Category: USA – Southern States

“Standing Tall” – Thoughts from the World

“Standing Tall” – Thoughts from the World

Reflections from a few of the most emotional, beautiful and obscure places in the world. Thoughts from the World is an occasional series of posts from Roger about travelling for inspiration.

Feeling like a Victorian plant hunter, I follow the instructions: Park there, walk for 200 yards, take the first trail on the left, look for the fallen giant, head through the gap cut in the trunk, go forward and you’ll see it. 

Now I sit at this top-secret location looking at the fourth tallest tree in the world. Until three even taller Coast Redwood trees were discovered a few miles north, it used to be the highest.

A massive trunk ascends into the tree canopy. The top at 371.1 feet so high it’s impossible to see.

Amongst such an incredible natural sight, often the best word to ask is How? How does a tree grow this tall? How does it create all this wood and bark out of thin air and water? How, despite all the storms and earthquakes, does it survive for 2000 years?

At school we are taught about chemical reactions and in particularly photosynthesis; sunlight, water and carbon dioxide creating organic compounds and oxygen. But here in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park it seems incredible that such scale and might results from millions and millions of tiny molecular interactions.

No wonder forestry experts such as Peter Wohlleben in his best selling book The Hidden Life of Trees speculate that trees have a sixth-sense. They sense danger, they feel pain, they look out for each other.

In this Californian forest, whilst our world has been transformed, the so-called Stratosphere Giant has reached for the sky; silently, unobserved, unfazed. One sunbeam at a time. One sea mist at a time. One intake of carbon dioxide at a time.

95% of these magnificent Coast Redwoods are gone; destroyed in a logger’s orgy of destruction. This tree survived axes and chain saws and never became a robber-baron’s home in San Francisco.

A Thought from the World

“Whatever the world throws at you, stand tall. Reach for the sun and lift yourself off the ground.”

Three things we might want to do

Plant a Redwood. You can buy self-planting kits online.

Go for a forest walk and hug at least three trees

Stretch up to the ceiling ten times every morning

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Thoughts on the US southern states

Thoughts on the US southern states

Over the last 2 weeks we’ve experienced life on the road in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma.

Here are some observations:

  • The people are very friendly and helpful
  • The many Trump supporters we met were nice people – we expected to meet horror show characters
  • There are churches everywhere; many big, brash and very lavish
  • Driving and parking in cities is very easy. We saw no road rage in 2,500 miles of driving
  • The countryside is beautiful; much of it unspoilt apart from advertising along the Interstates
  • Staying in motels is a bit of a lucky dip
  • We saw no open carry guns, except the police of course
  • April is the perfect time to go before it gets too hot
  • We were often the only people walking in a town
  • There is patriotism everywhere – large flags line the roads

And here are images not yet shown on this blog…..

L – Roger being silly in Vicksburg R – Hilary at the Mississippi

L – With Caroline and Will in Houston  R – Watching the rodeo in Fort Worth

L – Field outside town of Stotesbury R – Natchez Trace Pathway

We will return to the States in a few weeks, but first we are off to Western Canada.

Fort Worth – where the West begins

Fort Worth – where the West begins

Fort Wort became famous during the great open-range cattle drives of the 19th century, when more than 10 million Texas Longhorn cattle trampled through the city on the Chisholm Trail. With horns up to 2m long, the breed descended from cattle brought over by Christopher Columbus and have a high drought-stress tolerance.

The Stockyards in Fort Worth are where the action is today. Cowboys walk around in boots and almost everyone wears ‘stetsons’. There’s a Cowboy Hall of Fame Museum, original cattle pens where you get to see some of the Texan Longhorns and the rodeo in the evening.

At this we saw some wonderful cowboy skills: calf roping, barrel racing and bronco bull riding which was seriously dangerous for the cowboys. None stayed on for the full 8 seconds and several were seen limping off with what looked like broken limbs. We wondered why they do it, then learnt the top earner gets $2m income pa.

