Road Trip 2018: Stop 4

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Hernando, Florida to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, 1,360 Miles

Stop 4: Paducah, Kentucky, June 30th – July 3rd

Stop 1 | Stop 2 | Stop 3

On Day 13 I left Nashville & made a quick drive into western Kentucky so that I could spend Day 14 exploring in Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.  Unfortunately by the time I got there I’d been on the road for two weeks in weather roughly the same temperature as the surface of the sun so although it’s a huge park with lots of trails & stuff I was running out of energy for outdoor activities & didn’t stay long.  I’d like to go back though, maybe in the fall when it’s cooler & the leaves are turning.  The name is pretty literal – it’s a big weird peninsula trapped between two forks of a dammed river, so there’s lots of water for boating, kayaking, swimming, etc.  There’s also a wildlife lab zoo thing, drive-through bison safari, living history farm, a really nice museum at the visitor’s center, & some ruins of iron smelting furnaces.

On Day 15 I went wandering around in Paducah, where I found a tugboat with the same name as my dad, an art gallery, & a tree on the sidewalk where the roots somehow grew into a square (the square root, lol).  Then a short hop over the Ohio river to Metropolis, Illinois to take a picture with the Superman statue in the middle of town & walk across the street to the Super Museum, which is basically a warehouse jammed floor to ceiling with some guy’s Superman obsession.  If you’re around in early June they have a Superman Celebration every year!

Next Week: all of the Abraham Lincoln in Springfield!

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Road Trip 2018: Stop 3

2018.06.27.004
Hernando, Florida to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, 1,360 Miles

Nashville, Tennessee, June 26nd – June 30th

Stop 1 | Stop 2

On Day 9 I headed out from Chattanooga & drove 150 miles or so northwest to Nashville, with a stop about halfway through at Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park in Manchester.  The park is home to a Native American ceremonial enclosure which was long abandoned by the time Europeans arrived & mistook it for a fort.  I didn’t really see much of the earthworks because I got so hung up on the beautiful waterfalls!  Enclosure Trail is a 1.4-mile loop leading from the visitor’s center along the Duck & Little Duck rivers, as well as to some other trails.  Near Big Falls the trail passes through the ruins of the Stone Fort Paper Company mill, the last of several factories that were built here to take advantage of power supplied by the river.  I only had a couple of hours to spend there but there’s a lot to see & I would love to get back there to hike some more.

Day 10 was just wandering around seeing what the place had to offer.  Downtown Nashville was OK except for having to get after some guy in the middle of a gift shop to get him to stop dancing all up in my personal space.  I think he was part of a scavenger hunt or something, he was in a group all wearing the same t-shirts & headbands, & I kept seeing people all over town wearing the same t-shirts with different colored headbands.  What was the challenge – get a stranger to dance with you?  If it was get a stranger to yell at you they definitely got to check that one off the list.  Anyway I walked down Broadway to the river & it was mostly just bars & kitschy shops so I didn’t hang around long.  I went over to the Parthenon at Centennial Park.  It’s a full-scale replica built for the 1897 Centennial Exposition, complete with 42-foot statue of Athena.  The building also houses an art museum & plaster casts of the original Parthenon Marbles (sometimes referred to as the Elgin Marbles but that’s a whole rant I won’t get into today).  I ended my day at Belle Meade Plantation, which started off as a single cabin on 250 acres purchased by John Harding in 1807.  The property was right on the Natchez Trace, the main trading route between Tennessee & Mississippi.  The farm eventually became a successful thoroughbred breeding & racing operation that allowed Harding to build a large brick house.  John’s son William expanded the house & property before being one of just a few Confederate prisoners sent to the fort where I used to work on Mackinac Island!  The mansion & grounds were very cool & in the middle of a fancy-pants part of town so when I was done with my tour I basically just drove around staring at rich people’s houses.

On Day 11 it rained.  It rained alllll day.  So I headed down the road from my campground to do some indoor exploring.  Gaylord Opryland is a resort & convention center but it’s also basically a jungle inside a building.  There’s 3 sections of garden, complete with waterfalls & a river, all protected from the elements by giant glass domes.  It’s amazing & beautiful & free as long as you park at the shopping mall next door & walk over because parking on site costs a bajillion dollars ($27 – seriously) unless you want to eat at one of the expensive restaurants or stay in the expensive rooms.

