Just after we arrived in the US in February 2015 we stopped off in Nashville with a view of going to the Grand Ole Opry. Unfortunately, it was Sunday and the theatre was closed. Moving down to Memphis and Graceland we were looking forward to touring the mansion. The day we arrived the Elvis mansion was closed, would you believe. At the time we were on a mission to get to Texas and buy our RV, therefore, we didn’t linger but were very disappointed. However, on this return trip to Nashville and Memphis we were determined not to be disappointed. Having achieved our first objective, the Grand Ole Opry, this month our mission was to see Graceland but not before we had seen a little more of Nashville.
Monday 3rd September
Sandy got very tired.
Tuesday 4th September
Trolley Tour of Nashville
A lot of the major cities operate bus or trolley tours. We find it a good way to get an overview of the town and stop anywhere that is of interest. Our driver Tim gave us the low down on the city, past and present. Founded in 1779 as a trading post.
Country Music Crawler, popular with Bachelor/Bachelorette parties and for other celebrations. They pedal their way around town on a pub crawl and of course stop to have a shot or two of Tennessee Moonshine.
Apart from the big Country Music Hall of Fame there are smaller museums celebrating some of the big stars of country music.
Woolworth on Fifth Avenue, originally opened as a ‘five and dime’ store in 1913.
Tennessee State Capitol, one of the oldest working capitols in the nation and with a nice bit of Greek Revival style architecture. By the 19th Century Nashville was called the ‘Athens of the South”.
Centennial Park and a full-scale replica of the Parthenon. Built in 1897 for the Centennial Exposition
Nashville is also known as the ‘Country Music Capital of the World’ because it attracts singers, songwriters and music publishing companies.
Music Row, located in a Nashville suburb is where many of the music companies are located. Many studios and businesses are in renovated homes. It doesn’t look at all big business but of course it is because this is where some of the top music artists in the world have written and recorded their music.
RCA Victor, apparently Elvis’s favourite studio.
Musica, a sculpture in Music Row.
The AT&T building affectionately known as the ‘batman building’.
The Ryman Theatre on Fifth Avenue is where the Grand Ole Opry performed for over 30 years.
Broadway where all the bars and music venues are has the nickname Honky Tonk Highway. There is lots of neon which we didn’t see in its full brilliance in the middle of the day but it still looked pretty impressive.
Most of the restaurants and bars have a live music stage and our restaurant of choice was Luke’s 32 Bridge.
Just off Broadway in Printer’s Alley we found the Fleet Street Pub and of course the barman came from Exeter, Devon.
Wednesday 5th September
Continued south on our way to Memphis and the home of the blues.
We pulled in at Graceland Park, just across the road from the Elvis mansion. A nice campground surrounded by grass and woodland.
The area around Graceland was quite rundown in 2015, on our first visit, and looked in need of some refurbishment, well that’s just what it got. Coming back now the area has changed a lot with a new exhibit and entertainment complex exploring Elvis’s life and career. Lots of memorabilia is on display, clothes, cars, airplanes and plenty more. There are also shopping and eating venues. Across the road from the new complex is The Guest House at Graceland, a new hotel just a short walk from the Graceland mansion.
We got the free shuttle from The Guest House into Memphis and visited Beale Street. A little like Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Beale Street has lots of restaurants and bars most with live music. The street became famous in the jazz age when well knowns musicians came to play in Beale Street and Memphis Blues was born. It was early evening and the neon lights of the street were just coming on. Beale Street becomes pedestrianised at night and police are at either end blocking the road.
Thursday 6th September
We strolled through the gate from the RV Park into the Graceland complex and bought our tickets. After watching an introductionary film about Elvis and Graceland we got the shuttle bus to take us across the road to the Graceland mansion. It is called a mansion and is an impressive looking house but in today,s standards it is not that big. It is a really nice house, very homey, I liked it a lot and could imagine living there – it’s just that all the people walking through would be a little irritating; and the carpet on the ceiling in the Jungle Room would have to go!
For the tour of the house we had an interactive iPad with audio. The tour covered the ground floor only and included the living room, his parents’ bedroom, the kitchen, TV room, pool room, the famous Jungle Room, his father’s office, Trophy Building, Racquetball Building and Meditation Garden. Everything has been preserved/restored well and it was a fascinating tour.
After our tour of the mansion we went to have look at Elvis’ customised airplanes. The Lisa Marie has a living room, conference room and bedroom. There are gold plated seat belts and leather covered tables.
There is also the smaller Lockheed Jetstar, the Hound Dog II.
Friday 7th September
Crossed the Mississippi River into Arkansas, heading north west to Branson, just across the state line in Missouri and the Ozark region. Tonight, we break the journey and stay in Walmart near the town of Mountain Home.
