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Taking a Road Trip


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    Musings: Authors do it Write!

    Published 3-26-2021

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     Ever wonder what it is like to take a real road trip? Imagine a trip where you went from the highest mountain in one state to the deepest cave in another. Get the feel of spending one night in a luxury hotel and the next in a tent in a campground. Add in a little rain--no make that a downpour--one of the camping nights. Here's the scoop on my fun--mostly-- road trip. This is just a teaser, there will be stories about many of these places coming soon.

    I started the second of last month, June, and headed first for Macon, Georgia. My little Chevy Spark, nicknamed Sparky, was crammed so tight that there wouldn't have been room for one of my cats to squeeze in had they wanted. Fortunately, none did. They were content to stay home and wait for my return as long as Martin, my somewhat partner, was there to feed them. As usual, I had packed more clothes than I would need. My camera, laptop computer, and assorted electronics were another medium bag. The camping stuff was most of the load, tent, ground cover, ice chest, hotplate and several versatile cooking utensils, picnic basket and lockable food container to keep bears out of the food, blow-up mattress and pump, blow-up kayak, and paddles just in case I found time for that. My camping philosophy was always better to bring something you don't need rather than to need something you didn't bring.


    Macon went smoothly. My wonderful CVB person, Valerie, had set up everything from my stay in 1842 B and B to a full schedule of attractions. 1842 B and B is a fantastic historic inn. The room made me feel as if I had moved back to the 19th century and was visiting a luxurious Southern home but had retained all the modern conveniences. For breakfast, I choose to have one of the best Strawberry French Toast I have ever tasted and tea served in my room.

    So much is new in Macon since my last visit. Tubman Museum is now in a huge new building where they can display all their treasures.

    Capricorn Studio once recorded greats like The Allman Brothers Band, Charlie Daniels, Percy Sledge, Marshall Tucker Band, and other southern musical stars of the '70s. I visited the Capricorn Museum, Studio A where Southern Rock was born, and their new state of the art studio built in 2019. Studio A is preserved just as it was in the '70s. Once again, Capricorn Studio is recording music.

    The Allman Brothers Band combined the sounds of Blues, Jazz, and Country music created a new music genre known as Southern Rock. Their home, which they called The Big House, is now open to visitors. I loved browsing through the artists' memorabilia, instruments, clothing, and more.

    I took the Rock Candy Tour of Macon's music history with knowledgeable guide, Rex Dooley.

    Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and Museum is the country's largest state sports museum.  It's interactive so I could play along not just view many of the exhibits.

    The mysteries hidden at Ocmulgee Mounds always draw me back when I visit Macon. The museum tells some of the story. Much may never be known but it is a fascinating place to visit.

    Although I wasn't camping here I visited the Lake Tobesofkee Recreation. The man-made lake is a prime spot for outdoor recreation in middle Georgia. Two of the three areas, Arrowhead and Claystone Parks, offer camping from tent to big RVs.

    I ate well in Macon. Oliver's has fresh food done in their special way. The Rookery fed both Otis Redding and the Allman Brothers Band. Piedmont Brewery and Restaurant is a double treat.


    Next stop, Blairsville, Georgia. I got no help here and was completely on my own so I went back to an old favorite, tent camping. (See that story here)Vogel State Park is a treat and worth a visit camping on not.

    I met up with an old friend, Julie, and we had lunch at Hole in the Wall. I always loved that place when I lived there. Usually it was my breakfast place but this time it was lunch.

    I did an interview with Blairsville's, only moonshine distillery. Tommy Townsend, the owner, is not only a traditional moonshiner but what a musician! He graciously got me into his concert that night and I was blown away. There wasn't time for a real meal after setting up the tent. I grabbed a snack from my packed food for that evening's dinner.

    Local museums were helpful. The Byron Herbert Reece Farm and Heritage Center is a newer attraction in the once-rural community of Union County. This museum portrays farm life in North Georgia Mountains in the early 20th century.

