I most often take you down New Journeys on Old Roads, but in April, you can ride with me along some New Roads I’ve never traveled. We can stop and dip our toe in the Atlantic along Florida’s beaches, breathe in the salty magic of the ocean, ponder the history of the struggles of a people, and feed our soul on the blues music of the Deep South. We’ll drive Atlantic Ocean’s 1-A1 Route viewing Florida’s coastal lighthouses. We’ll visit the sprawling Naval Station Norfolk, largest naval station in the world. At the halfway point of the tour, we’ll enter the southern portion of the 2,000 miles of the Appalachian & Allegheny Mountains. Before I bring you back home, we’ll visit FAME Recording Studio in Muscle Shoals AL and see some musical collections in Memphis. But don’t worry…after I drive you out of the Deep South, we’ll celebrate more music in the dazzling and magical Ozark Mountains before we turn south to the Red River and back to TX.
Magical Musical Historical Tour
Beginning on the Historic Bankhead Highway Route, we’ll leave North TX along I-20 into the East Texas Forests, through Caddo Parish, LA along Highway 80 to the Bossier Strip casinos.
We’ll cross the Mississippi River in Vicksburg MS where the river boats roll, and we’ll imagine the captain might be Mark Twain.
Just south of Vicksburg is Natchez, MS. The historic Natchez Trace Parkway is a forest trail extending roughly 440 miles from Nashville, Tennessee, to Natchez, Mississippi, linking the Cumberland (in TN) and Mississippi Rivers.
At the point where we pull onto the Trace, you’ll need to be ready to pause & reflect upon one of the harshest exercises of US laws—the Indian Removal Act of 1830. By 1838, over 100,000 Native Americans Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole were forcibly relocated from the rich fertile soil of their ancestral homes in the South to a newly cleared desolate dirt land called “Indian Territory” (present day OK). This “herding” has been called the “Trail of Tears”; more than 15,000 died on the trail.
At the Forks of the Road intersection in Natchez, in the decades before the Civil War, this marketplace was where enslaved Africans were brought from southern plantations to be bought & sold. For this reason, The Trace is sometimes referred to as the “Slavery Trail of Tears.” After arriving in the southern part of the Trace, slaves were marched to the Mississippi River to be placed on barges for delivery to owners. The 13th Amendment ended slavery in the US 1865.
I can’t be only a history seeker—I must feed my other passion—MUSIC
The most prominent highway in blues lore was U.S. Highway 61. With the advancement of the automobile & national highway system in the 20s & 30s, the blues, jazz & spirituals by African Americans singing about the riverboats, trains & railroads expanded its audience. The sound, too long trapped in the Deep South, moved along this same trail as other historical migrations. From the Birthplace of the Blues in New Orleans, moving northward through Memphis, St. Louis and eventually to St. Paul changing music for centuries to come.
About 3 hours later, we’ll pull into Selma Alabama, the location of another type of cultural crisis occurring in the 20th century playing out in an ugly horrific scene on March 7, 1965. Known as “Bloody Sunday,” African-Americans seeking voting rights crossed Edmund Pettus Bridge to walk to the capitol in Montgomery. They were met by law enforcement on foot and horseback blocking the way off the bridge; many were beaten including now-congressman John Lewis. By March 21st, accompanied by the Alabama National Guard under federal command, the march was peacefully completed once again led by John Lewis and joined by Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King and Andrew Young. In August 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Voting Act.
The next stop on this Magical Musical Historical Tour is St. Augustine FL. I’ve never traveled to FL so I picked this scenic city with a rich history.
Founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers, St. Augustine is the oldest continuously inhabited European-established settlement within the borders of the continental United States. Its prominence and location made it ripe for trade & settlement but also a target for invaders and pirates. The territory suffered through multiple turmoil during its history including marauding European Empires’ explorers, the Civil War Confederacy, the Civil Rights Violence, and persistent developers trying to quickly buy it up as the “winter haven” for the northern rich.
St. Augustine Lighthouse
The scenic drive along the Southeastern Coast’s A-1A features numerous lighthouses–a landmark I try to visit in all my travels.
