit:  Ribs at Central BBQ (no relation to BB King), fried chicken at Gus’s, and breakfast (I had the red neck eggs breakfast with four biscuits and gravy over sausage patties, yum) at the
Arcade.  Simple settings, portions to get my girth back.

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Beale Street

The Ozarks

October 27

New state: Arkansas

Eureka Springs area

Eureka Springs area

Rebecca’s fiftieth state would be Arkansas. Since we were taking the northern route home, we headed for the Ozark Mountains.

EB1A0418The first route we took, toward Eureka Springs, is called the Pig Trail. It’s one of those winding mountain roads favored by motorcyclists. The road was not overrun by bikers.

We finally have gotten out front of autumn. The roads through the Ozarks are famous for fall leaf colors the last week in October, but the leaves are just starting to change. Around here, at least, it’s a late fall.

Our first stop, Eureka Springs, is an old “Victorian” village built around the tourist traffic that came to town seeking a cure in the springs. The center of town is down a steep street, with shops built into the side of the hill. EB1A0420On the ridge above town are lots of motels, RV parks, and B&B’s.  We’d hoped to dine at the German restaurant but it was closed.

Eureka Springs

Eureka Springs

The town really decks out for Halloween.

Just outside of town is the Thorncrown Chapel, regarded as the fourth most important architectural design of the twentieth century.

We stayed the night at our first KOA, which was really nice.

The next day we drove a serpentine route through the mountains to the town of Mountain View. For all our travels, I don’t recall a drive with steeper hills or sharper curves.

The next day we set out for the town of Mountain View. We followed a path set forth by National geographic Rebecca found on the ‘net.

Thorncrown Chapel

Thorncrown Chapel

It was a fantastic drive, taking thirty miles on the hour. We came upon the Buffalo National River, where I caught a glimpse of a dramatic gorge with sheer cliffs rising hundreds of feet above the river.

A half hour later we came down a long, steep grade, and there it was again, the Buffalo River. We encountered the river, steep walls and all, another two or three times in the course of the afternoon.

We made it to Mountain View, where they were prepping for their annual Bean Festival, just in time for Patricia, which was less intense than she was when she hit Mexico. We dined that night at Jojo’s Catfish Wharf, which was even better than advertised.

Tuesday we went to see the Blanchard Springs Caverns, part of the National Park system. Another worthy diversion.  Our tour took us through two huge chambers which had been lighted by a European technician who specialized in opera houses.

Inside chapel

Inside chapel

We learned the Ozarks were formed by the “Great Upheaval’ some 50 million years ago, an event unrelated to the formation of the Blue Ridge.  (The Mississippi River is only 10,000 years old.)

Imagine the road is a river and the cliffs are four times taller: Buffalo River.

Imagine the road is a river and the cliffs are four times taller: Buffalo River.

We spent the rest of the afternoon driving through the rain to Memphis.

I think I’d like to return to the Ozarks.

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The Avis of Canyons

October 24

New states: Texas; Oklahoma

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The Texas panhandle may be the world’s largest wind farm.

We came up a rise on I-40 just after crossing over from New Mexico to be confronted by a line of wind turbines that stretched to the horizon. Some 40 miles later, they took a break for the city of Amarillo. They would resume on the other side of the city and continue, though somewhat less contiguously, well into Oklahoma.

EB1A0386The astute geographer among you may note that Big Bend National Park is nowhere near I-40. We decided to reroute north to avoid the flooding from Hurricane Patricia.

Fortunately, a Texan we’d met earlier in the trip told me the second largest canyon in the world is in the Texas panhandle.

So we set our sites on Palo Duro Canyon, which actually lays claim to being second in the U.S. At 800-feet deep, it does not threaten to steal the title “Grand,” but it is an interesting and worthy stop along the way.

The campground is located on the canyon floor. We parked the Wegwam and rode our bikes along the park EB1A0400road.

The next day we hiked the favorite park trail, to the Lighthouse. It’ a six-mile round-trip hike along a fairly level path through red-grounded desert. The canyon walls display excellent stratification and a variety of colors. In the heat of summer it would be a really testing endeavor, but in October it is a walk in the park. We were not alone.

The hike culminates with a steep scramble up to the base of the Lighthouse formation, which of course is a lot bigger than it looks from across the canyon. There’s also a great view of the canyon there.

EB1A0374We heard a familiar noise from above. Sandhill cranes. Over the course of two day, more than a thousand passed overhead. I wonder if we’d seen any of them in Fairbanks.

The park was booked for Saturday night, so we drove to Oklahoma City, where we “camped” in an RV park on the edge of the city bordering the Interstate, with what appeared to be 400 RVs. Not our favorite stop of the trip.

I should note that east of Oklahoma City the landscape suddenly changes with the appearance of trees. Definitely getting closer to home.

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Santa Fe

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October 22

As previously reported, my birthday started out with rain. We hung around the casita playing Scrabble waiting for a break in the weather. I won three straight, a statistically significant event given I usually lose two out of three to Rebecca.

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Oldest house

Sometime after noon the rain slacked off, so we set off for the International Folk Art Museum. It was a three-mile walk, and the sidewalk ran out halfway there. Then the rain kicked up, and about a half mile from the museum thunder joined the mix.

We survived and toured the museum. There were lots of dolls and village scenes comprised of dolls. I learned three things from the exhibits: that the weeble was probably derived from a traditional Japanese doll that is a tall cylinder with a simple ball for a head; that there is a protective talisman, a khamsa, derived from a representation of a hand; and I forgot the third one.

The other wing of the museum featured a temporary exhibition of pottery from the American South, whichEB1A0291 turned out to be mostly from Seagrove, North Carolina. Small world.

When we were ready to leave it was pouring rain and about 35 degrees. Where you could see the nearby mountains through the clouds you could make out snow about 400 feet up.

We caught a city bus back to the flat.

Next day we had better weather, so we went walking around town. We started at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. There was a room of her paintings and then an exhibition of American Modernism. O’Keeffe married a photographer old enough to be her father, posed nude for him, painted sexually explicit flowers, and was apparently shocked when she was regarded as a sensual artist. She moved from New York City to New Mexico, and her husband never visited her there.

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The best discovery of the exhibit was Marsden Hartley.

EB1A0285The rest of the day we just walked around town looking at shops, churches, and old buildings. We walked the length of Canyon Drive, where every house is a gallery of unaffordable fine art and sculptures.

One of my most favorite songs is “Santa Fe,” by Eilen Jewell.  Check it out.

Inside oldest house

Inside oldest house

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Unaffordable whirligigs

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