    The Old Courthouse on the Square is now a museum where I saw artifacts reliving Blairsville's past. The Grapelle Butt Mock House just a block away, continues the story with the Museum of Mountain Life.

    Of course, I had to visit Brasstown Bald, the highest mountain in Georgia. It was a good trip but I forgot one thing, car batteries don't last forever. I had to use my car's built in wifi as there is none in the campground. I must have left the key in accessory position rather than turning it off after using the wifi. When I was leaving for Chattanooga the next morning, I got up at the crack of dawn to take down the tent. Got everything all crammed back into the car. When I went to start, it was dead as a road-kill possum on a busy highway. Thanks to a kind fellow camper who gave me a jump, I still made it to Chattanooga on time.


    Chattanooga was another place that went all out to accommodate me. Since there was so much to do there I stayed three days instead of the two days I had allotted for Macon and Blairsville. Marissa at the CVB had booked the attractions that were timed for me. The Tennessee Aquarium was my first stop. I was scheduled for 10am and got I there with just minutes to spare. River Journey led me down the rivers of the world while Ocean Journey introduced me to the ocean dwellers.

    I had plenty of time before my next booked attraction so I checked into my home away from home, Hotel Indigo. It's Chattanooga newest hotel, very comfortable, and close to all the attractions. I even had time for a quick brunch at its restaurant, The Wanderer.

    Tennessee Valley Railway was next. I took the Missionary Ridge trip called the Local. Nice trip and lasted about an hour.

    Next morning, I was seeing the Lookout Mountain attractions. I started with Rock City. It was raining off and on but not enough to stop things. I found this long time attraction as charming as ever. It's Chattanooga's oldest and best-known attraction and so much more than a beautiful garden

    Next stop was Ruby Falls. It's good to be underground when it's raining. My guide, Tommy, was great. The 145-foot Ruby Falls is the tallest underground waterfall open to the public.

    For lunch after seeing the Lookout Mountain attractions, I tried The Purple Daisy in Historic St. Elmo.

    The Incline Railway is a ride for a mile straight up Lookout Mountain. At the top, there are Civil War sites Battles for Chattanooga Museum and Point Park.

    Naughty Cat Café the only cat cafe in Chattanooga so I had to visit.

    Bluff View Art District was relaxing. Ther is so much public art as well as many museums and galleries. After a delicious lunch at Tony's Pasta Shop & Trattoria where I got to choose my pasta, sauce and additions I browsed a bit.

    At Chattanooga Zoo, I loved visiting all the wildlife. Nicely done and spacious habitats for the animals' comfort.

    Stir, in the Chattanooga Choo Choo Complex, was interesting. Good food in a old-fashioned railroad ambience. Of course, I browsed around and got photos of the famous Choo Choo.

    International Towing Museum was a pleasant surprise. There was much more than I expected.

    I found time to check out the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge and Coolidge Park. Wish the carousel had been open.

    I had chance to sample many of the great dining spots. Pluckett's Grocery or City Café Diner were my breakfast choices. Old Gilman's Grill was a more upscale choice for dinner one night.


    Nashville gave me a Star Attractions Pass but again I was on my own for accommodations. Luckily, a friend, Pam, put me up at her guesthouse in Franklin. The guesthouse was lovely and it was good seeing Pam again and meeting her furry companions. Since there was so much to see I planned three days. As I found out when I began exploring, a week would have not been enough. Still, I crammed in hurried visits to most of the places I wanted to see.

    Part of being a travel writer is that you learn a trip, especially one you put together yourself, rarely goes smoothly. After enjoying tea with Pam and stowing my suitcase, I got in my little Sparky to head out for a day of exploring. Turned the key and nothing happened. A friend of Pam's gave me a jump and I was on my way wondering why the battery had died when I hadn't left a key on or any other reason to discharge it.

    I was already behind Wednesday's schedule when I arrived at the Lotz House, Thomas Cartweight, executive director and historian, gave a wonderful tour. When I left and went to start my car, once again, dead, dead, dead! By now, I was beginning to get the message. Sparky was trying to remind me, batteries only last about four years. Sparky was purchased new in 2017. We are now in 2021. Do the math.