When we leave St. Augustine by way of US Highway 17, I’ll do my best to not get lost as we cross rivers, inlets and bays tracking along the shore for most of its 1,000 miles parallel to I-95 from Punta Gorda, Florida to Winchester, Virginia. We’ll cover some 665 miles through places which are little more than a small country road, while in others it’s a main thoroughfare. I’ve identified some 15 bridges along the way…and may I say crossing bridges is a “challenge” for me!
We’ll visit the sprawling Naval Station, the largest Navy station in the world, supporting 75 ships & 134 aircraft alongside – 14 piers and 11 aircraft hangars housing the largest concentration of US Navy forces. The air operations conduct nearly 300 flights a day on average totaling over 100,000 arrivals/departures each year.90 miles southeast of Richmond VA, Norfolk is about 18 miles from the Atlantic Ocean near the popular beach town of Virginia Beach bordered by Chesapeake Bay and Hampton Road Harbor.
Family Time – where life begins and love never ends
(unknown author but I’ve decided to make it mine!)
I’m spending some time with my new great granddaughter. She’s a big part of this journey–pretty good reason.
After a while, we’ll say our goodbyes and I’ll begin a NW route where we’ll encounter the Appalachian Mountains, the Shenandoah River and into the Monongahela National Forest. The Forest comprises 1/3 of the Allegheny Mountains, and, as such, part of the Appalachian Range forming the Eastern Continental Divide.
Family Time – where life begins and love never ends
In Elkins I’ll visit with my son & daughter-in-law who live on a piece of beautiful property backed up to the Monongahela National Forest with their horses & cats. Some TX sized stories will be shared and then I’ll load up for the SW run to TN.
The city of Knoxville is one of the gateways to the Great Smokey Mountain National Park, its location at the confluence of three major rivers in the Tennessee Valley brought flat boat and steamboat traffic creating one of the South Eastern’s merchandising areas. Between the ridge-valley of the Appalachian Mountains and Cumberland Plateau, Chattanooga is called the “Scenic City.”
…a musical note here…city made famous in the 1941 song “Chattanooga Choo Choo” by Glenn Miller. (if you don’t know or just want to hear again, here’s the song).
What is THE MUSCLE SHOALS SOUND?
It won’t surprise you that my Magical Musical Historical Tour calls for a detour here in Northern AL. It has been said of this lonely-looking building there is a quiet magic in the air. There are tours of this iconic studio so I’m going to experience the magic!
Artists from the Deep South and some from outside the South gathered with the local musicians to create their own sound at FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprise).
Detroit rocker Bob Seger’s signature song — “Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll” — began as a demo tape at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. An engineer’s mistake gave the song its distinctive da-da-da intro. Seger liked the sound and kept it in the final song.
Over the years, some of the artists who recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio included The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Joe Cocker, Levon Helm, Paul Simon, Bob Seger, Rod Stewart, Cat Stevens, Elton John, Boz Scaggs, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Dr. Hook, Julian Lennon, Oak Ridge Boys, Cher, Alman Brothers, and Glenn Frey
I could talk music all day, but I’ll leave you with a couple sites you can visit for more details.
Bet I’ll be singing some of those great songs recorded at FAME as I turn NW out of AL headed to a sundown in one of the most beautiful river towns in the Deep South, defined as a region stretching from Memphis TN in the north to Vicksburg MS in the south and from Helena AR in the west to the Yazoo River in the east. I’ll be entering the city on part of the Blues Highway 51 that carries the name of the undisputed King of Rock ‘n Roll Elvis Presley Blvd. Highway 51, a north/south terminus, runs parallel with Highway 61 visited in the beginning of this tour
There is no other thing that captures my mind and soul like music. That’s why I keep coming back to revisit the “never-since-replicated” music of the 50s & 60s. Not only is it part of my “coming of age” timeline, but these songs form the base of my musical interests. You’ll remember we began this Magical Musical Historical Tour on the Mississippi & Blues Highway 61. We now come back to visit more of the sounds of the Delta.