Saturday 8th – Friday 21st September
We continued our journey along the quiet US 412 through wooded countryside.
The Ozarks is a mountainous area that spans four states, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and is, I guess, the last highland area before crossing the great plains, the next being the Rockies.
Continuing our music theme, Branson is referred to as the “Live Music Show Capital of the World’. Also, for those of a certain age (before they moved into their Californian mansion) this area was home to the fictional Clampett family from the TV series The Beverley Hillbillies.
Branson Lakeside RV Park is run by the city and is next to Lake Taneycomo, - although it looks more like a river than a lake - our site is right across from the water’s edge. The sites are called ‘buddy sites’, very narrow and shared with our neighbours. Luckily, our neighbours, Ted and Joy are very nice.
There are two dams nearby and a siren sounds when they are generating electricity and feeding water from one lake to the other.
There is a free trolley bus service from the RV Park to downtown Branson which is only about a mile away, but the trolley stops at several places around town which is very convenient.
From the RV Park there is also a good walk along the lakefront on Branson Landing Boardwalk. The Boardwalk leads into a modern shopping centre with restaurants and entertainment. At the centre of the Landing are the Fountains where every hour throughout the day and evening a water, fire, light and music show takes place.
View of the Fountains from across the lake with downtown Main Street in the background.
Tony got the inflatable kayak out and went up the lake. Unfortunately, the engine failed, and he had to paddle back.
The RV Park is very well kept and looked after, plus the WiFi is good. We like the convenience of being near town with free transport or an easy walk. Sandy loves swimming in the lake and the walk along the Boardwalk. This all contributed to us deciding to stay another week. However, people were moving west due to Hurricane Florence expected to hit the Carolinas and the RV Park was full. It took a couple of days, but the ladies in the office managed to sort out another, larger, site for our extra weeks stay.
Branson Scenic Railway train on the bridge at the end of the park on its to cross the river.
Most of the music theatres are along Route 76, going out to the west of Branson. There was such a choice with over 50 theatres but we decided that following our visit to Graceland we should finish our music theme with Elvis Live! The show was at the God and Country Theatre and we had a good evening. This particular Elvis was called Jerry Presley, a cousin of Elvis. He does sound like Elvis and gives a good performance, he worked really hard to pack as many songs as possible into the show. The band and backing singers were also good. We had a two for one ticket deal that cost $40.36, great value for money.
After the show we went to visit the 10pm fountain show, where the National Anthem was played as the fountains lit up and danced to the music.
Friday 21st September
After our two-week stay it was time to move on. We woke up to heavy rain but it stopped long enough to allow us to finish packing up outside.
We headed south-west through the pretty Ozark countryside, wooded hills and hollows and farms for 95 miles to Fayetteville in Arkansas. Our nephew Tom (Ellie’s brother) is there taking part in a water ski competition. We pulled in at Southgate RV Park just south of town. The weather didn’t hold off for long and we had steady rain for the rest of the day. Tom came over in the afternoon and we had a good catch up, we hadn’t seen him for two years.
For dinner we went into Fayetteville to Geraldi’s a busy little Italian restaurant. I had Veggie Pesto Pizza and I think it was the best pizza I have ever had.
Saturday 22nd September
Welcome to Autumn, a granddaughter for Chris and David, who arrived at 21.54 and weighed in at 7.1 lbs. Congratulations to Sammy and Sam and all the family.
The second new arrival today was Bertie, an 8 week old working cocker spaniel, also for Chris and David.
Fayetteville is the home of the University of Arkansas and nearby is the headquarters of Walmart in Bentonville. The first Walmart store was opened by Sam Walton in 1962 in the town of Rogers about 20 miles from here. Fayetteville is also the place that Bill and Hilary Clinton got married in 1975. They were teaching in the law department at the University and got married in the living room of their home which is now The Clinton House Museum.
Went to watch Tom ski at Cedar Creek Water Ski Park, just south of Fayetteville, near a small place called Durham. He is skiing well, we saw the difference from the last time we watched him. Met Roger and Karen Boskus the owners of the Park.
Called into Fayetteville and had a drink at the dog friendly Dickson Street Pub. The town was busy with plenty of people about and had a really good vibe. People in the pub were very friendly, we met up with Sally, Neil and Pete, had good conversion and plenty of laughs.
Sunday 23rd - Tuesday 25th September
Little Rock, Arkansas
Moved onto Little Rock the state capital, 193 miles east. Followed the Arkansas River most of the way along I-40. Stayed in North Little Rock at the Downtown Riverside RV Park which is city owned and like most town parks it is basically a large car park. We have full hook ups and a spacious site with views over the river to downtown Little Rock. With our Passport America discount, the cost per night, before tax, was $12. The park is very secure and adjacent to a pedestrian bridge that goes across the river where there are walking trails along the river into downtown. Also, just across the bridge is the William Clinton Presidential Library and Museum.