On Day 12 I did what I do at least once on every single trip I ever take & went to the zoo.  The Nashville Zoo isn’t huge but has plenty to see, including an aviary with a sloth & a whole pen of guinea pigs that are pretty darn cute.  Plus of course lots of large African animals, monkeys, reptiles, & big cats (I didn’t take many pictures there.  I have no idea why.).  In one corner is the Grassmere Historic Home, which offers tours & a chance to pet heritage breeds of farm animals.

Next Week: nature & Superman in Paducah, Kentucky!

Road Trip 2018: Stop 2

2018.06.24.021Hernando, Florida to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, 1,360 Miles

Chattanooga, Tennessee, June 22nd – June 26th

Stop 1 | Stop 3

ALL THE BATTLEFIELDS.

Seriously I visited so many things related to the Civil War in the second leg of my trip.  On day 5, on the way from Forsyth to Chattanooga, I finally stopped at Sweetwater Creek State Park, another Atlanta site that I’ve been meaning to go to for years.  The park is beautiful but I was really there to see the ruins of the New Manchester Manufacturing Company textile mill which was destroyed during the Civil War.  The burned out brick building along the river is so picturesque that it was used as a film set in the Hunger Games.  The interior unfortunately is closed off but it’s an easy hike to see them & the museum at the visitor’s center has a model of the ruin along with several very nice exhibits of the machinery from the days when the mill was in use.

On Day 6 I took a short trip my steam locomotive at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.  Chattanooga was a rail hub of the south during the Civil War so a lot of the sites that aren’t battlefields have to do with trains.  Which are usually presented in their relationships to battlefields.  Anyway the train trip was fun, aside from the guy who made train noises THE. WHOLE. TIME.  At the opposite end of the tracks from the main rail yard the museum has a workshop where they repair historic trains from all over the country.  They also have a turntable which they use to switch the engine around & that was really cool to watch.  That trip was only about a hour but if you’re really into historic trains they also have an all day trip that goes all the way to Summerville, Georgia.  In the afternoon I went for a hike at Moccasin Bend National Archaeological District, where parts of the trail follow the original route of the Trail of Tears.  It was a sobering experience to walk on those paths.  (Be careful not to accidentally wander onto the grounds of the Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute like I almost did!)

On Day 7 I took another short rail trip, this time on the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway, the steepest funicular railway in the U.S.  It runs at a 72.7% grade up the side of Lookout Mountain (home to a battlefield) with beautiful views of the city & surroundings all the way up the incline & from the observation tower at the top.  It’s actually a legit form of public transit used by locals, especially in the winter – it’s certainly safer than driving down the mountain in the snow.  Coming back down off the mountain I headed back into Georgia to the Chickamauga Battlefield (the Chickamauga & Lookout Mountain Battlefields plus Moccasin Bend, Chattanooga National Cemetery, & a couple of other properties collectively form Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park).  Chickamauga has like 762,000 monuments, pretty much one for every single regiment that came anywhere near the war.  I did the cell phone tour, where you drive around the loop & call in to hear the audio tour.  I didn’t stop to see every single monument but I did climb up to the Wilder Brigade Monument for a panoramic view of the whole area.  They also have an insane firearms collection at the visitor’s center, I’m not kidding when I say I think they have every type of gun ever made (at least up until the collection was donated in the 1950s).

Day 8 was dedicated to a totally different activity – a drive to Scottsboro, Alabama to the Unclaimed Baggage Center.  This place is A.MAZ.ING.  It’s like a garage sale, thrift store, junk shop, all rolled into one & on steroids.  It’s literally a huge warehouse full of everything that gets left on planes AND YOU CAN BUY IT.  HOW some of this stuff gets lost I will never know.  The walls have permanent displays of some of the weirder things – ethnic headdresses, musical instruments, priceless antiques.  I think those must be the things that airlines lose entirely (which is pretty wild, I mean how many people are flying with giant Alpine horns that nobody can reunite that with its owner?); there most be some intense angry airline customer stories behind some of it.  Then there’s the stuff that’s for sale – wedding dresses, cameras, laptops, jewelry, mountains of clothing & purses, it just goes on and on and on.  THEN, there’s a warehouse behind the main warehouse where they have clearance stuff & lost commercial shipments so there hundreds of rolls of toilet paper or a zillion tubes of toothpaste.  I bought a charger pack for my phone, a head band for my GoPro, & a practically new U.S. atlas for like $15.