These lyrics will set the tone for the places I’ll walk:
Scholars disagree as to whether there is a substantial musicological difference between blues that originated in the Mississippi Delta and blues from other parts of the country. They note the defining characteristics of Delta blues are instrumentation and an emphasis on rhythm; the songs are typically expressed in the first person and often concern love, sex, traveling, lifestyle, life’s tribulations, sin, salvation and death.
The list of musicians who got their start in Memphis reads like a Who’s Who of music royalty. Led by “the King” you can add Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Booker T & the MGs, Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Al Green, Percy Sledge, Sam & Dave and B.B. King.
There are so many landmarks to visit, I’ll just mention a few:
- Beale Street (national historical landmark);
- Sam Phillips’ Sun Studio;
- Stax Records (soul sound grittier than Motown);
- Heartbreak Hotel;
I’m taking a tour of the Rock & Soul Museum; here is their site for details. You may want to make the museum part of your next trip.
While lost in my thoughts and the tunes of blues, I must not forget Memphis is home to Tennessee’s largest African-American population and played a prominent role in the American Civil Rights Movement. The city on the Mississippi was the site of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination at the Loraine Motel. The city hosts the National Civil Rights Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate institution. There is also an outside museum at the Loraine Motel.
I’ll make my final crossing over the Mississippi as I leave out of Memphis, taking a NW road through the Mark Twain National Forest on Highway 60. That day’s journey will bring me to Branson MO.
It’s been called a “Nashville in the Ozarks” first developed in the 1960s, the theaters of Branson abound with various musical shows, revues & good food on the lake. Theaters bear the names of heavy weights in the industry: Andy Williams Moon River, Glen Campbell Goodtime, Roy Clark, Oak Ridge Boys, Wayne Newton, Ray Stevens, Mel Tillis, Osmond Brothers, Lawrence Welk Orchestra, and Bobby Vinton Blue Velvet.
No matter how I love the music, nothing can surpass the allure of the mist on the Ozark Mountains. I forever hear your song!
This Texan always feels the flat lands of OK/TX calling me home. A turn southwest out of the Ozarks leads you across that territory I first mentioned called “Indian Territory” My grandfather was born there before it became the state of OK.
But we’re not through with rivers yet. We will cross the Arkansas, a major tributary of the Mississippi River flowing east/southeast across Arkansas and Oklahoma. At 1,469 miles (2,364 km), it is the sixth-longest river in the US & the second-longest tributary in the Mississippi-Missouri system…and the 45th longest river in the world.
I know the last river I’ll cross is the one mentioned in the songs of “Western Swing” and “Cowboy Songs” my daddy sang.
Waylon Jennings sings about that place in his lyrics:
But when you cross that ol’ Red River hoss, That just don’t mean a thing
Once you’re down in Texas, Bob Wills is still the King
Crossing the Red River joining OK/TX makes my heart beat a little faster, my feet feel more solid, and draws my gaze to the sparse vegetation. We’ll quickly begin to see a line of 200-300 ft wind turbines utilizing all the wind-swept vastness of these plains.
Magical Musical Historical Tour
As a seeker of history, I must remain open to other’s stories and other’s experiences. That is the only way we humans can mend our differences and understand what happens around us.
The musical portion is not a side “note” for me but an integral part of my being. I listen to music not only for the beat or rhythm but for the depth of someone’s soul displayed in the sounds of words or relationship of the notes & chords that come forth.
Note: please read my comment policy under “My Rules”
INSTALLMENT #1 TRAVELOGUE OF 2 SISTERS ROAD TRIP
Have you ever made so many U-turns you’re not sure if you are headed back to the beginning or on a completely different route?
That recently happened to me on a road trip. Best laid plans and all that! Had maps marked, turn-by-turn directions, GPS, and many other devices that should have made the traveling a little easier. But, you know, when you pass up that exit and you’re in the wrong lane, things fall apart right then.
And it doesn’t even have to be on a multi-lane interstate. It can be a highway junction in a small town that throws you off. Seems more and more junctions are being laid out to give an “easier” way around the town. Large or small, roads can get you mis-routed in an instant.