    I looked around. Across the street was a small mechanic shop. Not likely to have a battery to fit. A few doors down, there was an auto parts store. Maybe? I walked to it and tried. No luck.  Walking back, I stopped at the mechanic. He jumped Sparky for me and told me where to find the nearest Chevy dealer. Wonderful man would not even take a payment for his work.

    At the Chevy dealer, a nice serviceman, Daniel, told me what I already knew, the battery's soul was now resting in that great junk shop in the sky. They had to send out for a battery so I passed about two hours sitting in the waiting room having a few cups of tea and some cookies for a late lunch. When I finally headed out to try to catch up my missed stops, $233 poorer but at least I could be sure Sparky would start next stop.

    My schedule was totally messed up. I thought I could make it to the Hermitage, Andrew Jackson's home. The site said it closed at 4pm this day. I got there at 3:15 to find it already closed. So much for believing posted times.

    I turned around and headed for Willie Nelson and Friends Museum. It wasn't on the Star Pass but Mark there had agreed to comp me. True to its website, it was still open. I'm a big Willie fan see one of his concerts I attended) so I really enjoyed this one. Cooters, right next door, was another stop on my list. Nice, but not as big or detailed as the Willie one.

    The Nashville Zoo was next stop. I just had about an hour before closing. It was a fun and relaxing stop.

    I called it a day and went back to Pam's. She had cooked a delicious meal that soothed my frayed ends from my hectic and very expensive day.

    I started early the next morning to try to make up some of the missed places from yesterday. First stop was Fort Negley. Interesting ruins of an old fort and a nice visitors center that doubles as a museum.

    I reached Belmont Mansion just as it was opening at 9am. Did a self-guided tour. There are docents and placards explaining every room of the home so self-guided works well.

    I barely had time for the Tennessee Agricultural Museum before I was scheduled to meet with Mary Skinner, Community and Media Relations Officer for the Tennessee State Museum. The Agricultural Museum was a pleasant surprise with interesting exhibits and lots of old farm machinery.

    I drove to the Farmer's Market where I met Mary. We had a pleasant lunch at the Barbeque kiosk, one of dozens of ethnic food stalls at the market. Tennessee State Museum, right next door, is large and impressive. I left Sparky parked at the Farmers Market and Mary dropped me off near my next stop.

    The Glen Campbell Museum is a complete replay of Glen's life and career located in a busy part of Nashville. Actually, almost all of Nashville is amazingly busy. So many people walking around on the streets, popping in and out of the dozens of music venues, saloons, all competing to see who could play the loudest music. There were dozens of party busses and trailers filled with happy very loud folks, also blasting out music. It felt like Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street with music. There was a very noticeable police presence on the streets of downtown Nashville as well.

    I caught the Old Town Trolley and passed many famous places enroute to the Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum. It honors all musicians, Blues, Rock and roll, as well as Country.

    Then it was time to head home for the night. After dinner, Pam took me around to see parts of Franklin I missed last trip.

    Friday morning, I thought I could squeeze the Hermitage in if they didn't forget to open at the normal time, 9am. They were open and I was able to tour the grounds. There is a lot to see there and I took too long.

    I parked at the Parthenon and caught the Old Town Trolley. One thing I forgot, the trolley goes all the way back to stop one from stop 12 where I caught it. By the time I rode all the way around and caught another trolley at stop 1, I was hopelessly late. The kind young woman at the ticket booth of the Country Music Hall of Fame let me in to the museum but cautioned me the RCA Studio Tour was a guided one and booked by time slots. There were just 2 openings on the next tour and only one on the one after that. I grabbed a quick snack and made it for that second tour and really appreciated it. Our tour guide, Brenda, was excellent and the tour went perfectly.