Next week: historic sites & wild animals in Nashville!

Road Trip 2018: Stop 1

2018.06.20.034Hernando, Florida to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, 1,360 Miles

Forsyth, Georgia, June 18th – June 22nd

Stop 2 | Stop 3

About 6 weeks after I graduated from USF I was offered my first job on an archaeological project & headed out on a cross-country adventure from my home in Florida to the job site in Wisconsin.  On Day 1 I drove a little over 350 miles from Hernando, FL to Forsyth, GA, with a stop in Thomasville, home of the Big Oak.  The Big Oak is just that, a 300+ year old live oak tree which has grown to a height of 68 feet & a trunk circumference of 27.5 feet.  I really developed my obsession with KOA cabins on this trip – I bought a membership & it really paid off, 10% off each night plus I earned enough points to get a discount on my way back to Florida & even another whole year of membership for free!  The one in Forsyth is pretty nice, & the location halfway between Atlanta & Macon was great for visiting sites in both cities & the surrounding area.

On Day 2 I visited the beautiful historic downtown area of Macon, which has several historic homes open for tours.  This time through I visited The Cannonball House, which is named after the projectile that came through the living room wall during the Civil War (even though it wasn’t actually a cannonball!).  A few miles away is the prehistoric mound site at Ocmulgee National Monument, which has a museum and recreated earth lodge built around an original 1,000-year-old floor.

On Day 3 I finally made it to Georgia Aquarium!  After years of driving back & forth, each time thinking I’ll go see the whale sharks & then deciding I didn’t feel like dealing with Atlanta, this time I finally went.  It was AMAZING, I could seriously sit there & watch the whale sharks swim around all day, it’s very calming in the dark theater with the blue water & these super chill animals just drifting slowly around their tank.  Apparently they were shipped in from Thailand via UPS, just like all the junk I buy on Amazon.  They have tons of other stuff to see as well, including a dolphin show (avoid the first 10 rows if you don’t want to get wet), sea lions, penguins, & thousands of fish from a variety of ecosystems.

On the way back to Forsyth I stopped at High Falls State Park, which has some nice trails along a river as well as an abandoned ruin of a power plant.  It’s fenced off but the profusion of graffiti says that a lot of people ignore said fence.  It’s still really cool to see though.  On Day 4 I had lunch in Juliette (where parts of the movie Fried Green Tomatoes was filmed at the Whistle Stop Cafe & they never let you forget it) & stopped by the historic Jarrell Plantation, where all of the original buildings are open for visiting.  It was owned by the same family for 140 years before the founder’s descendants donated the property to the state.  Also they have goats to pet, & it just doesn’t get any better than that.

Next week: trains & battlefields in Chattanooga!

Journey: Amtrak’s Silver Star

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Orlando, Florida to Alexandria, Virginia – 934 miles

Coach class on the Silver Service trains uses single-level Amfleet cars, so the view isn’t quite as good as on the double-decker Superliner cars on some of the long-distance routes but it was still a lot of fun and I spent pretty much the whole 18-hour trip just staring out the window.  The Silver Star and Silver Meteor use the same tracks for the most part except that the Star swings west to hit Columbia and Raleigh, while the meteor takes a more direct route through Charleston and Fayetteville.  Neither has any ocean view at all.

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The historic Orlando station.

I didn’t have anyone next to me until the station before my destination.  There was supposed to be someone but…I guess they lost them.  The car attendent kept wandering around going “where is my Philadelphia?”  Pretty sure they got off in Florida and never got back on.  Great for me, probably not so much for them.

I got on in Orlando in the evening, fell asleep as we were crossing into Georgia, and woke up two states later just inside North Carolina.  We passed through several major cities and all sorts of tiny adorable towns.  The only sad part was that it was dark out for such a big chunk of the trip, on my way back I’m going to try & book it so that I go through those places during the day, and the ones I already saw at night.