So after you try a couple of new perspectives on it and you’ve still not found your connection, you do the unthinkable: ASK FOR DIRECTIONS FROM A LOCAL. That doesn’t often turn out well even from the first statement when they begin:
You know where the old post office was? Well, you go down four or five or maybe six blocks and you turn by the old gas station. ‘course it’s closed down now and they’ve bulldozed it all down and widened the street there. I think it’s a flea market now or something.”
If I knew things like that and if I was from ‘round these parts’ I probably wouldn’t be asking for directions. Just then another voice chimes in:
“You know where old man Smith’s place is? It’s past that a bit…can’t miss it”
Oh, my, hasn’t that been helpful? You smile and return to the car and try to readjust your antennae…and, with a renewed spirit you start toward the old post office.
But I’ve learned in traveling (as in life) if you have to turn around and try again, something different will happen. It won’t be the same journey [even if you do see old man Smith’s place]…and you may still be lost. Why didn’t you ask them to draw you a map? But then why would their map be any better than all the ones you got from the travel agent, the state or the one you pulled up on your smart phone?
Oh, gosh, do you think that place we just passed was old man Smith’s!! I know the guy said ‘can’t miss it’ but I think we just did.
On one dreary afternoon when my sister and I realized we weren’t anywhere close to being able to tackle the up-coming city (because of an “alternate” road we’d taken in our approach), we made a major decision. We just threw all caution to the wind, tossed the state & city map into the back seat and braved the city one street at a time.
My comment was: You know our parents and grandparents traveled across this great United States in the 30s,40s & 50s with no map. Surely we can do it.
And we did. We found more things in that city than they’ve ever put on a tourist guide. We found beautiful scenery, expensive homes in a well-to-do suburb (even a Frank Lloyd Wright designed house). We located and identified six various kinds of art deco architecture within a 4-block area of downtown. We tasted that city’s grit to grime believing our new route through the run-down section would connect to another road. It did…just not the right road. When we photographed our last shot in the dying sunset, we found the right highway connect. At that moment we felt we had enjoyed that city more than any that could be on our trip.
If you missed the turns in your life, you’ve got some options:
- You can make a u-turn and head back looking at it from the other side
- You can analyze that if you “square it off” you’ll get right back where you were before (but remember…you were lost then, too)
- You can take the new directions from the locals and get a chance to see that old post office
- You can throw up your hands, toss the map out the window and wing it from there and see something else that wasn’t even on your list.
You can do any of these things…and none are really wrong decisions.
But, failing to try again can be the most unpleasant of all. You’ll never get on the right road if you don’t turn around; you’ll never get to see the old post office and you’ll miss the entire journey.
Be brave! U-turn now…go back and see where you missed that turn…go back and try it again! Remember the last time you missed a turn and you just kept going? Yes, you do remember how that turned out, don’t you? Make some decision…because indecision is the same as standing still.
You’ll never know what you’ll discover on “alternate” roads. Here’s a few things I would have missed if I’d followed the exact directions.
Solitary road found during a U-turn in TX
Frank Lloyd Wright designed house in Tulsa
Gates swinging open at Graceland
Monument to school desegregation in Little Rock
Rock of Ages Farm Barn Route 66 OK
Smallest portion of Route 66 (13 miles) in KS
Town of Santa Claus IN – decorated 365 days a year and lights turned on each night
Quiet road found during U-turn in TN
Metal from World Trade Center sculpture (ORNL)
Oak Ridge TN
Cumberland River in downtown Nashville
Directions are easier to see once you turn around!
I can’t guarantee you’ll find exactly what you are looking for with a U-turn or change in direction. I can guarantee that it’s different–and isn’t that what we are hoping when we’ve realized we made the wrong turn?
I looked into the sun, squinting to make out the road sign; As I U-turned to look from the other side, it was clear. Not clear that I ‘d found what I needed but clear I was lost. Sometimes, discovering you are lost is as good as knowing where you are. Make the journey; start the adventure; map it out; But when best laid plans come up short, make a new plan. Never too late to start a new journey on an old road.