Saturday, June 29, 2013

Nashville Tn to St. Louis, Mo

Well, a little catching up to do.... after leaving Nashville, we headed northeast into Kentucky. We have visited many caverns but few caves, so we wanted to experience the big daddy of all caves, Mammoth. We stayed in Cave City and actually went on two expeditions, the Newest Entrance tour and the Passage Tour. Both were worth the time and expense to see. The NE tour was only about a mile long and was pretty easy walking. The Passage tour is over 2 miles long and takes about 2 1/2 hours. I would rate it as moderate. Very interesting though, and we had a great guide to take us through. Pictures, those that come out, are not too great inside a deep dark hole....

After leaving Cave City, we went up to John Audubon State Park just outside Evansville Indiana. Very relaxing and a great park. Good stop for some R&R.

Next up was St. Louis, Mo. We wanted to see the Arch and the City. I remember my folks getting lost in St. Louis back in the 50's, so I was happy to have Lola with us. (Lola is our Garmin) Now many of you know I have a fear of heights, so when Debi suggested we go to the top of the Arch, I hesitated. Stupidity triumphs over common sense sometimes, so I agreed to go along. The pictures below prove my point!....

Entrance to Mammoth Cave National Park. Mammoth Cave has over 400 miles of surveyed passageways and is by far the longest cave system in the world. Much of this area was farmland until it was formed into a National Park in 1926. It was preserved and developed during the years 26-41 and dedicated as a National Park on July 1, 1941. During the depression years 33-42, the Civilian Conservation Corps, (CCC) planted over 750,000 trees on this land. The CCC provided work for those who were unemployed. Now we have welfare.

We arrived in St. Louis and our campsite was at the base of the Eads Bridge. This bridge provides vehicular traffic on top, light rail below that, and the St. Louis Riverfront underneath. Built in 1868, it was the longest arch bridge in the world at that time.

Besides the Eads Bridge, we were able to see the famed Gateway Arch from our campsite.  It is the tallest man-made monument in the United States. Construction began in 1963 and it was completed in 1965. It's arch is 630 feet high and is accessible by small 5 seat pods that take you to the top. The goal of the Arch was to revive the riverfront area and the City of St. Louis and to build a memorial honoring the western expansion of the United States.

The goal was to build, "A suitable and permanent public memorial to the men who made possible the western territorial expansion of the United States, particularly President Jefferson, his aides Livingston and Monroe, the great explorers, Lewis and Clark, and the hardy hunters, trappers, frontiersmen and pioneers who contributed to the territorial expansion and development of these United States, and thereby to bring before the public of this and future generations the history of our development and induce familiarity with the patriotic accomplishments of these great builders of our country."

Throwing caution to the wind, subscribing to the adage of "mind over matter", I succeeded in arriving at the top of the Arch.....It swayed about two feet horizontally all the while we were up there. Looking out at the horizon, we found that a large storm had brewed while we were waiting to board the pods that take you to the top. High winds and driving rain awaited us when we got back down!

A view from the top offers a spectacular overview of the City and shows the Jefferson Memorial and Gardens below and Busch Stadium to the left. The St. Louis Cardinals were playing the Texas Rangers.

Gotta love a telephoto lens. You could watch the entire ballgame from up about the cheap seats.....

More views of the City and the brewing storm
From the other side looking down at the Mississippi River

I've included this photo just because I love old farmhouses and barns and this is a classic example.....

Bowling Green, Kentucky to Evansville, Indiana

After leaving Mammoth Cave, we headed up towards Henderson, which is on the border of Indiana and Kentucky. We stayed at the John Audubon State Park. This park was named after the famous French American of which the Audubon Society gets its' name. This park was where he began his study and drawings of the many types of birds in this area. We enjoyed this park very much. It has walking trails and a golf course. Henderson is on the Kentucky side and Evansville is on the Indiana side. We explored both cities and found Evansville to be the more interesting....

If you are in this area of Kentucky, this is a beautiful park with a museum and lots of hiking trails....

Henderson, Kentucky is on one side of this bridge and Evansville, Indiana is on the other.  The bridge spans the Ohio River.

It is often asked, "Are all fisherman liars, or do only liars fish?" Well, this one got away....

After visiting the areas wineries, I spied this fella walking down the middle of the road, martini in his trunk. So, naturally, I snapped his picture....

A partridge in a pear tree? No, two peacocks on a fence trying to figure out what I was doing in their neighborhood.

The above pictures were taken at the nursery of J. Hipp in Evansville. Besides selling plants and stuff, he had an eclectic collection of rather large concrete animals.

We spotted this collection of airplanes in a guys backyard off of Hwy 64 and returned to get a closer look. Since it was late in the day, we didn't want to disturb the occupants so we photographed them from a field next door. He obviously liked World War II planes....

Looking for furniture? These gigantic chairs are in front of Furniture Row off Hwy 164 in  Evansville.

