Richard and Brenda Road Trip, April to June 2013
Our goal for this trip was to go to places we had never been. We drove hard for 3 days to get thru California, Arizona and New Mexico. We decided to do a southern trip, so the drive took us along I-40 (old 66) corridor before turning sharply south down through the Texas Panhandle, then east to Austin, Houston and New Orleans and into the deep south. Another goal was to stay off the Interstate freeway system as much as possible because you miss so much of the real thing. The interstate busy with trucks and lined with endless, ugly chains: McD, Arby, Waffle House, taco Bell and on and on. I'd guess about 2/3rds of the driving was on state highways and rural roads. We wanted to hike and walk, see little towns and rural America, state and national parks, visit intriguing cities, and listen to traditional music.
Departed April 27th, returned June 16th. 51 days
Camped in 14 State Parks, 4 National Parks and one private campground
Took accommodations 10 times.
The route and the road
Barstow, Gallup, Amarillo, Austin, Houston, New Orleans, Mobile, across Florida, Savannah, Charslton, Asheville NC, Smokey My NP, Mundsfordville Ky, Mammoth Cave NP, Mountain View Ark, across Kansas, Rocky Mountains NP, Colorado Nat. Mon., across Utah and Nevada.
We took an obscure back road from Palo Duro, near amarillo Tx, highway 70, for 200 miles, right down thru the heart of the Texas panhandle and the plains. We passed a dozen small farm towns, the little main streets lined with brick building, all closed down. You might remember a movie called The Last Picture Show. Texas also offered up the Hill country, a limestone area of rolling hills and rivers. The southern low country offered miles of swamps, rivers and pine tree plantations. The Carolina coast was all barrier Islands and overdevelopment (think Hilton Head with a bunch of golf courses), except for the wonderful Hunter Is. where we camped.. Then into the Appalachian country, beautiful Kentucky, the Ozarks in Arkansas, across Kansas, over the Rockies, and across Utah and Nevada to get home.
Don't know why, but roads in the south, even the obscure country roads, are smooth and well maintained, unlike the potholed mess in Calif. Southern states must put a lot of money into roads.
The weather highlights
Hot, hot, hot and muggy in the south. But the weather was clear except for the two exceptional events described below.
We were treated to a fantastic 3 hour thunder and lightening show at San Angelo SP in Tx. It rained a bit but the campsite had a roof over the table, so we had front row seats. It was a treat watching the storm develop, lightening thunder every few seconds, and then fade out.
At Brazos Bend SP near Houston we got caught in a short, severe storm as we walked a mile out from the van. It turned dark, almost like night, very quickly as we saw dark clouds rolling in. It was the heaviest rain, wind, lightening we ever experienced. We had no choice but to surrender to the storm, so we made our way back to the van, both scared and exhilarated, soaked to the skin.
I inherited a small sum from a person I didn't know existed, living in Kentucky. The story is that my mothers father, John Hatcher was married in Ky and had three kids (who would be half aunts or uncles), then left them and went to Tx where he meant my mothers mother. They moved to Ca. Meanwhile only one of the three Ky siblings had kids, two daughters, my half cousins. Emily Walton died in 2008 and left a small estate, half of which went to her mothers side. Her best friend Donna Seymour (related to me by marriage, maybe a 2nd half cousin) decided to see if the father (my grandpa, following this?) had any family. My sister, my cousin and I were the only ones left, so we got the inheritance. The reason Brenda and I went to Kentucky was to meet Donna and the others involved in finding us.
We found Donna and Randy Seymour in the countryside outside Mundsfordville, Ky at their native seed farm. I'd imagined a little mom and pop wildflower seed farm, but found that they lived on 2000 acres, half in production and half in conservation, full of wildlife. When I asked Randy Seymour if they sold seed in pound or maybe 10 lb. bags, he said "how about 10,000 lbs". So they do sell wildflower mixes in small amounts, but also grass seed in huge amounts.
Check out the website at roundstoneseed.com
They put us up in their beautiful home in a hardwood forest for two nights and showed us around the farm. It is finely picturesque and interesting. The land has native American tool making sites, old homestead sites, a trout creek, a 2 mile long limestone cave. Both Donna and Randy were raised in the area, and we found them to be quite liberal in a 70% red state, and quite broad in their interests. Donna is in charge of the Civil War site in Mundsfordville (The Battle for the Bridge), and in fact they own the farm that is the location of the battle. They have opened the land for public access, with a trail, a farmhouse, and interpretive signs. Donna also makes lovely dolls. Meanwhile Randy is an avid botanist, collects spear points and arrowheads, and makes fine traditional baskets out of white oak slats, as well as running the farm with his son. They had a dinner for us with the team that dealt with the estate, the lawyer JD Craddock and Elizabeth Micthum, who did the research.
And finally, Donna took us to Hiseville, a tiny hamlet, where she was raised and where my great grandparents William Penn and Elizabeth Hatcher lived and are buried, and where my Grandfather was born.
These wonderful people not only took the time to find us, but to treat us generously like family. We will always be grateful.