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Hilary rode a Texas Longhorn Bull – which looks a bit like a Milton Keynes (a town in England) concrete cow in this photo, but honestly it was alive and very sweet natured.
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The evening rodeo was staged in the historic Coliseum. It was a fun, family oriented event – mix of rodeo skills and children chasing animals around the arena. And an emotional parade of the Stars and Stripes.
JFK killing – still a mystery?

JFK killing – still a mystery?

There are two X’s on Elm Street, Dallas. They show where the bullets hit President Kennedy 53 years ago.

What’s less certain is where they were both fired from. The official line is that Lee Harvey Oswald, positioned in the Book Depository at the circled window, was the sole gunman.

IMG_3013Here’s the view from the reverse angle but a floor above. (You can’t take pictures within the excellent and respectful Sixth Floor Museum itself)

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The museum discusses the various theories and it’s hard not to be drawn into all the conflicting evidence: inc Kennedy’s head movement, smoke on the Grassy Knoll, the pristine bullet, Oswald’s marriage break-up. We discussed it at length for the rest of the day. One of us feels there were two shooters. One of us doesn’t.

The scientific evidence is today “conclusive” (there was no second gunman) but still the mystery continues.

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Near the Grassy Knoll, Robert J Groden (seated) makes the case for a two shooter conspiracy – and sells his DVDs
Route 66 kicks

Route 66 kicks

We spent a day driving the historic “Mother Road” through stretches of Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. Not far – maybe 40 miles – as we explored landmarks along the way and enjoyed long chats with many welcoming folk.

“The Main Street of America” was designed to connect the small towns of middle America with Chicago and Los Angeles. With vast numbers of refugees moving west in the 1930s, it was made famous by John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath.

Today, the route gets you off the Interstate turning the clock back.

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In Kansas, this is the last of the Marsh Arch Bridges (named after their designer). It was built in 1923, three years before the creation of Route 66. Hope you all spot Roger’s new item of clothing

We’re not car or driving nuts, so it was the people and their buildings we delighted in. For example, in Galena, the Kan-O-Tex gas station has been lovingly restored. Linda told us it was here Pixel got inspiration for their Cars character “Mater”.

In Commerce, Treva and son Charles run the Dairy King in their restored 1927 Marathon station. They love staging weddings here and meeting the thousands of Route 66 Cruisers who stop by each year.

If you plan to do this Be sure to buy upfront the EZ66 guide from Jerry McClanahan. Junction-by-junction it navigates you along the route which today is a string of many different types of roads. We would have got hopelessly lost and missed many of the historic sights without it.

Travel Tips 6 – staying in US motels

Travel Tips 6 – staying in US motels

We’ve spent the last two weeks living out of American motels. With the car parked right outside, they offer the perfect stopover.

The big brands (Super 8, Red Roof) provide consistent rooms – very large bed, fridge, coffee maker and microwave, though their cleanliness is often down to local management. In fact, a few nights we slept in our sheet bags rather than get under their sheets!

They cost anywhere between $50 – $130 depending on location. We found it paid to drive around a bit as those sited in the cities are up to double in price.

What to ask. Does the price include taxes? Is there breakfast? Also, if you are a non-smoker, make sure you get a designated room.

Independent motels are unpredictable. They gave us the best and worst experiences. If it’s below $40, then there’s probably a reason.

Unfortunately it often comes down to who your neighbours are. In the middle of one night, we had to listen to a door being battered down a room away from us and a woman screaming. We should have been brave enough to challenge this, but aware of widespread gun ownership, we didn’t.

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This is one of our occasional tips for middle aged gap year travellers. To see the others, click below on the link – Travel Tips

Rural America in one town

Rural America in one town

We drove to Missouri to take a look at what had been just a speck on the map – the town that shares Roger’s surname.

It turned out to be a microcosm of Great Plains rural life.

Pre-WW2 Stotesbury was a beautiful, thriving town. But, when the local coal mines closed in the 50s, the people left, the school closed, the houses were burnt down, the trees grew up and the sidewalks disappeared. Ironically, the trains from Wisconsin that cut through the town today carry coal South.