This was the Vandenburgh County Courthouse, built in 1888. It was closed when we were there and appears to be undergoing renovations. It encompasses an entire city block with each side encrusted with sculptures and stone carvings. Cost for construction was $379,000 in 1888, about $78 million in today's dollars. It is listed on the National Registry of Historical Places.

Across the street from the courthouse shown above, this castle like structure was the Sheriff's residence and jail. Like the courthouse, it was constructed in 1890 and was connected to the courthouse by means of a tunnel that was used to bring prisoners across the street for trial.

We left Kentucky, one of my favorite States, and headed north to our next stop, St. Louis, Mo. Indiana Hwy 15, more or less parallels Interstate 64 and is less traveled, more scenic and a much slower pace.

Kentucky is a beautiful State in that every home, farm and field is immaculate. We saw pride of ownership everywhere we went. We visited Kentucky Downs and Ellis Park, although we missed the 2013 Wiener Dog races which take place on July 13th and 19th weekends this year....

Monday, June 24, 2013

Birmingham, Alabama to Nashville, Tennessee

Traveling about three hours north took us to Music City USA, Nashville, Tennessee. We stayed at a nearby COE park away from the City and the clutter. Once settled, we drove into Nashville and visited the State Capitol bldg. We felt like the City didn't want visitors downtown as there was simply no public parking around the Capitol. I spoke with a Trooper who was on duty and he offered to let me park in one of the legislator's spots so we could explore the Capitol and the grounds. The Capitol bldg sits on a large hill offering views of the City and was pretty impressive. After touring the grounds and enjoying a bite to eat, we headed out to see where many of the country music stars got their start. We visited the Willie Nelson museum and of course, Cooter's of "Dukes of Hazzard" fame.

The following day, we visited Opryland and the famed Opryland Hotel. This hotel was awesome! We ended up spending the entire day visiting. Inside the hotel are waterfalls, trails, shops and events. We even went on a boat cruise inside the hotel! Impressive....

The Nashville skyline as we entered the City. Like most big cities, the skyline consists of mostly hi rise hotels and office buildings. 

Here's the old Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum. It was not open to the public as it's undergoing some renovations. The downtown area was setting up for a large outdoor concert at Riverfront Park. Parking was simply out of the question.

We did get to visit the State Capitol building and the Supreme Court facility. The lawns and grounds were stunning. Of some interest, is the fact that James Polk, 11th President of the United States, and his wife are buried on the grounds of the State Capitol.

After leaving the downtown area, we discovered "Cooter's" place near Opryland. Cooter, of course operated the garage for the Dukes of Hazzard, Bo and Luke. The General Lee was out front and the garage and museum had artifacts from the show, which lasted from 1979-85 but episodes are still shown on late night TV.

No trip to Nashville would be complete without a trip to Willie Nelson's museum. In the back room of this building, which once was a saloon, Willie and the boys would get together and pick and sing often.

 Gaylord-Opryland Resort and Convention Center, formerly known as the Opryland Hotel was built in 1977 adjacent to the Opryland USA Amusement Park. It originally opened with 600 rooms but has since expanded to house 2,281 hotel rooms and suites! It is the largest non-casino hotel outside of Las Vegas, Nevada and is the 28th largest hotel in the World.

Inside the hotel you'll find massive murals on the walls and huge rooms catering to almost everyone's taste. Simply beautiful.

Adjacent to the convention style portion of the hotel is the Delta Atrium. This area of the hotel is just awesome! All of these pictures are from INSIDE the hotel itself. Like a mall, there is a glass roof covering all the lush landscaping, the waterfalls and the river which runs through the middle of the hotel. The atrium is over 150' tall and covers 4.5 acres.

Something for everyone, they have performances by Shrek to entertain the kids.

Guests and visitors are welcome to take a guided tour of the facility by boat. The trip is narrated by gifted captains who give tons of information about the hotel and the river that runs through it. When this river was christened, water samples from 1700 rivers throughout the World, including every registered river in America, were poured into this river.
Waterfalls, rivers, paths and trails meander throughout this area of the hotel which is open to the public. There are restaurants and shops of course, but the real attraction for us was the quiet and serenity found no where else. Grab a drink or cup of coffee and relax along a flowing river without bugs or insects. While there were many people milling through the hotel, we found many areas that were relaxing.....

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Out of Memphis and on to Tupelo, Mississippi, birthplace of Elvis. We visited his boyhood home and read many accounts of his younger days. Stopped by the hardware store where his mother bought him his first guitar. Got a first hand account delivered by a woman who worked in the store. Interesting stories.....Tupelo is typical Mississippi but very clean and uncluttered. We enjoyed our visit. 

After a few days in Tupelo, we headed east again and stopped in Birmingham, Alabama. Interesting town with schools and hospitals taking up most of the downtown areas. We visited the Vulcan statue and it provides a beautiful overlook of the city. I don't miss living in the big cities, for sure....

Nashville is up next on our list and we are both looking forward to hitting the music city. I grew up with country western music and am interested in seeing the Grand Ole Opry house...or what it is today anyway.....