The library has a replica of the oval office as it was when Bill Clinton was president. Kathryn, the guide was very friendly and informative.
In 1993 the White House Collection of American Crafts was assembled and displayed. To mark the 25th Anniversary of the Collection the works are on display in the library.
Unfortunately, my tour of the library was cut short. Tony had returned to the RV with food shopping but hadn’t got both keys to open the door locks. I had to dash back across the bridge before the ice cream melted!
Wednesday 26th September
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Travelled 55 miles south-west to Hot Springs, located in the Quachita Mountains.
Staying at Hot Springs National Park campsite, a lovely place at the side of Gulpha Creek. With our National Parks Annual Pass we get 50% off and paid just $15 per night to stay in this beautiful park. The campsite is surrounded by wooded hills and miles of hiking trails.
Just two miles away is the town of Hot Springs. In the evening we went into town to have a look around. The outskirts of town looks a little shabby in places with some empty buildings and refurb needed but the town around Central Avenue was very smart with plenty of shops, restaurants and things to do. We called into the Copper Penny Bar & Grill and the lady that served us was Sarah who came from Rugby! Her Mother married an American and she has been here in Hot Springs for 19 years.
Thursday 27th September
Welcome to our new great nephew:
Freddie Thomas Edward Ford, arrived at 1:15 am and weighed in at exactly 8lbs.
Hot Springs is all about the water. The thermal waters here originate as rain, snow and ice. The water seeps slowly into the earth through cracks and fractures to depths of up to 8,000 feet, as the water gets deeper, increasingly warmer rock heats it. The water then flows quickly upward, retaining its heat, along two major faults to the surface at the base of Hot Springs Mountain. The water flowing into the springs today is a round 4,400 years old. The thermal water reaches a maximum temperature of 150F/66C and is unique due to relatively low mineral content.
Evidence has been found that Native Americans used the hot springs in the late 1700’s. By the late 1800’s large bathhouses were being built along Bathhouse Row and a spa town was created. The town declined when the fashion for going to the spa declined and many bathhouses closed. In the 1980’s the National Park Service started to restore Bathhouse Row and many of the bathhouses to their former splendor. The only survivor that stayed open continuously since 1912 is The Buckstaff, and it still offers a traditional bathing experience today, while The Fordyce is a visitor centre and museum.
Out in Hot Springs ‘wetting the baby’s head’ at the Ohio Club, a former speakeasy. Now a smart bar and jazz club with a magnificent wooden bar surround dating from the 1890’s.
Maxine’s, a former brothel, now a cosy bar with music and cabaret acts.
Friday 28th September
Sandy thinks she has gone to heaven, water to swim in, forest to run in and squirrels to chase.
Goat Rock Trail, view across the National Park from Goat Rock.
Saturday 29th September
Back into Hot Springs to further explore Bathhouse Row. The buildings are a reminder of a past era when bathing and taking the waters was a popular activity for those who could affords it. The original structures no longer exist, the bathhouses we see today date from 1911 to 1939 and all have different styles of architecture, all are very fine. People came to the springs for various reasons, including the hope that the waters could restore energy, help them get fit, give them relief from pain or give them a cure for disease.
The Fordyce Bathhouse operated from 1915-1962 and was inspired by the spas of Europe. After restoration the bathhouse reopened as the park visitor centre in 1989.
In the restored Men's Bath Hall, a Ranger explains how the National Park was formed.
The fountain statue of Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto receiving a gift of the thermal waters from a Native American.
We particularly liked the stain glass ceiling over the statue.
The Men's Bath Hall in days gone by.
The Men’s Bath Hall has marble partitions that separate the small bathrooms, and some serious looking plumbing. The bathhouse has been well restored with many original fittings and decorations. It is furnished with tubs, steam cabinets and hydrotherapy equipment. It did have that Victorian bathhouse feel, lots of white tiles and quite clinical.
The Grand Promenade runs along at the back of the bathhouses in a park setting with trails up into Hot Springs Mountain.
Thermal spring on Grand Promenade.
Spring water is available around the town at jug fountains, it’s popular.
Went to Copper Penny Bar to say hi and bye to Sarah. Had an entertaining couple of hours at the bar talking to Jerry, one of the locals.
Sunday 30th September
Made our way south this morning on the I-30 into Texas.
Yee-haw, we're back in Texas, feels like coming home. The place of wide open plains and roads in the sky. Where we first came in the early 80’s to visit friends Chris and David in Mansfield, situated between Fort Worth and Dallas. It was at the height of the TV series Dallas and indeed the city was quite a sight with its skyline rising-up out of the prairies and the towering glass façade of the Hyatt Hotel.