The Silver Star isn’t exactly the epitome of comfort but I arrived in Alexandria on time (!) the next afternoon having spent $117 and basically no effort in the process.

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Mackinac Bridge: 222 Miles

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No road sign can bring a smile to my face quite like that one. It shows up as you head north out of Flint on I-75, which isn’t an especially exciting drive but I love it.  Watching as the urban blight of southern Michigan gives way to rolling hills and then to the wooded paradise above the 45th parallel.  I ended up taking the interstate all the way instead of US 23 like I’d planned.  I had a boat to catch & things to do, plus after two and a half weeks on the road from Arizona I really didn’t feel like another meandering trip. Even a short one.

There’s a little bit of ice still hanging around on Lake Huron.  Not so much on the open lake, but enough of it is still clinging to the harbor that the boat actually struggled to shove it out of the way & get out into the open water.  All the years I’ve been coming here I’ve never had that happen.  At lease the boats are running, so it’s better than last year.

Anyway I made it to Mackinac Island in one piece, and thus ends the journey I started nearly a month ago in Sedona.

Where I Extol the Virtues of Train Travel

Journey: Amtrak’s Southwest Chief

Chicago to Flagstaff, 1,782 Miles


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So I’m in Arizona for the winter, and instead of spending 3 super crappy days or 5-6 somewhat less crappy days in a car, spending hundreds of dollars on gas, lodging, and food, I decided to let Amtrak do the heavy lifting.  For $154 I got to spend two days lounging around reading & watching the world go by while still managing to end up on the other side of the country.  Flying would have been shorter, but almost certainly more expensive (I have better things to do than check prices on 47 different airlines) and a bigger pain in the neck.  I boarded the train with absolutely no hassle.  I didn’t have to show up two hours early, or spend any time at all standing in line to have a stranger pat me down & look at my skivvies through some weird Star Trek machine.  I brought a large backpack, 44-pound duffel bag, purse, blanket, pillow, snacks, outside water, AND nail clippers on board, nobody batted an eye. Try getting all that on a plane.

Along the way I got to see not only my origin & destination, but everything in between.  I wasn’t hurtling along 30,000 feet above it, I got to be a part of it, all the wild animals, little towns, big cities, and beautiful landscapes across nearly 1,800 miles, with no effort involved.  And seriously low-stress travel: wide comfy seats, footrests, legroom, no screeching babies, and there was a whole lounge car to go hang out in if I got tired of my little nest.  My fellow travelers were pretty mellow too, the only time I heard anyone get even a little upset was some guy who didn’t like his upper level seat because he struggled with stairs; the conductor put the smack down on him pretty fast, he’d bought the wrong kind of ticket, and there was no fixing it now.  I never saw anyone being rude to other passengers or staff.  Even the cell-phone chatters were quiet and respectful of the people around them.

The only problem I had was with my second seatmate.  The first one was pretty close to perfect, he sat quietly and we ignored each other for five hours until he got off in Missouri.  The second lady, she wanted to talk.  She gave up on me pretty fast, because I went mm-hm and stuck my earbuds in, but I saw her chatting up other people through the whole trip.  Not one time did I see her sitting alone reading or whatever.  I don’t think she even slept, she was like some kind of chatty vampire, feeding on other people’s exhaustion.  Speaking of sleep, it was surprisingly easy to come by.  We spent the night crossing the plains so there was nothing to look at anyway, the seat leaned back pretty well, with enough space that I wasn’t in the lap of the person behind me, I had my blanket, pillow, and eye mask. I took a drowsy motion sickness pill to help a bit (I didn’t need them for nausea and I need those for small roller coasters) and just passed right out.

Yeah it took forever, but this was a great trip.  I re-read one of my favorite books (Tricky Business, by Dave Barry), saw lots of interesting, beautiful things, and finally got to cross the Southwest Chief off my bucket list.  So many people just want to get where they’re going, they miss a lot.  The difference between planes & trains is the difference between tourists & travelers.  Do you want a journey – an experience?  Or merely a destination?

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