Thursday, 13 October 2011

October 6-12, 2011

October 6, 2011 Marion, VA to Nashville, TN

And now folks, we come to the musical section of our exploration.
After leaving “Hungry Mother Park”, we found ourselves deep in the heartland of Bluegrass/Country roots.  I had no idea that Bristol, VA was supposed to be “Nashville” (at least that is what the service station attendant stated), as it was in nearby Marion that the Carter family and others were first recorded. 

What a lot of musical history in this and the next few states.  We arrived in Nashville just in time to have dinner, wander over to the “Grand Ole Opry” and stand in line for a “Opry Christmas broadcast” for the US military.  Despite huge lineups, we scored some tickets along with a couple of local girls and watched the Airforce band back up Clay Walker (host, along with Nan?), Little Big Town (who played their own music plus some fabulous accapella renditions of Christmas carols ) and Leanne Womack.  What was more interesting was watching the whole production as this was a network taping with all the various retakes, gaffs and all.

October 7, 2011: Nashville, TN
And today, a whole day in Nashville!  After a bit of internet planning, we wandered downtown and checked out the original (2nd) Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman Auditorium (aka the Mother Church of country music) and guided ourselves through

“Nashborough”--the original fort on the waterfront.  

We entertained ourselves by checking out famous bars and not-so-famous (with great local country/bluegrass performers) before returning to get ready for an evening at the Opry.  

And...the Opry did not disappoint.  We forgot this is a live radio show with breaks for commercials.  Between radio commercials, older hosts alternated with older (some ancient) country music stars and younger/hopeful country music stars.  Ricky Skaggs played some great bluegrass  and Charlie Pride really got the older crowd behind him.  The best of the night--we both agreed--was exAmerican Idol’s non-comforist/Janis Joplinesque personality, Crystal Bowersox.  Man, that girl can sing and write!  She sure doesn’t fit the country music female-star-mold though, so we’ll cross our fingers that she reaches her potential.  On to Memphis tomorrow!
October 8, 2011: Memphis, TN
And now, for something completely different, Memphis--home of the Blues.  Although we were warned about a few parts of Memphis (don’t wander near Graceland after dark and stay in the busy areas of Beale St.), this town is concentrated music.  A quick drive-by to Elvis’ address and we were in downtown Memphis.  Okay, they did exaggerate the deliciousness of the food in the cafes, but that great, great blues music poured out from the bars onto the street for locals and tourists alike to enjoy.  And they did, wandering along, drinks in hand while watching street performers and eating in street-side cafes.  A smaller verson of Bourbon Street (New Orleans), but equally engaging.  All the world seems to pass by on the streets (bikers, Japanese tourists, waking musicans, local civic types,...) What a great day!  I can’t forget to mention that we did watch the duck parade at the Peabody Hotel.  Only in Memphis could a drunken prank become a world-famous event.

October 9, 2011: Memphis, TN to Branson, MO
We had a great driving up the absolutely gorgeous back roads of Arkansas and Missouri (think Ozark Mountains) on our way to Branson.  On arrival to this city it was quite a revelation to find a town dedicated to entertaining..we originally thought small, but think bigger much like Los Vegas. 

Branson is like a musical Disneyland.  Performers and performances of every sort can be found here (from the Lennon Sisters to Dolly Parton’s Dixieland Stampede).  Pretty incredible to think that it grew out of musical performances by Ozark Mt. entertainers (sometimes recorded/presented in the areas limestone caves).  Although  the majority of guests seem to be retirees, there are ziplines, mini-golf and golf courses, along with cooking courses and just about everything you can name.  We took in a “a tribute to Hank Williams” .  After fumbling our way through the National Anthem and not bothering with  the Pledge of Allegiance, we sat down to some fabulous Hank songs.  Halfway through an unexpected revival meeting broke out with lots of Hallelujahs and Amens--see Tony for details. Luckly it got back on track and finished up with some good music.    Tomorrow we tackle Oklahoma.

October 10, 2011: Branson, MO to Woodward, OK 
Monday morning, we were on the road again.  This time we travelled through Missouri and into Oklahoma.  Many long kilometers/miles later, we made it to “Boiling Springs Park” in Oklahoma (near Woodward).  In late fall, OK has been harvested and the endless prairie landscape is dotted with black cattle near silvered windmills (for water) and weathered, small oil-pumps.  it is easy to imagine the cold winds whipping across these plains in a month or so.  Boiling Springs is an Oasis.  Most of the campers appear to be long-term, but the pool and trails sit waiting for next summer’s guests (a little cold for us).  I am going to be very careful walking to the washrooms after reading the sign re: snakes!

October 11, 2011: Woodward, OK to Clayton, NM
We make a brief stop at historic Fort Supply near Woodward, but are careful to stay inside the “visitor’s lines”.  The Fort has been recreated a few times, psychiatric institute and is now a prison.

Big business has taken note of the winds whipping across the prairies and the small, water-wind mills are juxtaposed against very large modern ones (we saw many in transport).  

It takes a long, long time to drive across those open plains--even at 70 miles per hour.

Finally, we reach New Mexico and drive into another small Oasis.  Clayton State Park is full of surprises.  Right on a small reservoir lake, stocked with trout, you can imagine cowboys breathed a sigh of relief when they bumped into this.  There doesn’t seem to be a drop of water anywhere else.  Not only are the facilities great (every single site has a beautiful view), but it has one of the best dinosaur track sites in North America. is right near the historic Sante Fe Trail.   One of our best campsites yet.

October 12, 2011: Clayton, NM to Sante Fe, NM
Okay, the great horned owls calling, the deer wandering by the tent and the coyotes barking to their friends made sleeping a little difficult, but the camp was still fabulous and the rangers very friendly.  We ventured on gravel roads to bike the Sante Fe trail (you can still see indentations from wagon trains and the limestone markers to keep them on track).  Hard to imagine that there was an estimated 3.5 million $ of trade passing through in one year circa 1840s. 

After trying to coax some range horses to eat carrots (no go!) we headed off to Sante Fe (the city, that is).  Nearing the mountains, we could see fresh snow on the peaks and water in the fields.  Definitely where the deer and the antelope play.  Once settled into our hotel, we went out for dinner and to explore the town.  I love this town--pueblo architecture and the oldest church/house/administrative buildings in North America.  As one of the rangers pointed out--Sante Fe was a centre of government by the time the Quakers landed in Plymouth.  Crazy!

Off to Chaco Canyon National Park and the ancient ruins.

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