Despite what it says on the sign above, only seven people live there now in just two houses and a trailer. We spoke to three of the four adults.

Marvin told us that the town is called Stotesbury because ‘a man called Stotesbury got off a train and came to live here for a bit’.

This is likely to relate to E T Stotesbury – the millionaire investment banker and railroad investor. But it’s surely unlikely he actually lived in the town.

You can read about him here on Wikipedia.

The Wonder of Elvis

The Wonder of Elvis

Hilary fell in love with Elvis Presley in 1970 when he sang The Wonder of You. And still remembers where she was on 16th August 1977 hearing news of his death; it was in southern Scotland on a pony ride.

Despite dying young at the age of 42, Elvis has sold an estimated 600 million records worldwide and is acclaimed as one of the most successful solo artists of all time. Today, he’s still the King of Rock and Roll.

Five years after Elvis’ death, his widow and daughter opened up Graceland to the public. The tour of the house is fascinating, with so much personal archival content on display. We spent hours here, indulging in Elvis and 1950s-1970s nostalgia. UAlso, it was emotional seeing the racquets court where he played his final game – which caused his heart attack soon after – and his grave.

We were lucky with our timing. Last month, a huge improved exhibition area was opened devoted to his aeroplanes, cars, motorbikes, films and records in addition to his early years in Tupelo, his time in the US Army in Germany and all his amazing jumpsuits. A wonderful day.

Inside the Lorraine Motel, Memphis

Inside the Lorraine Motel, Memphis

Paving stones show the path of a bullet. At one end stands a man in a bathtub. At the other an orator of dreams and promised lands falls to the ground.

The Memphis scene of Martin Luther King’s assassination is now the National Civil Rights Museum and we spent six hours there absorbing the compelling, shocking and ultimately inspiring stories of suffering, defiance, sacrifice and campaigning.

But there is a tension within the museum. It tells the story of slavery, constitutional amendments, disinterested Presidents, Jim Crow Laws, freedom riders, Edmund Pettus Bridge, Birmingham, etc etc superbly but then loses the plot by focusing too much on James Earl Ray and the conspiracy theories. In that respect Jacqueline Smith (see picture below) has a point.

But importantly the museum challenges us to reflect on segregation today. The signs above the doors have gone, but not the separating walls. Think of the increasing division in British schools caused by religious/cultural/economic factors, and the neighbourhood ghettoes in American towns and cities.

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This is Jacqueline Smith’s protest site outside the Lorraine Motel where she used to work. She’s been here everyday for the last 29 years calling the museum The James Earl Ray Memorial and campaigning for the building to be turned into something that helps the homeless and poor. Roger spoke to her and just wishes she could be given a building elsewhere (and some $$$$) to channel her undoubted drive and sincerity
Playing the Delta Blues

Playing the Delta Blues

It’s known as the Mississippi Delta. The flat alluvial plain stretching from Vicksburg to Memphis that’s famous both for its fertile soil and its poverty.

We parked in Clarksdale to explore some of the sights associated with the development and revitalization of Delta Blues; one of the earliest styles of blues music.

Pre-WW2 blues music in segregated America was known as Race Music. Only when it was renamed Rhythm and Blues in 1949 did it become accessible to white people – going on to directly influence Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones.

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Women singers led the way recording some of the first blues records. Bessie Smith’s Down Hearted Blues sold 800,000 copies. She died in this former blacks-only hotel after a car accident. She might have lived if they’d let her into the whites-only hospital.
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Blues fans know this as the Highways 61 and 49 crossroads. It’s where Robert Johnson made his pact with the devil in his song Cross Roads Blues – which was later re-recorded by Eric Clapton’s band Cream
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Morgan Freeman owned Ground Zero hosts blues bands most weekends. Downtown is largely dependant on blues tourism and we met a couple of outsiders – moved to live here by their love of the blues