After eight weeks and two days at Live Oak Ranch, we headed out for a seven-week swing through the southern states of Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana before coming back to Texas. We were definitely traveling in the "off" season, so we kept our fingers crossed and an eye on the weather in hopes that we didn't get rained out or snowed in somewhere along our route.
We got off to a great start, as our first travel day was sunny and warm. We drove north of Fort Worth into Denton, then east to McKinney. We chose this route for a few reasons. One, it kept us off the major Metroplex highways, two, it took us through Denton, home to my alma mater, the University of North Texas, and three, perhaps most importantly, McKinney has a newly-opened Trader Joe's where we made a stop for much needed provisions. The last time we were at TJ's was in Santa Fe, and we needed a fix!
From McKinney we continued on to Mount Pleasant, TX where we planned to overnight at the local Walmart - a first for us, and we were kind of excited about it. Rather than arriving and then asking permission, we called ahead. They said it was fine, and gave us directions to the location we should park. How awesome is that? We didn't put our slides out, but we did fire up the generator long enough to heat our dinner in the microwave. We enjoyed a gorgeous sunset, then after dark, when things calmed down, we headed in to do a little shopping. I surprised myself that I wasn't nervous, but I felt perfectly safe and we both slept well.
The following morning, we headed out early to make our way to Maumelle Park just north of Little Rock, our first stop on our southern swing. Maumelle Park is a Corp of Engineers park right on the Arkansas River. We were surprised at how many people were there, and felt lucky to snag the last of the 50 amp sites on the river. I love being so close to the water that it feels like we're boating.
We didn't have a lot planned in Little Rock other than to settle in for New Year's Eve. At this time of year there is no farmer's market to visit, no festivals or concerts to see. There is, however, The William J. Clinton Presidential Library, and that was at the top of our "must see" list. We also took a day trip to Hot Springs, and I must say, we absolutely lucked out in the weather department. The only day we didn't have sun was New Year's Day, when it rained. We stayed home all day, but enjoyed a visit from Eric Walker, Scoopy's first visitor in 2015. Steven and Eric connected several years ago on a camera/filmmaking forum, and professionally, Eric is the IT manager for Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism. We spent an enjoyable afternoon yakking about photography, filmmaking and fulltiming.
West Memphis, AR/Memphis, TN
Everyone has their own criteria of what it takes to add a specific state to their travel map. For us, we decided that we'd earn the state if we spent at least one night there. So even though we headed to Memphis for some BBQ and Blues, we stayed at the popular Tom Sawyer's RV Park on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi River in West Memphis. We will have to come back to Tennessee and stay a while so we can add it to our map.
Now, when I say "popular" RV park, I mean seasonally popular. Since we stayed here in the dead of winter, we were often the only ones. It was a great place for barge-watching, which is one of the reasons we came here and stayed for a week. We had some pretty nice weather, but we also experienced some freezing temps as well. We came well-prepared with our propane tank full.
We had some great sightseeing days in Memphis, which included a visit to the Cotton Museum, a tour of the Gibson guitar factory, a tour of Sun Studio, a visit to Beale Street for some BBQ, and happy hour at the Peabody Hotel just as the ducks were retiring for the evening. Since we're not rabid fans of Graceland (a little too commercial for us), it was not on our list of places to visit. We did happen to drive by it, however, on our way to Aldi's. This was our first time to shop at Aldi's and we were way more excited about going to this grocery store than we were about seeing Graceland. Aldi's is owned by the same family (different company) that owns Trader Joe's. And while they are nothing alike, each has something to offer. Best of all, like TJs, Aldi's has it's own brand equivalent of Two Buck Chuck. Unfortunately, we didn't get to try it because the Aldi's we went to didn't sell alcohol. So now we have a new mission in our travels. :)
We had a beautiful drive though the Mississippi Delta to Vicksburg, MS, where we stayed three nights at the Ameristar Casino RV park. The big draw here was the Vicksburg National Military Park. From Wiki:
The park includes 1,325 historic monuments and markers, 20 miles (32 km) of historic trenches and earthworks, a 16-mile (26 km) tour road, a 12.5-mile (20.1 km) walking trail, two antebellum homes, 144 emplaced cannons, restored gunboat USS Cairo (sunk on December 12, 1862, on the Yazoo River, recovered successfully in 1964), and the Grant's Canal site, where the Union army attempted to build a canal to let their ships bypass Confederate artillery fire.
Seriously, that's a lot of stuff to see. When you first start on the 16-mile road tour, which is primarily the Union side of the battlefield, you tend to take your time, obey the very slow speed limit, stop and get out of the car and pay attention to the inscriptions on each monument.
Monuments and buildings, so much to see for 16 miles!
But, you can only do this for so long before your eyes glaze over. Before you know it, your speed picks up, you start to skip a few monuments and generally pick up the pace. By the time you get to the Confederate side of the park, you're like a freakin’ NASCAR driver, speed limit be damned, monuments flying by the car windows.
That's not to say this isn't a somber place to visit, it is. Thousands of soldiers from both sides lost their lives here. 17,000 are buried here. It's just a lot to take in on one afternoon ride.
We also visited the Windsor Ruins in Port Gibson and drove a small section of the Natchez Trace. The Trace was a welcomed sight for sore eyes not only because it is free of commercial traffic, roadside businesses and attractions, but also because it was free of litter. From the moment we entered Arkansas, roadside garbage became a thing, a huge assault-to-the-senses kind of thing. Sadly, it was a theme that was quite prevalent throughout our southern swing.
Coming up in Part II, Louisiana!