    This was my day for mistakes. It was a little after 3pm when I got back to stop 1 and I thought I had time to see the George Jones Museum. My thought about the Possum was he was a fantastic singer and a lousy husband. I saw his life in brief and returned to the trolley stop. It was 4:15. The last trolley was 5, right? Nope. It was 4pm and I was stranded. I approached the nearest police officer's car and explained my predicament. I asked if there was a bus running to the Parthenon or a taxi stand nearby? Like a true Southern gentleman, he said, "If you don't mind riding in the back of a police car, I'll drive you there."

    I really appreciated it but do not plan on ever being arrested and tossed in the back of a patrol car. It's all hard plastic and there are only about 4 inches of foot room. I wear a size 9 shoe. In spite of severely cramped toes, I made it back to my car.

    The Shoals

    The Shoals consists of Florence, Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia, and Sheffield, Alabama. They bill themselves the Hit Recording Capital of the World. Rob Carnegie and his staff took wonderful care of me there. I arrived Saturday about 10pm and met Tyler, at the visitor's center. He took me out first to Ivy Green, Helen Keller's home.

    We had lunch at a fantastic Mexican place called Rosie's Casita. Next stop was Fame Studio followed by 3614 Jackson Highway Recording Studio, the original site of the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. Both had enlightening tours.

    W.C. Handy Home and Museum was my only slight disappointment as it was not open due to the pandemic but I could see the outside of the home and get a feel for it.

    Alabama Music Hall of Fame was the next stop. It is a wonderful tribute to not only Alabama born musician but to any musician with an Alabama connection.

    Dinner was at a downtown Thai Restaurant called Yumm.

    I checked into the Marriott. It is a beautiful hotel with musical tribute in its décor. Even its restaurant is named for the Swampers.

    I hurriedly changed clothes and went to see The Miracle Worker. Fantastic production; the entire cast was wonderful but the girl who played Helen Keller as a child should go to Hollywood when she grows up.

    Next morning, I met Rob at Big Bad Breakfast downtown. He took me to see some things I had not thought about when I decided to go to the Shoals. Tom's Wall is a true labor of love built by a grandson in honor of his grandmother who was forced on the Trail of Tears and took five years escaping back home.

    Florence Indian Mound and Museum is another prehistoric mystery. How and why these people built such a mound with primitive tools is a haunting question.

    Frank Lloyd Wright house is one more architectural triump for a builder way ahead of his time. We had a great lunch and dinner at the hotel's Swampers Restaurant.

    If only everyplace went so smoothly.


    Montgomery CVB offered a tiny bit of help. She set up two attractions of my choice for me. I picked Old Alabama Town and The Legacy Museum. The Legacy Museum was new since I was there last. I contacted several of the other places I wanted to visit and they agreed to comp me.  

    Since Montgomery didn't comp a hotel, I was back to tent camping. I drove first to Fort Toulouse - Jackson Park Campground. Setup went about the same as at Vogel, over an hour.

    I had a 3pm appointment at The Rosa Parks Museum so I had to rush to change and get there on time. I had forgotten how impressive this museum is.

    After that, I visited the Museum of Alabama and the Alabama State Capitol and drove past Dexter Ave Baptist Church  and the  First White House of the Confederacy which I had visited last time.

    I had to drive by Hank Williams Memorial at Oakwood Annex Cemetery and visit his grave.

    First night in the campground was a disaster. The sky opened and dumped what felt like Niagara Falls on my tent. It came right through the walls like there was no barrier. That was the exact moment I made a decision. NO MORE TENT CAMPING. I decided to find a reasonably priced cargo van or pickup and convert it to a small camper. Try sleeping in a tent with puddles on the floor on a wet air mattress with only one small cover that was only half wet and you will understand my decision.

    Next morning, after I fixed a quick breakfast, I loaded all the wet bedding in the back of Sparky, dragged my air mattress out to the picnic table and opened all the flaps on my tent in the hope it would evaporate some of the puddles all over the floor.

     I headed out for Freedom Rides Museum to learn how 21 young people helped change our nation's history using nonviolent protest. This was also a new one since my last trip here.