Here's our gorgeous campsite in Tupelo, Mississippi, Tombigbee State park with full hookups! The bathhouse was a little rough, but it had two washers and dryers in it and three showers each. We use our coach's facilities and the W/D in the coach but it's nice to know they're there if we need them. Its a small park with only 22 camping sites....

Just another wonderful road between Tupelo and Birmingham. We took Hwy 178 east out of Tupelo, a nice two lane well paved hwy and met up with Interstate 22 in Fulton, Mississippi. This is Interstate 22 which took us into Birmingham.

I find it interesting, as we travel, to see how much open land there is in this country. With spending most of my adult life in So. California, it's amazing how much land is not developed.

We arrived in Birmingham, Alabama mid afternoon and after setting up camp, we decided to check out the City. After so much flatland of Louisana, Arkansas and Mississippi, it was nice to see a few hills again.

One of our highlights was the Vulcan Statue which overlooks the City of Birmingham. It is the largest cast iron statue in the world, standing at 56'. The pedestal it stands on is 123' tall. It depicts the Roman god Vulcan, god of fire and forge. It represents the City's roots in iron and steel. It is also the 7th tallest free standing statue in America.  It was originally constructed as Birmingham's entry into the 1904 World's Fair.

The statue consists of 29 individual cast iron pieces that are connected internally. The statue weighs a hefty 120,000 pounds with the head being the heaviest, at 11,000 pounds! Talk about having a big head!

More history on the statue....When it left the Worlds Fair in 1904, it was shipped back to Birmingham only to be left in pieces in a railyard due to unpaid freight bills. It remained there for many years before being re-erected at the Alabama State Fairgrounds. Unfortunately the statue's spear had been lost during the time the statue was in disrepair. Over the years, Vulcan held many thing in his hand, an ice cream cone, a bottle of Coke and even a jar of Heinz pickles!

Finally, in 1936, the Vulcan was moved to it's present home atop Red Mountain. A new city park was constructed around the statue. He was given a facelift to celebrate the City's Centennial in 1971. Unfortunately, some errors in the facelift caused the statue to begin deteriorating and was deemed unsafe in 1990. He was again removed in 1999 and received a $14 million renovation. After 5 years, he once again took his position overlooking the City.

The preceding three pictures were taken from the observation deck at the base of the statue.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Today's post needs very little in the way of introduction..................... Elvis Presley's "GRACELAND"....

Elvis purchased this home in 1958 at age 22 for $110,000. He moved into it with his parents and lived here until his death in August 1977....

Living room where Elvis enjoyed the sofa on the right. Many pictures show him reclining on this sofa. It is 10' long. Notice the tube TV in the background near the piano. The peacocks were Elvis' favorite.

Elvis grew up in near poverty. His father was a laborer and spent time in a Mississippi prison for forgery. He and his mom struggled and upon his father's release they moved to Memphis, "cause it's gotta be better than Tupelo", where Elvis was born.  Elvis promised his parents better living once he was a success. After buying Graceland at age 22 he moved his parents into the home. This is their bedroom.

Surprisingly, Graceland is not a lavish home. We found it to be very inviting and liveable. This is his parents bathroom. We were only allowed to tour the lower portion of the home. The upstairs is preserved as Elvis left it in 1977.

The dining room needs no explanation.

There were two rooms, besides the kitchen, that were set aside to entertain guests. This was the family room. The ornate furniture was picked by Elvis. It has green shag carpet on the floor, the walls and the ceiling.

This is the other room for entertaining. Notice the walls and ceiling. They are covered in cloth with matching sofa.

After his marriage to Priscilla, who loved horses, Elvis fenced in several pastures and presented her with several horses.

The rear of the home also included a pool, a barn, some outbuildings, an office for Elvis' father and a shooting range.

There are several "trophy" rooms in the home. This one houses all of Elvis' gold records. Each one represents over 1 million copies sold. All in all Elvis sold over several billion records....

The cases with Elvis' outfits were added after his death. The wall on the left showcases many of the accolades he received and the other two walls contain more gold records. These rooms were designed and filled by his parents.

This was Elvis' game room. He had this added along with an adjacent handball court. The piano seen here was one of his favorites. He played several ballads on this piano before he went back into the main house and upstairs where he died from a drug overdose.

This was the original headstone for the Presley family where he and his grandmother had been buried in a nearby cemetery. However, in early 1979, his father petitioned the State and received permission to relocate the Presley burial plots to Graceland citing security concerns. 

There are four burial plots at Graceland and one symbolic headstone for Elvis' twin brother who was stillborn 20 minutes ahead of Elvis. His grandmother is on the right, then his father, Elvis and his mother in that order.  The fountain in the background is the "Fountain of Life"
We found the tour interesting and worth the trip. You must purchase tickets across the street at the museum and you're shuttled across Elvis Presley Blvd to the residence. I hope you enjoyed the pictures....