We had some great times meeting people. The southern folks are very friendly and hospitable. Some of the exchanges were sweet, such as the little 5 year old Taylor camped next to us in the Rockies, who chatted us up. We wanted to take her home. We had a lively but friendly talk with some hospital workers who hated the new health care law and a brief exchange with a little girl in Alabama who said "Am a gonna go get ma fishin po", in the sweetest little drawl ever.
A young woman at a visitor center in Ala, directed to cross the "breege" (as in we) to find a park. When I asked her to say "bridge" again in my flat Ca dialect, she said "bridge?"
Speaking of people, or maybe ancient history, we visited one of my oldest friends from about 1963, George Baker, and his wife Mary, and son Liam, in Houston.
We went to the museum and saw the dino exhibit, and got a look at Houston, which is HUGE.
Cities and Towns
We visited Fredericksberg Tx, Luckenbach Tx, Johnson City Tx (that Johnson) Austin, Houston, New Orleans, Savannah, Charleston, Asheville NC, Mundsfordville, Horse Cave, and Hiseville Ky, Mountain View and Eureka Springs, Ark.
Parks and hikes
We hiked every chance possible, hiking at least once in every park we camped at. Here are a few highlights:
As we crossed Texas, we kept running into State Parks, so we kept stopping to camp and hike. Palo Duro SP, a canyon carved out of the panhandle, offered a wonderful hike to a formation called the lighthouse. In the Texas Hill Country we camped at Perdanales Falls SP, quite nice with some good hiking along the river and in the rolling hills.
Our stay at Hunter Is. SP, a barrier Island in S Carolina, was exceptional. We walked a wonderful beach, a forest of pines, palms, oaks and palmetto. The heat, humidity, and bugs were formidable.
In Smokey Mts NP we climbed to the highest peak in the park, Mt La Conte. On top sits a lodge only reachable by hiking. it was built in the 20's to bring Washington VIP's there so they would create the park. At Cades Cove, we checked out the historic old cabins and churches, all built in the 1820's. All other farmland was taken so settlers moved into the mountain valleys. By around 1930 the post office closed and the cove became part of the park.
In Rocky MT NP we did three hikes, one of which was a 13 miler to a waterfall, a lake, and a long haul back to camp. Trail ridge Road tops out at 12.5K in the tundra.
The last hike before heading home was at Colorado NM among red sandstone spires and cliffs.
One of the goals was to find traditional music. In the big cities billing themselves as music town (Austin, New Orleans) it was hard to get past the tourist hype and overamped stuff to find the real thing. But we did here and there. The highlights were:
Good street music in NO and Asheville NC.
A wonderful down home folk fest at the Carl Sandberg historic site in Flat Rock, NC. All Six of the performers were into it because they loved the music and they were excellent. Old timey, blues, bluegrass, an old fashioned "radio show"' and Celtic fiddle. We spent the entire day, and it was FREE.
Ozark Mountains music in Mountain View, Arkansas. Traditional fiddle, banjo, bass and guitar. Teens and geezers played together in the little park on Sat. night at least six groups were jamming, plus a free concert on the courthouse steps. It was magic. Next to town sits the Ozark Folk Center State Park, where craftspeople make thing in the traditional way, and music concerts play at night. We bought a fine handmade "parlor broom."
Outside Fredericksberg Tx we visited Luckenbach, made famous by Waylon Jennings. It is a funky little place with a classic old bar w cheap beer, and well known as a music venue where good country music is played, (not the glitzy version) where people like Bob Wills are revered. We sat in as a group of locals played a bunch of old country favorites.
Best shrimp ever along the Carolina coast in a funky little local restaurant. Fried food and BBQ in abundance, which we stopped eating because R was gaining weight. We mostly made our own food. Lots of salad. We had an excellent meal in NO at Eat in the Quarter.
We didn't do a lot of history stuff, but we were at two civil war sites at Blakeley SP. Ala http://www.blakeleypark.com, and Mundsfordville Ky at the Battle for the Bridge http://www.battleforthebridge.org/
We also visited the LBJ ranch, which is still a working cattle ranch as well as a Historic Site, and the ancestral home of the Johnson family in Johnson City.
In Ky we went to the Lincoln birthplace. The duplicate log cabin sits on the original location at Sinking Spring Farm at Hodgenville Ky and is enclosed is a formal granite memorial building. The spring next to the house still runs, where it sinks into a deep hole.
The only real complaint we have about the whole trip is that so much tourism, of which we are course are a part, has turned so many places into tourist traps full of souvenir shops and hustle. Places such as Bourbon Street in NO is now not much more than blocks of bars with loud music and expensive drinks. A town on the border of Smokey Mt NP (the most visited NP in the country) named Pigeon Ford (renamed Pigeon Droppings by me) had a strip of hotels, motels, restaurants, fast food joints, amusement parks, and souvenir shops, that was at least 10 miles long. Ah, the joys of opportunistic capitalism.
Overall, it was a fine trip. We had few problems and many excellent experiences. And the new van ran strong. Tops for me was meeting my distant relatives (by marraige) Donna and Randy in Ky., hearing about my half cousin Emily, and seeing where they live and what they do, as well finding the ancestral hamlet of Hiseville and graveyard. We enjoyed the traditional music we found, the state and national parks were all terrific. We reached our goal of seeing new places. We'll do it again, going to new places, but six weeks out will be enough, we were exhausted at the end of week seven.