     While I had lunch at Chris's Hot Dog Stand, a favorite of both Hank Williams and Dr. King, I dumped my wet bedding in a dryer at a nearby Laundromat. After picking up my now dry bedding, I headed to Montgomery Zoo. They were another place who graciously hosted me when I contacted them.  

    On the way back to the campsite, I stopped at a Dollar Tree and picked up a mop for my tent floor. Good thing I did as it was still covered with water all over the floor. After I mopped and dried it as best I could, I replaced the bed and added some more air. One other negative about rough camping, air mattress seem to deflate a little overnight. Note to self: get a foam mattress when I build my camper.

     I had time to explore the park and the two forts here before I fixed dinner and turned in for the night. I had extended this stay over until Wednesday as my CVB person told me the Legacy Museum and Old Alabama Town were not opened until Wednesday. The night was peaceful and I got a good night's sleep this night.

     First thing in the morning, I headed for National Memorial for Peace and Justice. And from there took their shuttle to the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration. I noticed a lot of security at both sites. I guess because of the resurgence of hate crimes lately. The Memorial, Legacy Museum, and Rosa Parks Museum are moving but they don't let you take pictures. Don't the museum directors realize for a travel writer to do a good story, they need their own pictures not some duplicates used by everyone?

    I headed out to Old Alabama Town. Imagine how I felt when I got there and saw the sign, closed. As I was walking back to my car, I saw a woman working on the garden in there and said how sad I was to miss seeing it. She took me over in her golf cart to the grounds and went back to get keys for the buildings. She came back with one of the regular guides who took me through the entire attraction. True kindness of a stranger, two strangers at that and both named Carol.

    Forgotten Coast

    Next and last stop was the Forgotten Coast in Florida's Big Bend region. It consists of Carrabelle, Eastpoint, St. George Island, and Apalachicola. This was like old homecoming. I visited there many years ago and stayed at Kathy and Skip Frink's wonderful Old Carrabelle Hotel. I was hosted again there this time.  

    I drove to Eastpoint and picked up some attractions passes from Jean Lang, the Information Specialist for Franklin County Tourist Development Council. Then I headed out to explore.

    First stop was St. George Island. Most of the island is a state park with great camping and a traditional lighthouse. The museum was closed but I got to see the lighthouse and visited the state park campgrounds. Keeping it in mind for future visits after I build a small camper.

    On the way back to the Old Carrabelle Hotel, I stopped and saw the Crooked River Lighthouse. Completely different style and the museum was open here.

    I had time to visit Camp Gordon Johnston WWII Museum. A small museum that honors our military in a big way.

    My room was ready and oh so welcome when I got to the hotel. It was walking distance to The Fathom's Steam Room and Raw Bar where I had some of the famous Apalachicola Oysters sitting on the water-view balcony as the band tuned up.

    Next morning I headed out to St. James Bay Golf Resort. The hotel furnishes breakfast by way of a voucher for local restaurants.

    Had to drive around the Carrabelle waterfront and historic district and see the World's Smallest Police Station. After a drive through some of Tate's Hell, I headed for Apalachicola and The Orman House Museum then The Raney House Museum.

    Next, I browsed the main street shopping in Apalachicola, There tons of unusual shops here.

    On the way back, I had a late lunch in Eastpoint at The Red Pirate. I enjoyed driving past the beaches, arguably some of the prettiest in Florida.

    Back in Carrabelle, I had time to see the History Museum. Next morning, I stopped at Carrabelle Junction for breakfast before heading home.

    This is just a summary of the ups and downs of a road trip. There will be more about these locations in upcoming stories. I hope you have gotten a few pointers in case you are planning a road trip. First, allow a lot of time for planning. If you are a travel writer and want to work with the DMO where you are visiting allow way more time and do not be disappointed if you get some "no's" and some ignored emails or calls. Many city and coiunty budgets got strained during the pandemic. An honest "no" up front is better than stringing you along and then saying "no." Move on, and unless you really want that location, pick another nearby place that is more willing to work with you. Remember the old saying about the best-laid plans...? Moreover, if you are going to tent camp prepare for rain.





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